February 25, 2011

My City by the Bay

When ever I talk to my sister and tell her I am coming home, she always says "You ARE home", meaning Italy. Time flies and I have now been living in Italy for 27 years- almost more than the time I spent in the USA. But there is something about breathing the air by the San Francisco Bay that I adore.

Usually I have too much to do to even get near the bay as my family lives out in the East Bay ( inland- no bay). This trip I was down by the bay for a book signing at the Italian American Museum. The Marina is lovely as always.

This trip was a whirlwind of classes and talks, interspersed with family.

Last night I finally got to go to dinner in SF at a place I have been dreaming about. Contigo
a Spanish and Catalana small plates restaurant. I was lucky to go with my friend Kevin and Cathy. Kevin does Tapas walks in SF and is an expert on Spanish Wines. He also teaches Spanish food classes and wood burning oven workshops.

I began following Brett ages ago on his blog in Praise of Sardines and it was a joy to finally be in his restaurant and see the dream come true.

Everything we had was perfect-- thanks Brett and Elan for your love and passion!

our starters

iberico ham

hamachi and watermelon radishes

incredible eggs, chorizo on papas bravas

cheese plate was great with sherry

desserts- blu bottle coffee flan, Olive oil cake, Gelato with EVO and sea salt

Great night- Great Friends- Great Food


1320 Castro Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 285-0250

February 19, 2011

Better with Butter- Fiandino "Special Ingredient"

I have often repeated my mother-in-law's mantra, "Spend more time shopping and less time cooking."
I can also add to this and say spend more money on quality ingredients. When she talked about spending time shopping, try to invision the Italian way of shopping. Seatching out the BEST butcher and shops that carry the best products near your home.

Today it is much easier to get high quality products even at American grocery stores and many artisans have website and ship.

I was asked to participate in a recipe development project for an Italian Artisan cheese and butter company. How could I say no- I ADORE butter!

This butter is incredible! In Italy, salt was an item often for the wealthy. The word "salary" comes from sale- the word for salt and Roman soldiers were given a bag of salt as part of the pay.

Butter is also sold unsalted, until today! I was so thrilled to taste this fabulous salted butter from the Fiadino Fattoria in Piemonte.

They use a wonderful Sicilian sea salt added to the cream just before it turns to butter, leaving the salt crystals intact. The butter is also special, in that is is made from "rested" cream. They leave the cream to develop more flavors before making the butter.

For the contest, they were looking for 70 bloggers to create recipes using the salted butter. They will chose 30 of the recipes to publish in a cookbook. My friend Sandra, Un Tocco di Zenzero, is collaborating and will oversee the publishing of the book. Will be fun to see all the recipes.

I decided to continue my research on gluten-free recipes and make  a rice flour shortbread. It is 100% rice flour, sugar and the secret ingredient, Fiandino's salted butter.

my rice flour shortbread
As you can immagine, butter is the star in this shortbread recipe. I decided to add some chocolate nibs and orange zest to the dough, sort of a new chocolate chip cookie.

With the rice flour, the shortbread takes on a very sandy consistency and needs to rest for a day to really solidify, since I am not using an egg.

Like the cream that is "rested"  to make the butter, the resting of the cookie also increases the orange flavor in the cookie.

I left these cookies at home with my husband as I had to leave for a teaching tour in California.
I am sure I will have to make more when I get back!

melt in your mouth rice flour shortbread with Fiandino Salted Butter

Thanks again to Fiandino!! my mouth is so happy!

I adore using good butter, some of my favorite things are:

a soft roll with butter and an oil packed anchovy on top, with a thin slice of lemon

Fettuccini Alfredo- which is simply butter and cheese!

February 15, 2011

Charcutepalooza- February- Salt Cure

do you charcutepalooza?

When they announed that the February project was the salt cure, perhaps I went a little wild.
I did pancetta, the stesa style, which is most typical in Florence for cooking with.
Then the bacon, i did not use pink salt, but did the sugar cure which was in the Ruhlman book.
I could not help but also do a guanciale, since my friend Ray raises Cinta Senes pigs.

Too Much Pork?

I live in the land of pork- Tuscans eat meat almost daily, in small quantities, saving the large steaks for special occasions. Pork is really one of the meats of choice. Until not too long ago, many families raised pigs to provide food for their families. On large farms one or two hogs would provide prosciutto, spalla, sausages, pancetta and head cheese to be cured and eaten over the year.

I adore using pancetta with winter greens as a pasta course. I buy the pancetta stesa to cut small lardons for cooking with. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and kale are all enriched with the lovely pork fat and saltiness.

Of course there are the classics like Carbonara and Amatriciana sauce.

I enjoyed trying to make bacon, but without the pink salt as Ruhlman suggests and without smoking it, I did not satisfy my American bacon cravings. Since we get so much pancetta here, I will try to make bacon again, bringing back some pink salt to try again.

My bacon came out nicely, I cut the slab into slices and then cut those into lardons and made an Amatriciana sauce.

For the Amatriciana sauce and for the Carbonara sauce, it is important to cook the bacon ( pancetta or guanciale) first. Crispiness is important.

SORE POINT: Amatriciana sauce is the first recipe I cooked for my now husband. When I served it, he walked out of the room without eating it at all. I had made it wrong! He is my Italian life coach as well as culinary coach and I NEVER let that happen again!

I had destroyed an Italian classic.

I had fried the pancetta and then added the tomato sauce, which then boils the pancetta and it loses the crispiness.  Well. we have been together now for 26 years and my Amatriciana sauce is killer!

My Amatriciana for two:
There are as many recipes for amatriciana sauce as there are cooks, including the sauce "Gricia"which uses no tomato. Tomatoes were only introduced into Italian cooking after the discovery of America- but not used until the 1600's!

200 gr spaghetti ( tradition is bucatini, a thick hollow spaghetti)
100 gr ( 3 ounces) smoked pancetta ( or thick sliced bacon)
1 small red onion, sliced
1 clove garlic
2 tiny birds eye chili's
olive oil
1 cup tomato sauce or canned san marzano whole tomatoes

Put a pan of water on to boil to cook the pasta.

Slice the pancetta into thin strips.
Saute' in pan until crispy.
Remove and saute the onion in the fat left from the pancetta, adding a little extra olive oil if needed.
Add the sliced garlic and break in the chili peppers. ( do not touch your eyes!)

Once the onion is cooked, add the tomato sauce and salt to taste, cook the sauce for about 10 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes if you have bought whole san marzano's.

Salt the water for the pasta using kosher salt or sale grosso, the large sea salt.
Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.

Drain the spaghetti ( save some of the pasta water).

Place the spaghetti into the pan with the tomato sauce and sautè.
The pasta will finish cooking by soaking up the tomato sauce.
Add some of the saved water if it gets too dry.

Add the crispy pancetta bits now and sautè again and serve immediately.

NO cheese!

Just as the buzz is coming down from all the pancetta, bacon and guanciale, with perfect timing our March Challenge is up.

Brining! Corned beef' rubens...look out.
I will make one while I am here in California, but can't wait to make it in Italy.

Of course if I want a ruben will also have to make saurkraut?


One last pancetta post: Pancetta Brittle!
I first tried from Grateful Palate--- inspired used a gifted pancetta piece from Scott.

February 8, 2011

Meat Museum- The Masters of Meat

As you all know, I adore my butchers. The men and women that turn meat into meals. I was inspired, as I often am, but my soul-sister Kate in Camont, France. Her article on the red and white butcher shops reminded me of the foto shoot I just did for Dario, my master butcher, in Panzano.

recently restored facade of the Macelleria Cecchini Panzano in Chianti

Dario is famous for his wild ways and theatrical behavior. When he painted the outside of the butcher shop his signature red and white, people thought that it was another one of his attention grabbing moves.
What people don't realize, is that Dario does research constantly to preserve antique traditions in todays fast-moving world. In the 1800's the decorative style for important buildings was with stripes and geometrical designs. There are very few left  in all of Tuscany. It is rare anymore to find buildings in Chianti with this striped decoration, but as you head towards Lucca and the coast, you will see that they have preserved this decoration style. Much of Florence and Chianti was destroyed and rebuilt after the second World War and simple was the new style.

Time stops once you walk into the shop. Don't be in a rush. Accept the glass of wine that is offered to you and sit back and enjoy the show. SHOW? Isn't this a butcher shop?

inside the shop art and meat side-by-side

More than a butcher shop, you are stepping into a lesson in life. Taking time to shop, interact with fellow shoppers, learn new recipes or ways to prepare meat. At the butchers in small towns, you learn more than about meat. You meet new people and learn about the village you are in.

It is not only Dario's butcher shop that is like this. It is a way of life in Italy. It to risks vanishing away as did the decorative stripes on buildings. Italy is joining the rat race in many ways. My gift to myself is to slow down. Take time to shop. Take the time to talk. Take time to listen and learn.

It is not easy. It is a choice. It means not working all the time, which means making less money and learning to live with less.

My favorite saying is "Less is More". Eating less meat, but better quality. Buying fewer clothes but better quality. You get it!

The other Italian saying which strikes home is- " Si stava meglio quando si stava peggio" We were better off when we were worse off.  The older Italians say it all the time. When life was simpler and slower.

Take time so step back into the old ways of doing things. Make some jam. Bake bread. Take time to talk to your butcher. Your life will be richer in a way that money cannot buy!

Thanks Dario for throwing a splash of color back into Chianti!

February 7, 2011

Happy New Year!

Although most of the world celebrates the new year in January, it has not always been like that.
My mom grew up in Shanghai and the we have always also joined in on celebrating Chinese New Year as well. In Florence, March 25th was the day they celebrated, I wrote about it here on a past blog, 
which also has Bacon Brittle which I am going to remake for my Charcutepalooza blog later this month.

I tend to celebrate as much as possible.

The Spring Equinox also has a strong pull and this year I am having more new beginnings in March.
I have recently leased a new space in Colle Val D'Elsa to begin my culinary workshops again. It will be my research center with my collection of cookbooks and small teaching kitchen where i will be your Italian life coach in  MY TUSCAN KITCHEN. 

Here are some shots from the market-- 
I may need to have a basket to bring things up and down from the window!

sausages and salami

fennel and artichokes
flower market 

I am excited to start teaching on a more regular schedule again.

Even if the day classes when the market is not on, we will still shop the local butcher and local vendors to create our menus. It is always so much fun to hang out with the locals. I can't wait to start my new year!!!

February 5, 2011

World Nutella Day- Nutella-filled Rice Fritters

It's that time of year!
Carnevale is when Italy goes all out with sweets and my friends Sara from Ms Adventures in Italy and Michele from Bleeding Expresso created a monster fest! 


If you are crazy about Nutella- stop by on Monday to both their sites as they are doing a round-up of all the crazy bloggers that love Nutella! 

Italians put Nutella everywhere! It is the peanut butter of Italy. Personally I find it too sweet for me and more for a kids palate. Just recently an American mom decided to sue, as she discovered that Nutella contained bad fats! ha ha-- WAKE UP! There are other chocolate and hazelnut spreads available made with more natural oils, but as with all things, balance is important. 

I am going to whip up my own Nutella, creating a hazelnut butter and then adding melted chocolate, some EVO and a pinch of sea salt.  That is my project later today.

I adore seeing what shows up with Nutella. At my local pastry shop, they filled the fabulous rice fritters with Nutella. just the right size and the not-so-sweet rice is a great balance for the chocolate. 
Another pastry shop makes the fried ravioli with nutella inside that I posted before.

The recipe below makes a ton of tiny fritters, make them small! They are better bite-size.

rice fritters--- with nutella fillin
Here is my rice fritter recipe. The are usually only found now, Carneval Season and March 19th for St. Joseph's day which is Father's day in Italy.

Tuscan Rice Fritters

2-1/2 cups short grain rice
6 cups milk
4 tablespoons sugar
Peel of one lemon (wide strips)
1 ounce liqueur (sherry, brandy, or amaretto)
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking flour
Pinch of salt
6 eggs, separated
Bring the rice to a slow boil in the milk with sugar and lemon peel. When the rice is cooked, it will have absorbed all the milk. 
Place the rice in large bowl, add the liqueur, egg yolks, flour, baking powder, and salt. 
Mix well and let cool. DO NOT REFRIGERATE. 
Whip the egg whites still stiff. Fold whites into the rice mixture. 
In a heavy pan, heat 3 inches of oil for frying. I prefer olive oil, but peanut, sunflower or other oil is fine. Drop the fritters by teaspoons into the hot oil. 
Fry quickly and remove when they are golden. 
Drain on paper towels and serve sprinkled with granulated sugar. 
They are best hot, but can also be served cold or reheated. 
I like to add raisins soaked in brandy to the mixture, or tiny pieces of candied orange peel. 

For extra flavor- you can pipe in Nutella or pastry cream when the rice fritters are cooled.

I wanted to try to make my own Nutella too as the store brand is just too sweet for me.

Here it is served my favorite way- bread and chocolate.

I simply pureed 100 grams of toasted and peeled hazelnuts with my Braun immersion blender until it was hazelnut "butter". I added some extra virgin olive oil to lighten the mixture and stirred in 100 grams of melted bittersweet chocolate. ( I melted the chocolate in 2 tbs of milk). It is a much thicker spread and not so sweet. Enjoy!

Get ready for next year and experiment with chocolate and hazelnut- it is a fabulous combination!

February 2, 2011

Makin' Bacon- Part 1

The pancetta is hanging in it's peppery jacket and last night I dedicated to the piece of bacon that was in the fridge curing next to the guanciale.

Following the recipe from the Charcuterie book, Ruhlman suggests baking as an alternative to smoking the bacon.  I did not know bacon was baked, but decided to try to see what it tasted like before saying "no".

looks like bacon
As an bacon- deprived expat living in Italy, what I am hoping to have something distinctly different from pancetta. I tasted the baked bacon as soon as it came out of the oven and as Ruhlman said the outside pieces will be the saltiest. I adore roast pork belly as is, so it was a little salty with some of the sweetness coming through from the cure mixture. But NOT BACON, like breakfast bacon.

After a night in the fridge, I sliced the bacon and was happy with the color and results. I did not use "Pink Salt" in my curing, which maybe part of the flavor missing.

I sauteed up some of the slices to try for breakfast--- but NOT BACON. It is different from pancetta in the sweet factor.

I am going to take the rest of my slab of bacon and smoke it stovetop in my WOK. I think it is the smokiness I am missing here.

Otherwise for me, I adore raw pork belly grilled and don't have to wait for that!

dreaming of recipes now to use my bacon

Am thinking of going sweet- I make a spicy peanut brittle and think that this would be a great addition.
I once had Bacon Brittle from Grateful Palate  which inspired me. Here is a recipe online.

Bacon makes anything better... right?

Taking advantage of the sliced bacon I had for the foto, I decided to try it in the most common of all pasta sauces where we use guanciale or pancetta, cut into small lardons fried and the added to a simple tomato sauce with onion, garlic and a kick of red chili.

Amatriciana- Amatrice is the village FAMOUS for their pork. They love it so much there is another version called Gricia, which is just the pancetta, no tomato!

my little pre-fried cubes of bacon

assembling the amatriciana in the pan

I have just hit my bacon limit and fallen into a Charcutepalooza coma! I need some salad!