March 30, 2011

The Italian Way with Recipes- Crostata con Pecorino e Pere

Now that I have moved my teaching space to Colle Val D'Elsa, I have new inspirations.
While shopping for bread at the local forno, I always point out the type of desserts available at a bread shop. They tend to have the "dry" desserts, baked cookies and jam pies, called crostate as well as pound cakes. Simple home-style desserts to have with breakfast or as a snack in the afternoon.

But a new crostata caught my eye the other day- Fresh ricotta cheese and poached pears.

our "crostata" 

We have a saying here in Tuscany:

Al contadino, non fa sapere--- quando e buono pecorino con le pere.
Don't tell the farmer how good sheep's milk cheese is with pears!

The pears we found in the shop were so juicy there was no reason to poach them.

We bought fresh sheep's milk ricotta and lightly sweetened with granulated sugar, about 1 cup.
I sliced a fresh pear and cut into small bite-size pieces and added some lemon juice to prevent browning.
We folded the pears into the ricotta and spread in the uncooked dough then finished the decorating and baked.

It was perfetto!

What really makes this pie- is the incredible Italian Pasta Frolla- their pie crust.
It is more like a cookie dough, somewhere between a butter cookie and a sugar cookie.

it is all about ratio and ingredients. The Italian normal everyday flour, called 00, is a low gluten flour and very delicate, creating a melt-in-your-mouth crust.
I highly recommend using a scale, as we all measure differently and all use different ingredients.

Pasta Frolla- the Perfect Italian Crust

300 grams pastry flour ( italian 00 flour)
200 grams unsalted butter
100 grams sugar
1 whole egg and 1 yolk ( 60 gram eggs)

I find it easier to crumble the flour, butter and sugar together first. Cutting the butter into the flour and sugar until it looks like grated parmesan cheese.

Then quickly mix in the egg and the yolk and lightly knead until dough forms.

It does not need to rest.

Roll out a little more than half the dough to line a tart pan.

Add filling:
I used:

1 cup fresh sheep's milk ricotta
1 very ripe juicy pear, peeled and cut into small pieces.

Sweeten the ricotta to taste with some granulated sugar.
Stir in the pears and any juice.

Fill the tart shell. It is not a huge pie.

Roll out the remaining dough into a rectangle and cut strips.

Alternate laying of the strips to create lattice work.

Fold edges of pie over to create border.
Bake at 350 until golden.

I think this would be lovely for Easter holidays.

If you can't find Sheep's milk ricotta, perhaps just stir in 2 tbs of sour cream into your ricotta to give it a nice tang.


March 19, 2011

Italian Father's Day- Pasta con la Mollica

Almost everyday in Italy there is something to celebrate and celebrations mean food. Being a Catholic country, there is a Saint for everyday. March 19th is St. Joseph's day, Joseph being the father of Jesus, it is Father's Day in Italy.

What better way to celebrate than with food? Here in Tuscany we eat fried rice fritters, Frittelle di Riso, one of my own personal favorites, which I have written about before. When I was in Sicily last year I also learned how to make Sfinge, a fried bigne dough and others make Zeppole. All depends where you are from.

Italy is celebrating 150 years of being united as a country, but if you travel here you will still see that recipes don't travel. One of my favorite hobbies is to collect regional variations of these recipes.

This year I wanted to showcase a savory recipe with a great story.

A simple recipe starting with the trinity of aglio, olio e peperoncino ( garlic, olive oil and chili pepper) which is a classic. Then anchovies are added ( or in some areas of Sicily, sarde-sardines).

The breadcrumbs are said to represent the wood shavings in Joseph's  workshop. A few year's ago, I went to Salemi to get information on their famous St. Joseph shrines. Women create thousands of tiny figures with a flour and water dough, to decorate the shrines to St Joseph. People tour the various shrines and then are given this pasta to eat. Check out some of the images online of the alters, it is amazing the amount of work involved.

There are as many variations as there are cooks of this recipe. I used regular breadcrumbs from the store, but Sicilian bread makes great fresh breadcrumbs. They "toast" them in a garlic infused olive oil with chili peppers and anchovies.

the base mixture for the seasoned breadcrumbs

Here is my version:

Pasta con la Mollica

Chili pepper
Anchovies- I use salt packed anchovies and soak them then take them off the bones, I find them more flavorful.

Spaghetti or Bucatini

One of the secrets of italian cooking it to NOT heat the olive oil before adding the garlic.
Place sliced garlic, the boned, salted anchovies and chili peppers in the olive oil.
Turn on the heat and let cook, stirring to "melt" the anchovies.

Add bread crumbs and cook until the breadcrumbs are toasted.

In various versions:

Some people make another garlic, olive oil and anchovy pan and saute the drained cooked spaghetti in the infused oil then toss with the toasted breadcrumbs.

Some people make a simple tomato sauce with a simple sauce made with tomato paste and onions and water. ( I brought some home tomato paste from the market in sicily Sicily- it is incredible and unlike any commercial product!)  They cook the pasta first in tomato sauce then add the bread crumbs as garnish

Some people make the Pasta con le Sarde- where sardines are used instead of anchovies and the base is a white onion, saffron and wild fennel fronds cooked with the pasta.

I hope you can create your own version and enjoy!

March 18, 2011

I love foto's

As I was sitting here downloading foto's to my external hard drive, I waste so much time  thinking about when and where I took the foto's. People and places, food and wine.

I thought I would just share a few as a slide show here.

It is almost like being with me!

March 15, 2011

Changing Seasons- Il Mio Giardino

I adore when spring comes to Tuscany. My garden begins to gift me free food. This was a really wet winter and most of our winter salads and other plants didn't survive the wet weather or the intense snow here. So as it finally begins to warm up, I am thrilled to be able to head out in the garden again and find food!

The Tuscan kale, cavolo nero, was not really nice enough to harvest until now, when it is almost ready to bloom. So this week we will enjoy our kale, probably in a nice minestrone or maybe just boiled and on toasted bread as a bruschetta drizzled with a fabulous rich Tuscan olive oil.

The front yard is full of wild violets, which release a gentle fragrance as I pass by. The leaves and blossoms are also edible. I may candy some of the blossoms for use later in the year.

One of my favorite "weeds" is wild borage which we just let go crazy. The leaves are great sliced thin in a salad, their flavor is similar to cucumber and quite the surprise. The electric blue blossoms are also edible and are pretty in salads or as garnish on soup.

Next up I will go on a search for wild asparagus. I always see the locals with plastic bags in the fields below my house. This year I will join the hunt!

Happy Spring!

In Italy we have not yet "sprung forward" with daylight savings time and I am adoring the longer days and more sun!

Classes have begun at my new space in Colle Val D'Elsa and it is great to see some familar faces at the market. Just under my house is where the fruit and vegetable vendors are and also my Sicilian and Napolitano friends with their stands.

How lucky can I be!

Do you Twitter?  Wednesday at 3pm ET I will be a guest on the #dreamofitaly chat.

Click here- to see how to participate- I look forward to answering your questions.

March 13, 2011

New Market- New Friends

First class at my new space in Colle Val D'Elsa began on Friday which is marktet day.
If you have never have seen an Italian weekly market, it is like the Mall coming to you.

I will post more foto's later on the variation of "shops" which are at the market, today just a collage of my new friends. Found my new porchetta guy and a new butcher. The butcher is a real shop in town, like most artisans, their family has been butchers since the 1500's.

I adore seeing what the market inspires us to cook- and creating the menu with the students. It is like "Iron Chef" each class.

Today was Tuscan ragu and fresh pasta, Dario's Tuscan Roast Beef, fresh artichokes and Panna Cotta.

Sometimes in class, the simplest essentials of Italian cooking are the best- it is all about the quality of the ingredients. Fresh pasta from semola flour ( not semolina, which is cream of wheat), farm fresh corn fed eggs (don't you love the yellow yolks?), a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Italians eat dry pasta on a daily basis and save the fresh pasta for special occasions like long, slow Sunday lunches or holidays when hours are spent in the kitchen. But really with a small hand-crank machine, anyone can make fresh pasta anytime.

There is a simple ratio for making pasta:

100 grams of flour
1-  60 gram egg

They say this is a per person amount, but I think it is for two as a first course.

We made 200 grams of semola and two eggs. It was enough for the three of us with left-overs.

looks good enough to eat

We had a great class and I am looking forward to sharing my new village kitchen with everyone!

March 9, 2011


Wow- how can you miss me if I don't go away?

Things got a little out of hand to say the least. My trip to California was wacko with family and work and before I left I signed a contract on a new space to teach from in Colle Val D'Elsa.

While I was gone, my husband packed and moved ALL MY STUFF and had it waiting for me when I got back to unpack and organize.

Oh, did you not know that most Italian apartments come WITHOUT A KITCHEN?

I arrived home with my fingers crossed that the custom kitchen I ordered would arrive before my clients did this Friday.

Oh yeah, did I mention that the apartment had no hot water or gas???

I was really pushing my luck- but have been feeling pretty lucky lately.

Well, the kitchen has arrived! Walls are painted, hot water and gas hooked up as of today and now all I need to do is wash everything and put it in the shelves and I am ready to cook.
Here are some foto's of the apartment in progress-

It is all just waiting to be filled with all my treasures- I can't wait!

Stop by my site for more information on my one day to one week programs.

outside this door is a huge patio- can't wait to set it up for al fresco dining

It all looks a little naked now-- give me a day!

Happy Mardi Gras
March 8th is National Women's Day- read why here

Today I had my Tuscan Fried Dough cookies, Cenci

Wild violets are in my yard, daffodils just starting to bloom and Easter is on it's way. 

Bring on Spring.