October 27, 2007

Celebrating new oil and old friends

As lovely as a Tuscan sunset our aperitivo at La Petraia, Radda in Chianti

Fall in Tuscany is reason to celebrate.
New oil, white truffles and old friends.

I adore travelling with friends.
They are patient and understanding of each other
need no time to warm up.
This group of ladies can take on the world and we sure took over Tuscany!
Lots of laughs, way too much great food and WINE.

We visited many of my artisan friends,
were guests in friends homes

another great cooking class and lunch with Susan

We ended the trip with a visit to my friend Alessandra

Alessandra of Podere il Sole

in Trequanda, one of the Cities of Oil.

Her estate is lovely and her hospitality gracious!
knowing we were just at Dario's for a 7 course dinner of Meat at SoloCiccia,

one of the starters at Dario's his sushi di chianti, raw beef lightly seared.

she prepared a wonderful vegetarian meal
celebrating the her freshly crushed extra virgin olive oil.

The best way to celebrate is raw veggies just dipped in oil with salt.

Dark green and unfiltered, Alessandra's oil is one of my Tuscan favorites.

We opened the meal with a fettunta, Tuscan garlic bread

followed by a wonderful soul satisfying zuppa!

Pasta and fagioli, made with chickpeas and of course,
blessed with the new oil!

Her light lunch was perfect as it was followed by a food orgy at Cibreo as are farewell!
Needless to say I am not eating this weekend!

You can order Alessandra's oil directly from Conti in the Central Market where I shop!
Great gift for the holidays..... priceless!
I suggest making a box of treasures and celebrating with your friends and family.
Let me know if you need help!

Here is a soul warming soup I had at a fun trattoria off the beaten track.

Zuppa di Farro e Fagioli
Tuscan bean soup with pasta or Farro

12 ounces dried white beans
2 quarts water
2 garlic cloves
1 sage branch
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

3 oz farro or pasta

First cook beans:

Place beans and cold water in a heavy-bottomed bean pot.
Add sage, olive oil and whole peeled garlic cloves.
Cook slowly. Do not let the water boil. Add more cold water as needed.

Cooking time, anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, will depend on the freshness of the beans.
Add salt in the last 10 minutes of cooking time to prevent the beans from getting tough. Tasting is the only way to know that the dish is done.
The dish can also be cooked in the oven in a casserole.
You can serve the beans drained, drizzled with olive oil and a twist of fresh black pepper.

To make Soup:
Parboil farro or pasta in salted water.
Drain .
Pureè half the beans and put the remaining whole beans in a soup pot together.
Heat, adding more water if soup seems too thick.
Add farro or pasta to soup and heat together.

In a small pot, heat 1 tbs of olive oil per person and 1 tsp of Tuscan Herbs, just to warm.
Drizzle into soup.

Burde’s Zuppa di Fagioli
Bean Soup from Burde’s Trattoria

Cook the beans and farro together until the farro is really over-cooked.

In a small skillet, saute’ one red onion, chopped, in some extra virgin olive oil.
Season to taste with Droghe Toscane, similar to pumpkin pie mixture
and when the onions are softened, add to the soup.
Add some tomato paste and a little water to thin.
Puree together until smooth. ( in Italy I use a Passatutto, a food mill to remove any skins )

Welcome to Fall's Bounty!
Bon Appetito!

October 24, 2007

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun- Chianti 2007

The girls are back for another great time in Chianti

cooking class with the Diva

Our Porcini Mushroom Risotto with Fresh Grated White Truffle $$$$$

They are worth it!

The Art of Eating and Cooking Italian..
oh yeah drinking too!

We are not limiting ourselves to Chianti
Our first lunch out must ALWAYS be with Paolo and his incredible Martinis!

Chianti Martini at it's best

One of our lunch items
and then


After lunch with our new friends from Austria at Dario's

The morning market had us meeting Judy's friend Gary Danko
one of San Francisco's great chef

Another perfect day in paradise!
Sunset from out villa in Castellina in Chianti.

October 21, 2007

Porcini Chronicles

It's that time of year.

Porcini only grow on a hot day under chestnut or oak tree's after it has rained.


So when I see my vendors with cases and cases of porcini

we cook porcini too, when you buy your mushrooms
the vendor also supplies you with
nepitella- catmint
an incredibley wonderful combination with garlic, olive oil and salt.

We have grilled the caps, made pasta sauces, soup and risotto

Fall has come to Tuscany, finally.
The air is crisp and the leaves are changing the hillsides to a festival of color.

The olive harvest has begun,
fireplaces are lit
chestnuts are roasting over an open fire.

I am off to Chianti for the last Chianti Experince for this year.
Fingers crossed that the rain holds off until Friday.

We will be celebrating the new oil with a fabulous meal in Trequanda.
Another cooking class with Susan at La Petraia.
Dario of course.
and some new discoveries as always.

This winter will be used for a new project from the
Divina Cucina Kitchen
Stayed tuned for updates.

What does a Tuscan Kitchen Diva have for lunch?
Celebrating the season...

Fried polenta with grilled sausage and twice cooked rapini!

October 17, 2007

Lucky Me

I am one lucky girl.

Not only do I live in Florence Italy,
everyday I work with some of the best foodies in the world.

Italy is filled with food artisans and artists.
Food is essential in everyday life and everyone is an expert.

But last week was special.
I organize a week working with the Masters of Tuscan Chocolate for my friend Pam's students from Ecole Chocolat.

The Tuscan Experience is inspiring to see how people express their creativity.
Shop after shop, we were intrduced to new and creative ideas.
Must be something in the air!

Daniele and Stefania Vestri take Mom and Pop business to another level

Decorating chocolates at Luca Mannori's new space

The "class" after a full day with master chocolate maker Stefano Donati at
Mannori Espace.

Robero Catinari's handmade "chestnuts"
I adore these!

Roberto Catinari handmolding "tools"
and idea he brought to Tuscany over 30 years ago.

lock and keys in chocolate

He is the Father of Tuscan chocolate making.

Of course, a woman does not live by chocolate alone, bring on the salt!
It takes me a week to recuperate from all this goodness.

We were lucky enough to also be present at the first crushing of the new oil at the villa we stayed in in Prato, Villa Rucellai.

Each of the farmers had "reserved" a time to bring in their olives for the crush.
Waiting with anxious eyes, spying on their neighbors olives, protecting their own.

When you see the work it takes to harvest the olives and how little of this precious oil one gets from a tree, you will know why they call it "liquid gold".

Several of the local chocolate makers have olive oil in truffles or chocolate spreads.
I am a fan!
Luca Mannori's chocolate spread has olive oil and sea salt.

Try it you'll LOVE IT!

My cure for too much chocolate.
Farm fresh eggs, white truffles and salt.

Eat your heart out- I am one lucky girl!

October 6, 2007

The Secrets of Sugo -Tuscan Ragu

The True Test of Sugo, with Tuscan Bread

In most Italian households, Sunday lunch is not just a meal, but a major eating event.

No work on Sunday allows for the long leisurely lunches Italians are famous for.
Slow-cooking potroasts, stews and meat sauces, called ragu, or here in Florence sugo,
left simmering for hours on stovetops, filling the air with the fragrance of home.

Since I am leaving for a week of touring with a group of chocolate makers, I wanted to do something special for my husband. The way to a man’s heart is still through his stomach, at least in this household, and there is nothing like sugo to say “ Ti amo”, I love you.

Meat sauce can be used in many ways and although there are only two of us in the household,
I always make a big batch.
Served on small bread slices, it begins a meal as a crostino.
Stirred into penne pasta with a dusting of parmesan cheese for a light lunch
or layered with béchamel sauce and pasta,
it is lasagna for the long lunches.

One of the secrets of a fabulous sugo is the soffritto, the trinity of carrot, red onion and celery,

finely minced

and left to cook slowly until it almost burns.

The carmelization ( light burning) of the soffritto is what makes it taste like an Tuscan mamma made it!

Once the soffritto has cooked completely, I add the sausage and let it cook first, pressing down with the back of my wooden spoon, to break it into tiny pieces, then add the lean ground meat.

I like to use high heat, a throw back from my years in a professional kitchen and I think that is also one of the secrets.

Get hot! A quick searing also gives more flavor than letting the meal boil.
Once the meats are cooked , add some tomato sauce and salt to taste.

A little lemon zest in the sauce is a trick I learned from Romeo at Trattoria Mario in Florence.

When I have some on hand, I also add some of the Tuscane Droghe, a spice blend similar to pumpkin pie spice: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, allspice and more - giving a renaissance flavor to the sugo.

A splash of red wine, adding porcini mushrooms or some sliced prosciutto to the sauce only makes it richer and for more special occasions such as Christmas.

The sugo freezes well and reheats in the time it takes to bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta.

Buon Appetito!
Why wait for Sunday, make your sugo any night.
It cooks slowly while watching your favorite TV show and will give you many meals of pleasure!

Sugo di Carne
The meat sauce for the lasagna for La Notte di San Lorenzo, August 10th,
is called sugo in Florence and is mostly beef and very little tomato sauce. Tomatoes were introduced into Italian cooking after the discovery of the new world. For a more authentic version, use red wine in place of the tomato sauce. I call this version Sugo Di Vino!

1 red onion
1 carrot
1 celery stalk

1/2 pound ground sirloin
1 sausage, skinned
12 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes

1/2 cup red wine
Extra virgin olive oil

Finely chop the carrot, onion, and celery.
Place in a pot and sautè in extra virgin olive oil until it starts to almost burn.
This trick will make it taste like Mamma made it!
It sweetens the carrots and onions and gives the sauce a really special flavor.
Take your time and do this step slowly.

Add the sausage and crush to break up the meat and cook.
Add the ground sirloin , raise the heat, and stir until browned.
Splash with wine and let the wine evaporate.
Add the tomatoes.
Salt to taste.
Lower the heat and let cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
If the sauce seems too dry, add some of the water from the pasta you are cooking.
Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. This means that the center is cooked, not raw. Drain the pasta not too dry, and then put it back in the pan. Add the pasta sauce and stir to let the sauce flavor the pasta. You can also add some grated Parmesan cheese into the pan.
Serve extra Parmesan on the side!

October 2, 2007

What's not to love?

Stefano Conti of Tuscany Flavours
The first white truffle of the season. 3,500 Euro a kilo.
This "rock" is for Villa San Michele Hotel

When fall hits Tuscany, what is not to love?

For me the Tuscan food is at it's best.
In cooking class, how can you not prepare fresh porcini daily?

porcini galore!

huge garlic and "mint" stuffed caps ready for the grill

We have grilled the large beefy caps, pierced with garlic and nepitella, the Tuscan wild mint.

new garlic

We saved the sweet stems for a non-stir risotto,
ready in just 14 minutes,
a secret from my friend Gabrielle Ferron of the Antica Pila Vecia in Isola della Scala.

Fall is one of my busiest seasons, I had a week-long programs in Chianti,
my cooking classes in Florence
and of course just going out to eat, with my hubbie!

Here are some of the highlights.

Private lunch and cooking class at La Petraia
with Susan McKenna Grant at her fabulous organic farm above Radda.
Mixed Grilled Pork from her own Cinta Senese pigs, with Tuscan white beans
quince and pear sauce and fresh Chianti wine reduction

Dinner at Solociccia di Dario Cecchini
foto above: ramerino in culo an appetizer which preceeds the multicourse
"All Beef"- SoloCiccia dinner.

Lunch at I Latini Hotel Restaurant outside of Certaldo
on the way to San Gimignano.
Handmade pici, a thick spaghetti,with a sausage and kale sauce.

The Pleasures of the Tuscan Table
Celebrating the Seasons daily.