October 23, 2011

Tasting the Past- Cotognata ( Quince Paste)

There are some fruits and vegetables that remind me of the past. Odd shapes and incredible flavor and fragrances. Quince are one of those fruits. Impossible to eat as is.

Often when at the market something catches my eye that I HAVE TO COOK. I don't think I ever cooked or saw quince in California when I lived there, but in Italy, there are two kinds of quince, cotogna, one more of an apple shape and these that I found which are more like an ancient pear. The fragrance they gave off in the bag was intoxicating.  This is an old fashioned sweet which every household used to have. Lovely with tea as a  sweet or now served with pecorino cheese as a snack.

Last week I saw some and didn't pick them up as I was working and went shopping on my day off twice and didn't find them. So I grabbed the next quince I saw at the market this week to make Cotognata, a quince paste which is served with cheeses here. It is also known as Membrillo in Spain.

In my travels, I am also always on the look out for  new food toys. When I was in Sicily I found some formine, clay bowls with designs for molding the cotognata and other fruit pastes which are also eaten as desserts. In Catania I saw the paste also made from cactus fruit, prickly pears, knows as Fichi d'India.

The molds traditionally have religious decorations, probably a hold over from the Spanish occupation of Sicily.

It is a simple recipe- like jam making and can be made darker by cooking longer-

The recipe I used was equal weight of sugar to puree and cooking until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Other recipes say cook for an hour.

I am waiting now for the paste to dry so I can un-mold it and will add the photo's to the blog.


1 kilo quinces
1 kilo sugar
1 bay leaf or lemon 

( basically it is equal parts of sugar to the fruit puree, so can be any amount)

Wash and peel the quinces.

Cut into chunks.

Place in pan and cover with water add the  bay leaf or lemon slices for flavor.( some recipes add cinnamon)

Boil and cook until tender.

Remove from water.
Puree. I used an immersion blender.

Weigh the puree.
Add the same weight of sugar. 
Mix and cook to desired thickness and color.

Wet the molds with cold water ( can also use jam jars or a glass baking dish)
Let sit out until dry.
( you can also place in a low oven overnight. I may need to do that as it is not hot now)

Remove from molds and you can cut into slices or shapes, using cookie cutters.

You can save in a tin with bay leaves between layers or waxed paper.

If serving as  a sweet, after cutting, roll pieces in granulated sugar.

October 19, 2011

Eating in Season in Tuscany

I just had to share--- yesterday was a perfect Tuscan lunch-

The foto above is a fresh burrata cheese, covered in white truffles. Burrata is not Tuscan and this is not a typical way to serve burrata or the white truffles- but I love it.

Batter-fried porcini mushrooms- they need no words.

Grilled porcini mushroom caps and stems. I ADORE FALL

Served with a HUGE 2 kilo Tuscan steak-- not the Florentine t-bone, but a Costata, which I often love more.

We started with a rosso di montalcino and went on to a brunello- then vin santo, passito di pantelleria and grappa--

Bring on Fall!!!

The white truffle festivals in Tuscany are in November, San Miniato and in San Giovanni D'Asso.

Our fabulous lunch was at:

cipolla rossa

it is just down the street from the Medici chapel

October 18, 2011

Torino - j'adore

I adore going to Torino. It reminds me a lot of Paris and has a feel of San Francisco about it.
This week we ended our Ecole Chocolat tour with two days in Torino.

Of course, one of the reasons was Chocolate! Torino has it's own chocolate festival called CioccolaTO, TO being the initials for TOrino.

On our way in, we stopped at a family artisan chocolate shop, which makes its own chocolate, marron glace and gianduia. Tuscany has the Chocolate Valley and Piemonte also is forming the Gianduja Chocolate Valley. Lorenzo Zuccarello is one of these chocolatiere's.

Gianduia is Italy's peanut butter. Hazelnuts are made into a paste then added to melted chocolate. It can be spreadable or the traditional shape of the gianduiotto, a triangle, like the keel of a ship.

With Guido Gobino in his lab/shop in Torino
We also went to visit one of my personal God's in the chocolate world, Guido Gobino. Not only are his chocolates fabulous, but the sense of style and creativity always blows me away.

I can't tell you how crazy we all went in his shop. And not just the chocolates- check out the shopping bag, made from what is normally a cement bag!

But we also worked! Three days of hands-on classes at ICAM in Lecco with Master Chocolatier, Riccardo Magni. It was great to work for more than one day with Chef, as confidence builds.

Our final chocolate display at the end of the workshop- no, we did not eat it all!

More later- getting ready to finish up this month's classes and then off to do a week in Rome, Florence, Panzano and Naples doing research with a chef on FIRE- and then off to Sicily for my one week culinary adventure. Can't wait, new oil is out and I am stocking up!

October 12, 2011

The Pleasures of Learning- ICAM

I think I am a perpetual student. I adore studying, hate tests, but love learning new things.
For the past 7 years, I have been helping my friend Pam with her Ecole Chocolat Italian program for graduates from her online-chocolate school.

We have been doing the Tuscan chocolate valley with visits and workshops with the masters there, but finally we got into the Professional program at ICAM in Lecco at Lake Como. (No we haven't seen George Clooney.)

It is such a pleasure to learn new flavor combinations and catch up on what's new. As with any recipe for food in Italy, each chef has their own flavor palate and version of what seems to be a  classic recipe.  And as with other recipes, your food is only as good as your ingredients, so spend time to buy the best!

They say the Devil is in the details.  We were really WOW'd with details in our lessons!

The walk to school daily took us along this river and we have been blessed with incredible weather and that light that inspired so many artists.

But life is not just school when we travel- we also have meals and meet locals.

We discovered a lovely wine bar in the center of Lecco with a charming host that made us feel at home.

How could we not have fun when the evening begins with a magnum of Bellavista?

I am working-- so just wanted to send a few foto's to wet your appetite--- for Italy.

October 5, 2011

Divine Days- Panzano

I don't think there is a day when I go to Dario's in Chianti that I don't see someone I know or meet someone fun.  Yesterday was no exception.

I was hanging around the shop, just to absorb the energy and excitement that exudes from Dario and the people that come in and shop or take foto's.

While I was there, Dario made two porchetta rolls, broke down two racks of beef and got a pot of Peposa ready to cook for 12 hours in the oven.

the pot of peposa ready for it's slow 12 hour cooking time

 A large group came down from having lunch up at Dario DOC, the burger place upstairs open for lunch during the week.They were so excited about watching Dario break down the racks of beef, you could tell they were foodies. At first I couldn't tell where they were from as it sounded like sometimes they were speaking English but sometimes another strange tongue.

Turns out they came from South Africa and had found the Macelleria thanks to my blog!

Tommaso had read about Dario in Bill Buford's book HEAT and then went searching online and found my blog and my site.

We figured this out when I went to pass on my Chianti dining guide to one of the guys. Small world!

Dario and Tommaso-

I adore magic moments!! It can happen anywhere and any time-- always be ready to party!

October 3, 2011

Sweet Sunday- Dolcemente Pisa

I attended the Dolcemente Pisa chocolate show on Sunday.  I am constantly amazed at the quality and quantity of artisan food producers and their passion.

left to right: Spumador, Dolcemente Pisa, Vegetable couscous with chocolate nibs
Gelateria I Coltelli (Pisa); Tartufo di Pizzo (Calabria-Pisa), Gluten- free pastry shop ( Lucca)
Mauro Iannantuoni (Milano), Torrone from Sardegna, Donna Elvira ( Modica, Sicily)

The show has food stands  mostly from Tuscany but also from other regions of Italy and a couple from other countries. Not only chocolate.

There was also a restaurant, run by my friends Paul and Cecilia DeBondt, who are always creative and fun.

Paul was cranking out lovely delicate pancakes, with butter and a lovely syrup while Cecilia was overseeing the Sunday brunch table. I took multiple trips back to enjoy the various dishes they made, incorporating chocolate in many of them, but not over doing it to be wacko.

Everything was lovely but I especially enjoyed the cous cous with vegetables and cocoa nibs a lot, there was a pork in chocolate sauce ( not mole) and my favorite was a olive tapenade with capers and chocolate. The depth of flavor was incredible.

I then took a cooking class offered by La Scuola della Cucina Italiana, taught by Chocolatier, Mauro Iannantuoni. We watched as he made a multi-faceted dessert which we then assembled. As it was a class for professionals, no need for hands-on for all of us, but  we did get to assemble it and eat it!

Multiple flavors and techniques--- almond sponge cake, ricotta cream, toasted candied pinenuts, Almond sable' and a carmel mousse with pear puree.

I hope you can come to Dolcemente Pisa next year- Pisa is so much more than just the tower!

October 1, 2011

Pazza per Porcini

When you are lucky enough to find incredible ingredients, with Tuscan cooking, you let them shine on their own. Fresh Porcini are the perfect example. They only grow on a hot day, after it rains, under chestnut and oak trees and you have to get them before they start to deteriorate and get worms inside! So, we have a short wonderful window of time to enjoy them.

At Friday's market in Colle Val D'Elsa where I now do my cooking classes, we found the first Tuscan Porcini of the season.

I like to teach the Tuscan techniques, rather than real recipes. Learning to cook.

The Tuscans have a simple way to cook vegetables that doubles as a light pasta sauce. The cooking technique is called trifolato. Thinly sliced vegetables, stewed slowly in olive oil and they form their own broth.

Simply Tuscan! Simply wonderful!

Here's my version:

Porcini Trifolati

Fresh Porcini Mushrooms.cleaned with damp paper towel. Slice caps,chop stem
1 garlic clove ( Italians use much less garlic that you think!)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
White Wine
Nepitella/Catmint ( or oregano).Nepitalla grows wild and has a soft mint-like flavor with hint of oregano. 

Place garlic slices in oil and then heat; this prevents the garlic from burning. 
Add chopped mushrooms and sprinkle with herbs. 
Stir and salt to taste. The salt draws out the moisture from the vegetables and they stew in their own juices instead of just frying. 
Splash with a little white wine to create a broth.

Cover and let cook over low heat until tender.

I like to purée half of the vegetables to form a creamy sauce. 

Add a ladle of the cooking water from the pasta to the sauce. 
Drain the pasta and then heat the pasta in the sauce. 

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and stir. 

This way all the pasta is covered with sauce and the sauce clings to the pasta instead of sliding off!

This technique also works with zucchini and eggplant. I do the same with dried porcini, soaking them first in cold water, and then using them like fresh. To stretch the dried porcini, use button mushrooms too; they will absorb the porcini flavor.