A very summery lettuce leaf salad

Lettuce leaves close-upSummer heat of the kind that weighs so heavily, that all activity seems to be part of a slow-motion movie. This is the kind of weather that makes cooking with a stove an indulgence. When the days are sultry and long, I like to create something raw that tastes like I have been a slave to the kitchen. This means salad but of a different sort. My favorite use for lettuce is to tear apart the leaves and to fill them with brightly colored vegetables. A bowl of  freshly made yoghurt dip turns this simple twist on salad into a delicious appetizer. After a few minutes of preparation in the kitchen, the only thing I might be tempted to add to the table is a loaf of bread with a golden crust to soak up the salad juices.

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Smashed cannellini and tomato jam

Cannellini soaking

Cannellini beans are the most commonly used bean in the region of Tuscany. They are small and chalky-white in color. They are the prized ingredient of vegetable minestrone, and the even more famous ribollita – made of  winter vegetables – day-old bread and new olive oil. My favorite way to eat these beans is baked into a thick perfumed jam in tomato, with garlic and rosemary. Warm out of the oven, I smash them and serve them on thick slices of grilled sour dough bread.  Just like hummus, they make a crowd-pleasing appetizer and accompany every kind of picnic plan.

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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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Peaches caramelized in red raspberries

Baked fruits-still life

I find myself day-dreaming lately of careless summer days spent lying on my back staring at billowing clouds drifting across a perfect blue sky. As the perfume of baking peaches floats through the quiet of the kitchen in the early morning hours, my mind wanders. As I gather my recollections together like a stack of plates, the scent of caramelized raspberries brings back memories of lazy-day picnics shared along the rolling hills just outside Florence.  The fragrance of summer fruit triggers memories so tangible, I could bite into them like a peach. I am forever grateful for having learned the simple pleasures of life in Italy. La vita e’ bella  — otherwise translated as  — life is beautiful.

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Strawberry oat bircher yoghurt-soaked summer fruits

Strawberry-cup-close-up

Making breakfast on a daily basis is not my greatest quality. Early morning hours seem to pass much too quickly and life’s daily grind often calls long before I can find the inspiration for a weekday morning meal that works. Having been influenced by the bustle of such memorable cities as Verona, Venice, Paris and Rome — I still prefer sitting at a terrace table on the curb watching the world go by accompanied by a latte and a bowl of freshly cut fruit. When my schedule permits,  my chosen moment for breakfast is  “all-aperto” (literally translated from Italian as “in-the-open”) just around ten in the morning.

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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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Grilled green asparagus and a traditional basil pesto

Garlic and Asparagus
Those who know me in real life, will recognize this recipe and this story. Green asparagus are my favorite vegetable in the spring. I serve them raw, shaved through salads, in risotto or marinated in a lovely handmade basil pesto. All three recipes are well received at almost any shared table and yet my favorite method has to be the marinated version. Why? Well because making pesto by hand is like meditating. It requires some focus and patience. The asparagus, hot out of the oven, soak up the incredible medley of olive oil, fresh herbs, nuts and Parmesan. What is there not to love right?

I made this particular dish for the first time while thinking of the simple beauty of baby leeks marinated in vinaigrette that I absolutely adored when living in Paris.  This just might be the subject of my next blog post. For now, I will limit this short story to the oh so green and earthy asparagus. Continue reading

Fave beans in their pods

Broad beans in the pod
In the first days of April winter is shaken from the earth like a worn out coat revealing bright new life.  The country markets from Tuscany to Sicily are filled with endless shades of green. The bounty of garlic shoots and the appearance of the first artichokes  — not to mention piles of green peas and endless bunches of tender green turnip tops — make it difficult for a food passionate to decide what to cook. My Italian friends have taught me that the first fave beans of spring are an absolute essential. Their plump pods conceal neat little rows of pale powder green seeds. Once shucked from their fuzzy outer layer the seeds are eaten raw and paired with salty sheep’s cheese pecorino. This is such a lovely example of how simple elements presented on a plate create not only a perfect combination of flavors — no — this kind of purity opens the window to the senses.

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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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