September 28, 2011

Piano, Piano- Slowly, Slowly

There is a lot of talk of Slow Food vs Fast Food.

Sometimes you just really want to slow down and BREATHE.

I am often asked if I would move back home to California. Tuscany has been home since October of 1984 and as soon as I arrived here I knew I was home. I have adjusted to the pace and adjusted to the life style of slowing down and being happy with less.

Keeping my life simple.

My cooking style is now Tuscan too. I have learned to keep it simple. It really does make life easier.

Today was a busy day. Slowing down and keeping life simple  also has moments of having too many things to do on a day off. I wanted to go to our local market in Certaldo, I wanted to cook a recipe from my mother-in-law and we needed to go and pick-up more of my cookbooks from the printers to bring to Siena tomorrow.

We could have tried to take the books today to Siena, but then I wouldn't have been able to fix a nice lunch for my husband and myself.

The books can wait.

I adore fried food here in Tuscany. Most people go out for things they can't or don't want to cook at home,
pizza, a wood-grilled steak and fried foods are some specialities that it is nice to have out.

My mother-in-law, Tina, was the queen of simple. She adored spending more time out shopping, talking to the vendors, catching up on gossip rather than cooking. She passed on the art of easy to me!

Tina's Pollo Fritto is one of my all time favorite  non-recipe recipes.

Simply cut up boneless chicken breasts into small cubes.
Place in a bowl with one extra large egg, beaten with salt.
Let marinade in fridge until you are ready to fry.

We always cook in extra virgin olive oil, but if you are not sure where your oil comes from, use your normal oil you fry with, corn or sunflower seed.

Preheat the oil.

Add flour to the chicken and stir.

It will make a thick paste, not a batter.

It will not look like enough. Trust me!

Place the pieces in the hot oil, one piece at a time. Do not crowd. Turn when browned and let brown on the other side.

Salt and serve with lemon juice on top if you like.

I also fried some sage leaves and thinly sliced zucchini.

Slowly, Slowly happy!

September 25, 2011

Wine all the Time

Living in Italy, wine is a part of everyday life and especially now that we live in the countryside, even more so. Not only do we drink wine, but can watch the vines growing and ripening during the season. Many of our neighbors produce wine for themselves as well as selling to the local cooperative winery.

Right now as I sit writing, I am almost drunk smelling the wine fumes fermenting. My neighbors press their own wine so I am ovewhelmed, hope I get some wine too!

There are traffic jams daily following the trucks loaded with the grapes going to the local press.

Each weekend in September is a wine festival, Greve, Panzano and Impruneta here in Chianti. Wine, wine and more wine.

Yesterday was a fun wine festival downtown Florence, WINE TOWN. Held in September downtown Florence, it is more than just wine. Private palaces are opened for the wine tastings and theatre, concerts and cooking classes are all part of the event. I attended a a cooking demo in the new space in the Central Market.
From 11am until 4pm demo classes by some of Tuscany's best chefs.

We had seats for the demo/tasting of Genuino Del Duca of the Enoteca del Duca from Volterra. He made a chicken liver mousse with vin santo reduction, a ricotta flan with fresh white truffles and the last dish a traditional Pappa al Pomodoro.

I adored the mini-pot as presentation. Catering and presentation has come a long way in Italy in the past few years. Each course was presented in a different plastic container- each lovely.

Pappa al Pomodoro is classic Tuscan recipe using stale Tuscan bread and ripe tomatoes.

Although you don't think of soup as a summer dish, this is served room temperature in Summer and hot the rest of the year. I have been making tomato sauce, Pomarola, with my tomatoes but really need to make a pappa before the summer ends.

It is raining this afternoon, so I think this week is my last chance.
If you still have some nice ripe tomatoes, try my version. 

Pappa al Pomodoro

8 whole garlic cloves
1-3/4 pound can of plum tomatoes
1 pound loaf of stale bread, sliced (or unseasoned stuffing mix)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 leek, thinly sliced, only white part
6 cups water
1 bunch basil
Chili pepper

The night before slice the bread and leave it out to get stale. (This does happen in Tuscany with our unsalted bread.) You can force the drying in a warm oven.

Sauté the whole garlic cloves and leek in olive oil with the chili pepper. 

When the garlic has lightly browned and the leek is just getting golden, add the tomato sauce. 
Season with salt and add half the basil leaves torn into tiny pieces.
 Crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon and stir. Cook until the tomatoes fall apart.

Tear the bread into small pieces and put into the sauce. 

The bread will soak up the sauce and get quite thick. 
Add enough water to soften the bread and to make it liquidy. 
Add the remaining basil and cook until the bread becomes a "mush"-- PAPPA!

Enjoy this thick stew-like soup on a cold day with a drizzle of extra virgin oil on top. I like to reheat it the next day by heating some sliced garlic and more chili in oil and using to reheat te soup. 
This gives it an extra kick!

September 18, 2011

Back in the Culinary Saddle

Am finally sleeping all the way through the night and have started classes again.

Friday we did a market class which got me back to my kitchen habits. Being inspired by what is in season is one of the most exciting ways to cook.

I like to teach cooking techniques, not so much recipes, as learning to cook is more important that learning to read recipes and shopping the market inspires me so much. Ingredients at the market remind me of places I have visited and people I have met that have passed on their recipes to me.

Each region of Italy has their own way to prepare foods and even in the same town, 10 women will have 10 different versions of the same recipe.

I arrived here in 1984 and started to learn to cook Tuscan food from scratch. Part of the fun was gathering the recipes and trying them all and then creating my own version.

Right now, the grape harvest has begun and our traffic jams are caused by trucks filled with grapes heading down to have them crushed at the local cooperative.

Driving around the air is filled with the fragrance of fermenting wine and  distilling of grappa which is made from the skin and seeds, left over from the pressing of the grapes.

You can almost get drunk just breathing.

One of the most traditional recipes during the vendemmia is the Schiacchiata con l'uva, a simple recipe using bread dough enriched with olive oil and sugar.

As for any other recipe, there are many versions. Here is the basic recipe I use.

One of my favorite bakeries in Florence, makes a schiacchiata with fresh figs. I am going to try to make that next. I adore figs anyway I can get them.  Having a huge tree behind my house where I can gather as many as I like for free is also an incentive to create more and more recipes with figs.

This week we also made some of Francesca's Figs and ate them with a lovely creamy Gorgonzola Dolce.

Friday is market day in Colle Val D'Elsa and I have a fabulous fish monger that I adore going to.
He always has the freshest fish and great recipes.

This week we did a recipe from Naples called Pesce in Acqua Pazza.
One of my chef friends from Naples in Chianti, Mimmo gave me his recipe for my website. Often the fish filets are served as a main course and the sauce is used on pasta. You can also add mussels and clams to the roasting fish and make it an even richer dish.

Buon appetito. We are expecting some rain this afternoon and I can't wait to start cooking fall foods.

September 12, 2011

How can you miss me if I don't go away?

ready for the grape harvest

My summer was not a happy one, I spent most  of August  in California with my brother and sister, closing down my mom's house. We had the burial while I was home, sold everything at an estate sale.
It drained me emotionally and physically. I came home empty inside.

While I was in California, I was not allowed to cook in the kitchen as the whole house had been taken apart to do the estate sale there. Not being able to cook and living among boxes I felt homeless, which I guess I am now in California, the family home is being sold.

Arriving back in Tuscany, I couldn't wait to cook and get my mojo going again in the kitchen. Classes have already started and as well as finally sleeping through the night, I am finding my Tuscan cooking soul once again.

parmesan cheese bowl for our gluten-free pasta

I was also blessed to be invited to attend a wine festival in southern Italy as part of a press trip. There is nothing I love more than food and wine festivals in Italy. How can you not adore a country that celebrates food in so many ways? We spent the weekend down in Benevento and did a full immersion in the wines and foods of the region.

I now have my batteries recharged and am ready to dive into Fall, my favorite season to cook. Wine Festivals go on all month all over Italy. October is the EuroChocolate festival in Perugia and then the olive oil harvest starts, October in Sicily and November or later in Tuscany.

Salt flats in Trapani

November is also my Sicilian Kitchen tour, I have space available and hope you can join me.
 I adore Sicily so much, I hope to move there for at least half the year and teach day classes as well as organizing more week-long programs in 2012.

As soon as I get home, I am going to see how the figs are behind my house. I need to prepare more of Francesca's fabulous figs to serve with gorgonzola!!! My new drug!

When I get my computer hooked up at home, will post about my fabulous weekend in Benevento. Learning about new areas in Italy is like finding a treasure. Although I have been here for over 25 years now, I doubt I will have time in my lifetime to visit all the places on my Italian bucket list.

What towns or regions are on your list?

Once you get the biggies down, Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples--- then? Sicily? Puglia? Le Marche?

Do you just return to the same places you loved or risk and explore?

It is always an adventure.

chili peppers  are ready

I hope to find my chili peppers ready to harvest when I get home and from the markets will buy some to make some sauces to kick up winter. Mostly hang them to dry in my kitchen and just cut off pieces as needed. The chili peppers in the foto are tradtionally boiled in vinegar, then hollowed out and filled with anchovy and caper. The gentlemen that was selling these chilis said to make a breadcrumb mixture. I will do my homework and post my recipes.

Thanks for following me-- always nice to have friends hanging around the kitchen-

cook for someone you love