January 28, 2009

Let me be your Italian Mamma!

When I first came to Florence in 1984, I never thought it would be home. But 25 years later here I am.

I first began teaching cooking to Syracuse University students here are on a study abroad program in 1988. The first book was a collection of the 4 dinners we prepared during the 4 week session.

When I started my Market to Table Class in 1997, the book became larger. I never know what recipes we would make after shopping at the market, so for me it was easier to just have all my favorite recipes in one place.

My dream was to actually publish this book; but I am not good at all the things one needs to do to get a book "published". When I went to a publisher a few years ago to present my proposal, basically I was told unless I was the new Mario Batali or Rachel Ray, forget it.

I don't take no for an answer, here is my answer: self-publish.

It took me awhile to get the look I wanted, the original book was handwritten, fotocopied and spiral bound! I wanted to keep the feel of a collection of recipes, passed on by family and kept in a journal.

Here is a sample page with one of the traditional main courses: Arista, Tuscan Roast Pork

click on the recipe to see larger

My friend Angie painted the Divina Cucina angel and Mark created a old-style cover for me.

I wanted the book to look like you inherited it from your Italian mamma.

Let me be your mamma! I am not Italian, but 25 years of cooking for an Italian makes me
one I think. All the recipes have been tested by my husband Andrea and passed with flying colors.

The book is going to the printers on Monday and will be ready when I get back from my teaching trip to the states.

Order now and they will be in the mail in March!

email me at diva [at] divinacucina.com to get on the list!

January 25, 2009

Under the Tuscan sunset!

Probably one of the most precious moments of the day is sunset. Such a fleeting moment yet can be so inspiring. Winter's grey days and storms often clear to leave us such incredible images.

The hills near our house are all filled with olive groves. Andrea liked this one with a large trunk. In the late 80's Tuscany had a huge snow fall and we lost so many of the older trees and many of the groves now were replanted after the freeze. It is rare to find the original older trees.

It is easy to understand why so many artists came to Italy to paint. THE LIGHT.

Spring is clearly on it's way. My first wild violets are showing their heads and golden dandelion flowers are also popping up. Wonderful wild greens cover the hills and find their way into my kitchen.

Winter is also downtime from work and time to explore and do research for future projects and get inspiration for new recipes. This took us to Lucca last week. I have a thing for walled in cities. Tuscany is filled with them.Walking into a walled city takes you away from today and into a quieter,slower past. Lucca has so many shops which reflect more French feel,with art deco facades.

This is one of my favorite shops, Prospero, just past the San Michele church. It opened in the 1700's and still maintains that old feel. I go for one of the best selections of beans in Tuscany.

Another shop which always catches my attention are the kitchen/hardware stores!
Look at what a fabulous collection of culinary toys!

Of course, no daytrip is complete without sweets and Lucca is full. One of my favorite chocolate shops is Caniparoli, again near the church of San Michele.

But right now, am finishing up projects before leaving on my teaching tour in February.
When I return, my cookbook will finally be ready for sale!

Fabulous way to start the new year- both classic and chinese!
In honor of Chinese new year, I did a little roasted pork belly with a sweet and sour BBQ sauce which was perfect.

This week I make some steamed Pork Buns. I am spending a lot of time experimenting with doughs right now and will blog about the new recipes soon.

Happy Chinese New Year-


January 17, 2009

Great Memories- San Gimignano

I Latini's new Piatto di Buon Ricordo

I have been a fan and collector of the Piatti di Buon Ricordo since I moved here in 1984.
To me, it is the way to visit Italy. Like a secret society, knocking on a door and saying " Buon Ricordo", the restaurant owners know you know! Buon Ricordo, means good memories and in Italy, time spent at the table in company of friends is what creates these great memories. Click on the link, for some reason the .com site is not in English!!! but I have linked to the map of Italy and Tuscany. Click on the map and you will see all the Buon Ricordo restaurants in that region.

Today I was thrilled that my friend Chiara Latini, of the famous restaurant family from Florence, told me that they were having the presentation of their piatto di buon ricordo with the collectors club this weekend! Well, I am not a member of the club, but have about 50 plates myself! The Hotel and Restaurant I Latini has been open since 1999 and one of Tuscany's best kept secrets. Driving past on the back road, one would not think that a fabulous restaurant would be hidden under a modern hotel. We know better!

Chiara, is also a sommellier and the wine list is to die for!

Osteria di Giovanni, her mom and dad's place in Florence also has a Buon Ricordo plate.

these hand-made pici were feather light!

To get the plate, you must eat the signature dish the restaurant has chosen, here it is hand-rolled Pici, a eggless pasta, with a slow cooked kale and sausage sauce. Buonissimo!

You can try to make your own Pici if you like- I often teach it in class as it is fabulous.

Pici- Tuscan hand-rolled spaghetti 

500 grams flour
1 cup hot water 
1 tsp salt 

Make fountain with the flour and salt on the table (or in a bowl). 
Add the hot water  to the center and mix together. 
Knead for 10 minutes. 

Now the fun starts! 

Roll out flat and cut 1/4- 1/2 inch strips. 
Roll the strips out to long worm like spaghetti. 
Boil in salted water, they just need a few minutes and serve with a meat ragu or with a spicy tomato sauce with lots of garlic- called Aglione sauce in southern Tuscany.

The food is always served on a normal plate and when you leave, you are given the Buon Ricordo plate in a box. Be sure to ask for the book with all the other restaurants listed.

The Buon Ricordo Association have a website which has all the information. If you love the idea as much as I do, become a member, it is free and showing your card upon arrival, often there are discounts or free gifts as a prefered member.

The group that was celebrating with us today, was actually the Collectors Association.
There were over 120 total that came for a three day weekend ( can you say three plates?)
These are serious eaters as well as collectors. They have their own site too, you pay to join, but then also receive a custom members plate and newsletters with special events.

This fabulous idea has spread and there are Buon Ricordo restaurants in Japan and in other parts of Europe as well. There is even a cruise ship with a plate!

Ristorante Albergo Latini
Loc. Badia a Elmi
Viale dei Platani,1

Hotel has WIFI!

I will be offering a Buon Ricordo week in Tuscany in the fall! 5 days - 5 plates!

Come hungry!

My webmaster Phil and his wife got all of Sicily's plates in a week! WOW- they win!

January 15, 2009

Yes we can!

2009 is going to be Fabulous! It was in 1984, when I bought a one way ticket to Europe, to improve my food knowledge of Italian cuisine. I had been working as a pastry chef at the Stanford Court Hotel in San Francisco, starting as a cashier, then waitress ( where the money to travel came from) and finally got a position in the pastry department and food became my life!

I had studied French in school, which never seemed to help much when I was in Paris, but having a French grandfather, and some language as well as learning mostly French cuisine, it seemed natural to move to France.

My roommate , Kathy said the magic words; " Judy, you will love Italy and Italy will love you!"
She had just returned from living a year in Paris and a year n Rome. She knew.

When arrived in Florence, it was love at first site. All that was missing to make it perfect would be to be closer to the sea. First on my schedule was to learn Italian. I was pleased that my knowledge of French helped here. It took quite awhile before I could talk like and adult, but that didn't stop me.

A year later, I met Andrea, the love of my life!

Now, 25 years later, we live in Certaldo, out in the hills between Florence and Siena. I can see San Gimignano from my bathroom window!

I closed the teaching space in Florence and am offering more 3 day programs in Tuscany and weeklong programs all over Italy to celebrate my anniversary of moving to Italy.

Yes we can!

Last year I did my first tours in Sicily and have a new love! I am organizing new tours there for June and again in October for the olive harvest and new oil!

In honor of my arrival in France and then moving on to Italy- My friend Rosa Jackson and I are looking at a Nice to Torino week. Nice was part of Italy and Torino was French so the contrasts are really facinating and the food and wines incredible!

In February I will be on the West Coast teaching and cooking.
I hope you can join me!

Here is the currant schedule: stay tuned for more changes.

Feb 12,13 and 14th- Ramekins Cooking School- Sonoma

Feb 15 and 16th -Arroyo Vista Inn B&B and cooking school- Pasadena

Feb 19- guest chef Angeli Cafe in LA call 323 936 9086. to reserve $65 a person.

Feb 21- Cavallo Point Cooking School- Sausalito

Feb 22 - Slow Food Dinner in Marin ( members only)

Feb 25 - Cooks, Pots and Tabletops Cooking school- Eugene Oregon

Feb 27 and 28- Diane's Market Kitchen- Seattle

March 1 - Cooking and Lifestyle Center at Thrifty Foods- Vancouver Island

January 11, 2009

How do I love thee- let me count the recipes!

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Nowhere is that more true than in Italy!

When I want to show my husband how much I care, there are certain recipes I will make for him, some of them are the recipes his mother taught me that are family favorites.

But at least once a year, I really show my love by cooking cardoons.

Cardoons also called Gobbi, their flavor is reminicent of artichokes

They take an immense amount of time to prepare.

smaller carducci, from the artichoke plant are a little more bitter.

First you must clean the plant of it's leaves, which can be toxic.

Then you need to remove the stringy threads from the stalks.

Now the cardoons are ready to be parboiled. I add some lemon and a tbs of flour ( some french trick) to the salted water and cook them until they are tender.

After, they are lightly floured and fried.

Normally I would then finish cooking them in a tomato sauce and serve with parmesan cheese.
They are also lovely just baked with melted butter and parmesan cheese.

Today I followed Francesca's recipe for baking them with pumpkin, layered with sage and garlic and topped with the parmesan cheese.

I actually bought the smaller carducci, which are the young shoots of the artichoke plants, which are removed from the plants now and a slice off of one of her huge squashes.

Food of love! Andrea ti amo.. at least once a year!

Baked Cardoons

Clean the cardoons of leaves and the stringy threads.
Parboil in salted water, with lemon.
Lightly flour and fry.
Bake with butter and parmesan or in a tomato sauce.

Todays version I layered thinly sliced pumpkin, seasoned with salt, sage and garlic on the bottom of a baking dish.
Top with the fried cardoons and cover with grated parmesan cheese.
Bake until the cheese is golden.

Share with someone you love!

January 8, 2009

Sicilian Involtini

Here is what I had for dinner last night.
I often think that Italian cooking has a bad rap, for taking a long time to make.
Actually, short prep and long cooking are great!
These beef rolls, which I learned in Castelvetrano at the cooking class we went to at the Becchina Estate, take little prep and I watched a couple of TV shows and dinner was ready!

I only got up once to check the involtini, turning them and adding a little water.

Lucy did a great foto reportage of the day cooking , stop by to see a great step-by-step album.


The little white spots are chopped hard-boiled eggs, which are their special touch which I hadn't had in other versions. As usual, each cook has their own secrets.
Here in Western Sicily, near Palermo, the trinity for fillings is fresh breadcrumbs, tiny currants and pinenuts. The currants ( tiny black raisins) give a really special flavor to the dish.

8 extra thin slices of young lean beef : rump steak, boneless and flattened if necessary (ask your butcher to slice it as thin as possible)
4 extra thin slices of mortadella or ham
1 hard boiled egg
1 heaping cup of loosely packed fresh ground breadcrumbs, made from day old (good) bread with the crust removed
1/4 cup chopped Pecorino primo sale (fresh young pecorino)
1/3 cup Parmigiano reggiano or Grana padano cheese
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
2 Tablespoons raisins
1 peeled garlic clove in winter, 2 if fresh with it's green stalk
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat leafed parsley (don't skip the parsley!)
finely ground Trapani or Mozia sea salt to season
2 Tablespoons Olio Verde extra virgin olive oil
Oil for browning
One large jar of your favorite tomato sauce or simply minced whole canned tomatoes
toothpicks (for closing the rolls)

Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl. Mince everything: the eggs, the parsley, the raisins, pine nuts and garlic, cheeses, and add them to the bowl. Toss, season with salt, then add the olive oil in a stream, tossing the mix to keep it light and fluffy. The stuffing should still be light and not drenched with oil, use your discretion with the oil.

Lay out the beef slices on a board, and note the direction of the grain of the meat. This will have an effect on your finished product. The meat contracts in the process of cooking, and your fresh bread crumbs will expand in the process of simmering, laying the meat this way and rolling it as shown will ensure a compact and durable roll, which does not pull apart and spill the contents during cooking.

Cut your mortadella into pieces that fit within the size of the beef slices and lay a slice on top of the beef.

Spoon 2-3 Tablespoons of the breadcrumb/egg stuffing onto the roll, ensuring that you stay within the edges. You don't need to force these completely full of stuffing. The goal is to get a nice roll that won't fall apart so don't go overboard on the stuffing. A little goes a long way.

Fold in the edges on either side as shown, and roll them up, finishing with a toothpick to hold them together. (repeat for all of the beef rolls.)

In a flat skillet, heat the cooking oil and quickly brown the beef rolls on each side, turning them every 3 minutes or so.

When they are browned, transfer them to a plate and drain off the cooking oil the best you can. In a medium sized pot or deep skillet, heat the tomato sauce and bring it to a simmer.

Transfer the beef rolls into the tomato sauce, and simmer them covered for 45 minutes to an hour. Serve hot!

January 6, 2009

Easing into 2009

Today is the last of the holiday season holidays in Italy. We have Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Santo Stefano is the 26th which is also a holiday. These create long weekends, letting everyone sneak off for some skiing or just sightseeing locally.

There is just enough time to get hungry again after the Christmas food orgies to be ready to celebrate New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and then those that can, ride it out until the Epiphany, also called the Befana today, January 6th. The Befana is a sort of hag that brings the stockings filled with chocolates and sweets if you were good or coal if you were bad. Of course only in Italy is the coal, carbone, made from sugar!
One of my favorite Befana festivals is in Piazza Navona in Rome. Filled with stands selling stockings stuff with sweets, artisans teasing you with the smell or cooking sugar and fresh hot brittle being made with hazelnuts, almonds or pinenuts. I am a sucker for croccante!

This year I skipped everything and was bedridden with the killer flu, so escaped the food panic, shopping and cooking and was able to relax.

When I finally felt better, we started back slowly with some lovely light salads. One of my favorites is a one course meal ( foto above) using curly endive lettuce, sliced oranges,radishes, sliced raw fennel, smoked fish (herring in this case), thin apple slices and my own cured olives. Each bite is a symphony of flavors.

Today I was feeling better and turned on the oven and made one of my favorite local treats, Cecina, often known by the name Farinata or Socca.

So many of my students adore this dish which is hard to find in Florence. It has an almost eggy like quality, so vegans can use it as a omelet. And for Celiacs of course it is also a lovely way to enjoy a floury crepe-like dish. Downtown Florence, there is a wine bar, Cantinetta di Verrazzano, which serves the cecina slice slathered in truffle butter, a slice of prosciutto and some arugula leaves, then rolls it up! AHHHHHH perfection on a plate!

Traditionally it is baked in a special shallow copper cooking pan, in a wood-burning oven and served hot with fresh grated pepper on top as a mid-afternoon snack.

I have seen tons of recipes, with varying ratios of chickpea flour to water.

Here is my simple recipe:

Cecina- Farinata

500 grams stone ground chickpea flour.
1 liter water
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt.

Whisk the water slowly into the flour.
Let sit for 4 hours to over-night.

Remove any foam that forms

Whisk in the oil and add salt.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees( or as hot as possible, here this is traditionally in a wood-burning oven) I used my regular oven.

Pour the batter into a pan, only 1/2 inch high, this recipe made 2 round cecina pans.

Bake until the cecina pulls away from the side of the pan and is golden on top.
Serve hot, with freshly ground pepper.

Top with thinly sliced red onions and finely chopped rosemary.

It is a very rich dish.
I think this would also make a great batter for frying!

January 4, 2009

A small gift for Pigging out in 2009

click on the image to see full size

For those of us who don't want to try to get whole hog or even a half a hog to make porchetta
here is a smaller home version I do using pork belly, known as pancetta in Italy. Not the pancetta which is already cured like bacon, but meaning just "the belly", la pancia.

I adore taking the fresh pancetta and slicing it then marinating it with red wine vinegar, oregano, fennel pollen and chili pepper flakes and then grilling it!

Instant satisfaction.

But if I have time, making this mini-porchetta is lovely for a luscious winter meal with friends.
Roast some potatoes or make some lentils to enjoy this rich rolled pork!

Break out great bottle of red or a fun lambrusco.

For those of