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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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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Spinach polpette

polpette-ai-spinaciI am in a serious rush and running behind at the same time. In the month of September, if I’m not spending my days preserving the season’s overabundance of tomatoes entire crates at a time, I get the distinct sensation that I am missing something important.  Every minute counts and I cannot decide if I should be writing about how to preserve summer figs or spend my afternoons making melanzane alla parmigiana with eggplants from the garden.  What on earth this has to do with my recipe for spinach polpette has a kind of logic that I can easily explain.

Spinach polpette are a classic of mine. Friends send me messages asking me to bring them along to parties.  After tasting these slightly out of the ordinary and intensely green appetizers, guests at my cooking lessons inevitably agree that my polpette are an immediate and absolute favorite.

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Summer harvest minestrone

minestrone-veg-on-black-check

Soup does wonderful things. Just the smell of a pot of vegetables mingling on the stove brings back memories of so many places I have called home. Soup is comfort in a bowl. This particular recipe brings together some of my favorite ingredients from American soil – namely – butternut squash and sweet corn. My mother loved both and I learned more than I could have imagined as a child through her cooking. When I cross the ocean between Europe and the USA during the summer, one of the many things I do to soak up half of my heritage is to go on the look out for bushels of both.

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Baked cod with toasted almond crust

Baked fish raw with carrot peels

I think there should be another, decidedly more elegant name for the generic term describing fish in the English language. Somehow this particular four letter word  just doesn’t sound as beautiful as the Italian pesce or even the French  poisson — both of which translate into the same ingredient. The senses of taste and sound trigger an infinite number of intangible emotional choices. How something is described can have just as much influence upon awakening an appetite as an aroma can have upon the deepest of feelings.

It is for this reason that I hesitate to write a recipe for fish. The sound of this word just doesn’t conjure up any form of intense desire. In fact to my ear, it does exactly the opposite.  The very sound of food not to mention the perfumes of the kitchen should awaken all the senses. Imagine for this reason something that describes an end result — namely a lovely bubbly baked black cod covered with a golden almond crust. This description is so much more appealing than the first word I mentioned, right?

Add some oven-roasted carrots and some spicy lemon-pepper zucchini ribbons and a lovely dinner is served. Continue reading

Lemon zucchini ribbons

Zucchini noodles in big bowl

This is a recipe that resolves pangs of hunger in no time flat. Heavily inspired by the infamous spaghetti aglio e olio I replace the pasta with zucchini, the garlic with fresh sage salt and the olive oil with lemon juice. The result is equally as pungent and satisfying as the original and completely refreshing at the same time.

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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