September 15, 2014

Big Red Tents and Dreams

This summer has flown by like a dream. We had very little heat so it was rather surreal most of the time. Then I attended MAD, a culinary think-tank in Copenhagen organized by Renee' Redzepi of Noma restaurant and David Chang of Momofuku in NY..This years curator and guest host was Chef Alex Atala from Brazil. My trip was also very dreamlike. I didn't have a lot of extra time, so flew in the day before. Copenhagen was the opposite of Italy. Everyone was tall and blond, riding bikes and smiling. The city was spotless. My mind is still spinning from the event. Immagine two days of culinary summer camp, with 600 fabulous incredible people all hyped for the event. Each day was packed with inspirational speakers. Subjects varying, but the subject was "What's Cooking?" There was the huge big read tent for the lectures and the other tents were for our breaks. We shuttled over to the island for the meetings and each trip back and forth was also time to bond. Here by chance is Farmer Lee Jones and Ron Finley. No one wears tags saying who you are or what you do, it is all about just talking and sharing information. Before the conference, I was lucky to be invited to AMASS for lunch with a friend and her friends. The chef, an American who had cooked with Thomas Keller and with Renee Redzepi, created a relaxing fun spot, just down from where they tents were for the conference. We had the tasting menu and it was really lovely. No ants, no foam. Intese flavors and simplicity. But back to the meetings. The speakers were over the top and covered such a vast area of thought on what is cooking in various parts of the world and who is cooking as well as problems such as a lack of food and waste. I highly recommend you watching the video's that they have put online. The program began in silence with the preparation of Soba by Tatsura Rai. He owns a small 12 seater restaurant and prepares the soba to order. If only everyone had such respect for the art of pasta making and feeding people. If you go to the MAD FEED, you will be able to watch all the videos and hopefully be as inspired to do something as I am. It is really impossible to list all the incredible speakers, I think each of us attending got something different from each one. My biggest jolt was from Ron Finley and his lecture on Guerilla Gardening in South LA. I am blessed to live in Italy where almost everyone has an "orto" their small gardens anywhere they can. I think they invented the Guerilla gardening-- first plant it, then see if anybody cares. But the most important thing is to grow your own. When I came home, I went down to the local city gardens, you can rent a space 110sq meters, for 40 euro a year, including the water. "growing your own food is like printing your own money" - Ron Finley I want to be a part of the revolution-- getting everyone in the garden and then in the kitchen. Does this video speak to you too??? I will be posting and writing about the other speakers that really impressed me-- but now have to go plant something!
My friend, Dario Cecchini, opened MAD last year and here is is with Ron. Such positive energy, please let it be contagious.

August 14, 2014

Panelle- Sicilian Street Food

I was a vegetarian for about 7 years, I guess now you would say Pescatarian,as I ate sushi!
Living in Tuscany now for 30 years, I eat meat. but the mediterranean diet is high in grains and vegetables as well as incredible cheeses. We get our fair share of protein.

Legumes are a high source of protein as well and one of my favorite treats is called Cecina, a chickpea flour sort of baked crepe, which is also known as Socca on the French riviera or Farinata in Liguria.

Once I started going to Sicily, I fell in love all over again for their version called Panelle. What's not to love about anything fried? The Panelle are a traditional street food in Palermo, served inside a roll as a sandwich. The last trip, we made paper thin panelle at Planeta Winery's cooking classes and they were the best I have ever had. Then in Palermo at a restaurant, the woman served them sliced like french fries, with a curried ketchup dipping sauce. I also had Rasciata, what would be scraped from the cooking pot, sort of the leftover batter, fried as a quenelle. Never ending inspiration. I found a bag of chickpea flour at the local market and was inspired to play around in the kitchen.

I picked up a few new tricks for a lighter version,the secret is to slice as thin as possible and make a light, delicate mixture.

I use about 1 cup of chickpea flour to 3 cups of water.

The flour is mixed into the flour, whisked to remove any lumps and then cooked like polenta, stirring the entire time, until done, about 10 minutes. The batter will begin to form a thin crust on the pan.

I poured the mixture into a plastic square container( it took the shape of the container) and let cool. Most people make a larger portion and use a plum cake pan

Then I thinly sliced and fried some of them, and also made some of the french fry shape.
Normally, chopped parsley is put in but I went with the other version of some fennel seeds.

My husband loved these so much I made them two days in a row( from the one recipe of batter i made) and now will make another batch. Simple and easy if you don't mind frying.

Don't forget the dusting of sea salt! It really takes it up a notch.

Sicilian Panelle

3 cups cold water
1 cup chickpea flour (garbanzo bean)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fennel seeds or chopped parsley

Whisk the flour into the water and add salt.
Turn on the heat and keep whisking until the mixture begins to thicken.
Switch to a wooden spoon or a spatula and keep stirring while it cooks for 10 minutes, like a polenta. Add chopped parsley or the fennel seeds.
Pour into a greased plum cake pan or a plastic container, round or square.
Let cool.

When cool, remove from the container and cut into the traditional thin slices.
Fry in hot oil until crispy.
Drain and lightly salt to taste. Serve hot.

July 29, 2014

Simply Summer- Pomodori

This year, like last year, has been a wet summer. But when you work cooking in a hot kitchen, it is welcoming. Luckily, my tomato plants have survived.

They did have a moment when they lost some of their blossoms, so we don't have as many as we normally do. But it is always a joy to walk into the backyard and grab the days harvest.

We chose to grow mostly the Florentine tomato for sauce. It has a thicker skin and fewer seeds and is best for cooking and not for salads.

One of the easiest recipes is making the classic tomato sauce, Pomarola. I wrote it up for the Dievole blog this summer, stop by their site and check it out and you can also see the lovely photo of the tomato sliced open and the rich meaty inside!

For a quick snack in summer, instead of the classic bruschetta, which I find a pain to eat as the tiny pieces of tomatoes ALWAYS fall off the bread and onto my lovely white summer shirts!

We make a simple pane al pomodoro, similar to the Spanish pan tomate.

Cut the tomato across the belly and rub the tomato on a slice of country-style  bread, squeezing it as you go.  This releases all the ripe tomato and you are left with the skin in your hand. I break this up and add on top.

Tear some basil leaves on top, sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

If you want a richer dish, toast the bread first, rub with a raw garlic clove just like making Tuscan Fettunta ( bruschetta) and then rub with the tomato.

Not only great tasting but fun to let everyone do their own!

Ripe tomatoes are a MUST.

Buon Estate!

Ps also check out my article on preserving capers on the Dievole blog. Have you ever seen capers growing? There is a recipe for Salsa Verde, another favorite of mine.

July 16, 2014

Chianti:Food&Wine APP- Montefioralle

When I published my app on touring Chianti, my idea was EAT. DRINK.SHOP.SLEEP.

Pick a town on the app and then see what I suggest doing while there. It is impossible to list EVERYONE and we are all different in what we find interesting, but I think I have a good idea on places to visit.

As part of Simply Divina, my culinary consulting, I offer and arrange cooking classes and culinary touring, market visits and more. While on a day in Chianti with a student, we stopped by one of my favorite little villages, Montefioralle, located on the hill above Greve in Chianti.

Montefioralle only takes a few minutes to tour as it is tiny, but we take our time and take a lot of photos. To me it is one of the beautiful,untouched villages in Tuscany.

Little known fact. Amerigo Vespucci was from here. Yes, that Amerigo, the man that with Giovanni da Verrazzano actually discovered America. They sailed into Hudson Bay. Yes, the Verrazzano bridge is named for Giovanni  Verrazzano and his family. The castle can still be visited near Greve. They produce fabulous wine and offer great tours.

On my last visit to Montefioralle, I discovered a wonderful artist, with a studio in the Vespucci building. ( the front door of the Vespucci home has a V with a wasp, VESPA, on it.

One of the problems of buying large pieces of art, is getting it home. These paintings can be rolled up and carried home and then remounted. He also has some tiny pieces, which I bought.

There was quiet a choice of the small pieces, at 5 euro, they would be a lovely gift. Ask to see his gallery, there are larger paintings and sculptures upstairs.

Some of these are painted on Japanese paper, others on old straw paper made in Tuscany, that was used by butchers. They are all original paintings.

Stop by and tell him Divina Cucina sent you!

Coming to Chianti? Don't forget the app!!!

Alessandro Nutini
Palazzo Vespucci, Montefioralle- Greve in Chianti

July 6, 2014

Summer on a Plate- Peperonata

We snuck in a little mini-vacation at the beach as part of some research I am doing for a new tour, down in Maremma. Tuscany is so different in the various regions and not really over run with tourists. It is full of agriculture, not just wine.

wheat ready for the harvest

I am calling the new tour, From Cacciucco to Carabaccia, the area from sea town of Livorno that makes Cacciucco, a seafood stew/soup, down to Maremma where we have cowboys and they make the onion soup Carabaccia. 

Cacciucco is the wonderful fish stew/soup which has many variations and varieties of fish and Carabaccia is the Tuscan onion soup which is said to have been brought to France by Catherine dei Medici and inspired the famous Soupe d'Oignon. The tour covers both the recipes from the sea and those from the mountains and farms in Maremma. Much of Maremma was once flooded swamp lands was converted into farms, cattle ranches and rice paddies too. Some of Tuscany's most famous wines also come from down here such as Sassicaia, Ornellaia and many other of my personal favorites from smaller wineries. The land is blessed with a fabulous microclimate.

The area is filled with farms and roadside farm shops. We stopped at a local bakery and stocked up on regional specialties to try when we got home and hit a nice farm shop we had seen on our way into town.
Alfredo at his farm stand, just above the farm in Bibbona
We spotted La Cometa on our way down and it looked like a place to be sure to stop on our way home. We met Alfredo and his passion for his life choice is clear. We picked up cantalope, fresh red onions, bell peppers, some smaller red onions to preserve, plums and apricots. I also got a jar of their own preserved tomatoes, in pieces.

I had to make some peperonata with the peppers and onions.To me, it is summer! I use my mother-in-law Tina's recipe which is pretty classic, red onions, red and yellow peppers, white wine vinegar, capers and sugar. The sweet and sour balance is wonderful and especially good as a left over.

Tuscan Bell Pepper-Red Onion Stew

4 large bell peppers, cut into 1 inch strips
4 large red onions, peeled and cut in half and into slices
olive oil
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs red or white wine vinegar.
4 Tbs capers

Drizzle a little olive oil in a large skillet.
Add the peppers and onions.
Sprinkle with salt (this will bring the liquid out of the veggies.)

Cover and let cook until the peppers and onions have become soft.

Add the sugar and vinegar.
Turn up the heat and caramelize the vegetables.

Taste for the correct balance of sweet and sour.
I use regular white sugar and wine vinegar.

Add the capers, stir and turn off the heat.

This is great hot, but best the next day at room temperature.

June 29, 2014

Signs of the Season

trebbiatura- harvesting the wheat

In Italy, you must pay attention to the seasons. Often you only have once chance at making a seasonal recipe. This year I missed the Elderberry blossoms, to make a syrup for cocktails.  But I did get my green walnuts to make Nocino, although this year I am celebrating my French side of the family and making Vin du Noix. Both have the same traditional roots, gathering the green walnuts before the shell begins to form, which is on June 24th in Tuscany. We celebrate St John the Baptist on June 24th, with a parade and fireworks in Florence.He is the patron saint of Florence.

Last summer I was in Gascony with Kate Hill and we had our own green walnut fest, and shared secrets. Another recipe I discovered to make was a Greek spoon sweet, candying the green walnuts. I harvested the walnuts on the eve of San Giovanni and made my base for either nocino or vin du noix, using the walnuts cut in half and then with sugar and whole grain alcohol and spices. The jar is now infusing in the sun. Now time is the most important ingredient.

I am going for the French timing, just 24 days as I still have nocino from last year and it takes 40 days!

Am feeling more like summer vermouth on the rocks than a rich after dinner drink. If you do make nocino, try it on vanilla ice cream.

Today I am putting on my gloves to make the greek candied green walnuts. Wish me luck!