Buttermilk and red currant pancakes

When I was growing up on rare occasions my mother would make pancakes for dinner. This was an incredible treat and felt like being on vacation in the middle of the week. Although she made different sorts — including potato pancakes which I will write about another time — my favorites were made with buttermilk. This particular kind of pancake was referred to as “Finnish”; although that name referred to our family heritage, at the time it sounded as luxurious as having breakfast for dinner actually was. Many years later, my mother’s recipe is alive and well as part of my comfort food collection.   Continue reading

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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Herb and honey roasted chestnuts

 

Smoked garlic and thymeCall me a romantic, but the smooth, shiny exteriors of chestnuts remind me of a teddy bear’s nose.  Just looking at them brings back a flood of memories guided by the senses. Visions of roasting chestnuts over an open fire, popping open in netted baskets only to reveal a nut filled with earthiness and faint wisps of smoke pass for my minds’ eye. Christmas market memories in Florence, Rome and the mountain town of Bassano del Grappa, come vividly to life and I have half a mind to jump on the night train to Milan.

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Pasta e fagioli

 

Borlotti in a podA simple bowl of beans floating in a steaming vegetable broth, accompanied by the occasional tube-shaped pasta served in ceramic bowls meant for caffè latte in the morning. . . . . .

These are the comforts of home in a season where blankets of grey clouds cover the almost forgotten blue-summer skies.  As the morning mist lingers for hours above the rivers and canals, I stay tucked away inside in the luxury of grey woollen socks. Compositions of candles and spices on worn silver trays go hand in hand with rearranging the pantry shelves to fit in glass jars filled with grains, beans and chestnut flour.  Continue reading

Strawberries with lemon and lavender

Strawberries and lavendarSpring arrives in April or May and slowly but surely baskets of strawberries begin to overtake the fruit vendors shelves in my neighborhood. The brighter their color, the more often I find myself  cheerfully adding strawberries to my fruit macedonia and picnic-style shortcakes. The days stretch out into long evenings full of light. All of a sudden, or so it seems, deep ruby-red strawberries fill my favorite vintage porcelain plates daily in the kitchen.  Just about mid-June, strawberries become so luscious and full of perfume that nothing short of a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of honey and some flowering lavender are needed for the perfect midsummer dessert.  This is the moment when I hope that summer will last forever.

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Potato salad with pickled onions and purple olives

Picnic baskets filled with bowls of potato salad, marinated green beans, fried chicken and carrot cake. Those are the family food treasures that come to mind when I recall summer visits to the Lago di Garda. As a child I remember being mildly surprised by the detailed questions my Mom’s friends inevitably asked her about just how she made her potato salad. To me it was as constant as the sunrise and brown-bag lunches for school every morning. Obviously potato salad was meant to taste like my Mom’s, and it was something she was pretty famous for.

I tailored her original recipe ever so slightly over the years.  My Mom tasted my translation of her delicious potato salad and she happily approved.

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Zucchini soup

Some dishes are not made up of exactly measured ingredients because the recipe is an intuitive part of family history.  Certain foods define a mood or trace memories shared. In my family zucchini soup is the definitive comfort food.  It is not just a simple, thick Italian vegetable soup.  It is the soup served at family get togethers. It’s fragrance serves as an unconscious reminder of the good life in Italy, of camping trips and of the entire family talking at the dinner table. It is one of the foods we always asked my Mom to make.

The following recipe is a guideline and is more about proportions than exact quantities. The key to its comfort lies in the balance between the vegetables and potatoes. The soup can be modified as long as the ingredients stay simple and fresh. It is also interesting to note that even the vegetable peels are used to flavor the soup. Choose vegetables fresh from your own garden or from a local organic farmer if at all possible.

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