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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Pasta with tomato and fresh green peas

Classic tomato still life

The beautiful colors and flavors of the changing seasons never cease to amaze me. In the fall I adore the deep purple of grapes hanging on their vines In the winter every kind of pumpkin is a kitchen obsession. By the time spring arrives all things green and fresh overtake my attention. The grassy smell of celery and the heavy scent of the first leaves of fresh basil bring back memories of wandering through the vineyards behind our neighbor’s house in Caldogno. Spending the evening chasing fire flies between the neatly planted rows of the vegetable garden, I would inevitably ask if I could pick some peas only to eat them raw as dusk turned into darkness. I can still recall the earthy smells of that Italian scene every time I spot some peas in their pods.

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Omelette with lemon-marinated asparagus

Folded omelette
I grew up in the idyllic northern Italian countryside where breakfast was made up of day old bread soaked in warm milk darkened with a dash of espresso. As the child of adventurous American parents living in Europe, I had the luck of experiencing all kinds of cultures and traditions in the kitchen. One of my favorite moments was Sunday; a lazy day with no obligations where pancakes and omelettes in many variations would make their way to the table. Life’s path brought me later to the Netherlands. The food traditions of the low lands have most definitely made their way into my kitchen repertoire. Food is my passion, not because of necessity but because it weaves daily experience into a tapestry of life’s memories. The following recipe is a mix and match of a simple Italian approach to cooking a two-egg omelette made with the recognizably Dutch flavors of nutmeg and asparagus paired with lemon peel and thick yoghurt.

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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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Rainbow ribollita

Rainbow chard and cavolo neroIf I were to follow my personal preferences in the kitchen,  I would create a different soup for every day of the week.  I love the comfort of folding my hands around a meal in a bowl and adore the endless possibilities a cast iron pot stewing on the stove provides.  The process of cutting, chopping, stirring and simmering wards off the winter chills. But most of all —  making soup satisfies my obsession for vegetables.

The following version of ribollita is inspired by two beautiful, leafy greens: rainbow chard and cavolo nero. This recipe has its roots somewhere between Verona and Florence and is inspired not only by a Tuscan icon, but by the rustic country cooking of the regions of northern Italy. Follow it like a road map and make changes according to the ingredients in your pantry.

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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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Watermelon infused water

Watermelon water III feel the end of summer vacation coming on. It feels like curled toes at the edge of a cold swimming pool I am not quite ready to jump into. The month of August is the Sunday of summer and I have promised myself to prolong the sense of freedom that goes with loose-fitting timetables indefinitely. My plan is to outrun the seasons by intermingling spontaneity with life’s daily necessities.

Throughout the warm summer I have assembled  foods rather than cooking. Weekends have been luxuriously filled with visits to farmers markets and taking home baskets full of new harvest fruits and vegetables.

In the midst of making watermelon granita one lazy afternoon, I marveled at the amount of rind left on the countertop. Rather than discarding them I decided to conduct a kitchen experiment by putting the rinds in a big pan of water to chill in the refrigerator. Continue reading