June 28, 2010

More Zucchini

Yesterday's zucchini from the garden were a mixed batch. Some just blossoms and one lovely HUGE blossom with the tiny zucchini still attached. My first fried zucchini blossom was served like that.

I had gone to Roger Verge's cooking school in Mougin for a week with my best friend, and we ate daily at the hotel. The first appetizer we had been served was a blossom stuffed with a duxelle ( puree) of mushrooms and a whole black truffle inside. Needless to say, we had one a day for the whole week!

This version, pictured above, is breaded and fried and filled with chopped mozzarella and tiny pieces of anchovy. The anchovy is FABULOUS hit of salt when you bite into it. The breadcrumbs provide a crunchy shell to contain the melting mozzarella.

It is hard to wait, but you will avoid burning your mouth if you can wait a minute to eat.

When I was shopping at the local market I found these round zucchini, which are used for stuffing. My husband adores these, so we picked some up. I hollow them out and fill with meatloaf mixture, simple ground beef, grated parmesan cheese and egg. Then the zucchini are slowly cooked sitting in a covered pan in a light tomato sauce. I throw the bits I cut out of the zucchini in the tomato sauce and save the sauce to serve on pasta when the zucchini are cooked.

I still have more recipes for zucchini coming up! Next year I will probably only plant two zucchini plants for our orto.

Dreaming about Zucchini Bread, Carpaccio of Zucchini, friend zucchini with garlic and mint, a frittata..

June 21, 2010

Updates from the Orto

I think EVERYONE in Italy has an "orto", a  small vegetable garden, if not at their home, somewhere.

As I take the train from Certaldo into Florence, I see thousands of vegetable gardens all along the tracks, some on real gardens others it looks like on confiscated land.

Nothing is more important than food in Italy. I am lucky as I have a market twice a week in the village where I buy my fresh fruits and vegetables from Francesca. Her farm is 10 minutes up the hill.

 small view of some of the gardens at Francesca's farm
we buy from her stand at the Cooking in Chianti Market to Table class on Wednesdays

I went to see her farm last week. It is not huge, just what she and her husband can maintain on their own as well as olive trees and vineyards.

Here are some shots of how my little orto is coming along.

Three chili pepper plants

one eggplant plant

6 cherry tomato plants and 6 san marzano tomato plants

three zucchini plants

two types of watermelon plants

We enjoyed our lettuces this winter and the peas were really special. We have already eaten zucchini and their blossoms on several occasions, not letting them get huge! Can't wait to see what is ready next. This Saturday will also go and buy a couple of more plants. Not sure what yet. Another surprise!

June 18, 2010

Learning the Moves

Not being born Italian, but rather adopting Italy as my home and being adopted has been a fabulous experience. I was just asked today if I taught my students Americanized Tuscan food.
WHAT???  NO WAY---- I want my students to go home and create better Tuscan food than a restaurant, since they are learning to cook like an Italian Mamma and we all know they are the BEST.

Today's lesson was Pici, a hand-rolled pasta made with flour and hot water. I love teaching it to kids of all ages. Today my student was 15 and she is a natural in the kitchen. Incredible knife skills  and a wonderful palate. I am always so pleased when I am teaching and have someone really get it.

These are the days I am a proud Pseudo- Italian mamma!

           hands of mom and daughter cooking together

I am honored to be passing-on traditions in cooking.

simple Tuscan ragu for the pasta

Make some good food and share it with friends- 
you life will improve.

A Tavola non si invecchia
One doesn't age at the table

Stay young- Eat like an Italian

June 13, 2010

Sex and Zucchini- a 101 on blossoms

Recently the question of which blossoms to fry for zucchini has come up on twitter and facebook conversations.

Few people know that the blossoms without a zucchini are male, those with a zucchini are female.

On the left side are girls- with zucchinis attached- and on the right boys- stems only

Look inside

Girls have a fallopian tube shaped stamen and boys... well you get it!

So now you can go out to your garden and pick away. We use the male blossoms to fry filled with ricotta cheese or mozzarella and a tiny piece of anchovy.

I have also had them steamed on a tomato sauce in a pan instead of fried for a lighter version.

In Rome it is common to top a pizza with slices of mozzarella, blossoms and a few anchovies.

When I go out into my tiny garden it is a thrill to watch the zucchini growing- we planted three plants and all are going strong. I think the important thing is not to let them get too big! Small is better.

This plant is ALL girls--- and I was really looking forward to frying some blossoms.
Not sure about the birds and the bees with zucchini
They seem to already know if they are male and female at birth.

So if you want to eat fried blossoms, pick the blossoms in the early morning while they are open.

The zucchini here are soooo tiny-- would also be great to fry
or use in this recipe from my friend Mimmo of Enoteca Baldi in Panzano

Buon appetito!
Stop by Summer Tomato for my article on the Italian Markets.

June 10, 2010

Summer is Here

To me, the first sign that summer has arrived is a craving for a big dish of Tuscan Panzanella.
A celebration of summer made with fresh sweet red onions, ripe tomatoes and cucumbers
with crumbled bread and basil- an edible Italian flag, red, white and green. It is seasoned with rich unfiltered Tuscan olive oil, tart wine vinegar and salt.

I have seen so many Americanized versions that I would just like to set the record straight.

It is a recipe using stale Tuscan bread, which everyone comments on when they taste it here in Tuscany. The bread is made without salt since there was a salt tax ages ago and tradition still holds true. Due to the lack of salt, the bread goes stale faster and we have quite a few fabulous recipes for stale bread. One of the qualities of the stale bread, is that when it is soaked to rehydrate, it crumbles like cous cous and is a light fabulous base for salad and soup.

When American bread is soaked it does not have the same properties, which is why people tend to use toasted bread or croutons to make it.

I just hate when people give a name to something and then make it totally differently. I have the same problem here in Italy if I order a Cesare Salad ( no, it is not Italian, was actually invented in Tijauna by two Italians, but is no more "Italian" that fettucine alfredo is ( only served at Alfredo's in Rome).

When I first wanted to make this in America before moving here, the recipe included making your bread first to let it go stale. I find that a good rustic loaf of whole wheat bread crumbles nicely or use cous cous.

Traditional Tuscan Bread Salad- Panzanella

1 pound stale bread

3 tomatoes, cut into 8ths

2 red onions, thinly sliced
1 pound stale bread

3 tomatoes, cut into 8ths

2 red onions, thinly slices

1 cucumber, peeled and sliced


Olive oil



Soak the sliced stale bread in cold water for 10 minutes.
Squeeze out the water and crumble the bread into a serving bowl.
Add tomatoes, cucumber, onions and basil.
Season will olive oil and salt.
Mix well and let sit.
Before serving, add vinegar and mix again.
Serve with olive oil, vinegar, and salt on the side.

June 9, 2010

Day-Tripping: Rome

Rome's Unknown Soldier's Tomb

I love day-tripping- although it can be exhausting- when I can, I go. This trip was to visit my friend from Paris, David Lebovitz, who was in Rome doing Gelato tours for Context and a book signing party for the release of his new dessert cookbook. I couldn't make it down for the signing- so came down for a quick trip to just visit.

When I arrived, David had a whole list of places we needed to check out and we set about to make plans on what order to tackle the list.

On my list was just to visit the newly redone Mercato Trionfale, Rome's real food market, not far from the Vatican. That worked out great as it was walking distance from one of the gelato places David wanted me to try.

The new Trionfale Market is indoors under a mall like construction

I was thrilled to see this version of the tenerumi which I read about on Art of Eating-- had only seen the ones from the Sicilian Cuccuzza!!!

Tiny zucchini and the vines- all edible

David at the pork shop with Italian spicy,dry pork snacks, coppiette, from Calabria

Rome's famous agretti- to be boiled and eaten with lemon juice and olive oil

 Stand specializing in eggs

 celebrating summer- eggplants and peppers

Everyone has pizza al taglio, by the slice, mine was mozzarella, zucchini blossoms and anchovies

one of our gelato choices- Ricotta with visciole (black cherries) and passion fruit sorbet

June 2, 2010

BYOB in Italy

BYOB usually means bring your own bottle ( full) to a party- but in Italy it has taken on new meaning.

Bringing your own empty bottle to Vino Sfuso shops where they fill your empy bottles with wine from large demijohns or even large stainless steel vats, saving you money.

No labels, no advertising, no free wine tasting saves you money.

Wine prices list both the price by the liter and also what a stardard 750ml bottle will cost to fill.

I shop at DiVino which is on Via Taddea near where I lived, but shops are appearing all over town.
Also in Greve in Chianti there is a vino sfuso shop down the small road leading out of the Piazza.
Often they will have 3 and 5 liter boxes of wine too.

A great savings when you drink wine daily like  an Italian!
PS- if you don't have your own bottle, they do- usually costs 50 cents and they cork it for free.
then just return with your bottle and pay only for the wine.