January 23, 2006

Lunch... pigging out.. OUT

Well, I have to admit.. I need a break from cooking, so while running errands today, we decided to treat ourselves to a lovely lunch out at our favorite truckstop.

Everyone knows you eat well where there are trucks parked outside, but in Italy it takes on new meaning!

La Zambra
, located on the road from Certaldo to Poggibonsi, is on the left. Usually one passes by before realizing it. DO NOT PASS BY!

Only open from breakfast through lunch, La Zambra is worth the stop anytime of the day.

Breakfast can be homemade crostata's, Italy's jam pie, or pastries. Walk around to the savory side for some incredible panini with their creative homemade breads. I like the pumpkin seed bread. The choice is amazing.

At lunch you can order from the blackboard and sit at one of the small tables or walk over to the left and enter the huge dining room.

They have three menu's:
A simple prezzo fisso menu, sort of a working mans lunch at 15 Euro, wine not included. Pasta, meat and a vegetable.

A large daily specials menu, piatti del giorno
which changes daily, we ordered from this.

And a traditional menu, with a large selection of cooked vegetables and salads too.

Today I had an antipasto of thin fried polenta strips with Pancetta

and then Maialino, suckling pig with roasted potatoes, they used an interesting spice mixture with the pig, a wonderful anice flavor. There is a traditional spice for pork, called Droghe Toscane

Got to keep documenting pork!

My husband had large pumpkin gnocchi, zucca gialla with a gorgonzola sauce, that melted in his mouth. Never got to mine! Followed by a chicken stew with cardoons. ( It was a capon, which is much fuller flavor than chicken, enhanced by the slow stewing)

So when we came home, I was craving some fresh fruit.

Winter for me is the best, I adore pears, apples and oranges, liquid sunshine, and the blood oranges have just come into season. Today I made a simple macedonia, fruit salad of pears and kiwi.

A light sprinkling of sugar brings out the juices of the fruit and cuts some of the acidity of the kiwi. Perfect winter symphony of flavors!

La Zambra
Via pisana, 130

Closed Sunday and Dinner.

January 16, 2006

Pigging out

When Kate and I began dreaming about pigs, pork artisans, farmers and recipes, my mind started going a thousand miles and hour.

Where does one start and even a worse dilemma, where does one stop?

I knew where to start, that was easy, at the Central Market where I do have the choice of Nose to Tail, without having to slaughter my own hog!

Most of the butchers in the market have such an incredible selection of sausages and salami’s there is not need for me to make my own. I can get salami plain, with fennel, or spicy, all of them pork from several different regions in Italy.
Prosciutto from not just from Parma, but they tell my what hillside and the name of the producer..and often how many pigs he has!
Tuscan hams, Umbrian hams, Spanish and more. Dry cured, wet cured, smoked. Rubbed with ground black peppers, whole peppers or chili pepper. A Poem to pork

The quality of the pork and freshness allow me to eat a raw sausage! A Tuscan favorite, mixed with luscious , creamy Stracchino cheese, spread onto bread can really be eaten raw!
Most people will grill it and serve warm for winter’s meal, but raw “ e’ il suo morte”, the best!!!

There are so many creative cuts and presentations of pork to be taken home and just cooked such as: stuffed with green apples and pecorino cheese, prunes and pinenuts, a whole shank hollowed out and filled with a leek to be slow roasted.

Or Arista, Florence’s roast pork, already given a aromatic herbal rub, and garlic and rosemary slivers inserted to infuse flavor, called Arista from Aristos in Greek, meaning the highest, as in Aristocracy, taken by the Florentines to mean the best!

Or shall I pick up the rack of ribs, frenched and the meat wrapped around a filet, called Brontasaurus.. looking like something Fred Flinstone would have ordered?

Perhaps just a simple tenderloin, wrapped in fresh bacon and given a peppercorn and herb rub, to be simply panfried?

Winter brings us the pork liver, seasoned with fennel and wrapped in caul fat, roasted with a bay leave, Fegatelli.

My local butcher in Certaldo, prepares then with bits of liver and also pork, for the locals, but he being from Florence prefers them, as I do, ground and highly seasoned. A much more delicate preparation, with breadcrumbs and fennel, salt and pepper.

Last month I was in Palermo, and while walking back late at night, we cut through the closed Vucceria street market, only to find a huge grill set up with 30 different cuts of meat! Hearts, spleen and intestines where a few of the things I could identify.

One of my favorites was a green onion, wrapped in fresh bacon and grilled. Serve sprinkled with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

A previous blog entry I cooked a pork shoulder chop, my favorite for it’s flavorful extra layer of fat!
The acidity if the fresh grapes make this dish one of my favorites for parties!
All dressed up!

When David L had his prune blogging weekend, I contributed my favorite wild boar recipe, an traditional Dolce/Forte , sweet and strong, flavor combination, not unlike a Mexican Mole but easier to make. You can substitute a pork shoulder, cut into serving style pieces.

The temple of meat is in Panzano in Chianti, Antica Macelleria Cecchini, master to many of today's butchers in America, for some of his incredible Goodies such as Porchetta

Or the incredible Burro del Chianti, a herb infused lard to be served on toasted bread or used in cooking.

Dario giving it a place on honor in the shop in a sterling silver bowl, worthy of the contents.

Honor your pig!

My homework for the Slow Pig was to try to make Head Cheese, out of just the pork feet.. so is it feet cheese?

In Tuscany it is called Sopressata.
I worked at the Macelleria Cecchini for a few years, more as a girl Friday, working at the cash register when needed, creating meat sauces to sell, my own Mostarda Mediterranean, a hot pepper jelly, also catering and whatever was needed.
Sometimess that whatever was helping make the sopressata.

With Dario nothing is small. Huge kettles were going with whole hog heads and sometimes also wild boar heads brought in from the local Cinghiale hunting club
the pieces were cooked and then while still hot, taken off the bones, the meaty pieces broken into smaller pieces and then seasoned and put in cloth bags to solidify.

So in my own little way I did the same thing.
I bought the pig's feet in the San Lorenzo market and had then cut in half lengthwise.
I boiled then in salted water with carrot, onion and celery.

When the meat was tender, about 2 1/2 hours later, I pulled the meat off the bone, seasoned with some of the Tuscan Butcher's spice blend called Droghe Toscane, heavy with nutneg, allspice, ginger and cinnamon.
I added some grated orange rind, chopped parsley and some chili pepper along with a little of the broth from the pan.

I recreated the idea of the cloth sack, by using some gauze, and placed the gauze into a small ziplock bag.

When the bag was filled, I zipped it closed and then tied it as we did a the butcher shop. I poked holes into the bag, to simulate the same effect the cloth bag had. I remember it giving off a lot of liquid.

The bags were placed overnight in the fridge with a weight on them.

The next day, I wiped off the extra gelatin that was on the bags, untied them and sliced the Sopressata.

Loved it.. and served it with the spicey Mostarda di Cremona, candied mustrd fruits, giving the palate a nice kick!

January 15, 2006

Bless this Grub!

We headed out early today, to find the Blessing of the Animals, held to celebrate San Antonio Abate, patron saint of animals.

Kate and I are holding a blogging event this weekend. Celebrating the Pig!

San Antonio is always pictured with a small pig at his feet, and often other barnyard animals near by.

The closest village I found near my house was outside of Florence in a small town called Poggio a Caino, near Carmignano,a fabulous wine producing area.

We knew we were close as we we driving in as we saw several people on horseback.

Horseback riding is quite popular here in Italy, riding English has always been the prefered to teach, but lately Western is making it's way in!
Tuscany even has it cowboys, down in Maremma in southern Tuscany.
My cousins competed in the Grand National Rodeo's so it was fun to see Tuscan cowboys.

The festival was quite large, consisting or a large street market, antique fair and Rodeo!

Animals were everywhere, of course dogs.. on leashes, Cat's in cat carriers, birds in cages,and I even saw one dad with Goldfish.

The only pigs we saw ..and smelled.. were on the grill!
A huge food tent was set up and the locals were selling food to raise money for the town charities.

Pork ribs, sausages were being grilled and there were plates of crostini, soups and a local specialty, Migliaccio, a thin crepe made from fresh pigs blood, cocoa, lemon rind and eggs

Ok, it may not sound appealing, but was wonderful.
We had one served with grated parmesan cheese, and one with sugar.
I adored the one with sugar as it brought out the lemon rind in the crepe.

There is another local salami, burista made with the blood and sweet cookies crumbled in it, very Renaissance flavors, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, as in Panforte.

here are some of the Pets!

a dad with his two kids, dog and goldfish!

Big cat!


This Dog got second looks all day!
was by the horses and cowboys!

The Priest used his Microphone to bless the animals and their owners, and a blessed Bread was also for sale to take home.

I read that a piece was also given to your animals!( I guess that is how pigs get blessed, but all my neighbors have already got their Prosciutto under salt!

I guess they don't have to share!

January 14, 2006

Market day- Saturday Castelfiorentino (FI)

One of the larger outdoor markets on Saturday, near my house in Certaldo, is held in Castelfiorentino, on the way to Empoli.

I enjoy this market a lot. They have it divided into two sections the food section, often with live chickens ducks and other feathered friends to be raised, and the home and clothing section.

The food side also has stands with fresh flowers, plants, small trees and seeds for planting; a Rosticceria, where they sell you the already cooked ( roasted or fried) foods to take home and reheat. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, often directly from the farmers.

Today we were really lucky as there were two stands of "foreign food" from Puglia and Sicily. That was a lot of fun!

Off to our favorite pastry/coffee shop DEI, for a cappucino ( they use Illy Coffee) and a chantilly cream filled doughnut ( chantilly cream is pasty cream lightened with whipped cream folded in).

Our energy restored, off to the other side of the village for housewares , clothing and fabric.
Even though the city is well supplied with stores, the weekly market brings in great discounts. We picked up some cushions for some chairs, new wooden spoons and cutting boards.

The market was packed, it is a great social moment for the locals and visiting tourists alike. The Passegiata, which is the Sunday Stroll, takes place after lunch to walk off the big meal of the day is similar.

Pedestrian traffic jams blocking the small sidewalks.Neighbors cathing up on local news, showing off newborn babies and new outfits. Take time, walk slowly yourself and take it all in.

As we were leaving already burdened down with shopping bags, we stopped at the cheese stand as we saw he was just cutting open a fresh form of 2 year old parmesan cheese.

The man was a master! Within moments, and with apparently no effort, he deftley marked and split the form, first into half, then halved again. Clients started to gather and place their orders.

Swiftly he cut wedges to order, usaully 1/2 pound pieces ( 500 grams), which will probably last until next Saturday. Most families would have pasta and lunch and dinner.. every day, and with parmesan on almost all sauces!

I noticed he also took off the heavier outside crust, which I like to save for soups.
As he was working, small chunks were being given for tastes to those waiting.
After weighing the cheese, other little chunks were put in as a gift!

It is always a pleasure to watch a master at work!
who knows haow many forms of parmesan he has sold in his lifetime?
I will ask the next time I am there... for I will go back to him!

More market shots!

January 13, 2006

Winter Shopping

While shopping for my Pumpkin soup for my Friday with Fergus I couldn't resist the winter veggies calling my name!

A woman doesn't live by pork alone!

We are getting ready for our Big Pork Blogging Weekend, have you sent us a recipe?

I adore salads in the winter, and the fresh puntarelli, from the chicory plant are fabulous. Cut the fat little chubby stems into thin slices, keep in cold water while making the traditional dressing of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and a couple of crushed anchovies, much like a light Ceaser dressing!

The darker outer leaves of the Cicoria, are twice cooked like chard, first boiled in salt water, then chopped and sauteed with garlic, olive oil and I like a little chili pepper for a kick.

The fresh radishes, and their leaves will be a salad on their own, the lovely leaves tossed in oil and the radishes slice thinly. Some of the radishes will be eaten in Pinzimono, Tuscany's celebrationof the new oil and winter's wonderful vegetables.
RAw artichokes trimmed to their tender leaves, thinly sliced fennel, celery, carrots and the radishes.

We will create a seasoned dipping oil, using the new oil, which is very reminicent of raw artichoke flavor and peppery, with only the addition of some fabulous sea salt we just brought back from Sicily.

A loaf of bread from the local wood buring oven, Chianti... and thou!

January 12, 2006

Florence airport closing for repairs!

Cow Parade- Florence airport

Flyers beware!

The Florence airport is closing for some work, and most flights will be out of Pisa now. You need to get there yourself.

Pisa Airport is about 1 1/2 hours from Florence, but you only need to check in 1 1/2 hours before your flight, not considered international as you are connecting to your international flight in another city.

The first train from Florence to pisa leaves at 6:30 a and gets you into Pisa at 8am.

I don't know if they are going to create some special service!

The airport may be closed for 3 months. and noone knows if the airlines will come back to Florence!

January 9, 2006

Blessing of the Pigs

San Antonio, from an affresco in Greve in Chianti, note the small cinta senese pig, black with white belt, at his feet. Gotta love the guy!

I am attending a blessing of the animals January 15th in Poggio a Caiano, outside of Florence.

Please join Diva and Kate as we celebrate the feast of San Antonio Abate, Patron Saint of Pigs and Butchers,for a Some Pig Blogging Weekend - Jan 14-15.

Follow our joint blog Celebrating the Pig!

A Virtual Blessing of the Barnyard will take place on Jan 17th when the posts and a few prizes are announced.

From our kitchen blogs to yours,

Kate Hill
and Judy Witts

January 6, 2006

Buona Befana

Today is when good girls and boys get a visit from the Befana.
More like a kitchen witch then Santa, she came following the Re Magi, bringing gifts for the children. Today being the epiphany, she arrives... filling the hung stockings with candies and treats if you are good, and coal if you are bad!
Of course in Italy, the coal, carbone, is also sweet, being made of sugar!

It is a legal holiday in Italy and this year created a long weekend.

Perfect for cooking.
I have a peposa slow stewing stovetop, and am brining pork belly for my Friday with Fergus on the Going Whole Hog Blog, so since everything is closed... I also am roasting 2 pork shanks for dinner tonight and making a Casietello, a Naples Pork bread.

Going to far???? no going whole hog!

Buona Befana...

the befana always pictured as a ugly old witch-like woman... and the big joke here is to wish all the women a happy celebration!!!

I love being a Befana!!!

Beef is back!

Almost 4 years ago, the classic, 2 pound T-bone steak, known as the Fiorentina, was banned by the EU.

It has been officially liberated and back in the market!

Although I have not missed my meat, as it was always available, in a younger and smaller version.

The original,from an older animal is back!
Needless to say there was mayhem at the market and celebrations everywhere.

Let the party begin.

There will be a huge grill set up in Piazza Repubblica and many other parties are in site
Stay tuned!