Vegetarian

Cooking in Italy: when in Rome, do zucchini like the Romans

what keeps me coming back to Rome
what keeps me coming back to Rome

Most people come to Rome for the sights, history, culture, art. I come for the zucchini. Roman zucchini are light green, grooved, tender affairs of perfection and joy which are always present on my birthday table.

You see, I share my birthday with the one of my sisters, Camilla, who still lives in Rome. We saw the light 3 years apart to the day and we have a tradition of celebrating together.

Camilla lives in Testaccio with her husband and 2 children, steps away from the famed mercato where yesterday morning I found the zucchini pictured here.

They are featured below in one of my favorite summer creations.

This week I am in Abruzzo, guest of the makers of pasta Rustichella. We just finished our first day of sight seeing and amazing food, you can follow this great food and culture trip on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Next week to Rome again, then on to Maremma where I can get ready for that lucky group of 12 who will be discovering this magical area with me in September. There are still a few spots on the tour, for more information email discovermaremma@gmail.com


Insalata di zucchine crude ai profumi d'estate

Summer scented raw zucchini salad

 

6 small light green or yellow zucchini or a mix of the 2

1/2 a small red onion

salt

1 lemon

1/4 cup almonds or other nuts

1 handful basil with flowers pepper to taste

olive oil

 

Using a mandolin, a shaver or a very sharp knife, slice the zucchini and onion paper thin into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and douse with lemon juice.

Toss well, cover and set aside and let stand while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Blanch the almonds in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Slide them out of the skin and toast them at 325˚F until a golden beige. When cool, slice them.

Pick and wash the basil leaves, dry them carefully, stack them, roll them longitudinally and cut them into thin ribbons.

When ready to serve the salad, add the almond and basil and toss well. Dress with olive oil season with pepper. Toss again and adjust seasoning if necessary.

NOTES:

  • Feel free to sub basil for mint or young parsley, or even tarragon or chervil
  • I love almonds with this one, but if you have other nuts to use, please do not run out shopping for almonds

Tomato girl, part 2

Still tomato girl this week, I doubt I will really move on until I can my last SanMarzano in early October. I have moved away from carby dishes and have been playing with my tomatoes in flavor combinations that surprised me with their success. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have been.

I am off to Italy on Sunday until the end of August. Find me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to keep up with tales and shots of food from the motherland. I promise it will be more than tomatoes.

Zuppa fredda di pomodoro e erbe al limone

Lemon scented tomato and herb cold soup

for 4 to 6 people

about 1 pound very ripe tomatoes of any kind

combination of any of the following herbs:

basil, parsley, mint, tarragon, oregano, marjoram, cilantro

fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste olive oil

This is to use all the tomatoes that get squashed in the bottom of your bag when you walk home with your groceries, or for those tomatoes that are just a little moldy but can be partially salvaged, or that simply get overripe sitting on your counter.

I don’t have any proportions for this and I doubt I have made it the same way twice. Judge the smell, feel of it and, mostly, trust your taste, because ultimately anything you cook is successful if you like it and it makes you happy.

Chunk the tomatoes and roughly chop the herbs.

Place both in a blender with some lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Stream in a bit of olive oil and blend until it is a somewhat rough purèe.

You can adjust the consistency with water if it seems too thick.

This should be served in bowls, from which your guests can drink or eat depending on how runny it is.

Pomodori II.JPG

NOTES

  • I like to accompany this with some pan fried tortillas and offer a bowl of feta cheese alongside it for sprinkling on top
  • Other things you can add are a bit of onion or garlic-make sure they are minced into a paste, some heat-fresh chili, red pepper flakes, cayenne, pimenton, a few capers or some chopped olives
  • I suppose you can also spike it with a generous splash of something strong and dry

Insalata di melone, pomodori e cetriolo

Melon, tomato and cucumber salad

for 4 people

1 small sweet melon

2 ripe tomatoes (or 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes)

1 small cucumber

1 handful mint leaves

1/4 cup pistachios

2 to 3 very thin red onion slices (optional)

1 Meyer lemon

1 handful mint leaves

salt, pepper and olive oil to taste

 

Slice, peel and chunk the melon.

Wedge the tomatoes (or halve if using cherry tomatoes).

Slice the cucumber thinly.

Make paper thin half moons of the onion, if you decide to add it

Stack and roll the mint leaves longitudinally then cut in very thin ribbons.

Chop the pistachios fairly finely.

Arrange the melon, tomatoes and cucumber on a platter.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Scatter the onion slices over the platter and generously douse everything with lemon juice.

Toss lightly and drizzle with olive oil.

Garnish with the mint ribbons and pistachios. Serve slightly cold.

Charentais melons

Charentais melons

NOTES

  • I used charentais melons for this, they are smallish, their skin is smooth of a grayish green with darker green blurry lines running longitudinally at regular intervals
  • For the tomatoes, Cherokee Purples are my favorite in this salad, but I have also made it with Cherry, Beefsteak and Green Zebra
  • You can switch basil for mint or almonds for pistachios

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.

NOTES

  • 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.

Greens of spring: scafata or vignarola?

Not so long ago, I posted a picture on my FB page of a springy vegetable stew , one that my mother used to make with the pickings of our vegetable garden every Easter. It showcases fava beans, artichokes, shelling peas, spring onions and baby chards or baby romaine lettuce at their peak. The choice between a) chards or b) romaines depends on your heart being rooted in Umbria or Tuscany-in which case you'd select option aand call it scafata, or your devotion to Rome steering you to option b-which would make the stew a vignarola.

I don't prefer one or the other version, as mom would make it according to market availability and whim, but I did have several requests for the recipe in the picture, so here it is.

Enjoy.


Scafata or Vignarola

Artichoke and spring greens stew

for 4 people:

1 lemon

4 medium sized artichokes

1 pound unshelled fava beans

1 pound shelling peas

2 spring onions

1 bunch of baby chards or 2 heads of baby romaine lettuce

1 sprig marjoram

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze its juice into a bowl of cold water. Drop the squeezed half lemons in the bowl.

Clean the artichokes. Remove the outer tough bitter leaves until about 2/3 of the outer circle of leaves are a lighter, somewhat yellowish green.

Slice off the darker top tip of the leaves. Pare the outer part of the bottom and peel the stems. Finally, slice off a very thin layer from the bottom of the stem.

This procedure is called turning, as for each phase of it, your knife will circle around the artichoke.

Halve each turned artichoke and remove the hairy choke if necessary. Cut each half in half again.

As they are ready, drop the artichoke quarters in the lemon water to prevent them from browning.

Shell the fava beans and the peas.

Cut offthe green top of the onions then cut in 8 wedges if they have a roundish bulb or just slice lengthwise if they are the narrower kind.

Carefully rinse the chards to eliminate any grit or, if using baby romaines, cut in quarters and rinse well.

In a shallow sauce pot pour the oil, than arrange all the vegetable snugly. Season liberally with salt and pepper and top with the marjoram.

Cover the pot and place it on low heat. The vegetables will release much moisture in which the vegetables will gently braise.

Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until everything is soft and well balanced. Adjust salt and pepper and enjoy at any temperature.

NOTES

  • Depending on the size of your artichokes you might have to cut them in 6 or 8 wedges or maybe just in half if smaller. If using baby artichokes you can leave them whole
  • The fava beans only need to come out of the pod, you do not have to peel every single bean
  • Spring onions are not to be confused with scallions, which are the very thin, available-year-round green onions. Spring onions are the young, firm fleshed, uncured, sweet tasting onions that are available in the very late winter and spring
  • To make this dish more substantial, you can render some cubed pancetta in the oil before adding the vegetables and serve the stew on thick slices of toasted country bread
  • The flavors in this dish make it a perfect complement to roasted lamb

Cooking in Italy: pane cunzatu

cooking in bikini:PanareaWhile in Panarea, pane cunzatu was one of the specialties most eateries advertised. This dressed bread is a cooked until hard crown of pane di semola-hard wheat bread, softened with the juice and flesh of little tomatoes and enlivened by capers, basil, oregano, olive oil...kind of a seminal food for one like me. I tried my hand at it. Two things were happiest about playing with pane cunzatu: cooking it in a bikini and watching the joy and taste with which the children ate it.

 

 

pane cunzatuPane cunzatu Dressed bread

1 pound cherry tomatoes salt to taste 1/3 cup capers packed in salt 1 handful fresh basil leaves 1/4 of a small red onion 2 to 3 teaspoons dried oregano pepper to taste 1 10-12" crown hard semolina bread (this is fairly common in Italian bakeries) olive oil to taste Quarter the cherry tomatoes and place them in a colander inside a bowl. Season them liberally with salt, toss them well and squeeze them gently to let the juices run. Set aside.

Rinse all the salt off the capers and soak them in warm water. Stack the basil leaves, roll them and slice them gently in very thin ribbons. Slice the onion very thinly. Drain and rinse the capers then squeeze off the excess water.

Add the oregano, basil, capers and onions to the tomatoes and toss well. Adjust salt and pepper.

Lift the colander, you should have plenty of tomato juice.

Lay the bread on a platter and crack it in chunks by hand. Sprinkle it lightly with salt then pour the tomato juice all over it. It should be nicely wet and soft, but not soaked to the point that excess water sweats out of it. If it needs it, just add a bit of still water to it.

Dress both the bread and the tomatoes generously with olive oil. Toss the tomatoes again and taste for flavor, adjust seasoning if it needs it. If there is more tomato juice, pour it on the bread.

Arrange the tomatoes all over the bread and garnish with a few basil tips and flowers . Bring to the table.

NOTES:

  • This dish can be enriched with many things to make it a more filling meal
  • I served sides of tuna packed in oil, soft boiled eggs, anchovies, olives, shaved aged ricotta that people could pick from
  • I am, of course and as always, partial to anchovies

My Italian Thanksgiving: tortelli or risotto. Or maybe both...

The richness of my life humbles me into thankfulness year round. Right now, for example, I am thankful that I get to write my first Thanksgiving blog entry. On Thursday I will be even more thankful to choose between pumpkin and amaretti tortelli OR risotto with squash, sage and taleggio. Maybe I even get to eat them both, and that will make me thankful the most.

Tortelli di zucca e amaretti Pumpkin and amaretti ravioli

kneading the dough

for 8 people Dough 5 eggs 1 generous pound flour salt

Filling 1 medium size squash or pumpkin with dense flesh and nutty flavor (butternut, kabocha, sugar pie, cinderella all work) 4 or 5 amaretti mostarda di frutta (see notes) grated zest of 1/2 an orange 1 egg 2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano ReggianoMaking tortelli zucca I nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste

Dressing 1/2 stick of butter 1 handful grated Parmigiano Reggiano 1 amaretto 1 pinch grated orange zest

Salt the flour and mound it in a well on a wooden board. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Using a fork, start working the eggs gradually incorporating the flour while keeping the well from falling and the eggs from running.

When the dough and flour become too dense to work with a fork, bring the dough together by pressing it with your hands.

When you have a somewhat shaggy ball of dough, start kneading by stretching the dough, folding and pressing it into itself. Continue kneading until the dough is somewhat smooth and elastic and quickly snaps back into place when pulled. It will take about 15 minutes.

You can also use a mixer with a hook attachment, just place the ingredients and mix on medium until everything comes together nicely and the dough looks homogeneous and elastic.

Wrap tightly and let the dough relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, sprinkle with salt and place in the oven to roast cut side up. Roast until it can be easily pierced with a knife. Scoop the flesh out into a bowl, mash and let cool.

Crumble the amaretti. Take a small piece of fruit out of the mostarda and mince finely. Combine the pumpkin, amaretti, mostarda, egg and parmigiano. Season with nutmeg salt and pepper to taste.

Roll the pasta into strips, they must be very thin, so that you are able to see the outline of your hand through them. Line small mounds of filling just above the center line of each pasta strip, 1” apart from each other.

Dip a pastry brush in water or egg wash. Brush in between each mound of filling and above the whole row.

the tortelli will look like this

Fold the strip of pasta in half and seal along the top where you brushed with water. Starting from one end and moving toward the other, seal in between the filling, paying mind to pushing out excess air.

With a fluted pastry wheel cut along the top edge, leaving a half inch margin of pasta, then cut in between each little ball of filling to obtain square ravioli.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper and dust it with flour. Arrange the ravioli on it so that they do not overlap. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

To cook, drop the tortelli in boiling salted water. When they float to the surface, give them 3 to 4 minutes.

In the meantime, melt the butter, crumble the amaretti and mix it with the parmigiano and zest.

Douse about half the butter on the bottom of a warm platter. Drain the tortelli with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the platter. Douse them with the remaining butter and dust the dressed parmigiano all over them.

Serve immediately.

NOTES:

  • Mostarda di frutta is candied fruit in a mustard sauce. It is a condiment typical of some Northeastern areas of Italy, typically served along side salumi, boiled meats and aged cheeses. It has a spicy and sweet character, reminding of a chutney. This is a good one for this recipe and Formaggio Kitchen happens to be one of my favorite online places for difficult-to-purvey ingredients for my Italian pantry

 

Risotto alla zucca con taleggio e salvia al profumo di arancio Squash risotto with taleggio and sage with hint of orange

for 6 people 1 small acorn squash 6 to 8 sage leaves 1/4 pound taleggio cheese (see note) 2 quarts stock (chicken or vegetable) 3 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons minced onion grated zest of 1/2 an orange 7 handfuls of risotto rice splash of dry white wine 1 small handful of grated parmigiano salt and pepper to taste

Split the squash in half. Place one half on a sheet pan cut side up and sprinkle with salt. Roast until it can be easily pierced with a fork. Scoop out the flesh and puree it.

In the meantime, peel and dice small the remaining half of the squash. Stack the sage leaves and cut them in very thin ribbons. Dice the taleggio. Bring the stock to a boil and keep hot.

Soften the onion in the butter with the grated zest with half the sage. Add the diced squash and braise for about 5 minutes. Add the risotto and toast it.

Deglaze it with the wine. Stir in the squash pure and some stock.

Stir continuously while adding stock until the risotto is ready, generally 20 minutes from when the rice first touches heat, adjust salt and pepper as you move along the cooking process.

When ready, remove from the heat and quickly stir in the cheeses. Garnish with the remaining sage and serve immediately.

NOTES:

  • Taleggio is a delicious creamy cheese from Lombardia which is fairly easy to find in any well stocked cheese counter
  • If you are in San Francisco, Rainbow Grocery carries a good farmhouse one, or a less expensive one can be found at Lucca Ravioli on Valencia at 22nd. Any Whole Foods is likely to carry it

Late summer pasta: fresh tomatoes and ricotta salata

I spend all week gathering what always feel like perfect ideas for my next blog post. Then Thursday rolls around and I stare at the keyboard feeling that nothing is quite right and more often than not I crash right through the self imposed Friday morning deadline. I don't know how real writers do it, really, I am garnering more respect for them every day. But I realized something this week. I am not yet a real writer, and though I would like to become one, sometimes I am not even sure that I am ready for the serious bloggers realm. But what I am, a passionate, somewhat skilled cook and one who's greatest joy is sharing knowledge around a stove, is what inspires me every day to inch just a little closer to my next goal.

So I am sharing what inspires me now, in the hope that it will keep me moving along.

And one more thing, I didn't take a picture of the finished dish, the picture I am including is of me cooking it, wearing a tomato red dress.

Pasta al pomodoro fresco e ricotta salata Pasta with fresh tomatoes and ricotta salata

for 6 people: 1 pound medium size tomatoesCooking in red 1 to 2 cloves garlic 1 handful basil 1 generous dusting dried oregano salt to taste 1 pound pasta of your choice olive oil pepper to taste 1/2 cup shredded ricotta salata

Dice the tomatoes quite small and place them in a colander over a bowl.

Smash the garlic into a paste with a pinch of salt using the side of your knife’s blade and add it to the tomatoes.

Pick and stack the basil leaves, roll them and cut them into very thin ribbons. Drop them over the tomatoes.

Add the dried oregano and a very generous amount of salt, 4 to 5 good sized pinches. Mix everything quite well and let drain to eliminate the water. The liquid that accumulates in the bowl should be periodically eliminated to the diced tomatoes do not sit in it.

This step can be done well in advance, even the day before.

While the pasta is cooking al dente in a generous pot of salted water, give the tomatoes a final drain by pressing them into the colander then transfer them to a serving bowl. Adjust salt and pepper and cover with olive oil.

Drain the pasta, reserving a cupful of cooking water, and drop it into the sauce when still very hot. Mix well, dust with the cheese and mix again. If the dish appears a little dry, add a bit of cooking water and some olive oil.

Serve right away.

NOTES:

  • Use sweet, fleshy tomatoes, preferably with thin skin. I find that dry farmed Early Girls work best, but have made it with other kinds to good success, including, in a pinch, good hothouse cluster tomatoes.
  • I enjoy this sauce with any kind of pasta, though I am partial to a good egg fettuccine.
  • The garlic can be minced and mixed into the sauce or just smashed and left whole to lend its fragrance to the sauce, then removed before serving, it all depends on one's taste for it.
  • Make some extra sauce without adding the oil. It will keep in the refrigerator for 5 to 6 days. You can serve it over toasted bread, along side some grilled chicken or even quickly sautè it in a skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil for a really great tomato sauce.
  • For a special occasion, use handmade pasta, like the spaghetti I shared earlier this month.

Camping greens

I didn't know, until I moved to California, that people go camping for fun. I still am not sure why, but at least I have learned enough by now to come out relatively unscathed from a yearly weekend of excess nature, sun burns, caked in dirt and grit in my teeth. My child and his best friend at the camp site (photo by Gianni Neiviller)

That's what I did last weekend, and while my back is just beginning to recover, skunks are just leaving my nightmares and the loft is finally rid of dust, what matters most is that it was great family time, spent making lasting memories with beloved friends.

While walking along the beach, my inner forager detected wild fennel and a very cute little rabbit.

The rabbit must have read my mind because it quickly retreated, so I settled for the fennel, which I used to the campsite's acclaim.

I don't have any pictures of the food as I was too busy keeping my jeans clean and fighting off raccoons, so I hope you will be happy with flowers, a landscape and some children.

Enjoy these improvised greens. Next year I will be going for that rabbit.

   

Wild fennel

Camping greens

3 to 4 good handfuls of the wild fennel that grows so generously all along our coast 1 sweet yellow onion 1 handful of hazelnuts (you can substitute with any nuts and or seeds you have: walnuts, almonds, pecans, flax or pumpkin seeds) salt and pepper to taste

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil (yes I go camping with a tin of olive oil, extra virgin and from Tuscany, no less) 1 bag pre-washed cooking greens (I had baby kale, but any greens will work) 1 lemon

Wash and roughly chop the fennel. Slice the onion in paper thin half moons. Chop the hazelnuts.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet on your camp stove or fire and soften the onion with a pinch of salt. Add the nuts and toast for 2 to 3 minutes.

Now add the fennel and cook until the stalks have softened. Lastly, add the greens and braise down until everything comes together softly and is ready to enjoy with whatever you are putting on the grill that night.

Adjust salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges.

Beautiful California coastline

Wild geranium

 

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.

Mamma in my kitchen

She loved us, my four siblings and me, fiercely and unwaveringly as her life slid along peaks and valleys. At times she kept us and at times we became her keepers. She left us too early. It's been almost six years and not a day I fail to mourn the loss of all she still had to say and to rejoice in the blind and extraordinary luck of having been born her daughter. Gardenias were her favorMamma croppedite flowers. She laughed hard and she cried hard. She loved intensely and was loved back. She had unique aesthetics and style. She was ahead of her time and steeped into it. She respected the sacred and enjoyed the profane. She made mistakes and taught invaluable lessons. Her spirit was full of contradiction and her heart was steady.

Her hand in the kitchen was unpredictable and always right. She rarely bowed to the constraints of a recipe. Around a square country table, by a fire place and a window upholstered by ivy, she gifted us some of her best, lovingly attempting at our girths.

Magic was always boiling in a pot, drying on a rack, baking in the oven, resting in the refrigerator. Visions of her hands harvesting, frying, braising, gathering, preserving marked the seasons of childhood.

When I watch my own hands at work, I like to think that some of my mother's gifts are still here, in my very own kitchen, for my very own child.

Grazie mamma.

La panzanella più buona del mondo~The world's best summer bread salad (recipe adapted for my California kitchen from the memories of my mom's legendary panzanella)

1/2 loaf stale crusty country breadPanzanella  cropped salt and pepper to taste 3 ripe tomatoes 1/2 red onion 1 cup large basil leaves 1 small cucumber (optional) 2 handfuls arugula or other wild salad red wine vinegar olive oil

Cut the bread in chunks and wet them with cold water. Mom always said the trick to a good panzanella is how one treats the bread. Do not completely soak, rather wet gently, in a small quantity of water coming not more that half way up the sides of your bread chunks.

Also, the older the bread, the longer water will take to moisten all the way to the center. So while a a very stale loaf might sit in water for a bit, a fresher one might only need a quick rinse under a running faucet and no soaking at all.

Whatever the case, be sure that, once well moistened, your bread of choice is squeezed until no more water drips out of it no matter how hard you wring. Place in a bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, drizzle with some vinegar to where it suits your buds and set aside.

Cut the tomatoes in fairly skinny wedges. Slice the onion in paper thin half moons. Tear the basil leaves with your hands. Slice the cucumber quite thinly (I much prefer cucumber in the dish, though sometimes my mother used red bell pepper instead. You can also entirely omit one or the other).

Add the tomatoes, onions, basil, cucumber and arugula to the bread chunks. Toss all the ingredients well and dress with a generous amount of olive oil. Toss some more and taste to ensure the balance of salt, vinegar and oil is to your liking. Adjust as needed.

NOTES:

  • Panzanella is even more delicious the day after, just spruce up with some fresh greens and refresh with a drizzle of olive oil
  • For slicing the onion and cucumber, the ideal tool is a mandolin