July 26, 2009

Market Day Recipes

I am really blessed. I lived in front of Florence's Central Market for 20 years while running my cooking school Divina Cucina and since closing the school in Florence and moving out to the countryside while I finally got my book published, I now have 2 market days in my village of Certaldo.

I first began cooking in the late 70's after travelling to Europe several times, I was thinking about a way to travel abroad and work and a hotel career seemed the most possible. After a year or two of front of the house, cashiering, waitressing and taking some management classes, I chose to go behind the house and into the kitchen.

Back then, it was a male dominated kitchen, and French was the predominent cuisine. Testerone all over the place! I chose to seek out a corner of the kitchen job and found my calling in pastry.

I was lucky enough to be trained on site as well as a class I took at Tante Marie's Cooking School in SF- I found my place in the kitchen.

Pastry may be the hardest way to start cooking, but I loved it. Watching the rest of the kitchen while working, I knew I made the right choice. But as I watched, I also learned.

With my pastry skills, I could also cook! You can fix mistakes when you cook, but not with pastry. I basically taught myself the basics of classic French cuisine with Jacque Pepin's La Techinique, a bible, still today, for the basics.

I find it all comes in handy when I hit the market. For me it is like living Iron Chef every time I shop. When I see a bell pepper I think, stuffed with meat? stuffed with rice?, cooked with red onions and vinegar for a peperonata?, or just roasted and served in strips.

Then I continue shopping and building on what is in season.

I knew I wanted to make Pollo al Mattone, chicken cooked under a brick- and the rest would happen to create a menu for the weekend at the market.

This weeks market menu:

Bell peppers and new red onions: peperonata

zucchini blossoms: fiori fritti- stuffed fried blossoms with sheeps milk ricotta

Watermelon: watermelon/chili jelly ( I am on a jelly and jam kick!)

Fresh fruit: cobbler with the peaches, and peaches marinated in wine and sugar, roasted apricots with amaretto cookie chocolate filling

Cantelope: prosciutto and melon and more melon jelly.

Then after shopping my vendor Francesca, GAVE ME, a whole case of eggplant and zucchini, knowing I love to "put things up". Now to research more recipes to use for those.

Zucchini bread for sure...and possibly jams!!!
I am quite tempted to make an antique recipe for a Napolitano chocolate eggplant dessert!
It is fabulous!

Maybe if you all leave a comment and beg me!!! will do.


I have some unadvertised tours coming up if you would like to join in:

Sept 30-October 4th Florence Chianti Tour ( 1 day shorter than usual)
October 25-30th Florence -Chianti Tour
November 1-6th with Jet's cooking school from Kansas City
Jan 17th -23rd in San Miquel D'Allende in Mexico ( will post next with details) at Casa Luna

My book is being reprinted as we speak! Thanks to those that have already gotten their copies!
What I love about the book are the extra pages to add recipes from my site and my blog to double the collection!

Don't forget to follow my recipes on FoodConnect where I also write 8 times a month!
Also I am on facebook and twitter- Divinacucina

Love to hear from you!

Buon Estate- have a nice summer!

July 19, 2009

Too Many Tomatoes-Sicilian Tomato Jam

tiny tomato jewels

Last week I made some cantalope jam based on a recipe I tasted in Sicily outside Trapani. I went wild for the flavor, sweet, clean, fresh and complementary to fresh ricotta.

Imagine my surprise when my friend from the other side of the island ( near Catania) Milena send me a brochure with new recipes to try and there was Tomato Jam served on ricotta.

from Milena's Tastannu-tastannu brochure she sent me
from the Province of Syracuse.

This should be of no surprise to Americans with our Jalapeno Jelly- yet it continues to surprise people. Last year Mark Bittman wrote about a Spanish inspired version with ginger and chili pepper, which he suggests served with tuna.

It is all about preserving foods and usually sugar, vinegar and spices are all involved. This version is left as a sweet version, very similar to a strawberry jam, highlighted with lemon juice. I didn't have any basil today which the recipe calls for, but will add some tomorrow when the shops reopen.

At this weeks Saturday market I found these tiny tomatoes which looked more like juicy grapes,

and decided they were the perfect size for what looked like small jewels when served. The recipe calls for the Pachino tomatoes, which are "IGP" ( the geographical production of these tomatoes is protected). So much of the food in Italy is intense in flavor. Terroir is so important. The soil and climate provide a precious gift. Respecting tradition is priceless when it comes to food.

one of the tomatoes on a piece of caciocavallo cheese

here is the recipe from the brochure:

Pacchino IGP Cherry Tomato Preserve

2 pounds peeled Pachino tomatoes,(smaller than San Marzano and sweeter)
1 pound granulated sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh basil

To peel tomatoes, cut cross in the bottom ( opposite from stem end) and put in a pot of boiling water until the skin of the tomatoes starts to pull away.

Remove tomatoes from water.

Peel tomatoes and put in pot with sugar. Mix well.

Cook to 106 C or 222F.

Off the heat, stir in the lemon juice and the basil.

Keep covered in fridge.

The recipe I made I used 500 grams/one lb of tomatoes and 250/1 cup of sugar.

July 17, 2009

Lunch at La Petraia with Michael Pollan

Entrance to La Petraia, cypress and fields of lavendar

I was thrilled to be invited to one of the days of Michael Pollan's week-long program at La Petraia, an organic farm and B&B in Chianti. The trip was organized by Truffle Pig Travel and from the looks of the group that attended, it was the trip of a lifetime.

Driving up through the gates, the fragrance of the fields of lavender in bloom was overwhelming and the thrumming of the bees made me smile. ( I learned bees thrummed from Michael before lunch!)

Due to record heat, the group started their foraging day too early for me to arrive from Certaldo, so I met with them in Susan's incredible kitchen for a demo on wild things available in the area.

Giulliano and Mark- the foraging experts of La Petraia

Purslane, wild chicory, wild fennel greens, nastursiums, wild mints part of our salad

La Petraia is an organic farm producing almost everything they need on site. Todays foraging even brought some porcini mushrooms, chantrels and others. Our salad was made with both wild greens and flowers with someof their own from the gardens. We made fresh pasta, layering rose petals, wild fennel and parsley into the sheets, very lovely!

Crispy pig ear appetizers

Michael, Isaac and Judith Pollan ( Elizbeth Minchilli in the back)

After a long and leasurely lunch in the gardens, we gathered in the main part of the house to listen to Michael speak. He is a pleasure to listen to and hopefully with his writings and speaking events will help to change how we eat and save the earth!

Micheal pointed out several ways to actually be active in our choices in our own lives and helping to change the politics of food. In his letter to Obama, you can read the outlines he suggests for government change. But what I found exciting was his explaination of the role of the First Lady.
The history of the programs started by the Ladies has really changed the world, starting with Lady Bird Johnson, cleaning up the highways of America, Carters reading program and now Michelle's garden. Michelle is really starting the food revolution, representing how small gardens can change the world.

If you can't buy the books, scroll down as there are many articles available online.




July 14, 2009

Oggi Sciopero-Italy strike against DDL Alfano- SPEAK OUT

It will be the first strike of bloggers ever.
On July 14, 2009, Italian bloggers will muzzle themselves in the Web as well
as in Piazza Navona in Rome, at 7PM where they will meet to protest against
an Italian government bill (the Alfano decree) introducing a number of new
rules which will limit the freedom of expression in Italian internet.
The so-called "obligation to rectify" imposed to the manager of an information
site (blogs, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter etc) clearly appears to
be a pretext. In fact such imposition, in termsof bureaucratization of the net-
work and of very heavy penalties for users, shall make of the new decree an
The practical effects shall be to cause the independent sites and blogs to
cease or materially reduce their publications. The apparent intent of introdu-
cing criteria of responsibility hides the attempt to make life difficult or impos-
sible for bloggers and users of shared sites (for example: You Tube...)
The fact is that bloggers are already entirely liable, from a penal standpoint,
in the event of crimes such as insults, defamation etc: there is no need to
introduce unbearable penalties for "citizen-journalists" who do not intend to
submit themselves to the bureaucracy and the burdens contemplated in the
Alfano decree.
The plurality of information, regardless of the media, internet, newspapers,
radio and tv networks etc, is a fundamental right of men and citizens, on
which democracy and freedom are based. The Alfano decree is an attack to the
freedom of all media, from the major newspapers to the smallest blog.
For this reason we invite all Italian blogs and sites to a day of silence, in the
day in which newspapers and tv networks will also remain silent. It is a mes-
sage of all operators in the media world, who jointly shout to the political
world: "we don not want to be gagged".
We therefore invite all citizens with a blog or a site to publish this logo and
mantain it for the entire day of July 14 next.
Defending the press, the tv and radio networks, the journalists and the Web,
we firmly defend the basic freedom of information and the future of our

Alessandro Gilioli
Guido Scorza
Enzo Di Frenna

To participate or for more information- go to Diritto alla Rete
If you don't speak out- you can be silenced- Freedom of Speech is our right.

Trovi altre fotografie come questa su Diritto alla Rete

July 5, 2009

Saltimbocca- Griddle Bread from Naples

Saltimbocca sandwich

When I found fresh broccili rape,called friarelli in naples, at the weekly market in Certaldo on Saturday, I had to buy it. Fresh from the farm, so filled with flavor. Most people who don't even like greens, love the twice-cooked technique used in Italy, even kids! Today I added raisins and toasted pinenuts.

Then I remembered a fabulous sandwich we had at a pizzeria in Naples last year and with some left over grilled sausage, I was ready! All I needed to do was to make some of the simple bread used to make this sandwich. Today I made it like an English Muffin, cooking it on the grill instead of turning on the oven.

Saltimbocca dough

500 grams/ 5 cups Italian flour ( lower in gluten then American all purpose)
1 envelope dry yeast
2 tbs sugar
300 ml/ 1 1/4 cups warm water
3 tbs olive oil
2 tsp salt

Mix all the ingredients together.
Stir until they are all mixed well.

Cover the bowl and let rise until doubles in size.

Flour work table and put dough onto work space.

Lightly knead the dough to form a ball.
Break into 4 pieces.

Roll the dough out into oval shapes and bake at 350 until golden, about 20 minutes.

Let cool.

To serve, slice open the bread with a serrated knife.

Place the sauteed greens on the bottom layer, top with sliced cooked sausage.

Cover with sliced smoked provolone cheese.

Heat in the oven until the cheese starts to melt!

Cover with the top.

I hope you can make this and get a little taste of Naples!

Buon Appetito!

July 1, 2009

My favorite side dish!

When you are planning your BBQ for the 4th of July or the next summer party, try making these sweet and sour onions as a side dish and stand back and receive the compliments!

Tiny pearl onions are cooked in an infusion of water with sugar and vinegar. I like to add a little chili pepper (whole- so I can take it out) to give it a little kick.

The end result is eating onions that taste like a BBQ sauce!

I prefer to let them slow cook the day before, so the flavors have time to blend.
If you can't find cipolline, boiling onions, use small shallots.

To make them a little fancier, you can add some raisins and toasted pinenuts at the end of the cooking.

Cipolline Agro Dolce

Sweet and Sour Onions

1 1/2 lbs peeled boiling onions
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs vinegar
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs tomato paste
water and/or white wine
1 dry red chili pepper (optional)

Place onions in a single layer in a large flat saute pan.
They should be covered with the white wine, diluted with water.
Add olive oil, salt, sugar, dry red chili pepper, vinegar and tomato paste.
Stir to mix.

Cover and boil for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

Boil until the water is gone and the onions begin to glaze.
Stir to prevent burning or sticking.
Remove red chili before serving.
Taste to balance the sweet and sour flavors.

These are best the next day.
Try balsamic vinegar and honey for a really special version.
For simple onions, just cook in white wine, olive oil, salt and a bay leaf.