September 29, 2007

My Chianti- Chilly days, warm soup

Nature's patchwork created in the hills

When September comes to Chianti, I go to Chianti too!

san giovese grapes

The wine harvest fills the air with drunken profume, too strong to ignore.
Grape must fermenting , sends me spinning every breath.

Chianti red wine is a blend of red and white grapes

Indian summer skies with a light that explains why so may great artists came and stayed.
A new color palate is required.

As we toured Chianti, the sunny days quickly slipped into chilling rain and the forests quickly splashed the hills with golden leaves and the vineyards with their turning colors.

Tiny villages, away from the crowds, fabulous food at every meal.

Ribollita garnishes with thin bread "roses" and red onions
at Cum Quibus

Rib-sticking soups like Ribollita, the re-boiled minestrone with Tuscan bread
is perfect to take away the chill.

We travelled the 222 road from Florence to Siena.
Lazily exploring the tiny hill towns and villages but nothing is like Siena.

I adore Siena.
Still surrounded by the walls of the city, the spirit of it's past is still alive today both in the vista's and in the soul of the Sienese people.

from inside city hall

I am always blown away by the magnificence of Siena's Cathedral, the Duomo.
We were lucky to find the incredible mosaic floors uncovered and visible.

roman mosaics

The ornate decorations of the columns

the magnificent interior

Allow yourself enough time to slowly meander through this magnificent city.
Best explored with a guide to show you more than the eye can see.

Warm yourself up with a bowl of soup

Ribollita (Tuscan Vegetable and Bread Soup)

Tuscan cuisine is famous for giving new life to leftovers.
This dish is a perfect example. An icon of Tuscan cuisine, ribollita literally means “reboiled.” It's difficult to find an authentic ribolitta because it takes 3 days to prepare.
Minestrone is made the first day and eaten as is.
The second day the leftover soup is layered with thin slices of bread (or toasted bread rubbed with garlic) and baked with thin slices of red onion on top.
The third day the leftovers are reboiled.

Recipes for minestrone vary from region to region, restaurant to restaurant, and household to household. Most recipes are based upon regional produce. The most important ingredient is Tuscan minestrone is cavolo nero, or a winter black cabbage. Its leaves range in color from dark green to almost black. Once grown only in Tuscany, enterprising farmers in California's Salinas Valley are now growing it along with Royal Rose radicchio. If you cannot find black cabbage, substitute kale, chard, or use only Savoy cabbage.

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 leek, white part only, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 carrots, sliced into half-inch rounds
4 zucchini, sliced into half-inch rounds
One-quarter whole Savoy cabbage, shredded and chopped
1 bunch cavolo nero or kale
1 small bunch spinach, shredded and chopped
4 potatoes, peeled and cut into one-half inch cubes
1 cup green beans, cut into bite-size pieces
2 cups Tuscan white beans, one-half cup pureed and one-half cup whole
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound stale Italian bread, sliced

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onion and leek together over low heat until they begin to burn slightly.
Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
Add all the remaining vegetables.
Season with sea salt and stir to mix in the onions and leeks evenly.
Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the vegetables have reduced in volume by half.
Stir again and cover with water to the top of the pot.
The more water you add, the more broth you will have with the soup.
Bring to a boil and then lower the heat.
Add the tomato paste and stir to dissolve.
Cover and cook the soup for 1 hour.
Add the Tuscan beans.

This is the minestrone soup.
The next day layer the soup in a deep baking dish with the stale bread and bake.
Top with thinly sliced red onions before baking.

The next day, if there's any soup left over, reboil the soup, stirring well to break up the bread slices. The soup should be thick enough to eat with a fork!
It's served with the traditional drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top.

Buon Appetito!
Buon Autunno!

September 20, 2007

September is my favorite month

September is the perfect time to enjoy Florence and Chianti
Seems that families and friends love to come to celebrate the seasons.

the big chill celebration in panzano

"Bread of the day, wine of the year with friends of a lifetime"

say Cheese!

wine sold in bulk near my house

Fresh pear and pecorino ravioli

Seasonal still life with quinces

our porcini's for class

September 14, 2007

Gluten-Free Lunch

With guests at lunch, such as our own Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef,
to inspire us in cooking class,
one of my old favorites, became a new favorite

Chicchi a fabulous recipe from Umbria using chickpeas and farro
becomes gluten-free using Riso Venere, or Forbidden Rice*.

The texture and flavor of the rice was a perfect marriage
with the chickpeas and the white truffles.

Perfect for celebrating the honey-mooners.

Any reason to celebrate deserves this dish, with or without truffles.

you only live once

Pretend you are Italian and in the kitchen with me, no cookbooks, no measuring cups, just friends hanging out. Here is what we made.

First cook Riso Venere:
(I use Italian Antica Pila Vecia,from the Ferron family)
Boil the rice in plenty of salted water until tender, 30-40 minutes.

In a large saucepan, cover the bottom of the pot with extra virgin olive oil.
Add sliced garlic and some crushed chili peppers and heat the pan.

When the garlic begins to sizzle, add cherry tomatoes, sliced in half and raise the heat.
Sprinkle with salt to taste.

Add some basil leaves, just torn with your hands.

Drain a can of chickpeas, and rinse them off.
Add to the pan.

Add the drained Riso Venere (forbidden rice)

Stir well to mix all the ingredients.

Add a whole jar (30 grams) or sliced truffles and the liquid in the jar.
Stir and serve!

*Forbidden rice an evocative name, with elusive history.
Was it forbidden to the people and saved only for the Emperor in China?
Here in Italy, it is called Riso Venere, Venus, named for it's beauty?

By any other name... still favorite!

I loved it so much I made it again today ( Tuesday) to take another foto
to showthe rice grains closer.
They lose the dark black in the cooking water and become a deep red.

September 11, 2007

Changing of the seasons

fresh whole porcini, caps to be grilled stems for risotto with wild mint

Coming from California, I really only had one set of clothes, the weather never really changed. Add a sweater, take off a sweater.

In Italy, not only are there the four seasons, there are also the mezza stagione, where one dresses like an onion, come una cipolla, in layers. Chilly and damp in the mornings and late evenings, hot sun during the day. Constantly layering and unlayering.

This syndrome also includes fully "changing" ones closet and wardrobe, a major weekend job for Italian housewives.

For me, it is a celebration of new foods, which disappear and reappear once or twice a year.
We just had our first porcini of the season.

These precious gifts from nature come on a hot day ,after it has rained , under chestnut and oak trees at a certain altitude, if you get them before they decay!

My favorite porcini preparation is to grill the caps, which have thin slices of garlic slipped into tiny slits and fresh nepitella, catmint, similar to oregano and mint.

the fresh grilled caps, served with roast pork

Fresh white cannellini beans, bought from the Central Market, already shelled.

First stewed with fresh sage, garlic and olive oil.
The stewed beans are recooked in a sage and garlic infused tomato sauce and
served with grilled sausage.

That is what I call pork and beans!

Recipe coming next!

September 2, 2007

Comfort me with chocolate

When I was 10 years old, funerals became a huge part of my life.

Our family was not large to begin with. My mom had one brother. He was the first to die prematurely, followed by my mom losing a baby at birth. My brother and sister and I were sent to live with other families, making it easier on my dad, during this time.

For several years, we lost all our close family members. My dad, his mother, my mom’s mom, then her dad and much later my aunt and then her son. He was only one year older than me.

We became Funeral Experts!

After the funeral services friends and family gathered at our home, filling the tables with food. “Feed a cold and starve a fever” is a classic, there must also be a saying for eating to fill a void in the face of death. " Feed a funeral, starve a baptism?" Eating frenzies make one feel more alive?

Where I grew up in California, we found ourselves eating ham, ham and more ham for ages. It is only recently I can eat cooked ham without bringing back memories. Other’s brought lasagna, easy to freeze and reheat at a later date. Although ham can be recycled into many wonderful recipes,scrambled eggs and ham, mac and cheese with ham, ham sandwiches, it is still ham!

I barely remember what we cooked. It is a standing joke in our family that when my mom married my dad, she could not bake a potato. All we had was rice. It wasn’t her fault. She had been raised in China and had no “American” training. With a Russian mother and a father that was born in Paris of a English mother and a Turkish father, confusion must have reigned in the kitchen.

They were lucky enough to have servants, and we grew up with tales of fabulous parties with my grandmother’s famous sukiyaki dinners. Rivers of flavored vodkas kept the parties lively, so much so that the guest book was kept in the toilet, some of the funniest comments!

From my Russian grandmother, besides sewing, I remember learning to make borsht and piroshki, but not from scratch. When immigrants recreate recipes with what they find in their new homes, they slightly twist a recipe. She used Pillsbury pre-made biscuit dough for the piroski and canned beets for the borsht. Bagels were Russian doughnuts, spread with halvah.

My grandfather, from his French side, created French pancakes "crepes" to our delight for our breakfasts.

On my Dad’s side of the family, the memories of my Grandma who lived with us, was the sound of her scraping burnt toast in the mornings to have with her tea and her nightly glass of sherry in the evening while watching "The Lawrence Welk Show".

I grew up in a culinary confusion.

I've found there are several books on the subject of funeral foods. Two that caught my attention are both written by women from the south. The first book, Being Dead is No Excuse, written by two white women from Mississippi, list recipes not to be missed at a "proper" southern wake. The second, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine, is culinary family tree written by two black sisters from Alabama with a chapter dedicated to their morticiner uncle's recipes for funerals.

Jewish sit Shiva for seven days

Chinese celebrate with a 7 course banquet.

Irish hold wakes, alcohol abounding, music and song.

Oddly to me, Italians do not have food with funerals here in Tuscany. Strange for a culture centered around food. Weddings, baptisms , anniversary’s and birthdays are all celebrated with huge meals lasting hours. In southern Italy, the tradition of feeding family and friend after a funeral is still maintained.

Food is used for comforting, in life and in death, for all cultures. For me, chocolate has always been soothing. Research has now confirmed that there is a chemical reason why.

Next funeral you go to, leave the baked ham, Jello salad, macaroni and cheese and the lasagna at home. Bring something chocolate.

I have created a Italian-American Brownie, based on the ingredients in Tiramisu. Tiramisu means “pick me up” and began as a nutritional supplement to a poor diet. Egg yolks whipped to a foam with sugar, created Zabaione, in northern Italy it is added to coffee for breakfast before heading out to the farm. It has been enriched recently with mascarpone cheese, and coffee soaked cake layers, topped with cocoa powder.

Tiramisu Brownie
Based on the American Marbled Brownies, I tweeked Flo Braker’s recipe from the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook as inspiration to include the flavors of Tiramisu. The chocolate brownie is flavored with coffee, and the Italian Cream cheese mascarpone creates the swirls, reflecting the marbleized paper so famous in Florence.

Grease and flour a 9x13 pan

Expresso Brownie
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 eggs
1 cup sugar.
2 tsp instant coffee or expresso powder

Mascarpone swirl
6 ounces mascarpone
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tbs all-purpose flour

1.Melt the chocolate with the butter over low heat, stir. Let cool.

2.Combine the flour with baking powder.

3.Whisk the eggs with the sugar, until light.

4. Add the flour mixture, expresso, and chocolate.

Make the mascarpone swirl.

1.Whip the cream cheese with the sugar.

2. Add the eggs one at a time.

3. Stir in the flour.

Pour the the chocolate mixture into the prepared pan.
Cover with the mascarpone cream.

Using a knife, first cut through the batter length-wise, then widthwise, created the effect of the Florentine Marblized paper. Repeat if necessary to create a nice design. Swirl after if you like.

Bake for 40 minutes. Cool before cutting.
Give someone a food hug, make something chocolate!

Schools Open!!!

September is when Florentines come back from their month's vacation at the sea,
the city fills with the "off-season" tourists, that have now made Florence
wall-to-wall with tourists through October
first and foremost, school opens.

Not to miss out on this experience I also am going to school, telecommuting!
Several years ago took a online chocolate class through Ecole Chocolat
which I enjoyed, and now offer a Master Class in Florence for their Graduates every October, visiting the Master's a work! Tough job!

This year I am working on my writing.
I am going to be studying with Candace Dempsey for a 10 week program.

Our homework for the first week is to write about a food memory.
I have a really bad memory, so will see how it goes.

I don't have memories of baking cookies at my grandmother's knee's.
We sewed!
Both grandmother's.

I do remember my first Easy Bake Oven
Also the success of my mud-pies with the neighbor's son.
They took him to the doctor's as he really ATE them, but discovering that he had a vitamin deficency, I was told to be sure to remove any rocks from my mud pies and that all was well!

Although I felt more the tomboy, I was quite famous for my dinner decorations when I cooked for special occassions, creating costumes for my trolls to complete the them dinners.

During high school, I avoided home ec classes, and continued sewing.
The 70's food memories were Top Ramen noodles for lunch, an apple and Velveeta cheese.
TV dinner's were a treat.
My mom's ice cream jello, made with orange jello, vanilla ice cream and
a can of mandarin oranges or the equally as good raspberry version.

When my mom made her improvised Chinese stirfry, I ALWAYS bit into the huge hunk of ginger, no matter how large the pot was or how many were at dinner.

So, thanks for your patience, and reading through my homework!

Tomorrow I have my first homework due!
Wish me luck.

PS When I was in Kansas City in July I registered a radio show with Jasper Mirabile for Jasper's Kitchen.
It should be available soon as a podcast here.