March 20, 2012

Edible Florence- La Cucina del Garga

Sometimes in Florence, we always go back to the same local trattoria where we know we have great food. Often, there is no real reason to risk a meal.

Then there is a reason to go just a little out of your way.

La Cucina del Garga is one of those reasons.

Alessandro and Corrado- we had a incredible private lunch- lucky ladies

Part of Florence's culinary history was located on via del moro, Trattoria Garga, run by artist Giuliano Gargani and his Canadian wife Sharon Oddson. Wildly painted walls and twisted Tuscan recipes were their trademark.

Giuliano and Sharon's son Alessandro left Florence and spent 7 years in New York, honing his skills and is now back in Florence with his wife to raise his children where he grew up.

holding the dough for his homemade foccaccia
Alessandro has created La Cucina del Garga, his own space, located just a few blocks up from the San Lorenzo Market in Florence.

I went when it first opened and had a fabulous lunch with clients and we went back just yesterday and was pleased to see that the restaurant is now decorated with art by Giuliano and his friends, bringing the warmth and craziness that was Garga, to Alessandro's new place.

a classic tuscan dish, with the "garga" twist. Eggs cooked on pappa al pomodoro

The Old Garga is closed now and Alessandro is carrying in on the family tradition with his own touch.

fabulous chicken liver crostini with orange zest

artichoke salad

If you are in Florence and want a break from the classic meals- please stop by Garga and you will be spoiled rotten and have a a fabulous meal to remember. If you like, have them plan a tasting menu like we had, with dishes to share.

La Cucina del Garga

via san zanobi,33/A

make reservations


March 15, 2012

Farm to Table--- creating a recipe with Saba

I was recently invited to participate in a blogger online event, using SABA, from the Azienda Mariotti and the Gusto Ferrara site, invited by my friend Rosella from Rome.

Saba is the cooked down wine must, which concentrates all the flavors into a sweet syrup.

I have a confession- I am a saba junkie! I have several bottles from various trips all around Italy where i have found regional versions. Vin cotto is another name and sometimes it is made with figs instead of grapes (Puglia).

Most often I have had saba drizzled in fried desserts, used like honey.

Saba, or cooked wine must, is also how traditional balsamic vinegar is made. The grape juice is cooked down slowly over night and then the saba is saved in wooden barrels for a period of at least 12 years, moving it yearly as it concentrates down. Needless to say, that explains why traditional balsamic vinegar is expensive.

But Saba is for everyone and everyday use.

For my recipe I decided to use it as part of my onion jam recipe to serve along side of cheese.

Since Roman times, sheep's milk cheese have been served with honey and pepper. Years ago, more than 10 I believe, I was working at the Macelleria Cecchini, and introduced Dario to Red Pepper Jelly. There was no Philidelfia cream cheese in Italy at the time, so I started serving it with pecorino cheese. A new trend was started in Italy. Now there are several companies producing jams and jellies to serve with a cheese course. My little claim to fame in Italy as the creator or Mostarda Mediterranea at the Macelleria!

In staying local, I visited a nearby farm to get some of their sheep's milk cheese.

happy sheep make fabulous cheese

I adore driving up the hill and seeing the lovely herd of sheep grazing out in the Tuscan countryside and then heading down the dirt road and knocking on grandma's door. She opens the shop for us and we stick up on the goodies, the fresher cheese for grilling, a aged one to have after the meal and some of their home made salami.

"roasting cheese"

some of the cheeses ready to sell

Back to my kitchen,using the local red onions, part of the slow food protected foods, and slowly stewed them using the mosto to caramelize the onions with brown sugar and one of my home-grown chili peppers.

Warm cheese and a savory but sweet onion jam  is a lovely light meal or a appetizer.

Marmellata di Cipolla con Saba
Onion jam with saba

3 large red onions, sliced thinly
4tbs brown sugar
1/4 cup Saba
1/4 cup vinegar
1 Chili pepper( or to taste)
Olive oil or butter

Saute the onions slowly in olive oil or butter until lightly translucent.
Add the chili pepper and saute.
Add the brown sugar, vinegar and saba and turn up the heat to allow the onions to caramelize, stirring constantly, adding water if the jam gets too thick.

The cheese is lightly grilled on a hot skillet, until a light crust forms. Using a spatual, carefully turn the cheese. Serve with the crispy crust and drizzle with some extra saba.

This is also great with meats.

Grazie mille!!!

March 10, 2012

Divina Cucina-- in Paris

One of the wonderful things about living in Italy is how easy it is to travel around Europe-- time and money permitting. Until recently, I had not had the opportunity to return to Paris.

My grandfather was born outside of Paris in a small village called Soisson. I studied French and always felt France was calling my name. I tried on five trips to see if i could feel like I could call it home with my first trip being in 1972. It just never felt like home.

But I adore it. Sometimes it is the simplest things that make me love it-French breakfast!

croissants, baquettes and french butter

I adore croissant, baquettes and french butter for breakfast! Actually bread and butter could sustain me here. Tuscan unsalted bread and unsalted butter just lie flat on my palate.

The one thing my husband Andrea asked me to bring back from my trip was a baquette-- I MUST also bring back butter.

The reason I came to Paris,was that several events fell into place that sent me a sign from above.
First I heard about the Paris Cookbook Fair and knew several friends would be attending and that would be a great excuse to come. The it coinsided with the celebration of the Charcutapalooza party for Peter, the winner, offered by Truffle Pig, Mrs Wheelbarrow, D'Artagnan and Kate Hill.
Some of my favorite bloggers and writers would be there too.

The stars lined up!

got my tattoo

Before I came to Paris I was contacted on FB by a new "Friend" who was having an exhibit at the fair on SWEDISH products-- yet another fabulous reason to go!

My new Swedish friends---- a fabulous company searching for the finest artisan products.

Sometimes the stars line up even better than we expected! Since I am on my search for the perfect swedish dishes and ingredients- this was a gift to meet!

No trip to Paris would be perfect without Pastry- I am not a huge fan of macarons, but do love a fabulous pastry. My friend Rosa Jackson was in town updating her paris dining  guide and took me to Jacque Genin. WOW- Perfect!

This was his version of the St. Honore cake- each little bigne was a different flavor, salt caramel, chocolate and vanilla-- even the whipped cream and the custard both had pure vanilla!

We had a lovely pot of tea and split the dessert, I bought caramels, gelatins and small box of chocolates for Andrea.

It was also a lovely time to see friends-

Kate Hill from Gascony, David Lebovitz- Paris and moi!!! 

It was a pleasure to spend some time with David and Kate , just doing nothing. A fun walk, a nice Vietnamese lunch and incredible Algherian Pastries for dessert with mint tea, another thing I really don't get in Tuscany. France is so much more multi- cultural!

Now back to reality-- and Tuscany!

Next up-- IACP in New York at the end of the month-- then returning back to Tuscany Easter Sunday and the season begins!

What are you having for Easter dinner? Me? airplane food!!!! not looking forward to that.

And to close-- this is the PERFECT Parisian foto!

while waiting in line at Pierre Herme chocolate shop

Au Revoir

March 6, 2012

Divina Cucina on the Road- Aosta

I felt a little like Heidi when I arrived at the lovely Hotel Villagio  in Aosta. My friends Giuliana and Marco had invited me up to cook for a small party for their friends, presenting the renovations which they did on the hotel.

The hotel has a few rooms in the hotel itself, but also has several lovely little chalets. The mountain you see in the backround was what we saw from our bedroom.

I had never been to Aosta and was amazed at the rocky hillsides, quite impressive.

Stefano was my personal shopper, helping me to get everything for the party. It would have been impossible to have managed on my own. One of my greatest fears when cooking somewhere else, is accessing the ingredients. Planning menu's without knowing what is actually available puts a special spin on  catering.

The small little party for 20 grew into a larger evening for 50, so i recalculated and was ready to rock!

the boys unloading the goodies

The menu:

Smoked salmon on swedish dark bread with homemade sour cream and dill
Smoked swordfish cones : french laundry style
Ricotta and thyme sformata
Smoked herring with green apple and orange, crostini

Cheese table with Tuscan cheeses from Corzano e Paterno
served with spiced nuts, dried apple chips, red onion jam and spicy sicilian tomato jam

Followed by:

Pappa al Pomodoro with EVO
Spinach soup with a quail egg garnish
Chicken Kebab with a Savory dipping sauce

Cream cheese mousse
Mini crumble
Cremino served melted with Evo and sea salt

To go:

My cookbook and a apple crumble cooked in a jar.

More on our visit to Aosta later--- can't wait to return!