August 25, 2009

Tuscan Treasures- Macelleria Marianelli

I must have a gourmet guardian angel.

We reserved tickets for a dinner and a show as part of a new "Utopia del Buongusto", a series of theater pieces arranged by Andrea Kaemmerle and his Theatre Company. As we had never been to the village where the show was being held, Montopoli, we decided to go early and check it out. I new that my friend Simone de Castro's dad had a shop there ( bakery or forno for bread) so the goal was to find the shop.

I spotted this shop as soon as we came into the village.

Like the nearby San Miniato, the village is built on a ridge and the town is one street. We parked at the lot near the old castle which was distroyed during WWII. Passing through a lovely arch we took a stroll and immediately found a treasure. A tiny butcher shop, but filled with aged prosciutto's and salami's as well as freshly made sausages hanging in the shop. Most butcher shops deal with fresh meat.

A Norcino is one that transforms pork into other products, and what products!

The specialty, "Stradivari" ash-aged prosciutto

Their product included several recipes created by them, with antique recipes:

Costellaccio del sacrestano is a special "pancetta" created with one of these old recipes. The pork belly is salted and aged bone-in and then boned and aged again in red wine.

It is possible to find pork from the " GREAT WHITE" with is flavorful layer of fat.
When an animal is fed on natural products instead of feed, the fat actually has the nutritional benifits of olive oil. Usually the pigs here eat a lot of chestnuts.

Where we parked, at the arch, was where the original butcher shop was outside the city walls, where the owners, would slaughter the hogs for the locals and transform the meat into products for aging.
The term Norcino, came from the village of Norcia in Umbria, famous for it's pork products.
I am preparing a new program for chefs and those with a passion for pork.
5 days and 5 ways - a pork lover's tour of Italy.
We will explore the way pork is prepared in Lazio, Umbria, Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, visiting such masters to learn to be our own Norcini.
Carrying on traditions, like the Marianelli family. Five Generations- celebrating 100 years of business in 2010!
Auguri e Grazie Mille!
I can't wait to go back and try the other specialties, next time I am bringing my special shopping bag for meats!
Antica Macelleria-Norcineria Marianelli
Centro Storico- Montopoli Val d'Arno

August 16, 2009

Taking Divina Cucina on the Road

Rancho Casa Luna- San Miquel D'Allende

For years my husband and I would spend a month or two in Mexico in winter, saving big bucks on heating a large stone apartment with high ceilings in Florence. For those of us in the tourism business, we have nothing to do most of the winter. It made much more sense to be laying on a beach or traveling to see all the fabulous Mayan ruins my husband studies, instead of sitting around and freezing to death. Once we bought our tiny home in the countryside and began the nightmare restoration which blocked our life for 8 years- Mexico disappeared.

This year, after closing my school in Florence, winter in Mexico is back and combining business with pleasure I will be collaborating with Rancho Casa Luna Organic farm and cooking school, bringing Tuscany to San Miguel D'Allende.
There are so many recipes in Tuscany using the New World foods it is easy to recreate dishes in Mexico. Both Tuscany's and Mexico's home cooking are based on seasonal fresh ingredients and local. Slow food's philosophy is at home in both countries.

For those coming by air, I am meeting with my friend Ruth Alegria in DF( Mexico City) before the week for an intro to the Capital. I adore DF as much as I love the beach and am looking forward to visiting again with a expert in food and culture.
I hope you can join us! Here are more images of the Ranch and here.

Judy Witts Francini Cooking Classes at Rancho Casa Luna January 2010
Tuscany in Mexico: New World-Old World

Mon., Jan. 18

Arrival and welcome party on rooftop of Casa Luna Pila Seca with margaritas and botanas

Tues., Jan. 19
AM Walking tour of San Miguel
PM Tour of Mercado

Wed., Jan. 20
After breakfast to Rancho Casa Luna for demonstration and hands-on cooking class with Judy --- full meal for late comida

Thurs., Jan. 21
After breakfast tour of Guanajuato, Santa Rosa and Dolores Hidalgo

Fri., Jan. 22
After breakfast to Rancho Casa Luna for demonstration and hands-on cooking class with Judy --- full meal for late comida

Sat., Jan. 23
Free time AM then to Rancho at 1PM for demonstration and hands-on cooking class with Judy to prepare farewell dinner

Sun., Jan. 24 (Sun., Feb. 21)
Return to airport

Rate per person, double occupancy US $1,350
Rate includes: six night Casa Luna, all taxes, full breakfast every day, staff gratuities, welcome party, walking tour San Miguel, market tour, Tour to Guanajuato, Santa Rosa and Dolores Hidalgo, three demonstration and hands-on cooking classes at Rancho Casa Luna with Judy and includes full meal with wine, round-trip transportation to and from Leon/BJX and Queretaro/QRO international airports, packet of receipes, complimentary copy of Visions of San Miguel photo book.
Single supplement US $850

August 13, 2009

Pigging Out - again!

Mannetti family has been butchers in the Central Market since 1865

Kate and I are celebrating the pig again- We were thrilled to be included in the Best of the Web on Saveurs site.

There is a pig recipe for all seasons and summer calls for the grill! Nothing could be easier- we don't marinade the meat, a simple grill served with a sprinkle of salt, we usually do some sausages, ribs and a couple of slices of fresh pancetta,pork belly.
Porchetta Drawing by Angie Brooksby

But one of my favorites to eat anytime of the year is Porchetta! That is really going whole hog as traditionally it uses the whole hog, head and all, the area around Rome is really famous for the whole hog porchetta. All over roadside stands pop up and at the weekly food markets where you can buy slices to take home to eat or have them make you a sandwich- which is a whole meal.

Dario Cecchini's Arista in Porchetta- a headless version

Often we make a smaller version for home, which would really be an Arista, roast pork- filled with herbs as for the porchetta. A generous amount of aromatic rosemary, the herbal kind, not the landscaping one which is rich in a camphor like resin. Chopped garlic, salt, pepper and fennel are the other seasonings which create the secret blend. Each butcher and housewife have their own version. Here is the base recipe which I add to and change with my moods.

Whole Pork roast- with ribs for more flavor while roasting- boned and rolled back on

Here is my Erbe Toscane recipe to start experimenting for your own version of porchetta.

Both Kate and I are working with chefs coming to learn the secrets of pork and butchering from the source. I am so happy to see the return of artisan butchers in American and even the "meat-cutters" are now being trained to know which recipes to suggest for the different cuts of meat.

We all want to look good when we cook, and often the wrong but of meat can ruin a dish!

So if you are not sure, go to the Master and ask for advice. My mother-in-law always told me-
"Spend more time shopping and less time cooking."

The secret is, the fresher the ingredients and the higher the quality, it needs no fancy cooking to make it taste good- it is good left natural!

Enjoy time in the kitchen and your time at the table- and spend time bonding with the people that make your food, from the farmers at the weekly market to the butchers at the grocery store.
Your family will thank you!

As Fergus Henderson said at our presentation in Seattle- "Hug your Butcher"-

August 8, 2009

Market Inspired Recipe

The finished Tigella, filled with Burro del Chianti from the Macelleria Cecchini

Often when I say I am market inspired to cook something, I am referring to the fresh fruit and vegetable markets held weekly in local towns or the Central Market in Florence where I conduct my walking tours.

But there are other markets that inspire me- the first Sunday of the month in Panzano is the artisans market and there are stand after stand of food artisans up by Dario Cecchini's Macelleria. Then the market twists down to the Sunday food market in the tiny main piazza on the 222 highway. After this is my favorite part, with crafts and flea market treasures.

I scored this week! My husband actually found this. A aluminum mold for a stovetop flatbread called Tigelle. These are from Emilia Romagna, mostly around Modena and also in the mountains. Often cooked between clay disks over an open fire, the more modern version is made of metal.

The Tigelle mold is used stovetop- 1950's cost €5, a real find!

To make Tigelle:

300 grams Italian flour (00), in America White Lily works or King Aurthur sells Italian flour
25 gram fresh yeast ( I used a packaged dry yeast, the amount that is used for 500 gr or one pound of flour.
50 grams lard ( I used the same lard I filled the tigelle with, artisan made)
1/2 cup warm water

Mix the yeast into the warm water and stir.
Add the salt to the flour and then the lard.
I mixed the lard into the flour first, as I would for a tortilla dough, "cutting" it into the flour.

Add the water and mix to make a soft dough.
Knead the dough until smooth.
Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Roll out the dough to about 3/4 " high.
Use the top of a water glass to cut disks. ( make sure it fits in the tigelle mold).
Cover and let rise again.
Left over dough can be rerolled to cut more tigelle.
This recipe made 10.

Lightly grease the mold and lay in the tigelle. Cover with top and cook until golden.
Flip the mold so both sides cook.

If using a griddle, just flip them.

When cooked, cut open and fill.

Tradtional filling is Italian prosciutto minced with garlic and fresh rosemary.
Put in while still hot so the fat melts!

You do not need one to make these though. It is very similar to an English Muffin and can be cooked right on a griddle.

August 6, 2009

Summer's Simple Pleasures-

There are some recipes that mark the seasons, probably one of my favorites is
Pane al Pomodoro.

A really ripe tomato, still warm from the sun.

A loaf of Tuscan bread, baked in a woodburning oven, saltless and "ignorante" as they say here.

The BEST extra virgin olive oil.

Sea Salt, I usually use my salt from the salt pans near Trapani.

Nothing could be better or simpler. Cut the tomato open width-wise and rub the cut side on the bread pushing hard. All that should be left in your hands is the skin.

Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with oil. This is the perfect food anytime of the day.

What "Bruschetta" is really all about. You can toast the bread, but I find this version is what most kids get as a snack and there is something pure about it.

Try it and enjoy what summer in Italy tastes like!

August 1, 2009

Ode to the Eggplant- Melanzane al Cioccolato

eggplants can be dark purple, violet and almost white;
and either round or long

The poor eggplant, melanzane in Italian; from mela-non sana, "not healthy apple".
The eggplant, like the potatoes, bell peppers and chili peppers are edible nightshade vegetables.
When these foods were first introduced into the Italian diet, the first reaction was that they were not good for you and were often planted for their flowers in the gardens in Florence.

I adore eggplant and find those that don't love it, often have not have them prepared correctly. In the Mediterranean, eggplant can be found in almost all the cultures. Italians have a way with this vegetable, preparing it in a million ways, often replacing meat in the meal as do the Greeks and the Arabs.

Eggplants are sliced and salted and layered in a colander with a weight on top for an hour or so, then rinsed and patted dry before cooking. I don't find eggplant bitter, not sure what causes people to say that. I have had them slow roasted in the oven with garlic to make a baba ganoush or boiled in vinegar and wine to be preserved for appetizers later in the year.

I adore then simply grilled and marinated as I learned from Benita- in her Sicilian way.

Probably the most famous dish is Eggplant Parmesan- Melanzane alla Parmigiano.

simple small portions of my "lighter" eggplant parmesan

The eggplant is sliced and the slices layered in a colander with salt lightly sprinkled between layers. I put a small plate on top, and then a pot full of water to weigh down the plate.

Leave the eggplant to drain for about an hour.

Rinse off the salt. I then press on the slices to remove any liquids.
This also helps the eggplant from absorbing oil when cooking.

Dip the slices into flour and  fry.

I let drain on paper towel after cooked.

For a light summer version, I made a nice spicy tomato sauce with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers and canned tomatoes. Lightly salt to taste and cook until the tomatoes break down.

I then placed the eggplant slices in the tomato sauce.

I stack the eggplant two slices high and then flip to cover both sides with sauce.

I grated some cacio cavallo cheese on top and let simmer.

no need for layering with tons of mozzarella, which to me makes it heavy, this was the perfect meal.


I was on a quest to recreate a dessert I had years ago in California at a restaurant owned by a friend from Naples. Giuseppe, who has since passed away, made a chocolate eggplant "cake".
It was incredible! I find that the Italians are very creative, must come from living through the war and making the best with what one has.

The history of the recipe which I received a copy of from Giuseppe's brother, Mimmo, was traced back to the Franciscan monks. Twice-fried eggplant is dipped in a chocolate and liquor based sauce and layered with chopped walnuts and candied fruit.

Giuseppe's version was served by the slice, like a cake and he used candied ginger. Traditionally the slices are dipped and then layered on a serving tray and the chopped nuts and chopped candied orange rind are sprinkled in top.

It makes sense when you make the eggplant for eggplant parmesan. The eggplant actually tastes sweet when fried in an egg batter, more like a little pancake. I am sure that some mamma had some left-0ver fried eggplant and decided to use some to make a cheap sweet for her kids, using what was in the house. Cocoa powder, milk and a little kick with the liquor.

I served single slices filled with ricotta like a "Cannolo" for one version, then tried layering in a small bowl to create a more formal presention, as in the foto.

Not bad, but I will stick with eggplant parmesan as is and keep my chocolate for dessert!

( I am tempted though to make an eggplant jam!)

Melanzane a cioccolato:

Prepare the eggplant with the salt and under weights as above. Pat dry and lighty flour and fry.
When you remove from the oil, dip in a mixture of cocoa powder, cinnamon and sugar:

1/2 c sugar
2 tbs flour
1/4 c cocoa powder

Make a chocolate sauce:

Dissolve 1/4 cup cocoa powder in 1 cup milk over the heat with 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tbs butter.
Cook for 3 minutes and let cool.

Off the heat add 1/4 cup kahlua ( they use a liquor from the town of Maiori called Concertina, made with barley (orzo), coffee and spices.
If you want to make your own : here is the recipe!

I also added some pieces of bittersweet chocolate to thicken the sauce.
( I think that Giuseppe's cake was melted chocolate with cream, like ganache, as it set up differently and was more "candy-like".

Dip the fried eggplant into the chocolate sauce and lay on a serving tray.
Cover the slices with crushed walnuts, hazelnuts, pinuts and chopped candied fruit ( I prefer orange rind and candied ginger, no cherries for me!)

This would be the "original" version which is mostly still made today.

I made mine layered and sliced into mini portions.
Have fun with this!