Tag Archives: italian

I love when this happens!

How often have you looked through your fridge or cupboard, and come to the realization that you have ALL the ingredients on hand for a meal that you hadn’t even planned?

It's not the sexiest -looking soup, but it felt so fresh and yummy. And no weird chemicals or additives!

It’s not the sexiest -looking soup, but it felt so fresh and yummy. And no weird chemicals or additives!

I mean, you scan through your dry goods, fruit & veg, and whatnot and your smart little brain takes those ingredients, and swiftly calculates them into a total dish you can actually cook? That’s awesome!

That is awesome, and it happened to me last week. I had kale, veg meatballs, tomatoes, garlic, veggie stock, carrots, celery and tortellini on hand. Brain threw those items into the calculator, and came up with: ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP

So, excited, I set right to it. We’ve been having unholy amounts of rain lately, and soup has seemed like a good idea – yes, even with the humidity.

My house quickly filled with the scent of garlic, tomatoes, celery and carrots gently sauteeing in olive oil…and later, in went the veggie Italian meatballs (courtesy Gardein). As you may (or may not) have read in my earlier posts, I ALWAYS have homemade veggie stock on hand for the base of any kind of soup.

Fast forward about an hour, and I added the veggies, tortellini, meatballs and a generous handful of kale to the stock and let it simmer. Of course, I added freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt to top it off.

I love when a non-plan comes together!

It’s all Greek to me (and a little Italian, too)

The nondescript exterior. But oh, the yummies inside!

On the way back from an IKEA shopping trip, my driving pal impulsively decided she wanted to stop at the Spiros Pasadena Produce and Deli to pick up a Greek salad for her supper. We’d both separately driven by this little store, in an even-smaller strip shopping center in South Pasadena, but had never bothered to actually stop in. Now, on a later Saturday afternoon after a frenzied day of shopping, we were both glad we did.

It’s funny, too. We had had lunch together, earlier in the day, fantasizing about where in the world we would go if we had the money. She said Greece; I said Italy. We both agreed that both places would be a blast if for nothing other than the cuisine! And I’ve always loved Italian markets. Growing up North, I remember my mom stopping at a large Italian speciality deli in a (wait for it….) strip shopping center in Cleveland. I distinctly remember the smell of olives and freshly cured meats; we would usually walk out with bread and real Italian tomato paste that came in a squeeze tube – far superior to anything in a can on an American shelf.

Obligatory Greek statue.

But back to Spiros. It does double duty as a little casual cafe and provisions shop. While my friend studied the menu and eventually ordered a salad, I wandered the shop looking for goodies – and possibly, my dinner for the evening as well. On the cafe side, Spiros offers cold sandwiches (mortadella, chicken salad, classic hoagies, capicola, etc); hot sandwiches (gyros, eggplant parm, grouper sub, pork souvlaki, meatball sub); and salads such as the classic Greek, Chef Salad, and Spiro Special, with romaine, tomato, feta, tabbouleh, and tzatziki sauce. (Hungry yet?)

You can also get Greek and Italian dinner classics – moussaka, lasagna, roasted lamb.

Feta, feta, feta. FETA!

What stunned me were Spiros’ produce prices. I couldn’t believe that this tiny shop had better-than-competitive prices than the giant chain supermarket in the next parking lot. Fresh lemons, 4 for $1, heads of garlic, the same; healthy-looking eggplant, lettuces, carrots, tomatoes of all sizes and onions, jicama, Swiss chard (my new, recent love), broccoli, and mushrooms. What caught my eye first were the size of the portobella mushrooms, and it was then and there that I constructed a dinner in my head. At the deli counter (I smelled it before I saw it!) they offer loads of yummy olives, and my favorite, feta cheese. The feta prices per pound were reasonable, and I knew that feta was what I wanted to stuff my giant portabello mushroom with. I ordered a half pound, and it came nicely double wrapped in paper and plastic wrap: a nice, fragrant, healthy-looking chunk of delicious cheese that puts “store-bought” to shame.

Ready-made dinners.

If you’re feeling lazy or are in a hurry, Spiros pre-makes their yummy Greek-Italo dinners for your convenience: just take home and reheat. Grab a bottle of wine and some baklava from the deli, and you are good to go. Bliss!

My favorite part of Spiros (besides the cheese)  is the dry goods: Alessi brand foods, like dried soups, espresso, ladyfingers, cannoli shells, and marinara sauces. Alessi (based in Tampa) always makes quality stuff and it’s painfully authentic Italian. (If you’ve never been to the Alessi restaurant in Tampa, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit.) Spiros even offers pignoli nuts in bulk – how cool is that?

Vigo & Alessi - Tampa homeboys.

I wound up with just the half pound of feta, giant mushroom, and fresh head of garlic, but resisted temptation for other things (which is tres difficulte for me!). And let me tell you: that fresh feta was AMAZING. Perfectly salty but not too, it complemented the garlic and the portabello as I grilled the three together. When I want my next feta fix, it’s going to come from Spiros (and as they’re open 7 days a week – not made hard at all).

You can find Spiros at 6801 Gulfport Blvd South, in South Pasadena. Go – and indulge.

World’s biggest pizza…

…well, it seemed like it at the time. This monster 20″ came from Spartan Pizza in St Pete, who’s been in business since the mid-1970s. The place is run by a Greek family and features old-timey, faded decor which only adds to its ‘hole in the wall’ charm. They have spaghetti dinners, gyros, and sweet desserts in a rotating cooler up front. But the pizza is hot and good, not too greasy but just greasy enough – and lasts for days if you have a small family or are a couple. Yum, yum, yum, all around!

I used to hate them…

…artichokes. But now…yum. Why? Maybe it was a kid thing. But I find myself buying jars and jars of marinated ‘chokes, and throwing them into delicious one-pan dishes such as my Garlicky Artichoke Mafalde. How subtly in color and taste the artichokes blend in with the pasta – but how simple and satisfying.


Olive oil, for sauteeing
One half of a white onion, diced
Three garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound of Mafalde, or similar long pasta
1/2 jar of marinated artichokes
Water, for boiling pasta

Boil mafalde until it’s al dente. In large saucepan, lightly sautee garlic and onions (don’t overcook). Drain pasta well. Add artichokes to saute pan, and cook gently with the onions and garlic, about 5 minutes. If mixture seems dry, add a tablespoon of the artichoke marinade to pan. Lower heat and add the pasta to pan, stirring constantly until all ingredients are mixed. Garnish with freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, and chopped parsley, if desired. Serve immediately. (Vegan)

This recipe can easily be doubled.

Kale to the chief

“More kale, General?” the little old grandmother asked of Warren Beatty in “Bulworth.”

Absolutely, why not more kale? A powerhouse green packed with vitamins A and D, kale goes well in soups, stews, and sautes. Rip its rugged leaves for a punchy salad mixed with other like-minded greens, or scrunch it up in a juicer along with tomatoes, apples, celery, beets and carrots to power boost your homemade V8-style juice.

Here, I’ve added kale to a veggie-heavy vegan pastafazool. The bright green fades slowly as it simmers in a rich tomato broth, and its sharp kick mellows after some time. Tear away the leaves from the tough-as-nails stalks before cooking. (Don’t forget to compost the stalks.)