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

Chili and citrus marinated olives

My adoration of olives was born in my teenage years, when visits to the food markets of Naples were heavily encouraged by my mother’s pleas to help her with the daily grocery shopping. Little did I know,  as I strolled unwillingly past vibrant market stalls overflowing with tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, that all the colors and sounds of Italy were making a profound impression on my senses. Continue reading

Cherry paradise clafoutis

It wasn’t until a few summers ago that I ever considered the possibility of adding fresh cherries to anything other than my fruit bowl. While researching how to teach simple desserts with fresh orchard fruits, I stumbled upon the French clafoutis. Stubbornly, I set out to change the recipe, partly because there are so many variations on this theme and partly because I always want to push the confines of accepted standards.

My kitchen experiments of this classic beauty were acceptable but somehow not impressive.

Continue reading

Raw tomato summer pasta “al sugo crudo”

I cannot remember which of my Italian friends taught me to make a “sugo crudo al pomodoro” but it was most certainly on a warm summer’s day.  It’s magic is in the mixture of freshly sliced tomatoes shimmering in a small pool of olive oil, perfumed by leaves of fresh basil. Given a moment to marinate, these ingredients marry as it were — the tomatoes taking on the flavor of basil and the basil melting into the juices of the fresh tomatoes.  Continue reading

Strawberry fields forever . part II .

This is the second part of a short little story describing simple traditions involving an abundance of red berries. I have a few favorite ways to bring strawberries to the table and each one is a reminder of the happiness of spring and the comforts of home.

Home is neither a single place nor a static object. The name describes a feeling that expands beyond space and time. In my case the word home describes different countries. The following narrative has its origin in the Netherlands, one of the parts of this world I feel a part of.

This story is about the strawberry sandwich. Even writing the name brings a smile to my face. It’s about three simple ingredients, namely butter,  bread and well, of course strawberries.

Bread is an essential part of the Dutch food tradition and in this country it is amazingly good and wholesome.

Butter, like dairy of all sorts, takes a prominent place in the low lands. For this particular kind of sandwich, one generally uses the unsalted kind.

Strawberries make an appearance in early spring and are a fundamental part of the landscape well into late summer.

The key to a perfect berry sandwich is the quality of the ingredients, of which in this part of the world there are many.

Traditionalists will spread their butter on a slice of fresh white bread. I diverge from this habit by cycling to my favorite bakery for a loaf of light whole wheat sourdough.

On each slice of bread, one spreads butter generously but not in extravagance.

The strawberries are washed, cut and subsequently layered over the butter, the more the merrier, but without any kind of exaggeration. 

The sandwich is ready to be served in a deliciously pragmatic no-nonsense manner so typical of this country and culture. 

I love the strawberry sandwich for this very reason. 

Suggested combinations

Serve the sandwich with the very best of the three ingredients available to you. Try it as is. Don’t be tempted in other words to add mint leaves, balsamic vinegar, lemon zest, black pepper, or any number of wonderful pairings that go so well with strawberries. Keep it pure and simple.

It is definitely old school to sprinkle the strawberries with just a touch of sugar.

Notes

A strawberry sandwich is at its very best when served as soon as the sliced fruit is layered on the bread.

Wild garlic spaghettata

 

It was Sunday evening after the movies and it was time to eat sooner if not later. I was in the mood for a spaghettata — the charmingly Italian name for a late night bowl of pasta.

spaghettata is all about cooking with pantry ingredients. It goes hand in hand with noisy nights with friends stuffed around the kitchen table filled with conversation. It’s symbolic for spontaneity in other words.

Continue reading

Strawberry fields forever . part I .

The very first bright red strawberries have made their way home. Strawberries are a modestly delicious  fruit; the kind that lend themselves to sweet family gatherings rather than to complicated cheffy creations. I cannot help but love these berries for what they symbolize.

I have favorite ways to bring them to the table, none of which I would really call worthy of the name recipe. One of them is Italian in origin — the country I grew up in — the country that drives my creativity.

Imagine summer in southern Italy somewhere outside the rowdy city streets of Naples

Put yourself under the shade of an umbrella, seated at a table close to a busy family kitchen

Envision a terrace filled with huge terracotta pots of brilliantly blooming red geraniums

Amidst vivid conversation on a warm August evening, a chilled porcelain bowl is brought to the table 

Floating in red wine are freshly cut strawberries that go by the name “fragole al vino”

This summery Italian dessert is a breeze to prepare. Wash a bunch of bright red strawberries and tip them into a bowl. Squeeze the juice of a half of lemon over the berries and add the faintest sprinkle of sugar. Toss and stir gently. Pour a slightly chilled red wine to barely cover the fruit just before serving.

Note

I will be sharing more of such narratives.The next one will be Dutch in character.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re here ! I mean the luscious red berries in this enamel bowl.