October 28, 2010

It's All About the OIL-

Living in the middle of olive orchards and next to a frantoio ( olive oil mill) there is nothing like the anticipation of new oil.

I was thrilled to be invited to an evening with the Maestro dell'Olio Fausto Borella, offered by Voiello pasta. Fausto opened the evening explaining the importance of extra vergin olive oil and promoted the concept of restaurants having an olive oil list and offering small personal bottles of oil to order to pair with your food as you would wine. PERFECT!

For years, Laudemia has been selling tiny bottles of their oil in Japan for restaurants to use. Fresh EVO is a real treat and cheap olive oil, often oxidized, can ruin a meal.

On a recent trip to Sicily, I was gifted with small bottles by two fabulous olive oil producers, Planeta and my friend Peppe gave me one from Madranova. The bottles can be shared and used in the evening or taken home and added to your pantry. After the lesson we were served a tasting meal,  showing the use of good olive oil with a meal. I hope this new concept is introduced to all restaurants. The idea would be to have a oil list, like a wine list, where you chose the oil you would like to use during the meal.

In Tuscany, we always celebrate new oil with simple recipes, such as Pinzimonio, a bowl if raw vegetables with Olio Nuovo and sea salt mixed together, the vegetables are dipped in and eaten as an appetizer or even as a main course, fennel, celery, carrots, bell peppers, radishes and even raw trimmed artichokes.

Our first main course was a Pappa al Pomodoro with a broccoli and bean bruschetta. Both recipes use olive oil in the preparation, cut a drizzle of your best EVO on top is almost mandatory.

The meal followed with a tris, three pastas, my favorite being a classical Naples mix of pastas which until recently were almost impossible to find outside of Naples.  Pasta Mista was a collection of the smaller broken pieces or mixed pastas sold to be used in soups.

The chef prepared a mixed bean soup using borlotti, zolfini and cannellini pureed and topped with the pasta mista, so we could see the shapes. Traditionally it is mixed into the soup. Here is my bean recipe if you want to try to make soup. Each of the beans has a different cooking time, so best to cook each one on its own and then mix. Most people know of this soup as Pasta e Fazool which is in dialect.

The color is not the best but the flavor is excellent

The other pastas were classics, broccoli with anchovy and EVO, cooked to a cream served on a smaller penne pasta ( turns out that that is the Tuscan preferred pasta) penne rigate, with the ridges followed by the classic Aglio, Olio Peperoncino, served with oven roasted tomatoes and breadcrumbs.

Inspired by the evening, I headed to my local frantoio, olive oil mill, with the students from my market to table class where we toured and tasted the new oil from 2010.

Each producer stays with his olives all the way through the process

waiting for the new oil

Here it  is

I hope everyone gets the chance to try new oil once in their lives.
you deserve the best!

I will follow up with a detailed blog-post on the process involved in creating a extra virgin olive oil and some tips on how to read labels and use this liquid gold!

Next up, I will be attending Fausto's Master of Oil lessons next month.

Thanks Voiello for the fabulous evening!

Looking forward to future meetings.

October 24, 2010

The Most Splendid of Seasons- Fall

We were blessed with incredible weather this week in Chianti for our session, even the full moon did it's part as we enjoyed it in San Gimignano sitting in the main square having pizza and gelato.

Most of the grape harvest is done now and the olive harvest is beginning. I live next door to one of the villages olive oil presses, and can walk over and bring a large 5 liter bottle and buy fresh from the press. Can't wait!

In my garden I am thrilled with my saffron- we have harvested the first of the blossoms last week and this week there were just as many again. There are more blossoms to open still. I will show you a foto of the final amount when it is all done.

We have brought out the down comforter and the electric mattress warmer and in the kitchen I have also started to cook some of my favorite dishes, soups, risotto  and stews. White truffles are starting to show up on menus everywhere and the last of the porcini mushrooms.

What I really love about winter coming are the wonderful salad greens and citrus. Salads with new oil and a touch of sea salt are my vitamins for the season. Last night we added raw fennel and radishes along with some arugula from our garden. We have planted some lettuces in the winter garden and will look for more varieties to add, as Andrea adored his salads.

Our chili pepper plant is still giving us chili and I am so glad we planted it, the peppers have a great kick and not just heat, but a fabulous flavor. This will keep summer in my kitchen all winter.

Another recipe which is a symbol of the season are cipolline in agro dolce, sweet and sour boiling onions.

 We can buy the onions already peeled which is a real treat, but you can also just slice the onions and make what we would call onion jam.

This would be fabulous for Thanksgiving, you can also add some dried cranberries and toasted pinenuts to dress it up.

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.

October 17, 2010

Slow Food and Fast Cars

I am truly blessed to work with food and wine in a place like Italy, where it is almost a religion. The passion for what we eat and drink by both the producers and the consumers is really contagious.

balsamic "body-shots" at Acetaia San Giacomo

Fall is probably my favorite season for traveling and sharing food and wine, as the cooler weather increases my appetite! I have just returned from Emilia Romagna where we visited Andrea at his Balsamic Vinegar "attic" in Novellara. A small family production with an extreme passion for quality and tradition.

If you have never had a Traditional Balsamic Vinegar-- you really need to make the investment.

Tempo- Time, the most important ingredient 
in making Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

Emilia Romagna is full of fabulous food and we had a fabulous trip. 

If you are up in the area, also try to visit a parmesan cheese making cooperative.

there is such a magic in the transformation of milk into cheese

I will be sharing some of the fabulous recipes I learned this week with you for some fun dishes you can prepare at home.
Probably our most stunning meal was at San Domenico in Imola-
Would love to have this as a brunch item!

  our fabulous egg raviolo with white truffles

I am just getting ready to start planning my calendar for 2011. I do custom food tours for groups of friends any time of the year and will be offering Sicilian and Tuscan tours again for people to join in on.
Email me for more information. After living here for over 27 years, I have done a lot of research and love sharing my Italy!
Was thrilled to find out I was just included in several new guide books and listed as one of the Top 10 Cooking schools in Italy in National Geographic's new book. 500 Food Journeys!
Check out my Press page to see where I am listed! 
ah yes-- you are asking Slow Food and Fast Cars-- where are the fast cars?
In Maranello- we toured the Ferrari museum- and yes, you can drive one!


October 10, 2010

Pork, Pasta and Parmesan- pigging out in Emilia Romagna

Thanks to those of you that voted for me in the Project Food Blog contest- I didn't make the cut for the next session---- so back to regular postings!

Great timing as I just returned from a week in Emilia Romagna with the Slow Food convivium from Kansas City, headed by Chef Jasper Mirabile of Jasper's Restaurant.

snacking at the Slow Food Market

We did it all. We saw the parmesan being made, tasted traditional balsamic vinegar at my friend Andrea's Acetaia  and had the most splendid meal at San Domenico in Imola.

Interested in coming on a Culinary Adventure with Divina Cucina? I do custom groups from 2-20.
Join me in 2011

I Just found out I was included in the National Geographic's book- Food Journey's of a Lifetime-
Listed as one of the Top 10 Cooking Schools in Italy.

Grazie Mille!

October 3, 2010

Project Food Blog - Challenge # 3- Putting on the Ritz

The third challenge for the Project Food Blog is a luxury dinner for four.
It does not have to be expensive--- but special.

Main ingredient- 4 friends
and me as their Italian life coach in the kitchen

Living in Tuscany, we are truly blessed with ingredients. To me, that is the secret of any great meal. Then what you do to these ingredients can change an everyday meal into something special for guests.

I began doing research on recipes and in my reading came upon the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.

In Alice's life with Gertrude Stein in Nazi occupied territory, it was fabulous to see how they kept their passion for food even when they were constrained to cook with rations. Probably the most important part of the book for me was this simple example from their maid, Helenè, on how cooking can make any food, like an egg, special.

"To prepare eggs to honour a guest (an omelette soufflé with an elaborate sauce), to show indifference to him (an omelette with mushrooms or fine hérbes) or to insult him outright (fried eggs)."

The importance of fresh local ingredients, beautiful settings and the careful, sensual appreciation of good food.

All this pre-Alice Waters and the Slow Food movement.

The Dinner Party:

I don't have a dining room.

I live like most of my Italian friends in a small home with a tiny kitchen. Dining out is a treat in Italy and often when friends want to meet for a meal together, they go out. So for my dinner party, I used the Villa Poggiolaia where I teach my classes, it makes me feel like a princess when I cook there!

For my meal, I decided to show you what I teach my students; how to take simple Italian recipes and make them a special meal.

My mother-in-law, Tina, taught me to spend more time shopping and less time cooking. With quality ingredients, less time is needed to prepare them. They shine on their own.

From speaking to my students in the USA having the time to shop is a luxury. Sometimes it takes going to three different stores to shop for a special meal.

Here is our menu:

When I teach classes, I teach  a full Italian menu for each class and part of the class is shopping and organizing the timing for preparing the dinner with no stress. The shopping inspires the menu, based on seasonal ingredients and we go from there.

The  guests wanted a caprese salad, but it is the end of the tomato season. Cherry tomatoes are always fabulous and using them for the with the tiny bocconcini size of the mozzarella make a more elegant presentation instead of huge slices.

buffalo mozzarella is made from water buffalo milk in Naples

 a simple flour and water pasta

turns into hand-rolled Pici, a Tuscan specialty

Creating something which is not available locally to me is priceless and what makes the meal special.
Our first course was Pici pasta with a slow-cooked Tuscan beef ragu, called sugo here, served with grated three-year-old parmesan cheese. 

The main course was Veal Saltimbocca, a very easy dish to make. Here it is easy to find milk-fed veal. The delicate meat needs very little cooking time so is a perfect main course for a party.
We simply topped the veal with a whole fresh sage leaf and a slice of prosciutto and lightly sauteed in butter. The pan is deglazed with vin santo to create a light sauce and contrast in flavor.

One of  my favorite vegetable dishes to teach is my oven roasted vegetables. For a party presentation, I slice my potatoes and leave them in large pieces instead of cubing them as I do for everyday meals.
The Tuscan herb mixture is a classic which I use for roast meats as well. I call it the butcher's blend, often used for porchetta with the addition of fennel seeds and black pepper.

 giving a fan-cut to the potatoes before roasting

While the sugo for the pasta was slowly simmering away, we roasted our potatoes, giving them this special "elegant" cut for presentation, using fresh sage, rosemary from the garden with sea salt and garlic. They roast for about an hour. The herbs can be made ahead and tossed on the potatoes right before cooking.

Then it was time to assemble the saltimbocca, which would be cooked and then rewarmed for serving.

 each scaloppina is covered with a sage leaf and a slice of prosciutto

Together they made a lovely combination

we did a little extra decoration to dress up the crostata

We also created a simple jam pie, crostata, for dessert. We used a local company's fig and almond jam as a filling. The Italian pie crust is almost like a butter cookie and to create one that tastes like someone's mamma made it is a real challenge. I love passing on these old recipes which are mostly found only in homes.

In keeping with our "simple" but luxurious meal, an elegant place setting, linen runners, white china and silver.


In Italy there is a saying for the perfect meal-

Pane del giorno, vino dell'anno con amici di una vita.
Bread of the day, with wine of the year and friends of a lifetime.

That is what is priceless- Take the time to share a meal with friends. 
Everyone loves being in the kitchen, so perhaps your next party should include cooking with your friends.

And if you liked this post, please take the time to vote for me by clicking on the profile below
Mille Grazie

October 1, 2010

What's Not to Love- Tuscany in Fall

There is something really special about the light in fall, shorter days, long shadows all encourage dreaming. As we layer up dressing now, long sleeves, sweaters and scarves prepared to undress to fewer layers as the warm Indian summer sun arrives. Although we have had strange weather, the harvest has started,late, but everyone has their fingers crossed that all the extra rain has not watered the grapes down too much.

the view from my studio- always inspiring

The weather has calmed down now and the leaves have begun to change creating magical patchwork colors on the hillsides in Chianti. As I watch the light on the vineyards, I am always inspired to create a patchwork quilt with the colors and textures I see daily.

Time to start making stews and soups, work slows down and cooking time increases. My favorite ingredients start to appear in the markets now, cauliflower, kale, porcini and the fabulous salad greens.

We just went to the farm store to get the plants for our garden. The tomato plants and zucchini have been torn out and the soil tilled.

This years winter garden includes: two salad greens, Cicoria and Riccia, two new artichoke plants, this year I am trying Violette, which are smaller and more tender. We bought some Cavolo Nero, Tuscany's kale which is  a must for ribollita and even stewing on it's own. I don't use much parsely but do adore salsa verde with my boiled beef dinners, so picked up Italian flat-leafed parsley plants as well.

our treasures from the farm shop today

From the current orto- updates on the saffron plantation!

All is going well, despite the torrential storm we had right after they were planted. The small mounds they were planted in flattened and one plant changed rows on it's own.

So far so good! I have been told that they should be ready to harvest in November and will be enough to make 4 risotto recipes.


I can't wait! 

Taking off Sunday to explore Emilia Romagna with my Slow Food Kansas City group, our bi-annual trips around Italy are so much fun!

When I come back I have my Master Chocolate tour for Ecole Chocolat.

Fall is for food!