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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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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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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Pasta e fagioli

 

Borlotti in a podA simple bowl of beans floating in a steaming vegetable broth, accompanied by the occasional tube-shaped pasta served in ceramic bowls meant for caffè latte in the morning. . . . . .

These are the comforts of home in a season where blankets of grey clouds cover the almost forgotten blue-summer skies.  As the morning mist lingers for hours above the rivers and canals, I stay tucked away inside in the luxury of grey woollen socks. Compositions of candles and spices on worn silver trays go hand in hand with rearranging the pantry shelves to fit in glass jars filled with grains, beans and chestnut flour.  Continue reading

Cherries and homemade mascarpone

Cherries on a plate and in a crateMaking homemade mascarpone has been on my “to do” kitchen list for some time. Although I must admit this has no particular relationship to bright red cherries. I was inspired to combine both after a weekend shopping trip to the farmers market. A crate of red stone fruits and a few glass jars of organic cream were the spark for a perfect pair. Just how easy making mascarpone turned out to be was quite a surprise. Like so many “old-fashioned” cooking methods, the key to success is to following a few simple steps. The results unfold after an effortless wait. Homemade mascarpone is infinitely creamier and most definitely lighter than the store-bought version. From now on, I am making my own. Just like ricotta, any kind of fresh cream will do — whether from a goat, a cow or a sheep. I poured my pale yellow homemade mascarpone over hibiscus-soaked cherries while thinking of a classic”clafoutis”. Did I already mention I hope summer is forever?

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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

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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Rosemary polenta and pizza gialla

Polenta pizza with tomato and pepperI grew up in northern Italy surrounded by Renaissance architecture and mysterious Venetian works of art. I experienced childhood in the romantic countryside and dreamt of becoming a writer. In my teens I filled my first notebooks with philosophical thoughts and poems, interwoven with recipes. My mind and my pen wandered as I sat at a white baroque-style desk, gazing at the purple Alps from my bedroom window. I soaked up the Italian way of life effortlessly, where food, people and culture are so closely interwoven. I learned how to cook from my mother, while living in a part of the world where grilled polenta and risotto are an essential part of weekly homemade meals. Cooking from scratch came naturally at our house and the kitchen was the center of a vivid social life.

My idyllic Italian past forms the foundation for a rich legacy of shared family recipes. Cooking is the constant factor in my life and I have written about food, culture and society for as long as I can remember. My love of the kitchen, for the simple beauty of the changing seasons and for sitting down at the table with friends and family, are habits I take with me wherever I go. In the course of my travels, I have come to realize that cooking is an inspiring activity appreciated by all. To my mind, exchanging food brings the world together. It is what we all have in common, no matter which culture or country we come from.

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Smashed raspberry mascarpone

Raspberry mascarponeMidsummer visits to the market promise an abundance of scarlet raspberries tucked into small paper boxes layered in wooden crates.  Cool, creamy mascarpone makes the perfect match to the most delicious of red fruits imaginable. When asked to make a sweet treat I choose a simple combination of fresh fruit and cream. This dessert on a spoon is inspired by the Italian “dolce a cucchaio”, a homemade tradition made in a bowl instead of the oven. Enjoy the unmistakable happiness that simplicity brings.

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