Discover hydroponic waterboarding, travel to Italy and eat tomatoes filled with rice and basil

For those of you eager for my recipes, feel free to skip today's anecdote about family life, but do click here to join me on an adventure to DISCOVER MAREMMA, one of Italy's best kept secrets. The trip is scheduled for the 3rd week in September. My 5th grader told me Thursday morning he needed a total of 20 small potted plants of 4 different kinds to conduct and experiment that would start exactly at 12:40pm.

We rushed to the local garden center to acquire the plantlings while I prodded for details. Ernesto and his classmates had devised 4 different hydroponic environments in which to observe how the same plant reacted. Why 5 of each then? He needed a control living in an ideal environment, he then explained the numbers/letters cross referencing grid he drew to chart the progress of the trial.

The ideal environment? "Soil, of course", Ernesto said. Then he gathered a couple of different kind of vinegars and asked that we stop to get a sports drink on the way to school. By Tuesday, I should know exactly what age balsamic is best to kill an organic basil plant in 48 hours or less.

Boston Participation medal
Boston Participation medal

This charmingly fallacious study in plant waterboarding may have in part been inspired by my excitement about Caleb Harper's CityFarm project, at which I got a first row look last week when I spoke at MIT MediaLab as one of the panelists who considered the intersection of tradition and innovation in large scale food production.

Plants waterboarding

Plants waterboarding

If I can get my kid to forego the vinegars and sports drinks, our loft might even see its own vertical farm soon. In the meantime, I managed to save one of the basil plants for this oven friendly tomato dish I so adore.

Pomodori al riso con patate

Rice filled tomatoes with potatoes

for 6 people

6 round cluster tomatoes

salt to taste

1 garlic clove

lots of fresh basil leaves

9 tablespoon rice

olive oil

2 to 3 medium size yellow potatoes

pepper to taste

Wash the tomatoes and cut a thin disk off the stem side of each tomato. Set the disks aside as you will use them later as a lid.

Using a melon baller or a small spoon, remove the pulp and seeds of the tomato, leaving a shell of skin and flesh. Salt the interior of the tomato shells and place them open side down to drain on paper towels.

Discard the harder parts and save the softer, more liquid part of the pulp.

Chop the garlic roughly and tear the basil leaves with your hands.

Place the saved tomato pulp, garlic and basil in the food processor or blender. Add a quantity of water equal to about 1/3 of the liquid you already have and 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and blend for a couple of minutes

Peel the potatoes and cut each in 8 long wedges. Season them with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Spoon 1.5 tablespoons of rice in each tomato shell, then fill to the brim with the blended tomato mixture. Mix using the back of the spoon and top with more liquid if needed.

Arrange the tomatoes in a baking dish lined with parchment paper and cover each with the "lids" you set aside.

Stick the potato wedges in between the tomatoes. Sprinkle with some salt and drizzle with olive oil. Everything should be quite snug in the baking dish.

Bake at 350˚F for about an hour. The rice and potatoes should both be thoroughly cooked and the tomato skins a little wrinkly. They are best served between warm and room temperature and are a perfect midnight snack.


  • My mother taught me that the best tomatoes for this are what I know as costoluti-meaning they have costole-ribs. See their picture below, if you find them. most definitely use them, as their sweet flesh and thin skin definitely pays off.

My week in Italian politics

Foto ricevimento marino
Foto ricevimento marino

If you follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook (and if you don't, you should!), you know that last week our beloved consul general Mauro Battocchi picked me among the Bay Area's bevy of Italian kitchen talent to cook for Mayor Ignazio Marino of Rome.

Mayor Marino addressed an audience of 50 citizens of the world on the need to help preserve the archaeological architectural heritage of Rome as I wiled away in the kitchen, doing my best to show that anyone's commitment to the culture of Italy also means we will all eat much better.

My trend of recognition continued yesterday, when my close friend Valentina Imbeni, director of La Scuola Italian International School asked that I feed breakfast/mid-morning snacks to a roomful of 20-30 people gathering for a private meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Brekafast Renzi
Brekafast Renzi

Mr. Renzi made his dedication of La Scuola's new Kindergarten through 8th grade campus his only official appearance in SF, a moving moment for a group of parents to which I belong who have fought long and hard to establish this amazing place. La Scuola started as an informal playgroup and is now on the way to become one of the best language immersion schools in the Bay Area.

The greatest pleasure of the morning was spending time with Agnese Renzi, a witty and beautiful woman, full of questions on the Scuola, the vital community it gathers and the lives of Italians in San Francisco. Most importantly, she and I were the only ones wearing ivory in a sea of black dresses and suits AND she loved my ricotta tart with figs and pears.

Prime Minister Renzi dedicating La Scuola
Prime Minister Renzi dedicating La Scuola

I leave you today with the two recipes that were most appreciated during the 2 events, an antipasto and a dessert.

Should you wish to eat just like an Italian politician, I will include many recipes from the 2 events in the context of my monthly cooking workshop at the Consulate, reprising next Wednesday. The classes are held the first Wednesday of each month and you can refer to my calendar for instructions on registering, there are some spots still open.

Acciuga fritta
Acciuga fritta

Acciughe croccanti del Sindaco

Mayoral crispy anchovies

for 8 to 10 people

1/2 pound fresh anchovies

2 eggs

bread crumbs

oil for deep frying

salt to taste


Rinse the anchovies and pat them dry.

Slit along the underbelly and lay flat. Carefully remove the spine and head leaving the tail attached.

Beat the eggs well and salt lightly.

Fill a frying pan with the oil about 3/4 up the sides. Heat the oil to 320˚F (use a candy thermometer to measure).

Grab and anchovy by its tail and dunk in the eggs, ensure it is all covered. Dredge it through the breadcrumbs to coat all over in a light layer. Repeat until all the fish are coated.

Fry in small batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and cooling the oil. The oil should bubble and hiss quickly around each anchovy as it goes into the oil. When the first side is golden-about 2 minutes- turn over with tongs to finish the other side.

Transfer to paper towels to let the oil drain drain.

Repeat until all the anchovies are fried and transfer them to a shallow bowl. Salt lightly and toss by shaking the bowl.

Serve immediately.


Crostata ministeriale di ricotta con fichi e pere

Ministerial ricotta, figs and pears tart


for a 9 to 10” tart pan:


2 cups (270 grams) flour

½ cup (115 grams) sugar

½ cup (135 grams) butter

4 egg yolks

pinch of salt

grated zest of a lemon


2/3 pound fresh ricotta

1/2 cup sugar

grated zest of 1 orange

2 eggs

1 tablespoon rum or brandy

4 slightly under ripe figs

2 small pears


Prepare the pasta frolla: place all ingredients in the mixer with a paddle attachment, work on medium to high speed until they start coming together.

Empty on top of a piece of plastic wrap and press together with the tip of your fingers, then form a flat round ball with the palm of your hands.

Wrap tightly with plastic and place in the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes.

If using a food processor, pulse until the ingredients start coming together, and then proceed as above.

Push the ricotta through a sieve into a bowl and add the sugar and zest. Whisk together to dissolve the sugar and smooth.

Separate the eggs. Stir in the yolks and liquor into the ricotta mixture. Leave the whites at room temperature.

Roll the pasta frolla to about 1/4" and line the tart mold with it. Cut off excess crust and keep it to make cookies. Prick the bottom and return to the refrigerator.

Eliminate the stem from the figs with a pair of scissors, leaving the skin on. Cut in 8 sections.

Core and quarter the pears, cut each section into 4 slices. You will have an equal number of fig and pear slices.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and gently fold into the ricotta then pour the mixture into the tart shell just above the half way point.

Make rows or concentric circles with the fruit slices, alternating them and gently laying them on the top, without pushing into the ricotta.

Bake at 350˚F for about 1 hour, keeping the mold closer to the bottom of the oven. The edges with be a dark blond. The fruit slices will look slight withered and will have partially drowned in the filling.

Let cool before serving.

Cooking in Italy: chocolate, coffee, cherry liquor and a bit of history

Sorry for the silence, last week was the annual "settimana della zia Viola"-aunt Viola's week-an event cherished by my child and his cousins when I, the least strict of the adults in my family, oversee anywhere between 4 and 8 children between the ages of 5 and 13 and let them get away with all sorts of mischief they could never pull on their parents...I came out relatively unscathed, though exhausted and determined to take the time off to reconnect with my blog. Back in the spring, I was tapped by the Perugina Chocolates distributors in the US for a possible role in their marketing program, more on that when the time comes.

Until then, I want to tell about the amazing day to which I was treated at the Casa del Cioccolato in the Perugina plant in my very hometown of Perugia. I was welcome by Ilaria Alberghi and Elisa Baronessa, who after a long delightful chat, took me for a private very detailed tour of the museum and the Archivio Storico Buitoni Perugina also hosted in the same space.

Yes, Buitoni Perugina, and if you suspect an affiliation, you are correct. Though ownership of the company no longer lies with my family since 1985, I am a direct descendant of those who founded and grew Buitoni first and then Perugina in the valleys of central Italy.

Perugina is born in 1907 in the Umbrian city of Perugia where my great-grandfather Francesco oversees one of his family's pasta plants. He's approached by the formidable Luisa Spagnoli, the owner of a small confectionery business. Luisa has creative talent in spades but no money to expand. A group of 6 investors, including nonno Checco-as I've always heard of him-back Luisa's dream.

Perugina struggles in the first few years, until nonno Checco decides to turn to his most promising son for help. Giovanni Buitoni is a dashing man of barely 20, with a unique vision and uncanny powers of persuasion. He understands that chocolate must become an everyday treat rather than the upper crust luxury it's been so far.

He quickly lands a contract with the armed forces as the country is gearing up for WWI. He turns to the untapped southern Italian market, considered too poor by luxury goods seller. For quality and portion control and easier distribution, he starts boxing products and, in between the 2 wars, with the birth of Baci in 1922, he also taps into the sexiness of chocolate.


He understands first hand the romantic aspect of it all since, in the meantime, he has fallen in love with none other than Luisa who's almost 15 years his senior and the mother of a close friend. Legend has it that the love notes in Baci were how they carried on their tryst.

Their love, a story that still fascinates the scores of people who walk through the Museo del Cioccolato's doors daily, lasts until Luisa's premature death in 1935. Zio Giovanni, whom I met in childhood, dies in 1979. Once a year, I still see his charming, smiley face, next to those of my father's and my grandparents', as they all rest in a family chapel in the charming hill town from which my great-grandmother came, Paciano.


By the time of his demise, zio Giovanni had spent a good deal of his life in the United States, where he expanded the family's interest with Buitoni Foods and Perugina Chocolates and Confections. Six years after his death, under the helm of the fifth generation, that of my own father, the family sold their interest in the company. I was already 19 at the time.

Today, Perugina is still a maker of high quality chocolates and confections, of which the timeless Bacio is the best known. The production of all such goodness still happens at the plant that my grandfather Bruno built in the 60's. Though I knew the gist of the story, the tour added many details to complete the picture and I really enjoyed seeing the amount of dedication and enthusiasm the work started by my ancestors still engenders.

The day only got better when I stepped into Perugina's world famous Scuola del Cioccolato for some private instructing by Massimiliano Guidubaldi, one of the school's 3 chocolate masters. Massimo focused on quality chocolate work in a home setting.

We spent the afternoon tempering, molding, having espresso, filling, glazing, having another espresso, chatting about the never ending possibilities of chocolate work. After we had more espresso, we spoke of the advantages and meaning of percentages and what suits different tasks best. I was shown the proper tools needed for good home chocolate work. I also learned about cocoa seed purveying, the production and life cycle of chocolate and why even white chocolate can claim a righteous spot if you treat it right, like in this new version of Baci.


We made dark shiny dark chocolate shells filled with white chocolate ganache and, finally, much to my glee, and in between an espresso and the next, we made Baci, something I look forward to bringing to my classes.

When I gently turned down one more espresso, Massimo offered me a shot of Luxardo, a sherry like liqueur made with marasche, a type of sour cherry. Luxardo is employed in one of Perugina's other legendary products, chocolate covered cherries.


The Scuola del Cioccolato offers weekend courses open to the public for groups no larger than 20. They also welcome groups for both private and corporate parties. The maestri del cioccolato teach sure fire, simple methods geared to the home cook, which, with practice, can yield amazing, consistent results. Click here for more information about the school, teachers and how to sign up for the courses.

You'll have to read me next week for more recipes of all sorts of delicious foods I'm eating and cooking in my travels, but to make Baci, the Perugina way, join me in my classes. By the way, I will be posting details on my schedule for the new season soon, so stay tuned.




Feeding the Revolution-Part II: Forchette in Downton

5:19 tavolo apparecchiato At the Italian version of a Downton Abbey dinner, things do not exactly run like clockwork: unexpected guests show up, glasses break, truffles do not arrive in time, the silverware is mismatched, quails catch fire and staff all loudly speak at the same time while enjoying wine.

On Sunday, the Forchette Tricolori, the cooking group of which I spoke last week, humored me by playing butlers, footmen, housemaids and kitchen maids to my Mrs.Patmore (for those who don't know, she is the legendary cook of Downton Abbey).


The result, was a dinner for 50 lucky guests held in San Francisco's  Consulate General of Italy, in support of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day.

5:19 Aperitivo

After we all enjoyed Aperol sangria and hors d'oeuvres in the delightful garden, we maneuvered our guests into the formal dining room were they sat down to a dinner inspired by the crossing of our local seasonal bounty with the best of Italy's food imports.

And despite the Butler's attempt on the Ambassador's welfare, a footman kidnapping a quail off a plate and a few drops of hot coffee spilled by a housemaid on a guest or two, the evening still received a standing ovation by the attendees who asked that a mailing list be started to receive early notification and priority admission to next year's dinner.


The Forchette Tricolori get a standing ovation


You can read all about the course and scope of the evening in this lovely article by Nickolas Marinelli of L'Italo-Americano.

In the meantime, I am treating you to the recipe for a fabulous risotto I got to make during my stint as Mrs.Patmore.



Mosaico di Carnaroli giallo e fuchsia Fuchsia and yellow Carnaroli rice mosaic

This award winning eye and mouth delight was created by my dear friend and extraordinary chef Olivia Bonomi.

for 4 people 1 to 2 red beets, depending on size    Mosaico risotto 1 shallot 1 quart vegetable stock 1 pint heavy cream 1 sachet powdered saffron 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 pound Arborio rice 1/4 cup white wine 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/4 cup grated Grana Padano

Steam, peel and purée beets. Mince shallots. Bring stock to a boil. In a sauce pan, simmer the heavy cream until reduced to 1/3. Add saffron and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep hot.

Soften the shallot in the heated olive oil and over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir continuously until the grains are “toasted”-coated in oil and translucent.

Turn up the heat and deglaze with the white wine. Lower the heat to medium and start ladling in the stock. Start tasting around minute 14, depending on your preference, it will be done somewhere between 18 and 21 minutes.

With the last ladleful of stock, add the beet purée and mix well. Remove from heat and add butter and Grana Padano for the “mantecatura”.

To plate sprinkle a little saffron sauce (like a Jackson Pollock painting) on dish , and scoop risotto in the middle. With a spoon make a little hole in the centre of the risotto and fill it with hot saffron sauce. Serve immediately.

Feeding the Revolution

Making cappuccino pork tenderloin with Valeria, Alexandra, Antonella and Barbara Didn't make the cut off age to march for women's rights and my last name put me squarely, though not ideologically, on the wrong side of the fence of labor movements. But finally my time has come to join the revolution. The great Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day.

Le Forchette Tricolori, a group of lively Italian women residing in the Bay Area who love to cook and be together and of which I am lucky to be one, are taking over the Italian Consulate (thank you Consul General Mauro Battocchi) and cooking up a storm for 50 lucky guests. You can find more details here.

The event's proceeds will be devolved to Food Revolution in support of Mr.Oliver's continuing efforts to "keep cooking skills alive". By the way, if you want to more know about the scope of the initiative, listen to Jamie's own words about Food Revolution Day.





This is the menu and the Forchettine (as we like to call ourselves), clad in aprons and armed with spoons, will "cook it, share it, live it" to change the world one forkful of great Italian food at a time.



Here is a sneak preview of  some of the deliciousness we will be offering. Tune in next week for more recipes and some gossip on the outcome of the evening.

Thank you to Jamie Oliver for the inspiration he gives daily to so many, I am proud to be part of your Revolution.


Sangria di Aperol e prosecco con ciliegie e gelsi~ Sparkling sangria with Aperol, cherries and mulberries

The drink that will set the lively mood of our Food Revolution

for 1 bottle of prosecco: 1/2 bunch mint1 cup cherries 2 ripe peaches 1 cup mulberries juice of 1 Meyer lemon 1/4 cup raw sugar 1/2 cup dry rum or other dry hard liquor 1 cup Aperol

Pick the leaves off the mint sprigs, stack them and roll them along the longer side. Cut them in very skinny ribbons with a very sharp knife.

Stone the cherries and peaches. Slice the peaches and combine them in a bowl with the mint, mulberries, lemon juice and sugar. Muddle using a pestle or the back of a wooden spoon, ensuring the sugar dissolves.

Cover with the rum and Aperol, mix well and let stand in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. This step can be done the previous evening.

Right before serving, add a few cubes of ice and slowly pour in the prosecco. Stir gently and serve.


  • Aperol, a light alcohol drink reminiscent of Campari can be substituted with Campari if unavailable. Remember to adjust sugar and lemon juice to balance the extra bitterness
  • Mulberries are not always easy to find. Though they have been all over farmers' markets here in NorCal, should they not be available where you are, swap them for blackberries


Bruschette di piselli alla menta ed aglietto con profumo di limone e ricotta salata Mint scented English peas and green garlic bruschetta with Meyer lemon and ricotta salata

for 6 people 2 pounds unshelled shelling, English or snap peas 1 or 2 green garlic stalks. 1 Meyer lemon 12 to 14 mint leaves 12 slices of bread extra virgin olive oil salt and pepper to taste 1/2 cup shredded ricotta salata

Shell the peas. Clean the garlic stalks. Zest the lemon and cut the naked fruit in wedges. Stack and roll half the mint along the longer side and slice into very thin ribbons. Mix the mint and zest.

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and drop the peas, all the green garlic except for 1 small piece and the remaining mint leaves in it. Cook until the peas are quite tender but still bright green, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, brush the bread with olive oil and toast until crunchy outside but still soft in the middle. When ready, rub lightly with the saved garlic while still hot. Keep warm.

Drain the peas, mint and green garlic and blend into a smooth spread with a bit of olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper.

Spread over the toasted bread. Dust with the ricotta salata. Top with the mint and zest and finish by squeezing a few drops of lemon juice on each bruschetta.


Pescespada alla livornese Livorno style swordfish

This recipes appeared last month on this very blog. Click here for it.