December 31, 2011

2011--- good riddance

thanks to lard artist Riccardo Ricci, Macelleria Cecchini for the image.
I am so glad to see 2011 end.

For 2012 my new years resolution is - SIMPLIFY

Doing that I hope everything else falls into place.

Rather like spring cleaning, I am going through all my bookshelves and throwing away years and years of paper. First of course, trying to freecycle.

Then it will be on to cookbooks.

Then kitchen equipment.

Keep the best- dump the rest.

In Italy, it is traditional to throw old things out the window--- expecially in the south. Broken dishes, plates and even toilets! Watch out if walking around town.

Guns are fired off and tons of fireworks, often blowing up someone's hand.

I am feeling much more low key and am staying home with hubby.

I wish you all a healthy and happy new year----
not just new year's eve.... the WHOLE YEAR!

I am making a list for myself- places to go-- things to do.

Less clutter in my house and in my life.

Thanks for following me on the blog and in my classes.

I am adding a new program in Puglia in June and have space in my November program in Sicily.

I can also organize custom programs in Tuscany anytime of the year for one to six people and custom weeks in Sicily for two or more.

Puglia is for a minimum of 8 people.

I like to keep my programs small and very personal, sharing my favorite places in Italy.

I wish you all a trip to Italy in 2012, it stole my heart and will probably change your life!

Here is information on my programs in Italy. 

May your bowls always be filled!

Auguri from Judy and Andrea

December 26, 2011

The Gift of Time- Xmas 2011

It has been a tough year and I really didn't feel much in the xmas spirit. My husband and I did put up our xmas lights, the wreath on the door and our silly kinder creche set as decorations. But perhaps not having kids, it is not such a big deal. We give ourselves gifts during the year, mostly time spent together visiting new places. Memories.

Here is the results of my xmas lunch.

The best part was that I put into practice one of the recipes we learned in Sicily, rolling my own couscous. Yes, you can make your own, it was lighter than the boxed version and very special, all you really need is time! That precious gift that you can only give yourself.

Years ago, I bought this lovely Sicilian plate at an antique shop in Florence near the Ponte Vecchio. I had no idea what it was for until I started going to Trapani. The regional specialty is cuscus with fish sauce. Being so close to Tunisia, it is easy to see how they adopted the recipe as their own.

Paula Wolfert told me the hardest part is to find the fresh semola,  not something that has been sitting on the shelf for ages. I am  lucky as we have a large arab community now in Tuscany and I went and bought my semola from a Halal butcher.

The semola is made into cous cous by slowly adding water to the grains and working with your fingers, in a circular motion. A sort of a zen-like movement. Very soothing. I made the couscous the day before and started steaming it over a pot of vegetable broth. It must be stirred occasionally.

I started the lamb earlier in the week as it was on the bone and I wanted to remove the bones and the excess fat before serving. Taking my time. Xmas day I reheated the lamb with its pan juices and added more spices, dried prunes and apricots. I put the cuscus back on to steam  and made some hummus, topped with toasted pine nuts and chili infused oil.

The red onion- cilantro garnish was a nice fresh touch on the stew. Next time though I will leave out the pomegranate arils as I really don't enjoy eating the seeds. They are pretty though, looking like little jewels.

In Italy, the day after xmas is also a holiday, Santo Stefano. Next we have La Befana, which is the Epiphany, when Italian children get their stockings with gifts. In recent years the whole crazy xmas frenzy with gifts has hit Italy too. But I still prefer La Befana, in my village, the local firemen have the Befana "fly" down into the piazza from a building across the road! Quite acrobatical!

I am so happy to not have had the normal xmas food orgy although I am sugared out from tasting all the sweets I made to give to my vendors! Today is a simple brunch, some nice home fries for a late breakfast and then some simple tagliatelle with butter and 3 year old parmesan cheese for dinner!

That is the real Alfredo sauce. Just butter and cheese!

Will post that tomorrow for you as my gift!

My xmas gift to us-- a platter from Cassandra's shop in San Gimignano, I adore the pomegranate and her use of gold on the dish. Normally she only does paintings, but has a small selection of ceramics now in her shop.

December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays

It really takes very little to be happy, sometimes just a bowl of hot broth and some pasta.

Usually I make the Bollito Misto dinner for xmas, as it is simple to prepare and provides us with several meals.

There are also other dishes I make in winter for Andrea that take a long time to prepare, like cardoons.

The cardoons, which look like a white celery, but taste like artichokes, are hard to prepare in that it takes a lot of time. First you must remove the stringy part, cut into pieces and let sit in water with lemon so they don't brown. Then they are boiled. You can then flour and fry and then bake in either butter and cheese or with a tomato sauce and cheese. But my new recipe which I got at the local shop, is to mince them up and make into small "meatballs" bread fry and then cook in tomato sauce stovetop.

Luckily cardoons are in season in winter when I have more time to cook!

This year, Andrea asked me to make a lamb tajine. Ok, the truth is he watched Nigella's Christmas and that is what she made. So who am I do be outdone by Nigella? I am going to use a recipe I did before from Paula Wolfert and tweek it with the garnish from Nigella's recipe.

I am going one step further and even "rolling my own" couscous.

My first lesson, so to speak, was with the Goddess of all things Moroccan, Paula Wolfert, years ago in California. She was prepping a dinner party at Ramekins cooking school and in the back kitchen making the couscous while I was there teaching. I stayed on and watched her rolling the couscous. I love simple preparations which are almost zen-link in their repetition.

While on my Sicily tours, I have added lessons on making couscous. I have made cuscus, as it is written in Sicilian, with  Pino Maggiore one of the best chefs in Trapani, where fish cuscus, is the local specialty.

I am going to use my huge sicilian plate I bought years ago, which I found out is for rolling the couscous and put it to use today!

In dialect, it is called a mafaradda. 

I went down to Florence and did some shopping at a local arab butcher shop and picked up the semola to make the cous cous and also harissa and some tahini for hummus.  If I have time may also whip up some pita bread and go all out.

To me, the greatest gift is the gift of time. Time to spend cooking and sharing food. Taking time to eat together. Nothing you can really buy, but perhaps actually costs more to some people, instead of shopping.

I wish you the gift of TIME.

December 21, 2011

Divina Cucina on the Road- Benevento

This year I was invited to attend a wine festival south of Naples. I adore the wines of this region, mostly whites and knew little about the reds so was excited to join the group.

I adore travelling around any food and wine festival as you see the locals celebrating and each village has some special event. In Chianti we have festivals each weekend in Sept. So the chance to see another area of Italy celebrate and to taste all the best of their wines is a great excuse for travel.

One of the high points of the tour for me was to visit Benevento. I have always heard so much about it and adore the liquore Strega, which is from here too. It is made with 76 herbs and is fabulous used in dessert making. Benevento is also famous for it's torrone and witches!

The city is full of history and well worth the stop.

Benevento is located just east of naples and recently was named a Unesco site.  The church of Santa Sofia was incredible, built around 730 a.d. But I was most impressed by the museum with an  amazing collection of statues found on site.

We stayed in a old pasta factory turned into an exquisite UNA hotel with one of southern Italy's most famous young chefs running the kitchen, Angelo D' Amico. The rooms were some of the nicest I have been in in  all of Italy.

From our base in Benevento we were shown various wineries and wine makers in the area. We were at the local cooperative, La Guardinese while the grapes were being brought in to be crushed, each member bringing in his own grapes and they were controlled and then  chosen for one of the many lines of the production.

I adored their sparkling wines, which were a real surprise, especially the one made from Falaghina, which is one of my favorite still whites from the region.

We were greated by members that were bringing in their grapes for the crush and after our tour we had lunch with some of the COOP members which had been cooked by their wives, a fabulous experience.
Great food, great wine and new friends.

The wine festival itself was in Solopaca, famous for it's rich red wines. The parade is so fun, with each area in town creating a float decorated with both white and red wine grapes and the locals in costumes.

her entire cape is made of the red wine grapes

the costumes were incredible and the parade fun

This is just a small taste of where I was and what I saw-- I will follow up with more foto's and some recipes after the holidays. The Sannio region of Italy is so untouched by tourism that it is great to visit.

here is a link  for information for touring the Sannio area.

December 15, 2011

New Tricks- Farina Arsa

On my recent trip down to Puglia to meet with Antonello and Laura from Southern Visions Travel, to talk about my Guest chef week in June next year, the first thing I wanted to taste and or see, was farina arsa.

Burnt wheat flour is a product of the cucina povera in Puglia. Burn wheat kernals were gathered after the fields were burnt and then ground into flour. Laura had some and was nice enough to share her stash-- as they were leaving for a PR tour in the states.

A great first recipe was to try the orecchiette, a flour and water pasta traditional to Puglia. I think we did a great job, although I put too much sauce on the pasta! We made the traditional broccoli rabe , sauteed in garlic, olive oil and chili peppers. Perfect anytime!

The flavor and profume of the flour was incredible-- so toasty! It is used sparingly and blended with regular flour. We will learn to make our own orecchiette and other fabulous dishes during our cooking classes. Although the farina arsa is not from the Alberobello region where we will be based, I will be sure to have access to it for anyone that wants to bring some home!

I will be experimenting more to get ready for my week in Puglia!

I started going down in 1990  and am thrilled to finally be offering a culinary adventure down in one of my favorite places in Italy.

Antonello and I down by the sea.

I will be posting the dates and we will start taking reservations soon!

Puglia is the breadbasket of Italy, rich rich soil which gives incredible flavor to all the ingredients.
HUGE ancient olive trees, the red, red soil. Incredible fish, the facinating trulli, cone-roofed homes which will be our base for the week and the sea!

My calendar will be up in January for my programs. Sicily of course in May, September and November. Puglia in June and Tuscany the rest of the year!

December 10, 2011

Fall Favorites- Kale Bruschetta

Right now life is a little hectic. When I stop working, I have to catch up on work, if you know what I mean. End of the year paperwork, things I have let slip by.

And when that happens, cooking time in the kitchen  also gets cut down to quick recipes or really long slow ones that can take care of themselves.

One dish that we always love when the new oil comes out is having what Tuscans call Fettunta and in the rest of Italy is called Bruschetta ( pronouncesd brus-Ketta, not bru-Shetta).

Another one of the secrets of the Tuscan kitchen. Keep it simple.

Fettunta con Cavolo Nero
Kale Bruschetta

Loaf a country style bread
extra virgin olive oil

First cook the kale.

Cavolo Nero is Tuscany's kale.  ( I can find it in California too, called lacinto or dinosaur kale. The dark almost black leaves are quite popular now too as chips , baked in the oven.)
Young kale leaves can also be used in salads and it is one of the prime ingredients in Minestrone and Ribollita.

Remove the tough stem and wash the leaves.
Boil in a small amount of salted water until tender.

Toast slices of the bread until crispy.
Rub with raw garlic slice.

Place the toast on a platter or in a bowl.
Top with the kale and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

This is bruschetta or fettunta.

You can also serve it as a soup- placing the bread in a soup bowl, topping with the kale and then adding the "pot-likker" the cooking liquid which is full of vitamins.

Another treat is to top with Tuscan Beans.

These are my oven-roasted beans- find the recipe HERE.

If you use the bean broth, it is called Zuppa alla Frantoiana.

The Frantoio is where they crush the olives to make oil.

I live right next to Frantoio so can just walk over with an empty can while they are crushing and buy some, freshly made.

Another blessing!