December 30, 2012

Preserving Tuscany- Salt Cured Olives

As you know, I am always inspired at the market. When we bought our tiny 1/3 of a farmhouse in the hills outside of Certaldo, they wanted about $10,000 for 10 olive trees and an extra piece of land in the back of our house.  I don't know about you, but I can buy a LOT of olive oil for $10,000 and taking care of olive trees for this city girl and her hubby, means WORK. So, we let that go and I can buy incredible olive oil directly from the local cooperative. 

I live in the middle of olive groves and have enough friends with olive trees that I can usually get a kilo or so of olives to prepare under salt, which my husband adores. 

We can by oven-roasted versions year round from local vendors from Naples and Sicily as well as Maroccon versions at the grocery store.

To prepare your own, if you have fresh black olives:

Layer the olives with sea salt ( or kosher salt).

I do this in large glass jars with a lid, like the one in the foto.
Each day, drain off the water which forms at the bottom of the jar.

When the olives stop giving off water, they are ready.

Rinse off the excess salt.

Dry on a towel and then season.

I drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, orange zest, chili flakes and garlic. ( if you are saving, use dried garlic slices not fresh to avoid problems.)

I buy a mix of dried garlic and chili with herbs for pasta sauce in Italy and can use that.

I keep in the fridge. They don't last long in this house! 

Try giving a kick to olives you buy or even oven roasting some black olives  to give them more personality!

December 27, 2012

Radicchio Roses

Like most people that love food, I am a cookbook junkie. Not so much the big cookbooks filled with fotos, but rather the small collections of recipes, written by women that are not professional cooks or the typical church fundraising cookbooks, filled with classic local favorites.

I am much more interested in tried and true recipes than new experiments.

One of my paperback books I adore is by a winemaker, Donatella Cinelli Columbini, in Montalcino called Ricettario di Monte Oliveto e Trequanda nelle Crete Senese.

I was inspired by her recipe to recreate my own version.

I like to simplify when possible.  Her version mixes chopped onions into the sausage mixture and deglazes at the end of the cooking time with red wine.

In Tuscany, I get incredibly wonderful sausage, which is not too fatty and lightly seasoned with salt and garlic. Fennel sausage would also be good as would a nice spicy sausage.

Take a ball of radicchio and open the leaves like petals.

Remove the skin from the sausage and stuff small pinches between the petals.

Place in a pan for roasting and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake at 350 degrees until the sausage is cooked, about 20 minutes.

The radicchio leaves with turn dark around the outside edges.

Remove and drizzle with balsamic vinegar to serve.

I have also take the leaves and rolled them around sausage to bake for a party finger food version.
Cooking the radicchio makes it milder and pairing with pork is always a good idea!


December 25, 2012

Best wishes for a happy holiday season.

Personally I can't wait for this year to be over.

Am looking forward to 2013, a special anniversary and am planning new things for Divina Cucina.

Today Andrea and I are going out to Xmas lunch, which will be a HUGE meal,  but at least we don't have to clean up! My gift to Andrea..... not cleaning up my mess from cooking.

But tomorrow is another day!

I am heading to California in January and will be doing some classes in the Bay Area then up to Seattle and Eugene and Bend Oregon in February before coming back to Tuscany.

Will post the calendar when the dates are finalized and sign-ups are open!


December 21, 2012

Gift of Love- Tortellini

Making pasta is an Italian mother's way of saying "Ti Amo", I love you.

Simple ingredients, flour and eggs, turn into a gift of love, especially at Christmas.

Yesterday in cooking class, my students requested to make Tortellini, one of the most traditional pastas from Emilia Romagna. Tuscans buy tortellini, not make them. We make Tortelli, a huge oversized raviolo filled with seasoned mashed potatoes and topped with ragu.

I did a little online research and found a fun video from the gastronomia Bruno e Franco  that my friend Marcello took me to on a  market tour in Bologna.

They are actually simple, but takes awhile to get the tiny tortellini folding trick down. After a full batch, you will be an expert too!

The secrets are in the quality of the ingredients, not quantity.

Pasta is made with eggs from free-range chickens and flour. We used a 50/50 blend of semola and white flour.

The filling was 3 ounces/ 100 grams each  of :
Mortadella, Prosciutto and cooked ground pork.

The meats were pureed in a food processor and then we added one egg and mixed in 200 grams of grated parmesan cheese and seasoned with a nutmeg.

The pasta was rolled out on the special wood pasta board, which provides texture for the dough.

Tiny squares are cut and the filling paste placed on top.

Then the fun begins, folding like tiny Italian wontons, first in half, forming a  triangle, then  a magic little flip/fold to create the little belly of meat held in the dough and the tip pointing up.

A quick twist of the ends around your finger tip and press!


Since I don't make them often I don't have the official long rolling pin the women in Emilia Romagna use, a broomstick or a dowel ( unpainted) would do.

There is also a fabulous tool to cut the pasta squares with that makes life easier too, you can see in the video.

I think I need one! This was so much fun to do with friends.

Traditionally, tortellini are ALWAYS cooked in broth, not water and we served  them in broth also.
But even when they are served with ragu, they are still cooked in broth. It adds an extra dimension to the flavor.

their pasta is 12 fresh eggs for a kilo of flour.

December 15, 2012

All I Want For Christmas...

All I want for Christmas is Peace.

Today's news of the massacre of children in USA is disgusting.

Italy is falling apart and the corrupt Berlusconi is threatening to run again for office after putting Italy in this horrible position.

I do not feel like celebrating xmas this year.

Call me a grinch, but really?

What is there to celebrate?

Bring on 2013 and praying it will be better.

December 11, 2012

A Stew for All Seasons- Peposo

I don't eat a lot of meat, but when I do, I want the best.

I an very lucky to be able to have a choice of several great butchers in various towns near me. Often, I make a day-trip out of shopping and head over the hills and through the woods to Panzano in Chianti.
One of Italy's most famous butchers lives there, Dario Cecchini.

I worked at the shop myself for about 2 years, just when Dario was starting to get real international recognition, thanks to Faith Willinger's Guide book and more local recognition, as he started to appear on TV.

Like most artisans here in italy, Dario works in his family business. He is the last of the Cecchini's.
But he is passing on his skills to young talented butchers from all over the world.

I wanted to make a nice pot of boiled meat today to have broth and meat to recreate my husband's favorite meals this week. Traditionally we make bollito misto for Christmas and then have the meat to prepare in several different recipes during the week.  I bought the meat to make the bollito misto, but as we were talking, saw Dario start to prepare a huge pot of something.

Besides the butcher shop, he has opened two restaurants. Solociccia was the first, across the street, which used the cuts of meat that were not so popular. The Tuscan T-bone, is famous cut of meat here, but Dario buys whole cows, and created the restaurant to use the lesser know cuts to serve as his family did when he was growing up. Whole Cow dinners.

Dario serves several great recipes at Solociccia, one of my favorites is his Tuscan Roast Beef, called Arrosto Fiorentino, using the eye of round. Another classic recipe from Chianti is Peposo from Impruneta, a slow cooked stew using red wine, garlic and black pepper traditionally. ( I add chili peppers to mine and Dario adds chili powder. Personalize yours too)

In his book HEAT, Bill Buford wrote Dario's overnight recipe, not really practical for home use. As you see in the above foto, Dario makes a TON.

I prefer to use beef cheeks if you can get them, they have a wonderful consistency in this recipe, otherwise, any tougher cut of meat you would use for stewing is ok. Boned beef shanks work well.

It is a simple recipe to put together and just let cook nice and slow.

This is one of those recipes I make when I have time and save to eat for another day.

Here is the recipe for Il Peposo on my website, you can see the foto of the meat raw and then also cooked, the rich flavor of cooking it just in red wine with the pepper, garlic and chili almost gives it a BBQ sauce flavor.

You can eat like a stew, in cubes, or let it really cook and fall apart into almost a pulled pork sort of sauce and serve on bread.

You don't need to slow cook in the oven, you can also use a crockpot or slow cook stovetop.

It is one of my favorite stews, make it and share with loved ones and a HUGE red wine!!!
The chili peppers and black pepper hold up to a big wine!

Perfect for the holidays.

You can still order my "Market Boy Calendar" for xmas-- or my cookbook!

December 1, 2012

Italian Kitchen Tools- Taglia Puntarelle

I am a sucker for kitchen toys!

The puntarelle are a kind of chicory. The plant has leaves on the outside which are also edible but the treat are these chubby "fingers". They get cut into tiny threads and then soaked in cold water to curl and crisp up.

In Rome, it is possible to buy the fingers already cut,pre-soaked ready for salad. I finally talked one of the vendors into selling me her "cutter" one day. Then I  gave mine away and the next time all that was available were the plastic ones.

Last trip up to Bologna, I went into one of my favorite kitchen stores, the Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo. Shoppers beware, it has some really fabulous things! The bronze pasta cutters are lovely!
I had spotted the the "cutter" in the window as I was walking by.

The puntarelle are made into a traditional salad. Once they have been soaked and then drained, dress with a anchovy, garlic, olive oil and salt dressing.

Puntarelle Dressing

Crush the  2 anchovies and 1 garlic clove into a paste.
Add the juice of 1 lemon and whip in about 1/2  olive oil and salt to taste.

It reminds me of a Ceaser Salad dressing, which was invented in Tijuana by two Italians. Maybe they were Roman?

I simply make a nice lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette with some salt, then add anchovy pieces into the salad. My husband doesn't like raw garlic a lot.

Here is a great blog post with recipe and a fun video from my friend Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome on puntarelle!

When in Rome!!!!  Walk first through the markets to see what is in season, then order it in the restaurant!

We ADORE seasonal specialties!!!

If you are looking for the tagliapuntarelle-- Here is the inventor's site.