November 27, 2011

Discovering Puglia- Again

Each trip I make down to Puglia, makes me want more.  The Trulli, small cone-shaped homes looking like something from J.R. Tolkien. Ancient olive trees with hollows in their huge trunks. One almost expects to see hobbits or trolls.

one of the many abandoned Trulli homes

no, I am not thinking " a little fixer-upper". been there done that!
ancient olive trees

Driving around the countryside,  the stone walls create a sharp contrast with the deep rich red soil.

fields and fields of chicory

After visting Puglia for several years I am finally going to offer a week discovering the secrets of the Pugliese kitchen with me.

I am in the process of finalizing the dates, but probably in June 2012.

My groups are small and very hands-on cooking as well as touring cheese makers, wineries and bakeries.
The breads in Puglia are some of my favorite in Italy. 

Can't wait to share my friends with you!

Coming up next will be some recipes from Puglia to give you a little taste-

November 24, 2011

Divina Cucina on the Road- Puglia

Probably one of my favorite parts of my job is doing research. I adore creating custom programs for people based on my travels. I have been down to Puglia over the years and have been dying to bring students with me to share my love for this incredible land.

view from sitting room at Ca' del Fico

We came down to visit our FB friend Antonello and his girlfriend Laura of Southern Visions Travel, looking into the possibility of working together on a Puglia program for Divina Cucina. 

at one of the lovely terraces in Polignano

I adore the red soil in Puglia, the secular olive trees, the fabulous bread, the incredible intense flavors of the vegetables and the beautiful ceramics.

Each trip I learn see new places and learn new things.

Can't wait to share new friend, new places and some new recipes.

We are off to tour some markets and then prepare thanksgiving for about 20 people. Will be a blast. I already made pies and cranberry sauce.

More to come

November 20, 2011

Gifts of the Season- Melograno

I have always been fascinated by pomegrantes ,melograno in Italian. When in season, the trees look as if they have been decorated for an early Christmas, hanging on the thin branches like decorations along with the persimmon trees.

Pomegranates seeds,arils, which glisten and look like tiny rubies, are one of my favorite ingredients in winter salads. 

Cut open the pomegranate in a bowl of water and it is easy to release the arils from the white membrane.  In the bowl pictured above are the arils from one pomegranate. 

In winter I adore making rich salads with the incredible variety of greens and wild radicchio when available. Today's salad had mandarin orange segments, apple and the pomegranate arils. Dressed lightly with new extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cherry balsamic vinegar.

This is just the beginning of winter salad season, orange and fennel is another favorite which I will post soon. I learned a new twist on my last trip to Sicily, which I can't wait to share.

Tuesday I leave for a research trip to Puglia where i will be enjoying Thanksgiving with some new friends. Stay tuned for updates.

With the remaining two pomegrantes I think I will make juice and then reduce to a syrup for sauce.

November 19, 2011

Cucina Povera- Pamela Sheldon Johns

I was lucky to receive a review copy of Pamela's new book, Cucina Povera, Tuscan Peasant Cooking.

Pamela has a true passion for Italy and this book, her 16th I believe, is a tribute to the people that have taught us so much. The book is a pleasure to read. I kept it near my bed as reading material first before bringing it to my kitchen. The photographs and stories are as compelling as the recipes. I adore the way the book was printed. The size of the book, the paper used and the photographs. 

Pamela and I have had many of the same experiences, gathering recipes from the locals which still preserve traditions. Those that have never written down these recipes. It is a wonderful collection of simple real food, which is only found in homes.

There are so many great recipes I wanted to try and write about,but when I went out to lunch the other day in my village I ate a dish which i remembered being in the book and came home to recreate it.

Tuscans are called Mangiafagioli, bean-eaters. Beans and grains have been the protein for years, especially around the area of Lucca. The dish I ate the other day was called Cacciucco di Ceci, chickpea Cacciucco. The recipe replaces the fish in the fish soup, with chickpeas. There is a similar recipe called Inzimino, which is a squid stew with chard and tomatoes.

In Pamela's book, the recipe she uses is called Ceci Stufati. So many recipes change names and perhaps one or two ingredients just by moving a few miles. This is the beauty of Italian cooking, each mother or chef puts their twist on a recipe, mostly based on what is available locally or at the moment. This stew is made more like the fish stew by adding a tiny bit of anchovy to the recipe. A simple way to build flavor.

Ceci Stufati
stewed chickpeas 

1 cup of dried chickpeas ( garbanzo beans), rinsed and picked over
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
6 cups water, heated
3 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 salt-cured anchovies, rinsed and mashed
8 ounces Swiss chard, shredded
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the chickpeas in a medium saucepan, and add water to cover by 2 inches.
Let soak overnight.

Drein the chickpeas. In a large, heavy saucepan, hear the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery, and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the onion is golden. Add the water, tomatoes, anchovies and drained chickpeas. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to a simmer and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the chickpeas for  1 1/2 hours. Add the chard and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the chickpeas are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4

From Cucina Povera, Pamela Sheldon Johns

It is easy to make with precooked chickpeas too, which makes it an easy quick dish to prepare. If you don't like anchovies, leave them out.

What is important is to cook with the best ingredients you can find and keep it simple!

Thanks Pamela for tracking down these recipes and the stories of the people that continue to pass on the traditions.

November 16, 2011


When the chill of winter first blows into town, any good Italian knows it is time for a Cioccolato Caldo.
If you have never experienced a Italian hot chocolate, you are in for a surprise.

It is not that thin water thing we drink in the USA with marshmallows, but rather like drinking pudding.

I was asked to participate in a pairing of a recipe with Cioccolosa instant hot chocolate mixes, by the Antonelli family. These are used in bars to make each portion to order.

Being American and loving Mexico, where chocolate originated at the "food of the gods", I naturally thought of pairing them with a fried dough, like churro's.

On a recent trip to Sicily I found the perfect pairing, Sfince, a fried dough made into either a doughnut shape or a small fritter, fried and then tossed in cinnamon and sugar with orange or lemon zest.

The Cioccolosa comes in a variety of flavors, but the one that caught my eye was  an Orange and Cinnamon mix which immediately reminded me of Mexican chocolate.

What I also loved about the Sfince is their size. Just a mouthful, perfect to dip into your hot chocolate too!

Join me!

Sfince di Antonietta, Menfi

500 grams semola flour, "rimacinata"
500 grams boiled potato, riced
1/2 liter of hot milk
1 cake of fresh yeast
2 tbs of sugar
1 tbs of salt

Sugar and cinnamon with grated orange zest for dusting.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk,
Add the salt and sugar to the flour.
Mix the riced potatoes and the flour together in a bowl, adding the hot milk with yeast.
Mix really well, for at least 10 minutes.

Cover and let rise.

Heat oil for frying.

Wet your hands and grab small amounts of dough and flatten, about the size of a walnut.
When you get the dough near the hot oil, press your finger in the middle to create a donut and let drop into oil.

To create small round fritters, use a teaspoon and drop into the oil.

Remove when golden and toss in cinnamon sugar.

Serve with a cup of Cioccolosa hot chocolate.

Winter is here!

learning from sfince expert, mamma antonietta

Switching Gears to a New Year

I am getting re-energized by the incredible morning light. Although I am not a morning person, I cannot help but wake up to enjoy all the light available now, since by 5:30pm it is dark.

Catching up on emails, dreaming about 2012 and filling in my calendar with the weeklong programs already booked is a pleasure.

I dream a lot and many of these dreams do come true. If they don't, it is ok. I just need to have goals.

I am offering more tours to Sicily as one of my dreams is to move down there. Taking things slowly.

In May, I am hosting Savory Spoon Cooking School in Sicily.

Am looking at being a guest chef in Puglia in June.

Returning to Sicily in September with a group that met on one of my Tuscan Weeks and wanted to tour Sicily with me too, I have customized my west coast  Sicily tour for them and created a coast-to-coast  10 day tour.

In October I have my program with Ecole Chocolate in Lecco for the chocolate masters program and my Kansas City Slow Food tour to the Amalfi Coast.

When that ends, there is the Salone del Gusto in Torino.

I am not going to be offering my Market tours anymore, I will be passing those on to one of my Florentine friends that has lived in Florence longer than I have and is part of the San Lorenzo "hood" too.

I am working on completing my Divina Cucina's Food and Wine Guide to Chianti.

If that is not enough, am also starting to work on my next cookbook.

Other dreams include:

offering  my Secrets of My Tuscan Kitchen as an e-book
starting to do cooking videos from my new teaching kitchen

oh yeah, take more time off!

Just so you don't think I am not cooking, here is a recipe we just learned at Becchini Olive oil Estate in Castelvetrano for a shortbread cookie made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Biscotti al Latte

500 grams hard wheat flour ( semola rimacinata) 
150 grams sugar 
130 grams EVO
15 grams ammoniaca* ( used in italy like baking powder to make cookies crisp and rise some)
10cc milk ( or however much you need to make the dough stick together)
the zest of one lemon, grated
1 tsp vanilla

Mix the flour and sugar together with the ammoniaca and zest.
(* bicorbonata di ammonio is the official name for ammoniaca, here is the link from Wikipedia) so you can substitute a more traditional mix of baking powder and baking soda.

Make a well and place the EVO and milk with the vanilla.

Work the flour slowly into the liquids.

Knead the dough until smooth.

You can extrude the cookies as in the foto, or roll out the dough and use cookie cutters.

I adore learning the old ways. I am now on the look-out for a meat-grinder with a cookie extruder attachment! Thanks Zia Enza and Gabriella for sharing.

I can do private culinary tours for small groups, let me know if your dream is also coming to Italy. 

My day classes are offered all year long, ( except when I am on the road) for one, two or three days or a custom week with touring as well as classes.

Stop by my site Divina Cucina for more information. 

Updates coming in January.

November 12, 2011

Sicilian Treasures-Salt Flats-Mothia-Trapani

There are places in Sicily i adore returning to. The salt flats are probably one of my favorites. We were lucky enough to get a picture perfect day as we left Menfi heading to the East Coast to leave. It is a magical place even when the salt is not out drying covered in the clay tiles, but it is so beautiful to see the salt crystals in such huge quantities. Hard to fathom the work that goes into making salt in the traditional manor.

Join me next year in Sicily, I have already got private tours booked in May and Sept.
I will also be booking in November again next year for the olive oil harvest as well. If you have a small group of friends we can arrange anytime of the year, if you would like to join an organized tour I will be posting dates in January.

I will also be arranging a special "chefs" tour for culinary professionals.
Food and wine celebrating life and culture.

I adore sharing my friends and my special places with you----

Sicily is like coming home.

November 10, 2011

Sicilian Secrets in the Kitchen

It is no secret that I ADORE Sicily. I am looking for a place in Trapani to perhaps split my time 50/50 with Tuscany. I want to write my  Secrets of My Sicilian Kitchen cookbook.

I have always believed in dreaming and making dreams come true.

Each time I come down with one of my tour groups, my friends share more and more of their secrets with me and I can then pass them on to my friends. A never ending learning process.

Yesterday we spent the day with Gabriella Becchina and her family at their family estate, and did a cooking class with her dad on his version of cuscus and then a fabulous cookie with her aunt.

Gianfranco showing us how to clean and prepare the fish for his cuscus.

learning to make extruded cookies with Zia Enza

they looked so delicate and were  as light as air

The cookies were made using olive oil instead of butter, which is a fabulous trick I have learned in Italy, butter is used more north of Florence but EVO is easily substituted for butter in any recipe.

Zagara blossoms and fruit
ancient wild olive tree on the Becchina Estate
collection at the Molini dei Ponte in Castelvetrano
I adore the passion of the people that I have met in maintaining their traditions and continuing with quality products and sharing it with us.

Filippo Drago- Molini del Ponte

November 9, 2011

New Harvest- Zafferano

Last year I was gifted saffron bulbs. I was thrilled with my success and this year split the bulbs, gifted some myself and then replanted this fall.

When I returned from Naples on Friday, my first blossoms were up and it had started to rain, so I ran out to gather the first blossoms.

I brought them into the house and separated the blossoms from the stamens and left the stamens to dry.

I can't wait as many of the bulbs have multiple blossoms.

I think I will make a Sicilian inspired pasta with the saffron this year.

Pasta con le sarde, fresh sardines cooked with white onions, currants and saffron in the cooking water with wild fennel greens.


Saffron panna cotta?

November 7, 2011

A Passion for Palermo - it's OFFAL

I always adore taking people to the Capo market in Palermo, which is still very alive.
Just outside the gate of the market is the " Man with the Basket" seen in many of the food video's of people that eat anything!

I also adore the guy- his basket of mystery meat--- tastes good!

Frittole vendor at Capo Market

You can get in on a roll, like Patty did-

or like me- just on a piece of paper!

Heading down to the Vucceria after we toured the Capo market- there is one of my favorite vendors of the Panino con Milza ( spleen).  It is slowly braised in lard and then served topped with caciocavallo cheese.

I adore how delicately he prepares the sandwich

The vibrant colors of the market always give me such pleasure--

I hope you all get down here to discover Palermo.

will be posting daily while here-- to keep you drooling!

November 5, 2011

What's Going On?

WOW- this month has been wild and crazy, so much so that I have not have time to myself to blog.

The weather has been incredible- creating views like this in Florence. It has been fun and fabulous.

I just got back from a week touring with a chef from NY tour and get inspired for his new place by touring Rome, Florence, Chianti and then down to Naples.

We had a fabulous demo on mozzarella making in Agerola with the Fusco family.

I came home yesterday and am leaving for my weeklong Sicily program tomorrow.  Can't wait.
I will be looking for a place to teach next year. Stay tuned.

I will catch up later!