August 30, 2010

Summer Gold

field corn

We have been rather blessed this year with a mild summer, except for an unbearable bit in July. The hills and fields stayed green for quite a long time, and no horrible fires which usually cause extreme damages. The lack of heat has caused the grape harvest to be put off until later in the season, but the grapes look wonderful.

Out where I live, the farmers grow a lot of feed; alfalfa, wheat, other grains and corn. When I was driving past one of the neighbors corn fields, I noticed they had cut the plants in half. Wasn't sure why, usually they cut them lower and then burn the stalks to fertilize the soil.

This morning there were two women in the field, I couldn't figure out what they were doing when we quickly drove by, but on the way back we saw they had been turning back the husks on the corn which was left on the plants. The golden stalks now had bright orange corn. I made my husband stop so I could take a foto, the colors were so lovely.

Italians don't eat corn on the cob, I rarely find it in the stores. Canned corn did show up a few years ago and I find it in the weirdest places, like on pizza or tossed into a mixed green salad. I imagine that perhaps this vibrate golden cob may be used for making polenta. Often I have seen cobs hanging outside people's doors in the working farms. Next time we pass, I will ask the women why they did this and get more information.

The first figs are appearing in the market and I had my first favorite light lunch of salami and figs for the season. We found a rich, flavorful, locally produced salami at the Saturday market.

Summer is coming to an end and everyone is getting ready now for the Vendemmia, the grape harvest.

Chianti wine festivals are the second, third and fourth weekend in September. Usually they all happen after lunch and go late into the evening. The first festival is in Greve, then Panzano and the last festival is in Impruneta and is the oldest wine festival in Italy. It has fun floats, decorated in grapes for the four quarters of the town.

This week I also had a first, I taught a cooking class for Italians! I played it safe and did a combo of international and classic Tuscan. They are from the north and adored learning Pici and Sugo Toscano.

My other "golden" moment this summer was a lovely gift from an Italian student in the class.

Any ideas ? On Facebook and Twitter where I posted the foto's people asked if it was hairy garlic- or onions. NOPE

I was gifted a bag of Crocus Sativus bulbs otherwise known as Saffron. The area I live in, outside of San Gimignano is famous for saffron. So, add another new plant to my little garden.

Nicolo said to plant them in small mounds and don't water. They crocus' should pop up on November and he gave me enough for what should make risotto four times. We'll see. I am always ready to learn new tricks.

November is going to be fabulous.

Not only will I have a Sicily Olive Harvest trip early in the month,  I am also organizing a Tuscan Olive Oil Harvest week. ( the day by day schedule will be up later this week on my site) November 21-27.

The year has flown by and been full of surprises. Next year is already filling up and I haven't even put together my calendar.
But I will be taking groups to Sicily again in May and October ( one week in each month is already filled).

Thank you all for all your support and please pass on my blog to your friends!

August 25, 2010

SummerFood Fest -Tomatoes the Italian Way

When one thinks of Italian food, usually it evokes a image of food floating in tomato sauce, huge bowls of spaghetti and meatballs, sauce everywhere! Pots of sauce cooking for hours over low heat, bubbling away like molten lava. There is even a word for it in Italian " pippare", that slow, low heat cooking which transforms food. One of my favorite recipes to make which uses this slow cooking method is a great summer recipe. Salsa Genovese is a specialty from Naples, not Genova as the name implies.

Pork ribs are slowly simmmered in an onion rich tomato sauce creating a pork-infused tomato sauce for pasta and fall off the bone tender ribs for your main course! What's not to love.

I have been having a lot of fun with Tomato Jam, the foto below is Mark Bittman's version with ginger and chili, which is the first time I saw it.

Last year, my internet friend from Sicily sent me a simpler version to use on ricotta or cheeses, more of a candied tomato preserve.  They looks like small jewels served on the cheese. No chili pepper or ginger, I like both. But in the Bittman version the tomato is a vehicle for the other flavors which step up front in the mouth.

There is really no need for me to create a new blog post on tomatoes-  I think when the tomatoes come into season all at once we are all looking for new ways to deal with them.

Last year, I jumped in to the Summer Food Fest and gathered together tons of recipes  including a Green Tomato Pasta sauce. This year with the odd summer we have been having, there will be tons of green tomatoes.

So here are the other Summer Food Fest merry-makers!
stop by the sites- get inspired- leave a note- or a link to what you are making.

Facciamo Festa- Let's Party

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef:  Heirloom Tomato Tart with Parmesan Crust

Nicole at Pinch My Salt: What to do with slow-roasted tomatoes

Alison at Food2: Heirloom tomatoes

The FN Dish: Tyler's Ultimate Tomato Salads

Margaret at A Way to Garden: More than one way to ripen a tomato

Gilded Fork: Celebrating summer lusciousness with a tomato dossier and recipes

Diane and Todd at White on Rice Couple: Sun-dried tomatoes (actually made in the sun!)

Paige at The Sister Project: 3 substantial, healthy, vegetarian tomatoey main dishes

Liz at the Cooking Channel: Easy Tomato Tart

Kelly at Just a Taste: Tomato Jam

Alexis at Food Network UK: The seven deadly tomato sins

Michelle at Healthy Eats: Top 10 Things to Do With Tomatoes

Marilyn at Simmer Till Done: Cherry Tomato and Blue Cheese Beignets

Alana at Eating From the Ground Up: Roasted Green Salsa (green zebras and tomatillos), and how late August makes her hurt for New Mexico

Tigress in a Pickle: Over 50 ways to preserve tomatoes in jars

Cate at Sweetnicks: A Loaded Bowl (filled with brown rice, Jersey fresh tomatoes, buttery avocados and more deliciousness)

Caron at San Diego Foodstuff: Chunky Garden Gazpacho with Flowered Corn Tortillas 

Melissa Clark's Tomatoes and Pink Greens

Thanks to Margaret and Deb and all the bloggers that dedicated time to sharing recipes- 

The kitchen rules!

August 17, 2010

Italian Amaretti Apricots- Summer Food Fest- Stone Fruits

As peaches, plums and apricots hit the markets; both my husband and I risk stomach aches daily from eating too much fruit. But how can one resist when buying right from the farmers, still warm from the tree.

With a simple white peach, pureed and served with Prosecco, Italy celebrates summer with the Bellini cocktail- really to simple to need a recipe.

( My Italian friend Licia Granello, a famous food writer here, told me to use Italian sparkling wine instead of Prosecco. Franciacorta, Ferrari or French Champagne.)

I must say, this is the time of year I am especially loved by my Italian friends as I start baking peach crumbles and pies. They call me Nonna Papera, Donald Duck's grandmother, that always has a hot pie cooling on the porch. They have grown up with this image of American pies, but have never eaten one. So, as soon as the summer stone fruits are out, I am making pies and cobblers galore!

Licia also asked for my cobbler recipe, I just wrote it up for FoodConnect- so here it is  for my Italian friends!

Living here in Italy I discovered a simple dessert that I adore, traditionally made in Northern Italy with peaches, I tweeked the recipe using tart apricots instead.

 Amaretto and cocoa baked apricots

Pairing the bitter-sweet amaretto cookie with stone fruit is a natural.

The inside of peach and apricot pits contains what is called the bitter almond, which gives amaretti their bitter flavor (use sparingly as it does contain cyanide!) Many sweets such as marzipan and the Ricciarelli cookies in Siena use bitter almond extract too.

I love the contrast of the bitter almond and unsweetened cocoa powder, which replaces the pit. Try it and I am sure you will also add this to your party desserts.  Peaches are the traditional fruit, but I have made this with pears too, I adore hot fruit desserts.

Amaretti Apricots

Amaretti are a dry italian cookie made with crushed almonds, sugar and egg whites. They are also used in the pumpkin ravioli to cut sweetness and provide a contrast in flavor. 

Many Italian recipes are passed on by word of mouth and have no real measurements.
Each cook has their own secrets and proportions.
This is meant to be a guideline-- feel free to adapt to your palate.

12 apricots, washed and split open- remove pits

8 small amaretti cookies, crushed
2 tsp or more bittersweet cocoa powder
2 tbs butter, softened

Mix the all the ingredients ( except the apricots) in a small bowl,
Create small "pits" of the mixture and top the apricot halves.
Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

These are perfect on their own or serve with some ice cream or whipped cream.
The are also good served room temperature, but baking the apricots concentrates the flavor.

At a recent dinner party at a friend from Asti's, she used only the amaretti cookies crushed on the peach and then topped with a whole amaretto cookie after baking, a teaspoon of butter and some white wine provided moisture to the dish.

 I am loving all the fabulous ideas coming together from this online food fest!!!

Get more ideas from the other great people participating:
I am a day ahead of the other bloggers and will update their postings when I get them!

What a festa!!!
Stop by the sites, leave a message, repost and leave a link to your posting!
It is a party and you are all invited!

Sara at Cooking Channel: Savory Stone Fruit recipes.

Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple:
Riesling Poached Pluots

Margaret at A Way to Garden: What is stone fruit, anyhow? Plus: Clafoutis batter revisited.

Caroline at The Wright Recipes: Ginger and Vanilla Poached Peaches.

The FN Dish: Paula's Perfect Peach Cobbler.

Alison at Food2: Peachy Party Foods.

Kelly at Just a Taste: Peaches & Cream Cupcakes.

Liz on Healthy Eats: Puttin’ Up Peach Pickles, Compote and More.

Food Network UK: How to Poach a Peach.

Judy of Divina Cucina: Chocolate Amaretti Baked Apricots.

Cate at Sweetnicks: Blueberry Peach Smoothies.

Paige at The Sister Project: A Summer Fruit Whatchamacallit (not a pie, not a crisp, but delicious).

Marilyn at Simmer Till Done: Cherry Apricot Pie with Ginger-Almond Crunch.

Alana at Eating From the Ground Up: Stone fruit slump.

Caron of San Diego Foodstuff: grilled peach parfait and coconut peach gazpacho.

The Gilded Fork: dossier & recipes featuring peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, cherries, almonds, coconuts.

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: gluten-free peach-blueberry buckle.

Tara at Tea & Cookies: Making Peach Jam.

Tigress in a Jam: nectarine preserve with summer savory and white pepper

Next week is TOMATOES so get ready!!! 

August 16, 2010

Orto Updates-- from my garden

Everywhere you go, Italians have snuck in a garden. I see them all along the train tracks as I go to Florence. If you have a home in town, you also have a piece of land where you cultivate your orto, fruit and vegetable garden.

I sneek peaks into every tiny garden I see, how far away they place the plants, what is growing best and try to copy.

We go to the "guy shop" on the corner near the cemetary in town where I eavesdrop on what they are buying. This shop sells everything from seeds, wine bottles, weed-killer and food for animals.

Thanks to these guys we planted our peas early and had a great crop, those we planted later all died.
This year we have been very happy with our zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and chili peppers.

 today's haul from the orto

The watermelon has been a dilemma.
The weather this year has not been normal, so I imagine it is not all my fault!

We have one round melon which appeared when we returned from Sicily and finally have some of the oblong melons which are growing past the tiny bud stage.

So we have three oblong ones actually growing now
They look like zucchini- same family

So now I am out every morning looking under leaves and searching for new melons!
here is another round one

this is what a new tiny long watermelon looks like

Needless to say, I am getting my watermelon recipes ready.
If you already have watermelon- try making this fabulous watermelon granita ( recipe is in the sidebar on the left) kids love the chocolate chip seeds! David Lebovitz tweeked my recipe for his book, The Perfect Scoop and made watermelon popsicles which look GREAT!

I was inspired in Sicily where they make a watermelon Gelo- a sort of spoon dessert.

Join me in Sicily this November. New wine and freshly pressed olive oil are just two reasons to come!

Our own Eat.Cook.Shop tour! Exploring the culinary customs of Sicily where so many cultures have lived and left there recipes in the kitchen!

I am really looking forward to making cous cous in Trapani!

August 11, 2010

Summer Food Fest- HERBS

This week's Summer Food Fest is Herbs, Beans and Greens.
Right now my garden is slowing down, zucchini have pretty much stopped. The eggplant is still producing and am waiting for my watermelon to ripen.

But like any good Italian, my herb garden is flourishing. I adore herbs and have the traditional:
rosemary, sage, basil, oregano and thyme. I also planted tarragon, which is used near Siena, chives and brought dill from America. Growing wild, I can gather fennel pollen now, which is very expensive to buy and also nepitella, called catmint, used with porcini mushrooms.

Most herbs I just walk out and cut when I need them, but often dried herbs are called for in recipes.

But the one recipe I always teach in my classes, is how to create your own Tuscan Herb Blend.

Rosemary, sage, garlic and sea salt is all you need to create this incredible blend which will keep in your kitchen all year long.

Fresh rosemary
(Rosmarino marino is the plant of the kitchen. Don't use the landscaping variety because it has resin on the branches.)
Fresh sage
Fresh garlic, sliced
Sea salt
(fine not coarse)

Remove the rosemary needles from the branches and the sage leaves from the stems. I use about 1 cup of rosemary needles, 1/2 cup of sage leaves, and 2 garlic cloves.

Spread out the herbs on a cutting board, add the garlic, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of sea salt.

Using a mezzaluna or large knife, chop in a rocking motion until the herb mixture is almost a powder. If the mixture seems too wet, add another teaspoon of salt. Spread the mixture on a cutting board and let dry over night.

The Tuscan herb mixture can be kept in a tightly sealed jar on your shelf. It does not need to be refrigerated.

Try creating your own blends! Change the proportions of the herbs; add thyme, lemon peel, orange rind, fennel seeds or, if you're lucky enough to have some, fennel pollen. Be creative!

When using this mixture, remember that it already has salt.

The same basic recipe can be used to stuff a porchetta.

Try this incredible easy recipe for an eye of round, Arrosto Fiorentino from Dario Cecchini

This week's Summer Fest entries

White on Rice Couple use fresh mint to make homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Nicole at Pinch My Salt features Green Beans with Balsamic Browned Butter.
Margaret at A Way to Garden stores a year of herb and makes one-pot Farinata a polenta dish with greens.
Food Network UK is on the edge with herbs and greens.
Caroline at the Wright Recipes is cooking up Wax and Butter Bean Herbed Salad.
Jennifer and Mark at Gilded Fork have a virtual garden of recipes
The Best Bean Salads and a French Take on Greens, Beans and Herbs from the Cooking Channel
Top 6 Herbs from Healthy Eats
Leftover Herb Solution (Pesto!) from Allison at Food2
Recipes for The "Other" Summer Greens from the FN Dish
Kelly at Just a Taste -Makes Fresh Herb Ricotta
Caron at San Diego Foodstuff talks about Kale and Feta Empanadas and roasted Romano beans
Alana at Eating From the Ground Up has shirred eggs with fresh herbs 

Shauna and Danny at Gluten Free Girl and the Chef:
Tigress in a Jam has a preserving–book giveaway, and ways to put up greens, beans, herbs.
Cate O’Malley at Sweetnicks:
Tara at Tea and Cookies:

Now It's Your Turn!
This collaborative effort won't be much fun without you! The more info we all give, the more we'll all enjoy summer's harvest. Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? Starting with our posts of Wednesday, July 28, for five Wednesdays through 8/25 and possibly longer, you can contribute in various ways, big or small.

  • Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. The possibilities:
  • Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog any upcoming Wednesday, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.
The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and then we're all cooking with some great ideas. Or go big: Publish entire posts of your own if you wish, and grab the big red tomato Summer Fest 2010 badge above (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites). We'll also be tweeting using #summerfood as our hashtag. Here's the schedule:
  • 7/28: cukesnzukes
  • 8/4: corn
  • 8/11: herbs, greens, and beans
  • 8/18: stone fruit
  • 8/25 tomatoes
  • more to come if we all want it — stay tuned!

August 8, 2010

Summer Soup

Trying to use up some of the last zucchini in my garden, I made a lovely vegetable broth for a cous cous, to fill my cravings as an expat for some spice in my life. The simple broth is onions, carrots, potatoes and zucchini with some water and salt. Simple and light. When I serve it for cous cous, I add some cooked chickpeas and then add Harissa as wanted as I ladle the broth onto the cous cous. I am a happy woman.

But this Sunday I had other cravings, a summer minestrone with rice, which I recalled seeing in  a trattoria on the coast years ago, cooling in plates at the window.

chilling the soup outdoors

Summer's gifts from the garden can inspire your Minestrone, which usually also includes winter greens. For my Summer version I used a wonderful vegetable broth I made for a couscous recipe and then added what I had in the garden today, which I sauteed to pump up the broth.

Mid-Summer Minestrone
a non- recipe

4 zucchini, 2 large potatoes, 4 carrots- peel and slice the vegetables into small pieces for soup.
2 red onions- peeled and chopped into larger pieces, not minced
If you have some butternut squash or pumpkin peel and slice and add to pot.

Boil all the vegetables in salted water until tender.
I added some cooked chickpeas ( garbanzo beans) any bean would be nice.

That creates the vegetable stock base.

Today I harvested a larger round zucchini and some cherry tomatoes and chili peppers.
I sauteed some garlic and added the zucchini and a tiny piece of chili pepper ( they are hot).

I sprinkled with some salt and cut the cherry tomatoes into pieces, covered the pan and let them stew.

I then gathered small branches of all my herbs and added them chopped into the pan:
Basil, mint, marjoram, thyme, chives and oregano.

I added this pan  to my boiled vegetable broth I had made previously. 

I then heated the soup and added some rice, about 1 cup.

I covered and let cook over low heat for about 15 minutes.

I then spooned the hot soup into my serving bowls and let cool to serve for lunch.
It was not COLD from the fridge, but room temp and perfect for a summer meal.

August 3, 2010

Summer Food Fest - Corn

fried polenta crostini with porcini ragu

For most European countries, corn is not for human consumption, but rather considered "feed" for animals. When I see corn being grown in the fields around me in Tuscany, I know it is for animals and not sweet corn I adore eating grilled, slathered in butter with some chili powder like I eat it in Mexico on the streets.

Corn is one of the "New World" foods which was introduced along with chili peppers, potatoes, turkey, sugar, pumpkin and tomatoes after the discovery in 1492. Most of the ingredients were first considered to be poisonous or for decorative use. Who knows why Italy embraced the tomato and not corn?

My own personal opinion is that they didn't know what to do with it. In Mexico the corn used to make the masa for tortilla's in boiled first in lye to soften it which also then releases the vitamins.
The plain corn used to feed the poor caused pellagra. It is understandable why they would stop eating it.

The only corn I see often now in Italy, is canned corn which is used on salads and even pizza as a "new" ingredient. They are advertising a corn and bean canned salad now too. 

Although fresh corn is a really rare treat for me to find in some grocery stores, Italy adores cornmeal. 
Polenta in many forms is popular mostly in the north, but even here in Tuscany we often use it with wild boar.

Not only a winter food, summer recipes for polenta are fried polenta crostini topped with various spreads and sauces. 

Make your polenta and pour into a pan to cool.
Remove from the pan and slice into small squares.

Fry in very hot oil and salt to taste.

It is fabulous even on it's own, think polenta like french fries. It is sold by the friggittoria's as a street food snack. At La Zambra, a small fabulous truck-stop near my house I get these polenta fries with pancetta!

If you don't like frying, it can be brushed with olive oil and grilled or put under the broiler to get a crust. 

Corn meal flour is not only used for savory dishes, but also for sweets. Amor di Polenta and Zalleti cookies are probably two of my favorite recipes.

Chilled polenta is also used for a Tuscan lasagna, where we use slices of the polenta instead of pasta, layering ragu, bechamel sauce and grated parmesan cheese.

My husband favorite is polenta gnocchi- where the soft hot polenta is placed on serving dish in spoonfuls, which hitting the plate, firm up and form gnocchi. Then top with hot ragu and grated parmesan.

soft polenta "gnocchi" with ragu

My other favorite "corn" is popcorn, which I can find and of course have to Italianize by serving with olive oil, grated parmesan cheese and sea salt.

I will have to wait until winter in Mexico or a summer in the states to get my fresh corn fix, meanwhile, I will comfort myself with polenta!

Summer Food Fest is a celebration of what is in season and a cross-blogging event.
Stop by and leave comments and and links to your own recipes!
Spread the love!

Here are some great ideas from the other participants:

Nicole at Pinch My Salt: Creamed Corn with Bacon and Rosemary
Margaret at A Way to Garden: Vintage corn Americana slideshow, and no-frills creamed corn
The FN Dish: Creamed Corn-Off: Battle of the Southern Cooks
Alison at Food2: Freezing Corn  
Toby at Healthy Eats: Candied Corn, and 4 more easy recipes
Michelle at Cooking Channel: Browsing Corn Porn   
Jennifer of Gilded Fork: Corn: Sweet Versatility (history, uses & recipes from cocktails to cornbread)
 Chef Mark: Gettin' Corny! (Musings from childhood, tips & fresh-corn recipes)
Caron of SanDiegoFoodstuff: Chino Corn Risotto with Chanterelles and Burrata
Caroline at The Wright Recipes: Pickled Corn with Summer Onion and Basil

How to Participate in the Summer Food Fest
So now it’s your turn: Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? Starting with our posts of Wednesday, July 28, for five Wednesdays, you can contribute in various ways, big or small.

Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. The possibilities:

Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.

The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. Yes, copy and paste them everywhere! That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and some pretty great dialog starts simmering.

Or think bigger: Publish entire posts of your own, if you wish, and grab the juicy Summer Fest 2010 tomato badge (illustrated by Matt of
The 2010 Schedule:

* Wednesday, July 28: CUKES AND ZUKES. Read it here.
* Wednesday, August 4: CORN.
* Wednesday, August 11: HERBS-BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK (any one or both/all, your choice).
* Wednesday, August 18: STONE FRUIT.
* Wednesday, August 25: TOMATO WEEK. How do you like them love apples?

That’s how a Summer Fest works.

August 1, 2010

Join me in Sicily

Secrets of My Sicilian Kitchen Tour- November 5-12, 2010

I have fallen in love with Sicily and adore sharing it with my friends. Sicily is such a mix of cultures of those that have passed through and left a sign of their passing in recipes and flavors. Immagine cous cous in Sicily, fish marinated in vinegar with pinenuts and currants? Arab, Spanish, Greek and French all blended into one cuisine. The island's position allow incredible flavors in the fruits and vegetables.
 I have recently returned again to search out new things to see and do and found a fabulous space which was just opened (Thank you David Rocco) at one of my favorite wineries, Planeta.

This tour is for those who really want to cook and love food and wine.

We will be based down at Planeta's new Foresteria which recently opened in the middle of the vineyards near Menfi with their fabulous cooking school space.

We will also go to take classes with my friend Gabriella at Becchina Estate  and also with Pino of the Cantina Siciliana in Trapani.

We visit Selinunte, Marsala, Mazara, Trapani, Sciacca and Porta Pala as well.

My programs are small. I will also offer this in Spring. I have planned the tour so you can add-on days in Palermo at the beginning and also if there is interest, I can arrange a continuing tour after.

Please write to me for the info sheets on the program.

Here is a taste of Sicily for you!

I am looking forward to introducing you to my friends, the food and wine of Sicily and the Secrets of the Sicilian Kitchen.

Space is limited, but if you want to form your own groups of friends, (6 - 8 people)
I can arrange private tours anytime of the year and also customize them for you.