03 December 2008

New England Clam Chowder

I'm neither from New England nor particularly fond of clams, but I made this soup strictly in the interests of "research," and was very impressed. It's quite simply delicious. So here's a little sneak peak of the many American recipes to come!
New England Clam Chowder:
Serves 4
2 kg medium clams (5-7 lbs, the more the merrier)
100 g (3 oz/ 4 slices) bacon, cut into chunks*
30 g (1/4 c) flour
3 medium red-skinned potatoes (about 650 g), rinced and diced medium
1 large yellow onion, small dice, peel and scraps reserved
1 medium celery stalk, small dice, peel and scraps reserved
1 medium carrot, small dice, peel and scraps reserved
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 cups water
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme1/2 c cup heavy cream or half and half
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper

Rinse the clams and place in a large soup pot over high heat with 3 cups water and the vegetable scraps. Cook, covered, until clams open, about 5 minutes. Discard any clams that remain closed.
Remove clams from shells and finely dice, discarding the shells and vegetable scraps. Strain broth to remove any sediment and set aside.
Rinse out soup pot and return to medium heat; cook the bacon until lightly crisp, about 8 minutes.

Add the bay leaf, onion, celery and carrot, and cook, stirring occasionally for about 7-10 minutes. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the reserved broth, whisking constantly. 
Add potatoes and thyme; simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Add clams, cream, parsley, and salt (if necessary) and ground pepper to taste; bring to simmer. If soup is too thick, slowly whisk in some boiling water until reaching desired consistency.

* If you have non-bacon-eaters in the crowd, cook bacon separately and serve at the end only to who desires the extra flavor.

07 November 2008

Sformatino di Zucca:
Silky, Savory, Butternut Flan

There is certain cooking jargon that can immediately repel me from recipe. These are terms that intimidate and mock me, terms and techniques that spotlight my deepest weaknesses and shortcomings in the kitchen. These are silly little words that will prompt me to toss an otherwise completely-conquerable recipe. 

One such nasty expression is "... and then bake in a water bath..."

The pure nonchalance with which it is presented is irritating in itself, the author should at least prime you for the looming intimidation, but no. You're contentedly scanning a perfectly decent and straightforward recipe, taking mental note of the ingredients you'll need, when WHAM!!
"water bath."
First off, my mind goes straight to "bath water" which I don't find very appetizing, especially when it is post-bath. But even when interpreted correctly, it calls up apocalyptic visions of rapidly boiling water in precarious pans capsizing in a scorching oven, pools of runny egg liquid seeping out leaky cracks, third-degree-burns and horrified dinner guests.

Next recipe please.

But I wanted to make a sformatino, which basically means "a-cute-little-something-cooked-in-a-mould-and-then-turned-out-of-it." I had cream on hand, and eggs, and some frozen roasted squash puree' leftover from this soup recipe. I searched online for recipe but kept butting up against the dreaded term everywhere I turned. Over and over again, every recipe I found contained varying amounts of cream and eggs, and the inevitable bath water. Uffa!

So obviously, I decided to get over myself and face my fear, which, like most phobias, turned out to be completely unfounded.
You only need about an inch of water and it hardly even boils, it only serves to keep the temperature low and even so the little custard doesn't curdle. No biggie. Nothing leaked, my dinner guests were not traumatized by the evening and I survived unscathed. When asked for the recipe, I confidently listed ingredients and measurements, saving the best for last as I nonchalantly continued "... and then bake in a water bath for about an hour..."

Savory Butternut Flan


One large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
1 red onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled
4 eggs
1 cup half-and-half
4 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano
6-8 ramekins (I used the disposable aluminum kind)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Grease and flour your ramekins, set aside.
Combine squash, onion and garlic in a large baking tray and toss to coat with some olive oil, salt and pepper.
Roast for about 30 minutes or until squash starts to brown and is really soft when poked with fork. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Reduce oven temp to 325°F (165°C).
Purée the roasted veggies in a food processor until smooth. Put 2 cups purée in a bowl, then whisk in eggs, half-and-half, cheese, a pinch of salt, and ground black pepper until combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared ramekins, filling about 3/4 the way up.
Here comes the terrifying part, the dreaded water bath!
Set the ramekins in a large roasting pan with sides at least 2 inches high. Fill a measuring cup with water and slowly fill the pan until the water comes about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Set the pan in the oven and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove ramekins from water bath and let cool about 5-10 minutes. Invert the flan directly on to serving dishes and eat immediately!

Note: I served these with some sage-seared shrimp, a delicious combination. You could also different vegetables, the possibilities are endless!

21 October 2008

Sagra del Tartufo

It's October again already and Emilio and I felt drawn back to the Sagra del Tartufo in the Langhe area of Piedmonte. We had enjoyed the same festival last fall in the tiny town of Mombercelli, and decided to do a little follow up "research" this year.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the sagra, allow me to introduce you to these local festivals in Italy that celebrate a rural area’s gastronomic specialty. They resemble small-town’s county fairs, but are dedicated to the area’s favorite food, and usually involve an inexpensive or free mass meal. There is the Sagra della Rana (frogs), Sagra del Porcino (porcini mushrooms), Sagra della Lumaca (snails), Sagra del Pesto, Sagra del Pane (bread), the list is endless. If Italians eat it, you can bet there’s a sagra for it, probably several.

We rolled up our typical one hour late, so only briefly bumbled about the morning market, tasting wines and chatting with various trifolau (truffle hunters) about their work and listening to their trifolau gossip:

"Ahhhh si. I see you've been talking to Giuseppe. Si si.. Giuseppe's great at getting truffles... But only when he BUYS them... Hahahhahaha!"

When the clock struck one o'clock we headed toward the community center gym... We've practically become locals after visiting the village just once before, and we felt we knew are way around. We were seated in the same room as last year, served by the same waitress who remembered the strange foreign girl who didn't eat meat (read: poor me, only eating half of the 7 courses!).

After several glasses of delicious piedmont wine, I was feeling right at home and decided to go check out the kitchen. I just had to see it. This is a 7 course, seated lunch for 460 people, all prepared and served by volunteers, no food service professionals involved. Now that I was a local, I figured
 they'd let me right in and check out the scene. And of course they did, not because I was a local but because they thought I was a big shot journalist from America and Milan. They'll be talking about this for years. I dragged Emilio with me and put him right to work tripping over the town's grannies as they slaved over the stoves, asking them to pose for various shots.

Back at the table, the menu continued:
- Salumi and toasted bread with Lardo
- Beef tartare with truffle flakes
- Roasted bell peppers in a tuna sauce
- Chick pea soup
- Veal roast with spinach
- Fried egg with truffle
- Peaches with melted chocolate
- Grappa

By the time we reached the grappa, things were getting really friendly. By now we were best friends with the waitress and I decided the only thing missing was a bit of music. Last year the local marching band (composed of 5 old men) played in our dining room, but I hadn't spotted them yet this year. I excused myself momentarily and sloshed down to the courtyard, where they happened to be passing by at that very moment. I introduced myself and was feeling even more of a celebrity when the trombone player burst out, "Hey! I remember you! Last year you were blonde."

They had been headed toward the main piazza for their next "gig," but with an ounce of pleading I dragged them to our dining room to play us one song as an end to the meal. They cheerfully piped out a jaunty Italian folk number that accompanied us all the way home.

All photos by Emi, of course.

17 October 2008

Roasted Red Pepper Chipotle Soup with Mint Crème Fraîche and Golden Cornbread

Not to toot my own horn, but I made one hell of a dinner the other night. And I have yoga to thank for it.
I was having friends over and I wanted to make something reminiscently American, though revisited. Now that I'm supposed to be some "authority" on American cuisine, folks expect to have a cross-cultural and authentic dining experience at my house. So I can't serve pasta anymore. At least for a while. 
I wanted to serve various courses... not a very American tradition, so I was shaking things up right off the bat. So I thought soup. And I thought chipotle. Chipotle is a flavor they just don't have over here in Italy, so when used in the right dosage, it's always a big hit and somewhat exotic. I needed a southwestern vehicle for my chipotle though, and the obvious answer was roasted peppers and tomatoes. 
After making the soup I felt like it needed to be dressed up and cooled down a bit. The firey flavor was delicious but needed to be balanced out. I found myself wishing for sour cream (another hard-to-find-in-Italy ingredient), but remembered I had a tub of Crème Fraîche in the fridge. Perfect. It sounds better than "sour cream" but it's basically the same thing, just fattier and a bit less tangy. So I whipped it up with some mint (what's more cooling than mint?) and had my perfect dollop. 
I wanted to make a light second course, simple but not boring. "Fish Wrapped in Romaine Leaves" a Mark Bittman recipe, totally enthralled me (check out the video here, or the recipe here). The side dish needed to be downplayed, since the fish was getting a little fancy, so some pan fried potato slices brought it all back home. 
So my meal was complete, but something was missing. It wasn't quite American enough, there was nothing THAT particular about it all. So I took a break and did some yoga, something I do when I realize I'm sweating over silly things like side dishes. I was in downward dog, taking mental note of the dust under my bed, when a clear voice from deep inside me declared...      "CORNBREAD." 
That was it, corn- the most American of vegetables. Cornbread, the most comforting of comfort foods. It married the soup in a lavish yet humble ceremony and tied the whole meal together with southern grace. Hallelujah.
For dessert, personal chocolate lava cakes with raspberries and little American flag toothpicks.
Betsy Ross would have been so proud, not to mention Barbara Bush. My God, what has become of me?

Roasted Red Pepper Chipotle Soup:
8 red bell peppers, cored and quartered
8 tomatoes, cored and cut in half
1 red onion, peeled and quartered
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 chipotle pepper in abodo sauce (diced with seeds removed)
1 bouillon cube
1 glug of heavy cream or milk
1 avocado (in small cubes, for garnish)
For the dollop:
1 cup Crème Fraîche or sour cream
1 handful mint leaves

First, blend up the mint leaves with the Crème Fraîche, cover and refrigerate.
Arrange peppers, tomatoes (cut side up), onion and garlic in large baking trays. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400°F (200°C) for about 30 minutes, or until everything looks real roasted. Transfer to a soup pot with a bouillon cube, chipotle pepper, and a little water and let simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often. 
Blend soup with your preferred blending appliance, adding water to arrive at the desired consistency. Transfer back to soup pot and cover until ready to serve. 
Right before serving, stir in your glug of cream or milk (this helps cut the acidic flavor of the tomatoes and creates a velvety texture.) Spoon into bowls and top with the mint cream dollop, garnish with a mint leaf and small cubes of avocado if desired.
It is absolutely obligatory to serve with cornbread. 

All-Purpose Cornbread (adapted from Cook's Illustrated recipe):
1 1/2 cups (212 g) flour
1 cup (150 g) yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3/4 cup (100g) corn kernels (they recommended frozen kernels, thawed. I used canned and it was fine)
1 cup buttermilk (I used my faithful substitute, 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice set aside for 10 minutes to thicken)
2 large eggs
1 stick (110 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Grease 8 inch square baking dish (if you have a cast iron skillet, use it! By all means!). Whisk first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl, set aside.
In a food processor, blend brown sugar, corn kernels and buttermilk. Add eggs and blend until well combined; some corn lumps will remain. 
Make well in center of dry ingredients and pour wet ingredients into well. Fold gently with rubber spatula and add melted butter. Gently and quickly fold mixture together until dry ingredients are just moistened. DO NOT OVER MIX. Mixture will remain lumpy.
Pour into prepared pan and smooth surface with spatula. Bake until deep golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in to the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for about 10 minutes before serving.

26 September 2008

A lunch in Piedmont

While my parents were visiting us recently in Italy, we treated them to an experience few foreigners have ever encountered, a traditional lunch in a down-home country trattoria in the Piedmont wine country. 
We wound our way through country roads to Carrù, a town definitely off the turist map, best known for it’s beef meat and the following delicacies: carne cruda (raw chopped beef) and il carello dei bolliti (the cart of various boiled meats, and when I say “various,” I mean just about every part of the cow, from the tongue to the tail). We ended up a family-run Trattoria that had been in business for 107 years and was frequented by loyal locals- it’s the kind of place that doesn’t even have a menu, they just bring out the food. We started with a dizzying array of mouth-watering antipasti: roasted bell peppers with crumbled hazlenuts, carpione (fried, tempura-like vegetables dressed with vinegar), insalata russa (“russian salad” of tuna, egg and vegetables), sweet, marinated chestnuts, home-made salami, and of course, raw, chopped beef of which Emilio ate roughly 2 pounds. After all this time, I am now very used to seeing all sorts of strange meat dishes in Italy, and Emilio’s enthusiam for all of them has created a sort of indifferent appreciation in me, notwithstanding my vegetarianism. It was fun for me to witness my parents’ reactions, however, as they were presented with a large plate of what was essentially raw hamburger meat. They did partake, however, and hesitantly admitted it was tasty though unnerving.
After another course of beef ravioli in floating in broth, they finally rolled out the Cart of Boiled Meats, to Emilio’s joy and my parents’ absolute horror. We’re not used to seeing meat that looks like it came from real animals in the US, nor are we used to eating different parts of the animal. So the Cart of Boiled Meats is not very appetizing to Americans, especially the whole boiled chicken with it’s bald head and limp neck, and the dubious-looking boiled cow tail. Emilio was overjoyed, however, and his enthusiasm spilled over to all, helped by the copious, delicious regional wine.

Carrello di Bollito Misto
Sauces for the Bollito Misto
Dessert was hazlenut cake, proudly baked by our waitress, served with zabaglione (an Italian custard-like sauce made with marsala). Then came the much-needed coffee, and the not-so-much needed (though delicious) grappa. We politely asked if they had a Cart of Boiled Customers to wheel us out on, but alas we had to use our own feet to drag ourselves out the door and back to the abandoned twighlight-zone of a town with its creepy, empty amusement park in the main piazza.

The chef and the grappa

13 September 2008

Swiss Bread

Emilio and I adventured on a quick, overnight jaunt to the German side of Switzerland a couple days ago. The drive was heart-breakingly beautiful: the dizzying heights and careening waterfalls of the alps, the ubiquitous soft-eyed cows and the sentimental clanging of their bells, the sweetness of the velvety green foothills and impeccably manicured apple-orchards in the slanted evening light. We were breath-taken, and vowed to wake up at the crack of dawn to take advantage of the endless photographic opportunities. 
Well, the crack of dawn ended up turning in to 9 a.m., but it didn't matter anyway since the glittering landscape of the evening before had transformed in to a foggy, drenching, gray, rainy mud festival. So we snapped a few shots and headed straight for the local bakery where we stocked up on an embarrassing amount of bread, yogurt and pastries, and started winding our way back to sunny Italy, snacking and chatting all the way home.

30 July 2008

Malakopf Ceviche

Many of you may recall fondly the killer ceviche that Tonio brought to the Malakopf potluck for our last night in Texas. I, for one, was a member of that shifty-eyed crowd of sharks hovering jealously over the frosty bowl of flavorful fish most of the evening, corn chip poised ever-ready between my fingers. I immediately solicited Tonio for the recipe, which he provided me almost instantly. Thank you Tonio!

Ceviche (A party-size recipe via Diana Kennedy)

Marinate in a glass or ceramic bowl for 4-6 hours, turning occasionally if you remember:

  • 1 lb scallops
  • 1 lb shelled deveined shrimp
  • 1 lb skinned deboned redfish, cubed
  • Or any mix of fish and/or shellfish you fancy
  • 1 pint fresh lime juice – freshly squeezed at Central Market is too easy to pass up
  • kosher salt
  • fresh black pepper
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • dried greek oregano
  • 12 deveined and deseeded jalapenos or serranos, thinly sliced, salmonella be damned…the lime juice should kill it…
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 2 avocados, cubed
  • 6 tomatoes, cubed
  • bunch cilantro, chopped

22 July 2008

Wednesday Night Steak Nite at Waring General Store

For those of you in the Hill Country area, I highly recommend you stop by Waring some slow Wednesday night. The food may not be the best in the region, but the atmosphere certainly merits the trip. Good music, buckets of beer, and cowboys abound in this funky old gas station and general store. Make the short trip out there, you won't be disappointed and the fellas that run the place will make you feel right at home.

07 June 2008

When shall we live, if not now?

First off, let me apologize for my undue absence from the blog. I have been sucked in to the tornado of everyday life and tossed around in the wind tunnel of lost time. I have been cooking however, and writing, and researching, so I will soon culminate these efforts in to a series of brilliant blog posts.
For now, however, I would like to share with you a quote from M.F.K Fisher's The Art of Eating (thank you Leah!!). It is filled with pearls of food related wisdom and so much more, I highly encourage you all to give it a read some time. This passage reminds me so much of the many loving meals I have relished with close friends and family, from Moneglia to Boerne.
From the Chapter "Meals for Me":

Dining partners, regardless of gender, social standing or the years they've lived, should be chosen for their ability to eat and drink with the right mixture of abandon and restraint. They should enjoy food, and look upon its preparation and its degustation as one of the human arts. They should relish the accompanying drinks, whether they be ale from a bottle on a hillside or the ripe bouquet of a Chambertin 1919 in a great crystal globe on finest damask.

And above all, friends should possess the rare gift of sitting. They should be able, no eager, to sit for hours--three, four, six--over a meal of soup and wine and cheese, as well as one of 20 fabulous courses.

Then with good friends of such attributes, and good food on the board, and good wine in the pitcher, we may well ask, When shall we live if not now?

04 June 2008

Indoor Summer Grill

The past few weeks of early summer have warmed me inside and out; understandably at 100F. I think it must be a case of remnant reverence for summer left over from my childhood, but lately I have overlooked the discomfort of my constant perspiration and focused on the slow sunsets, precious breezes, enthusiasm for swimming and meals prepared and enjoyed outdoors.

Last night, I wanted to celebrate summer and I didn't let anything (the lack of a backyard, outdoor grill and at-ready party of friends) stand in my way. I made a dinner of indoor-grilled hamburgers, chipotle ketchup, zucchini, balsamic onions and roasted asparagus. I used a panini press (George Foreman-style), but you could definitely do all of this on the stove top with a grill pan.

ground beef (natural, hormone-free)
seasoned bread crumbs
Worchestire sauce
finely chopped garlic
salt & pepper

Mix all ingredients together, taking caution not to overwork the meat and form into patties. A little tip: I coated my fingertips with olive oil before forming them into patties to keep the meat from sticking all over me. Grill until internal temp reaches 160F, or to personal liking and standard safety regulations. (Can't ever be too safe, these days.)

Chipotle Ketchup
chopped chipotle peppers and their adobo sauce
balsamic vinegar

Combine ingredients to your liking and enjoy with whatever you please.
(I enjoyed it with my hamburger meat and a squirt of dijon mustard.)

zucchini (um...duh)
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
chopped garlic
salt and pepper

Cut zucchini lengthwise strips, each about 1/4-inch wide and coat with remaining ingredients. Let marinate at least as long as it takes to cook the hamburgers. Then grill, a handful of minutes on each side.

yellow or red onion
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Cut onion horizontally into rounds. Toss onion in remaining ingredients and allow to marinate. Add rings/clusters of onion to grill, cooking for a handful of minutes until slightly transparent, or to your liking.

Roasted Asparagus
olive oil
chopped garlic
salt and pepper

Trim asparagus of tough flesh from bottom of stalk by bending until they break (best part). Coat in remaining ingredients and cook in oven set to 350F for 8-15 minutes depending on the asparagus and your preference for bite.

I ate my dinner outside, behind the cozy, fenced-in walls of my back patio. My beer bottle was sweating, but - for once - I wasn't. The heat outside matched the heat of the spicy, satisfying meal I just prepared and my skin felt soothingly radiant. Summer's finest offerings can be found indoors and out, with a community and alone, in the city and the country.

29 May 2008

Taco Salad

Intrigued by its dimpled, dark shell and promise of a yellow-green rainbow of silken flesh, I swooped the avocado from its perch on my pantry shelf and made passionate dinner.

The avocado, technically a berry of a flowering tree, was my muse. This seduction is not surprising, given what I just read from Wikipedia:

The word "avocado" comes from the Nahuatl word ahuakatl (testicle, a reference to the shape of the fruit). Historically avocados had a long-standing stigma as a sexual stimulant and were not purchased or consumed by any person wishing to preserve a chaste image. Avocados were known by the Aztecs as "the fertility fruit".

The dish I prepared, a taco salad, is one that appears regularly at my dinner table. The ingredients are staples in my fridge/pantry and the recipe is adaptable to both an ample or a tight budget, depending on your choice to use fresh produce versus canned goods. I find it fresh and satisfying:

Taco Salad

Steak or Chicken (skirt steak or chicken breasts is what I've used)
Olive oil
Meat seasonings with Mexican influence (see below)
Lime juice

Lettuce (I used spinach, but I like it with a crisp lettuce such as romaine)
Black beans
Yellow corn
Hot sauce

Last night I prepared my steak for grilling by rubbing it with olive oil, soy sauce, garlic powder, cayenne, cumin and oregano. After cooking my meat (grilling, searing or baking), I cut the steak into bite-sized pieces after it had rested, recollecting its juices. I then sprinkled the meat with lime juice.

To assemble the salad, I began by building a foundation of lettuce on my plate, topping it with black beans, corn, steak, chopped tomato and avocado in quantities to my liking. Instead of salad dressing, I topped the lovely pile with ample globs of hot sauce (though I like the idea of a well-paired vinaigrette).

Swallowing the last savory bite of this festive mess of a meal, I exhaled a sigh of satisfaction. My world was momentarily quieted and I felt full. Ahhh, avocado.

18 May 2008

Homemade Hummus

Hummus, the creamy leguminous dip featuring pureed chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans or, in my family, tushie beans) and tahini (sesame seed paste), has become a staple in many American's diets.  Calling this undoubtedly Middle Eastern specialty an "American food" probably breaks a million codes of political correctness and smacks of cultural appropriation, but I'm gonna do it anyway.  No longer confined to natural food markets, multiple brands of hummus (many flavored creatively with olives, roasted peppers and garlic) can be found in supermarkets everywhere, and hummus sandwiches are featured on most any deli menu...and it's no wonder! Hummus is delish, and good for you too. Good for you, that is, if it's not chock full of additives, gobs of salt and saturated fats, which unfortunately is the case with many of these pre-packaged supermarket hummus options. The good news is that if you have a food processor in your kitchen, healthful and tasty hummus is super easy to make at home (and more affordable too).  I just whipped up a batch this afternoon after coming across this great recipe in Cooks Illustrated magazine--a recipe worth making again and again and customizing with your favorite additions.  I doubled the recipe to make a big batch and it worked out just fine. Next time around I think I'll play around with some different flavors and garnishes...pinenuts perhaps, or maybe roasted peppers.  And a few tips for any of you who might be uninitiated hummus-eaters out there:  hummus is a great appetizer/lunch served with pita bread, pita chips (or pretty much any kind of cracker), and crispy raw veggies.  It's also a great sandwich filling layered with cheese, roasted eggplant, sprouts or other veggies, or served as part of a Middle Eastern meal with baba ganush, tabbuli, dolmas, etc.  The options are many!

Best Hummus

3 tablespoons lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons tahini, stirred well
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle on top
1 14 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch cayenne
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro or parsley for garnish

1. Combine lemon juice and water in small bowl or measuring cup. Whisk tahini and oil in another small bowl. Set aside a few tablespoons of whole chickpeas for garnish
2. Process chickpeas, garlic, salt, cumin, and cayenne in food processor until almost fully ground, about 15 seconds. Scrape down bowl with a spatula.  While machine is running, add lemon juice mixture in a steady stream through the feeding tube. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl and process for about another minute.  Again, with machine running, add the tahini mixture in a steady stream through the tube, continuing to process until smooth and creamy, about 15 seconds. You may have to stop to scrape down the bowl again. 
3. Transfer hummus to serving bowl or storage container and garnish with reserved chickpeas, chopped herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil. If serving rather than storing, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about 1/2 hour to let flavors meld. Will last about 5 or so days in the fridge (maybe more). 

05 May 2008

Classic Cornbread

2 c. yellow cornmeal
1 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
4 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, well beaten
1 stick butter, melted and cooled

Pre-heat oven to 400º.
Melt butter and let it cool.
Mix together all ingredients.  (Don't over stir)
Pour into a greased and floured loaf or brownie pan.
Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown & toothpick comes out clean.
Serve with honey butter.

* Add any other goodies you like in your cornbread: chipotle peppers, jalapeno jack cheese, or dried cranberries and pecans.

24 April 2008

Lisa's Spring Green Deviled Eggs

photo by Emi

Zia Lisa is quite often the smiling host of our Super Italian Sunday Lunches. It's almost humiliating how she always seamlessly prepares an infinite number of tasty and diverse treats and courses, apparently without ever breaking a sweat. For those of you who know some of Emilio's family, Zia Lisa (pronounced Leeza) is Zio Alfonzo's wife, Feli's stepmother, and a domestic goddess. Besides being an accomplished graphic artist, she is a magician in the kitchen. She continuously pulls out authentic and delicious family recipes from a seemingly endless supply. Last Sunday she once again delighted us all with a deliciously delicate egg dish.
It's basically a more sophisticated deviled egg, but much more flavorful than our traditional mayo-paprika variety. This recipe comes from the Piedmont region of Italy, which has a particular obsession with capers, an infatuation I firmly advocate. The parsley colors the creamy yolk filling a fresh shade of pale green, perfect for a spring appetizer.

This is the recipe as passed to Lisa by her 86-year-old cousin. They usually ate these at Easter and throughout the Summer.

Ingredients for 20 deviled eggs:
10 whole eggs
Tuna packed in olive oil - 160 grams (about 5.6 oz)
A nice handful of Italian parsley
Capers - 2 large Tbs.
A pat of butter
Mayonnaise - 2 Tbs.
Lemon juice

Hard boil the eggs*, peel and cut them in half lengthwise. Separate the yolks from the whites. If you wish, you can cut a thin sliver off the bottom of the egg white, so it will stay still on the serving platter. With a knife, carefully enlarge the bowls of the egg whites, so more filling can fit. In a food processor or blender, process first the capers with the parsley, then add the butter and the strained tuna. Lastly, add the egg yolks and the vinegar. Pour the mixture in to a bowl and add the mayonnaise. Stir, and add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Fill the egg whites with the mixture. Chill until serving.

*For a perfect hard boiled egg: Place eggs in a pot and cover them with about an inch of water. Cook over medium heat until they come to a boil. Promptly turn off the heat and let them sit for exactly 7 minutes, then throw them in an ice bath to stop the cooking.

Adesso in Italiano...

DOSI per 10 UOVA INTERE (20 ripiene)
Tonno sott’olio - 160 grammi
capperi – 2 cucchiai abbondanti
Un bel ciuffo di prezzemolo
Una noce di burro
Maionese – 2 cucchiai
Succo di limone

Lessate le uova, dividetele a metà, separate i tuorli; se volete, affinché stiano ferme nel piatto di portata, dagli albumi togliete una cupoletta sottilissima dal fondo, Allargare con un coltellino il foro da riempire. Nel tritatutto mettete prima i capperi e il prezzemolo e iniziate a tritarli, aggiungete il burro, il tonno sgocciolato dall’olio e continuate a tritare. Per ultimo aggiungete i tuorli con un cucchiaino di aceto e terminate di tritare.
Versate il composto in una ciotola, aggiungete due cucchiai di maionese. Mescolate bene, eventualmente aggiungete un po’ di succo di limone e farcite le uova.
Meglio servirle fredde.

12 April 2008

An American Breakfast

A pancake breakfast, in my opinion, is a quintessential American meal. Though America certainly has no monopoly on pancakes, "flapjacks" or quick, pan-cooked breads--the French have crepes and the Russians and Jews have blintzes to name just a few international examples--there's something about American pancakes that sets them firmly within our "native" food canon. Maybe it's our predilection for drenching them in maple syrup or molasses that makes pancakes seem so uniquely American. If nothing else, pancakes exemplify the American fondness for extremes, showing up on menus in petite "silver dollars" or giant, plate-dwarfing specimens. We have even exported IHOP (International House of Pancakes), a pancake-based restaurant chain (albeit a mediocre one), to Mexico and Japan. Whether or not we can rightfully claim pancakes as our own, many Americans love nothing more than a weekend morning breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs, though it most often necessitates a post-breakfast nap!

In the USA, pancakes come in many guises, from sweet to savory, buckwheat to buttermilk, but I would venture to guess that the sweet, buttermilk pancake is by far the most common. Buttermilk pancakes are light and airy, cooked to a golden brown color, and are a perfect foil for gobs of butter and maple syrup. Many people love buttermilk pancakes dotted with blueberries or even chocolate chips. Since I grew up in a natural-foods loving home, these kinds of white flour and sugar pancakes were usually just the special stuff of family roadtrips or complementary hotel breakfasts. If we made pancakes, we usually made them from scratch, with some if not all whole wheat flour. These pancakes made for heartier, if marginally healthier, fare.

As little girls, my sister and I occasionally got to spend the night with my parents' friend Grace, who has always gardened, raised chickens, and made things like tofu from scratch. Perhaps our palates were already predisposed to pancakes of the "all-natural" variety, but Grace's were something special. They most certainly were whole wheat, but instead of syrup, Grace served us pancakes with dark old-fashioned molasses. Though I'm sure many kids would have balked, we gobbled them up with a glass of homemade soy milk on the side.

Another family friend, Jeannette, who I got to visit for watercolor lessons for a special treat, once served me a "tea" with her Scottish family's favorite oatmeal pancakes. As an older person interested in food, I have recently become fascinated with the idea of oatmeal pancakes, and the recipe that follows is my latest experiment. They are tender and light, but also a filling breakfast, perfect served with fruit, yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup. The recipe is inspired by a source in Gourmet magazine. Enjoy! And please comment or post with your favorite pancake recipe.

Oatmeal Pancakes

**this recipe is supposed to make 4 pancakes, but I find it makes at least 12

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats (substitute regular rolled oats ground coarsely in the food processor)
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons well-shaken buttermilk, divided
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
canola or veggie oil for frying

accompaniments: maple syrup, plain yogurt, fresh fruit...

Soak oats in 3/4 cup buttermilk for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Stir remaining wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until JUST combined.

Heat a griddle or heavy skillet (cast iron is great) over medium heat and brush or coat lightly with oil. When skillet/oil is hot, work in batches to drop about 1/4 cup batter into oil and cook a few minutes until bubbles appear on surface and underside is golden. Flip and cook a few more minutes on other side until golden. Add more oil between batches if needed. Best served hot straight from the pan but can be kept warm in an oven until ready to serve.

28 March 2008

Fried Wild Asparagus

We went on a walk with Zio Micchi while we were down in Moneglia this weekend. For us it was a walk, for Zio Micchi it probably couldn't even be considered a stroll. This man is nimble as a mountain goat, and at 70 years old leaves us all panting in his dust. We were on a rocky hilltop, gazing down at the stunning view of the Mediterranean, when something caught my eye. "That plant looks exactly like asparagus!" I giggled.
"That's because it is!" replied Zio Micchi, explaining that once, wild asparagus grew on all the hilltops around Moneglia, but has long since been over-harvested in the areas closest to town. We collected a few stalks, which he gingerly wrapped in his handkerchief to present to his wife (Zia Marghe) upon our return. "Just wait and see how delighted she is!" he winked.
Indeed she was. She immediately went to work washing the stalks, coating their tips first in flour, then dipping them in some beaten egg and frying them in olive oil. The result (need I even say it?) was mouthwatering. The flavor was different than domesticated asparagus, it was more delicate and balanced, with garlicky and nutty overtones. They were devoured enthusiastically by all, and I instantly understood the reason for their disappearance from nearby hill-tops. I would certainly eat them every day if they were so close within reach.

26 March 2008

Focaccia Genovese
(An Italian Parenthesis)

So, I know I've been requesting American recipes, but It's funny, I recently clicked on the "Italian" category of this blog and was astonished at how under-represented is my current cuisine of residence. In fact most of the (very few) Italian recipes on this site have not even been published by me, which is pretty lame considering I've lived here for 4 (!!!) years now. So I decided to make a quick Italian parenthesis to recount a few things I learned this weekend.
Emilio and I went down to his family's vacation home on the Ligurian coast for Easter weekend. These are always culinary journeys, considering his family who loves to cook and delights in my curiosity. Zia Marghe taught me how to make Focaccia, which was (surprisingly) quick and easy, yet (not surprisingly) delicious. She says the trick is to have a really hot oven, she actually prefers to bake it in her toaster oven.

Focaccia Genovese:

Note: Zia Marghe didn't measure anything except the flour, so the ratio of water and oil might need some tweaking. Preheat oven to 250°C (450-500°F). Mix 1 cup warm water with a package of dry yeast. Stir until dissolved and set aside for about 5-10 minutes.
Add yeast water to 500 grams (about 4.5 cups) flour and stir with a fork. Add about another cup of warm water, 2 Tbsp sugar and 2 Tbsp olive oil and continue to mix with your hands until well combined. Drizzle with some more oil, cover with a clean, damp cloth and let rise for about an hour.
Cover a baking sheet (or two if using a little toaster oven) with oiled parchment paper and dump out the dough on to this surface. Spread the dough out to the edges of the baking sheet pretty thinly using the tips of your fingers (coated in olive oil to avoid sticking). Make sure to leave finger imprints in the dough, that's what makes it have it's final bumpy appearance. Drizzle with more olive oil, don't be shy, this is what makes it authentic- lot's of olive oil. It should pool up in all your little finger holes. Don't worry, it will be absorbed and not greasy. Sprinkle the focaccia evenly and generously with coarse salt. Toss in to hot oven and keep an eye on it. It's ready when the top turns golden, about 20 minutes or less, depending on the oven. Eat while hot.

22 March 2008

The Lamb Cake

I inherited the traditional ( and once terrible) task of making the Lamb Cake each Easter. The antique cast iron mold of a cute little lamb, and memories from my childhood of the thrilling cake seduced me into thinking I should have the Lamb Cake mold. As I remember the story, it belonged to Florence Herff (who my mother says was a lot like me.) She was my great grandmother who I never met. She raised my mother and so the mold came down the family tree. Now I'm not sure Florence ever actually make the cake, because Anna, the housekeeper/nanny who lived with the family for three generations was always there. When I was a child it was Anna who made the cake, easy as pie. I cannot remember an Easter without the lamb. Anna passed away 35 years ago so I inherited the mold, but not the recipe.

I imagined my children having fond memories of Easter Sunday when I would bring the dusty mold off the shelf and perform the magic I once saw. But in reality, I would start the experiment only hours before having to present the cake to my big family of five brothers whom also could not imagine an Easter without the lamb. Always optimistic, picturing the perfect presentation, I would start looking through cookbooks to find the perfect recipe. For many, many years the cute little cake would turn into a monster nightmare of frustration and tears. The lamb would become a Frankenstein sort of creature with toothpicks and excessive amounts of icing gluing together his head, ears, nose. One year he had to go to the party laying down, like the slaughtered lamb. I had many a humiliating Easter and grew to dread the hateful little lamb. My children had uneasy feelings about Easter as a holiday that involved lots of hair pulling and cussing.

But no more! After close to 30 years of experiments, I have learned the secrets of how to make the Lamb Cake and I am sharing every detail with you so maybe you too will dare to create a cake that delights little children and grandparents alike.

How to Make a Lamb Cake

Dust off the cast iron mold. Ours is in 2 pieces that fit together with the nose side down.
Use spray oil with flour in it if available. Get the oil in all the nooks and crannies.

Preheat oven to 375

Have all ingredients room temperature
Sift before measuring 2 cups cake flour,
resift with:
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
In another bowl cream until fluffy:
1 cup sugar and 1/3 to 1/2 cup butter
combine: 3/4 cup milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla

Add the sifted ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 parts, alternating with thirds of the liquid combination. Stir the batter until smooth after each addition. Whip until stiff but not dry
2 large egg whites. Fold them lightly into the batter.

Now, put the mold NOSE side down on a cookie sheet and fill with batter. Next is the secret to an upright lamb with ears... carefully add bamboo skewers into the nose, across the head to the ears and one for the entire length of the body. Much like the Statue of Liberty, the lamb needs a structure to be sure it will stand true and tall.

Next, close the other half over the mold and place in the oven for 50 minutes. Our mold has no vents or way to test for doneness, so you just have to know 50 minutes is right. Trust me on this. Don't open the mold!

When done, let it sit IN THE MOLD, nose side down for 15 minutes.

Then you may lift the back off and see how you did.
Let the lamb rest for another 15-30 minutes to cool and set.
When cool, carefully loosen the edges with a knife, especially around the ears. Then flip it onto a platter. Before icing the cake I recommend freezing it for a short time to give it more strength.

I make lots just in case I need to glue a head or ear back on...

Sift 4 cups confectioners sugar
beat until soft:
6 Tablespoons butter
Add sugar gradually
Add 4 teaspoons vanilla or coffee or orange, etc
Blend until creamy (add a little cream to make it creamy)

Let icing sit over hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Let Lamby out of the freezer and stand him up. Slather thickly with icing to make him look fat and cute. While icing is still wet, pat shredded coconut all over him. Add raisins for eyes and nose and tie a pretty bow around his neck.

Decorate the platter and take a picture of the little guy!

09 March 2008

American Food Part 1 continued: Bread Pudding

Posting about Helen's gumbo got me thinking about another one of her specialties...bread pudding. Now I'm sure bread pudding-type dishes can be found all over the world. It's just about the simplest baked dessert I can think of, and is made from humble, common ingredients...bread, milk, eggs, sugar. Grandma Helen claims that stale french bread from New Orleans is the key to this recipe's success, but I believe that any light, airy baguette-type bread will do just fine. You can omit the raisins if you're not a fan, but the sauce is, in my mind, essential.

Helen's Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

1 large loaf french bread (1.5 medium): a few days old and stale (or you can cheat and put it in a 200 degree oven for a while to dry it out)
1 quart milk
1 cup raisins
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Tear the bread into pieces a little larger than bite-sized. Place in a medium bowl and add milk and soak/stir until soggy. In a separate bowl mix together eggs, sugar and vanilla and then add to bread and milk mixture once it gets soggy. Add raisins. Pour into a pyrex or ceramic casserole dish and place that in another pan filled with about 1/4 inch of water. Bake until bubbling and beginning to brown on top (not sure how long this should take...10 mins?...will report back).

Meanwhile, make sauce in a double boiler or metal bowl suspended over a pot of boiling water. Melt 1 stick of butter and then whisk in 1 cup of powdered sugar. Beat one egg yolk in a small bowl and add a few spoons full of butter/sugar mixture to egg, then add to the rest of the butter/sugar in double boiler and mix until there are no lumps. Remove from heat, let cool and then add 1/4 cup of whiskey (I think Helen uses Bourbon).

Pour sauce over cooked pudding (you may not want to use all of it-to taste) and then return to oven and broil for a minute or two. Serve warm (or eat cold for breakfast straight out of the dish).

American Food Part 1: Seafood Gumbo

The more time I put into thinking about it, the more confused I've become about what truly is American food. It definitely gets complicated by the fact that we're predominately a country of immigrants, and most every food item I can think of is really "fusion" cuisine. What do Americans eat everyday? Well, the answer must be 'a whole lotta different stuff.' This country is so big, so diverse, it's impossible to generalize except to say that we eat a lot! Unfortunately, American food seems to most often conjure up the old cliches...hamburgers, hotdogs, apple pie. These things certainly have their place and their fans, but it's definitely not what I eat everyday! To me, the closest answers I can come up with to what is truly American food are regional specialty foods; creations that resulted who-knows-when from creative combinations of foods from the old country with new ingredients fresh from American soil. Since I've had little time and little need to cook lately (everyone else seems to be cooking and inviting me over these days), I'll post about some different examples over the next several weeks.

Example #1 is my Grandma Helen's Seafood Gumbo. Helen grew up in New Orleans and is a wonderful cook when it comes to local specialties. Gumbo, in my mind, is a pretty great example of an American food--a fusion of old and new world and utterly unique. Read all about it here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gumbo. I've never made Helen's gumbo, but have eaten it several times and plan to try my hand at it as soon as opportunity arises. A few ingredients my be hard or even impossible to get in Italy (okra and file powder, for example). You might just have to come visit to give it a try!

Seafood File Gumbo

Combine and set aside this seasoning mix:
1.5 teaspoons ground cayenne
1.5 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
.5 teaspoons of following:
white pepper, black pepper, dried thyme leaves, oregano leaves
2 bay leaves, crumbled

5.5-6 cups fish stock
3/4 cup canola/vege. oil)
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped bell peppers
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 lb. sliced okra
1 tablespoon Tabasco or other Louisiana hot pepper sauce
1 1/4 tomato sauce (unseasoned)
3 tablespoons gumbo file http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fil%C3%A9_powder
Assorted seafood: whole crabs (break claws at joint, and crack cleaned bodies down middle), shelled shrimp, oysters, firm white fish, etc. (she doesn't specify how much--a few lbs. total?)
1 lb. Kielbasa sausage or chicken (optional, though important for flavor to some)

In heavy stockpot heat oil over med. heat until smoking point. Add onion, celery and bell peppers and stir. Turn heat to high and stir in file powder, tabasco, garlic and seasoning mix. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and stir in tomato sauce-cook 5 minutes stirring constantly and scraping bottom of the pan as the file thickens. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium. Add okra, sausage or chicken, and crabs and cook until okra is done. Turn off and let sit if you have the time and then rewarm close to the time you want to serve (flavor improves with sitting). Add fish, shrimp, and oysters to re-warmed soup over medium/high heat about 5 minutes before serving.

Serve over rice. Mmmmmm.

06 March 2008

All-American in Italy

Friends, Family, Fellow bloggers: I have a small request.
I want american food. I want your most american, down-home, back-country or inner-city, passed-down, real recipes. I have been colonizing Italy, one meal at a time, and I'm running out of ideas.
I'm ready to show Italy that we might have something more than McDonald's to offer the world's kitchen.
Give me all you got.

29 February 2008

Matching flavors

I've been looking for a dictionary of flavors. I'm sure something like this exists, I'm just not sure where. Lately, I don't follow recipes at all, I just scan my cookbooks for new ingredient combinations and apply them to whatever I feel like making. For instance, I wanted to make up a new salmon dish the other night. I knew that fennel and orange went well together from a salad I make, and they are both at their peak season here right now. Red onion fits well with salmon and could balance out the sweetness of the other two flavors. Violà, my new favorite salmon recipe. It's so delicious I'm sure someone has thought of this before me. I love putting the pieces together like a puzzle. There are so many combinations out there, waiting to be discovered, transformed, adapted....

Orange marinated salmon over grilled fennel

Salmon fillet (the thicker the better)
Fresh Fennel (the herb)
A handful of capers
Red Onion, thinly sliced in rings
White Wine
Olive Oil
Oranges (I used delicious red oranges from Sicily)
Fennel bulbs (1 per person)

Lay the salmon out flat in a large tupperware and marinade with the juice from one orange, one lemon, a cup of white wine, olive oil, onion, capers, salt and pepper, and some sprigs of fresh fennel (not chopped). Cover and refrigerate for 30 min to an hour, or less if you're pressed for time. In the meantime, wash fennel bulbs and remove outermost, toughest layer. Cut them in to quarters vertically, brush with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Toss these babies on the grill and cook until soft when poked with fork (I used a grill pan, but if you don't have one you could just brown them in a regular pan).
Next, prepare the fish. I like to sear it in a large, non stick skillet, but if you have an actual grill fired up, that would be a delicious alternative. To sear it, really heat up your biggest pan over a medium-high flame with no oil. Pick up the salmon fillet, shaking off the marinate, and toss it (pink side down) in the hot pan. Let it sear and brown for a few minutes (check the color so it doesn't burn), then pour in the marinade and cover pan. After another minute or so flip the fish, add more wine if it's getting dry, and cover again. Cook until the fish is done, but not over-done, it should be pink and moist inside still. Serve over the grilled fennel bulbs and garnish with a slice of orange.

22 February 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies.
If they claim otherwise they're either lying or peculiar. I have probably made hundreds of batches in my lifetime, spilling pounds of flour in the process, and devouring mounds of dough. There is nothing that brings out the inner child like witnessing the mysterious alchemy of the oven as greasy dough balls grow and puff in to soft, moist, gooey cookies.
Chocolate chip cookies, like so many kitchen miracles, were discovered by accident. Ruth Wakefield, proprietor of the Toll House Inn, ran out of baker's chocolate one day while making cookies in the early 1930s. She improvised by chopping up a Nestlè semisweet chocolate bar, expecting it to melt completely and incorporate with the dough, but instead it only softened, and those gooey little chocolate pockets remained intact. The chocolate chip cookie was born, and was an instant success. When Nestlè saw it's sales of semisweet chocolate jumped as the recipe spread, they struck a deal with Ruth Wakefield: a lifetime supply of Nestlè chocolate in exchange for the rights to print her recipe on their packaging. In 1939, "Nestlé Toll House Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels" were born, and the rest is history.
In my ever-growing cravings for truly American treats, I have used my Italian kitchen to import all sorts of traditional foods from apple pie to oatmeal, popcorn to pancakes, brownies to barbecue sauce. I have no idea why it never occurred to me to make chocolate chip cookies. It's as if they were too American, too home-like, too genuine to take out of their natural habitat. I didn't even miss them, it's as if they never existed. Yesterday, however, I stumbled upon the history of chocolate chip cookies on the internet and was overcome with an undeniable urge to make them, not just to eat them, but to actually bake them. I wanted the sticky fingers and the flour-dusted counter top, the aroma of the oven, and obviously the sweet, hot reward.
I went to the grocery store and was foolishly surprised not to find chocolate chips. I bought a dark chocolate bar, and made them the Ruth Wakefield way, trying to picture the kitchen of the Toll House Inn in the 1930s, and thanking the lord for the necessity that mothered this exquisite invention.

Original Toll House Inn Chocolate Chip Cookies:

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 lg eggs
1 3/4 - 2 cups chocolate chips (semi sweet)
1 cup nuts (optional)

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.
1. COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.
2. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts.
5. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
6. BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.

04 February 2008

Homecomings and Goings

Going home is such a funny thing for any grown child- it grows stranger and more surreal with each visit. Living in a foreign country, these homecomings become even more peculiar. Upon each return, new vocabulary words are tossed around to describe trends of which I’m ignorant, a years worth of movies I’ve missed are discussed with faded enthusiasm, ideas have changed, people and pets have died, been born, and gotten married or divorced.

This year, bamboo was suddenly a fabric, Modest Mouse played on the radio, 11 year olds wore Uggs over Skinny-Jeans, global warming became dinner conversation, several new engagements and divorces were announced, and the iPhone became just another household object.

Fortunately, however, some things never really change. One of these things is my mother’s kitchen: always crowded, lively, warm and full of healthy smells. I love to cook in that kitchen. It’s the center of the house, and an adventure in itself. You never know when platters will come careening off their precarious position atop the refrigerator, if you’ll ever find that knife you’re sure existed yesterday, or what surprises you’ll find in the back of the cupboard. It’s a space without time. Sure, she can buy new plates or reorganize the pot lids, but the spirit of that kitchen remains the same: spontaneous and creative. It’s the perfect kitchen for experimenting: if necessity is the mother of invention, then abundance must be the rogue father- and they mingle peacefully in this timeless room. My cousin Shelly, who grew up to be a chef in 5-star restaurants, remembers her first culinary adventures in my mother’s kitchen: a recipe that called for cacao, white sugar and enriched cake flour would be nearly unrecognizable when replaced with carob, molasses and spelt.

While it’s not as extreme in its substitutions as it once was, this kitchen has retained her cozy vagabond soul. She has been the backdrop for my childhood cooking shows and the host to hundreds of dinner parties with countless combinations of guests- some who came to stay and others destined to leave us. She has seen garden grubs explode in a wok, and witnessed my transformation after my first adventure in Italy, as I rolled gnocchi with my future husband. Through all the years and thousands of meals, she has always opened her crumb-covered arms, and welcomed us home.

It’s comforting to know, in a world transforming too quickly to absorb, where my native land feels more alien with each passing day, that there exists this cozy, bustling refuge brimming with the aroma of memory, evolving yet never really changing.

28 January 2008

minestrone alla genovese

Here is the recipe of this famous soup from Genoa.....no pictures, sorry, maybe in the future...


1 onion
100 gr. Beans (the kind is Borlotti)
150 gr. String Beans
3 potatoes
2 eggplants
200 gr. Zucchini
300 gr. Cabbages
200 gr. Season vegetables (like Swiss chard)
25 gr. Dried mushrooms
2 spoons of extra virgin olive oil
200 gr. Pasta (the little one that in Italy is called BRICCHETTI)
50 gr. PESTO (see the former recipe)


Clean all vegetables and put on the stove a pot with salted water. When it boils put in the pot all the vegetables that you have previously cut into little pieces.
Let the dried mushrooms soak then twist them and put them into the soup.
Cook with at a low fire for an hour or so. Add the pasta and let it cook. Take the pot off the stove and add the pesto (that you have previously watered). Stir and serve with parmesan cheese. (If you don’t like the vegetables in pieces, before adding the pasta, you can use the mix blender to smooth the soup).
Good luck!!!

19 January 2008

Roasted Veggie Enchiladas

Ciel and I made these for a dinner party while I was home. It was a big project, but really fun, and very rewarding. We got the recipe from a great cookbook that Ciel's mom gave to my mom: Everyday Greens: Home Cooking from Greens, the Celebrated Vegetarian Restaurant. They turned out delicious, and even my grandparents said they didn't know vegetarian food could be so tasty!
Left: Enchilada assemblage.


  • 1 large onion
  • 2 large red peppers, diced, about 2 cups
  • 1/2 lb white mushrooms, quartered, about 2 cups
  • 1 medium zucchini diced, about 1.5 cups
  • 1/2 small butternut squash, cut in to small cubes, about 2 cups
  • olive or veggie oil
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 Tbsp whole cumin seeds, toasted then crushed into a powder
  • Salt
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 lb. smoked cheese, grated, about 1 cup
  • 1/4 lb. dry jack cheese, grated, about 1 1/4 cup
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 dozen corn tortillas
  • 1 can enchilada sauce
  • 1 can mole sauce
  • chipotle peppers, canned in abodo sauce

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Toss the veggies in large bowl with the oil, garlic, cumin and 1/2 tsp salt. Spread the veggies on two baking sheets and roast for 15 minutes, turn, and roast until tender, about another 10 minutes. Return veggies to bowl, and season with a very finely chopped chipotle pepper and some of it's tomato sauce. Adjust according to spiciness desire. You may also sautèe some poplanos and add them to the mix, it gives great flavor. Add the rest of the herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
Reduce oven temp to 375°F
Combine cheeses, reserve 1/2 cup for garnish.
Pour about 1/4 inch oil in to skillet and heat until just below smoking point. Using tongs, dip a tortilla in the oil for just a couple seconds. Place on a paper towl to drain oil. Repeat with rest of tortillas.
Mix together your enchilada and mole sauce, or make your own. Pour 3 cups on the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Place some veggies in the center of each tortilla and sprinkle with cheese. Roll 'em up tightly, making sure the filling extends to both ends, and lay in the dish- seam side down. When they're all rolled, ladle enough sauce over them to cover completely.
Cover with foil and bake until they're bubbling, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with the reserved cheese and serve.

*NOTE: You can roast the veggies, make the filling and grate the cheese in advance. Assemble enchilada rolls and place in pan about 2 hours before serving, but wait to pour the sauce over them until right before they go in the oven.

16 January 2008

Spicy Winter Stew

Confidence is not always my strong suit, but when it comes to cooking I consider myself (relatively) fearless. Roast a chicken? No problem. Dinner for 20? Can do. As long as I have a recipe to generally keep myself on track, I'm ready to tackle most anything in the kitchen. Lately, however, I have realized that I generally stick to my comfort zone when it comes to flavors--Italian or Mexican spices, usually. Several attempts at Asian-style dishes have flopped, not to mention a couple of nose-drippingly hot but otherwise flavorless curries. Not to be deterred, I've decided 2008 will be a year to branch out in the kitchen, a chance to explore beyond the basil and garlic. The recipe that follows, a Moroccan-inspired vegetable stew, is, I think, a great way to kick it off.
This recipe was written as a slow-cooker meal, but I made it on the stove top with good results. I'll include instructions for both below. I served it with brown rice with lemon juice, lemon zest, chopped toasted almonds and parsley.
Also, though it's a great vegetarian dish, meat-o-philes might want to explore adding lamb or serving it on the side. I also think it would be a good side for some kind of simply prepared firm, white fish. If you like thinks really spicy, try adding a tiny bit more of the dried spices than the recipe calls for.

Spicetastic Moroccan Stew

(inspired by Susan Sugarman), serves 6

2 tbs. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 cups veg. or chicken broth
2.5 cups cauliflower florets (about 1/2 large head)
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds
2 cups cubed winter squash (kabocha or butternut are great, acorn would be ok too)
1/2 cup diced onion
1 14.5 oz can diced or stewed tomatoes (I used a bigger can with fine results)
1 can garbanzos, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup dried currants or raisins

Slow-Cooker Prep:
Heat olive oil in a frying pan over med/low heat. Add garlic and spices and cook, stirring, until fragrant (1-2 minutes only, don't burn). Scrape into a slow cooker, add all other ingredients and cook on high until vegetables are tender, 8 to 9 hours.
Stove-top Prep:
Like all soupy things, I think this dish tastes best if given time for the flavors to meld. Make it in the morning or early afternoon if you're going to serve it for dinner.
Get out your heaviest soup pot (I used by cast iron dutch oven)--the whole dish will be cooked in this one pot. Cook garlic and spices as above, then add onion and cook a few minutes more. Add all the rest of the ingredients and simmer, covered over lowish heat for about an hour. Turn off the heat and let it sit until about an hour before you want to serve it, then fire up the heat again (low). Taste, and serve!

14 January 2008

A Squash Story

This winter I discovered squash. If you are familiar with my culinary methods at all, you know that when I say "discovered" I mean "became obsessively infatuated with..." I've made squash and pumpkin soups, pies, dips, spreads and purèes. I've baked, broiled, boiled, roasted, sautèed, browned, creamed and steamed it. In short, it was a delicious winter romance, and to think, it all started with a giant zucca from Genoa.
There is not a wide array of squash in Italy, my supermarket has only one drab variety of zucca. Vegetable vendors sell the zucca mantovana, which is sweeter and much more flavorful than the generic version, and every so often I run across a butternut squash as well. So, not surprisingly, I haven't been enthusiastic about exploring squash recipes since I've been over here. One time, however, I was at the fabulous Mercato Orientale in Genoa, and ran across the biggest, most beautiful zucca mantovana I'd ever seen. I had never cooked much with squash before, but it's bulbous belly and gleaming green skin charmed me. I immediately bought it, without considering the fact I was on foot, and about 3 miles from home. The thing weighed 20 lbs and was 3 times the size of my head. Between the monster squash and my various other provisions, I could barely hobble out of the market to hail a cab.
When I finally did get it home, I had no idea what to do with the monstrosity. It monopolized my fridge for about a week, looking less like a friendly squash and more like a menacing, overweight goblin. I was no less intimidated when I lugged it on the the counter- it completely dwarfed my cutting board, and made my largest, sharpest cleaver look like a butter knife. Several hours later, I had succeeded in carving the goblin, and was ready to embark on my winter-long affair.
The first thing I made was Nisa's fabulous Roasted Butternut-Pear Soup. Then I roasted the seeds, several ways. Then I made soup again, with variations. Then I made pumpkin pie. Then I experimented with risottos, which ended up being the most delicious variation. The list goes on, and so does the romance.

Delicious Roasted Butternut Risotto:


Arborio or other risotto rice (about 1/3 or 1/2 cup per person)
1 butternut squash
1-2 yellow or white onions
2 cloves or more garlic
1 Tbsp finely diced, fresh rosemary
1/2 cup white wine
broth or bouillon
Parmesan cheese

Peel, de-seed and cut the butternut in to 1 inch cubes. Toss in a roasting pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast it in the oven at 375° for 20-30 minutes or until it is soft when poked with fork, and starts to turn a darker golden. Remove and set aside to cool. When it's cooled off a bit, throw it in a food processor and whip it up.
While the squash is roasting, start your risotto: Bring broth to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer, covered. Process the onions, garlic and the finely diced rosemary using an immersion blender or food processor until they turn to finely diced mush. Toss the mix in your favorite risotto pan* with some olive oil and a slab of butter. Sautèe for about 5 minutes.
Add your rice (about 1/3 to 1/2 c. per person), and toast it for a minute, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick. Add the wine and let it sizzle and pop for a minute.
Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be mostly absorbed before adding the next.
After about 8 minutes, add the squash-mush. You don't want to add too much (it's not soup) just use your judgement. You want it to be flavorful and a rich, pretty color, but not to overwhelm the rice. Continue adding broth until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente, about 18 minutes total, depending on the rice (check out the instructions on the box). When the rice is done, add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a chunk of butter. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir, then cover the pot and let sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy thoroughly.

*a good risotto pan should be wider than it is tall, with a thick base. Non-stick is ideal, but whatever you have will work.

08 January 2008

Coming soon... A post!

Hi folks. I have not abandoned the blog. I have been travelling the globe, absorbing all sorts of inspiration to chew on. I am back at home and work after a fabulous trip to the states which warmed my heart and filled my belly. Thank you all for the great memories. I am definitey going to post those roasted veggie enchiladas from the dinner party at my folks' house, as well as a to-DIE-for butternut squash risotto I created upon my return to Italy... So stay tuned!