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!

June 21, 2014

Simply Sicilian- Swordfish recipe from Pino Maggiore

There are some recipes which just grab you the first time you eat them and remain in your memory. This is one of them.

When we go to Cantina Siciliana for our cooking class, Pino is more than generous to share his recipes with us, not just those we had for class, but also what he makes for us for lunch after.

This is called Pesce Spada alla Pantesca a recipe from the island of Pantelleria, famous for their capers. There is nothing easier than this recipe. The hard part is getting measurements from Italians. People just grow up cooking and have an innate sense of how things are done and freely play with ingredients and recipes.

I once was shopping in Florence for a recipe my vegetable vendor gave me, when I told her what I was making and the list of ingredients ( as per her recipe to me) she added carrots saying she ALWAYS had carrots in the recipe. Oh well.

The secret to this recipe is start with a cold pan.
Cover the bottom of the pan with extra virgin olive oil.
Add the fish.
Add halved cherry tomatoes ( 6 per person?)
Add 2 tbs capers
add 2 tbs pinenuts
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbs ground almond flour

Turn on the heat.
Let cook for 3 minutes per side ( you can see the fish change color as it cooks)
Flip the fish
Serve with its sauce

I added some Sicilian oregano tonight and was great.
The almond flour thickens the sauce and is the secret ingredient.

June 6, 2014

Simply Summer- Carpaccio

When the temperatures start to rise, quick and easy recipes are what we look at for easy meals. A favorite is Carpaccio. I remember it was one of the dishes that won me over to Italian food in the 80's at Prego restaurant in San Francisco.

The original dish was created by Arrigo Cipriani of Harry's Bar in Venice to honor the painter Carpaccio. When you see the colors of the Carpaccio paintings, you understand the dish. They serve the carpaccio drizzled with a mustard sauce.

Today I made the classic simple version we adore, adorned with our wild arugula and shaved parmesan cheese and a few capers.

We can buy the thinly sliced beef at the grocery store, ready to plate up. Not really a recipe-- but directions.

  • Place thinly sliced beef on a plate.(This is cut from the top round or eye of round)
  • Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the meat, this starts to "cook" it. 
  • Sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Top with a few arugula leaves and shave some parmesan cheese on top.
  • I use a potato peeler to shave the cheese.
  • Top with a few vinegar packed capers.

If you want to add the famous mustard sauce, thin your mustard of choice with a little extra virgin olive oil and drizzle on top like a mad artist!