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 goddess avocado dressing

avocado on a blue platterAt the age of seven I moved from the Italian countryside to the United States with my family for a few years. Up until then I had passed my days taking bike rides through the village of Caldogno. Daydreaming in the fields bordered by grape vineyards situated picturesquely across from our house was never boring. I had not yet watched television as a pastime, or at least I don’t recall doing so. While my mother and her best friend Melia drank their daily afternoon espresso, I chased butterflies in the vegetable garden. With the carelessness of youth I set out on a new adventure to my origins, unaware that every place and time is irreplaceable.

I did not realize at the age of seven, that leaving Italy would mean saying goodbye to zinnia filled flower gardens and copper pots full of polenta. Traveling to the U.S. I had no idea what was awaiting me. From one moment to the next, I was surrounded by the English language. I no longer smelled freshly baked panini from the corner bakery in the morning. The espresso pot didn’t percolate on the stove every afternoon. I was intent upon observing — taking in my new surroundings. It was an unforgettable experience, filled with change and confusion, excitement and happiness. For an indefinite period I felt lost, unaware  that what I was feeling could be described as culture shock. Continue reading

Preface to a Beautiful Food Special Edition

Rosemary and thyme with salt and pepper

The kitchen is not just a place for cooking everyday food for my family.  I am a cook by profession. Despite and perhaps because of my profession I believe that food is not only essential to life, but equal to happiness among friends and family. My mother taught me the love of cooking and I am intent upon extending love and good memories to my children from the kitchen table.

I realize that we are a bit out of the ordinary as a family. My oldest child sat next to me while I cooked at nine months old, playing with tea cups and measuring spoons. As a toddler he stood happily on a wooden chair leaning against the countertop. His preferred toys were wooden spoons, mixing bowls and flour. My youngest came to work with me as a baby and often slept in a vegetable crate filled up with blankets while I cooked and chopped my way through a professional kitchen.  Later she pushed around her own wooden cart through my work space, pretending to shop for groceries and prepare for dinner by filling up her miniature grocery cart with tomatoes and eggplant and any other ingredients within her reach. At preschool she decided she wanted to open a restaurant when she grew up. She even had a name for it. Her restaurant fantasy was called “Mmmmmmm”.

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Beautiful Food Special Edition: Homemade herbal salts

Part I.

Homemade herbal salts

Celtic sea salt tastes like the ocean, is pale green and moist in texture. Himalaya salt is pink in color, has a distinct mineral-like flavor and the grains are very hard. Fleur de sel and Maldon salt are light and flaky. Making herbal salts with them is simple since the salt grains are soft. Experiment with different kinds of salt combined with aromatic herbs, doubling or tripling the recipes below. Herbal salts keep well for months when kept in glass jars with a well-fitted lids. Continue reading

Beautiful Food Special Edition : Vinegars and Spices

Vinegar trioPart II.

Vinegars and Spices.

Vinegar is an essential ingredient in a natural kitchen, especially when the accent is on vegetables.  Whether made from apples or raspberries, or from fermented red and white wine, this most sour of ingredients goes generally untouched on the pantry shelf until it is poured over greens with a drizzle of olive oil.  I like to steam vegetables in warm vinegar baths to serve them as an appetizer or as a filling for salad.  I discovered while experimenting with pickling that vinegar marinades taste better with time. The cooking liquids left over from pickling cauliflower, beets, red onions and radishes become colored vinegars for salad dressing.  I make a habit of mixing double recipes of vinegars and spices and save what I don’t use right away in glass jars in the refrigerator. The results of my efforts give a shelf full of interesting colors and flavors readily available for the making of homemade vinaigrettes and jar dressings The following vinegar trio are made in no time at all and make activity in the kitchen just that much more interesting. Continue reading

Beautiful Food Special Edition : Family Favorite Vinaigrettes

Olive oil and herbs

Part III.

Family Favorite Vinaigrettes

With herbal salts and homemade infused vinegars, making jam jar dressings to dip raw vegetables in, or vinaigrettes to toss through roasted vegetables is effortless. The following vinaigrettes  serve as a stepping stone to many simply dressed vegetable dishes in my kitchen.  Like the vinegars above, they are tools to uncomplicated cooking. Homemade vinaigrette makes a perfect dip and will keep well for at least a week in the refrigerator. Make more than needed for one particular meal because this makes cooking just that much easier. Continue reading

Slow cooked tomato sauce

Cupboard essentials are made up of the tried and true combinations that may or may not be written in a diary or cooking journal. They are the constant factors that stock the pantry, making it possible to prepare a wholesome meal. Cupboard essentials often go unnoticed because of their apparent simplicity. Yet these are often the recipes that define the personality of a cook. Slowly stewed tomato sauce is a main ingredient in my kitchen.

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Garlic infused honey

 

Garlic braided from LautrecWhere sweet and pungent go together, honey and garlic make for an interesting contrast of flavors. Raw garlic cloves caramelize when infused with honey. The process of blending the ingredients is a short one, while the results improve with time. Garlic infused honey is one of my cupboard essentials, discovered while experimenting in the kitchen. I like to keep a jar of it in the pantry, available for immediate use drizzled over baked cheeses,  fresh figs, or on grilled red capsicum peppers.

Honey and garlic can be prepared with raw and roasted garlic. Raw garlic makes for an intense honey. Roasted garlic is decidedly sweeter, and the honey is more subtle as a result. In both cases use the freshest garlic possible, with cloves as smooth and shiny as ivory.

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