Grilled green asparagus and a traditional basil pesto

Garlic and AsparagusThose who know me in real life, will recognize this recipe and this story. Green asparagus are my favorite vegetable in the spring. I serve them raw, shaved through salads, in risotto or marinated in a lovely handmade basil pesto. All three recipes are well received at almost any shared table and yet my favorite method has to be the marinated version. Why? Well because making pesto by hand is like meditating. It requires some focus and patience. The asparagus, hot out of the oven, soak up the incredible medley of olive oil, fresh herbs, nuts and Parmesan. What is there not to love right?

I made this particular dish for the first time while thinking of the simple beauty of baby leeks marinated in vinaigrette that I absolutely adored when living in Paris.  This just might be the subject of my next blog post. For now, I will limit this short story to the oh so green and earthy asparagus. Continue reading

Fave beans in their pods

Broad beans in the podIn the first days of April winter is shaken from the earth like a worn out coat revealing bright new life.  The country markets from Tuscany to Sicily are filled with endless shades of green. The bounty of garlic shoots and the appearance of the first artichokes  — not to mention piles of green peas and endless bunches of tender green turnip tops — make it difficult for a food passionate to decide what to cook. My Italian friends have taught me that the first fave beans of spring are an absolute essential. Their plump pods conceal neat little rows of pale powder green seeds. Once shucked from their fuzzy outer layer the seeds are eaten raw and paired with salty sheep’s cheese pecorino. This is such a lovely example of how simple elements presented on a plate create not only a perfect combination of flavors — no — this kind of purity opens the window to the senses.

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Hazelnut Biscotti

Hazelnut biscotti

As I sit at my proverbial kitchen table, I am in a bit of a daze. It seems that the month of February rushed by like a runaway express train. My mind has been elsewhere, wrapped in a cocoon; my thoughts stretched to distraction. Is this part of a late winter’s slumber I wonder? In direct contrast to the confused state of things, in just over two months since the new year, I have filled four notebooks with elaborate kitchen notes neatly written in block letters documenting a whirlwind of cooking experiments.

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Rainbow minestrone

Rainbow chard and cavolo neroIf I were to follow my personal preferences in the kitchen,  I would create a different soup for every day of the week.  I love the comfort of folding my hands around a meal in a bowl and adore the endless possibilities a cast iron pot stewing on the stove provides.  The process of cutting, chopping, stirring and simmering wards off the winter chills. But most of all —  making soup satisfies my obsession for vegetables.

The following version of minestrone is inspired by two beautiful, leafy greens: rainbow chard and cavolo nero. This recipe has its roots somewhere between Verona and Florence and is inspired by the rustic country cooking of northern Italy. Follow it like a road map and make changes according to the ingredients in your pantry.

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Rosemary lentils

Lentil soup compositionJust over a week ago all was quiet. Celebrations to close the book on the old and start a brand new year started with a strangely quiet morning. A peek out the kitchen window revealed empty city streets. Funny how the first of the year feels like a long winter slumber. Being one for rituals, I set out early to get rid of domestic clutter and to cooking a pot of lentils. Lentils (and the spicy sausage “cotechino”) are traditionally served throughout Italy as a symbol of good fortune on New Year’s Eve. Their earthy perfume reminds me of home and of  the comfort that comes from simplicity. Here’s to January and slow beginnings.
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Smashed carrots and parsley olive oil

Carrot bunches in ChicagoOn the eve of a new year I count my blessings. I have no extravagant plans today; just simple ones. I am up early and ready to go out for the last of this year’s ingredients. In keeping with Italian tradition, I will put a pot of rosemary lentils on the stove late this evening to celebrate the arrival of January. This morning I am on the lookout for uncomplicated ingredients like onions, carrots and flat leaf parsley.  I look forward to bringing home ground cumin and mossy green sea salt in paper-wrappings from my favorite spice shop. Call me strange — but I love grocery shopping road trips. Continue reading

A traditionally Dutch yogurt hangop

Hangop-IThe Christmas rush is on. Strangely enough my response to the frenetic activity around me during this time of year is to hibernate, to open the pages of photo albums, to unpack old tree ornaments and to reflect upon the symbolism surrounding the end of one and the beginning of a new year. With four seasons of journals and kitchen notebooks opened on the table, I connect the dots between the past and the future as the dark days of December pass.

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