Savory oregano pastry

This pastry has earned a prominent place in my kitchen repertoire because it is quicker to make than pizza dough . . . which by the way is a source of continuous experimentation at my house . . .

It forms the base to many a colorful vegetable torta, and even shapes the crust for my interpretation of the famous chard filled erbazzone. It is also the type of pastry I use to make savory crackers, flavored with anything from fresh rosemary and slivers of garlic, to grated Parmesan and coarse black pepper.

To make this pretty pastry only two things are needed:  good flour and butter, preferably organic and produced close to home

Mixing the cold butter through the flour with a gentle hand helps the end result to be perfectly crumbly and delicious.

Oh . . . did I say you can replace the butter with extra virgin olive oil ? See my notes for the explanation how to replace butter with olive oil.

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Sweet crumbly pastry

When I started to cook for a living, baking was not my preference. Absorbed as I was with herbs and vegetables, working with sweet ingredients was an absolute afterthought. My desserts were simple and bowls of fresh fruit were invariably at the center of the table. In the summer, I topped fresh fruit (especially strawberries) with Marsala and honey mascarpone. In colder seasons, oven-baked fruits and homemade biscotti were an effortless alternative to cake.

My shortcrust pastry efforts failed on a regular basis, thus confirming an old bias that cooks are generally skilled in either the sweet or the savory. One day, I discovered the beauty of patience and of flour!

The process of mixing cool finely ground grains with cold butter and the richness of egg yolks became a fascination as well as an early morning ritual (because baking somehow still turns out best when it’s my first task of the day . . .)

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Elderflower water forever

If given the opportunity I would probably wander the fields gathering blossoms and greens every single day of the year – only to take my discoveries home to study and create in the kitchen. These delicate elderflower blossoms were foraged for me. I found them at the organic market close to where I live. Once I got my stash of pale golden flowers home, I wrapped them in newspaper and put them in a jug of water for the afternoon to experience their delicate perfume.

It didn’t take long before I simply had to get cooking. I always try to work simply, adding more ingredients or complexer techniques only if necessary. I guess that sums up my idea about cooking — the closer I can stay to nature’s flavors the better. The effort required to make elderflower infused water is minimal and the result is more than worth the time. Continue reading

Strawberry rhubarb romance

I love it when things come together unexpectedly.  Even though it seems obvious now, I had no idea strawberries and an absolutely sour stalk of a vegetable make for a match worth obsessing about. . .

Strawberries hardly need an introduction — they are the luscious berry of family picnics and summer holidays — they are the sweetest and most universally loved fruit imaginable.  I would even go so far as to call them the poetic symbol of spring.

Rhubarb on the other hand is relatively unknown. It is grown mostly in North America, the British Isles, Scandinavia and northern Europe. It goes beyond tart, is practically impossible to eat raw and cannot be brought to the table without somehow making its way to the stove first. It’s most redeeming quality seems to be its brightly colored outer stalks.

What makes these two work so well together and why didn’t I know about this earlier I wonder?  Suffice it to say that my upbringing in Italy didn’t familiarize me with this particular ingredient. Incompatible in their raw state, when heat comes into play, these rivaling  ingredients suddenly melt together to form the perfect pair.

I have made this conserve over and over again in the last few weeks. I am even finding every excuse to drizzle it over the ingredients to every meal, from whole grain toast in the morning to my green salad with goat’s cheese and pink pepper for supper. In fact as I write these words, I am trying to ignore the urge to take the jar out of the refrigerator for just one more spoonful . . . Continue reading

Polenta porridge

This morning I sit at my desk to tell a short story that seems fitting for the times. My subject is yellow like saffron, but with much humbler origins. My ingredient is flour made from corn. My recipe is for something essential to every northern Italian table and it goes by the name of polenta.

Polenta is a mash much like porridge. In the Veneto it is symbolic of simple sustenance. To make it only a few ingredients are needed, namely cornmeal water and salt. But to create the perfect bowl of golden, soft, pillowy polenta requires the tools called patience and time. Continue reading

Raw fennel and blood orange salad

I cannot remember the first time I ate a salad made with raw sliced fennel mixed with beautifully dramatic blood oranges.  Surely it was while having lunch at our neighbor’s house just outside of Pozzuoli,  close to the baroque city of Naples….

At first glance this combination may seem to be a strange mixture of flavors.  Yet crunchy and savory fennel tossed, with sweetly-juicy orange wedges, is the perfect example of light, bright and fresh. In other words, the making of this salad makes the moodiness of winter weather in the midst of spring promises somehow disappear.  Continue reading

Fig and pine nut biscotti: A Veneto-inspired recipe

I brought home a bushel of citrus from the farmers market a few weeks back with no particular plan, except perhaps to ward off the grey of  long winter days. Along with bergamot, tangerines and the first blood oranges, Sicilian lemons served to brighten up the kitchen. Continue reading

The colors of winter

Every year, just around mid-November I promise myself not to hibernate through the ever-darkening days of winter. December passes by in an intimate family circle of festivities and holiday decorations get packed away for another year in a slow-motion ritual.

Despite all efforts to the contrary, the quiet comforts of home define the month of January. Regrettably (or so it may seem), the cold season settles in for a begrudgingly accepted stay.

Cooking soups and making stews with sturdy greens and roots are the practical results of the dark days of this season. Reading books pass the time during long evenings indoors, but gathering my thoughts truly tell my story of winter.

With pen and paper in hand, at this time of year I slow down to write. Although most of my published writing is in fact a series of seasonal recipes,  my personal journals outline my reasons for being. Writing in quiet solitude makes sense to the puzzle of daily life in other words.

In the coming year I will be creating anew, first and foremost in my blog.  During the last months, I have actually been working on the introduction of three new forms of expression to expand upon my recipe writing.  Just like the notebooks stacked on my desk, each addition will be shaped into a chapter to form a broader creative diary.

Firstly, I will make place for visual inspiration and photos of my surroundings, not directly related to cooking a specific dish. This chapter will be a photo journal as it were.

Secondly, I will add a means for the unknowing reader to explore and utilize the recipes I publish, without having to read a diary of food memories first! This chapter will be much like a library.

Lastly, I will design a space for stories, simply because there are so many interesting people and places in the world. Sometimes a narrative will be historical or even factual in nature. Primarily, this chapter will document the noteworthy I happen to be lucky to discover. Imagine it as a thesaurus of significant things if you will.

My ambition is expansive. It’s going to take some time. In the meanwhile I will keep writing here, in the journal I started so many years ago.

On a weekly basis my journey about the essential and the ordinary in life and cooking can be tracked on my Instagram account.

Baked pumpkin and chanterelle risotto

Saturday is definitely my favorite day of the week because it is full of promise. Rarely is Saturday defined by schedules or obligations. Rather it is the perfect example of limitless possibility. After a luxuriously silent and relatively early morning coffee, I start my day with a trip to the farmers market. My task of the morning is to soak up the sights, ultimately deciding which ingredients will take part in of the weekend ritual of cooking.

Although I have often promised myself to make lists and menu plans for the work week, my mind simply refuses this kind of obligation. By mid afternoon, I make my way home with linen bags filled with ingredients and thoughts swimming with opportunity. Continue reading

Yellow summer zucchini and purple basil salad

September is all about bright colors and abundance. It’s also about sun-ripened vine tomatoes and the delicate, intensely yellow zucchini. While the days of Indian summer are still ahead, I am doing just two simple things: cooking on the stove as little as possible and stuffing my kitchen with bunches of herbs and tomatoes for as long as it lasts.

The following recipe paints a picture like a suggestion. In fact, there are no steadfast rules to this salad.  Follow the recipe below if you will; but see it above all else as a leisurely collection of simply beautiful ingredients paired on a plate. To my mind this is the perfect kind of recipe. Continue reading