Friday, June 6, 2008

New site

Hello! To all who are still visiting this site, I've updated my blog and reposted it on Please follow the link below to visit my new Tomatoes and Basil blog. I look forward to your feedback and comments!


Saturday, March 8, 2008

When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie!

Everone thinks they're an expert when it comes to pizza.
People in Chicago devoted to the "deep-dish" pizza might criticize those who make thin-crust pizza, since everyone knows that Chicago is not only famous for their deep-dish pizza, but it's also a national phenomenon, being shipped partially baked all over the continental U.S.
The guys that lived across the hall from me in college believed themselves to be experts in the field of pizza simply because they ordered Woodstock's pizza every Tuesday and Friday night.
There are people who eat high-end pizza in restaurants where they serve stylized pizza with caramelized onions, exotic cheeses, and truffles.
Then there are the too-numerous-to-count nationally recognized pizza places, such as Round Table, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Little Caesar's, and the like which are found on nearly every street corner, making pizza easily accessible to anyone feeling the slightest craving for cheese and dough.
For me, it's not just what goes onto the pizza, it's about what goes into it--the quality ingredients, the time, and the love that you pour into creating something delicious to share with other. It's not just about getting home after a long day at work with no energy to cook. Pizza can be a masterpiece in and of itself. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for ordering Round Table after a long day if need be, but there is something very calming about making pizza at home.
Growing up in an Italian family, most of our meals were homemade. Pizza was no different. The dough, sauce, and sausage on top was all made by hand. And if I have my way, and time, this is still the only way to eat a pizza. The ease of a phone call to Domino's cannot replace the joy of the final product hot out of the oven. It doesn't matter how much time goes into mixing the dough, letting it rise, and then rolling it to perfectly fit in the pizza pan. Nor does it matter that you must allow time for the sauce to simmer to the right point before meticulously spreading it across the fresh-smelling dough. The hot, homemade pizza that comes out of the oven is well worth the time and effort exerted to create it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dolce Mele--My Newest Creation

A slice of fresh apple pie is an American favorite, but who has time these days to make the perfect crumbly crust and bake a delicious homemade pie? Rather than taking the time and effort to make a traditional pie, with no guarantee that your pie crust will be as flaky as you desire, try this recipe inspired by Bananas Foster and Apple Pie.

Dolce Mele, meaning “sweet apple” in Italian, is an easy
alternative when time does not allow for making a full-blown pie. Requiring less than ten minutes start to finish,
it captures the perfect hybrid of hot and cold, crunchy and creamy. It consists of only a handful of ingredients: butter, brown sugar, Amaretto, apples, and cinnamon—and the ice cream scooped on top. The shining star in this dessert is the apples, accented by the sauce The apples retain a slight crunchiness, and the brown sugar and amaretto give the slightly tangy apples a sweet edge. Let the warm apples and sauce melt the ice cream for a soup-like dessert or eat it quickly to preserve the juxtaposition of textures and temperatures.

Dolce Mele

Serving Size: 4
Time: 5 minutes preparation; 5 minutes cooking

1 stick butter
3 Apples (1 Braeburn, 2 Granny Smith), peeled, seeded,
and cubed
1 cup dark or light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 ½ Tablespoons Amaretto
Vanilla ice cream


  1. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the cubed apples to the butter, cooking them just enough so they soften, while retaining a slight crunch.
  3. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon. When the mixture starts to simmer at the edges, pour in the Amaretto to create a caramel-like sauce, stirring constantly.
  4. Scoop ice cream in bowls, and pour the apple and sauce mixture on top. Serve and enjoy.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Be back soon...

Do not fret if you visit and there are no new posts. When I return from my travels and holidays, I will post new entries. In the interim, have a wonderful and safe holiday season!

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Joy that is Mille Folie

As far as wedding cakes tend to go, most are rather bland repeats of the previous wedding you attended. The majority of couples pick “safe” cakes—vanilla, chocolate, carrot—with flavors most guests will eat. Sometimes, to spice things up, they’ll throw in a raspberry, strawberry, or cream filling, but again, nearly everyone likes those flavors combined with the traditional choices of cake. This observation is in no way a criticism of the couples who choose these cakes for their special day, rather it is meant to show the limited possibilities presented to them by bakeries.

Barring a lactose-allergic fiancé, a very tasty, yet not at all trendy choice for a wedding cake would be a mille folie (pronounced mee-lay foe-lee-ay). “Mille folie” essentially means a thousand sheets in Italian. This dessert is a very light Italian cake made with layers of thin, flaky dough (not unlike cooked filo dough), alternating between layers of thick, creamy custard. The custard soaks into the dough, softening the flaky layers. Topping all this is a light, whipped frosting that neither attempts to upstage the cake nor shirk away from its responsibility as the “icing” on top. It’s rich without being heavy and dense without being overwhelming. Mille folie absolutely melts in your mouth.

Mille folie is the cake of choice in my family (on those rare occasions when we decide to purchase dessert rather than make our own). What dessert should we serve at Easter lunch? Someone needs to pick up the mille folie. What kind of cake should one of the cousins order for their wedding? Mille folie, of course! An aunt is visiting from Italy? Let’s order the mille folie for the first dinner she’s here—she’ll love it! Our family goes nuts for this delicious treat. And it’s also beginning to look like the wedding cake of choice for this generation in our family, so don’t be surprised if you attend more than one Monari wedding and find, hopefully to your delight, that you are served the same type of cake.

Where can I find this most amazing Italian cake that La Famiglia thinks so highly of?!?

I’m so glad you asked! There is this delightfully quaint Italian pastry shop called Dianda’s. They have two locations—one in San Francisco and one in San Mateo. If you can, take a trip to visit either one. The treats you will find are well worth the price of gas and the miles on your car. The San Mateo shop—conveniently located near my office—is nestled between a fresh fish market and an Italian delicatessen. The smell of barbecue greets you before being replaced by the sweet aroma of confectioner’s sugar upon entering the bakery. Cases filled with delicious treats welcome as you enter, as do the tiny ladies working behind them.

Take a moment to slowly examine all the possibilities found behind the glass. Showing off their dazzling white frosting adorned with spring-colored flowers, cakes wake patiently in their cool storage space before being claimed by an eager customer. In the next case, there are personal-sized samples of the cakes in the refrigerator. This is where you will find your own gone-in-two-minutes mille folie. Also available, and equally wonderful, is tiramisu cake, rumcake, cannoli, and a wide assortment of more traditional dense cakes made with all the lightness of the Italian bakers’ ancestors. Each of the large slices are about five inches long and maybe two inches wide, with three inches of height. It’s probably healthier (and better for your hips) to split one of these with a friend, but it can easily be consumed by a single eater—trust me on this one! On the shelf behind this counter would be my sister’s weakness—almond torta. A dense cake-like dessert, this is in a class all of its own. It’s sweet almond taste is accented by a thin layer of raspberry filling along the bottom. It’s like eating a slice of Italy—absolutely delicious and absolutely addicting!

The next display proudly offers all kinds of tempting cookies. Amaretti—round cookies with pine nuts nestled on top; alunetti—squared-off, finger-length, flaky cookies decorated with powdered sugar; biscotti—traditional long cookies with almonds, accented with a slight orange flavor; chocolate cookies; big cookies, small cookies; all yummy cookies. And then finally, you get to the candies. These flavor-filled, chocolate-coated bites of sugar rival anything found at See’s Candy.

Order whatever tickles your fancy and enjoy it with a cappuccino or espresso at one of their charming café tables, or take some home to share. And just maybe, people will begin to catch onto the wonder that is Dianda’s cakes, helping wedding guests truly enjoy the cake served at the reception.

Dianda's in San Mateo
117 De Anza Blvd.
San Mateo, 94402

Dianda's in San Francisco

2883 Mission St.

San Francisco, 94110


Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Risotto is the ultimate Italian comfort food. It's the perfect dish after a long, hard day (as long as you're willing to take the time to make it!). With its creamy texture and rich flavor, the risotto (pronounced ree-zoe-toe) truly melts in your mouth. Some people complain that risotto doesn't taste like anything, and on its own, it's somewhat true. But add some wine (white or red will do), extra Parmesan cheese, and any assortment of meat or vegetables to your recipe, and the rice immediately takes on that ingredient's essence, creating a new and robust taste your mouth will not soon forget.

Unlike Asian rice that tends to be slightly dry, Italian rice is rich and extremely creamy. Typically risotto is made with Arborio rice which is an Italian medium-grain rice which remains "al dente" (somewhat firm) and becomes creamy when cooked. Risotto dishes originated in northern Italy, which would explain why it's such a large part of my family's cuisine. The great thing about risotto, aside from its taste, is that you can do so many different things with it. You can add wine (red or white, like stated above), seafood, sausage, chicken, prosciutto, asparagus, carrots, peas, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, the options are only limited by your palate and your imagination.

Risotto (basic recipe)

Serving Size: 4
Time: 5 minutes preparation; 40 minutes cooking

1 quart chicken/vegetable broth
1 Tablespoon olive oil
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups of rice (arborio or vialone nano)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground pepper (to taste)

Bring broth to simmering point. Put the oil, 4 Tablespoons of the butter, and the chopped onion into a heavy-bottomed pot and saute gently until onion is soft and translucent. Add the rice and cook for one minute, stirring constantly so the rice is coated with the oil and butter. Pour 1/2 cup of the broth over the rice and cook, stirring regularly until the liquid is nearly all absorbed.
Continue adding broth to the rice (1/2 cup at a time) until gone.
When the rice is tender, but al dente, take the pot off the heat and mix in the remaining butter and the Parmesan cheese. Add a little pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy!

To include wine, I usually add white wine before pouring in the first 1/2 cup of broth.
If your vegetables are raw, add them after the rice has been cooking for about 10 minutes.
If you are using roasted peppers or sundried tomatoes (both of which are amazing with risotto), add those prior to adding the last bit of butter and the Parmesan.
If including seafood or meat, make sure it's been cooked prior to adding it before the Parmesan.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Eternal Quest for Great Gelato, Part 2

Have you ever had a hankering for one of those discontinued sticky treats from your youth? Just down the street from the aforementioned Dolce Spazio sits the ultimate candy store, Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, who specializes in those tantalizing favorites. A soundtrack of old movie songs plays in the background while children young and old scurry from one delicious treat to the next, remembering their favorite candies from a time gone by and discovering new delights along the way. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory takes its place on the back wall, repeatedly playing through the classic children’s story. Usually it’s the parents that stop to watch the movie, rather than their children, who are far more taken with the surprises that they find with each new candy toy from their parents’ generation and older. Even the oldest customer is transformed into “a kid in a candy shop” upon entering. Because of the stunning amount of candy covering the store like a blanket, many customers often overlook the bevy of gelato flavors near the register, which is my primary reason for visiting.

On my most recent visit to Powell’s, I discovered that they serve Ciao Bella Gelato, a brand that originated in New York’s Little Italy from a Torino recipe and oddly enough, is sold pint-sized at Costco. More than Dolce Spazio, Powell’s features flavors found in any gelateria in Italy, including spumoni, tiramisu, pistachio, coppa mista, cappuccino, dark chocolate, and a variety of sorbetto. I’ve tried several flavors, but so far, the only two that immediately transport me to an Italian piazza is their dark chocolate and tiramisu gelato. From the perfect creamy, smooth texture to the dark, intense flavor, every bite teases me into believing that I’m in Rome and not on the streets of Los Gatos. It melts in your mouth (and I don’t just mean literally because it’s gelato); the flavors are richer and more intense than ice cream, bringing greater pleasure to your taste buds than even a pint of Häagen Dazs’s famous dulce de leche. Powell’s also offers three different serving sizes, and encourages all guests to mix flavors.

Verdict: The dark chocolate and the tiramisu are, I believe, even better than Dolce Spazio, mainly due to the fact that they have a creamier texture (which is closer to true Italian gelato). Just don’t try mixing Powell’s candy with their gelato; it will ruin the gelato experience.

Powell’s Sweet Shoppe

35 N. Santa Cruz Ave.

Los Gatos