August 31, 2012

Tomatoes "Tonnati"

The horrible heat wave and drought we have been having has finally been broken but a couple of days of rain. Not really enough, but enough to drop the temps down to something more livable. As we feel summer slipping away, I am enjoying the last tomatoes.

These huge tomatoes are more like a steak, as you can see by the size. One of them is enough my my husband and I to share as a main course.

A favorite sauce of mine is Salsa Tonnata, a tuna sauce, used to top paper-thin slices of veal, served in summer as a cold main course.

Last night I made, Tomatoes Tonnata.

Most Italian pantries have at least a can or jar of tuna for emergencies. Tuna can be added to a nice spicy tomato sauce for pasta, thrown into a salad to create a one course meal or pureed into salsa tonnata.

When I went into my pantry,  I didn't have tuna, but I had a jar of mackerel sgombro in Italian

I sliced the tomatoes into large steak-size pieces and topped with a healthy spoonful of my salsa sgombrata!

When I go out to grab a small snack at a bar, usually I will get a tuna sandwhich on foccaccia bread with mayonaise and tomatoes. This is the same flavor combination with no bread.

Commercial tonnata sauce is canned tuna drained and mixed with capers and mayonaise.

This recipe makes a "tuna" mayonaise.

Salsa Tonnata or "Sgombrata"

1 can tuna or mackerel ( about 100 grams or 3 ounces)
1 tbs capers
1 or 2 anchovy filets
lemon juice ( to taste)
1 cup light oil 

In a small food processor, puree the fish with the capers, anchovy filets and lemon juice.
Add 2 Tbs of oil. Puree again.

Slowly add more oil, like you do for making a mayonaise, until it is a smooth sauce.

I love it as is just on bread or stuffed into small cherry tomatoes.

1 cup light oil

August 26, 2012

Edible Tuscany- Certaldo

I am truly blessed.

I live on a tiny hill in the middle of an olive orchard ( ok next to a creepy neighbor building the largest pizza oven of live which is becoming my new "view) in the heart of Tuscany.

I don't live in a huge house, but rather 1/3 of a old family home divided. I have the middle section, just a small one bedroom with a tiny tiny kitchen and a small yard with a little vegetable garden... and a patio. Simple life.

My village is incredible. The old hill town is one of the best to visit in Tuscany and is without a lot of shops. It is a photographer's dream. The entire town is made of the traditional red brick.

Certaldo was home to Boccaccio, the author of the Decameron. They hold several fun festivals during the year, but the village itself is worth the visit.

Yesterday I friend came up and we had just a few short hours for a visit, so i suggested a small fairly new trattoria in town.

A Casa Tua, means at your house. It is a small converted apartment on the main road in the old town.
It is owned by a young couple from Naples, but they serve Tuscan food but with a couple of their own touches.

It is located in an old apartment and has a fun collection of different tables and chairs, like at Grandma's house.

The food is simple.

We had a summer panzanella, farro salad and their house pasta, with garlic, olive oil, chili and tomatoes with crispy bacon added on top. It was served in the pan it was cooked in-- very cute and very good.

We started the meal off with their signature coccoli, fried dough, but I must say, they were the lightest I have ever had, I think she is using her secret Naples recipe for these!!

We shared a dish of their fried specialties and fried chicken. There were fried vegetables, but also some fried specialties from Naples, potato croquettes, a rice ball, fried mozzarella as well as some other surprises.

This was a small bite-size Suppli, the naples version of an arancina, the fried risotto balls.

I of course had to have dessert.

Her Tiramisu was lovely-- totally different from the classic and adored the presentation.

A Casa Tua
on the main street in Certaldo Alto

The walls are all signed by happy clients.

tell them Diva sent you!!!

August 20, 2012

Simple Pleasures- Fresh Hazelnuts

A few summers back I saw my first hazelnuts growing on trees just outside of Gragnano, near Naples.
This year I was blessed with finding a tree on my friends property up in the hills outside of Florence.

the nuts on the tree, the grow in clusters of three

The above shot was from a couple of weeks ago when the nuts were still too green to pick.

the nuts have more color now and were ready
My husband braved the heat and harvested the hazelnuts for me and then armed with a rock and a piece of granite i amused myself in the afternoon shelling them.

I first removed the leafy green part, which was easier when the nuts where a little greener. Lightly touching them, they just popped out. The older darker ones, need to be nudged more.

simple tools

Took me awhile to get the pressure right on breaking open the nuts without shattering them.

Today I oven-roasted them.

Their profumo while cooling was irresistable and needless to say, my husband came and ate them all!!!
I had not finished rubbing off the brown paperlike husk, but it didn't seem to bother him.

So, sorry- no recipe for the apple hazelnut cake i was going to make inspired by my foraging at my friends.

Will have to make a simple apple cake and post that this week.

It is a Tuscan classic and the apples I picked at my friends should be fabulous.

I have enough apples to make several recipes. I am also craving a nice bowl of cold applesauce!

Will use some also in my new juicer I am getting. 

Spent the summer getting rid of my gout symptoms by drinking tons of water daily and taking pills.

Now want to shake up my life and am going to do a green juice cleansing diet thing.

Everyone seems to say that they get rid of so many symptoms, asma, allergies, aches and pains that it can't hurt!

I can't wait for this summer to be over. Horrid heat wave and drought.

Fall is my favorite season and I have so many great tours planned.

I will be down in Sicily for two weeks then back in Tuscany for a weeklong program

In October I have another weeklong program followed by my Slow Food Kansas City down to Campagna, Naples, Gragnano and Sorrento.

I have time to wash my clothes and then off to the Ecole Chocolate program we do yearly, this year in Lecco and Torino.

Then I will need a vacation. I am thinking to finally get to Istanbul and check out my roots.

August 15, 2012

Ferragosto- Vacation Time

All of Italy used to shut down for August.
The first signs of vacation are casts appearing on arms and legs. 
Shops start to close.
Things start to break or you get sick.
Trying to get something done in summer is almost impossible, but little by little things change.
Fewer and fewer people can afford to leave for a whole month. But almost everyone celebrates August 15-  Ferragosto. 

As most holidays, there is also a religious connection, it is the celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Almost all religious holidays can be traced back to Roman pagan celebrations.
Emperor Augustus declared all of August to be a celebration.

Things haven't changed much.

August, although hot, is a fabulous month for festivals. 
August 10th was the "Night of San Lorenzo"refered to as the night of the falling stars.

In Italy all festivals can be associated with food. In Florence, pasta with ragu and watermelon are served in the main piazza at the San Lorenzo church.

Ragu is a very personal recipe, each family has their own version and each region of Italy varies in their  recipes. Some recipes are large pieces of meat stewed for hours in a tomato sauce, the Tuscan version i learned is almost all meat and not a lot of sauce.

Today we are relaxing at home and cooking and breaking with tradition.
No trips to the beach. No food festivals.

Just relaxing at home and cooking with what is in the house.

Today I decided to try one of the new Gragnano pasta's i was gifted on my tour to the factories.

One of the most unusual shapes was a huge pasta shell called a Caccavella, by La Fabbrica della Pasta di Gragnano.

This over-sized shell was fun to use for presentation. They are parboiled for 16 minutes then stuffed and baked in the oven.

I used some already cooked zucchini with garlic and mint and stirred in a jar of a tomato sauce with wild fennel greens I bought at Tenuta Pignatelli at cooking school with Gabriella Becchina.
Topped with a thin slice of smoked provolone.

I adore  cleaning out the fridge! It is my favorite way to be creative!

Enjoy your holidays and relax in the kitchen and have fun!

Sometimes you will surprise yourself and your family.

Today  would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday. She inspired so many people.
When I was working at the Stanford Court Hotel in San Francisco, she would come in often when she was teaching in the area. She was charming.

Later when I moved to Italy, and was teaching cooking myself, I had many chances to meet her at our culinary conferences. She was down to earth and fun!

I love this homage of her on PBS.

Keep the spirit of joy in the kitchen.

Embrace your inner Julia or Marcella---

August 8, 2012

Celebrating- Tanti auguri a Me!

Thanks to everyone that participated in my blog party! 
I have 5,000 Fb friends and see that 1300 of you get my blog updates as email!


The winner of the wonderful gift box from Gustiamo, filled with some of Italy's BEST FOOD PRODUCTS in Sue Scott.

The other winners are: Jan, Amber,Silvia,Karen Epstein Rosen, Deb Roundtree,Deb Jacobs,Jerry d Q,Devera,Jess@ lost button studio and Tony Crocetti Kellan.
(i need contact info for Jan,Amber and Jess)
Do stop by their site and check out all the fabulous ingredients that are available shipped from NY!

As you know, I am a maniac about ingredients. My mantra in the kitchen, I got from my mother-in-law, Tina. 

"Spend more time shopping and less time cooking"

This is an example of what I bought yesterday at the Wednesday market in Certaldo.

When you have fresh seasonal ingredients, little is needed to make them taste fabulous.

I will be posting to what I did with all these goodness.

But let me tell you, NOTHING  is as fabulous as a tomato that has never been in the refrigerator.

We started last night with sliced Cuore di Bue tomatoes, which would be a beefsteak???
They do taste like steak!

To me the basil was a distraction. All I needed was the tomato and the water buffalo mozzarella with Tuscan extra virgin olive oil and Sicilian sea salt.

Simple and good.

As for the rest of the goodies, I went to three different stands.

My local farmer, Francesca, I bought the cantaloupe,peppers, mixed greens salad tomatoes and plum tomatoes the peaches, nectarines and the zucchini with blossoms. Although the blossoms are not fresh enough to stuff, i can chop them up with the zucchini and saute with some of the wild mint in the garden now called nepitella. Andrea will probably eat all the peaches and nectarines, but if some are left, I may bake  a little crumble. With the peppers, I am going to roast them, then stuff with a seasoned bread "meatball" and wrap in the roasted peppers. They are then topped with a slice of mozzarella and baked in the oven. This is a recipe I had in Naples at  Mimi' alla Ferrovia

Then I went down to the stand with the ingredients from Naples. There is quite a large community of Napolitani living up here and it is great as we never tend to get other regions ingredients.

I bought the flavorful Pane Cafone, which is a sourdough bread, quite reminiscent of San Francisco Sourdough. I bet it was bakers from Naples that brought it over.

Of course Mozzarella di Bufalo, the water buffalo mozzarella from Naples is the BEST. It is meant to be eaten the day it is made or within just a few days. A trick I learned here was to warm it for a minute or so in hot water, if it is an "old" mozzarella. When I buy it, I eat it right away. Again, cold kills flavor so I prefer to enjoy it right when I buy it! Here you can get many versions of mozzarella, the classic balls or braids, the tiny ciliegine- cherries, but when I was actually down in the Campagna region, where the mozzarella comes from, they also have both a brined and un-brined versions.

He also had some of Andrea's favorites, a salt-cured, oven-roasted black olive. Quite intense. We really just munch on these, perhaps with cheese. A few go a long way. The lovely gift of ricotta was also from his stand.I shop there often as he is also at the Friday market in Colle Val D'Elsa where I teach.

The real exciting ingredient for me were the special Piennolo tomatoes from Naples.
Usually they are left on the plant and hung to dry for winter.


His recipe was to simply slice the tomatoes in half and saute in garlic and olive oil.
Cook the spaghetti- now here is where the food fight started-- WHAT SIZE SPAGHETTI.

That is so Italian. Each person has their rules. Number 6  spaghetti was the choice of one of the vendors, the other number 3 spaghetti. Each said their choice was the correct one.

my naples boys! Guaglio'
Then we went to another local farmer, he actually has his farm at the end of our road, but we have never gone directly to the farm. His sister has a shop in town we can stop by too.

He has a Sicilian wife, and so grows the Sicilian squash Cucuzza.It is so long that he broke it to put in in the bag for me. It must be peeled first then he suggested stewing it with other vegetables or even just with some tomatoes. I was too late to get the young tender leaves which are also edible, tenerumi.

In honor of my friend Jasper, from Kansas city, I will make some Cucuzza jelly, using the pectin-free trick I learned in Sicily.

He also had the Arturo tomato, a firm green and dark green tomato. I think it is just for salads.

My orgy of tomatoes, I think Saturday some of these tomatoes will be in my Panzanella Salad.

I will take fotos as I cook my way through this mountain of food and share the recipes.

Thanks again so much for following my blog. I adore comments as it make me feel like I am not talking to the wind!