Grilled okra gumbo

The decorative wrought-iron gates marking the entrance to distinctive Texas ranch houses can be easily overlooked while passing through Kendalia. Before you know it, you simply miss its post office, established in 1895. There’s not much to see in this settlement or so it seems. With about 350 inhabitants, Kendalia is located in the midst of the generous landscape of the Texas hill country. On a lazy Saturday morning, I slowed down at the sight of a watermelon painting along the dusty Farm Road 3351 from San Antonio in the direction of Fredericksburg. Just around the corner, I happened upon an even larger sign leaning against a parked tractor, with the hand painted promise of “Sweeet Watermelon”.

Under the shade of a Texas live oak tree stood Richard, the proud owner of beautiful vegetables and fruits from his own garden. As Richard told me about the laid back lifestyle of his small town, my plans for the day slowly changed. An enjoyable conversation later, I left with a paper bag full of fresh green okra, beautifully ripened tomatoes, jars of salsa and of course a huge watermelon.  Filled with the perfume of the garden, I rode back home along the winding country roads to cook a Texas-inspired gumbo for Saturday supper.

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Smashed raspberry mascarpone

Raspberry mascarponeMidsummer visits to the market promise an abundance of scarlet raspberries tucked into small paper boxes layered in wooden crates.  Cool, creamy mascarpone makes the perfect match to the most delicious of red fruits imaginable. When asked to make a sweet treat I choose a simple combination of fresh fruit and cream. This dessert on a spoon is inspired by the Italian “dolce a cucchaio”, a homemade tradition made in a bowl instead of the oven. Enjoy the unmistakable happiness that simplicity brings.

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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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