Eggplant and red lentil stew

This is a recipe that I make when in a rush. The combination of eggplant with tomato, sweet potato and lentil barely need attention, just a bit of organized chopping and dicing. The ingredients mix and mingle on the stove into a spicy and satisfying vegetable stew within less than an hour. It’s the solution for one of those days when it seems there is no time left over for dinner and yet there is!

Making a double recipe is well worth it because this dish is excellent cold. The flavors of the vegetables become even richer after a day of rest in the refrigerator. Serve it chilled dressed with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil,  as if it were a bowl of salad. On the hottest days of summer, top the stew with lots of fresh mint, basil and arugula leaves.

Cook early in the morning  when it is still cool and enjoy your meal as if you were in Italy,  in the shade of the afternoon.

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Chocolate almond tart

This is the kind of dessert that goes perfectly with espresso. It is neither a cake or a brownie.  It is an intense dark chocolate tart with the crunch of almonds, inspired by the island of Capri and its famous “torta”.  It owes its place in my kitchen journals because of the simplicity of its ingredients and the roasted richness of its flavor.

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Tart black currant and cherry salad

Some recipes just happen. Without a plan in mind or a grocery list in hand, all of a sudden ingredients that never seemed to make a match, become a perfect pair. While researching the wooden tables at the farmers market this week, a box of black currants caught my eye. I knew these intensely purple berries would be put to good use, but had no idea at the time that they would become the dressing for a summer salad.

With a bag full of cherries, a handful of arugula, a small goat’s cheese, bunches of carrots, yellow zucchini, oddly shaped tomatoes, white eggplant, purple basil, flowering oregano and the fascinating black currants all packed up, I bicycled my way into the weekend.

While arranging my groceries in the kitchen, I considered the possibilities for the intriguing berries.  The following recipe takes advantage of their startling tartness in a new favorite for the season.

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Sweet summer apricots and mint

Apricots and mint with orange

The velvet-skinned apricot is an early arrival to the summer season. It is my favorite fruit because it is both sweet and sour.   Its place in a meal depends on its ripeness. When soft, I bake the apricots in wine and serve them as dessert. When firm, I make a salad, reminiscent of the “macedonia di frutta” I grew up with in Italy.

This is a recipe for a simple salad made with a handful of uncomplicated ingredients. Choose tart, firm apricots and marinate them with the zest and juice of an orange mixed with honey and a bunch of fresh mint. It’s as uncomplicated as that.

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Potato salad with pickled onions and purple olives

Picnic baskets filled with bowls of potato salad, marinated green beans, fried chicken and carrot cake. Those are the family food treasures that come to mind when I recall summer visits to the Lago di Garda. As a child I remember being mildly surprised by the detailed questions my Mom’s friends inevitably asked her about just how she made her potato salad. To me it was as constant as the sunrise and brown-bag lunches for school every morning. Obviously potato salad was meant to taste like my Mom’s, and it was something she was pretty famous for.

I tailored her original recipe ever so slightly over the years.  My Mom tasted my translation of her delicious potato salad and she happily approved.

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Raspberry orange cake

Baking goes well with the quiet of the morning. I like to sift flour and zest citrus fruits on a neat kitchen countertop while drinking caffè latte.  Cakes and biscotti require some precision in preparation. Yet dessert should be as uncomplicated as a bowl of fresh fruit. This cake is made with the classic trio of flour, eggs and butter.  It is sweetened with oranges and honey and filled with the scarlet juices of fresh raspberries.

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Risi e bisi

Shelling peas is a kitchen ritual characteristic of spring. Peas in their pods remind me of neatly planted rows of seeds in the vegetable garden. Homemade risotto made with fresh green peas is my favorite dish. The simple combination of rice and peas is called “risi e bisi” in the Veneto. This risotto is especially well-known in the beautiful cities of Vicenza, Verona and Venice.

I await the arrival of fresh peas at the farmers market. When I see them arranged tidily in wooden crates, I snap a pod and taste the raw peas. If the peas are sweet, smooth and bright green,  I take handfuls of them home to make risotto.

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