June 21, 2009

Celebrating the Season- Summer Soltice

A sure sign summer has arrived is the appearance of sun-ripened tomatoes to make Pomarola, simple tomato sauce. To celebrate, yesterday I picked up my first kilo of Fiorentini, a local heirloom tomato for sauce.

The best flavor and consistency for sauce comes from these kind of tomatoes. One does not make sauce from salad tomatoes, as they contain too many seeds and too much water. The best tomatoes have a higher ratio of tomato to seeds. The San Marzano from Naples is the tomato used mostly for sauce and for canned tomatoes in Italy.

At the end of summer, when the tomatoes are the cheapest, families will by hundreds of pounds of tomatoes and put up sauce for the rest of the year.

Yesterday I picked up my first kilo of Fiorentini, a "brutto ma buono", ugly-but-good, tomato for sauce.

If you don't have a great tomato to make sauce, use canned tomatoes from Italy; (not "Italian-style") as they are picked in season and canned when at their peak.

Pomorola- Simple Tomato Sauce

Wash the tomatoes and remove the stems. Crush with your hands into a sauce-pot. Add some torn basil leaves and sea salt. Cover and let cook.
The sauce is cooked when the liquids are released from the tomatoes and the skins are falling off. Place all the contents into a foodmill ( passatutto) and puree. Do not use a food processor, as it chops the skin and seeds up into the sauce. The foodmill separates the pulp of the tomato from the skin and seeds.

The tomato sauce ready to be pureed in the Passatutto ( foodmill, or Moulix)

All that will be left will be the skins and the seeds, keep turning until no more tomato is released below.
You will be surprised how much will come out after you think it is done!

To use as pasta sauce:

If the sauce is watery, boil until the excess water has evaporated.

Add a tablespoon of butter to the sauce and tear some additional basil leaves in, one or two.

Cook pasta in salted water, drain well and return the pasta to the pan.
Add tomato sauce to the pasta and let cook together, the pasta will absorb the sauce, giving it more flavor.

Serve hot, topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Summer in your mouth!

This sauce can be frozen in small batches or bottled to keep summer all year long!

June 16, 2009

June 24th- St John the Baptist- Florence's Patron Saint

There is nothing like being in an Italian town when it is celebrating.
Florence's patron saint, John the Baptist, is celebrated June 24th. Here is a small taste of the parade!

It is also when we make Nocino, with unripe green walnuts. So now that I am living in the countryside- I will gather my walnuts, instead of heading down to see the parade.

But if you are in Florence, you MUST go! Usually they all gather in Piazza Santa Maria Novella where the parade will start, then head down Via Tornabuoni, ending up in Piazza Santa Croce where the historic soccer game is played in costume ( if they are not too violent this year!)

Fabulous fireworks at night to be seen on the Arno River, set off in the Piazzale Michelangelo.

Bite-size Meatloafs: Polpettine

In the 25 years I have been living in Italy, I have NEVER seen spaghetti and meatballs served anywhere.

In Tuscany we have polpettine, small meatloaves, Polpettone being a meatloaf: the ini ending means small and one- big!

Summer's heat requires light foods and things which taste good at room temperature as well as cold. I love the polpettine as their small size allows for quick cooking and not a lot of time over a hot stove.

Here is the simple recipe using ground beef. There are as many versions as there are cooks, often I make one using left-over boiled beef from bollito misto. You can also "stretch" the recipe by mixing mashed potatoes in with the ground meat.

Polpettine- Beef Croquettes

12 oz ground beef
2 oz grated parmesan
1 egg or more as needed to hold mixture together
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 Tbs chopped parsley
olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, mix beef with egg, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper.
Let sit one hour.
Shape croquettes into a small finger shape.
Roll lightly in breadcrumbs.

Cover the bottom of a pan with olive oil and cook slowly over low heat until golden, turning frequently.

Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Eat now or if you can wait.... eat at room temp.

June 13, 2009

Edible Tuscany- REAL BREAD

another beautiful day in Tuscany

The most fabulous part about living in Tuscany for so long, is that when plans go wrong, you can always come up with a great back-up plan as there is so much to do everywhere. Today we were supposed to meet a friend at a flea market, which he had read about. Since it was in a village near the forno, I could already taste the wonderful schiacciata, a Tuscan flatbread, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt.

About 20 years ago I was lucky enough to go on one of Faith Willingers Day Trips to Capezzana Winery which included going to Roberto Catinari's chocolate shop and also to the Forno Agnese.
I have been back to both, but not to the Forno Agnese in a long time. Today was the day!

I am the family GPS and navigated off the main road, the Pistoiese, to Tavola and across the bridge and under the first archway on the left. There is a sign on the gate. Ring for bread. We were greeted by the family dog, grandma, mom and son. When the dog was back in the house we were allowed into the gated yard. The door was open to the Forno- so I asked permission and peeked in. Nothing had changed. Agnese died at 101. Bread is life!

The oven

Inside is very simple, one oven, one mixer, one table and lots and lots of bags of flour!

The Bread

Since I had been there before, I already new a lot, but was introduced to Eduardo, the 4th generation now. His prefered after school snack is the schiacciata filled with Nutella! I adore chocolate and salt so was willing to try. My husband loves eating a block of bittersweet chocolate and last time I was in Seattle Theo's chocolate also does a chocolate with tiny bits of salted bread crumbs in it which is also nice.

Trust an expert

After baking the bread, beans are put in to slowly cook in the heat of the ovens.

I am so glad we got a chance to go back and enjoy more of this incredible bread. Often people come to Italy to see the museums, but the true treasures of Italy are the artisans.

And our daily bread.

If you get a chance to explore this area, there are so many treasures to discover. There are villas to visit which are worth the trip and other incredible dining experiences too.

Another favorite in the area is Da Delfina in Artimino.