Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gratitude and Panzanella

It's Sunday. I love the slow pace of Sundays, reading the newspaper while savoring a cappuccino, cooking, walking the dogs, even doing laundry takes on an easier air. Lunch, however, is my favorite part of the day. I prefer to have a substantial meal at mid-day and eat lighter for dinner, if I have my choice. Fixing lunch seems to be my specialty, whereas my marito (husband) who is a fantastic cook, can only seem to manage dinners. I can look at the refrigerator and pantry and always find something to create out of leftovers and stocked items. Antonio needs to always start a meal from scratch. I'm not sure what that says about us, but I am thankful that are talents are not the same!

Yesterday Antonio warned me that he would be ripping up our tomato plants soon. I protested, "Just a few more days, pleeeeease!" I want to enjoy every last possible little red treasure. So, today, I picked a bunch of cherry tomatoes and romas, along with some basil. I had a cucumber from the farmers' market and some old bread - all the makings of panzanella (of course with some very good olive oil, salt and pepper.)

It seems as though I have seen a lot of posts recently using ceci/chickpeas and they were on my mind. We always have ceci in the pantry, so I decided to try some mixed in my panzanella. I say "my" because I have learned not to try anything untraditional on my husband. I let him try my experiments from my plate before I make them for him. It usually works. However, if I had prepared his dish experimentally, most likely he would have not liked it. A little kitchen psychology at work! Anyhow, the ceci on the panzanella was wonderful.

Yesterday I had made Becsfarm's Baba Ghanoush (see her post for recipe.) Today I also added a few of the ceci on top of the Baba Ghanoush and liked it very much.

As we were having lunch, a dark storm rolled in - a very rare occurrence in a Southern California summer. With a bouquet of fresh, home-grown roses on the table, the heavy air and cool breeze, I could imagine myself in the countryside of Italy or France. I felt very grateful for all that we have in our little house, our tiny garden, our love, our friends, our family, our food (and full tummies), our dogs and our slow Sunday lunch.

Oh, here are our "babies", Golia and Ruby, who are also very grateful - grateful to have us all home together:

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Italian Events & Festivals

Should you be lucky enough to be traveling in Italy during the next months, you might want to check out some of these interesting events:

September 3-27: Settembre Musica, Milan, Lombardy & Turin, Piedmont

More than 80 concerts featuring famous and local composers and classical and contemporary music. Visit: for more information.

September 7-9: Murabilia, Lucca, Tuscany

Come to the beautiful town of Lucca for their annual botany festival. 150 exhibitors transform the medieval walls of Lucca with plants, flowers, vegetables and bonsais. See for more information.

September 9: Campionato del Vino, Fiesole, Tuscany

This is right up my alley and I wish I could be there for it. This is a championship of wine in which teams of connoisseurs compete in a tasting tournament. There are also food and wine tastings for the public as well as debates and opportunities to learn more about the concept of Slow Food. (Sponsored by Slow Food Firenze.) For more information, visit:

September 8: La Notte Bianca, Rome, Lazio

I have my friend at "My Melange" to thank for drawing my attention to this unique and fun event in Rome in which many tourists venues stay open all night long and public transportation is free after 10pm. What a great excuse to stay up all night long! Please see her article on it for all the details:

September 29-November 11: Fiera del Tartufo, Cuneo, Piedmont:

This annual Truffle Festival has become somewhat of a religious pilgrimage for foodies. The famous white truffles of Alba are the focal point for this festival in which many small events and participating restaurants provide the lucky tourist with plenty of opportunities to sample this delicacy. Of course, don't forget the perfect match with those truffles - the wines of Piedmont. In addition there are music events, exhibitions and more. For more information see The truffle season gets better towards the end of this festival, so go as late as you can, and the crowds are less in November than they are in October. I am offering a small group tour to this festival in early November 2008 - focusing on the food and wine of the Piedmont region. Please see Passionate Palate Tours for more information.

As always, if you are traveling in Italy and looking for fun things to do, be spontaneous. Keep an eye out for signs posted announcing local festivals or "Sagras". Following these signs will usually lead to local food festivals where you can witness and participate in a genuine slice of Italian life.

Buon viaggio!

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Work of Art From the Garden

Another Dose of Something Passionate

“It is the soul’s duty to be loyal to its own desires. It must abandon itself to its master passion.” - Rebecca West

(I found this quotation in a book and have been unable to find any further information about who Rebecca West is/was. Does anybody know?)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Sense of Place...Continued

Over dinner the other night, Antonio and I had a discussion regarding this concept of "A Sense of Place" (see my post from August 14, 2007.) I realized that there are so many places that I am drawn to, and so many places in which I could easily live, like Spain, Big Sur, Taos, Provence, Mendocino, etc. However, there is a subtle difference between a place in which I could live and a place that feels like home. It is more than a place that feels comfortable and more than a place that makes you happy. For me it is a place that is familiar. Do you know that feeling of stumbling on a place that you feel like you already know (this can happen with people, too)? Oddly enough, for me one of those places is Tibet, as I mentioned in my last email, which feels so familiar and like home. However, I could not live in Tibet for an extended period of time. I suppose that is how my sister feels about the arctic (again, see the last post about this.) My other "home" spots - Santa Cruz and Italy - are definitely livable for me. When I am in those places you practically have to drag me away kicking and screaming. So, is this sense of place that feels like home, as my sister said, "like slipping into your own skin"? Is it how you feel more yourself when you are in that place or does the place make you into someone you like more?

As Rebecca and African Vanielje commented in that other post, some feel that "home is where the heart is." During my conversation about this with my husband, we both said that we don't feel that way. My love lives with me in Southern California, but this place does not feel like home to either of us. Sognatrice alluded to this as well when she wrote that she left familial love to live in the place that felt like home, even though it was very far away. So, that theory is not universal.

I am left with more questions than answers and welcome all comments regarding this topic.

Fruit Galette or Crostata di Frutta

Nothing says summer to me more than stone fruits. I can't wait to taste the first white nectarine or peach of the season and then, if I can find them, Italian plums. There is something so sensual about their flesh and their aromatics are potently hypnotic. Oh yes! Already this year I have made this recipe two or three times, and I must make it again soon. I say "must" because I have these wanton and needy white nectarines calling to me from the kitchen. "Come and get us, we're ripe and luscious and if you don't want us the fruit flies will!" I respond with, "It's 83 degrees in the house and there is no way I want to turn the oven on. I promise I will have my way with you in the morning when it is cooler!"
Yesterday I sacrificed two of my lovely nectarines to Ilva's "Wine Simmered Peaches with Wine Flavoured Yogurt" recipe at Lucullian Delights . Thank you Ilva for saving me from turning on the oven one more day!
So, this is what I will be doing with my Sunday morning, in between sips of cappuccino and reading the Sunday LA Times. Why don't you join me?

Peach, Plum or Nectarine (or all combined!) Galette/Tarta di Prugna, Pesca o Pesca Nettarina

(With apologies to whoever wrote this recipe for not crediting you. I have had it for years and cannot find the source. I have altered it slightly. I love the way the sour cream makes this flaky pastry a little lighter than an all butter one.)

Makes enough dough for one 10-12 inch galette or tart

1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 tsp. sugar (more if you like your crust sweeter)
1/4-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
4 1/2 Tbsp. sour cream

In a food processor or by hand, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and mix or pulse. Add the butter and pulse or mix until the texture resembles coarse meal. Chill the work bowl for 15 minutes. Replace the work bowl, add the sour cream and process until the dough resembles coarse sand. I know it is the right texture when I take some between my fingers and press. It is ready when it flattens out nicely into a dough between your fingers. If it is too dry, add a touch of sour cream or ice water, and if it is too wet, add a bit of flour. Gather the coarse mixture together and form with your hands into a disk. Wrap in plastic or wax paper and chill for 30 minutes. (At this point you can freeze the dough also, allowing it to thaw in the refrigerator before using.)

(You can get creative with the fillings. Try apples, rhubarb, anything seasonal.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While the dough is chilling, peel and seed the stone fruit. Slice into 1/4-1/2" slices. In a bowl, mix 1/4 tsp. vanilla, 1/4 cup sugar and the sliced fruit. (This makes a slightly sweet tart; use more sugar if you like a sweeter tart.) Add a good squeeze of lemon and I add in a sprinkle, about 1 tsp., of a fruit distillate like an Italian acquavite (clear) or kirsch.

Once the dough has chilled, roll out on a lightly floured surface. I never worry about rolling it into an exact circle, as this is meant to be a "free form" tart. It should be rolled to about 1/16 - 1/8" thick. The thinner, the better, as long as it is not so thin that the fruit will poke through. Transfer dough to a baking sheet. Sprinkle a little flour over the inside. (At this point, if you want a traditional looking tart, form a decorative edge around the dough using your fingers. It should be about 1/4-1/2" high. For a galette, leave the dough flat.) Pour the fruit mixture on top of the dough, leaving about 2-3" between the filling and the edge. Fold the edge of the dough over the fruit, overlapping the next section, and so on. Dot the fruit with a little butter. Sprinkle a little granulated sugar over the crust. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

I made a plum version recently in which I added two lavender flowers to the plum mixture while macerating. The result was so subtle, that I couldn't taste the lavender, but I believe the whole galette came out more aromatic than usual.

I think I love this "dessert" more for breakfast than any other time. However, if you have it for dessert, seek out a refreshing Moscato d'Asti to have with it. Buon appetito and happy summer!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Sense of Place

Oh, I am missing Italy/home!!!

In the last week I have been corresponding with a few wonderful bloggers on the importance of place or home. We are in agreement that there are some places where one feels instantly home (slightly different than "at home"), even if we have never been there. For example, Scarlett of "From the Shores of Introspect and Retrospect", knows she will be at home in Italy and may not even come back, even though she has never been there. Michelle at "bleeding espresso..." knew she had found her home when she went to her grandmother's village in Calabria. I, too, felt instantly home in Italy, as I knew I would when I first went there. Every time I fly back from Italy to the U.S., to what is supposed to be my "home", I get very confused and saddened because I feel like I am leaving my home! To deepen this discussion, I also believe that there can be multiple places where we feel home. For me those locations are very distinct from Italy: one is Santa Cruz, California and the other is Tibet. In both instances, the minute I arrived in those places I felt that I was home.

Perhaps my eloquent sister put it best today, when she sent me this photo of her, taken two weeks ago in Alaska. She said that she felt like she was "stepping into herself" or like she "was lying her head down on a soft pillow", and I will add to that - "and exhaling." Ahhhh. She had arrived in the Arctic - the place she always knew would be "home." It shows...she is positively glowing!
Where is your home, or the homes of your soul? Do you feel the power of a place that calls to you?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

History Made in Venice

Those of you who know me know that I am a lover of Venice and all things Venetian. I live vicariously through several people I have become acquainted with through blogs who live in Venice. One of them is Nan who has a terrific blog called Living Venice...and Beyond and who is also the author of a great book - ITALY: INSTRUCTIONS FOR USE. So, when I saw Nan's post on the historic delivery of Venice's fourth Grand Canal bridge, I wanted to share it with others. Please go over to her site to check out all the excitement that happened earlier this week. Also check out the You Tube videos she mentiones. This is the first Grand Canal bridge to be built in Venice in over 70 years. As you will see in the photos, this bridge is not of a traditional design; it was designed by a modern Spanish architect. I'm still wondering how it will look amongst the ancient beauty of Venice. Will it stand out like a sore thumb or will it be a beautiful juxtaposition of ancient and modern?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

a dose of something passionate

"A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous."
--Ingrid Bergman

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Join the Bandwagon

I saw this on Mele Cotte's blog and had to join the bandwagon:

Over at Ashwin’s blog, you will find one crazy blog owner!! You can win $2500!! To enter just copy this text and paste it in your blog!! But hurry, this competition will not last long! So get posting!

Bruschette di Funghi or Mushroom Bruschettas

I am a bruschetta lover! There, I said it. That may not seem strange to an Italian, but living in "Carb-Free-California" I am proud to be different. I have never been on a diet and eat everything - yes, everything - in moderation. I wish I knew her exact quote, but I remember Julia Child once mocking the U.S. recommended daily allowance of fat. With few words she dismissed it as hogwash and blithely promoted using more butter and other fats. I applauded. Who doesn't love a wonderful tasting bread with an equally wonderful topping. All those high-protein dieters are missing a slice of heaven. (Of course there are those out there, who for specific health reasons, need to watch their carb-intake, and that is quite a different matter.) I have so much fun finding new toppings for good bread - using leftovers, things in the pantry, new ingredients. Bruschettas make a great appetizer or part of a lunch. So, if you see many entries on my blog for bruschette, that is why. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
One of my favorite bruschettas is sauteed shitake mushrooms. You can use porcini or cremini mushrooms as well, but I happen to love the flavor of shitake. I saute a shallot or two, chopped finely, in equal parts butter and olive oil. I add a bunch of chopped sage to the shallots and cook until the sage is brown and the shallot golden. Add a generous amount (3-4 cups for 4 people) of chopped shitakes. Saute over medium heat until the shitakes are well-cooked and starting to brown. (Resist the temptation to add more oil or butter. It will look like there is not enough liquid, but the shitakes release their "juices" slowly, and all will be okay.) Stir frequently as they stick easily. They should cook in 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve them over a good quality bread that has been toasted. Drizzle all with olive oil before serving. These mushrooms also make a wonderful side dish by themselves. This dish is terrific with a fruity red wine like Beaujolais, Dolcetto, a light to medium-bodied Pinot Noir, Nero d'Avola, Rosso Piceno or Conero, Rosso di Montalcino or a simple Sangiovese.
Buon Appetito!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Baby Avocado

I feel so lucky to have one of my favorite foods growing in my backyard. I have waited four years for this tree to bear fruit, so I am keeping a close eye on its development!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Bean Salad with Mixed Vegetables/Insalata di Fagioli con Vegetali

I have a confession - a love to make new dishes out of leftovers - especially for lunches. Yes, it is a rewarding challenge for me. Admittedly it doesn't always pay off, but when it does, it feels great. To that end, there are always some ingredients I keep in the pantry that when added to other things can transform them into something special. For example, I always keep cans of organic, high-quality beans on hand, especially Ceci/Garbanzos, Cannellini and Bianchi di Spagna/Butter Beans. The latter is my favorite for combining with other things; I particularly love the meatiness of the butter beans. The other day I had some grilled red peppers and grilled asparagus left over from the previous night. I combined them with the Bianchi di Spagna beans, some olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper and a few dashes of red wine vinegar and it was lovely. I tried almost the same thing yesterday, but used grilled zucchini in place of the asparagus and the combination was odd.

Other suggestions: Add canned tuna (in olive oil) to the above dish and/or finely chopped red onions.
This is my entry for Susan's "My Legume Love Affair" over at The Well Seasoned Cook. Susan has a fantastic blog full of a wide variety of recipes, and now this great event. Go on over and check her out.

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Tagliata or Grilled Steak Over Arugula

One of our favorite recipes (year-round) is "Tagliata" or grilled steak cut over arugula. Tagliata in Italian means "cut". This recipe is so simple and is perfect for a quick dinner for two or for a whole dinner party. We like to use Sirloin or Top Sirloin, grill it to medium-rare. Cut the grilled steak into 1/4" to 1/2" slices over a bed of arugula that has been drizzled with high-quality olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Place the cut steak pieces on top, along with its juices and add shaved parmigiano reggiano to the top.
This dish can be enjoyed with a wide variety of wines from Rose' to a heavy-bodied red. I last enjoyed this with a 1999 Costanti Brunello and it was fabulous.
Buon appetito!