November 29, 2008

Sicilian Saturdays

I had so much fun in Sicily this October that I want to keep it in my heart and in my stomach!

With the tours, we stay in 5 star hotels being spoiled. When I am on my own, I prefer a little B&B run by locals. I was very lucky in Palermo to find a small one run by a young couple of artists near the Capo Market, Agave B&B . Massimo and Evelin were gracious and informative, filling my mornings at breakfast with information on the area and their insights on life in Palermo today. They have started a blog now on life in Palermo to give you a "taste" with recipes. If you would like to experience the market with them, but don't want to stay in a B&B they can arrange a lovely 4 star hotel nearby also.

Next time I go with my groups, that is where we will stay!
(update: The B&B is closed) they moved closer to the sea.

My other visits to Palermo, I toured the Ballaro' market and the Vucceria and somehow only saw the clothing part of the Capo market.

What a mistake!
Entrance to Capo Market- food section

All over Palermo, you see small carts painted white with slabs of thick foccaccia.
Light as a feather, but rich in flavor, this Sfincione is a street food no one should miss.
Easy to recreate at home, bread dough is covered with a homemade tomato sauce, cheese and origano before baking.
Sprinkle with salt and serve!
It was also one of our favorites at the fabulous buffet we were served at Florio, Marsala with our tasting.

This is the Sfincione we had at the Florio tasting.
This is really easy to make- I hope you try some for your next party.
You can even use a pre-made bread dough, but it is so easy to make bread.

I made mine a little thinner, using 2 smaller trays, so I could have more.

1 bread recipe1 tomato sauce recipegrated cheese, they use caciocavallo, a provolone like cheeseoreganobreadcrumbs
Bread recipe5 cups flour
2 cups warm water ( amount of water depends on flour used, a bread flour will absorb more than an all-purpose flour)
Mix the dry yeast into the flour in a large bowl with the sugar and salt.
Add the warm water, not boiling or you will kill the yeast.
Mix well in the bowl and when it forms a ball, take out and knead on table.
Place back in bowl and cover and let rise in a warm spot for at least an hour until doubled in size.
While you are waiting make the tomato sauce.
Tomato sauce1 white onion, chopped
Saute the onion in olive oil with some water.
Let cook for 20 minutes, crushing the tomatoes.
Making the sfincione
Making the sfincione
Grease a 9x12 pan
Lightly roll out the dough into a rectangle and place into the pan.
Sprinkle sprinkle the grated cheese on the bread and spoon the tomato sauce on top, spreading it with the back of the spoon.
Bake in a preheated oven at 450 for 20 minutes.
Cut into squares and serve with a sprinkling of salt on top!

( optional: oil packed anchovies)

1 package dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt

1 can tomatoes
salt and pepper

When the onion is cooked, add the can of tomatoes.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 450

The dough should be a wet dough, giving it lightness.
You may need to lightly flour the outside to roll out.
I grease my hands with olive oil to press the dough into the pan, old trick!
(If you want to add the anchovies, break them apart and place on the dough, pushing in, to make them stick.)

Sprinkle oregano on tomato sauce and top with breadcrumbs.

November 28, 2008

Biscotti Divini

I received an email from one of my students, asking for my biscotti recipe.
Outside the wind was blowing hard, bringing in rain clouds and it seemed like a perfect day for baking.

I wanted to attempt to do something a little different and instead of almonds , used toasted hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate chopped into chunks. ( note to myself, double up on the hazelnuts and cut down on the chocolate).

Recently we toured the Mattei factory in Prato, where the " Biscotti di Prato" come from, the historic producer of Tuscan biscotti.

Each shop has their own recipe, so I can too!

When I first learned, I got my recipe from my friend Sandra's dad, a retired pastry chef. His recipe was essential and simple. Equal weight of flour and sugar, almonds and enough eggs to hold the dough together.

For us mortals who need recipes:

500 grams flour
500 grams sugar
1 tsp baking powder
250 grams almonds (I used half hazelnuts and half chocolate today)
4 eggs

Note: depending on the kind of flour you use, you may need more yolks
In Italy we use a low gluten flour, which is similar to White lily flour that is used for bisquits in the south.

If the mixture is dry, add more yolks.

not all recipes are alike, some classic recipes are 4 whole eggs plus 4 yolks.
there are crispier cookies and more cake-like cookies.

Experiment and find your own balance.

I like to bake off a small batch first to be sure they don't spread.

The dough is rolled out into long rolls, baked until firm and then sliced while still hot.

I don't bake mine twice, although Bis- cotti means cooked twice.

Some people put them back in the oven to crisp them more.


Biscotti di Prato are also called "cantucci" little corners and are served at the end of a meal with a sweet dessert wine, Vin Santo, to dip the hard cookies in.
Not cappuccino, which is served at breakfast!

November 26, 2008

Good enough to eat!- I won!!!

Having finally gotten faster internet connection, I decided to participate in an Italian foto contest, with Massimo B's Kelablu blog on Flickr, Rancio Quotidiano, "your daily rations" he asks participants to fotograph what they are about to eat.

As you saw, I recently made Bollito Misto for an article on Xmas dinner and did a bowl of broth as one of the foto's for the article!I sent this in to Massimo's blog and WON!

This is what he gave as the reason:
Dai fiammighi colori della settimana scorsa ai toni caraveggeschi dei tortellini: cresce vertiginosamente la qualità del concorso che diventa internazionale grazie al contributo della lettrice Judy Witts (che grattugia!).

From the Flemish colors of last week to Caravaggio style tortellini: The quality of the contest has jumped to new heights, thanks to the international contribution of Judy Witts.
( what a grater!)

Thanks Massimo!

If you want to practice your Italian follow Massimo, on Gambero Rosso, with his blog Kelablu, one of Italy's best bloggers!

November 25, 2008

Beans and Pork

first recipe, oven-roasted beans..... today fagioli all'uccelleto with sausage

In Tuscany, I have learned to cook larger quantities of food and transform it into different dishes instead of eating leftovers. Beans are one of the mainstays of a Tuscan diet and are eaten in many forms. Served simply as in the last blog, just as a side dish to soups and stews or in summer as a salad with tuna! Here is the traditional recipe for stovetop cooking of the beans and a list or recipes.

One of my favorites for any season is the twice cooked version called
Fagioli all' Uccelleto
Bird-style beans

Cooking the beans with garlic and sage is usually used for small birds, hence the name.
This recipe is often served with grilled sausage, Tuscany's Pork and Beans.
The sausages are grilled and then warmed in the twice-cooked beans, giving off some of their luscious fat to flavor the sauce.I like to slice the sausages to get more flavor and also for parties is easier to serve.

Cooked cannellini or pinto beans ( borlotti or lamon)
you can use canned beans, just drain and rinse off first.

extra virgin olive oil
2 or 3 large sage leaves ( or a small branch)
2 garlic cloves
2 or 3 birds-eye chili peppers
1 small can tomato sauce

2 or 3 sausages

Cover the bottom of a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil.
Add sliced garlic and chili peppers. ( if you want to remove the chili, leave whole)
Heat oil, add sage.
When the garlic is sizzling, remove from heat and add tomato sauce.
Be careful of the oil spitting.

Season tomato with salt to taste and let cook for 20 minutes.

Add cooked beans and continue cooking until the beans have absorbed some of the sauce.
The secret is that the beans give off some of their sauce to the tomato and the beans absorb some of the tomato.

Todays version I consider: Tuscan Chili con Carne
I take the sausage out of the skins and sautee them, like ground beef for chili.
After the beans are done in the sage-infused sauce I add the ground pork.

Buon appetito!


November 24, 2008

Pork and Beans

Anything is better with bacon!

How many times have your heard that?
To many of us, pork is a comfort food that is the food for all seasons.

As the chilly weather started in, I started thinking about my favorite comfort foods for fall. Besides pumpkin: pork and porcini where the next foods on the list.

Next April I will be presenting a panel on Beans with Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, my bean guru and also music consultant ( I met Steve ages ago in Italy when he had a radio show) and with another friend Ruth Alegria, now living in Mexico City.

The last panel I did was on Pork with Kate Hill and our Pork guru Fergus Henderson of St John Restaurant in London. In researching for the presentation, Kate and I created our own Whole Hog Blog.

It only seemed appropriate to continue on blogging and getting some ideas from fellow bloggers. So join us for our Pork and Beans over at the Whole Hog Blog.
Post a recipe on your blog and send us your link!

Link love is the best!

For my first posting, I am running behind, searching for some natural light to fotograph my recipes. I did a twist on my traditional Tuscan beans, baking them in the oven instead of cooking them stovetop. I learned this trick at one of the first restaurants I worked in in Fiesole, called La Romagnola. The owner was not a woman from Emilia Romagna as the name suggests in Italian, but rather a family. The Dad owned one of Florence's historic trattoria's on the Arno river called Da Tito, and I learned a lot from him. I used his simple technique, but increased the garlic.

Tito's oven-roasted beans

Roasting in the oven frees you from watching the pot cook and allows you to relax!
I use a large lasagna pan, but a nice clay pot would be fabulous or a dutch oven.
I prefer to cook these beans before I really need them, as I think they are much better the next day

The recipe is an idea, can be doubled no problem.Beans will double in volume when cooked. If needed, more water can be added. I like to have the rich garlicy broth for soups.

2 cups cannellini beans, rinsed
4-6 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 sage branch
1 head of garlic, left whole, but with the top cut off
salt, to taste ( Italians don't like to eat a lot of garlic, save the roasted garlic and serve the cloves spread on toast for those that love garlic!)

Place all the ingredients in the pan except the salt and cook at 350 degrees until beans are tender. ( Depending on the beans can be up to 2 hours)

Stir the beans once or twice during the cooking time, approx 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours.
( watch a movie on TV!) The olive oil will create a "crust" on the top layer of beans, this adds some texture, much like cassoulet, but can also dry that top layer, which is why you want to stir.

Salt the beans at the end of the cooking time.

I adore these beans as they are, the roasted garlic broth that is created is really earthy and wonderful base for soups.

Last night I simply grilled some pork ribs, glazing them at the end.

Next: Fagioli all'uccelleto, Twice cooked Beans, served with sausage.

Do send us your recipes!

November 19, 2008

Simply lunch

Some days there is nothing better than a simple soup.
Today was one of those days. Cold and crisp out, sunlight highlighting the fall colors which cover the hills in Chianti.

What I adore about broth, is that it is part of a longer chain of recipes that takes little time to create and feeds you for a week.

I am doing my homework now for an article coming out in Galavanting for their December issue, on my Tuscan Christmas dinner.

November 15, 2008

Pleasures of Pumpkin-again

pumpkin gnocchi with sage, butter and parmesan

With the crisp fall weather holding before the wet winter sets in,I am having a love affair with pumpkin.

I am lucky to not have to buy whole pumpkins,but slices, as I need them.

I find myself cooking pumpkin in many ways. So far I have done the grilled pumpkin which is something which cannotbe missing in my fall fridge for snacking on at our house.
pumpkin soup, using the tricks from Cibreo.

Probably the next way of serving it will be to make Francesca's
pumpkin and leek risotto, with a kick of chili!

For last night's gnocchi,
I used a nice slice of pumpkin, and pan-roasted it with olive oil and sage.
Then pureed it and let it sit overnight.

I prefer roasting the pumpkin to concentrate the flavor and the pumpkin is also less wet!
In Florence we tend to "roast" stovetop, instead of using the oven.

Stovetop cooking uses gas which is less expensive here
and ovens are electric which costs more.

For the two of us:
Gnocchi di Zucca Gialla

200 grams roasted pumpkin, pureed
200 grams mashed potatoes
100 grams flour
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

It is easy to cook the potato and pumpkin in a microwave too, and mash them together.
I do not like to use eggs in making gnocchi as it makes a wetter dough and needs more flour
and creates a heavier dough.

This dough is soft, so I make it and let it rest.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil.
Using two small spoons, drop the "gnocchi" into the boiling water.
When the gnocchi are cooked, they float to the top.

Remove and place in a skillet where you have melted butter with some sage leaves.

Serve with extra parmesan cheese
and a drizzle of traditional balsamic vinegar.

This was a huge hit with my husband!
He will probably look like a pumpkin soon
as he wants me to make more gnocchi, and grilled pumpkin too!

Try this thanksgiving for a change!

November 9, 2008

I love Pumpkin!

a Fall palate in the hills

in the market

on the table

Pumpkins are so fall!

Not only do you have left-overs from halloween,but the hills are also covered in various shades of gold, rust and green which are all pumpkin inspired.

I adore pumpkin in soup, risotto and gnocchi.
I like to roast the pumpkin for gnocchi, they absorb less water and need less flour!

Try pumpkin gnocchi served with traditional balsamic vinegar and shaved parmesan cheese!
The lovely elixir like qualities of traditional balsamic are a great contrast to the grilled pumpkin slices too.

Thanks Andrea, for reminding me!

Here is my soup, based on Fabio Picchi's yellow bell pepper soup, using pumpkin instead of the peppers. I follow Fabio's lead in garnishing with parmesan cheese, crushed amaretto cookies
and a lovely drizzle of traditional balsamic vinegar, which is worth every penny.

zuppa di zucca gialla
Using the best ingredients is the most wonderful gift to yourself and in a cost per serving is nothing!!!


But the recipe that is the most requested in
this house is:

grilled marinated pumpkin, sicilian style.

Remove the thick "skin" from the pumpkin.
Grill or oven roast the thin slices in olive oil with salt.
I layer then slices with thin slices of garlic,chili pepper flakes
salt to taste.
To be Sicilian, a splash of white wine vinegar, sugar and some mint.

Cover with olive oil ( i only use extra virgin) and it keeps in the fridge.

Simple and easy to make, I love to keep these in the fridge for snacking anytime
or to use as part of a dish.

Todays lunch was the grilled pumpkin-
Tuna and zolfini bean salad with radishes and chives-and stuffed cherry peppers in oil with capers and anchovy.

My friends in Palermo have started to put traditional recipes on their blog
and have included the pumpkin recipe too
Stop by!

Next up,curing your own olives!

November 8, 2008

Florence - Wine Bars- Casa del Vino

gianni- menu on blackboard with specialties- snack on small tray

wines by the glass- price on bottle

One of my regular places for a light lunch or snack is

Gianni Migliorini's Casa del Vino
Located behind the open air market on
Via dell'Ariento.

It is a place where, if you can get it,
you eat and drink elbow to elbow
with the locals and if you go often enough
you become one of the locals!

Gianni has one of the best wine cellars in Florence.
His dad, Bruno, opened the shop after the war.

Gianni still sells the families wine and olive oil, made in Tavernelle
if you love great wines at fabulous prices.
Bring an empty suitcase to Florence!

On my wine tours, I help clients chose wines from Gianni,
as well as eating and drinking our way through town.

Life's tough here in Tuscany!

Stop by for a pick-me -up at the Casa del Vino.

They make incredible custom sandwiches as well as carrying some
already made or small crostini, Tuscan toasts, with toppings.

Never drink without eating!

Via dell'Ariento, 16 rosso

open 9:30am - 4pm Monday through Saturday

Simply Divina!

November 3, 2008

Extra Virgins!

We are doing the new oil dance here!!!

Since I brought back my 5 liters from Sicily
and just got another liter from my neighbors,


Whenever new foods come into season,
there is always a festival to celebrate
called a sagra.

But why wait?

The best way to enjoy the "peppery-bite" of new oil
is simply on toasted bread, rubbed with garlic
and sprinkled with sea salt.

Called fettunta in Florence,
fette-slice.... unta-greasy.

Have plenty of napkins ready!

New oil is perfect on:

hot Tuscan beans
grilled steak
twice-cooked veggies
orange salad with fennel and black olives

ice cream????

so i hear, will try and let you know!

what do you do with your new oil?