Wednesday, November 17, 2010


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.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010


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.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lemon Chicken

Well, my friend Charmaine just called and asked again for this recipe and said, "By the way, it's been since January! Time to blog." Indeed it is. This recipe is for Charmaine who, after having it at my house, made it for some American guests who were stunned by how good it was. They kept asking, "Is this chicken?" It could be partly due to the quality of the chickens here in Italy which far surpass most of what I used to buy in the States so, if you can, spend a little more to get a better quality bird. It is a fantastic secondo (second dish) to risotto or pasta and it has a secret ingredient called gremolata which is a mixture of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Once you get the hang of making gremolata you will dazzle your guests by sprinkling it on seafood, pasta or using it the traditional way as an accompaniment to veal or Ossobucco. One of my favorite chef's begins each day by chopping parsley and garlic together to use throughout the day and when he doesn't know what to cook, he begins chopping parsley and garlic and by the time he is finished he has figured it out.

This recipe for the chicken originally came from Martha Stewart but since I've made it for 14 years now it feels like mine. To start combine in a bowl:

1/3 cup coarse (grosso) sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Loosen the skin of the chicken from the flesh and rub/pour the lemon/salt mixture under the skin and in the cavity of the chicken. For the best flavor and texture, marinate the chicken for a few hours or even the day before you roast it, but if you've only a half an hour it is still worth the effort. When done marinatiing, rinse the salt off the chicken and prepare the gremolata. I'll give you some measurments but it really is a personal preference how much garlic to use.

1 bunch parsley
2-5 cloves garlic
zest of 1 or 2 lemons

Chop the parsley, garlic and lemon zest together and voila' you have gremolata. Mix the gremolata with six tablespoons soft butter and spread under the skin of the chicken and in the cavity. Add a few quarters of lemons and bay leaves to the cavity of the chicken and roast at 180 celsius (350 f) for 45 min to an hour, just until the juices run clear. Overcooking chicken of course is a shame so if you want it just right use a meat thermometer. I can't live without my instant read thermometer and I test it a couple of times until it reaches 160-165 f.

Serve on a Vietri Platter with roasted potatoes and the lemons scattered around. Brillante! Wish I had a picture to post as it really is spectacular. Maybe Charmaine will post a picture of hers once she makes it again tonight. Baci!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Arancini are from Sicily and they are fried little packages of rice with a surprise in the middle. We ate them on our vacation in Sicily two years ago and I thought what a fantastic lunch when you are on the go. In fact on further research I discovered that they were taken on hunting trips or long journeys by royal courts and eventually became a tradition for peasants working in the country. Whatever the origin, they seem to be a part of the daily routine of Sicilians now. On our vacation, the old men would show up at all the mom and pop delis for an afternoon snack. They are impressive to serve. Once my friend Carrie was at a dinner party here in Tuscany and when they brought out the arancini for the appetizer everyone made the ohhs and ahhs of a fireworks display.

Despite being mocked by a Sicilian once for making arancini this way, I still think this is the perfect way to use leftover risotto so I'm going to do it. Besides, other Italians do this, just apparently not if you are Sicilian. I once sat by a Sicilian man on the the train from Milan to Florence and he walked me through step by step how to make proper Sicilian Arancini. It took the whole train ride. They were a failure. The ones I made two weeks ago with leftover risotto were perfect and so much easier.

The classic filling is ragu and peas but you can put mozzerella and basil, spinach and mozzerella, just mozzerella. It works out perfect if you have some leftover ragu and you can just pop that in the middle of your leftover risotto! There is really no recipe to write down. You just take a ball of your leftover risotto in your hand and make an indent in the middle. (It helps to wet your hand first) Push your filling in the middle then close the rice around the filling so it is smooth and there are no holes in the risotto casing. Then dip the arancino into beaten egg, flour, back into the egg and then into very fine bread crumbs. You can form them into round balls or into more of a cone shape like the picture below.  Deep fry until they are golden all over about 4 minutes. If you have a fear of frying like I do see my tips on the Caponata post. I was so excited when mine turned out that I did a little dance. My boys were not impressed, but they are young teens so I don't even try to impress them right now.  I think you, however,  will be delighted with the results!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Risotto alla Zucca (Pumpkin)

I can hardly resist the beautiful pieces of pumpkin during the Fall and Winter as I pass through the markets. When I saw a piece in the market a few weeks ago, instead of thinking about the pasta I usually make with pumpkin, risotto stuck in my mind. This risotto is fantastic served as a first course then with Roast Beef and your favorite side for the second! Personally a big plate of risotto for the main course proves to be a bit much for me and anyway I feel obligated to tell you that it isn't the Italian way.

The fantastic thing about risotto, is that it is so versatile that you can use whatever is in season. In the Fall and Winter: Pumpkin, Cavolo Nero, Radicchio, Porcini Mushrooms, White and Black Truffles, Quail. In the Spring: Asparagus, Artichokes, Sausage and Peas, fava and even nettles! Of course there is the classic Saffron Risotto for anytime along with risotto bianco (with parmesan), then clam, lobster, or shrimp risotto. And finally for a really special occasion (like my husbands birthday which is in 5 days shhhh!) risotto with Barolo wine and Castelmagno cheese (from the Piemonte region). That's enough to keep me cooking for a year!

The other fantastic thing about risotto is that you can use what is leftover to make Arancini. Arancini are from Sicily and they are, like many things from Sicily, fried. They have rice on the outside and are traditionally stuffed with ragu on the inside but I also like mozzarella with basil. It's the perfect snack or appetizer and I'll post the recipe as soon as I'm done with this one so you can use your leftover pumpkin risotto.

Which leads me to why I began this post: Risotto alla Zucca! If you haven't read the post on "About Risotto" it would be helpful to do so before attempting this for the first time.

8-10 cups chicken stock (homemade or very high quality)
3 or more Tablespoons olive oil (or butter if you like)
1 onion (yellow or white) chopped very fine
cerca 2 cups pumpkin flesh grated or chopped
2 cups Vialone Nano Rice or Canaroli are the best (if not then other short grained rice like Arborio)
1/2 cup white wine
Nutmeg (nutmeg grated on top is best)
salt and pepper to taste

Before you start, rid yourself of any stress so the risotto doesn't absorb it. Put your stock on the stove to heat next to your risotto pan. Once it comes to a boil turn it down to a simmer.

Begin with the soffritto. Put a heavy bottomed pan that distributes heat well on a medium high heat. Add your olive oil and when it is sufficiently hot add the onion. After a minute, add half of the pumpkin. Cook about 5 minutes but don't let the mixture brown, just soften. IF needed add a little more oil.

Next the tostatura. Add the rice and stir around to "toast". After a minute or so when the rice has heated and turned started to turn translucent on the edges, add the wine. Let evaporate completely.

Now start adding the hot stock a ladleful at a time while stirring the rice calmly. When each ladleful of stock is almost evaporated, add the next. After about 10 minutes add the rest of the pumpkin. Keep adding stock and stirring. This whole process should take around 17-20 minutes. At the end of this time period, add smaller portions of stock and start tasting. When it is still a little al dente (firm to the bite) pull it off the heat and let it rest while you get the cold butter out of the fridge.

Now you are ready for the mancatura. Beat the butter and grated parmesan cheese into the risotto while pulling the pan vigorously towards you. If it is too dry add more stock. If it is too wet, well then, there is always next time.

Serve immediamente with grated nutmeg on top.