September 11, 2014

Salmon Salad with Pickled Red Onions and Homemade Zesty Dressing

What a summer it has been, end of July we went to Mexico and had a wonderful time. It was E's first time going and my fifth. We went deep sea fishing, snorkeled, laid around the pool, drank margaritas and enjoyed the Mexican beaches. I love Mexican cuisine when done right and I had a great time introducing E to what a real taco tastes like. We had an absolute blast with our friends, a vacation never to be forgotten.

Once we made it back home we felt we needed to clean our bodies after all that delicious (some not so healthy) food. It was too hot in our house so fortunately we were able to stay at my favorite villa that he and his family owns for two weeks. It's my favorite place in the entire world, the sense of tranqility hits you instantly the moment you pull in, birds singing, bees buzzing, bunches of roses and lavender outside the iron doors. You can't help but feel relaxed and I was so happy to be there. We made fruit and vegetable smoothies, sunbathed by the pool and took many runs around the countryside together, cherishing the last week of relaxation before E had to go back to work and leave for a two week business trip in the United States. E's grandma has her garden down the path nearby the horses and donkeys at the villa, so when I needed some vegetables or salad she told me I could go ahead and help myself. What a treat!

One night for dinner we went to my favorite Tuscan restaurant about a thirty minute drive out into the hills of Tuscany.  The restaurant is owned by a mother and son, the mother who is 4ft tall, handles the BBQ better than any man I have ever seen! First course we always take a plate of prosciutto, salami and some bruschette (antipasti). The antipasti is always accompied by these delicious pickled onions. I happen to love anything with onions and I love putting them on my salads but E is not such a fan of raw onions as much as me, although we both happen to love these pickled onions! I had to give it a try and make them at home.

Pickled Red Onions

1 large red onion 

1 cup red wine vinegar 

1\2 cup apple cider vinegar 

small pinch of sugar 

1 tsp salt 

First fill a small pot of water and boil it. Slice your onion in half and take the peel off. Slice in half again and then cut thin slices. In a bowl stir all the ingredients together except the onions. Put your onions in a sieve and pour the hot water over the onions over the sink. Then take a glass canning jar and add your onions and pour the vinegar mixture over. Store in fridge for a month.

Since we usually have a salad for lunch, I like to be creative to make them filling enough for a meal. I had salmon leftover from the night before, fresh tomatoes, fresh lettuce and an idea up my sleeve for a delicious dressing to put over the top. Unlike America where there are rows and rows of bottled dressings in the grocery store to choose from, Italy has none. They use olive oil and balsamic vinegar and that is it. Sometimes I crave a good salad dressing to spruce up my salad and make my taste buds dance. I grew up using Wishbone Italian dressing, ironic that it is named Italian Dressing because in Italy they don't even use them! Anyway, I love Wishbone Italian Dressing, as does my mother, she uses it on salads, tacos and even marinates her chicken in it! (very good) I had to figure out how I could make a homemade version that tasted similar. Let's call it my Homemade Zesty Dressing.

Homemade Zesty Dressing

1 cup olive oil or canola 

1\4 cup white wine vinegar 

2 1\2 tablespoon red wine vinegar 

1 garlic clove pressed 

2 tablespoon finely chopped red pepper 

1 finely chopped shallot

1 teaspoon salt 

Freshly ground pepper (as much as you want)

Tiny pinch of sugar 

1\4 teaspoon dried oregano 

1\4 teaspoon dried parsley 

Combine all ingredients in a mason jar and shake, shake, shake it up! I have had it in my fridge for about three weeks now and it seems to hold up well. Actually, making it a few days ahead of time and letting it rest enhances the flavor. The taste was spot on perfect. Time to make this salad dance.

Mixed Salmon Salad with Pickled Onions and Homemade Dressing 

3 cups chopped romaine lettuce (or of your choice) 

1 medium tomato chopped 

Small handful of the Pickled Red Onions  

Half fillet of cooked salmon 

1\4 cup sunflower seeds 

Grated parmasean cheese 

Pour Homemade Zesty Dressing over the top and mix well. 

July 23, 2014

Fusilli freddi alle verdure

One could say I'm easily amused but there are many things that I see and learn everyday living under the Tuscan sun that make my heart sing. The grey doves that travel in pairs and chirp a beautiful song together. The wild poppies growing alongside an abandoned villa. The group of men who sit outside the cafe every evening looking out to the road together. The elderly lady who lives across the way who is outside feeding her chickens or hanging her sheets outside to dry. The brightly painted door in the alleyway. Of course I can't forget to mention the fields of bright, beautiful, golden sunflowers that begin to bloom at the end of July. It seems as though I'm living in a picture book at times.

Today I'm planning on visiting my two friends, California and Gianco (and by friends I mean horse friends) We have some plums left in the kitchen that are too soft for our liking, but I'm sure the horses and donkeys won't mind. I often visit them, as the villa is down the street from our house. The donkeys start to wale if I'm giving the horses too much attention. Don't worry, I save enough treats for the donkeys too. I love them all so much and it brings me so much joy when I see them.

I'm trying to empty our fridge out before we leave on our trip this Friday. For lunch I prepared a cold pasta dish using whole wheat fusilli with kale, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, grilled eggplant dressed in a olive oil and balsamic vinegar topped with grated ricotta salata. Perfect picnic lunch meal.

Fusilli freddi alle verdure 

(fusilli cold with vegetables)

serving; four

4 oz whole wheat fusilli 

half a bunch of kale 

6 sun dried tomatoes 

5 artichoke hearts (canned in olive oil)

1 medium eggplant 

ricotta salata 

olive oil 

balsamic vinegar 

salt and pepper

While you boil the water for your pasta, take the kale and cut out the stem and slice the leaves into two inch pieces. Dice up the sun dried tomatoes, the artichoke hearts and set aside. Heat a grill pan and cut the eggplant into thin slices. Grill the eggplant on both sides until they have beautiful black grill marks. After cooled, dice them in pieces as well. Once the water is boiled, add your salt followed by the fusilli and the kale pieces. Cooking times vary but my pasta box said 9 minutes until cooked. Strain the pasta with the kale and place in a bowl followed by all the ingredients. Dress with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Once cooled, sprinkle with the ricotta salata. 

July 21, 2014

All you need is love .... and frittatas

Sitting here listening to the Beatles having an espresso after lunch and I'm feeling really guilty I haven't posted on here in months. I have no excuse except for the fact I can sometimes be a perfectionist and pick at all the things I think I should fix until I just don't do it anymore. This ends today! I have been making several delicious meals and I promise they will make their way on here.

It's the end of July and a lot has been going on since April. My aunt came to visit here in Tuscany and we had a wonderful time going all over Italy. Florence, Siena, Rome, Milan, E's vineyards and around here in town. It was such a great time being able to share my life here with someone from my family, we had a fabulous time! After she departed, E and I took a four day trip together to Venice. It was so dreamy and in our opinion, the most romantic city we have ever gone to. Paris, eat your heart out! We got lost on the streets, explored the shops, and took a gondola ride. There is certainly a reason they call it the city of lovers. Three weeks ago I took a solo visit to Portland to visit my family and friends since I haven't seen anyone in nine months. Had a great two week stay spending time with all my family and friends. All was good when I cam back home until my luggage was lost for seven miserable days. The downside of traveling internationally. Although, all I really have needed lately is my bikini as it is officially beach season!

It feels as if the town is alive with all the people hanging at the beach. Tourists from Germany, Netherlands, Britain and more are flooding the area to take in the Tuscan seaside beauty for holiday. E's parents and friends have a private beach membership so I go there from time to time during the week. Weekends, E and I usually go to the beach or our villa nearby to relax, sunbath, swim or play tennis. The best time of the year for me is when it's hot and sunny out. I try to be out enjoying it as much as possible.

We are getting ready to leave for vacation at the end of the week to Portland for a few days and then Mexico. We are over the moon excited! E needs a good long vacation. It's bikini season so I have been making light meals and one thing I love to do when I don't know what to make for dinner is look what's left in the fridge and make a frittata. What is a frittata you ask? I guess I could describe it as an open faced thin omelet. It's very popular here in Italy. I remember the first time my dad made our family a frittata for brunch many years ago. We all were impressed by the fancy name and it soon became one of our favorite brunch meals. My dad is an amazing cook and I think of him often when cooking because I learned a lot of skills from him unintentionally. Thanks, dad! Here's my recipe for a quick frittata that will be sure to impress.

Heirloom Tomato & Basil Frittata with Roquefort

Serving size; two

4 cage-free eggs 

1/4 cup milk 

1-2 heirloom tomatoes

1/2 cup of Roquefort cheese 

small bunch of fresh basil 

salt and pepper 

In a large mixing bowl put your eggs, milk and salt and pepper and whisk well. Finely chop some fresh basil and and sprinkle it in your egg mixture along with a couple of small crumbles of Roquefort. Slice your heirloom tomatoes and set aside. Take your 10" pan and wipe with olive oil so your egg mixture won't stick to the pan. On medium heat pour the mixture in the pan for about 5 minutes until the very bottom is cooked a bit. Don't touch it! Let it rest. Then place your heirloom tomatoes slowly on top of the frittata. The reason I did this is so that the tomatoes remain on top so you can see the beautiful colors. Another 5 minutes until fully cooked. If your frittata seems as if the top is not cooking well, I put it under the broiler in the oven for a few minutes. To serve, top with a few sprinkles of Roquefort and some fresh basil. I like to accompany the frittata with a fresh green salad for a complete meal. 

April 4, 2014

Bruschetta Italiana

April showers brings May flowers, right? I hope so. Over here we have been experiencing very indecisive weather lately, Sunday was warm and beautiful and today it's cold and grey. I thought I moved away from indecisive weather when I left Portland, did it follow me here? 

In a little over a week my Aunt will be visiting me here and she is the first family member to make the trek out here and I am so overly excited for her to be here! She has never been to Italy and I can't wait to show her all I know. My Aunt is the best party-hostess around, she always gives 110% when it comes to parties and it shows, they are absolutely fabulous. I was thinking about Easter and how it is this month and thought I would share a little recipe of mine for a nice quick appetizer. Whenever I host a dinner party I love to have plenty of appetizers for the guests to munch on while I am finishing the dinner meal to keep them occupied (and to keep them out of my kitchen) I am one of those people that don't really like people hanging in the kitchen disturbing my organized system. Don't get me wrong, I greatly appreciate the offer though. Am I alone on this? Am I the mean kitchen cook lady?

Back to food. 

One of my favorite things to serve for an appetizer is bruschette; little portion sized toasted bread with different toppings. This particular time I had chosen a pesto, goat cheese with herbs and a tomato spread. After I was done I had noticed I had unintentionally displayed it to resemble the Italian flag. Seriously, it was not intentional. I only wish I had done it on purpose so I could take credit for the creativity points. 

Bruschetta Italiana

1 baguette cut into slices and toasted until brown under the broiler at 400°F (200°C)

Goat Cheese Spread 
roll of goat cheese (in any shape) 
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme 
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil 
1 tablespoon dried oregano 
salt and pepper for seasoning 
Mix all the ingredients together until combined.

Pesto Spread 
Large bunch of fresh basil leaves 
1 oz Pecorino cheese 
2 oz Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/2 ounce of pine nuts 
2 garlic cloves 
7 tablespoon olive oil 
salt for seasoning 
You can either use a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Grind all the ingredients well except for the olive oil. After is it finely incorporated together, slowly add the olive oil. 

Tomato Spread 
1 small package of red grape tomatoes 
1 small package of yellow grape tomatoes
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 
salt and pepper
Cut the tomatoes into little pieces and add the olive oil, salt and pepper and stir until combined. 

March 23, 2014

Cheesecake con pomodoro al profumo di arancia

Ciao everyone! I am back here to tell you all how well the event went Friday. The morning was busy making all eight cheesecakes, six small for the judges and two large ones for the guests who will arrive after the judging takes place. It was such a wonderful day watching the rest of the finalist prepare their dolci and meeting everyone. It was an honor to be a finalist and I still can't believe how lucky I was to be involved in such an important event. There were journalists, photographers and not to mention the guest of honor, Loretta Fanella. Loretta is a well known pastry chef here in Italy who has worked with the Italian Master Chef, Carlo Cracco, who is a judge on Master Chef Italia and a very highly rated chef in Europe.

There were five finalist including me that made fabulous desserts I couldn't wait to taste! Rose-tomato macaroons with vanilla rum and raspberry (Macaron alle Rose con confettura di Pomodorini Vaniglia e Rum al Profumo di Lampone), Tomato Cake Pops with a hint of pepper (Cake Pops al Pomodoro Piccante), Candied Tomato Crumble with yogurt gelato, Tomato Chocolate Cake (Tomato Cake) and my Tomato-Citrus Cheesecake with aroma of orange. All were such creative ideas. It was nice to get to know all the ladies and most of them were food bloggers too.

(photo by Andrea Gattini)

First place went to restaurant owner, Roberta Piazza (pictured right), with her divine Candied Tomato Crumble. I am beyond thrilled to tell you all that my dessert took second place! I was shocked and incredibly happy! Third place went to Silvia Iacoponi who made the Cake Pops. After the contest was finished the guests arrived and gathered around the front of the store while Loretta presented her 'cooking show' where she showed and explained to all how she made her dessert with tomato. She made a Plum Cake with Tomato served with a lavender and a raspberry cream. Afterwards the guests were able to taste all the finalist's desserts with tomato. Unfortunately I had to leave early because E was really sick at home, but I heard that everyone loved the cheesecake and wanted the recipe. Happy news to hear.

It was such a fun event and I feel fortunate to have been involved, especially with what little experience I have cooking and baking. I couldn't have done it without the help of E's mom. Here is my recipe for my 2nd place prized Chessecake con Pomodoro al Profuma di Arancia! (Pictured are the one person servings I made for the contest)

Cheesecake con Pomodoro al Profumo di Arancia 

Serving size; six 

Cheesecake filling;
3/4 cup (175 g)  fresh ricotta 
3/4 cup (175 g) Philadelphia cream cheese
3/4 cup (200 g) heavy cream 
2/3 cup (150 g) caster sugar 
2 egg yolks (organic fresh eggs are necessary!)
3 gelatin sheets 
about 2 cups of graham crackers (200 g biscotti)
7 tablespoon (100 g) butter 

Tomato filling;
3 cups (750 ml) tomato sauce 
(as natural as you can find without any seasonings)
1/2 cup (150 g) caster sugar
Zest of 2 oranges
Zest of 1 lemon

9" springform pan

I used a product from Mediterranea Belfiore which is unavailable online unfortunately, but it is basically a light sauce with tomato, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar. You can use any glaze you would like or even an orange marmalade on top.

Blood orange cooked in whole form in pot of water for 30 minutes.
(sliced once cool)

First you want to take your gelatin sheets and cover them completely in cold water and rest in a bowl for 15 minutes. Then you need to get your tomato filling started because you need time to let it cool after cooking. In a medium pot on medium heat, pour your tomato sauce in along with the sugar, zest of two oranges and one lemon. Stir frequently for the next 15 minutes. This is necessary so that the aroma of orange and lemon are released. Take one sheet of gelatin and a little but of water over the stove for 1-2 minute until completely melted and dissolved, then mix in with tomato sauce. Pour the sauce into a large bowl to cool. 

While your tomato filling is cooling it's now time to make the crust. In a food processor grind all the cookies until fine and transfer into large bowl. Melt butter on the stove and pour over cookies and mix until it feels damp. Pour the cookie mixture in your 9" springform pan and press until compact. Place in fridge while you start your cheese filling.

For the cheesecake filling you want to first whip together the egg yolks and 2/3 cup sugar for 4-5 minutes until light colored yellow and becomes somewhat creamy. It is important to use fresh and organic eggs because you will not be cooking this cheesecake, therefore it has raw eggs. Whisk together the ricotta and cream cheese with the egg yolk mixture until very creamy with no lumps. In a separate bowl whisk with an electric mixer the heavy cream until it peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture and set aside. Now heat the other two gelatin sheets with a little water over the stove until dissolved (takes less than 1 minute) and slowly whisk into the cheese mixture a little at a time. Set aside.

Once your tomato mixture has cooled and has become a bit thicker, spoon a layer on top of the cookie crust. (Set in fridge for 15 minutes if you have time before adding cheese filling) Take your cheese filling and spread it gently over the top of the tomato layer. Rest in the fridge for 2-3 hours to set before serving. 

I decorated with the glaze and slivered blood orange pieces right before serving. 

March 20, 2014

Dolce Pomodoro - In Cucina con il Coure

I don't know what it is, but pretty much everyone I know here since I moved seems to appreciate great quality food. I'm not talking about those expensive restaurant critic-type people either. Quality of food is valued highly here whether you are at that rundown building that turned rustic restaurant serving fresh carne on the grill, or a nice seafood ristorante on the sea. Moving here has taught me so much about food and how much quality and freshness is absolutely number one no matter where you are. Using produce that is in season and that is organically grown makes a huge difference. That's what makes Italian cuisine so special.

One ingredient that is a staple in Italy is the tomato. Typically tomatoes, pomodori, are used like a vegetable even though they are technically considered a fruit. Well have you ever thought about making a dessert with tomatoes? (Do you think I've gone off the deep end?) I know it sounds crazy, but about two months ago E's mom told me about a local contest going on that her friend's company were involved with here in town. You must invent a dessert recipe using tomatoes. I was sold! Pretty much everyone loves tomatoes, right? Except for my grandma who will only eat tomatoes if they are cooked. (Grandma, you are missing out!) E's mom is good friends with a lady who her and her family own a business for jarred organic tomatoes, vegetables and sauces all made from raw materials . It is the most darling store. Antonella and her two sister's father started the business and they are carrying on the family name, Mediterranea Belfiore. The contest guideline is to use the tomatoes from Mediterranea Belfiore, write the recipe and send it in with a photo and Chef Loretta Fanella will pick five finalists to participate in the final where judges will then taste your creation.

Last week when E was in the United States for work, I spent some time at his mom's house. One day we decided we would try experimenting desserts with tomatoes. It was a lot of fun, but also quite difficult. E's mom made an amazing dessert, Master Chef worthy. She made a pureè with the tomatoes and tried three different spices to sweeten them; ginger, cinnamon and vanilla. We narrowed it down to the ginger and cinnamon as the best flavors. She made a gelatin with the puree and ginger spice. She then made thin almond waffle crisps and a fluffy whipping cream with cream cheese and heavy cream. Layered the three ingredients in a glass. It was delicious! 

I am not so experienced in the kitchen, especially when it comes to desserts. Since I needed to be thinking of tomatoes as the fruit they are, I tried to think of a fruit that is similar. Persimmons are pretty similar but aren't in season anymore. Oranges? Oranges would be a good idea to try, I thought. I also knew that I wanted to involve some kind of cream to the dish. Cheesecake! Cheesecake with a biscotti crust, layer of pureed tomato sweetened with sugar, orange and lemon and then the layer of cheesecake using fresh ricotta and cream cheese. E's mom helped me with the idea to become a reality and reminded me that we must use two products from Medierranea Belfiore. On top as s glaze I would put un vasetto di passatina which is a product from them, a light and sweet tomato and lemon sauce.

I sent out the recipe and three days later to my absolute surprise I was chosen to be a finalist! I am still in shock and I can't believe that my recipe was chosen by Chef Loretta Fanella! I am so grateful and excited to participate in this Friday's event. (Not to mention a little nervous seeing as it will all be in Italian.) Thankfully E's mom is very supportive and will help me out. Tomorrow I must make six small cheesecakes and two large ones for the contest. I will keep you posted on how it turns out tomorrow and will post the recipe as well. HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY! 

March 17, 2014

Risotto zucchine e gamberetti

This morning I am sitting here with my cup of tea while E sleeps away his jet lag from his two week business trip to the United States. As I walked down the street to go get some fresh bread from the panificio it seemed as if it would be another beautiful Spring day again. I don't want to jinx it, but I think Spring is here to stay and I couldn't be happier. As my succulents and cactus sun bath outside I decided I should start to think about what I will prepare for lunch. First thought was risotto. Risotto! "Why on earth have I not yet posted a recipe for risotto on my blog yet?!", I thought. Risotto has a special place in my heart for many reasons, one being I love literally everything that has rice in it, and two because it was one of the first homemade Italian dishes I perfected without any prior disasters. It's so easy and you can add just about anything to it that your heart desires. I really like to get creative when it comes to risotto.

One thing I always like to keep in my freezer are shrimp. I buy a pound or so and keep them in a large freezer-safe bag for later use when I don't feel like heading to the store to buy them fresh. It's perfect for making risotto. Of course I am going to add some sort of green vegetable to the mix because I can't live well without a good veg. This recipe I will be sharing with you today is a delicious and creamy risotto using zucchini, yellow squash and medium shrimp. You will need some white wine for this recipe so go ahead and pop open a bottle now and pour yourself a glass. Cooking can be fun and relaxing if you make it that way. It doesn't always have to be a chore.

Risotto zucchine e gamberetti 

2 tablespoon butter 

2 tablespoon olive oil 

2 cup Arborio rice 

half of white onion finely chopped

1 green zucchini chopped 

1 yellow zucchini squash chopped 

2 handful of medium shrimp cut in pieces 

7 cups vegetable broth 

white wine 

salt & pepper 

chili powder 

First things first and that is the vegetable broth. It is so easy to make your own vegetable broth, I  really can't stress that enough. You know what you are putting in it and you save money, win-win situation, right? Okay, so quarter of an onion, let's chop up some stalks of celery and carrots, throw a tomato in there and season as you wish. The more salt you add to the broth the less you have to add later to your risotto. Cover with water and a lid over medium heat for about 30 minutes. BAM! Your own vegetable broth. You can't tell me that was not easy. 

Alright, now you have your vegetable broth in a pot next to your large saucepan that you will now take out on the stove that you will add a good swirl of olive oil and start sauteing your chopped onions until they are translucent, not brown, over medium heat. By the way, you are going to want to use a wooden spoon for this. Time to add your rice and mix it with the onion and oil mix. (I add a few more drizzles of olive oil to make sure the rice is all covered and looks shiny) 

After a minute of stirring, add a good splash of that white wine you are sipping on. It makes such a beautiful sizzle sound. Wine aromas are the best. Once most of the wine is reduced then it is time to start ladling your vegetable broth one at a time and stirring it frequently, once the broth is absorbed it is time to add another ladle of broth. Keep doing this process for the next 12-15 minutes. You will begin to see the rice puff up a little but when you taste it the rice will not be fully cooked yet. Add your chopped zucchini and squash. At this point I add the spices also, salt, pepper and a little sprinkle of chili powder. The kick from the chili powder is very much appreciated, trust me. 

Shrimp time! I used my frozen ones in this recipe so I defrosted them prior to starting the broth. De-vain and cut the shrimps 1/2 inch pieces. Sautè them in a separate pan until they are opaque in the center. You are still stirring the rice often so as not to make it stick to the pan. I like to think of it as a good arm workout. At this point you want your rice to not be crunchy at all anymore. 

Add the shrimp LAST. The warmth of the bed of rice will gently finish to cook them and they will be so delicious and tender it will blow your mind. Taste-test time, does it have enough salt and pepper? Total time for the risotto all really depends, that is why taste-testing is key. Average time altogether is about 20-25 minutes. Take your butter and stir it in to make it creamy. I learned here in Italy that you know you made a great risotto if there is no liquid residue when you spoon it out from the bowl. 

Any good excuse to open a good bottle of wine, right? We paired this meal with a Vermentino from Aia Vecchia.  

Buon appetito a tutti!

March 8, 2014

Marmellata di kumquat

Isn't spring time just wonderful? It's as if the world wakes up again. Flowers begin to bloom, the temperature begins to rise and of course the spring produce. I was a little too excited when I saw that asparagus was making an appearance in the grocery stores again. Believe it or not, I would pick some green veggies over a dessert any day. I'm crazy, I know.

One thing I do love almost as equally as vegetables is citrus. I love the way it looks, I love the way it smells and obviously I love the taste. We were over at E's grandparents house for a special Sunday lunch where she made a delicious shrimp pasta and I had noticed a gorgeous kumquat tree in her front yard. I just go crazy when I spot a citrus tree, I am absolutely obsessed, maybe it's because I grew up in Portland where it would literally be impossible to grow any form of citrus tree there. Anyway, I managed to tell her how beautiful I thought the tree was (in Italian, mind you) and two days later she came knocking on my door with a huge bag full of them. Oh happy day!

Kumquats are a little different than other types of citrus because you pop the whole thing in your mouth. (peel and all!) No, this is not a joke. The peel is surprisingly the sweetest part. I had to convince E to try at least one. It's a pet peeve of mine when someone doesn't try something at least once to know if you like it or not. Well okay, hand me a plate of cow brains and I will tell you no, but you get the point. Since I knew I would be the only one in the household to eat them I decided I would try to make a marmalade. Thinking about a piece of whole grain toast with kumquat marmalade and a cup of tea was enough to convince myself.

I'm going to tell you the truth because that's what we do here, and the truth of the matter is the first time I experimented this marmalade it turned out very bitter and not what I was expecting. (There goes my morning toast and tea party idea), I was pretty disappointed but I didn't lose hope. The next time I saw E's mom I told her what had happened and the wise woman that she is told me that with her experiences it was best to soak the citrus a few times in water to help the acidity disappear. And so the love story continued... It turned out bounissimo and ready for the toast. Party time.

Kumquat Marmalade 

Makes; three petite jars 

1 pound of kumquats 

2 cups of granulated sugar 

1 cup water

Wash your kumquats well with water through a strainer. Now for the tedious task of cutting up the kumquats in thin slices and picking out all the seeds. SEEDS, SEEDS, SEEDS EVERYWHERE! It's worth it in the end, you have to trust me. Fill a large bowl of water and place the kumquat slices inside and cover with a tea towel, making sure the water is covering all of them. You will need to leave them in their "bath" for 8 hours before you change the water and then leave them again overnight. 

Next day strain the kumquats and put them in a large pot. Add one cup of new water in the pot along with the sugar. Cook over medium to low heat for about an hour stirring every once in a while and skimming the top if there is foam. A great tip to make sure your marmalade is ready is putting a plate in the freezer for 15 minutes and when you take it out add a little spoonful of marmalade on the plate and it will be set if it starts to become wrinkly and doesn't run.

Take your jars (sterilized of course) and spoon the hot marmalade inside until full and screw on the cap. Now you must turn the jar upside down until it is completely cool to seal it. I learned this tip from my grandma who makes the world's most amazing raspberry jam. (Oh how I miss it) 

 Now you have your own natural marmalade without added preservatives. How fantastic is that? Other ideas to use this marmalade if you (somehow) don't enjoy toast as much as I do..
Add a little dish of this next time you do a cheese platter to spice things up, on top of a cheesecake or even make a bruschetta platter with a mild cheese such as brie. Kumquat crepes anyone? The options are endless. 

Buon appetito 

January 20, 2014

Canazei & chicken pot pie

Living near the sea is a dream come true of mine. But we do lack snow topped mountains and sometimes you need a good dose of snow. Fortunately we are able to drive up North a few hours and enter a winter wonderland. Our friend's family member has a cabin up at Canazei, Italy and we were lucky enough to be invited to join him and his girlfriend in a wintery weekend up in the Italian Alps. We had a late start driving so when we arrived I wasn't able to see anything except black shadows caused by the moon's brightness. I didn't know what to except but I never doubt Italy's ability to constantly surprise me with it's beauty.

I woke the next morning, quickly opened the drapes and my jaw dropped... Buongiorno!

I still pinch myself when I think of how fortunate I am to live in such a beautiful country and experience all these places. Canazei is located in the upper part of the Val Di Fassa in Trentino region of Italy. The houses resembled those European christmas cottages inside a snow globe. It was incredible! I could just imagine all the plaid dressed people inside sitting near a fire eating pretzels and drinking hot cider. Because thats obviously what people in the mountains do all day, right?

The thing I was probably most anticipating was to go skiing. I, unlike the others, have never skied before. They all had lessons before and started when they were young. (Yet again, the American is the inexpert) After an hour lesson with my Italian maestro though and I felt confident to go down twice with everyone else. I'm ready to go again! 

All four of us went out to dinner Saturday night to a quaint little spot. Typical cuisine for the mountains, which is what E and I both wanted. I had zuppa di gulasch (goulash) which is basically the same exact thing my mom made me growing up. (Though she called it beef stew) And for my second course I had tagliatelle with deer meat. E had spinach spatzle with a cream sauce and speck. Spatzle is a type of thin potato dumpling. Speck is a smoked prosciutto. (mouth watering) It was served in a cast iron skillet and I just gushed, I mean how cute is that? Not to mention all the waitresses were dressed to the part resembling a Swiss maiden. 

We parted ways on Monday, E and I went back home while the other two stayed for another week. Spiraling down the mountain on the drive back and I kept spotting little apple stands selling fresh local apples. I pleaded that we make a stop and came back with a bag full of five different types of apples, fresh apple juice and a smile on my face. The following day I was starting to feel the after affects of some one's first time skiing. Yeah, sore muscles. I was craving some comfort food, and surprisingly I was craving American comfort food. Chicken pot pie! What a perfect dish to warm the soul and fill the stomach. 
Here is my recipe for four of the cutest mini chicken pot pies you have ever seen.

 Serving size; 2

Pie dough
(This has been my favorite recipe for pie crust)

Two chicken breasts

1 cup frozen peas 

1 cup chopped carrots 

1 cup chopped champignon mushrooms

quarter of chopped white onion 

1 whisked egg for glaze

For the Béchamel sauce;

40 grams of butter (5 tablespoons) 

40 grams flour (3 cups flour)

460 grams (1 1/2 cup milk)

I used four small ramekins. Butter all of your ramekins to prevent sticking. Lay one of your ramekins face down on the dough and cut a circle around it, slightly larger than the size of it. Cover the whole inside of each ramekin with pie dough. With the dough leftover cut out circle the same size of the top of the ramekin. This will be the "lid" of your pot pie. Set aside and preheat your oven to 375° F (190°C) 

In a medium size saute pan drizzle a little olive oil and add the chopped chicken pieces and saute until they are no longer pink inside. Set aside. Add a bit more olive oil back into the pan and saute the vegetables on medium low heat for about 8 minutes and add salt and pepper. For the Béchamel sauce add the butter in another medium saucepan on medium/low heat until melted and add the flour and mix well. The mixture will look like a clumpy mess but trust me, this is necessary for the creamy texture and i'm here to reassure you that you are doing it right. After a few minutes start drizzling your milk in and with your whisk vigorously mix until it becomes a creamy texture. I add a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg. (it just doesn't feel right without a little sprinkle of nutmeg) Add the vegetables, mushrooms and chopped chicken to the sauce and mix until combined evenly. Take your ramekins with the pie crust inside and add a nice scoop of the mixture to each until they are bulging. Add the other pieces of dough to the top of each ramekin and press until both doughs are touching. Make two small slits on top of the dough to let the steam out when cooking. 
Brush the whisked egg on each top and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden. 
Once done let rest for 10 minutes, my poor guy burned his mouth with my mistake of not letting them rest. (I guess I got a little excited to start eating)


November 24, 2013

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” ― Augustine of Hippo

Two weeks ago we went to Bolzano, E had work meetings and I was able to tag along this time. Bolzano is a 5 hour drive away up into the Italian Alps and the capital of Sudtirol, in the Alto Adige region of Northeastern Italy. We went last year as well and I remember it fondly and loved it. The shops are amazing so of course I had a good time. There was a lot to see but I wasn't overwhelmed and it still felt familiar. I didn't mind roaming the streets all day by myself.

Bolzano is very close to Austria and Germany so there are many people who speak German here as well as Italian. Even when people spoke Italian I could hear an accent much different than at home in Tuscany. When I would go into the stores people would always assume I was German "Hallo" they would say, because I obviously don't have any Italian physical characteristics, and ask me a question in German. I would give a puzzled look and respond in Italian. I don't think anyone in Europe would assume I am American because America is such a melting pot. Oh the fun.

When we travel to different parts of Italy I'm always intrigued by the different way of lifestyle. Bolzano is very north compared to where we live and not located close to a sea. The style of food in each area of Italy would surprise you as to how diverse they really are. I think most people in America think that everyone in Italy eats spaghetti in a tomato sauce with those huge meatballs. Am I right? Well that is definitely far from the truth. In fact, my boyfriend has never even had spaghetti with meatballs and he has lived in Italy his whole entire life. I'll begin with sharing my knowledge of Bolzano cuisine.

Northern Italy is in close proximity to Austria, France and Germany. Strong focuses on cheese, buttery sauces, truffles and hearty meats. It becomes very cold in the winter months so it's common to serve a comforting bowl of hot polenta with ragù that will warm you from inside out. I noticed that Bolzano had a huge German and Austrian influence, I'd see pretzels in the windows next to loafs of Italian bread. I also saw a couple eating a plate of dried meats (common all throughout Italy), but this couple had miniature pickles to accompany the meats and cheeses. That is something you would never see in Tuscany and I assume that is definitely the German/Austrian influence. 

Another typical thing you will find in Bolzano is the strudel. Strudel is a type of layered pastry with a sweet filling, it can be filled with apples, pine nuts, cinnamon and sugar and is originated in Austria. Speaking of apples, red apples from the mountainous parts of Italy are supposedly the best in North Italy, our hotel had a large glass vase full of crisp red apples for the guests on each floor. Definitely came home with a dozen of my own, don't mind if I do!

Until next time Bolzano.

November 2, 2013

Bruschette al tonno


I cannot believe it is already November because it sure hasn't felt like autumn around here with 70 degree weather and humid temperatures. Wednesday was a beautiful day and I had taken a trip earlier to a nearby beach to collect some white sand for a project I had in mind. The beach inspired me to make something fresh and easy to prepare for lunch that day and tuna seemed to be the perfect answer. I grabbed a freshly baked loaf of pane (bread) on the way home and began preparing lunch.
(This dish would also be fabulous for an appetizer in the summer months served before an outdoor BBQ or packed in a basket for a day trip to the beach)


Tuna Bruschetta 

Serving size; 2-4

1 jar of tuna in olive oil (I always use Asdomar because they are sustainable and delizioso)

small handful of fresh basil cut finely (chiffonade)

small handful of fresh parsley cut finely (chiffonade)

half of a cucumber cut in small dices (fine bruonoise)

1 small red onion cut in small dices (fine brunoise)

half of a lemon 

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper
Slice your bread into the portion size you prefer and place them on roasting pan in the broiler at 400° degree F (200° C) until they turn lightl brown and crispy. 
Meanwhile, in a large bowl place the tuna, olive oil, basil, parsley, cucumber, red onion, s/p and a squeeze of lemon juice. Mix well until all incorporated. The longer the mixture sets the better it tastes because all the flavors dance around with each other, so if you are not in a rush this is great to make ahead of time. 
Sprinkle a little olive oil and a very small pinch of salt on top of the freshly broiled pieces of pane and place the tuna mixture on top and serve. 
Buon appetito

October 24, 2013

Gnocchi alla boscaiola

A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I went to a bakery in town to have cappuccinos and pastries one Saturday morning. A few minutes later after sitting down a couple friend of ours came strolling in. They were dressed in very casual clothes that I had never seen them in before. We asked them what they were up to and they replied with telling us they had plans to go into the belora forest to find some porcini mushrooms. I had no idea people did this, especially our friends! I was very intrigued. We changed our clothes and joined them for the fun.

Because it was the middle of October the floor was covered in leaves which made it quite difficult to spot the brown-rounded tops of the funghi porcini  on the forest floor. Our two friends were much more experienced than us but we got the hang of it just fine. After about three hours frolicking through the trees with our walking sticks in hand, we finally called it quits. The result was fantastic because we all had incredible luck! Our basket was full of delizioso porcini mushrooms and our friend Federico even found a couple of bubbole mushrooms. (the thin stemmed white mushroom pictured) I had no prior knowledge of mushrooms and what kind are okay to eat and what are not but luckily our friends did.

Conversation came up about how we would enjoy these beauties; I would make gnocchi with a porcini and sausage cream sauce gnocchi alla boscaiola for dinner that night and we would make an impromptu dinner party. People that know me well know that I am a major fan of entertaining so I was thrilled with the decision and also very flattered that they would trust me (the American girl) with making the meal!

Serving size; 6 
For the gnocchi;
6 small potatoes boiled and riced potate novelle 
2 eggs
2 cups flour 
olive oil

For the sauce;
3 Italian sausages 
2 + 1/2 cups chopped porcini mushrooms
200 ml Chef Panna cream sauce ( my favorite brand to use because it's very creamy and smooth)
salt and pepper 

Fill a large pot of water, large pinch of salt and add your potatoes. Bring potatoes to a boil for 10-12 minutes until tender. Rice the potatoes and place on a well floured working surface. Add the two eggs and flour (a little at a time) to the riced potatoes and start handling it enough so that it becomes less sticky to handle. You might have to add a little more flour as you go but the less flour, the better texture. In the end it should feel semi firm to the touch. Try not work with it too much or your gnocchi will be hard. Cut the dough in eight sections and start to roll each piece into a long strip, about 1/2 inch wide. Cut them evenly into 1/4-1/2 pieces. Heat a large pot of water.

For the sauce lightly oil a large saucepan with olive oil and break the Italian sausage into bite-sized pieces. Add the chopped porcini pieces and sauté for about 8-10 minutes on medium heat. Last but definitely not least, add the cream sauce. If you don't have access to Chef Panna then you can use any plain cream based sauce. Season with salt and cracked pepper. 

Once your large pot of water is boiling add a good pinch of salt and add your gnocchi pieces. Fresh gnocchi only takes a few minutes to cook and when they float to the top they are finished. Take a slotted spoon and place them in the porcini and sausage cream sauce. Coat all the gnocchi and serve. As for the bubbole mushrooms Federico found, I sautéed them with a little olive oil and sage and seasoned with salt and pepper. My mouth is watering just thinking about how wonderful this meal was. 

October 19, 2013

Gnocchi di zucca

Autumn is here, Autumn is here! Nature's colors changing, crisp morning air, and the moment you release those cozy sweaters out from the back of your closet. AND dun dun dun... pumpkins! I personally adore pumpkins and I thought I would make gnocchi with roasted pumpkin smothered in a scrumptious sage butter sauce. I know what you are thinking.... but gnocchi is one of those dishes that you think is really impossible to make at home, but it's truly not. Please do your taste buds a favor and try this out at home.


Serving size; two 

1 cup roasted pumpkin 

3 small-medium potatoes (potate novelle)

1 egg

2 or more cups flour

3 fresh sage leaves 

2 tbs & tsp of butter

salt & pepper 

 First you cut your pumpkin in slices and roast your pumpkin in a casserole dish with a little water for 30-40 minutes at 375 degrees or until you can stick your fork inside the pumpkin with no problem. I added olive oil and salt and pepper before I roasted to add flavor. 

While your pumpkin is roasting, add your potatoes to a large pot of salted water. Boil for 10-12 minutes until soft. Peel potatoes and put them through a potato ricer into a mixing bowl. After the pumpkin is done roasting, cut them in small pieces and rice them as well. Add your egg and a pinch of salt and pepper to the mixing bowl. Start adding flour while mixing it all together. 

Flour a working surface and take the mixture and start handling it enough so that it becomes less sticky to handle. You might have to add a little more flour as you go but in the end it should feel semi firm to the touch.Try not work with it too much or your gnocchi will be hard. Cut the dough in six sections and start to roll each piece into a long strip, about 1/2 inch wide. Cut them evenly into 1/4-1/2 pieces. 

Heat a large pot of water.
For the sauce, melt butter in a small saucepan and then add three sage leaves. (& little S+P) I cook the butter for a while so that it turns slightly brown for an extra boost of flavor. Once your water in the pot is boiled, add a pinch of salt and then all your gnocchi pieces. They only take a few minutes to cook, you will know they are finished when they float to the top. Take a slotted spoon and place them immediately in the brown butter sage sauce. Make sure they are all covered with the sauce then plate with a good sprinkle of parmigiano reggiano.

Autumn party in your mouth. Thank me later.