November 27, 2012

Culinary Notes- Pasta con le sarde

Sometimes recipes just need to be made, just because.
I met a saffron producer online, who is also creating some facinating products from his farm in San Miniato.

Toni's site is Croco e Similace. Besides saffron, he grows rhubarb and thyme. He creates some very creative products which I can't wait to try. Strawberry and thyme jam, green apple, mint and cardomom jelly. Saffron butter, honey with truffles and saffron grappa, rhubarb and ginger jam; rhubarb, hazelnut and truffle pate. I am so curious to try them all!

But today Toni brought me a sample of his saffron. This year my plants didn't flower. He said it was due to the fact that it didn't become cold enough, so I have to wait for next year.

I was immediately inspired to make a favorite Sicilian dish, Pasta con le Sarde- pasta with sardines.

A simple look at how i made it:

Pasta con le Sarde

about the ingredients, usually white onions, saffron in threads, the pinenuts are traditionally sold with tiny black currants for cooking in Palermo, I used raisins. Wild fennel greens are hard to find in Tuscany so i used what i could get off my fennel plants from the store, but fennel fronds are sold separately in Sicily.

The saffron is first placed to soak in hot water.

Saute onions in olive oil and boil wild fennel greens in a separate pot.
Add the drained greens ( saving the water you cooked them in) to the onions.
Add raisins and pinenuts and the fresh boned sardines.
Let cook until the sardines start to break down.
( some people add anchovies)

Boil spaghetti, or bucatini in salted water ( add the left over water from cooking the fennel greens into the boiling water).

Drain the pasta a litte al dente into the pan and add the saffron and the water it soaked in.

Finish cooking the pasta by stirring. The pasta will absorb the saffron water and become a light yellow.

Serve with breadcrumbs instead of parmesan cheese.


Thanks to Toni from 

Azienda  Agricola  Croco e Smilace
Via Elsa, 1
Loc. Canneto
56028 San Miniato (PI)

A list of where you can find his products in Tuscany: CLICK HERE FOR THE LIST.

November 25, 2012

Sweden in Italy

I love seeing dreams come true.

My friends Guiliana and Marco wanted to open a Swedish Brasserie. They asked me to help them work on recipes and consult on the project. Things all fell into place. I found them a young fabulous Swedish chef, Mattias Sjöblom. He is supervising the menu and creates the new seasonal dishes.

Bjork - Swedish Brasserie opened in September.

This week we had a cooking demo with the chefs  for journalists and bloggers. It was my first visit to the restaurant since it was finished and opened. What a treat to see the dream become reality.

my friend Giuliana and the symbol for Bjork, which means Birch in Swedish

We learned how to prepare salmon in several ways. The traditional gravlax, a slow cooked salmon steak and we used the smoker to smoke some salmon and sausages, which were then cooked. Our tastings were served with Swedish acquavit and beer.

I loved this presentation for an appetizer, a swedish cheese served on toasted bread with Cloudberries and a pickled onion.

The meatballs were light and the sauce fabulous.

The house Gravlax with micro greens salad and mustard sauce

That evening we had a sort of smörgeasbord tasting of many of the typical swedish dishes on the menu.

left, chef Mattias ,Bjorks culinary consultant and on the right, Bjork's  chef Julien , doing a smoking lesson for us

leave room for dessert, rosehip soup, chocolate almond cake and wine cooked apple with meringue

If you are up around Aosta, Bjork is located in Quart at the Hotel Village. So you can stop by, have a fabulous dinner, drink and stay overnight, touring the area the next day.

Open for lunch and dinner.

Bjork - Swedish Brasserie
località Torrent de Maillod, 3
11020 Quart (Aosta)
+ 39 0165 774912 telefono

November 20, 2012

Goat cheese crostini

Sometimes inspiration comes while I am shopping.

We now have a local artisan "grocery" spot. Sort of like a pop-up.
Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; different organic artisans share a space to sell their products.
Yesterday i was overwhelmed with choices.

The Poggio di Camporbiano had incredible produce and GOAT CHEESE.

We bought kale, potatoes, carrots, red onions and a nice squash as well as a goat cheese.

We did my favorite roasted vegetables with tuscan herbs.

with the seeds from the "pumpkin-squash" we roasted them-- I can't resist!

and made soup with the squash.

We used the technique from Fabio Picchi's Yellow bell pepper soup on my site, using the pumpkin instead of the peppers.

Garnish with crushed amaretto coookies, grated parmesan cheese and 25 year old balsamic vinegar from Acetaia San Giacomo.

I wanted to make some crostoni for appetizers with the cheese, so i baked the goat cheese slices in bread, drizzled with oil.

When the cheese just started to turn golden, I topped with sliced truffles from Savini and then drizzled with honey!!! Made in heaven!

Savini makes a truffle honey, but I was out.

My mantra while shopping is always, "Spend more time shopping and less time cooking", which my mother-in-law instilled in me.

The best freshest ingredients will be loaded with flavor and not need a lot done to them to taste incredible.

And you are worth it!

November 15, 2012

Giving Thanks

I don't think we really need a special day to give thanks.
It should be daily.

Perhaps a sort of Polly-anna way of thinking, but I have always tried to focus on the good things around me . If I dwelled on the daily difficulties and nightmares in life, I would be constantly depressed.

I am thankful for a lot.

Somedays it may just be to eat potatoes! I LOVE potatoes and they are a true comfort food for me.

In honor of fall and Thanksgiving I offer up my oven roasted vegetables, Tuscan-style.

The Tuscans have a way to make vegetables your favorite part of the meal.

Tuscan Roast Vegetables

Potatoes, I prefer Yukon Golds, peeled and cubed
Carrots, peeled and sliced
Squash, Butternut or Kabosha, peeled and cubed
Garlic Cloves, I left in the skins, but actually better to peel first.
Olive oil
Sea Salt

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the vegetables and place on a roasting pan( it is important not to have high sides, so the excess liquid can evaporate.)

Toss with olive oil and rosemary and sage.
Sprinkle with salt. I use a coarse sea salt, called sale grosso in Italy. It is less salty. ( perhaps in USA use Kosher salt)

Using your hands, toss to mix everything up.

Roast for about 45 minutes.

The vegetables will give off a lot of water as steam, so be careful opening up the oven.

I stir about half way through the cooking time.

If you like, you can always make my Tuscan Herb mixture which is salt and herbs together and toss that on the potatoes.

Everyone will be thankful you cooked!!!

November 9, 2012

Simple Pleasures- New Oil

We live in the middle of olive groves and vineyards, but we don't make our own wine or olive oil. But we know where to get it FRESH.

at the mill waiting to be crushed

Near our home is a fabulous olive oil cooperative with over 1,000 members. They all live within 30 km of the frantoio, olive oil press. The members must bring in the olives within 24 hours of being picked and make a "reservation" to bring in their olives.

We live on the top of this hill, behind the cypress trees. There are olive trees below us and then the vineyards.
We live in 1/3 of an old family farmhouse, which has been divided.

We drove by last week and nothing had started yet, so went back this week and were lucky.

We bought a 5 liter tin.... to start!

One of the purest ways to taste oil is to simply pour on toasted country-style bread which you have rubbed with garlic and then sprinkle with salt. Here in Tuscany it is called fettunta, greasy slice, but often in American it is referred to as bruschetta.

Tuscan bread is unsalted so the salt really accents the flavor.

In the market now is the first cavolo nero, kale, which is often served on fettunta. 

That is what I made today.

Slow cooking kale, stripped from its thick stems in salted water. More of a soup.
Sort of like in the south, where they cook collard greens with the pot likker.

Fettunta con Cavolo Nero e Olio Nuovo

Toast the bread until crunchy. I like to cut the bread a little thicker, so there is a tender center to absorb the broth. Then rub with raw garlic.

Place the toasted bread into a soup bowl and top with the cooked kale and pour on about a ladle or so of broth.

Drizzle with the best extra virgin oil you can get and sprinkle with salt.

Eat the bread and kale with a knife and fork if you like, but don't leave the broth! Use a spoon to not leave a drop.

November 4, 2012

Florence November 4, 1966

As the world was hit with hurricane Sandy, first in Cuba and then the USA, leaving thousands with no clean water, electricity and homes destroyed, I remember stories from my husband here in Florence during the flood on November 4th,1966.

The voice over is a famous Florentine singer, who is "joking" about the flood. A husband saying to his wife that the water they hear outside the window must be the neighbors toilet running. The water which flooded Florence was contaminated with heating oil and damaged and destroyed many ancient books and art pieces. Being a long holiday weekend, they say there were no deaths, although I find that hard to believe. There are "underground" apartments in Florence and the dikes which flooded the city were opened without warning the public.

 Through Facebook I can see how New Yorkers,like the Florentines, have pulled together to help those less fortunate.

 Praying that things are restored to normal quickly.

 I was curious and knew that one person had died, the man that worked at the dam, was drowned.

Here is the list I just found, in italian, with the names of the people that died and how they died:

Elide Benedetti, 66 anni. La signora Elide, inferma sulla carrozzina, abitava in via delle Casine e trovò una morte orribile: alcuni carabinieri, impossibilitati a portarla via, la legarono alle travi sul soffitto della sua stanza per impedire che venisse travolta; i carabinieri andarono a cercare soccorso, ma nel frattempo la donna morì annegata, assistita fino all'ultimo da un parroco coraggioso.
Giuseppina Biancalani, 76 anni. Abitava in via Aretina e morì per le conseguenze di una caduta.
Guido Chiappi, 73 anni. Abitava in via Arnolfo e fu travolto dalla corrente.
Pietro Cocchi e Giuseppina Poggioli, 74 anni. I due, marito e moglie, vivevano in via Gian Paolo Orsini. Nonostante fossero stati avvertiti, non si misero in salvo anche perché l'uomo era infermo.
Maria Facconi, 48 anni, Viveva in Piazza Santa Croce e morì per un infarto dopo essere stata portata in salvo perché non fu possibile trovare l'ossigeno per la respirazione artificiale.
Angela Fanfani, 69 anni. Morì nella sua abitazione in un sottosuolo di via Aretina nonostante un disperato tentativo dei vicini di salvarla.
Italia Frusi, 85 anni. La signora, cieca e inferma, morì nella sua camera del Pensionato del Sacro Cuore in via Masaccio.
Lino Leporatti, 65 anni. Viveva in via Benedetto Marcello e fu travolto dalla corrente.
Ermenegildo Livi, 81 anni. Abitava in via Francesco Datini e morì per un infarto dopo essere stato messo in salvo.
Carlo Maggiorelli, 53 anni. Di Pozzolatico, addetto alla sorveglianza degli impianti idrici dell'acquedotto dell'Anconella, fu portato via dalla furia delle acque mentre rispondeva ad una telefonata che lo esortava a fuggire.
Angelina Marè, 59 , morta annegata nella sua casa di Borgo Pinti.
Cesare Martelli, 54 anni. Fu travolto dalle acque per essersi trattenuto nella sua casa di via Ghibellina per cercare di salvare dei beni di valore.
Fedora Nesi, 77 anni. Paralitica, morì annegata nella sua casa di via Ghibellina.
Armido Peruzzi, 71 anni. Messosi in salvo dalla prima ondata, morì annegato nella sua casa di via di Rusciano, dove era tornato per recuperare alcuni beni, travolto da una seconda ondata.
Luciano Sonnellini, 25 anni. Detenuto del carcere delle Murate, fu travolto dalla corrente mentre cercava di raggiungere una delle case degli ospitali fiorentini.
Carlo Vensi, 80 anni. Muore per l'esplosione di un deposito di carburo al piano terreno della propria abitazione di via Scipione Ammirato.
Corinna Cintelli, 70 anni, di Sant'Angelo a Lecore. Morì annegata dopo essere scivolata da un pattino mentre veniva messa in salvo.
Guido Borghi, 64 anni. Morì a Castelfiorentino mentre stava cercando di salvare il bestiame.
Giovanni e Vittorio Cortini, di 58 e 24 anni. Morirono per il crollo della loro casa a Castelfiorentino. Agostina Bini, 73 anni, di Empoli. Fu sorpresa dall'acqua mentre si trovava a letto ammalata; salvata, morì pochi giorni dopo in ospedale per i postumi.
Palmiro Mancini, 66 anni, di Empoli; morto travolto dalla corrente.
Orfea Casini, 68 anni, di Montelupo Fiorentino, morta travolta dalla corrente dopo essere caduta durante il salvataggio in elicottero.
Giovanni Chiarugi, 68 anni, di Montelupo Fiorentino, fornaio del paese, annegato mentre su viale Umberto I si recava all'Ospedale Psichiatrico Giudiziario per portare il pane.

Particolarmente drammatico fu il bilancio per il comune di Reggello, dove morirono nel crollo della loro casa Brunetto Gonnelli (43 anni); Donatella Gonnelli (6 anni); Guidalma Gonnelli (9 anni); Lorenzo Gonnelli (31 anni); Rosina Merciai (43 anni) e Carolina Nocentini (70 anni).

Il comune di Sesto Fiorentino pagò anch'esso un tragico prezzo umano all'alluvione: nella zona dell'Osmannoro persero la vita i piccoli Leonardo Sottile, di soli tre anni e mezzo, morto per l'esplosione di un deposito di carburante nella casa dove abitava con la famiglia e Marina Ripari, 3 anni, strappata dalle braccia del padre dalla corrente.