June 20, 2012

Pie Party 2012

It is so hot in Italy, you could probably cook a pie outside?

But who am I not to participate?

I did not grow up in a normal home. I did not have "American" pie-making mom or grandmothers.

When I became a pastry chef, I learned to make all sorts of doughs, crusts etc, but I fell in AMORE with the Italian crust they use for their crostate.

The secret for the crostata is the same as for pizza. The flour here is low in gluten. I understand that now it is easy to find the 00 flour in the USA. 

I decided to go free form and create a crostata on my oven sheet pan and filled with one of m favorite seasonal combinations. 

Apricots and amaretti cookies!

The traditional recipe is for apricot halves to be filled with crushed amaretto cookies mixed with butter and cocoa powder and then baked.

I cut ripe apricots and placed on the dough, covered with crushed amaretto cookies and sprinkled with brown sugar.

I folded the edges of the pie over the fruit and baked until golden.

Waiting for it too cool down, both the pie and the temperature outside.

I have some cold yogurt gelato waiting to serve with this.

Thanks so Shauna for starting Pie Party---- and everyone else that has followed up.

My friend Elaine has done cherry pies for years for a month and then documents who she eats them with!


Italian Crostata Pie Crust
3-2-1  it is all about ratio, something between a butter cookie and a sugar cookie,instead of a classic pie crust.

300 grams 00 flour
200 grams unsalted butter
100 grams granulated sugar

1 whole egg or 1 whole egg and 1 yolk

Weigh everything and cut the butter into the flour and sugar mixture.
When it starts to look like grated parmesan cheese, stop.

Spread out the mixture and add egg.
Mix in quickly with your hands, if it is dry, add the other yolk.

Knead to blend into dough. 
This does not need to rest.

Pat into a round disk.

Lightly roll out to the desired shape.

Roll onto rolling pin to move to pan.

Traditional pie is simply filled with a jar of jam.

Bake until golden.

June 19, 2012

Who am I?

Sometimes it seems to be that our online life began with Facebook and no one knows about anything before.

As time flies, it is easy to forget.

I have been living in Italy since 1984 and teaching cooking since 1988. In my previous life, pre-Italy, I worked for 7 years in a 5 star hotel in San Francisco, The Stanford Court.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with Jim Dodge as a pastry chef for a couple of years before I left.

 When I did leave, I bought a one-day ticket to Europe. I wanted one more trip before I settled down in the wine country. I had decided to move north and open my own little pastry business in Sonoma.


My gypsy blood got the best of me.


My first trip to Europe was in 1973 they year after I graduated from high school. Actually it was during the first semester of my sophomore year. I was lucky enough to have fabulous professors that realized the value of travelling.

I spent 5 weeks, seeing all the art I had studied in books. I was a studio art major. I did ceramics, photography and soft sculpture.

I was never the same again.

But, it was part of my DNA

This foto is of my grandparents.

My grandfather was born in Soisson, south of Paris, France of a English mother and a Turkish father.
Not sure how, but he moved to American with his mother, after going to grammer school in Istanbul, and joined the American Army and became American and was sent to Shanghai.

My grandmother was born in Tblisi, Georgia, Russia, with her family they moved to Harbin and then to Shanghai, where they met and fell in love in Shanghai in the early 1900's.

My mom was raised in Shanghai until they left before the communists took over in the 40's.

They moved to America and that is part of my DNA.

I tried several times to live in Paris, searching for my "roots" sort of. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong place.

I took multiple long trips to Europe over the years, including a 9 month Mediterranean stay between Greece and Israel, pre peace treaty in the late 70's.

We are what we eat, but also where we have been.
My life was never the same after my first trip to Europe.

Now almost 30 years later, I wish I had a better memory or took more foto's.
Today everything is online.

I am heading home this summer and will be digging through the family albums, which I started to do when my mom died last June.

I hope I also find some of my foto's to help remember.

I was flipping through my Flkr albums online and need to also go through my external hard drive to look through the foto's from the past which are digital.

Then will see where I put all the real foto's and try to scan them in too.

Who knows what has been lost in computer crashes too?

Maybe I can piece it all together.

Visiting Istanbul is on my bucket list, hope to get there this year. I want to see if we have any information on my grandfather. I think he lost everything except a foto in flash flood in America.
But will be fun to see if I can put together some of the puzzle.

June 17, 2012

Keeping Kitchen- Capers

Have been busy just enjoying the season and finally switching to summer. We have had prosciutto and melon a couple of times for dinner already, but no local melons yet and I cannot tell you how much better something tastes without having been in the fridge.

We are lucky enough to be able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables in season at the local farmer's market twice a  week in our village. We do fill in with some grocery store fruits and vegetables, but then to just wait for something to be in season here.

I haven't had anything to preserve for my keeping kitchen, until now.

capers are an ancient plant used in Mediterranean cuisine


How many of you have ever seen capers growing?

Here in Tuscany, they can be seen growing out of rock walls, even in Florence.

I am lucky, just in the little piazza where we park our car, there are capers growing on the church wall.

Recently, I had heard about the use of caper leaves in cooking in Greece and in Turkey. This year I will have some of my own. I have prepared grape leaves myself years ago for dolmades and immagine it will be the same.

This week, for my keeping kitchen entry I am reaching into my mediterranean kitchen for one of the oldest seasonings.

Salt cured capers and their leaves, brined.

For years, salt has been used for preserving. Sea salt has no additives and is the best to use.

Today, I went and gathered both the capers and their leaves. Capers are the unopened buds of the Capparis Spinosa bush.They are best when picked small and then can be salt cured or brined.

As when I cure my own olives, the tiny caper berries are rinsed off, then packed in fine sea salt. As the salt draws the water out of the caper buds, I will drain it off and then keep the capers in a small amount of salt to use later.

People often rinse them off before adding  to the dish, I just add them and use them as the salt for the dish!

This year I am also trying something new. Preserved caper leaves.
I am going to use this process of the lacto-fermentation for the leaves.

Leaching the bitter flavor out of the leaves and then brining them. I will soak the leave in water and then make a salt water brine to "pickle" them. 

They are served with fish or in salads. 

June 14, 2012

Inspiration from My Garden

This morning as I looked out the bedroom window down onto the garden, I saw two large zucchini blossoms. When I went downstairs, saw one was a boy-- blossom only and there were two zucchini's.

Andrea adores eating things fresh from the garden and zucchini has so much more flavor when you harvest it tiny. The Florentine zucchini is thinner and has ridges going down the length of the zucchini and to me, has a rich almost meaty taste to it.

I decided to play with a recipe I had once before at a winery lunch, zucchini and saffron, then finishing it off like a carbonara with a raw egg yolk and parmesan cheese.

I simply sauteed one small red onion in extra virgin olive oil, added the sliced zucchini, a pinch of salt and a splash of water. I think added what was left of my saffron harvest from last year. The red threads in the middle of the pan. The saffron needs to be in hot liquid to give off its flavor.

As the zucchini stewed, I put the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water to cook, and little by little added some of the pasta water to the zucchini to stew. You can see the saffron threads getting softer and fatter and the broth picking up the color.

When the pasta was almost done, 8 minutes instead of the normal 10 minutes, I lifted it out of the cooking water and placed in the pan with the zucchini to finish cooking, "Risotto-style". That way the saffron flavor and color gets into the pasta itself.

Meanwhile, I separated an egg and saved just the yolk.
When the pasta was cooked, I turned off the heat under the pasta and added the egg to the pasta.
There was still some broth in the pan and I quickly broke the yolk and stirred.

I added some grated parmesan cheese at the same time.

bright yellow yolks from corn fed chickens- full of flavor

The yolk with the parmesan cheese blend with the broth to make what looks like a light cream sauce.

Tuscan husband approved!!

Serve with more parmesan on the side.

June 8, 2012


Since the earthquake in Emilia Romagna I have felt wordless. I am from San Francisco, but never been in a real earthquake where any damage was done.

The quake in Emilia Romagna was horrible and has not stopped. They had two large quakes at 5.0 which have left many dead and thousands homeless.

What is really bothering me, is that the people from the last quake in Aquila in 2009 are still homeless and the town has not been rebuilt.

just a peaceful foto near my home

The valley where the recent quakes took place is one of the richest in Italy. Called the Food Valley, we are in the heart of production of parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and farm lands for much of Italy's fruits and vegetables.

Watching the TV, we have seen that also important industries, such as bio-medical, have had their buildings destroyed.

I didn't feel the first quake at all, but while sitting at my computer last week, I felt a little dizzy and then realized it was the house moving. We were feeling the second large quake up north.

That week I had friends arriving in Parma to visit the Barilla pasta factory and after were coming down to Modena and Bologna and asked me to join them to act sort of as a guide. I accepted, but wondered if after all my time in San Francisco, would I be caught in a real quake in Italy?

Modena had not been damaged at all in the quake. The city was fine and everything was as normal. My friend said her children were having trouble sleeping and we were to go and eat at the famous Osteria Francescana, and I checked ahead to be sure they were open. He said yes, but that the staff were sleeping in the park.


So it was with joy that I joined my friends in supporting the locals as they went on with their work.
We had a fabulous lunch at the Hosteria Giusti in Modena. Hidden behind the salami shop is a tiny elegant restaurant. I had been ages ago and was pleased that Matteo Morandi recognized me after all these years. He has taken over running the dining room since his dad passes away 7 years ago.

The three of us ordered lots of half portions, what a great idea, and shared everything.

gnoccho fritto with salumi

eggplant with foie gras and lardo - basil with extra vecchio balsamico
perfect tortellini in broth

tagliatelle with asparagus
cotecchino with a lambrusco zabaione
marinated cold pork salad with onion jam
chocolate mousse

warm custard with candied zest
Always a memorable meal!

I won't wait so long to go back again..,

Enogastromia Giuseppe Giusti

Via Farini, 75
Reservations a MUST 

The people of Emilia Romagna are the backbone of Italy. 

There has been an online movement to help cut the losses and to sell the thousands of broken forms of parmesan cheese which were damaged during the quake. Farmers "sell" their cheese to these "cheese banks" and get their money as soon as they turn in the cheese and the bank ages it for them. Most cheeses are sold at 18 months for the youngest, then 24 months and 36 months. 

I am hoping that some huge corporation can jump in and buy a huge lot to sell in USA to help them.

I will follow up with any information on what we can do to help.