I'm back! Sort of :).
In May of 2008, I first fell in love with Italy. For my first solo trip abroad, I visited Firenze, Pisa, and Venezia and promised myself to return here for good. So on the 2nd of July 2012, I flew from Los Angeles to Berlin to Roma. For almost 9 months now, I have been living in Europe trying to realize my dream of remaining in Italy (yes, even with its economic and political problems) for the rest of my life. Although it does not look like it is going to happen this time around, I plan to come back here after 90 days; and while in the States, I plan to apply for a long-term visa.
I currently live in the southern part of Italy (the big toe of the boot) in Reggio Calabria. This city is not a touristy one, but I love it just the same. While Roma, Napoli, Firenze, Palermo, Venezia, etc are fantastic, glorious cities to visit, I would not want to actually live there. I am a small- to medium-sized city kind of girl.
Reggio Calabria is relatively small, calm and is situated near the Mediterranean Sea and Sicily (one of the advantages of living in Reggio Calabra is that I can see Sicily and Mt. Etna from just about any point). While in Italy, I have been to Roma, Napoli, Palermo (other Sicilian cities), and other cities in the southern region of mainland Italy. I have hiked up Mt. Etna (near Catania, Sicily) and Mt. Vesuvio (near Pompei and Napoli). I have swum in the sea and have eaten things that I never thought I would. I have met new friends and have found a new partner, and I get to speak and hear Italian all day long!
Due to the Schengen agreement, I can be in Italy for only 90 days at a time. Therefore, once my first 90 days were up, I went to England and lived in a town north of London called Bishop's Stortford (near Stansted airport). While residing there, I was blessed to have wonderful excursions and experiences as I traveled to Cardiff, Wales; Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland; and Dublin, Galway, and Limerick, Ireland. In England, I visited Bath, Cambridge, Reading, and of course, London. I then returned to Italy at the end of December. Now, for my departure trip back to the States, I will be passing through Canterbury and Dover, England and revisiting Paris, France via the English Channel. In other words, I have been living a dream these past few months, and my heart breaks every time I think about how it is all about to end.
So, in order to distract myself from deep depression, I have been baking up a storm with my little oven here in Reggio Calabria. I have been making many things (mostly for my boyfriend's family) such as cookies/biscuits, brownies, cakes, and bread - lots of bread, such as these hamburger buns (even with the availability of ciabatte and focacce (and they are super cheap!), I prefer making my own bread).
In this city, the supermarkets are actually more ethnocentric than those of the States or the UK. Therefore, almost every time I try to create a non-Italian dish, such as Tex-Mex enchiladas, buttermilk biscuits (~savory scones), or burgers, they end up becoming "Italianized" by default due to the lack of certain ingredients characteristic and essential to the desired dishes. For instance, when I discovered there were no jalapeños, cilantro, or Mexican or cheddar cheeses to make my favorite Tex-Mex enchiladas, I had to use pepperoncini, fontina, mozzarella, and Kraft Sottilette Classiche instead. For the buttermilk biscuits, I tried using the baking powder they have here only to find out it is available only with vanilla powder added(!), so the biscuits turned out sweet when I wanted savory (I remedied this problem by purchasing some regular baking powder in the UK).
These burgers here are another example. I was craving a good, old-fashioned burger that you would find in the States, so I started out with my favorite hamburger bun recipe. Instead of bacon and cheddar, however, I added in pancetta and fontina inside of the meat. In the meat I also added a bunch of oregano, thyme, garlic powder, and Lawry's seasoning salt (my mom brought Lawry's to me when she visited for Xmas break. Thanks, mom!). Then, I placed the Kraft Sottilette Classiche (white, processed cheese that tastes most similar to Kraft Singles), sautéed mushrooms, and lettuce on top along with homemade, french fries on the side. Needless to say, this burger meal was amazing, and it was so huge that I skipped dinner that day.
(not really a recipe. Just a list of what I used to make the burger.)
1/2 kilo or 1 lb of ground beef or turkey
The following to taste: seasoning salt (Lawry's!), pepper, oregano, thyme, rosemary, basilico, pepperoncini, fontina, and pancetta cubes
Mushrooms sautéed in butter or oil until soft and brownish
Lettuce, mayo, or whatever extra fixings you prefer
Mix the seasonings, cheese, and pancetta cubes into the ground turkey or beef. Do not overmix! Form 2-4 patties (depending on how big you want them). Cook the burgers to your desired doneness, and sautée the mushrooms while the burgers cook. Place additional cheese (if using) on top of the burgers during the final 1-2 minutes of cooking. Once the cheese has melted, transfer the burgers to a paper towel to remove excess grease (unless you prefer grease-soaked, burger buns). Place the mushrooms on top and any other fixings you prefer, and enjoy!
I would like to state for the record that the pink serving plate with the big flower is NOT, I repeat, NOT mine. I live in a furnished apartment, so yeah, not mine. I would never voluntarily own anything pink! :P
Hamburger Buns/Light Brioche Buns
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: Eight 4- to 5-inch (10-12 cm) burger buns
1 cup (250 ml) warm water (~100 degrees F/38 degrees C) (I do not have a thermometer here, so I know it is ready if I can swirl my finger around in the warm water without feeling too uncomfortable.)
3 Tbsp (44 ml) warm milk
2 tsp (7 gms) active dry yeast (or 25 g/one cube of fresh yeast)
2 1/2 Tbsp (28 gms) granulated or caster sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups (381 gms) bread flour (farina di grano tenero per pane)
1/3 cup (42 gms) all-purpose or wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp (7.5 gms) table salt
2 1/2 Tbsp (35 gms) unsalted butter, softened
Sesame seeds (optional)
- Yeast Activation and Variation: If using active, dry yeast or fresh yeast: In a glass-measuring cup or a bowl, combine warm water, milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until bubbly for about five minutes. If there is no bubbling/foamy activity after 4-5 minutes, the yeast is most likely dead due to hot water or accidental introduction of salt. DO NOT PROCEED with the recipe, if the yeast is dead. Just start over. It is better to lose these 4 ingredients than to lose all that flour, butter, and time waiting for the dead dough to rise (it won't...at least not enough). If using instant yeast: simply mix ALL ingredients, except for sesame seeds, together. There is no need to leave it in warm water for 5 minutes (most dry yeast powders I have encountered in Italy follow this method.).
- In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, lightly-floured counter (despite what many bread recipes state, try to use as little flour as possible to yield a more tender, hydrated bread) and knead by scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 - 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so be patient, and stay away from the bench flour! The dough is ready when it bounces back when you touch it or it creates a think film when you stretch a piece of it. However, if you kneaded consistently for 8-10 minutes, it is definitely ready.
- Shape dough into a ball, put a little bit of oil in the same mixing bowl, and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, clean shower cap, or a clean towel and allow it to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk for about one to two hours.(If you do not plan to make the buns immediately, you can place the covered dough in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. If it inflates too much, GENTLY push down the dough. Take the dough out 1-2 hours (depending on the temperature of the room) before you bake it.)
- Line a baking sheet with parchment/oven paper or Silpat. Using a knife or a dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts (use a scale!). Gently roll each into a ball, and arrange them 2-3 inches (5 to 8 cms) apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic/cling wrap lightly coated in oil or nonstick spray, and allow buns to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours. (I froze half of my bun balls (haha). When I'm ready to use them, I will put them in the fridge one day before then take them out of the fridge 1-2 hours before baking them.)
- Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C) with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with one Tbsp (15 ml) water and brush some on top of buns. Alternatively, you could brush on the egg and then with your fingers, spray water on top while in the hot oven to create steam and bubbles on top of the bread, which is what I did). Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using.
- Bake for approximately 15 minutes. They should be golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.