February 26, 2012

Busy- Busy- Busy- Spring is Here!

The snow is gone. My pulled muscle or whatever it was is healed. The sun is shining and all is well in the world.

Just when you think you can't take winter anymore, spring sticks out it's little head and gives you a kick in the pants. It is amazing what sunshine and longer days can do for one's outlook on life.

As usual, Tuscany comes out of hibernation and everyone seems to be ready to get out and about again.

Most of us working in a business that focuses around tourism are stuck at our computers in winter, planning and setting up programs. Most of that needs to be done at least 6 months to a year ahead of time.

Finally all one's planning which is like planting seeds, seeing them sprout and grow is the best part.

Like our pea plants which survived the snow and are now growing, my tours are filling up and ready to grow too!

My Sicily tours in May and September are filled and I am doing another private tour in late fall for another group of friends.

My Puglia tour in June still has space. I am so excited to finally be taking people down to Puglia. We will be based in one of my favorite villages, Alberobello, and staying in restored Trulli, the typical dwellings with the cone-shaped roof. Antonello and Laura  of Southern Visions have put together a fun program where we visit producers and then cook with the products. Local, regional and traditional.

Hope you can come and join me.

I was invited to a fun private dinner at the Officina della Bistecca at Dario's in Panzano with Alessandro Bellini of Viola imports and some of his suppliers that are friend's of mine too! Andrea of Aceto Balsamico San Giacomo, Cristiano and his dad Luciano of Savini Truffles and Alberto who produces Giachi Extra Virgin Olive oil. Another friend came too, Gioni from Pruneti. It was a blast and I am so happy to know so many people that have a passion for what they do. My greatest pleasure is when I can introduce my students to these great products in class and on my longer programs actually take them to meet my friends.

It makes such a difference when you understand what goes into making a quality product and how it really changes the outcome of a recipe.

I drive a used car, I live in a tiny home, we only have one car. But we try to buy quality food.

I have adapted to the simple life here in Italy, following my husbands way of living, often less is more.
I basically came here at thirty years old with nothing. We have nice life and tons of time together as my husband is my sherpa, personal assistant, house husband and driver. Without him, I could not do what I do.

This year I am attending a couple of culinary events which will kick off spring, first heading to paris to the Cookbook fair and while there will hook-up with my good friend Kate Hill and meet Cathy, one of the women that started the fun Charcutapalooza event last year. We will be celebrating with the winner and my friend Jack from TrufflePig will be there as well as some other fun people I have never met!

Then off to New York for IACP, the annual culinary event I try to get to. So a fun week of catching up will old friends, meeting new friends and learning some new tricks!

I am taking of tomorrow to cater a party for friends in their lovely hotel in Val D'Aosta and will be helping them with their new project, a bistro in their hotel.

Meanwhile, the markets are getting greener and greener. Spring is my favorite time as the veggies start to overlap, winter greens and spring greens together at the same time.

Probably one of my favorite winter greens, happens to be a specialty in Puglia. Broccoli rape. Bitter greens with tiny bits of broccoli stems.

Broccoli Rape Pasta Sauce

Clean the plant, removing thick stems and then parboil in salted water.

I like to then chop the greens up into smaller pieces and use for a pasta sauce.

Slice some garlic (italians really hardly use much, i would do just one) and warm in the oil.
Add one or two anchovy filets ( I like the ones packed in oil, they should be soft, not like cardboard!)
They will melt in the hot oil.

Then add the greens and they will absorb all this fabulous intense flavor.

Traditionally served with the flour and water pasta, Orecchiette.

Boil the pasta in salted water, drain and add to the pan with the sauce and let cook together to flavor.

Maybe a nice glass of NegroAmaro from Puglia?

The same trick of parboiling the vegetables then tossing in the pan with garlic, olive oil and chili pepper will make anyone love vegetables! So you can use as a side dish or as a pasta sauce.

Practice and let me know!

February 16, 2012

Berlingaccio and surviving the snow

When I first came to Italy, it was in September of 1984. That winter was one of the coldest and snowiest winters, which caused the olive trees to freeze and we lost thousands of trees which then sprouted back up from the trunks.

This year may be worse than that winter of 1985.

We were blocked in the house for 10 days ( we don't have chains for our car) and lost our running water for 4 days. Not fun! But, we did have electricity and heat. The pantry was full and we survived.

We were hit lightly compared to those living up in Piemonte and those in Le Marche area and Abruzzo.
Counting our blessings.

The snow is just barely on the hills now, most of it melted and daytime temps are rising. It is still quite cold at night.

The month has been flying by and I missed going to the Carneval in Viareggio to see the floats.
But the one thing I haven't missed are the once a year sweets for carnevale.

This winter I am in the kitchen testing recipes for a friends new restaurant I am consulting for, so we bought both cenci and frittelle di riso. Here is my Russian grandmother's recipe for her "cenci" and my recipe for rice fritters. Both recipes make enough for family and friends, as this is party food!

Today is the beginning of the end of carnevale, called "berlingaccio". The last parades will be this weekend and then we have Martedi Grasso ( Mardi Gras) and Ash Wednesday  ( Mercoledi delle Cenere) when Lent starts.

I always think it is funny, Italians have a special cookie for Lent too, called Quaresimali. Quaresima means Lent.

Since we were out getting sweets, on our way home from Florence today we stopped at one of Florence's oldest pastry shops, Gualtieri, famous for his Iris Cake. The recipe is only made there and has been kept a secret for over 100 years.

Enjoy your week of Carnevale where ever you are- and whip up some sweets to celebrate.

February 7, 2012

Saba Contest

There nothing more exciting than being involved in a food blog and tasting a product.

I was just invited by my friend Rossella of Ma che ti sei mangiato?. Which translates to- "But what did you just eat?" and Andrea from Percorsi di Vino, wine blog.

Here is the announcement in Italian- 20 bloggers will receive bottles of saba to create new recipes.

We will be sent a bottle of SABA, which is grape juice, cooked slowly until it becomes a thick rich essence. Saba is what you need to make Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, but can be used as is.

Most people use saba to drizzle on  gelato or fried dough desserts after they are made. When I was just in Puglia, they also have a type of saba called vin cotto. Most often it is made from grape juice, but I have also had it from figs.

We will be trying the saba  offered by Mirco Mariotti  which his family winery makes and the Consorzio Gusto del Ferrara.

Doing my research, traditionally it is served with Sabadone, a dessert raviolo made for St Paul's patron saint day,  January 25th in Massalombarda. Looks like I missed the festival this year, but the recipe sounds fun! The raviolo has a chestnut filling with other ingredients.

Looking forward to seeing what we can create with the Saba. I will try the ravioli's for sure and then some recipes of my own. In Puglia they served their Vin Cotto with a fried pastry called Cartellate.

Follow the blog to see what I create with my saba!

any ideas?

February 5, 2012

World Nutella Day - Simple Italian Classic

Today is World Nutella Day---- started by Sara and Michelle in 2007. It has gone wild!

I am not a huge Nutella fan. It is too sweet. It is not on my normal shopping list of things to buy, except when they come in the cute glasses that are meant to be reused! Those I adore.

love the sponge bob ones!

My husband, as most Italians, grew up with this hazelnut-chocolate combination, often made into chocolates called Gianduia. It is especially famous up in the area of Piemonte, where the hazelnuts come from.

In keeping with my keep it simple theme for this year, one of the basic Italian joys in simple eating is bread and chocolate. A simple piece broken off a chocolate bar eaten with a piece of bread.

In Tuscany, our rustic unsalted bread is perfect for this. That I let my husband have!

For me, I made it a little more grown-up, adding a sprinkling of sea salt.

Taking it even one step farther, a local chocolate company treated me to a real special grown-up version a year or so ago.

They took a slice of a cremino, which is a firm gianduia, the hazelnut and chocolate combination which inspired Nutella, and placed slices on the bread and put it under the broiler.
Before serving, they drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled it with salt.
WOW, it knocked my socks off!!!

I had my first Nutella- salt epiphany from a young boy at his grandmother's, Agnese, bread bakery. Agnese is famous for her bread made with a "mother" that is over 100 years old. I was first taken to this bakery by Faith Willinger on one of her fabulous food days. The bread has an incredible depth of flavor and lasts a week, so is sold as a huge loaf or she also makes the traditional schiacchiata, the Tuscan foccaccia, finished off by brushing the top with extra virgin olive oil and salt.

Hot from the oven, he ran into the house, tore the bread open an slathered it with Nutella.
Heaven, if you have the chance. try it on hot salty focaccia.

As I was leaving the kitchen, I noticed my husband had gone shopping ( we have been snow-bound for a week) and had bought bananas.  My favorite snack growing up was peanut butter and bananas.  Inspiration hit and as a last simple treat, I sliced some bananas on top of the Nutella.

I stopped here. But I am dreaming. I do have a secret stash of peanut butter. What about slathering the bread with peanut butter, then bananas, and then heat up the Nutella and drizzle on top?

Buon World Nutella Day!

Last year I did Frittelle di Riso and a homemade nutella
and the year before  Fried Nutella Ravioli

February 1, 2012

Snow days! Schools Closed!

They say that we are getting the coldest winter spell in 30 years.

Time to make soups!

my little backyard

We are snowed in so will have to make do with what is in the house. Andrea was smart enough to pick all the lettuce from the garden before the snowfall, so that is safe.

We will have to search out leftovers in the freezer, hoping that the electricity doesn't go out. Was flasing on and off this morning. If it goes off we are also without heat.

I am feeling better, but still haven't tried to do the stairs yet to head into the kitchen.

But as soon as I do----


it is time to make my mother-in-law's Minestrone!

Join me!!!  It is a sort of clean the fridge soup!

Each mamma and each region have their own minestrone, some with pumpkin, various greens, with or without beans.

I adore them all.