July 31, 2010

Market Day- Castelfiorentino- Saturday

Not far from where I live in Certaldo is Castelfiorentino. They have the local larger street market on Saturday's which I like to go to about once a month. These market days are sort of like the "mall" coming to you. Hundreds of small privately owned shops line the streets. Many have repeat items, especially the cheap t-shirts, underwear and shoes, but some are one-of-a-kind.

Today I was looking for my Sardenian cheese vendors and also the Sicilian stand. Both were already on vacation and missing. But not to waste the day, we stopped by the local bakery and picked up some Donzelle, the local fried bread, shaped like a tiny baquette and some mortadella to make a sandwich with them.

here is mom in the bread making room next door to the shop
She is brushing oil on their cracker-like schiacchiata

Picked up some pancetta for today's zucchini recipe I am working on and a couple of cute summer tops.

But with the variety of items here, anyone can start a farm!

 small plants ready for planting for fall crops- fennel and salad greens

small chili plants already producing chili's- ready to harvest

baby geese- most farms raise their own courtyard animals

the season's bounty for sale direct from farms

Everyday is market day somewhere- so search out the local markets
and get a REAL TASTE of living here.

July 28, 2010

Summer Fest 2010- Let's Party - Cukes and Zukes

Margaret at A Way To Garden  and Deb Puchalla have gathered together some of the best bloggers to share their recipes for the seasonal veggies. From now until the end of August is the big party, hope you can join us in celebrating the garden.

When gardening, it seems we all need some help to deal with the bushels of veggies from the garden.

It is a cross-blogging party- stop by and leave a note if you love a recipe- leave a link to one of your own and make more blogging friends!

This week is celebrating Cukes and Zukes.

I just planted my first garden and perhaps went a little wild for just the two of us planting zucchini. I only planted three plants, but they have been very generous with us. Not only with zucchini, but my favorite- the blossoms.

In Italy fried stuffed zucchini blossoms are a specialty and are served in many ways.

If you have never grown your own zucchini, here are some tips on how you tell boys from girls!
Usually we fry the boy blossoms as they have no zucchini, but you can also fry the girl blossoms.

I recently posted my Zucchini Carpaccio on FoodConnect.

As for my cucumber recipes- I live for Panzanella in the summer, a celebration of the season in a salad. Recycling stale bread and ripe tomatoes and cucumbers with Tuscan sweet red onions and basil.
Since American bread won't get stale,  I see most recipes use croutons, but I would prefer using cous cous for a more similar effect, the soaked bread really soaks up the oil and vinegar dressing and it is most, not crunchy so cous cous is a better substitute. Consider it a Tuscan Tabbouleh.

But what I REALLY adore making are pickles! Italians do boil some veggies in vinegar to preserve them, but summer seems to bring out my cravings for American flavors and I make my own Bread and Butter pickles every summer. They are so refreshing and easy to make.

Here are some links to the other participants:

There are so many others participating too- so check out there blogs:
Alice Q. Foodie
Tea & Cookies

As you can see, you will be at no loss for recipes for the summer over-load.

Each Wednesday for the rest of the summer (and probably longer), a group of blogging friends including those above will swap our recipes and tips about the following harvest-fresh ingredients. Here’s the schedule:

7/28: Cukes ‘n Zukes
8/4: Corn
8/11: Herbs, Greens and Beans
8/18: Stone Fruit
8/25 Tomatoes

We each post something and then link to one another, so that you can travel around the combined effort, gathering the goodies. Sharing makes the experience even better, so if you have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes, you can do either of the following:
  • Leave a comment on participating blogs with a link to your recipe/tip
  • Publish a post of your own, and grab the juicy Summer Fest 2010 tomato badge (illustrated by Matt Armendariz of Mattbites)

 Have fun!!!  Please leave me your best pickle recipes!!! of all sorts- I am thinking about trying a Kimchee sort of recipe too spicy cucumbers preserved. Hot and tart!

July 27, 2010

Watermelon 101- birds and the bees

Kustodiev Merchants Wife

When I was writing on Facebook about my problems with my watermelon only having male blossoms, people would not believe me. I did my googling and found foto's of the male and female blossoms and still was being questioned where I got the info.

Like zucchini, watermelon do have male and female blossoms and the bees and other insects flying between the blossoms fertilize the female which allows the fruit to grow.

My watermelon plants were full with male blossoms, I read that the male blossoms came first, then the female. When I returned from Sicily, still no female blossoms.

I felt so let down, and was getting ready to write my watermelon failure blog post, when this morning my husband called me down to the garden.

We have a watermelon!!!

We bought two kinds, round and oblong

So for those growing your own- here is what a male blossom looks like from my garden

So now we have one which I never saw until this morning so I began to look more carefully around and found a female blossom with it's tiny tiny watermelon. When the blossom opens then it will be ready to be pollinated and we will have an oblong melon too.

here is the female- it is obvious. The tiny "ovary" will become a melon if pollinated

Can't wait to see how long they take to get to full size and how many we will get. I am already dreaming about making my favorite Watermelon Granita from Sicily  and Aqua di Sandia from Mexico. Will I have enough to also make watermelon and feta salad??? Watermelon jelly? 

July 23, 2010

Slow Summer- Italian Style

Can't stand the heat? Get out of the kitchen!!!
We just finished our Kitchen in Chianti classes until September.

During August I am doing private touring and cooking classes at villa's around Tuscany so sort of a vacation. Discovering new villages and villas is always fun!

We have had our first tomatoes from the garden and more eggplants are almost ready.
The zucchini however are an almost daily harvest.

This week was so hot and I found a larger zucchini, so created one of my husband's favorite summer dishes a Zucchini Carpaccio.

The instructions are on Food Connect, where I write twice a week. It is also nice with a little something crunchy on top, perhaps toasted pinenuts?

Living under the Tuscan Sun in the summer is not fun if you have to work, but luckily things slow down here in August, so I can slow down too!

Time to spend more time in the garden, ready to start making some jams, jellies and pickles.
Last year I did some fun recipes I want to repeat- probably my favorite was the tomato jam.
This year will make it spicy.  The cantelope jam on the same page was also spectacular and my friend Francesca at the weekly market has fabulous cantelope right now.

Do try them both!

July 16, 2010

Updates from the Orto-

More on the birds and bees situation in my "orto".
The first blossoms on the watermelon plant got me so excited dreaming of all the watermelons I was going to have, but when I came back from Sicily there were not ANY baby melons. Google helped me out. The first blossoms are all male, and then come the females with a small ovary attached, which is fertilized by a passing bee or butterfly, will become fertile and produce a watermelon.

So now I am on watch! We have bee's and butterflies.

A male zucchini blossom with a visting bee

a male watermelon blossom

will this be the female blossom???

on the left is the zucchini with blossom(girl) and on the left the male blossom( no zucchini)

eggplant blossoms, we ate the first eggplant, second is almost ready
there are quite a few blossoms

the first tomatoes are starting to turn red!

We may get tired of all the zucchini, but it is fun.
Yesterday I grilled the zucchini and then made a cous cous salad with herbs from the garden,
currants, lemon juice , EVO and some fresh chopped apricots.

It is lovely to be able to feed ourselves from the garden.


July 14, 2010

A Taste of Sicily- July 2010

Here is a small taste- of my favorite things from this trip.
More coming later-- I hope you can join me in November for a week in Sicily!!!

summer breakfast in Sicily- granita!

first wine tour, Donnafugata, Marsala


our first dinner at "oste e il sagrestano" in Licata- con peppe e chiara

Antica Dimora San Girolamo, Livinia, our hostess was so gracious

July 8, 2010

More Zucchini- Fiori Fritti

Fried Zucchini blossoms are probably one of the most requested recipes in class.
There are so many ways to prepare them it is fun to experiment.

flour and water batter for ricotta filled blossoms

Here in Tuscany they are usually filled with fresh sheep's milk ricotta and batter fried. I have several recipes, from the simple flour and water, flour and sparkling water, flour and beer batters to a richer batter with egg yolk mixed in with the flour, white wine, nutmeg and then the whites whipped and folded in.

In Rome, I adore the mozzarella filling with salty bits of anchovy inside.

One of the fanciest recipes I had was a whipped cod mousse inside a fried flour, done in an egg and breadcrumb crust. The crunchy crust was perfect with the mousse filling.

In Rome the same idea of the blossoms, anchovies and mozzarella also appear on Pizza.
Recently I have been making a Zucchini Sformata using the blossoms to line the molds, it is very pretty and easy to make.

Today's harvest- girl blossoms with zucchini's and one eggplant

We are getting tons of zucchini and not so many just boy blossoms- so if I can harvest them early in the morning we can use the blossoms for frying too. Next year will only plant two zucchini plants as we are already overloaded with zukes.

Here is my richer batter-fried version, I like it as it reminds me of a chili relleno batter.

Fiori Fritti
Fried Squash Blossoms ( both zucchini and pumpkin, so a long season)

16 zucchini flowers
1 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs
white wine
oil for frying 

Prepare batter:
In a soup bowl, blend flour, salt and nutmeg with 3 tablespoons olive oil and egg yolks. 
Save the whites. Mix well to remove lumps. 
Thin with a little wine mixed with water. 

Let rest 1/2 hour. 

Clean flowers: remove the stalk, stamen and sepals. The flowers can also be filled with ricotta cheese or mozzarella and a piece of anchovy. 

When the flowers are ready, heat the oil for frying. 

Whip the egg whites stiff and fold into the batter.

Dip flowers into batter letting excess drip into bowl. 
Hold the flowers closed as you roll in batter to cover totally.
Let excess drip off before placing in hot oil.
Lay the blossom in carefully.
Do not crowd! 
Let crisp on one side and turn when crisp. 

Drain and sprinkle with salt.

July 6, 2010

Recipes online

I began my website, Divina Cucina, in 1997 instead of advertising.
It was also meant as a way to share information with my past students as well.
Now we have blogs which is where I can update information more often, which I like, as it is like writing letters to all my friends at once.

When I began blogging in 2004, I was on a slow dial-up in the middle of olive groves.
I still live in the same place but now have an internet USB connection which is at least faster and cheaper.

I have also now published my cookbook I was using for my cooking school and it is available from my website or in shops in Florence and Chianti if you are here on vacation you can save the shipping charges.

But when I teach, there are also recipes from my website which are mostly from friends.
Some are in the cookbook, but others are only online.

I will be gathering them together this summer and make print on demand version which makes them easier to use or you can always just print them out and create a binder of them yourself.

I decided to put them in order here- and with their English names too.

I hope you find this easier to use. Let me know if you enjoy these recipes.
Will encourage me to post more!

Please pass on my blog information to your friends, if you sign up on the right hand sidebar- there is a place to put your email to receive updates as email!

Melanzane Grigliate- Grilled Marinated Eggplant: From Benita in the market a favorite.
Carciofi sott'olio- Marinated preserved artichoke hearts
Uova al Diavolo- Deviled Eggs: From the Casa Del Vino, Gianni Migliorini
Pesce Finto- Fake Fish: A cold potato and tuna salad, my mother-in-law's recipe
Fettuna- Tuscan Bruschetta-- just garlic, oil and bread!

Erbe Toscane- Tuscan Herb blend-- a MUST

Spaghetti di Vino- The simple classic version I adore, cook pasta first in water- then in wine!
Spaghetti di Vino with Beets- My friend Paulette's version of one of my favorite recipes
Pasta al Pomodori Verdi- Green Tomato pasta sauce:
Risotto all'Isolana- Risotto recipe from Isola della Scala, near Verona
Tuscan Sugo- Meat Ragu- Tuscan style
Pesto di Salvia- Sage Pesto when basil is gone!
Ribollita- Reboiled vegetable and bread soup from Trattoria Mario
Ribollita- my way
Zuppa di Peperoni Gialli- Cibreo's yellow bell pepper soup
Sugo di Porcini- Porcini Mushroom sauce for pasta
Pappa al Pomodoro- Tomato and bread soup
Pasta con i Zucchini- Zucchini pasta sauce
Sugo Finto- Fake Ragu: meatless
Panzanella- Tuscan Bread Salad
Ravioli Gnudi- Spinach and Ricotta gnocchi: Naked Ravioli
Chicchi- Farro and chickpea truffled salad from Umbria

Cinghiale in Dolce Forte- Wild Boar in an ancient sauce, with bittersweet chocolate
Polpettone di Patate- a potato "meatloaf" from Liguria, can be part of a buffet as main course
Bollito Misto- Boiled Beef Dinner
Pollo al Mattone- Chicken grilled under a brick
Tonno e Fagioli- Tuna and Bean salad- rich enough to be a main course
Arrosto Fiorentino- Dario's Roast Beef
Il Peposo- Peppery Beef Stew

Garmugia- a rich spring vegetable stew made out near Lucca with pancetta. Also known as Vignarole in Rome where it is also made.
Carciofi Fritti- fried artichokes, Tuscan style: left side bar recipe with foto's on how to clean an artichoke.
Fagiolini Mangiatutto- Broadbeans cooked in tomato sauce
Spinaci Saltati- Twice-cooked Spinach
Fagioli all'olio- Tuscan White Beans

Macedonia- Fruit Salad: a classic ending to any meal- with or without wine
Salame Dolce-  Chocolate Salami- no pork!!! a chocolate dessert which is as good as it is cute!
Watemelon Granita- Look on the left sidebar for this fabulous recipe
Frittelle di Riso- a Tuscan sweet rice fritter- fried
Torta di Mele- a really special Apple cake
Ricciarelli- Almond cookies- like marzipan but not so sweet
Schiacchiata con L'uva- Grape bread- made during the wine harvest
Panforte- Sweet "fruitcake" from Siena
Caffe Shakerato- Coffee good enough for dessert!

Liquori- after dinner drinks
Nocino and Limoncello

Families that Cook

One of the things I love about summer cooking classes, is that usually it is in the villa's of the students, so I get to travel around and see all the fabulous villa's that are for rent. Ok, not all are fabulous....
Yesterday's villa was really lovely.

I always love when clients return and then also bring other friends to join the party.
We started at the store and created out menu as well as me pointing out treasures to bring back as gifts.
A really good COOP grocery store is loaded and the prices are fabulous.

Our base group was 4 grown-ups as cooks for a group of 15, 9 of which were kids. What a group.

As we got going, the kids couldn't resist coming in to help and we had a great time creating out menu.

Our menu for the dinner had restrictions-- gluten-free- and no nuts, all easy to work around.

insalata ignorante-
The makings of a panzanella bread salad without the bread-tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and basil dressed with olive oil and salt. We served it on a bed of arugula.

Gluten-free Potato gnocchi with three sauces-
My trick is using great instant mashed potato flakes ( I think they are made with Yukon gold potatoes)
and  not eggs. We bind with gluten-free flour and they were PERFECT!

we made a fresh tomato sauce, a light Gorgonzola sauce and bought a pesto.

Some people put  all three sauces creating the Italian flag!

We made my all time favorite party beef- a recipe from Dario Cecchini that we often did while catering large parties when I was working with him.

Arrosto Fiorentino-
This simple eye of round is a show-stopper and the herb infused oil is a MUST even without the meat.

our vegetables we made Cipolline in agro dolce- sweet and sour onions
and a simple tray of light Eggplant parmesan- with grilled eggplants a light tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.

Panna Cotta with mixed berries-- so light and summery

Next reunion class, Seattle or Bermuda???

Another Divine Cooking class-

July 4, 2010

Simple Summer Recipe- Affogato

Hot time- summer in the city--- and all I can think about are ways to cool off!

After lunch yesterday I could not resist getting one of my favorite desserts hot or cold- 
Caffe Affogato- a drowned coffee. 

Nothing could be easier. Let your ice cream soften some before scooping, Italian gelato is not as frozen and American ice cream and the best part of this is when the gelato melts as the expresso is poured on top.

Place a soft scoop of plain gelato in a martini glass.
Pour a hot expresso on top.

Serve with spoon.

There are other ways to serve gelato affogato-

Lemon sorbet with vodka
Chocolate gelato with whiskey
Green apple sorbet with Calvados

These are some of the combinations I have been served here-- but once you get started- there is no stopping.

July 2, 2010

Tuscan Treasures- Corzano e Paterno Cheeses

Years ago I bought some cheese at the artisan market in Piazza Santo Spirito from a young Swiss shepard, living in Chianti, Tillo. The cheeses are fromthe family estate, Corzano and Paterno and are now one of the most sought after cheeses by local restaurant owners that it is almost impossible to buy the privately.

The best things in life are something the hardest to find- as is the dairy. We went yesterday as part of our market to table cooking class and they had moved the cheese making facility into a new space since the last time I was here.

The new space is lovely and it is possible to just show up and you can buy whatever is available. Restaurants have first choice.

I adore all of their cheeses especially the Blu di Chianti.
They were the first to use sheep's milk to make a blue cheese and it is the most sought after!

If it is hot, it is a good idea to bring an insulated bag.

Sibilla Gelpke, pictured above

The story of the love and passion put into restoring this farm is truly inspirational. It is possible to also rent property to vacation on the far,

Read the story of the large extended international family. Click here.

Corzano and Paterno
Via San Vito di Sopra, 9
San Casciano

Here are directions with a Google map to arrive!

A true treasure hunt!
They also have honey, olive oil  and sauces to accompany the cheeses.