January 30, 2012


It has been a tough week, when I came back from Rome-- I was basically hobbling along. I had pulled a muscle or tendon and bedrest was required. It is so boring.

So this week no cooking, no fotos. NOTHING.

Thought I would just post a lovely painting from the hotel where we stay in Sicily during my tours there.

I could use a third leg about now.

The light outside my window has been lovely and we are expecting snow this week. Hoping it won't kill the pea shoots which have already started to spring up. Andrea has planted a whole bed of just peas.

As I lay in bed, playing around on the computer, I have fallen in love with Pinterest. If you look I have put a link to my boards on the top right of the site.

Hope to be back in my kitchen soon!

January 23, 2012

Passion for Pizza- BONCI

i couldn't help myself--- when I saw there was another session with Gabrielle Bonci in  Rome for pizza workshop- I had to go again!

Larger than life-- with a heart as big as a mountain and a passion for his dough like no other.

He talks so fast and is so full of great ideas that really one needs to take the class twice to have it all soak in. This session some friends  came with me  and we had our own little corner.

kim, andrea, me and terry

The reason we came to class was to learn the secrets of the perfect pizza dough-- for the roman style pizza al taglio from the master himself. With only three ingredients, they must all be of the highest quality. Gabriele told us of the  "trinity" flour, water and yeast. But truly the secret ingredient is TIME.

Time to let the dough develop. 

I usually hate pizza as it sits in my stomach for days after. That is the result of people rushing dough.

my dough after 12 hour rising

We used flour from Mulino Marino, Bonci's favorite, but where ever you are he suggested a stone ground organic flour for the best results.

inspired pizza toppings- so untraditional

With 14 students in the class, we made a ton of dough which then turned into a ton of pizza's, plus Gabriele had already also prepared a lot of dough to demonstrate different preparations with the dough, we even baked a whole chicken, a boneless rolled stuffed rabbit and whole artichokes.



whole artichokes roasted in dough

Between classes we did a morning market tour and lunch with Elizabeth  Minchilli author of the great food APPS EAT ROME and EAT FLORENCE. We had  a great day!

Our pizza crusts were like palettes for an artistic creation! Not only lovely to look at but made with fabulous seasonal ingredients- how can you go wrong!

Next, back to practicing my dough and will write-up my home experiments.

here is a link from one of the other classes I took with Bonci and another link.

My friend elizabeth did a video too from the first class we took together, which has the recipe if you want to try this at home.

January 19, 2012

Diva's Dirty Little Secret- Gnocchi in 10 minutes

I am not a kitchen Nazi. I also use short-cuts when I can or teach people how to make life easier and simpler. One of my favorite tricks in the kitchen I learned living here is to use instant mashed potatoes for gnocchi.

I had bought some incredibly tender potato gnocchi in the grocery store and reading the label to see what the ingredient list was, noted they used mashed potato flakes. So simple.

Italian mashed potato flakes are really fabulous and I use them a lot for a quick side dish, so I thought, why not try.

The secret is to only use the water as the liquid to basically rehydrate the flakes into a mashed potato and not add the milk, which then makes "mashed potatoes". OK?

It would take an hour to boil a WHOLE potato in the skin in salted water for the traditional recipe.

Most recipes I have seen also add an egg. I don't use an egg.

I think one of the reasons most people make heavy gnocchi is they end up adding too much flour.

Right now I am on my way down to Rome to take a pizza class with Gabrielle Bonci of Pizzarium like I did last January. So will just give you a basic idea to play with on how to make my gnocchi, which basically is how people give you recipes here, spoken with no real measurements.

Divina Cucina Gnocchi

Here the mashed potato flakes come in a box in packages. I use two packages for about 4-6 people as a first course.

Each package says to use 300ml of water. I salt the water and bring to a boil and then stir in the flakes. Once i have the rehydrated potato mixture I put in on the work space to cool.

This lets extra steam out and cools it down.

I start with about a cup of Italian 00 flour, which is like a pastry flour in America, delicate and low gluten. I knead the flour into the potato until it is not sticky.

You may need more flour, sometimes I just need to flour the tabletop I am working on.
( yes you can use a bowl)

Meanwhile bring a pot of water to boil to cook the gnocchi, add salt.

Roll out a test rope of the gnocchi mixture, and cut into small pieces and if you like roll on the back of a fork to create ridges, which let the sauce stick to the gnocchi better and at the same time you are creating a little belly button on the other side, which makes it thinner and cook faster.

Drop some test gnocchi into the water ( turn it down from a hard boil).

The gnocchi will float to the top when they are done.

Take them out of the water with a strainer, draining off excess water. I lightly press to see if they are firm enough and not slimy. If they are perfect, then  I roll out the other gnocchi and start cooking.

I like to have my sauce already made and in a skillet, where the gnocchi can stay hot.

As you layer, you can also sprinkle with some parmesan cheese and lightly stir to cover with sauce.

I usually do a simple garlic and chili infused tomato sauce that cooks in the time it takes to boil the water for the gnocchi.

A great recipe to teach kids and was perfect for this family class!

Rolling your own is a blast.

If the dough is too wet, add a little more flour.
Don't form all the gnocchi until you have poached a test gnocchi.

Keep the sauce simple.

Brown butter and parmesan

The basket you see in the foto is from Calabria and is for putting ridges on gnocchi- then I flipped it over to use to take the gnocchi to the pot to cook.


They cook quickly and you can weight them down so they don't rise up to the top and then they will overcook and get water-logged.

Cook in small batches.

Let me know how your's turn out!


January 11, 2012

A for Eggplant? Aubergine!

Recently on an expat forum, someone threw out that it would be fun to get ideas on something different to cook, asking friends for recipes.

The Gastro-Casa Throw down in on----  Something starting with an A--- I said almonds..... but aubergine came out. We are almost all American so I am not sure who really calls eggplant aubergine in America or Americans living in Italy, but I am game.

I adore eggplants in anyway I can get them, but right now I am craving strange flavors and went for an easy Baba Ganoosh recipe.

As is in my style, I made it easy.

I don't salt or do anything to my eggplant, I didn't slow roast it and then let it sit in a bag.

I simply cut it, skin and all, into small cubes and sauteed in olive oil with garlic and salt.

When soft, I let it cool and pureed with tahini, lemon, olive oil and some water.

My husband who hates eggplant adored it, so much I made it two times in one week.

Simple Baba Ganoush

1 eggplant, cut into small cubes
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
salt (to taste)
2 tbs Tahini sauce
juice of a lemon ( to taste)
water to thin

Saute the eggplant cubes and garlic in olive oil, I like to use a lot as eggplant soaks up quite a bit.
Add salt,this will bring some of the water out of the eggplant and also add flavor.
Stir to cook evenly.

Let cool.

Puree with the tahini, lemon juice, more olive oil.
Add a little water to create a smooth sauce.

For a little kick I also add chili into the mix but you can also serve on the side or sprinkle on top.
I think it tastes better then next day when the flavors have blended.

Pretending I was having an "arab" meal, I bought pita and made a "Carrot" falafel, using a recipe from Abruzzo.

200 grams carrots, grated
200 grams breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan
4 eggs
salt to taste

mix everything together and make "Falafel" and pan fry until golden on both sides.

To serve my bab ganoush, I toasted some pinenuts and added warmed extra virgin olive oil and some  ground chipolte pepper I have in my pantry.

Here are some more Italian eggplant recipes I have online:

Grilled Eggplant
Naples Chocolate Eggplant dessert
Sicilian Caponata
Eggplant Timballo - foto


January 9, 2012

Simply Divina- Fish

I am spending the winter finishing my Food and Wine in Chianti APP for Sutro Media, getting it ready for those coming to Tuscany this year. I know, it sounds tough, eating and drinking as work.
But really, can you immagine eating out Italian style more than once a day?

So, it takes quite a long time to be able to put together a large enough list for an APP. But I am doing this do share my love for those with a passion for food.

father and son, sharing their passion

Yesterday we had lunch at a local favorite, the Trattoria del Pesce, in the tiny town of Bargino.

Actually I wouldn't call Bargino a town, you may miss it if you blink. What looks like a tiny truckstop trattoria with a small hotel above and a tiny parking lot, is one of Chianti's most famous restaurants for fish.

Most people associate the word trattoria with a sort of a diner experience instead of finer dining.
Learn to follow the locals!

the "plateau" of raw fish

Although Florence is not that far from the sea, a little over an hour with no traffic, eating seafood in town can be a very expensive meal.

Most Florentines I know, flock to Bargino to eat fish.

After the holidays, we are all going a little lighter, so we opted for the raw fish appetizer, which can be a meal on its own.

We then ordered a whole fish ro share. One of my favorite preparations is called Acqua Pazza, in crazy water, a recipe from Naples.

The whole dish, head and all, are cooked in the oven, then the fish is boned for you table-side and served to share.-

Pesce in Acqua Pazza

A whole fish, cleaned
oregano, rosemary
Extra virgin olive oil
white wine
cherry tomatoes

Clean a whole small fish (trout is good) and place some fresh oregano, rosemary, and a peeled garlic clove in the belly. 

Lightly sauté on both sides in a skillet and splash with white wine. 

Add crushed cherry tomatoes 

Let cook for another couple of minutes and then place in a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 minutes. Here is a guide to cooking times for fish.

Serve with all its cooking liquids. 

If you use a large fish, follow cooking times by weight.

I have also made this using large thick fish filets for those that don't want to look at a whole fish or worry about bones.

Often, cleaned mussels are also added to the fish before roasting.

Remove the fish from the roasting pan. Use the pan sauce on linguine as a first course and serve the fish filets as main course.



Here is my friend Mimmo's smaller fish version on my website. The day I went, he used tomato sauce instead of cherry tomatoes.

Trattoria del Pesce
Via Cassia,124
Bargino, Chianti

Located just off the highway, Florence -Siena

January 6, 2012

Buona Befana

In Italy, the holidays end with the Epiphany, represented by a "witch" called la Befana.

My husband remembers when he was growing up in Florence the joy of waking up and finding your "calza", the stocking with candy and gifts. Christmas in his family was not gift giving time, there was something. Perhaps a new pair of shoes or a jacket, but the gifts normally associated with Christmas were given January 6th.

I wrote about it before on the blog here

In my village there was no festival this year, no candy trucks and no witches anywhere to be seen. Not sure what happened, perhaps the economy.

We played it cool at home and ended the holiday season with a fabulous salad fresh from our own garden and combined one of my favorite winter salad combinations, fennel and orange salad with red onions. A little something I learned in Sicily.

I adore the colors and the flavors.

Normally we thinly slice the fennel and then top with orange slices. Sometimes I use green onions to garnish, but where I live, in Certaldo, we are famous for our sweet red onions.

I topped our greens with the fennel and red onions and then use clementines I had, another winter addiction.

Lightly season with salt and dress with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar.
Here is another version from Ortygia, at Trattoria Mariano- his insalata di arancia con l'acqua pazza.

Our last trip in Sicily this was the version we made with Chef Angelo at the Planeta Estate in Menfi.

this version had crenshaw melon, cherry tomatoes and oregano

A clean start to a new year.

Looking forward to 2012 and sharing new recipes and my kitchen secrets with you.

January 2, 2012

My Alfredo Recipe

I have lived in Italy since October 1984.

I am not from an Italian family and have no recipes passed down from anyone, what I have learned, I have learned here in Italy.

What I did come with was a bunch of misinformation on what Italian food was.

my alfredo
One of the famous Italian dishes all over America is Fettuccine Alfredo. Italian recipes do not exist, regional recipes exist and even those change from house to house and restaurant to restaurant.

I have NEVER had Fettucini Alfredo in Italy, the only place it really exists is in the restaurant that created it, Alfredo's in Rome.

Check out the video here--- and discover the secret- keep it simple. Butter and parmesan cheese.

I once ordered Fettucine Alfredo's in a restaurant in Florence, Alfredo's and what I got was the house specialty with some strange sauce with vegetables and tomatoes, certainly NOT what I was expecting.

I am heading down to Rome later this month to take another class with Gabriele Bonci. Now that he was just on Bourdains show, more and more people know who he is and will stop by Alfredo's and the original dish!

The  most important ingredient is butter. The best creamiest richest butter you can buy.

this is a simple but good butter, unsalted, I get at the grocery store here.

Use a lot of butter, at least a couple of tablespoons per person. It is your sauce and there is no cream. Place in a skillet large enough to hold the pasta.

Place the skillet over the pot of hot water where you will cook your fresh pasta. It will melt but not cook.
( in the video you will see that they just heat their plate, add softened butter.)

Cook the pasta until done and instead of draining the pasta in a colander, remove with tongs, leaving some of the pasta water on the pasta.

Add to the pan with the melted butter.

Add grated parmesan cheese and stir.

The cheese will melt with the butter, off the heat, with the heat of the pasta and the cooking water.
The sauce emulsifies and becomes creamy without the addition of cream.

I like to serve an additional sprinkling of cheese in top to stir in before eating.

Rome is famous for pasta cacio e pepe, which is usually served with cooked dried pasta and uses the local grated pecorino ( sheep's milk) cheese and then a generous grating of black pepper.

I use the above technique for Alfredo and infuse the butter with fresh mint and lemon. It is a fabulous base to work with.

Simplify and enjoy!