Strawberry rhubarb romance

 

I love it when things come together unexpectedly.  Even though it seems obvious now, I had no idea strawberries and an absolutely sour stalk of a vegetable make for a match worth obsessing about. . .

Strawberries hardly need an introduction — they are the luscious berry of family picnics and summer holidays — they are the sweetest and most universally loved fruit imaginable.  I would even go so far as to call them the poetic symbol of spring.

Rhubarb on the other hand is relatively unknown. It is grown mostly in North America, the British Isles, Scandinavia and northern Europe. It goes beyond tart, is practically impossible to eat raw and cannot be brought to the table without somehow making its way to the stove first. It’s most redeeming quality seems to be its brightly colored outer stalks.

What makes these two work so well together and why didn’t I know about this earlier I wonder?  Suffice it to say that my upbringing in Italy didn’t familiarize me with this particular ingredient. Incompatible in their raw state, when heat comes into play, these rivaling  ingredients suddenly melt together to form the perfect pair.

I have made this conserve over and over again in the last few weeks. I am even finding every excuse to drizzle it over the ingredients to every meal, from whole grain toast in the morning to my green salad with goat’s cheese and pink pepper for supper. In fact as I write these words, I am trying to ignore the urge to take the jar out of the refrigerator for just one more spoonful . . . Continue reading

Polenta porridge

This morning I sit at my desk to tell a short story that seems fitting for the times. My subject is yellow like saffron, but with much humbler origins. My ingredient is flour made from corn. My recipe is for something essential to every northern Italian table and it goes by the name of polenta.

Polenta is a mash much like porridge. In the Veneto it is symbolic of simple sustenance. To make it only a few ingredients are needed, namely cornmeal water and salt. But to create the perfect bowl of golden, soft, pillowy polenta requires the tools called patience and time. Continue reading

Fig and pine nut biscotti: A Veneto-inspired recipe

I brought home a bushel of citrus from the farmers market a few weeks back with no particular plan, except perhaps to ward off the grey of  long winter days. Along with bergamot, tangerines and the first blood oranges, Sicilian lemons served to brighten up the kitchen. Continue reading

Baked pumpkin and chanterelle risotto

Saturday is definitely my favorite day of the week because it is full of promise. Rarely is Saturday defined by schedules or obligations. Rather it is the perfect example of limitless possibility. After a luxuriously silent and relatively early morning coffee, I start my day with a trip to the farmers market. My task of the morning is to soak up the sights, ultimately deciding which ingredients will take part in of the weekend ritual of cooking.

Although I have often promised myself to make lists and menu plans for the work week, my mind simply refuses this kind of obligation. By mid afternoon, I make my way home with linen bags filled with ingredients and thoughts swimming with opportunity. Continue reading

Yellow summer zucchini and purple basil salad

September is all about bright colors and abundance. It’s also about sun-ripened vine tomatoes and the delicate, intensely yellow zucchini. While the days of Indian summer are still ahead, I am doing just two simple things: cooking on the stove as little as possible and stuffing my kitchen with bunches of herbs and tomatoes for as long as it lasts.

The following recipe paints a picture like a suggestion. In fact, there are no steadfast rules to this salad.  Follow the recipe below if you will; but see it above all else as a leisurely collection of simply beautiful ingredients paired on a plate. To my mind this is the perfect kind of recipe. Continue reading

Chili and citrus marinated olives

My adoration of olives was born in my teenage years, when visits to the food markets of Naples were heavily encouraged by my mother’s pleas to help her with the daily grocery shopping. Little did I know,  as I strolled unwillingly past vibrant market stalls overflowing with tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, that all the colors and sounds of Italy were making a profound impression on my senses. Continue reading

Raw tomato summer pasta “al sugo crudo”

I cannot remember which of my Italian friends taught me to make a “sugo crudo al pomodoro” but it was most certainly on a warm summer’s day.  It’s magic is in the mixture of freshly sliced tomatoes shimmering in a small pool of olive oil, perfumed by leaves of fresh basil. Given a moment to marinate, these ingredients marry as it were — the tomatoes taking on the flavor of basil and the basil melting into the juices of the fresh tomatoes.  Continue reading