November 24, 2010

Certaldo- JAM

I often take the train from Certaldo down to Florence to do my market tours. Recently I noticed that the local pastry shop had their windows covered up. They often redo the interior- so was thinking that they were closed for renovation.


We have a new Pastry shop and Chocolatier in town!!

I had to stop in to check it out--- along with regular pastry for breakfast, coffee, cappuccino and juice, there is a whole dessert and chocolate section as well.

Andrea, the pastry chef chocolatier, told me that he will be adding hot chocolate for winter and in summer making artisan gelato!

I had a lovely small single portion, "mono-porzione" , dessert.

It was a take-off on a linzer torte, with a buckwheat flour crust and wild blueberry jam filling, covered in chocolate.

I am just coming down off the buzz!

Stop by! Tell the Divina Cucina sent you-


Piazza Mazzini, 1
Closed Tuesday
( Wednesday is market day in Certaldo)

November 21, 2010

My First Saffron Harvest-2010

This August I did a cooking class for an Italian friend at her fabulous villa in Chianti and one of the guests at the class brought a lovely hostess gift for both of us; 20 saffron bulbs.

He gave me instructions for planting.... and I was so excited to see my bulbs sprout and flower.

Some of the bulbs were double so I harvested twice from almost all the plants.

Now I leave them in the ground and split the bulbs next year so will have quite a bit.
This year I have already done a risotto and a soup and still have some left.

Mille Grazie! I adore gifts that keep on giving!

November 20, 2010

Sicilian Street Food Snack- Panelle

This trip I didn't get to spend any time in Palermo, where I love to enjoy the street food stands. At The Foresteria Planeta, where we did our classes, Chef Angelo Pomelia made us his version of panelle as an appetizer the first night with our aperitivo.

Panelle are made from chickpea flour ( garbanzo bean) made into a sort of polenta, chilled and then cut into small pieces and fried! Angelo substituted the typical parsely with rosemary in the batter and it was a winning combination.

Here in Tuscany, we use the same flour to make Cecina, which is the same as the Socca in the south of France.  More like an oven baked crepe, it is cut and served with freshly ground pepper.


1 cup chickpea flour
3 cups water
1 tbs chopped parsely, rosemary or sage
1/2 tsp salt

Place flour in saucepan. Whisk the water in slowly to avoid lumps.
Add salt and herbs.

Cook over heat until it becomes thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Italians cook it for about 30 minutes. 

Place the chickpea mixture in a rectangular pan, greased, and let cool.
Flatten with a wet spatula.

When cool, cut into small rectangles and fry.
I use a saucepan with about 1 inch of extra virgin olive oil, but in USA would use Canola oil as not sure about the quality of the EVO for frying.

After the panelle are golden, let drain on papertowel, salt and serve.

In Palermo several panelle are served in bread as a sandwich.

It does have a nice eggy sort of flavor and is gluten-free!

November 18, 2010

Sicily Sinking In

After I get back from a trip, I need some down-time for things to sink in. Sicily is overwhelming.
It is a melting pot of cultures, due the the invaders which came and went, leaving traces in the cuisine as well as in the art and architecture. We saw Greek ruins and learned to make cous cous. All Sicily.

We were blessed with warm enough weather to enjoy a granita di limone in Sciacca at the seaside.

After class one day, our chef Angelo took us down to meet the Maestro of granita- Aurelio! Only one flavor - Lemon but what lemon! He was a blast, showed us his link to you tube on the front door and was great about posing for foto's with the girls!

As the memories are sinking in, I began to thing about what to fix first for my Sicilian post- I let the market speak to me and found a fabulous Violet eggplant and Pasta alla Norma was chosen!

It is a simple essential recipe and as such there are as many recipes as there are cooks.

Which eggplant: black or violet?
Slices or cubes?
Serve on spaghetti or short pasta?

In my case I decided to do small cubes using the larger violet eggplant and to serve with spaghetti.

Pasta alla Norma - a simple sauce with a few secrets:

Put water on to boil for cooking the pasta, salt it when it has come to a boil.

Cut the eggplant and lightly salt it.
Let it sit for about 30 minutes and then rinse and pat dry.
Fry in oil until golden in small batches.
Place on paper towel and lightly salt.

Meanwhile make a simple tomato sauce: olive oil, canned tomatoes, salt and basil.
Cook the pasta of your choice,drain and toss in pan with tomato sauce.
Add the fried eggplant and mix well.
Serve with grated ricotta salata grated on top.

The secret of letting the pasta finish cooking in the pan with the sauce is really one of my favorites. The flavor is so much better! Try it and let me know if you enjoy it!

November 14, 2010

Sicilian Dreams

I need some time to let all the fabulous food, wine and new friends we made soak in to be able to write about our fabulous week in Sicily.

We stayed in Menfi as a homebase and spent a day in Trapani making cous cous and a day in Castelvetrano where we had a cooking lesson and a cheese making class too.

We studied with Angelo at Foresteria Planeta where we learned classic Sicilian recipes, made with style and discovered the nearby town of Sciacca with Angelo as our guide.

I am off to Rome today to meet with fellow IACP members in Rome-- so more great food and will catch up with some recipes when I return!

I can't wait to practice some of the new Sicilian recipes I learned. Hope you can join me next year for a weeklong program. My calendar will be up soon!

November 9, 2010

Sicily - It's the People

When I offer culinary weeks besides the food, it is the people we meet that really make the trip.
When you go home, having made new friends is a gift that never ends, the memories of time spent together, sharing a new place. This week in Sicily we are very lucky, we have made new friends already! Seeing a place through the eyes of a local is really priceless.

We are learning some great recipes and have been blessed by the weather gods so far!

Tomorrow we head to Sciacca for some shopping and lunch at Da Vittorio.
Thursday is our cous cous lesson and Friday our final cooking class here at the Foresteria.

Time really flies when having a fabulous time.

I learned a new recipe I will share with you next post-- here is a teaser!

November 6, 2010

Celebrating Oil- Simply

There is something about new oil-- everyone wants to share theirs and compare.

I just went and bought my first new oil and have been served the new oil already in three restaurants as Fettunta- Tuscany's olive oil drenched bread.

Toasted bread, rubbed with garlic while still hot, then given a generous drizzle of the thick green unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive oil- is pure pleasure.

don't be cheap with the oil!

I have just arrived in Sicily where we will be visiting two different olive oil producers and I will have to bring back oil from both to be able to compare and contrast the flavors.

I am staying with my group down at the Planeta Winery Estate in Menfi, where they are already producing tiny bottles I love for tasting classes, so will have to bring back several of those.

Then we are heading over to the Olio Verde Estate for their very special oil, made from the larger eating olives. I adore both!

Not all olives are alike, besides the different cultivars, climate also plays a large part.

I find that the oils match the foods from the regions as wines do which is why I have several oils as part of my pantry as well.

As I travel around in Sicily- we will add to the foto's of olive oil and olives! I think we are making Sicilian Pesto this week too- as well as cheese.

From my fabulous room in the middle of the vineyards with the sea in the distance-- I say Cin Cin!

It is time for our welcome aperitivo!!!