Homemade ricotta

Strawberries and ricottaI like to experiment in the kitchen.  I even dream of spending a few uninterrupted months between the kitchen counter tops and my writing desk some day, to wonder and create recipes so simple that happiness is the only option when making them. In my vision, my pantry is filled with the bright colors of fruit jams, Mason jars filled with endless variations on simple tomato sauce and preserved vegetables from a garden of all seasons. Intent upon reaching that kind of happiness on a daily basis, I try “old-fashioned” recipes when I have a moment to spare, like the making of fresh ricotta. Continue reading

Strawberries with lemon and lavender

Strawberries and lavendarSpring arrives in April or May and slowly but surely baskets of strawberries begin to overtake the fruit vendors shelves in my neighborhood. The brighter their color, the more often I find myself  cheerfully adding strawberries to my fruit macedonia and picnic-style shortcakes. The days stretch out into long evenings full of light. All of a sudden, or so it seems, deep ruby-red strawberries fill my favorite vintage porcelain plates daily in the kitchen.  Just about mid-June, strawberries become so luscious and full of perfume that nothing short of a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of honey and some flowering lavender are needed for the perfect midsummer dessert.  This is the moment when I hope that summer will last forever.

Ingredients

  • 500 grams of the very best organically grown strawberries
  • the zest and juice of one organic lemon
  • one tablespoon organic honey
  • the flowers of two sprigs of lavender from the garden

Wash a carton of fresh strawberries briefly in cold water, or brush them off with a linen cloth. Remove the green stems and cut the strawberries in half above a ceramic bowl to catch their juices. Swirl a few spoons of honey along with the flowers of blooming purple lavender into the fruit. Add the grated zest of the lemon and just enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to add a hint of tartness to the strawberries. Chill the strawberries for just one hour or bring them to the kitchen table right away.

Suggested combinations

The possibilities are endless but in the height of summer I suggest generous bowls of this fruit completely on its own.  For a lovely appetizer, wrap a strawberry in a leaf of fresh basil and serve.

Notes

In Italy a mixture of cut fruits marinated in lemon juice (and often wine of some kind) is called “Macedonia”.

Green goddess avocado dressing

avocado on a blue platterAt the age of seven I moved from the Italian countryside to the United States with my family for a few years. Up until then I had passed my days taking bike rides through the village of Caldogno. Daydreaming in the fields bordered by grape vineyards situated picturesquely across from our house was never boring. I had not yet watched television as a pastime, or at least I don’t recall doing so. While my mother and her best friend Melia drank their daily afternoon espresso, I chased butterflies in the vegetable garden. With the carelessness of youth I set out on a new adventure to my origins, unaware that every place and time is irreplaceable.

I did not realize at the age of seven, that leaving Italy would mean saying goodbye to zinnia filled flower gardens and copper pots full of polenta. Traveling to the U.S. I had no idea what was awaiting me. From one moment to the next, I was surrounded by the English language. I no longer smelled freshly baked panini from the corner bakery in the morning. The espresso pot didn’t percolate on the stove every afternoon. I was intent upon observing — taking in my new surroundings. It was an unforgettable experience, filled with change and confusion, excitement and happiness. For an indefinite period I felt lost, unaware  that what I was feeling could be described as culture shock. Continue reading

Green asparagus and new potatoes with gremolata

Green asparagus on newspaper IIIn the Spring I simply cannot decide which green vegetable to start cooking with first — peas, broad beans or asparagus. The arrival of the first clay covered new potatoes at the farmers market is a thrill and a promise that winter’s root vegetables are no longer my sole source of kitchen  inspiration. With fists full of bright green spears of asparagus, I look back with absolutely no regrets on the end of limited hours of daylight for three glorious new seasons. With the door temporarily closed to the cold, I look forward to a gorgeous spring, a brightly colored summer and an unforgettable harvest season in the fall. The following recipe is distinctively Italian and made with three of the best earthy ingredients — grilled asparagus and potatoes with lemon-parsley gremolata. This is deliciously real fast food.

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Fashionable cauliflower

CauliflowerMy days are filled with food and its preparation.  Kitchen-related questions pop up in my mind unexpectedly in the midst of other seemingly unrelated tasks. The study of food — of how and why it is prepared in various ways —  are my professionally acceptable obsession. Food topics make a definite impression on me. For this reason I thought I might simply be misreading the appearance of the colorful vegetable at every turn of a page. I considered it to be yet another example of looking at the world from a cook’s perspective. Yet based upon the content of my email inbox and the current topics in the social media, a vegetarian lifestyle is no longer considered peculiar or curious. In fact, vegetarianism is fashionable.

A shift of focus has most definitely turned the tables and plates full of garden ingredients are tagged as highly desirable.What at first seemed to be a casual trend is fast becoming a weekly ritual. “Meatless Monday” is in the news, even more so than the more traditional “Fish on Friday”. Completely in keeping with the new-found focus on vegetables, the simple cauliflower is now in the limelight. Old-fashioned visions of a soggy white vegetable covered in an equally vague white sauce are fortunately part of the distant past.  Instead, Jamie Oliver’s whole-roasted cauliflower with thyme and smoked paprika,  Yottam Ottolenghi’s red-onion cauliflower tart and Green Kitchen Stories’ cauliflower pizza are catching the world’s attention — just to name a few.

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Blood oranges and dates for dessert

Blood oranges and chocolateEvery season has a striking ingredient,  an outstanding color, an out of the ordinary shape and form that catches the eye and keeps attracting attention. Every cook has preferred flavors where prominent elements in the kitchen evolve, influenced by life’s experiences and the aesthetics of the moment. The best recipes, like a favorite book, are a mixture of the old and the new — of memory and discovery. Cooking does not always involve long labor at the stove or an elaborate process of preparation. In fact some of the very best inventions just happen by chance. My prominent fruit of the moment is the crimson blood orange and my preferred method for dessert is simple, quick and easy. The following recipe is a collection of just a few of winter’s most impressive ingredients — the blood orange and the Medjool date.

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Preface to a Beautiful Food Special Edition

Rosemary and thyme with salt and pepper

The kitchen is not just a place for cooking everyday food for my family.  I am a cook by profession. Despite and perhaps because of my profession I believe that food is not only essential to life, but equal to happiness among friends and family. My mother taught me the love of cooking and I am intent upon extending love and good memories to my children from the kitchen table.

I realize that we are a bit out of the ordinary as a family. My oldest child sat next to me while I cooked at nine months old, playing with tea cups and measuring spoons. As a toddler he stood happily on a wooden chair leaning against the countertop. His preferred toys were wooden spoons, mixing bowls and flour. My youngest came to work with me as a baby and often slept in a vegetable crate filled up with blankets while I cooked and chopped my way through a professional kitchen.  Later she pushed around her own wooden cart through my work space, pretending to shop for groceries and prepare for dinner by filling up her miniature grocery cart with tomatoes and eggplant and any other ingredients within her reach. At preschool she decided she wanted to open a restaurant when she grew up. She even had a name for it. Her restaurant fantasy was called “Mmmmmmm”.

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