Sweet potato cakes

I learned how to make things stick a long time ago. Although mathematics are not my strong point, I know from experience that any combination  of ingredients requires the right proportions in order to work.  Whether making fresh pasta, gnocchi or polpette — the Italian name for an edible ball of goodness — it’s all about texture.

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A salad of orange . fennel and pale pink langoustines

I have no explanation for how the weeks and months have flown by so quickly that the last time I wrote in my collection of recipes was more than a season ago. In the meanwhile I have been caught up in the pragmatic whirlwind that goes with cooking for a living. A professional kitchen is not unlike an average household; it just has a tighter and more demanding time schedule with less opportunity for flexibility.

When I am overwhelmed with the straightforward line of thinking that goes with my work, the rational can actually overshadow the creative — and when that happens for too long I become decidedly restless. In order to stay down to earth I need the fuel that dreams are made of. . . .

As the necessities of the last work day of the week fade into the freedom of weekend, the peace of mind I need to tell food stories is slowly settling in.

What better way to move from one state of mind to the other than to write about a combination of ingredients as simple and rustic as the Sicilian countryside ? I am referring to the salad recipe below, made from the licorice-like fennel bulb, mixed with the sweet and sour beauty of the blood orange.  I discovered this combination of flavors deep in the winter while wandering through Rome — but this tradition is most definitely Sicilian-grown.

Before fennel and oranges disappear from local market stalls for another year, I hope you will be inspired to make this crunchy-sweet-and-savory mix of colors and textures.

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Winter pears in spiced red wine

pears-in-wine-with-whole-pears

Winter is by definition a time for reflection. The misty fog that floats faintly across the flat river waters of Haarlem seem to cover my thoughts like a blanket lately.  Not only that — I find every possible reason I can imagine to stay inside. With cooking as my chosen form of meditation, I have been passing this quiet time indoors studying many a traditional Dutch culinary habit — spiced red pears being one of them. There is something about the perfume of simmering red wine drifting through the house that makes enduring the short days and dark-dark nights of December so much more than simply acceptable.

I won’t fill the page today with stories of things past, nor will I write about the interesting relationships between cultural traditions of northern Europe and those of America or even Italy. Perhaps I will undertake more writing of that kind in the new year. . . . only time will tell.

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Rosemary roasted chicken cacciatora

 

pollo-alla-cacciatora-just-carrotsThe originally Tuscan dish called pollo alla cacciatora has been a part of my family repertoire as long as I can remember. When I prepare it, I am invariably reminded of growing up in the northern Italian countryside — years that proved formative in more ways than I can describe in an introduction to preparing a stew. Suffice it to say that being surrounded by Renaissance villas helped to make me the (hopeless) romantic that I am today. And just exactly what this has to do with a baked chicken is quite simple – it’s perfectly logical I promise.

My senses are triggered by the perfume of rosemary and tomatoes. Their aroma remind me not only of Italy but also bring back important memories of my childhood.  This is what home cooking does — it connects the past with the present. If recipes tell the stories of our lives as I believe they do, the food story below carries a diary of unwritten personal history along with its cooking instructions. It is also my answer to winter’s supper.

Like any good food baked in a pot, pollo alla cacciatora also known as hunter style chicken takes time.  Fortunately, waiting around the stove is not a part of the cooking process.  After a bit of cutting and chopping — something I find quite relaxing —  the oven does the work of mingling flavors and textures all by itself.

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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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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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