Photo via delish.com.

It has been quite a long year. No doubt at this point you have exhausted your pantry, reducing it to nothing but sad slices of white bread, cans of paltry pinto beans and a few trusty packets of chili ramen. Perhaps the odd jar of half-eaten peanut butter lurks in the far corner, but this is neither here nor there. While you may have begun the year overflowing with culinary ideas, your inner Gordon Ramsey has surely gone into deep hibernation. As midterms have finally come to pass, not many have the time for such kitchen foolery these days. 

However, take a moment and picture yourself far away from Orono and rest your sights on Torino, Italy. It is in this very city that I discovered amazing food and drink while abroad in the spring of 2020. Brush the cobwebs from the cooking lobe of your brain and follow along as I give you five Italian recipes to recreate right here in Maine. 

 

Bruschetta

I do not care what your local Olive Garden server might say, it is pronounced “broo-skeh-tuh” not “broo-shet-ah.” An extremely simple snack that will impress not only your friends but maybe even your significant other’s mother, this appetizer is always a hit. The best part? Leftover ingredients can easily be used another day to whip together a convenient lunch. Here is my personal spin on the classic bruschetta which I made several times while abroad.  

Ingredients:

1 baguette 

Goat cheese or brie

Prosciutto 

Cherry tomatoes 

Olive oil

Black pepper

 

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350 F. 

Slice the baguette widthwise into pieces about an inch thick.

Slice the cheese and tomatoes into thin disks.

Place the bread slices into the oven and toast for three minutes on one side, then flip and repeat.

Take the bread out and drizzle olive oil onto each slice.

Place the cheese and tomato slices onto the bread slices.

Pepper each slice according to taste.

Top each slice with a piece of prosciutto.

 

Aperol Spritz

Bruschetta is the perfect appetizer. However, every proper appetizer needs a drink to complement it. For those of you age 21 and over, I have a recipe just for you. In northern Italy, the aperol spritz is enjoyed in cafes and restaurants everywhere during a time known as “aperitivo,” which occurs in the evening before dinner from about 6 to 8 p.m. Think of it as a sort of “happy hour” except longer and involving much more food. It is the perfect time for friends to meet up after a long workday to stimulate their appetites with simple food and light cocktails. The aperol spritz is the most famous of these aperitivo cocktails. The staple ingredient, aperol, is a bitter, reddish liquor with hints of orange and rhubarb flavor.  

Ingredients:

3 ounces of prosecco

2 ounces of aperol

1 ounce of club soda

Orange slice

Ice

 

Directions:

Fill a stemmed wine glass with ice.

Add the prosecco and aperol.

Top off with club soda.

Give the ingredients a brief stir.

Garnish with an orange slice and straw.

(Recipe from Liquor.com.)

 

Cacio e Pepe

Up next is a straightforward dish packed with flavor. Making an appearance on nearly every menu in Italy, cacio e pepe is almost like a refined Italian mac and cheese for adults. So, instead of making a bowl of suspiciously yellow Velveeta, consider whipping together this delightful recipe. Simply proclaiming the name alone makes you sound like an Italian chef when in all honesty, it’s just pasta with pepper and cheese. I mean, come on. The name literally translates to “cheese and pepper.” You can find this recipe and more on gimmesomeoven.com. 

Ingredients (2 servings):

6 ounces of thick pasta (spaghetti, fettuccine or linguine)

2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper

3 tablespoons of butter

2 cloves of minced garlic

2 ounces of shredded pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt 

 

Directions:

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil, then cook the pasta for about 8 minutes.

If you are smart and did not already buy sacrilegious pre-shredded cheese, grate the pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Strain the pasta, making sure to save about a cup of the pasta water.

Place the pasta back into the pot. Make sure the pot is off of the hot burner. 

Add half the pasta water, all the butter and all the minced garlic to the pasta and mix.

Add the cheese and pepper and continue mixing. Add more pasta water as needed to make sure the cheese and butter melt evenly.

Serve onto a plate and garnish with more cheese.

(Recipe from Gimmesomeoven.com.)

 

Bicerin

We have explored appetizers, drinks and main courses. What is missing, you ask? Why, dessert, of course. Native to and almost exclusively found in Torino, bicerin has major cultural significance to the city. I had the great pleasure of visiting the birthplace of bicerin, the Caffe al Bicerin, during my semester abroad. Mostly composed of espresso and hot chocolate, Bicerin is the perfect silky and rich cure to a cold Orono evening. While an authentic recreation is impossible since Caffe al Bicerin keeps its recipe a secret, the following is a very modest attempt at one found on linsfood.com. 

Ingredients:

1 cup whole milk

2 ounces of dark chocolate

1 tablespoon of white sugar

1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon of cornstarch

2 shots of espresso

Whipped cream

 

Directions:

First, you need to make a proper hot chocolate. Mix 2 tablespoons of milk with the cornstarch, so it turns into a paste. Set aside.

Pour the rest of the milk into a saucepan over low heat.

Once the milk is warm, add the dark chocolate and whisk to melt the chocolate.

Add in the sugar and cocoa powder slowly while continuously whisking the mixture.

Pour in the cornstarch mixture and continue to whisk. Once it is mixed thoroughly, remove the hot chocolate from the heat.

Pour the espresso into a glass, then fill it 3/4 full with the Italian hot chocolate. 

Top it all off with a thick layer of whipped cream.

(Recipe from linsfood.com.)

 

Pasta al Dente

As a hearty entree to a four-course meal, look no further for traditional Italian cuisine than this. Dating back to the Renaissance, this dish first began in Michelangelo’s second uncle’s step-sister’s kitchen. Make this recipe if you want to treat yourself or others to the zeitgeist of Italian culture. 

Ingredients:

Pasta (any kind)

Water (tap, bottled, boxed, etc.)

 

Directions:

Bring a pot of water to a boil

Place the pasta in the boiling water 

Cook the pasta as you normally would, except this time, take it out 2-3 minutes earlier than usual

Test the pasta. If it is slightly firm and chewy, congratulations, you have your meal.

 

Please spice up your cooking life just a tad and give each of these recipes a shot. Visit liquor.com, linsfood.com and gimmesomeoven.com for even more delicious ideas.