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.

Bitter and blood orange marmalade

I once read in the preface to a novel that every cook is obsessed and I immediately nodded silently in agreement. I know my obsession: it’s with  citrus.

I am equally, if not more fascinated by all things Italian and that most definitely includes lemons and oranges. Therefore, whether I need them or not, the sight of perfumed bergamot – and especially paper-wrapped Sicilian blood oranges –  inspire me to carry bags full home at every shopping expedition.

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Bergamot-perfumed sea salt

It’s well beyond January and new year’s promises. Short grey days have turned into weeks knitted together by yarn-like thoughts of starting anew. I have doubted, questioned and wondered just how this year would be different from the last one long before I put up the Christmas lights.

So here it is, a short post; one that illustrates my love for simple things. Continue reading

Buttermilk and red currant pancakes

When I was growing up on rare occasions my mother would make pancakes for dinner. This was an incredible treat and felt like being on vacation in the middle of the week. Although she made different sorts — including potato pancakes which I will write about another time — my favorites were made with buttermilk. This particular kind of pancake was referred to as “Finnish”; although that name referred to our family heritage, at the time it sounded as luxurious as having breakfast for dinner actually was. Many years later, my mother’s recipe is alive and well as part of my comfort food collection.   Continue reading

Crown Prince pumpkin curry

pumpkin-and-eggplant-vertical

It’s Sunday afternoon. Pale grey clouds float carelessly across an ice blue sky and evening promises to arrive long before I am ready for it. Today is laundry day and that coincides with a silent afternoon filled with writing.  I’ve had roasted Crown Prince pumpkin mingling slowly in a pot with just the right amount of ginger, garlic and onions since this morning. The curry I have made is neither traditional nor part of my family heritage — it is what I often make in anticipation of a very busy week. This is what the perfect Sunday feels like.

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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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My favorite chermoula

chermoula-still-life-with-peppers

I have been avoiding writing the recipe for this traditionally Moroccan marinade for weeks on end, or so it seems. Publishing what should be a straightforward short story is long overdue. In fact — while I have been contemplating how to narrate the preparation of a simple mixture of fresh herbs stirred through warm spices — summer has officially slipped into autumn.  It should be simple and yet it has turned out to be complicated. It seems that the only way to resolve this impasse  is to explain my predicament.

After that,  I think I can get back to the subject of cooking.  Continue reading

A late summer caponata pasta

summer-caponata-verticalI think I could write a book about caponata. I realize that this is a rather dramatic statement to make about something as simple as onions, celery, zucchini and eggplant cooked with tomatoes. But it’s the vinegar combined with just a touch of sweetness (in my case always honey) that makes this Italian version of the French ratatouille a subject of endless possibilities.  Like each day of the week — caponata is never the same way twice — and this is exactly why I love it.

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Sage sea salt in a jar

Sage leaves four on a plate

I don’t always have the perfect plan up my sleeve. In fact, what I do in the kitchen (or in life for that matter) isn’t always flawless. Because I cook for a living most of my friends and family assume my preferred place is at a marble countertop with a chef’s knife in hand. I readily admit to feeling incredible happiness in the midst of a collection of colorful vegetables. I can also be found passing away the hours exploring flower gardens and farms in almost every country I visit. Kitchens and gardens are most definitely my happy places. Continue reading

Almond milk granita

Baked fruits in almond milk

Most of the desserts I make have fresh fruit at center stage. Sometimes fruit needs to float in something creamy. During one of my kitchen experiments I discovered the fun of making homemade almond milk. Then I turned it into granita. This recipe has since become a part of my summer collection. Although I am inclined to narrate a romantic story about lovely Italy before writing the more official bit of this post, I am keeping things as simple as can be.

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