August 28, 2005

Slow Food... Slow Down

The symbol of Slow Food Movement is the snail.

Today as we were driving down the our village, Certaldo, to have our Sunday morning cappuccino, pastry and buy the paper, we saw quite a few cars parked along the country road.

Next week, hunting season starts so there were hunters, without their guns, out with their dogs, looking around. There were also lots of men and women armed with plastic bags.

In Italy, they have some wonderful sayings.
Chickens when they eat, have their heads down and butts up... Buco Pilonzeri, so here were all these people..
buco pilonzeri, gathering something!

These are my kind of hunters. I always stop to see what they are foraging for;often wild asparagus, dandelion greens, nettle or other unknown local delicacies.

Last night we had a huge rain storm and todays gift from nature... snails!

I loved snails, until one day many years ago when I had just arrived in Italy, a friend decided to throw a Snail Pot Luck dinner, he supplied the snails from his country house, already purged and ready to cook.

I heated up some salted water and threw my snails in... AHHHHHHH they tried to escape!
I threw the lid on the pan and left!
When they were done, I removed them from the shells, sauteed them in garlic and olive oil, pureed them and rolled the paste up in blanched spinach leaves. How French of me!

When we arrived at the party, the table was filled with everyone's creations.
I overheard my friend saying that he didn't think my snails were cooked enough, I looked over and there was a live snail crawling over my dish!

I lost my appetite.

I did eat snails again until visiting my friend Kate near Agen in France.
She took us on her barge to a snail festival down the river, it was fabulous.
My favorite version was cooked in a large paella pan. The snails were stewed in a fabulous rich beefy ragu.

In London, I had a great snail-less version of snails!
Using the clay dish that snails are usually served in, they sauteed mussels in garlic and butter, topped with breadcrumbs and baked! Much nicer.

Slow down... your movin' too fast.
Come to tuscany and slow down and sip the wine, savor a coffee, or join someone in the field with your buco pilonzeri!

August 24, 2005

Take this test!

Your Inner European is Italian!

Passionate and colorful.

You show the world what culture really is.

Caro Diario....A Kind of Hush

In one of my favorite Italian movies by Nanni Moretti, Caro Diario ( Dear Diary) he is driving around Rome on his old Vespa in empty Rome.

It is rare to have silence in a big city, but I think the quietest day in Florence is the Sunday after Ferragosto. EVERYONE is gone.
No cars,no motorino's zipping around, the lack of noise is almost LOUD.

We were in Florence last Sunday to experience this magic moment!
Sorry I didn't rent a vespa to cruise around the city to enjoy the emptiness.

The other side of the coin is the traffic to and from Florence!
The sea is only about 1 1/2 hours away, but on these holiday weekends, it could take 6 to 7 hours!

Better to stay and enjoy Florence!

As hot and horrible as July was, August has been mild.
Occasional rain has kept the city cooler, morning fog and breezes almost make wearing a sweater necessary in the evenings.
We will wait and see what Septembers Indian summer bring us!

Farms are getting ready for the harvest, and as in the past, this strange new weather, storms are destroying the northern part of Italy right before the harvest!
Have not heard yet about the damages, but can immagine!

Luckily the rains and flooding haven't hit Tuscany. Yet!

August 19, 2005

Continuing the Feasting

Ferragosto means food!
Everyone is out, picnicing or having a lunch celebrating summer and either the beginning or ending of vacation with friends!

We joined our friends at a local trattoria which is hidden off the main road.
Talk about hidden treasures!

I had eaten ages ago at La Fattoria at the Tavernelle off-ramp, right by my friend Gianni Migliorini’s uncle's vineyard, Poggio Romito.

The owners of La Fattoria, have given the Fattoria to someone else to run, and have opened Al Macereto!

Run, don’t walk anytime you are nearby!
and tell them Divina Cucina sent you!

This is the place where everyone goes for feasting!
My neighbors had their son’s communion here, and didn’t stop talking about it for ages! Our meal was non the less splendid.

Come hungry!

We asked for mixed antipasti, 3 first courses
And their specialty Maialino al forno, suckling pig, oven roasted, with potatoes.


We could have..and should have...stopped with the antipasti… I love just antipasti and dessert!
While we waited they brought a mixed crostini, two hot sauces, one mushroom and the other the tradtional chicken liver, serve yourself style, in a personalized ceramic pot, which we passes around.

Followed by a dish of fried goodies, sage leaves, polenta , stuffed olives and a green polenta, followed by baked savory puddings, truffled and spinach and oven roasted tomatoes.

The first first course was a giant Casonei ravioli, filled with ricotta and minced roasted meat, with a light pesto cream sauce,

followed by a tagliatelle with porcini sauce,

another pasta called strigoli, a spinach hand-rolled short pasta with an eggplant and tomato sauce, which my husband who hates eggplant,loved!

Their signature lemon-pine sorbet is a lovely interlude.

The suckling pig was fabulous

as were the potatoes, called alla ghiottona, hard to find anymore, as they are slow roasted using the dripping from the roast, giving them incredible flavor!

Dessert was also perfect.. I taste lightly at the beginning, leaving space for dessert. Pacing yourself at these food orgies is so important!
I ended with a great Creme Brulee, my friends with a flourless chocolate cake!

After these gargantuan meals, a long walk in the surrounding woods is a pleasuer and a relief!

Ristorante Al Macereto
STR. Canaglia,10
San Donato in Poggio

They have great signage so it is easy to find.

Bon Appetito!

August 16, 2005

Ferragosto.. It's a Party!

For Italians, Ferragosto celebrated August 15th, is a sacred holiday.
In Catholic countries, it is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and many large celebrations are held around this holiday, including the Palio in Siena.

But as is true for most religious holidays, they are based on Pagan celebrations!

We celebrated with the famed butcher from Chianti, my friend, Dario Cecchini and 900 of his closest friends!

Four years ago he began the Festa del Nocciola, the night of the Hazelnuts.
The hazelnut tree is thought to be sacred to witches and used for their wands. August 14th, they fly over the earth blessing those they pass.
Branches from the tree are also used to find water and the nuts themselves were a symbol of fertility and given at weddings. Ancient tales and traditions to pass on and celebrate.

The festa began around 8pm and finishes with dancing in the street and celebrating the arrival of Ferragosto at midnight!

As usual these celebrations always have food.. a plate of antipasti with crostini do fegatini, burro di chianti and mixed salami's came first, then pasta all'amatriciana and a large plate of mixed main course , chicken galantine, Dario's meatloaf served with My famous red pepper jelly, a tuscan potroast and white beans as well as a little Italian style potato salad. the traditional watermelon for dessert, all accompanied by local bands, Dario as the Emcee with local celebraties and a award to the local baker and his wife, also Daniel Ferro and his wife Joy form new york, who for 10 years have organized concerts with students form Daniels summer program in Greve, and the local poetess Miriam for her participation in the event planning in Panzano!

Wine flowed all evening warming up a cool evening and creating new friends.

Fresh hazelnuts just off the tree decorated the tables and were a new taste for most of us! One of Dario's friends brought them just harvested.

Come next year and celebrate.. make new friends..

August 9, 2005

Granita di Caffe

Summer in Italy wouldn't be summer without Granita!
Besides fruit flavors,such as watermelon, as I mentioned before, or lemon, made with lemons from Sicily or the Amalfi coast, coffee granita is one of my favorites.
I am very lucky as I can get it here in Florence at my Sicilian gelateria Carabe owned by Antonio and Loredana who as truly passionate about what they do!
Last week it was a tough choice, between cactus fruit ( prickly pears, called fico d'india),fresh fig or pear sorbet!

I adore Granita di caffe, talk about ice coffee!

You can always get it with or without whipped cream, but get it with!
This is a Sicilian Breakfast of Champions!
I haven't been to Sicily yet, but Antonio has given me a warm brioche, made by his brother-in-law and taught me the trick to eating it!
Think of it as a cold cappuccino!

In Rome there is a coffee shop, Tazza d'Oro, which is famous for their own brand of coffee which you can see them roasting there and buy in the back of the bar!
What better place to try a coffee granita!

If you can't get to Florence or Rome this summer.. here is the recipe to try it yourself.

2 cups water
1 cup sugar

Boil together to make a simple syrup.

1 cup of expresso or a double shot!!!


Follow the recipe I gave for the watermelon granita.
It should not be frozen solid, but an icy drink

Food Toys and Festivals

I am a sucker for kitchen gadget and food festivals.
As I was moving things around in my kitchen I came upon these lovely objects.

I adore this Sicilian handmade mold for their desserts.
Traditionally this is used for a Gelo mold, they make these jellies with almond milk, watermelon or even quince paste, which is thicker.

The religious Crown of thorns is a nice touch!

Also my Mexican chocolate mold, again with a nice religious heart!
I picked this up when I was at Suzanna Trillings fabulous school in Oaxaca last November.

In these very Catholic countries, food plays a large part in religious celebration.

August 10th is Saint Lawrence's feast day, San Lorenzo.

It is the night if the falling stars, and Italy is Celebrating with a nighttime wine festival called Calici alle Stelle. I am going to a neighboring village of Tavernelle which is also having a street fair so double the fun. Hope there are some antique stands too!

Florence celebrates as San Lorenzo is the patron saint of the Central Market, and Chefs. As you can see, he was grilled to death,so perhaps could also be for BBQ'ers!

The vendors of both the street market and the internal food market set up stands around the Church of San Lorenzo and offer plates of pasta with meat sauce,(sugo in Toscana), called lasagna, and fresh watermelon to all that attend the evening event! The local band comes to play and athough it there are too many lights in the city to see the falling stars, a good time is had by all!

Here is are the recipes from my site.

The term lasagna, comes from the pasta shape, which is large and holds the sauce well. The foto below shows the lasagne used for the festival. Lasagna al forno is the baked lasagna,layered that most of us know.

So August 10th go outside and hold your glass to the stars! Make a wish...perhaps next year you will be here with us!

August 7, 2005

Pure Summer

Nothing says summer like vine-ripened tomatoes, and there is no better way to enjoy them than right off the plant and onto toasted Tuscan bread.

Most people think of bruschetta pronounced (brusKetta) as the chopped tomatoes marinated with basil and oil on bread which has been toasted and rubbed with raw garlic.

Here is Florence it is even easier, don’t chop the tomatoes.

We make Pane al Pomodoro, bread with tomatoes

Just cut the tomato in half width-wise exposing the seeds and rub on the toasted bread.
Season with sea salt and a drizzle of oil and your herb of choice.
I had some fresh oregano growing and grabbed that.

It is almost a Tomato Jam! The jelly like consistency of the seeds and the tomato are fabulous. Leave whatever bits of tomato that fall off the skin.

It is a favorite after-school snack for kids and adults alike.

Of course there are as many variations as there are people.

The basic simplese bread snack is Fettunta:
The toasted bread is rubbed with garlic and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned to taste with salt.

Tuscan bread, being unsalted, needs the salt which really brings out the garlic flavor!
Rub the garlic on gently as it is raw..and can be overpowering!

Topped with Tuscan white beans, it can be a bean bruschetta or if you add the bean broth and serve it in a bowl, it is a soup called Zuppa Lombarda.

In southern Italy it is served with chopped tomatoes,cucumbers, red onions with capers basil, olive oil and red wine vinegar and called Panzanella like the Tuscan Bread Salad with the same ingredients! There is no need to toast the bread, or if you do toast it, try it rubbed with garlic, then the tomato.

This would also be great then topped with some mozzarella, or fresh pecorino and broiled as a small crostini, which are always cooked in the oven like small bread based pizza’s.

For crostoni, my favorite snack food, large slices of untoasted bread are topped with various ingredients, marinated artichoke hearts, tiny cubes of ham, cheese in cubes, capers, whatever whimsy catches you.
Then drizzle generously with oil and broil until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted.

August 5, 2005

That time of year

Driving around the countryside now, a thin plant is high above the others with its tiny golden pollen calling me!

I discovered Fennel Pollen while working at the Antica Maccelleria with Dario Cecchini, one of my mentors here in Italy.

Dario's curiosity is contagious and when he discovers something, you also get addicted. I adore it with pork chops , which Dario sells, sauteed and then deglazed with Vin Santo and salted. Or using it in porchetta, with duck.. It is especially good with anything fatty. Fennel seeds have been used for years as a digestive.

The pollen adds a deep rich mysterious flavor, almost oriental.

Dario uses the fennel pollen with abandon... and you will too, if you can get your hands on some!

It is one of the more expensive ingredients.. selling for about $7 an ounce here in Florence and double that in the states.

BUT.. it grows wild! I know in California it is almost a weed!

If not , you can order it here from a place in California or get it from
Conti who have a shop at the Central Market, or at Dario's in Panzano!

Enjoy some of the food of the gods!

August 3, 2005

Summer Playtime!

I have been emailing with David about carmel corn. I loved Fiddle Faddle and Screaming Yellow Zonkers and this winter was making some to put in my selection of goodies I give to my vendors at the Central Market.

He wrote the funniest adventure about the 7 times he made the recipe to get it how he wanted it,in the summer heat in Paris. True Passion and precision!

I am lucky as the heat wave has disappeared and I have a hot air popcorn maker and it turned out the first time!
The best recipe I found was at the Top Secret Recipe site. They have both versions!

Living abroad for so long, you lose most cravings, but some stay.
A bagel..
Peanut Butter
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
And candied corn!

So here is what mine looks like. I made mine with roasted almonds
My Florentine husband has almost eaten it all, and loved it!
Glad I got the foto first!

David was saying that his wasn't shiney, I wonder if it is the corn syrup?
Everytime I go home it is one of the things I always bring back since it is impossible to find in Florence at any price!

This recipe came out crispy, shiny and perfect! Actaully almost tastes like Cracker Jacks!
Where's the prize?