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.

Pickled butter beans and marinated mackerel

 

I know that pickled beans might sound a bit strange and most probably not as addictively appetizing as they are in real life. I am convinced that this is the fault of some minor misconceptions. First of all, the process of marinating in vinegar is called “pickling” in English. This word naturally evokes sour thoughts of all sorts,  without doing justice to the wonderful flavor transformation that takes place when vegetables (and beans of course) are bathed in something refreshingly tart like vinegar. Secondly, beans have a bad reputation mostly because when prepared without passion they can be decidedly uninteresting.  Combine both of these words in the English language, and one runs the risk of promoting an unappealing pair on the plate.

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Summer spaghetti frittata

There’s something about spaghetti for breakfast – or eating the crusts of homemade pizza in the morning for that matter –  that remind me of countless carefree summer days living along the coast of Naples. When I was younger, my mother’s best friend and everyday espresso partner taught her how to make use of leftover spaghetti by baking a simple frittata. The following recipe is the perfect example of how southern Italians make something delicious out of a handful of seemingly unimportant surplus ingredients.

Once baked this dish packs well as picnic food.  Served cold – wrapped in parchment paper –  with a ripe red tomato washed in the salty ocean – is how I remember this rustic Neapolitan frittata at its very best.

Served straight from the oven sprinkled with salt flakes – it makes for a wonderfully simple lunch –  even without a view of the Mediterranean.

The crunchy brown curls of the baked spaghetti are the best part by the way . . .

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Pumpkin soup with red pepper and garlic

pumpkin-still-life

Just when fresh red tomatoes are no longer available and the summer disappears into darkness, an orange alternative arrives in many shapes and sizes. Squash and pumpkin are autumn’s answer to the tomato. I use them in much the same way. The following recipe is for a soup made of pumpkin with carrots and potatoes, turned spicy with the simple addition of garlic and red pepper. This particular kind of preparation is very much Italian and is called a passato because the ingredients are pureed until smooth once cooked. I like to call it orange velvet soup.

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Spinach polpette

polpette-ai-spinaciI am in a serious rush and running behind at the same time. In the month of September, if I’m not spending my days preserving the season’s overabundance of tomatoes entire crates at a time, I get the distinct sensation that I am missing something important.  Every minute counts and I cannot decide if I should be writing about how to preserve summer figs or spend my afternoons making melanzane alla parmigiana with eggplants from the garden.  What on earth this has to do with my recipe for spinach polpette has a kind of logic that I can easily explain.

Spinach polpette are a classic of mine. Friends send me messages asking me to bring them along to parties.  After tasting these slightly out of the ordinary and intensely green appetizers, guests at my cooking lessons inevitably agree that my polpette are an immediate and absolute favorite.

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Lemon zucchini ribbons

Zucchini noodles in big bowl

This is a recipe that resolves pangs of hunger in no time flat. Heavily inspired by the infamous spaghetti aglio e olio I replace the pasta with zucchini, the garlic with fresh sage salt and the olive oil with lemon juice. The result is equally as pungent and satisfying as the original and completely refreshing at the same time.

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Smashed cannellini and tomato jam

Cannellini soaking

Cannellini beans are the most commonly used bean in the region of Tuscany. They are small and chalky-white in color. They are the prized ingredient of vegetable minestrone, and the even more famous ribollita – made of  winter vegetables – day-old bread and new olive oil. My favorite way to eat these beans is baked into a thick perfumed jam in tomato, with garlic and rosemary. Warm out of the oven, I smash them and serve them on thick slices of grilled sour dough bread.  Just like hummus, they make a crowd-pleasing appetizer and accompany every kind of picnic plan.

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