December 30, 2010

Aggiunge un Blogger a Tavola- invite a blogger to your table

Some of my friends are amazed how much time I spend on the computer. 

I live in the middle of olive orchards and participating in online social networking as been a lot of fun and an educational experience for me. I don't spend a lot of time reading blogs or participating in "Events" online, but I saw this event being organized by Genny on her blog and seemed a fun concept.

This challenge was to invite a blogger to our table. Two bloggers doing the same recipe.

For several years now I have created private challenges with my friend Kate in France where we would compare the different preparations of recipes between France and Italy. It was always a learning experience for us, like taking an online class and having homework.

While I was on Twitter one night I saw a message from  Vivere in Cucina, Gaia, asking if anyone wanted to team up for the challenge. Why not? Perchè non?

Gaia is Italian, from Cremona but living in Bologna, only and hour from Florence. She suggested making a lovely holiday dessert using the wonderful Torrone from her home town of Cremona.

I had just seen the semifreddo from one of Italy's famous pastry chef, Luca Montesorino, presented on TV. My husband adores a semifreddo so that was a perfect idea. It turns out that the recipe Gaia sent me to use was the similar to the recipe I saw demonstrated on TV.

Luca made a Tiramisu- Torronata, which means  Tiramisu with torrone, he layered it with expresso soaked spongecake and topping with thin chocolate sheets. Although I was a pastry chef in America, I don't care for sweets that are too sweet.

The semifreddo recipe was enriched with some mascarpone, I left it out and used the more classic whipped cream to lighten it some. I also made small single portion semifreddo's instead of the classic larger one which is then sliced to serve.

Here is the recipe Gaia sent me from the book-

"250 recipes from the Osteria's of Italy-the sweets" Slow Food Editore for EATALY

Delizia di torrone

5 eggs
50 grams of granulated sugar
150 grams of bittersweet chocolate, cut into small shards
1/2 kilo mascarpone
200 grams torrone ( from Cremona) 0 the hard torrone not the soft one, broken into pieces

Whip the yolks with the sugar  and then add the mascarpone.
Whip the egg whites whipped to stiff peaks and fold into the mascarpone mixture.
Fold in the chopped chocolate and chopped torrone to mix well.
Pour into a mold and freeze for 5-6 hours.
Sprinkle the Delizie with chocolate shavings before serving.

( of my problems from having been a pastry chef is my tweeking of recipes.  
I cut this recipe in half as there are only two of us and did not want extra dessert hanging around.
I did not use the mascarpone as that just sounded too rich to me so substituted with whipped cream.
For me the dessert was soooooo sweet, tasting like a zabaione, with the egg yolk base. )

I told Gaia that originally I was planning to use gingerbread as a base for my project and she suggested combining the two for our challenge presentation.

The spicy ginger bread I made with the recipe from Elise, was a nice balance to the sweetness of the semifreddo, alternating bites was perfect.

I was originally thinking about serving the semi freddo in gingerbread boxes, but was afraid they would get damp from the freezer.

Gingerbread cookie dough is so versatile- this year I made a box to put the cookies in, made some cookies to hang as ornaments. You can never have too many gingerbread cookies around!

I can't wait to see Vivereincucina's presentation and feedback on the recipes!

Here is Gaia's link to how she made her's.
Love the gingerbread crumble she used as a base.

Best wishes for a fabulous 2011

December 23, 2010

Xmas Countdown- Fear of Xmas

 my xmas creche scene, mostly from a Kinder chocolate set then added things

I am so glad that I don't have a huge christmas, actually my husband and I really don't get caught up in any of the holiday rushes here in Italy. I now have a Fear of Xmas- and try to keep my head while others around me are losing their's. It is fabulous to be able to not stress.

We were just snowbound in the house for several days-- White Christmas??? nice if you have chains for your car. Tuscany was totally crippled, thank goodness we were not out and about. Airports closed, people were stuck on the highways overnight, trees broke and crashed down smashing cars.

Now the snow is melting and in Liguria torrential rains have come, causing flooding and landslides.
 The garbage problem in Naples has not been solved and the people in Aquila still have not had their city restored after the huge earthquake.

I love the lights and the shops all decorated, but wish that we celebrated daily instead of waiting for a couple of occasions and being caught in the craziness.

The first Christmas dinner I went to at friends with my husband, I lasted until the roast beef with porcini mushrooms came out and made a quick rush to the bathroom  and was down and out for the rest of the meal. We had two kinds of little appetizers with champagne, tortellini in broth, poached fish with a side of boiled vegetables in a mayonaise ( insalata russa) then a roasted fish with it's own side dish. The beef was floating in extra virgin olive oil with sauteed porcini's. I missed the whole wild game part of the dinner- the duck, pheasant, wild boar, quail etc.


I get nervous trying to shop when the Italians prepare for a huge feast- it is crazy in the grocery stores.

So I make a boiled beef dinner for my husband and we have food for three days!

One tradition I do like is baking and making candy.

So I snuck off to the grocery store during lunch time, when there are less shoppers out and picked up the things I needed and now am safe and sound at home preparing some goodies.

I like to make some American goodies not available here for people to try.
So here are some of the things I have made-

I got my grandmother's Candied Walnut Recipe from my mom and made three different versions.

I made Vin Santo with Tuscan Spices, Mocha and Orange- Cinnamon

home-made cracker jacks-- no prize!

Croccante Piccante- my spicy nut brittle
I use a classic recipe for peanut brittle and add in 2 tbs of red pepper powder 

I used sesame seeds, toasted pinenuts and toasted almonds

I have some Peanut Butter Buckeyes in the fridge, waiting to be dipped in chocolate tomorrow
I used the Joy of Baking recipe online, but will dip traditionally, which leaves the peanut butter balls showing on the top, like a "buckeye"

One of my favorite recipes with 2 ingredients are the Coconut Macaroons. Made a batch but may need to make another batch- they will be favorites.

Will post more foto's tomorrow- 

If I have time, perhaps a tray of brownies?

Enjoy the holidays-- hope we all survive without over doing.
Best wishes for a 2011  I can't wait- it can only get better!

What is your biggest FEAR OF XMAS?

December 21, 2010

Simply Divina- Tuscan Herbs

Probably one of the BEST recipes I have learned and taught in Tuscany are my Tuscan Herbs.
Every butcher has his own blend, which is used on the fabulous prepared meats, ready to cook, which are sold in the markets here.

The base is a simple trinity of rosemary, sage and garlic, finely chopped with fine sea salt.

This makes a fabulous gift anytime of the year.

Remove the herbs from branches and place on cutting board with some sliced garlic and salt.
Chop with a sharp knife or a mezzaluna until very fine.
The salt absorbs the essential oils in the herbs and helps dry the herbs.

Once they are finely chopped, you can leave out for a day or so to dry and then jar as a gift.

My local butchers also add black pepper, fennel seeds or pollen and sometimes fresh bay leaves.

I like to use the base and add things as the recipe inspires me.

I like David Lebovitz's article and foto he took when he wrote about my recipe.

Enjoy- it is great on meats and also on roasted vegetables.

Most of my students end up adding it to a plate of good Tuscan oil and just dipping bread in it.
If you want to use it fresh, go light on the salt.

It is very similar to the herb infused oil for Dario Cecchini's Arrosto Fiorentino.

December 18, 2010

Cooking Cardoons- Marisa's Polpette

From emails I get from my blog readers and on FB, I see cardoons are getting easier to find in America. Cardoons are cousins with artichokes, looking more like celery, but tasting like artichoke hearts. What's not to love? When I was at Paola's my ortolana (vegetable vendor) in town, she had huge fabulous long cardoons from her own garden so I had to buy them as they are my husband's favorite!

when I saw this I HAD to have it

One of the ways I learned to cook here was while standing at the shop, where there is a line, to ask a question out loud about how to prepare something. Although I know several ways to prepare cardoons, there was a nice lady that was in line in front of me and I decided to throw my question out there.

Paola said Marisa was a fabulous cook and her suggetion for the cardoon polpettine sounded a lot like what my mother-in-law did with celery.

 Marisa bundled up as it prepared to snow in Certaldo

Cardoons take a lot of prep to cook and this takes it one step farther. Marisa said to "Stritare bene bene" squeeze--(the boiled cardoons and bind with egg, parmesan cheese and a tiny bit of flour before pan frying. If I wanted something really, really special, to place them in a pan with a ragu or a stew to soak up the sauce.

The celery dish is the same and I have also seen a version in Montevarchi in ragu, where the celery is squeezed to look like spools, called rocchette.

Preparing Cardoons ( Cardi, Gobbi,Cardoni)
Cut off the root end of the cardoons and remove any leaves, they are not edible.

Remove "threads" from the cardoon stalks ( like for celery)

Cut into 3 in pieces and place in water with lemon juice to prevent oxidation.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the cardoon pieces until tender.

Drain and let cool.

Now they are ready to eat as is, can be just baked with butter and grated parmesan cheese or-

Floured and fried and eaten as is, lightly salted.
After frying place is a tomato sauce to stew

Marisa's Polpette: Meatless Meatballs

After cleaning and boiling the cardoons, mince finely and squeeze out the excess water.

Place in bowl and add 1 beaten egg and salt to taste.
Add grated parmesan cheese and enough flour to hold the mixture together.
Form small shapes to fry, like a patty or a spool.

Lightly flour or roll in breadcrumbs and pan fry.
You can serve fried sprinkled with salt or
As Marissa suggested in the sauce of my chicken cacciatore.

Can't wait for dinner to try in the sauce!

here are the breaded and fried polpette
with the chicken cacciatore

here they are actually cooked in the sauce-
I agree, they look fabulous

December 17, 2010

First Snow- First Tuscan Hot Chocolate

The first snow has covered the hills where I live and blocked me in my house. To me. that is a sign it is time to make myself a cup of Tuscan hot chocolate. Those of you that have had cioccolato caldo here know it is really more like a pudding and thick enough to eat with a spoon at places like Rivoire, one of Florence's historic bar/pastry shops.

I got my recipe for hot chocolate from chocolate maker Leonardo Vestri at his shop in Florence.Not only does he sell chocolate, but also gelato which makes it one of my favorite places to go.

Try getting a gelato affogato in hot chocolate or get your hot chocolate spiked with chili pepper powder which I ADORE.

I like to drink my hot chocolate instead of eat it, so the recipe I made today for 2 people only had half the bittersweet chocolate which Leonardo's recipe states and it was plenty!

Vestri's Tuscan Hot Chocolate

per person:
1 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp sugar
1 cup milk
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, cut into tiny pieces

In the bottom of a small sauce pan, place the cocoa powder, sugar and 2 tbs of milk.
Whisk together to remove lumps and heat.
When hot, add the milk and whisk the chocolate mixture to blend.

Add the chopped chocolate to the hot milk, stir, and let sit.
Take off the heat and mix again until all the chocolate has been melted.


If you want to be decadent as in Florence, serve topped with lots of whipped cream.


As Leonardo does, season with chili pepper powder for a nice almost Mexican kick!

Happy holidays!

December 14, 2010

Fig and Walnut Panforte for Xmas

Christmas seems to being back memories of the never ending fruitcakes with green and red candied cherries with a candied pineapple ring on top?  In our house, my mom made English Plum pudding which was incredible, it probably had a whole bottle of whiskey poured into it as it aged in our garage. ( I assume that is why they last forever). The best part of the plum pudding was the hard sauce. Perhaps this year I will introduce my husband to hard sauce, but served on some other warm cake.
Not here in Tuscany.

Emilio's stand on ground floor at Mercato San Lorenzo, Florence

Here in Tuscany we have Panforte and Panpepata, traditional dried fruit cakes from Siena. They are not like any fruitcake I had before. The panforte is made with lots of almonds and dried fruits like figs, apricots and candied orange rind, so not so much sugar. It uses honey and a spice mixture called droghe to flavor it which make is have a fabulous spiciness(drug stores in medieval times also sold spices). The mixture is something like a pumpkin pie spice blend, but not so heavy on the cinnamon. It is composed of ginger, allspice, coriander,nutmeg, cinnamon and other secret spices. Each "drugstore" has their own blend. I also add black pepper to mine, which makes it panpepato and you can also add cocoa powder to give it a dark rich color.

 My thin-version of the traditional panforte

When you are in Siena, shop windows have thick panforte on display in both the dark and light varieties. There are also versions made with mostly orange rind, no chocolate and with a marzipan layer on top. One of my personal favorites which is easy to make, reminds me of the Lonza di Fichi from le Marche. A sort of fig salami.

 fig and walnut panforte

It is made in the same way as the panforte, but I only use figs and walnuts. It is ready to eat as soon as it is cooled.

It is lovely after dinner with your espresso or served in thin slices with your cheese course.

Tuscan Panforte
1 pound unskinned mixed toasted nuts
(almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts)
2 tablespoons Spezie- Pumpkin pie spice in America but- add more ginger and coriander powder
(the Sienese recipe for the spice mixture has a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and coriander)
1 teaspoon finely ground pepper
1 tablespoon bittersweet cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
One-half cup honey
1 pound mixed dried fruits, figs, apricots, candied orange peel, or prunes (I've even found candied melon!)
1-1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup flour
2 tbs spezie

Mix the fruit and nuts together and toss with the flour, spice mixture, and cocoa powder.

Heat the sugar and honey together until boiling.
Let boil for 1 minute.
Take off the heat and stir into the bowl with the dried fruit mixture.

You can start to mix with wooden spoon, but will then need to work with your hands and knead it some to mix well.

Often I put on table and really knead it. If it is a little dry, moisten your hands with some water.

You can make one larger Panforte.
Form a large circular patty  or smaller logs and dust with the flour and spice mixture before baking.

You can also use a pan:
Prepare a 9-12 inch round baking pan. Line with parchment paper.
Press mixture into pan.

Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Let cool.

Slice thinly to serve. 


For the above three panforte logs, I used 1/2 pound of white dried figs ( that is what I get here) and the same weight of walnuts.
Take any stems off the figs and into small pieces. The walnuts are also chopped, but not too small, as I like the large pieces and they will be sliced thinly when you serve.

The walnuts end up looking like the fat in a salami!


I recently sent boxes of my cookbook, Secrets of My Tuscan Kitchen to California to be shipped from there to guarantee faster arrival of the books and to keep the shipping prices down. If I mail one book from here it is 18 euro a book, by shipping boxes I can keep it the shipping to 10 euro.

To order- go to my site and you can use paypal to pay with credit card and the books will be shipped from California.
Here is a link to some reviews of the book too.

December 12, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons---

I was cruising through the recipes on my website ( yes there are tons of recipes on my site) and was thinking of which ones would be great for the holidays.

I adore winter for the citrus and the lemons are lovely right now and that usually means making limoncello in my house.

Traditional Limoncello recipe

Soak the zest of 5 organic lemons in 2 cups of whole grain alcohol for 3 days.
Note- in Italy the lemons are large, about the size of your fist, so if you use smaller lemons, use more

The alcohol will extact the essence from the zest and become bright yellow or greenish yellow depending on your lemons.

When the infusion is ready, prepare a simple syrup.
Boil 4 cups of water with 3 cups of sugar.

Take off the heat and add the infusion with lemon zest to the simple syrup.

Let it cool and filter the zest from the limoncello.

It is now ready to drink.
Traditionally, the bottle is kept in the freezer ( where it will get thick but not freeze) and served after dinner in tiny glasses.

 In Italy we can buy the whole grain alcohol at the grocery store, in California I found it at Bev and More, but often it is at the pharmacy and you may need to know someone to buy it.

The whole grain I get is 95% alcohol which means 190 proof.
Which is why you only need to leave the lemon zest in infusion for 3 days.

The recipe above is using a ratio of 2 parts simple syrup to 1 part alcohol infusion- which divides the alcohol levels to 1/3. So the 95% alcohol of the whole grain is now  around 31%.

The whole grain I found at Bev and More was 75% alcohol, which is 151 proof, like a rum which is strong , but you can drink and not die.

When I use the 75% alcohol I can use an equal part of simple syrup and cut the percentage in half. So make 2 cups of simple syrup for 2 cups of the 75% whole grain and that gives you the same 32%.
What is important is the ratio of alcohol to sugar syrup to create a nice limoncello.

If you use Vodka, 100 proof is only 50% alcohol, most recipes you see say to leave the lemon zest in infusion for a month. That is because the lower the alcohol level the slower it removes the essence from the zest.


Sunday Lasagna

Sunday lunch in Italy often involves recipes requiring long slow cooking and are long slowly consumed meals as well. Life seems to shut down on Sunday and Italians relax and enjoy. Until recently, there was nothing you could do on Sunday except eat! Shops were closed and everyone had the day off except restaurants.

Excursions to the countryside searching for that elusive fabulous out-of-the-way trattoria with great food and low prices, "dove si mangia bene e spende poco", with long walks after lunch to walk it off. The other scenario would be to go to mamma's. Fresh pasta would probably always be on the menu, often a fabulous lasagna, created with her slow cooked sugo and bechamel sauce, the traditional way here in Tuscany and also in Emilia Romagna as well as other regions.

Yesterday's slow cooked ragu became today's lasagna.

I simply preheated my oven and while waiting made a bechamel sauce (white sauce) and then layered fresh pasta sheets which I bought with the meat sauce, bechamel and grated parmesan cheese.
I made the lasagna with 4 layers of pasta.

Using the fresh pasta sheets, uncooked, the lasagna only takes 20 minutes to cook.
I leave it in until the top is dark brown and crunchy from the melted parmesan and turn off the oven and let the lasagna sit before serving.

It is even better to cook the day before and then reheat.

Letting the lasagna sit before slicing, makes nicer portions and the lasagna won't slide apart when serving.

We ate two large pieces, the rest goes in the freezer for when I am gone travelling and teaching, my husband can have a wonderful meal.

December 11, 2010

Gift of Time- Sugo Toscano

In today's hectic world, it is overwhelming to me the time people spend working and getting to and from work. I understand how little time is left for cooking and why simple quick food is necessary. I also adore quick and easy, but sometimes we deserve more.

Having the time to make a simple Tuscan Sugo, ragu, is really a treat. The recipe itself is not difficult or time comsuming in the preparation, but a long slow cook is really the secret.

After all the sweets I have been making I was craving something rich and savory. Nothing says that more than a baked lasagna, Tuscan-style made with a bechamel sauce, parmesan cheese and sugo.

I like to make a huge pot of sugo and then eat some as it is on pasta, saving some to make a lasagna.
Today's lunch was penne with sugo  and tomorrow I will bake my lasagna.

There are as many variations on ragu as there are chefs, I even change how I make it with subtle changes each time. How I chop the carrot, onion and celery for the soffritto- using red wine or not- all beef or beef and pork? I could go on and on.

I have the classic recipe for Sugo Toscano on my website ( do look at all the recipes!!!)

Tomorrow I will write-up the lasagna Tuscan style, I adore it.

Both the meat sauce and the lasagna freeze well, so it is a good idea to make a lot that you can just heat up on those days when you don't have time, but deserve a good home-cooked meal.

December 5, 2010

Xmas Sweets

I started baking for the holidays, hoping to participate with my friend Cata on a blogging event, but life got in the way and I couldn't arrange for us to actually meet to hand-over some gingerbread dough for the blog event, aggiunge un Blogger a Tavola, so decided to just post the recipes I try as I go along!

I just returned from Sicily, so had to recreate my favorite cookies from the trip, using the red sesame seeds I bought at the market. They melt in the mouth-- and should, as they are made with lard is the main ingredient! I hope you try these!

I adore these cookies, they are fabulous alone or served with a nice cup of tea.
I first had these cookies in Palermo. I am not sure if they are regional or all of Sicily makes them.

Biscotti Reginelle Recipe

Italian recipes that I post are made using Italian 00 flour, it is lower in gluten. I have seen it made now by Bob's Mill and in some stores at home imported from Italy. It is the secret to thin pizza crust too!
Lower gluten means is absorbs less liquid so if you change flours, you really change the ratio in the recipes.

The other idea I had was to make a Gingerbread cookie box, with an assortment of cookies and sweets inside, including gingerbread ornaments to hang on the tree. I used the gingerbread recipe from Elise of SimplyRecipes. In Italy, one has to buy special flour, called Manitoba, to make American recipes.

Simply Recipes Gingerbread Cookies

Here is a close up of some of the shapes I only used the round ones to hang as you can see here.

I have been eating kilo's of clementines and am candying the rind, to then dip in chocolate.

I just made some of David Lebovitz's fabulous Matzoh Crunch, this year with pistacchio "dust" I bought in Sicily. When they cool, I cut them into small pieces as they are rather rich for the Italian palate as well as mine! Less is more.

I will continue to post Christmas Sweets as I have time to make them.

Probably one of the most looked at recipe on the blog, is for the Ricciarelli cookie from Siena.
I make mine using ground almond flour and it is a favorite all year long, not just at Christmas!

I will also be making my Hot Italian Kisses, chocolate truffles with a kick of chili.

Stay tuned- 2011 is time for big changes for me- news coming soon!!!

I am thrilled!


If you are interested in giving my cookbook for Christmas- I have just sent a shipment to California- so they will arrive in time!

You can see reviews and order here.

December 1, 2010

WanderFood Wednesday- Creamless Carbonara

This is one of my favorite Italian comfort foods and probably the most misinterpreted.
There is no cream in Carbonara sauce. The creaminess is a magical effect, created by stirring the grated cheese into the egg yolks ( I like just yolks instead of whole eggs) and a good dose of black pepper and then some of the water from cooking the pasta is stirred in to temper the yolks before adding the hot pasta with crispy pancetta ( in Rome, guanciale is used, a bacon like pork product made from the fatty cheeks,guanciale, of pigs instead from the belly where pancetta ( and bacon) come from.

Pasta is a first course in Italy, but this is so satisfying, it would be lovely as a one course meal served with a nice salad after or as a fun brunch item; it is eggs and bacon!

This post  is for WanderFood Wednesday! Enjoy the other posts as well!

In Italy, recipes are very regional. The Carbonara sauce is from Lazio, where Rome is located.
Each person has their own personal secrets to making THEIR sauce, which is what I adore about living here.

By recreating these dishes at home, I can let my tongue do the travelling, even when I can't. I do try to get the correct ingredients, which is not so hard. Pecorino Romano is also from Lazio, but easily found almost everywhere.

What recipes do you recreate when you want your palate to travel?

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

serves 4

320 grams of spaghetti
150 grams guanciale, cubed ( or pancetta) not bacon which is smoked
100 grams grated pecorino Romano cheese
2 whole eggs or 4 yolks
salt- pepper
2 tbs olive oil

Put a large pot of water on to boil, when the water boils add salt to water to cook pasta.
Cook spaghetti in salted water ( usually spaghetti is 8-10 minutes, depending on size).

While the pasta is cooking, saute the pancetta cubes in a little olive oil until crispy.
Mix the whole eggs or  4 yolks with the grated pecorino cheese, whisk well.
Add a generous amount of fresh ground pepper.

Before draining the pasta, take a ladle of the water and add to the cheese mixture, stirring well to mix.
Add the drained pancetta cubes.
Drain the pasta and add immediately to the bowl with the cheese mixture and stir to mix well.

Buon Appetito!