January 22, 2008

Sicily - Coast to Coast

Sicilian gold!

Escaping from the grey skies of Florence, we took off to Sicily to do research.
In October tour I am doing a west coast Sicily Food Lovers Tour and then a
coast to coast to tour with my Slow Food chef and friend Jasper the week after!

I have spent time on the west coast, and adore it, so this trip was to discover the east coast and hit some of the foodie spots in the south.

We flew in to Catania, to see what is one of Italy's largest outdoor fish markets. OVERWHELMING!

one of the smaller "stands" in the outdoor market in Catania

fresh sea urchins ready for a snack

sicilian carts... yesterday

and today

We spent 2 nights in Catania which was intense, they were getting ready to celebrate Saint Agata, the patron saint of Catania, which meant a party! We got to see some of the preparations, and the city lit up at night for the festival.

Here are some of the market shots from Catania.

small carts and impromptu stands outside the market

butcher's set up in the street too

The boys in the Piazza

Off we headed to Syracuse, but being the Market Maven that I am, I wanted to stay near the market at Ortygia, the tiny penisola connected to Syracuse.

The biggest flavor surprise came in the insalata di arance we had at Trattoria da Mariano.
I have made Sicilian orange and fennel salad , but was not like this!
It was recommended by the owner of the B&B where we stayed as good home style cooking.

Our meal began with a lovely mixed appetizer of caponata, spicy salami, spinach, mushrooms
followed by pasta.

I had pasta with almond sauce, lightly seasoned with cinnamon and served with more toasted ground almonds on the side and aged pecorino cheese to grate.

All of Mariano's food is influenced by his home village in the Iblea mountains.

We followed the pasta with grilled lamb and the fabulous orange salad. Mariano's secret.....is the dressing, what he calls Acqua Pazza; "crazy water".

Mariano's Insalata di Arance with Acqua Pazza
Use a potato peeler to peel 2 large navel oranges.
Roughly cut the oranges into big bite-size pieces.

In a small bowl, prepare the acqua pazza:
Mix 1/4 cup of olive oil with 1/4 cup water and salt to taste.
Pour onto the oranges and sprinkle with chili pepper flakes, chopped parsley and some chopped fresh green onions using both the white and the green part.

Great served with fish or after pork as a palate cleanser!
Sicilian Salsa.

The Diva and Mariano in Castelmonte Gulfi, where he is from. We bumped into him after our BEST MEAL the whole trip!

Once I have digested this trip, I will fill you in on more!

Enjoy the salad. I have already made it and we only just got home.

January 9, 2008

Winter Whites

Something about winter, the soft light, the morning fog, the change of the color palate in the market that brings a different style of cooking into the home.

White is a predominate color in Italy with the white marble from Carrara reflecting light.
Rome's Trevi Fountain is a fabulous example.

Slow stews, twice cooking to infuse flavors, soups and casseroles to warm body and soul.

Winter to me is white with accents of the most incredible vibrant wild green salads and twice-cooked spinach, chard or broccoli with splashes of orange and yellow from the variety of citrus from the south.

I adore potatoes, roasted, boiled, mashed, in a soup or souffle and as gnocchi.
What about LARDO! Sliced and served on warm toasted bread,
or Dario Cecchini's Burro del Chianti, a ground lard "butter" which I use as such and add to baked potates, risotto and on pasta.

This week, I tended toward comfort foods from the market and low and behold, my plate is all white!

A true faux pas for many, but hey, it’s home cookin’!

Italy tends to “overcook” their vegetables, something I have come to love as a comfort food myself and makes even kids ask for more! The vegetables are first boiled in salted water, then drained and recooked in olive oil with some aromatics. A classic trilogy would be garlic, olive oil and chili pepper.

Tuscan white beans, stewed slowly in a clay pot, served as a stew with macaroni, instead of pureed in a soup.

The other white meat, a grilled pork chop, simply served with twice cooked chard, a squeeze of lemon on both brings in the sun to this dish.

Cauliflower is finished off with anchovies allowed to melt in olive oil and then topped with breadcrumbs and baked in the oven.

Fennel bulbs are fabulous eaten raw, Sicilian style, in a salad with slices of blood oranges and garnished with some of the feathery greens from the top of the plant and a generous portion on extra virgin olive oil a flurry of sea salt from Mozia , off the coast of Trapani and you are transported to the Island..as I will be starting on the 11th!

My husband loves his mother’s recipe of twice cooked fennel and it has become one of my favorites too.

Here is
Tina's Twice Cooked Fennel

Cut the fennel in half from top to bottom, leaving the firmer center.
Cut each half into wedges, I usually cut into 1/4's.
Bring a pot of water to boil lightly salt the water.
Cook the fennel until a knife can poke in easily.
Drain the fennel from the pot.

Cover the bottom of the pot with extra virgin olive oil.
Place the fennel back into the pot.
Reheat the fennel in the oil.

Top with a soft white cheese ( our cheese slices in Italy are white and melt easily)
a nice Monterey Jack or Fontina would be nice.

Sprinkle with oregano.
(this was a mistake, the oregano bottle fell in one day
and since has been a part of the recipe, a really nice accident!)

Cover the pan and let cheese melt on the fennel.
Turn off the heat.

You could also bake this dish.

Often twice cooked vegetables are boiled and then mixed with a white sauce ( bechamel) and topped with grated parmesan cheese and baked!
Another great comfort food!

When in Rome the other day with my friend Rosa
for lunch at the Taverno del Ghetto, white ruled again!

Fried Baccala, zucchini blossoms stuffed with sea bass and a artichoke
twice-fried as is the style in the Ghetto.

Done to perfection

I followed up with fried lamb brains, which were little clouds
served with fried artichoke wedges.

Coffee topped with a cloud of whipped cream at Tazza D'Oro

and from the "Chiccaio" the candy man, wonderful rich honey infused
soft torrone with toasted almonds and hazelnuts!

But now off to the island of Sicily!
Who knows what the trip will bring.

I am looking forward to exploring the fish market in Catania, shopping in Ortigia in Syracuse,
eating cous cous in San Vito
and the unknown adventures that happen when driving around!

Ci vediamo presto.

January 1, 2008

Out with the old.... in with the new


Tante Belle Cose

Time flies when you are having fun.

Hard to believe I started teaching cooking classes in Florence
in 1988- 20 years ago.

When I first began teaching, I worked with college kids
on their junior year abroad program.
Classes were a series of 4
once a week
dinner class with wine and fun!
Advice on how to enjoy Florence
where to eat and drink
How to shop
where to go on daytrips
Sort of a home away from home.
A sort of best friend in Florence.

In 1997, with the access to internet, I opened my website
which was originally MangiaFirenze
with my dining guide online
for Florence and Chianti
recipes from friends, artisans and vendors
that I had met since moving here in 1984.

It is time for change again.

When I first moved here there were no day classes offered.
So that is where I created my niche.
Now there are many day classes,
some city bus tours into the market
weekly classes run by people that only come to tour.

I have been lucky to be mentioned in some great magazines,
like Town and Country Travel, Bon Appetit and this year Food and Wine.
This year I am taking a sort of Haitus from my one day classes,
leaving my studio space in Florence
and offering walking tours with lunch instead.

Time to get back to sharing my Florence with my friends.

My weeklong programs get me out of the kitchen and back into the part I love of living in Italy.
Meeting the people that produce the food I eat!

My mother-in-law Tina's famous words
"Spend more time shopping
less time cooking!"
ring stronger than ever, daily, in my head.

Where do we get what we cook?
What makes food good?

Seeking out food artisans with a passion and pride in what they do,
often passed on for generations here in Italy is not as easy as it once was.

I want to encourage and inspire people
to recreate the quality of life
one can still find in Italy,
in their homes.

By spending more time shopping for quality ingredients,
bonding with your butcher or fish monger
taking time to chat up your vegetable vendor
not only will your cooking improve, due to the better ingredients,
so will your life!

I am offering several weeks in Chianti this year
4 weeks in Florence
Weekly market tours with lunch
personal chef service/private classes in your villa
Divina Cucina in Sicily!
October 5th -11th

It is time I share some of my favorite places in Italy.

I am heading off to Sicily later this month to finalize the program.
I was so taken with the west coast of Sicily when I visited in 2005,
that I MUST go back.
This year I am flying into Catania and will tour the foodie hot spots
for a Slow Food tour with Jasper I am doing in October before the Salone del Gusto.
Then heading over to Palermo where my program will be.

a small corner market in Palermo

salt flats near Trapani

Here is a recipe I learned my last trip to Sicily

Pesto from Trapani
unlike it's namesake, this pesto is not green, but red
and packed with flavor.
Almonds show up often in Sicilian cuisine in sweets,
but this savory pesto stole my heart!
I love it even on bread.

1 8 oz. can stewed tomatoes
1 C toasted almonds
4 Tbs. grated pecorino romano
4 garlic cloves
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C basil or parsley
salt to taste

Drain tomatoes (save liquid) and chop.
Place toasted almonds and salt in a blender.
Pulse quickly to chop.
Add tomatoes, basil, pecorino and olive oil.
Blend again until a thick puree is formed.
Salt to taste.
If mixture seems to thick, thin with some liquid from tomatoes.
Serve on toasted baguette slices or pasta.

optional: For extra flavor and body, try using marinated sundried tomatoes
instead of the canned tomatoes
I soak mine in a hot vinegar till soft and then season with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers.

90,000 thank you's to those who gave to
Menu for Hope 4
Stop by Chez Pim January 9th
for the list of the winners.

Mille Grazie!