Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer Cherry Tomato Pasta

This is perfect summer pasta when the cherry tomatos are in season! You can use whatever you have but a mix of different varieties is beautiful. The servings are for roughly four people.

1 pint cherry tomatoes cut in half
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4-1/2 red onion chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil

Get your water started and boiling for the pasta.

Saute the garlic and onion in the olive oil until soft but not brown. Add the cherry tomatoes. Simmer 15-20 minutes until tomatoes form a nice sauce adding pasta water as needed. At the end add a good bunch of basil, and more pasta water.

When boiling your pasta make sure you add enough salt so that it tastes like sea water. Drain pasta and add it to the tomato's and cook until it has married well.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Passata del Vedure

This is one of the keepers from a cooking class I took in Florence. The name of the school was Le Cordon Bleu. I would never have chosen a cooking school with a French name in Florence but my amica del cuore, Laura wanted me to go with her so I did. Thankfully the teachers were Tuscan and for the most part they stuck to Italian cuisine but I know they had spent time in France because they kept sneaking butter into the recipe's. Tuscan's who have never left Tuscany usually only use olive oil in their cooking. I personally am glad to be living in a region that only uses olive oil because as soon as I start to use butter the seal affect takes over (a layer of fat starts to form under my skin as if my body was preparing for a very cold winter) .

I am diverging but I can't help talking about olive oil because as I write they are picking the olives out my window and I know very very soon I will have the taste of wonderful spicy olive oil hitting the back of my throat. Olio nuovo. Sigh. It is seriously one of the best things about living in Tuscany. When it is freshly pressed the flavor is so intense and spicy. After a couple of months it fades unless you freeze it. It is worth the price of a ticket just to taste the olive oil coming out of the press.

Ok back to the passata del vedure. It is a soup made of your vegetable of choice (I always use broccoli but you can use what you like). I made this for Shad and Davis (an American friend living in our village) after school one day. After he arrived home his mother called and said, "My son was telling me how good lunch was and I want to know how you got my son to eat broccoli?" So this is a soup but it is really just the most delicious way to eat broccoli. It might even convert a few skeptical children.

Ingredients:

About 4 cups chopped broccoli (500 grams)
2 or 3 starchy potatoes
4 tablespoons of oil
3 cups or more of stock
1/2 teaspoon of curry
2 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
oil for decorating the top or cream

Preparation:

Clean and chop the potatoes and vegetables. In a heavy pot heat the olive oil, and add the potatoes. Cook on medium heat but don't brown for a few minutes. Add curry and stir. Add the broccoli and stir until bright green. Add the stock and boil for about 10 minutes until everything is tender.

Remove from heat and puree' with an immersion blender. Adjust with stock if too thick.

Serve with whatever decoration on top you like (oilve oil, stream of cream) and fresh chives if you have them.

Bon Appetito! 

Ribollita

I can still remember clearly the first time I had a bowl of Ribollita. It was on a crisp day in Fiesole in the Fall of 2000. We were considering moving to Florence from Slovenia and life was uncertain and painful as it often is during major transitions. The air was cold and wind cutting as we stepped into the warm embrace of a local restaurant called Perseus. Legs of prosciutto were hanging from the ceiling and big sides of La Bistecca Fiorentina prominently displayed. It was very rustic with pietra serena stone and wood beams everywhere. As we sat down, I asked as I often do in new places, something like "What do I need to eat to understand this place and it's people?" What was set before me was Ribollita, one of Autumn's greatest harvest dishes. It filled more than my stomach on that day and many after.

Writing the recipe for Ribollia transports me to another era and feels sacred as it captures ancient ways of life. Images of peasant Tuscan farmers from whom it orginated back in the 1300's come to mind. It is to be made in the Fall as the air turns crisp, the colors are changing and the flavours of our table have changed seasons. Tuscan's are known to be mangiafagioli (bean eaters) so this dish is a favorite as a primo piatto or even hearty enough for a piatto unico. I learned how to make it from Marco, who was as big and hearty as the dishes he made. He would explain each step then look at me quizically until he was sure I understood the importance of each ingredient. Grazie Mille Marco!

For the beans:
1/2 kilo small canellini beans
See my post on Tuscan Beans which need to be made in advance of the preparation for Ribollita. Save the cooking water for the stock.

Vegetables:
Equal parts of Onion, carrot, celery (so for those of you who need detail like 2 onions, and 4 or 5 each of carrots and celery)
clove of garlic (don't improvise here as tuscans don't eat a lot of garlic)
4 ripe tomatoes
1 huge bunch of cavolo nero (kale) leaves (stripped roughly off from the stems)
Optional (a bunch of curly cabbage like napa)

Heel of the parmegiano
olive oil 
perperoncino (hot red pepper-optional)
salt and pepper

Bread
 Half a loaf (less or more as you like) cubed 2 day old bread. 
Tuscan bread is hearty and has no salt. In place of this you need pugliese or a heavier bread you would get from a bakery. NOT french, it's too light and airy. If you have fresher bread then cube it and dry it a bit in the oven before adding to the soup. 

PREPARATION

Wash, peel and roughly chop the vegetables; sauté the onion and garlic clove for a few minutes in olive oil. Then add the carrots and celery and continue on for a few minutes. Then add the cavolo nero leaves and napa cabbage (if using), Keep sweating without browning until the green of the cavalo nero becomes brighter. Add the tomatoes cut into large pieces, a generous cup of water from the beans, the heel of the parmeggiano, salt, pepper a little red pepper (optional) and let simmer a few minutes to let the tomatoes break down.

Add to this the cannellini beans and enough cooking liquid from the beans plus chicken stock to cover by a coupld of inches. Simmer for one hour until the veggis are tender and there's a good marriage of everything. Turn off heat and take out the heel of the parmeggiano and add a bunch of chopped parsley. Add the bread with more cooking water from the beans if needed. It should be thick like a stew but the bread will soak up quite a bit of liquid so you don't want a spoon to stand up in it! Let is rest for a hour preferably then reheat for a few minutes before serving adding more stock if necessary. This is even better the next day so letting it sit overnight is even better!

To serve, grate parneggiano and drizzle olive oil on top. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pomarola

In my first August in Italy I noticed everyone buying big wooden cases of tomatoes. Normally Italians shop often and don't buy in bulk so I knew something was up. I walked up to one woman and asked in Italian what she was doing with the tomatoes. Then I tried to listen very carefully and prayed I would understand because I was still in the rudimentary stages of learning italian. She gave me an incredulous look and then it turned to pity as she realized the poor American in the village didn't know that in August you make Pomarola. As she explained carefully how to make it, others in the store gathered around her and gave their 2 cents. One old guy kept leaning forward saying add lots of basil, as if my life depended on it. I have come to realize every person adds a little more of this or that. The recipe below is just an approximation. The only caution is not to add too many carrots or it will start to taste sweet. This is my boys favorite sauce. It is the essence of the garden in August. When you use it you must add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, adjust the seasoning and put it over pasta or add whatever you want (sausage with a good sprinkle of parmesan cheese is great)!

Pomarola
About 5 pounds of Tomatoes
3 carrots
6 stocks celery with leaves
2 onions
some garlic (2 or so cloves)
tablespoon of salt
some peppercorns
bunch of basil

Cut tomatoes in fourths and drop in pot. Rough chop everything else and add it to pot. Don't worry about size. Bigger takes less time. Let boil until everything is tender, about 40 minutes. Put through a food mill and then adjust the salt and add more basil. At this point you can freeze in portion sizes in quart freezer bags. I make enough to last until the next tomato season. If you want to can it then you need to add lemon juice to the jars. You cam consult a good canning guide for instructions in how to do so.

Enjoy.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Brasato

Brasato mean braised in wine. In this case beef braised in wine. It is so easy and you can do so many beautiful things with the leftovers. It is a staple in our house. You start with beef that is good for slow cooking. If you are in Italy you tell them you are making Brasato and the butcher will know which kind of beef to give you. If you are in the grocery store in America I've found the guys working in the back rooms don't really know that much cooking. In Italy being a butcher can be rather prestigious. There is this one famous butcher in a town called Greve that sings opera, yells at people and spreads lard on bread with glasses of wine for the customers as they come in. He definitely knows what to do when he cuts up a side of beef.

Anyway lately here in America I'm using a Chuck roast and I'm happy with the results. Get together the following ingredients:

Chuck Roast
Red Wine (2 or so cups)
salt
pepper
garlic
carrot or two
celery
onion
bay leaf
rosemary
thyme
bit of beef stock

Heat some oil with the garlic in a tegame if you are in Italy or in a heavy pot you can transfer to the oven for slow roasting. Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper. Put a couple of skinned whole cloves of garlic in some oil in the pan and when hot sear beef on all sides. Remove from pan. 

Chop the "holy trinity" of Italy (1/2 onion, 1 celery, 1 carrot) and add saute them in the hot oil you seared the been in. After a few minutes add the beef and the rest of the fresh herbs. Fill the pot with wine and half a cup of beef stock to just shy of covering the roast. 

Transfer to a 350 degree oven and cook for 2 1/2 or 3 hours depending on the size of the roast. Serve with polenta, mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes for a secondo. 

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bruschetta

For those of you who know that I recently left my "homeland" in Italy and landed in Orlando, this is a big deal that I'm blogging here again. It has just been too painful to think about all the things I made weekly in Italy and how difficult that is here. We have mainly been surviving on Chipotle burritos since we arrived. However, if I am really going to put all my recipes in a cookbook for an American audience then I might as well be in the same boat as my readers and figure out how to make my passion for authentic Italian food work here.

So my boys are in an english as a second language program given that they've never attended school in english. It's a little strange being American and all but I like it. A few weeks ago the director for the ELL program calls and says "we are having an international food fair, would you like to bring something authentic from Italy." I agree, hang up the phone and ask Shad if he wants to help me make Bruschetta for the ELL food fair. He snaps to and says, "Mom, we are so going to win" To his disappointment I inform him that it isn't a contest, but I can't stop smiling thinking how great it is that he loves my food and is such a fan. A small tiny flame starts to flicker inside me. My boys need me to keep cooking Italian food.

So this how you make Bruschetta. It is really so simple that I would have never thought to write about it, but at the ELL food fair I have to say it created quite a stir. One of Shad's teachers who tried it said, "Oh my God this is so good." Another woman almost dropped it out of shock. I was pleased to see the look on her face. One said that she made it but hers didn't taste like this. When I asked her how she made it she explained that she just put it all together and put it in the oven. Oh, I guess if you hadn't grown up seeing it done, that would make sense. So for all the women who asked me for the recipe, here it is. The first thing you have to know is that it isn't pronounced brushetta with a shhh sound. I've had American's argue with me about this despite the fact that I speak Italian and they don't. I don't know why this is important to me but it is, so if you don't want to seriously tick me off say Brus-che-tta with a "k" sound in the middle.

So now on how to make Bruschetta with Pomodoro (Tomatoes)

The first step: You absolutely have to find tomatoes that have flavor. They can be cherry tomatoes or tomatoes that you seed and chop. This was easy in Italy. Very difficult where I am currently living. None of the grocery stores carry them, I have to drive to a vegetable market 20 minutes away. If you can just grow them yourself.

Second: If they are cherry tomatoes, cut them in fourths and put them in a bowl. Drizzle with a decent amount of extra virgin olive oil, add fresh basil, and sprinkle with salt. Stop. Don't try anything fancy.

Third: Buy bread that is fairly dense and you probably have to slice yourself. Something like pugliese or even ciabatta works. NOT french. It is to light and airy.

Fourth: Grill the bread. The best way to do this is in a fireplace over wood but the bbq works and for now I have to resort to a grill pan. It still works. As soon as the bread it browned on both sides pull it off and rub it with a split clove of garlic while it is still warm.

Last top the bread with the tomato mixture and if you want drizzle a little more oil on top if it is top quality. Do this right before serving, otherwise put it on a platter with the tomatoes in the middle and have guests serve themselves.

In Tuscany, meals often start with an assortment of Bruschetta or Crostini as they may be called. Tomato is always present but also tuscan beans (see previous post), and chicken liver pate' are staples. Here you might use an olive tapanade instead of liver pate' as it takes a bit of effort and well l haven't been able to find chicken livers yet.

Baci

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Maionese

Yes, this is a recipe for mayonnaise. Now let me just start by saying that I've never really liked mayonnaise. For most of my life, I've prided myself in not touching the stuff. But that was before our visit to Laura's family seaside home where I encountered homemade mayo for the first time. We had this amazing weekend with them and we ate like kings.

One evening after an afternoon on the beach, there was this thick golden bowl of mayonnaise to accompany the meal. Usually they serve it with fresh tomatoes, boiled chicken or fish, but honesty I can't remember what else was served because it was so good that all I wanted to do was pick up my spoon and eat the whole bowl of it! I did eat an embarrassing amount and vowed to learn how to make it. Laura explained that it is basically just egg and the best quality olive oil. How easy is that! I tried it the very next week but without success. My first attempt ended in a liquidity mess. One time it looked liked Laura's but had this bitter edge. Too much lemon juice? Finally, I called Laura and said I'm coming over and you are going to show me how to do this.

Now Laura is my amica del cuore (friend closest to my heart). Even though she grew up in Florence, and I in Montana, we see eye to eye on most everything in life. Every once in awhile, however, she will say something and I see a cultural chasm open up between us as big as the grand canyon. This was one of those days. We started out with the freshest of eggs for the mayonnaise. As I carefully washed the egg and dried it, Laura explained to me that actually making mayo is a very delicate process. You must stay calm and the egg must be very fresh and at room temperature. Oh and you shouldn't touch the egg if you are having stomach problems or having your menstrual cycle or it will impazzire. I search the archives of my brain for the meaning of impazzire. Finally it comes to me but it doesn't make sense, "You mean it will go crazy?" Yes yes she says, it will go crazy. I stop what I'm doing and turn and look at her. She is absolutely serious. Seeing my blank stare she continued to explain that is why she wasn't touching the egg. Chasm. I had been thinking, I hope I don't kill my family by serving them mayo made with raw egg, which apparently Italian's never worry about. I force myself to keep a straight face as we continued the process and sure enough it came out perfectly.

I am not one to blindly believe what I am told so at home the next week I decide to test this theory. It was "that time of the month" for me and so I buy my fresh eggs from the market and rush home to try it. I'm in a hurry but I make sure that the egg gets a lot of touching as I wash it then break it into a bowl, add a pinch of salt, dash of vinegar and start to add the stream of oil just as Laura showed me. It looked like it was going to set up and then what do you know, it "went crazy".  The egg and the oil separated and it was this horrible inedible mess. What a waste of good olive oil. I waited a week. I calmly place the egg on the counter a couple of hours in advance to let it come to room temperature. Calmly I add salt, vinegar and start the process. It works!! I finally did it. Maybe it's not such a crazy idea after all.

Here is exactly what you need to do to make it. You will need: a mixing wand, a small container to mix it in that isn't too wide at the bottom (mixing bowl or tall container), a pinch of salt, dash of white wine vinegar (red wine will work too), a couple of teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, a very fresh organic egg at room temperature, 3 or more tablespoons high quality vegetable oil, about a cup of extra virgin olive oil. Use the best olive oil you can as it obviously affects the flavor.

Add the lemon juice to the olive oil before you begin and whisk together. Put the egg in the mixing container, add a pinch of sea salt, and dash of vinegar. Whisk this together with a fork and then take a deep breath and begin adding the vegetable oil while mixing with the wand. Keep pumping the wand up and down and if it looks like it is starting to thicken go ahead and begin adding the olive oil in a small stream. Keep adding in a small stream while mixing until the olive oil is finished. Taste and adjust the salt. If everything works you will have a thick golden bowl of mayonnaise. Eat within 2 or 3 days. Keep refrigerated obviously.

Note: ok, about the raw eggs. Here in Italy at the market you can buy fresh eggs from these adorable little farm stands that say "uova da bere". Literally "eggs to drink". Now I've never wanted to drink fresh eggs but apparently it would be safe to do so and definitely safe to make mayonnaise. I know this isn't the mindset in America but I've eaten raw eggs in various dishes here in Italy for 9 years now and have never had a problem. As far as I can tell they think we are crazy for worrying about it. I always wash the outside and dry it because oftentimes if there are dangerous bacteria it would come from the outside of the egg. I'd better write a disclaimer just to appease my lawyers in case something happens. So here it is: If you are pregnant, nursing, an infant, have a weak immune system, weak stomach, do not use raw eggs.