July 31, 2005

Tonno di Coniglio.. Rabbit, tuna style

Last week I had a whole family for class, the children walking around on their own as we were waiting for our vegetables, they came back from the nearby butcher's booth with this dramatic statement,

" Daddy, I didn't know that they ate poodles!"

It isn't just kids that are confused with the shape of a rabbit in a meat counter.

Rabbit is a very popular meat in both Italy and France, and quite fabulous!
It was easy to raise. In the medieval and Renaissance markets, the sale of le carne bianche, white meat, was left to the women. Chicken and rabbits, courtyard animals, required little strength to butcher and were raised and sold by the women.

It surprised me to see that on the Island of Ischia , the typical dish is Coniglio all' Ischitana, rabbit.
I found out the history of rabbit on the island was from Phoenician times, when they left rabbits on the islands they visited to be sure they would have food when they returned. Still today, fishermen sell fish, but eat rabbit!

My favorite summer recipe for Rabbit is from Monferrato, in Piedmont.
Tonno di Coniglio a fabulous marinated rabbit easy to recreate at home, you can easily substitute chicken.

Here is the recipe:

Boil one whole rabbit in lightly salted water with:
one carrot, one celery stalk and one onion with 2 or 3 cloves stuck in it.

When the rabbit is tender and falling from the bones, about one hour, turn off the heat and let cool in the broth.

Remove the rabbit from the broth and gently tear the meat off the bones, in the largest pieces possible.

Place in a bowl. There will also be some smaller shredded pieces of rabbit.

Season with chopped sage and garlic, I used 1 clove of garlic and 6 large sage leaves.
Salt if you like.
Layer in a glass jar and place some bay leaves in amongst the rabbit.
I used about 4 small young tender leaves.

Cover with extra virgin olive oil and let marinade in the refridgerator for 2 or 3 days before serving.

Remove the rabbit pieces from the oil and serve with a light salad of lovely greens.

July 25, 2005

Tuscan Treasures- Roberta

When I first started teaching classes for Syracuse University here in Florence in 1988, one of my first teachers at the San Lorenzo market was Roberta.

She had the largest fruit stand upstairs with her oldest son. Roberta would always give me huge bags of ripe fruit for 5,000 lira to make huge bowls of Macedonia for my classes once a month.

To this day when I make Macedonia I think of Roberta.
Since the days of my classes for students, Roberta's son died and she had to abandon her stand as alone it was impossible to take care of it on her own.

Macedonia is a fruit salad, of many mixed fruits, probably getting it's name from the region of Macedonia, above Greece where they are a mixed population!

Usually at the end of a meal, one would cut strawberries into a small water tumbler, sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar or two on top and cover with red wine.Talking while waiting for the sugar to dissolve. then eating the fruit and drinking the infused wine. Mangi e Bevi, Eat and Drink!
Peaches are usually done in white wine... sound familar.. the Bellini cocktail, peaches in prosecco, Italy's sparkling white wine.

Today I buy my fruit downstairs at the more expensive stands, often using wild strawberries, raspberries and other more elegant fruits instead of the family style pears, apples, bananas,peaches, apricots and plums that Roberta gave me.

Non the less, fabulous.

Join me in this tribute to Roberta, with whatever ripe fruit you have!

Macedonia alla Roberta

2 to 3 pieces of really ripe fruit per person
Apples,peaches, bananas,kiwi, peaches,pears....

Cut the fruit up into bitesize pieces and place in a large bowl.
Add sugar.
It is important not to skimp on the sugar.
In a big bowl add about 1 cup of sugar.
If you were making jam it would be a pound of sugar to a pound of fruit!
We are not making jam, but the sugar brings out the juices in the fruit, which will blend with the wine to give you a great liquid that you can drink when you finish the fruit salad!
Add white wine to cover.

Stir and let sit.
Taste and if you tastes like too much wine, add more sugar!

July 23, 2005

To Market to Market

My market, San Lorenzo,also known as the Mercato Centrale, Central Market

Upstairs, there are several vegetable purveyors that have some fabulous mushrooms in season, Porcini being the local specialty.

There are one or two fish mongers that have their own boats, Mom's husband has been selling fish for over 200 years, and her family has made ceramics for the same time.

Massimo Mannetti's family has been in the market almost since it opened in the 1860's and his family now has 5 stands, one for each of the men in the family carrying on the tradition.
No wonder he loves his pork!

Manuele is also a third generation market boy! His grandfather began by going to Arezzo with a cart to buy chicken, rabbit and pidgeons, selling them on the way back home , arrving back on Saturday, taking Sunday off to start again on Monday.

I am one of the luckiest people in the world!

I live in front of the Central Market in Florence.
the secret to fabulous food, is cooking with the best ingredients you can find, in season, and building up a relationship with the purveyors!

When I take my students through the market we stop by the chicken sisters, my chicken boy, the fishy guy, the bread lady.. all of course have names...but jokingly refered to byme, by their profession!

Here is the market and some of my family!

I am known as the Americana...pronounced Amerihana,.. the "C" in Florentine dialect becoming an "H" as in Hoca Hola... Coca Cola..
Next time you come to Florence, order your Coke like that and you will get a laugh!

How can you not make good food when the people that sell it to you are also passionate and professional!

Mille Grazie Tutti!

July 17, 2005

Linguine di Capitan Travaglia

Yesterday we went to visit our friends Stefano and Gianna who have a hot air balloon company in Chianti. They recently moved near to us, on a farm and have a fabulous litte Orto ,home garden, with three kinds of tomatoes, watermelon, cabbage and of course an herb garden, basil, sage, rosemary and parsley.

Gianna's Dad,Luciano is one of the oldest butchers in the San Lorenzo market, so the meat is always first quality!

We got together to plan my husbands 50th birthday party. 10 years ago we all went hot air ballooning with Robert, in Southern Tuscany and we are planning our anniversary flight! Double balloons this year!!!

50 years in hot air balloons....
Stefano is a fabulous chef and now that his garden is ready.. he offered us dinner... from the garden to the table.

He calls this dish.. linguine areostatici... we were joking that the spaghetti was flying over fields of the ripe tomatoes!!!

He harvested some Pomodori Fiorentini, a heirloom tomato that is always used for sauces.

The he cut them in half, width-wise, and sauted them in a non-stick skillet, with a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup of hot water.

When the tomatoes seem cooked, he flipped them over and chopped them up lightly, just with a wooden spatula,and let them cook more. He then added some torn basil and at the very end some raw garlic slices.

Surprise! So Un Italian!!! He then placed the raw linguine ( DeCecco) in top of the sauce, adding another 1/4 cup of hot water( salted). Continuing until the pasta was cooked.
he stirred and stirred as for risotto... letting the pasta absorb the rich tomato sauce, adding water as needed to help with the cooking.

Voila! Tender, al dente pasta cooked perfectly in a fresher than fresh sauce. A first and last drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated parmesan cheese stirred in and the last minute.

A labor of love as one must stand and stir.. but a worth it for the concentration of the tomato into a sublime celebration if summer!

Grazie Stefano!
PS I also came home with my own bag of tomatoes!
Mille Grazie!

The Season's Best

Driving around the countryside in Tuscany now is one of my favorite moments.
the wheat is being cut,leaving golden fields, with patterns much like corduroy,bright yellow sunflowers, already bending with the heat.

Green vineyards, bunches or grapes already full and waiting to ripen.

Figs, both green called dottati, which have been around since the beginning of June and the dark luscious purple figs which we all know. My neighbors are generously giving me bags of figs and basically have invited me to come and take as many as I like. I will be making some jams and chutneys soon, and also perhaps a French fig Tapenade I love!
Last week in class, we grilled fig halves, topping them with cold fresh caprino, goat's milk cheese and some mostarda di arancia,an orange marmalade with a spicy kick!

My other passion... are capers! Here they grow wild in rock walls. I was lucky enough to be able to buy some already harvested in Puglia a couple of summers ago, which I salt packed and lasted quite a while.

They are the flower blossom, picked when tiny and most often pickled in vinegar.In the Sicilian Islands,Pantelleria is most famous, they grow on the ground, formed by volcano's lava flow. The larger caper berry which has appeared in the markets now, as an appetizer, is actually the seed pod of the caper.

July 16, 2005

I'm It!

I was just Tagged for this MEME by David Lebovitz, but first had to figure out what a MEME was!

Seems an extension of one's profile,memories and thoughts..and passing them on....

I was just sent this by David...
(pronounced meem) is an alteration of "mimeme" and is defined by
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as "an idea, behavior, style, or usage
that spreads from person to person." Various memes are always bouncing
around the food blog community, usually offering a personal glimpse into
some aspect of the food blogger's life. They also give you a chance to
discover new blogs."

Now we can go on!

Here is the the site that began it all! Be sure to look at the Family Tree of bloggers!
Do so at your own risk... reading blogs can be habit forming!

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own:

I remember my first Easy Bake Oven, cooking outside on the patio in Marin County.
I also had my first shop selling mudpies to the neighbor’s kids, one of whom appreciated them so much, he ATE them! Turns out he had a vitamin deficiency and the doctor said that the our terroir was rich in vitamins and minerals and it was ok for him to eat them.... as long as I removed the stones!

Girl Scout cooking badge classes, Waldorf salad and DG, the Italian, in the class,tossing the salad... all over the kitchen!

Celebration dinners for my parents and trying to cook meat, knowing it took a long time, left a thin slice of beef in the oven baking and went to the neighbors to get help!
Covered the charcol burned beef with tons of sauce trying to hide it!

I think my table decorating skills, dressing my Trolls in suitable theme costumes, created a fabulous ambience at the table, Molto Martha!

One of the most requested recipes was a meatloaf pie, covered with a instant mashed potato crust, and then dusted with potato flakes before baking.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?

I fell into food as a job that allowed me to travel. One of my first pastry teachers was at Tante Marie’s in San Francisco, Diane Dexter, and she skied in the mornings in Austria, then hung out with the little village ladies cooking in the afternoon. These recipes provided her with new content for classes! What a concept!

My pastry master, Jim Dodge was fabulous, and the hotel I worked at, the Stanford Court in San Francisco, was run by a man with a vision, Jim Nassikas. They had classes in the 80’s with Roger Verge, Julia Child, Marcella Hazan in the fabulous restaurant with wood burning ovens.

I was lucky enough to be invited to study at Verge’s school at the Moulin di Mougin and see cooking schools as a vacation experience.

Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?

I have been living out of the states for 21 years now and don’t have access to old foto’s, but will look and ask Mom but it is probably deeply hidden in some box stored away!

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?

Living in Italy has made me pretty much fearless. I was a vegetarian and now attack squid, whole fish and cow faces on a daily basis.
But still have nightmares about the first Charlotte I made in school, that when we un-molded it, collapsed all over the table!

I am taking on a project now... with my neighbors here in Chianti, and going to follow the Seasons of the Pig.. may get sweaty palms. Never attended the slaughtering of an animal before.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?

I love my $12.00 plastic handled mezzaluna, my copper bowl for whisking and my wood handled whisk.
Nothing better than a good knife, love my FURI

Never use the professional rolling pin I bought when more in the French mentality of making my own croissants.

One of the things I dragged here from America along with a cast iron skillet and my wok!
I also HATE the smaller double-bladded mezzaluna I bought for $45.00, too small!

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!

I am still a peanut butter fanatic.. with banana’s on toast.. with honey.

Childhood favorite, a piece of sliced white bread, with raw ground beef,mayo spread on top and then broiled!
The Italian version I adore now is raw sausage and stracchino cheese on Tuscan bread.wimps have it grilled!

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?

Spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino

Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!

Three quickies

Your favorite ice-cream

Mokacacao at Pinquino in Florence

You will probably never eat…

Lambs heads, been there done that!
Was once in Greece, dating this guy who wanted to take me for a special meal. We drove what seemed forever to arrive at this taverna in the countryside, to be served a whole roasted lambs head, that was it, no salad, no potatoes, no fabulous table filled with shot glasses of ouzo and meze, no Greek Salad, no grilled octopus, only a head!

Your own signature dish

Filetto di maiale in crosta, a pork tenderloin baked in a baguette with Tuscan herbs.
Also make killer lasagna!
My Mostarda Meditteranean I created while working with Dario Cecchini in Panzano.

.from the ChefDoc at A Perfect Pear

Any signs that this passion is going slightly over the edge and may need intervention?

I do get withdrawl symptoms if I am away from it too long, and have cravings for unknown thrills… it is an expensive habit.. but so stimulating!
Although I teach cooking, when I go on vacation the first thing I do is book a cooking class myself!

...from Clement at A La Cuisine!
Any embarrassing eating habits?

When I am teaching in America, I tend not to eat..and end up stopping at some fast food place and getting a hamburger,fries and a coke!
My Florentine husband once asked my wasn’t I embarrassed to be seen there eating. I told him not to worry, no one I knew would be there!

...from Sarah, of The Delicious Life
Who would you want to come into your kitchen to cook dinner for you?
Moreno Cedroni of La Madonnina in Senigallia,president of the young chefs organization in Italy. Creative and fun!

...from Adam, of The Amateur Gourmet:
Who's your favorite food writer
I have a rather eclectic collection of books.. but I love the older ones like Claudia Roden Elizabeth David and hope to be like them!
One day be a reference for Florentine food, translated for the World Kitchen.

….from David Lebovitz at David Lebovitz.com

What's the best food city in the world?
San Francisco, Barcellona, Florence
BUT I have never been to so many places!
Never been to NY!!!

...from Judy of Divina Cucina
What do you want to be when you grow up?

I would love to be a published writer and go back to my origins as an artist!
Photography, soft sculpture, ceramics....

Three people to pass this on to

I spend more time reading forums like Egullet than blogs, so I pass the baton to
Alberto of il Forno who also writes on Egullet.

July 11, 2005

Pomodori Ripieni

Having a couple of days off... I cook!
My husband loves stuffed tomatoes!
His Aunt Vivetta had a restaurant in Cecina, near the sea,in Tuscany, where he spent his summers and she always prepared trays of stuffed vegetables, some with meat and bechamel, some with rice and others with a potato filling.

Here is the traditional rice filled tomato, baked with seasoned raw rice, and served cold!

Pomodori Ripieni- Stuffed Tomatoes

6 small round salad tomatoes
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 clove garlic, minced
2tbs chopped basil
2 tbs Parmesan cheese, grated
Olive oil

Cut the top third off the tomatoes.
Scoop out and save the seeds and pulp, chopped, in a small bowl.
Add the raw rice, chopped basil and garlic and parmesan and season with salt.

Moisten with olive oil.

Fill tomatoes 2/3 full with the rice mixture and place in a baking dish,
add 1/2 cup of water and bake for 30-40 minutes at 350 until the rice is cooked.

Serve at room temp.

July 10, 2005

Sunday lunch lasagna

A sudden rainfall this morning cooled us off enough that I was inspired to make a Sunday Lasagna, Tuscan Style. No Ricotta, no mozzarella, this light lasagna bakes up more like a delicate souffle, melting in your mouth! Lasagna al Forno is the baked lasagna where as lasagna can also be a smaller noodle as the one used for the Lasagne di San Lorenzo, celebrated August 10th, when the vendors at the San Lorenzo Market in Florence offer Lasagna and watermelon to all!

I had some leftover Duck Ragu from a cooking class and some fabulous dry Lasagna Riccia from the Garofolo factory in Naples.

I preheated the oven, whipped up some Bechamel sauce and had my husband Andrea, grate the parmesan cheese.

I make my sauces liquid, so that I don’t have to precook my pasta noodles, allowing them to soak up the extra liquid to cook the pasta while baking, saving me time and trouble!

In Florence Ragu is called Sugo and is made mostly with beef, sometimes adding a little pork for extra fat and flavor! It is also surprising how little tomato sauce is used in making Sugo or Ragu. Tomatoes are fairly new to Italy, only being used since 1650's after the discovery of the New World. I often make my sugo without tomato, using red wine in it's place. I call this my Sugo DiVino!

Tuscan Lasagna al Forno
Cover the bottom of a baking dish with some sugo and b├ęchamel sauce.
Place a layer of dry pasta on top.
Cover with b├ęchamel, ragu
and sprinkle with parmesan.
For a light meal I only did 4 layers, an Italian Mamma’s party lasagna would be at least 10 layers, using fresh pasta!

Bake at 375 until a knife easily pierces through the pasta, showing it is cooked!

Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

July 9, 2005

Olive progress, meeting the neighbors.

Here is a progress report on my bonsai olive tree..

I took it to meet the neighbors olives, and to compare the size of the olives.
They are the same!

My neighbors olive trees are full, it willbe a great year for oil. We live next door to the local cooperative olive press,so don't have to go far to buy oil!

I will salt cure my few little olives as well as those I can gather from abanded trees.

I prefer the salt method to the Caustic soda.. or the salt water brine. I find they keep longer and taste better.

Food Rules

This sign is on the wall of a meat counter in Florence's San Lorenzo Market.

I asked the Butcher, if it was real.( the sign says, "Forbidden to spit on the ground".
This sign dates back from when there were sputoons in the market, and encouraged the use of sputtoons!

Other Food Rules in Italy consist of simpler thoughts, such as these traditional food pairings:
  1. prosciutto and melon
  2. salami with figs
  3. Pecorino cheese with pears.
One should also be aware of the Parmesan rules:

  1. Never have parmesan with spicy pasta sauces, the chili kills the flavor of the cheese.
  2. Never have parmesan with seafood sauce,the cheese kills the flavor of the fresh fish.

July 2, 2005

Celebrating Summer

With the summer heat , we are celebrating the wonderful produce of the season.
The first fabulous Florentine tomatoes are ready to be made into sauce.

Although my Florentine husband, Andrea, says August is really the month for tomatoes, I can't wait! I won't be buying kilo's of tomatoes to prepare for sauce until August, when the market is glutted with the sweet ripe tomatoes and the price falls, but how can one resist makings some pomorola now, and bringing summer to your plate?

Fiorentine are what they call the people from Florence.
These lovely pumpkin like-tomatoes are also called Fiorentine, even when grown in Sicily!

They are a fabulous, rich, meaty heirloom tomato that makes an incredibly rich sauce, called Pomarola, which every Italian Mamma makes.

This week we have made it twice in class!
No butter, no oil just tomato at it's ripest.
Nothing tastes more like summer.

To make your own Pomarola-

Usually we cook about a kilo, 2.2 pounds of tomatoes at a time. It is really important to only use summer RIPE tomatoes. If not, off season we use canned San Marzano tomatoes, which are only picked at the height of perfection!

Squeeze the tomatoes into a large pot with your hands.
Add some torn basil leaves and a large pinch of salt.
Cover pot and let cook over medium high heat until the tomatoes fall apart.
Pass the tomatoes and all their liquid through a food mill ( moulix), not a food processor which would only chop the skin into the sauce.
Keep pureeing until all that is left are the skins, rolled up, releasing all the tomato pulp.
The food mill removes all the skin and seeds and leaves you only with the rich tomato puree'.

To serve:

While you cook the pasta, heat some of the sauce in a skillet with a tablespoon of butter.
Lightly drain the pasta, and toss into the sauce, heating together to finish cooking.
Sprinkle with parmesan and serve with additional parmesan at the table.
Garnish with some fresh basil and you will taste Summer!

Mamma mia..... make this and you will make an Italian weep!