Monday, August 9, 2010
I love family traditions. Many of our family traditions involve time spent in the kitchen preparing foods and meals for special occasions. As children, we were often rewarded with food when we were “being good”---pizza on Friday, cake on our birthdays, holiday cookies at Christmas, and homemade pasta at Nonna’s on Sunday. Many of these traditions I’ve passed on to my two boys. One of my earliest memories of a tradition that involved food was with black olives----yes, I said black olives. This tradition dates back to when I was a young child racing to the kitchen whenever my mom or dad would open a can of olives. I would find myself standing in the kitchen begging for olives. If I had been a good girl, and if I got to my parents when they were in a good mood and feeling generous, I would receive five olives. Oh, I did not eat the olives because I did not like the taste, but I loved to play with them. I would place one olive on each of my four fingers with the fifth one finding a home on my thumb. Once my fingertips were covered with olives, I would pretend they were the nails of a witch, the claws of a bear, the fingers of an alien, or the nail polish on a movie star.
After playing with my olives, they would eventually find their way into my dog’s stomach. I could always count on Cricket, our family Toy Manchester, to eat one. After eating the first one she would discover that she did not like the taste and would spit the second one out in a somewhat chewed-up heap. Then, without my parents knowing, I would sneak off and throw the remaining olives into the trash or flush them down the toilet.
Getting five olives from my mom and dad seemed to work for several years, but as our family grew, so did the number of fingers for olives. My sisters and brother wanted olive fingers too. This lead to my parents rationing olives as the supply and demand grew beyond the number of olives in a can. To solve this dilemma we would each get one olive---not as much fun, but what’s a girl to do? Now, another dilemma I faced was to decide which finger I should place my olive on. Most of the time it would find its home on my pointer finger. I would run around the house chasing my brother and sisters with my olive finger, and I would try my best to talk them out of their olives. On occasions, I would end up with two or three olives, but the days of five olives became a thing of the past. A good thing that came from my parents rationing the olives is that I developed a taste for black olives. I found I could eat one, then two, and before I knew it, I loved black olives. Today, I use olives in many of my recipes. I love olives in salads, cheese balls, spreads, and on the top of homemade pizza or fragrant herbed focaccia bread.
On our recent trip to Italy, our villa had an olive orchard. Since it was early June, there were tiny olives that were just waiting for the cool morning rains and the warm Tuscan sun to allow them to ripen to their full potential. Many of these olives will be used to make delicious bottles of Italian olive oil, and the remaining will find their way into olive jars and cans to use in recipes, as relishes, or to make family traditions on the tiny tips of children’s fingers. Even though those days have passed, I still have the memories of my fantastic olive fingers. My boys put olives on their fingers when they were little, as did all of my nieces and nephews. I cannot wait until our newest addition to the family, Michael, gets his tiny little fingers covered with olives---and the tradition will go on!
If you like homemade bread and do not have the time to make it, you need to try making focaccia bread. It is a very easy bread to make. You can simply eat it plain with a herbed infused olive oil for dipping, or you can add one or a variety of ingredients and herbs on the top to change the look and taste of the bread. We made focaccia bread at our cooking class in Italy. Since returning home, I have made it several times. Each time I put on different toppings; however, each time I used black olives---I find it so Tuscan---and who knows, maybe someday my Olive Focaccia Bread will become a family tradition just like my memorable olive fingers.
A Recipe for Starting a Family Tradition
Take ten olives (Five if you have a big family).
Stick one on the end of each finger.
Now, let your imagination run wild (This is easier to do if you are a kid!).
Finally, eat the olives one at a time.
2 teaspoons dried yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Olive oil, to grease and top the bread
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
Small can 3-4 oz. of black olives
3 thinly sliced sun dried tomatoes
Three garlic cloves thinly sliced
3 tablespoons Parmesan Cheese
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1. Combine yeast, sugar and water in a bowl. Stand in a warm, draught-free place for 10 minutes or until foamy.
2. Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in yeast mixture and extra virgin olive oil. Use a flat-bladed knife or wooden spoon to stir until combined, and then use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl.
3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Brush a large bowl with olive oil to lightly grease. Place dough in bowl and turn to coat in oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and stand in a warm, draught-free place to prove for 1 hour or until dough doubles in size.
4. Pour small about of olive oil on a 9 x 13 inch baking tray, enough to lightly cover the bottom (I use a cookie sheet with sides). Punch down the raised dough with your fist. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 - 3 minutes or until smooth and elastic and dough has returned to its original size. Put dough on baking tray and press dough to the edge of tray (It is not necessary to press it to the sides of the tray). Stand in a warm, draught-free place for 30 minutes or until the dough has doubled in height.
5. Preheat oven to 400° F. Use your fingertips to press dimples into the dough. Remove rosemary leaves from sprigs and poke rosemary, sliced garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and sliced olives into dough, spacing evenly. (At this point you can press in any additional ingredients---red onions, pepperoni, grated cheeses, peppers, etc). Drizzle with an additional 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, and salt (optional). Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Brush with extra olive oil, then bake 5 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Great with dipping oil.
Monday, July 12, 2010
I love biscotti. I love to say the word---“biscotti, biscotti, biscotti!” Whenever I say words like biscotti, pizzelles, ravioli, polenta, braciole, mozzarella, mortadella, ricotta, parmesan, and many other food related Italian words, they just seem to roll off my tongue. Saying these words makes me feel like I’m fluent in Italian.
Once we made the decision to travel to Italy, I browsed through several travel books. Most of the authors recommended that travelers take the time to learn a few basic Italian words---you know, to please the Italians. So, I decided to please the Italians and learn more than the few Italian words that I already knew.
To accomplish this I decided to order the Rosetta Stone Italiano CDs. They come with a guarantee that you will be speaking Italian in just a few short weeks. I got on the Internet and did a search---whoa—too expensive! My husband and I could stay a full week in a villa in Tuscany cheaper than the Rosetta Stone Level 1-5 set.
Next best was a two CD set titled, Learning Italian the Easy Way. I ordered it off a site on the Internet and eagerly waited for its arrival. I knew, with practice, I would be pleasing the Italians in just a matter of a few weeks. Once the CD arrived, I got started. I began with CD number 1. I learned that big in Italian was pronounced grande, little was piccolo, frog was ranna, and wasp was vespa. Once I got started, I had to question the author’s choice of the introduced words for my first lesson. I guess if I were to go into a restaurant and placed an order for little frog legs I would be in business; however, I would not know how to say legs so I would probably end up getting a little frog. And, if I saw a big wasp I could scream--- “grande vespa” ----and see if anyone would come to my rescue. After several nights of sitting on my sofa with the CD in my laptop, I decided that it was not going to work. These were not words that I would likely use during my 17-day trip to Italy. I wanted to learn words like train, airport, bathroom, store, busses---not “picolla ranna!”
So, I set out to just learn words that I thought I would need. Words like---
pizzelles, ravioli, polenta, braciole, mozzarella, mortadella, ricotta, parmesan,
Did I tell you I love the word biscotti?
In Italian, the word "biscotto" means "biscuit" or "cookie." More specifically, biscotti are named according to their original method of baking. The root words "bis" and "cotto" literally mean "twice" and "baked." When Italians first created biscotti in the region of Tuscany many centuries ago, they were careful to bake the cookies twice, in order to form their unique shape and allow the cookies to develop their signature crisp texture. http://www.biscottizone.com/history.html
For years I have been on the hunt for a good biscotti recipe. Several years ago I tried a recipe that produce a cookie that I could have used as a weapon. After that, I found several recipes that were just okay. I actually am not sure what I am looking for. I do not want them to be so hard that they break a person’s tooth; however, don’t want them to be too soft as to where you cannot dunk them into your coffee to enjoy the flavor of java mixed with the bitterness of almond and the sweetness of the sugar.
Today, I decided to use Shirley’s (the lady that teaches the Culinary Workshops In Tuscany) recipe for Almond Biscotti. I followed her recipe, but instead of adding 1 ½ cup of almonds, I added some of the almonds along with chopped tart cherries and chopped bitter chocolate. Once they were done, I decided that I liked the flavor of the chocolate and cherry together when just snacking on the biscotti; however I like just the almond biscotti when I am dunking them in my coffee. My husband said he really liked the chocolate in the biscotti, but he would eat the rear end of a horse if it was covered with chocolate—so you need to be the judge!
While sitting outside this morning listening to the birds and sipping my coffee, I was missing Italy, but I was not missing my biscotti.
Shirley’s Ofria’s Biscotti Recipe
Cantucci (Tuscan Biscotti)
1 ¼ cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking power
½ teaspoon vanilla ( I like to add an additional ½ teaspoons of almond extract too)
3 1/3 cups flour
1 ½ cups raw almonds
Preheat oven 350 degrees.
Mix together eggs and sugar.
Stir in almonds. Add baking power, flour, and vanilla (if you want more almond flavoring, this is where I add the almond).
Dump out on floured surface and roll out into snakes about 1 inch diameter and place on parchment-lined pan.
Brush with egg or water (optional).
Bake 10 – 15 minutes until lightly browned.
Remove and let sit for 5 minutes then cup on the diagonal about ¾ inch long.
Lay biscotti cut side up back on parchment paper and return to oven to bake until lightly brown and crispy.
Don’t be afraid to try adding or substituting ingredients in the recipe. I used apricots and pecans in one batch and anise in another---yummy! Also, you can divide the dough in half and then add different ingredients to each half to make two different kinds of biscotti. I have already decided that for my next batch I will try dried cranberries and almonds and white chocolate and macadamia nuts.
Here is a site for a variety of biscotti recipes that I would like to try in the future.
Friday, July 2, 2010
We started our tour of Italy in Rome. It was a whirlwind visit. We saw as much as we could in just two days. Somewhat exhausted, we gathered our luggage and took a train to the foothills of Tuscany. We went from the face paced, hustle bustle of a big city to the ancient city of Cortona. My love for Cortona was immediate and continued to grow as I learned more about the place and the people. Cortona’s rich and deep-rooted history has surprises at every turn, window, and doorframe. The more I walked the streets, the more I appreciated the buildings, the shops, and the slower pace at which the Cortona people live and work.
After spending several relaxing days at our villa, all of the girls went to a cooking class at a local woman’s farmhouse in Cortona. We walked up the hill from our Villa to a beautiful gate that was at the end of a driveway of an old castle. It was there that we were to meet Shirley, the lady that we would spend the day with shopping, cooking, and eating. As we stood waiting for our ride, I admired the walls that protected the castle. The building itself was truly a work of art. I am still amazed at how the Romans, with very little tools and technology, could design and build such detailed structures. Also, I am in awe as to how long it must have taken them to finish a job.
Shirley arrived right on time to wisp us away from the huge castle to a quaint little breakfast spot in Cortona. Over latte and pastries, we were able to choose from a variety of recipes in her personal cookbook. We could choose one recipe from each category: antipasto (appetizer), primi piati (first dish), scundo (second dish), cntorni (side dish), and dolce (of course—DESSERT!). It was a difficult task, but we finally agreed on the following: focacci bread, ravioli stuffed with chicken and cheese, stuffed pork roll with browned-herbed potatoes, and almond biscotti for dessert (Watch, as I will be sharing information and recipes from my class in the near future). After breakfast and menu planning, Shirley took us to the local markets. First, we went to a shop that had a variety of cheeses—but no yellow cheese (not in Italy!). I can still smell the aromatic cheeses. They were just sitting in their places taking time to age to perfection for our culinary pleasures and to titillate my taste buds into a frenzy! (Sorry---but I just love that word—titillate!).
Shirley took time explaining the history of the cheeses and what pairs well with each one. She picked a variety of them for us to sample, choosing ones that graduated from a mild to a stronger flavor. After the cheeses were wrapped in paper, we stuff them in a bag and headed up hill to a butcher that makes his own prosciutto. Upon entering the small building, I immediately sniffed the rich smell of smoked meats. My eyes were quickly drawn to the hams that hung above the counter and were curing to perfection. Shirley informed us that the curing process takes up to two years (you can build a house in a quarter of that time!) She talked to the butcher in Italian, and then ordered some meat for us to sample later in the day. I watched closely as the butcher used his knife like a surgeon uses a scalpel. With such ease and skill, he sliced each piece of prosciutto thin as paper. Sure, it took longer than my local butcher who uses a meat cutter and still has a difficult time cutting the meat to satisfy my liking, but what an art. You could see that he truly loved what he was doing and took pride in each slice.
Next, it was off to the fresh market. The colors in the market looked like the colors on an artist’s palette. Each piece of fruit and vegetable was displayed in a way to allow my eyes to take in their true beauty. They looked so fresh that I fully expected to see roots attached to them. I did learn one lesson in Italy---DO NOT TOUCH THEIR FRUITS OR VEGETABLES! They want to take the time to pick them out for you. It is their job to find the best of what you are looking for. I had to put my hand behind by back to avoid pinching the fruits and feeling the vegetables for firmness. As Shirley gathered up her purchases, the lady that waited on us conversed to Shirley in Italian and shoved something in her bag. Later, Shirley told me the owner often throws in a little something extra (the only thing that they throw extra in my bag at my local grocery store is the receipt—and I am sure that I pay for the paper it is printed on!).
Finally, after a stop at a bakery for some bread and a visit to the local market, we headed to Shirley’s farmhouse where we spent over eight hours turning our market finds into a feast that would delight the most distinguished Italian chef.
What did I bring back from that morning with Shirley and the people of Cortona?
That sometimes I need to take time to enjoy what I am doing. I am always looking for a faster way to do things. Cooking is no different. Box and frozen meals helps in getting food on the table quick, but it is not necessarily healthy or satisfying. I am the first to admit that I have been a victim of getting it on the table quick. Likewise, if I need something from the store, it is a quick trip in and a quick trip out.
Now, I have some questions for you? Have you sipped a latte and chatted with someone for an hour about recipes and the joys of cooking? Do you know the name of a person at your grocery store? Have you ever watched the skilled hands of a butcher? Can you spend 5 minutes talking with someone stocking the fruits and vegetables at your store? Do you stroll around the streets with a shopping bag proudly displaying the tops of vegetables and breads? Can you talk about cheeses and wines like you talk about members of your family or your best friends? Can you taken the time to ---SMELL THE CHEESE??????
If you have never visited the town and people of Cortona---then, you probably answered “no!”
Thursday, July 1, 2010
To me, the smell of citrus just screams summer. Rather it be the sweet smell of oranges in a salad, the fresh smell of lemons in a tall cold glass of lemonade, or the sight of a lime wedge on the salted rim of a margarita glass, citrus is a refreshing breath on a hot day.
While staying in our villa at Lake Garda, Italy, we were blessed with two lemon trees right outside our back door. The villa was rightfully named Limonaia. My husband was quickly assigned the daily task of fetching lemons from the tree. He would get the ladder and climb to the top and proudly return with five beautiful lemons.
Once I had the lemons, I would roll them on the counter and the sweet oils from their skins would coat my hands with a fresh and delightful lemon smell. I could not resist rubbing the oil over my arms as if it were my perfume for the day. Then, the fruit would reward me for my efforts by producing the most wonderful juice—tart but sweet. I would add a small amount of sugar, bottled water, and ice and retreat to the deck overlooking the lake. There, I would sip my cold and refreshing lemonade as I watched the hues of the sky touch the mountains and the mountains blend into the lake. In the evening I would do the same; however, I would add a little Lemoncello, just to “kick it up a notch!” I came to one conclusion during my time at Lake Garda: Heaven must smell like lemons!
For dinner tonight I had two limes that were calling my name. They had been in the crisper since before my trip and were longing to get used before they became part of a compose pile. I pulled out some chicken and decided to make a salsa with my limes. I found the following recipe and got to work. After a quick trip to the grocery store to get some coconut milk and a mango, I got started with dinner. I began chopping and dicing, and before I knew it, I had the salsa chilling in the refrigerator. Once the grill master got home from work, he prepared the chicken. The rice was ready just in time to form and light and fluffy mound on our dinner plates. As I place the chicken next to the white rice, I was not impressed with how it looked---but then, when I topped the rice and chicken with the salsa it was like putting the lights on a Christmas tree----every thing lit up and brought a smile to my face as we set down to eat.
My two limes and I seemed to be very pleased with the results of the new recipe---I would imagine that the chicken would have said differently if he would have had a say, but we enjoyed him!.
Some FUN Facts and Information On Lemons
The average lemon contains approximately 3 tablespoons of juice. Allowing lemons to come to room temperature before squeezing (or heating briefly in a microwave) makes the juice easier to extract.
Lemon juice is valued in the home as a stain remover, and a slice of lemon dipped in salt can be used to clean copper-bottomed cooking pots. Lemon juice has been used for bleaching freckles and is incorporated into some facial cleansing creams.
Lemon peel oil is much used in furniture polishes, detergents, soaps and shampoos. It is important in perfume blending and especially in colognes.
Petitgrain oil (up to 50% citral), is distilled from the leaves, twigs and immature fruits of the lemon tree in West Africa, North Africa and Italy. With terpenes removed, it is greatly prized in colognes and floral perfumes.
Lemon peel, dehydrated, is marketed as cattlefeed.
Lemonade, when applied to potted plants, has been found to keep their flowers fresh longer than normal. But it cannot be used on chrysanthemums without turning their leaves brown.
Wood: The wood is fine-grained, compact, and easy to work. In Mexico, it is carved into chessmen, toys, small spoons, and other articles.
Grilled Chicken with Lime Mango Salsa and Coconut Cilantro Rice
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and diced (about 1 1/2 cup)
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 Jalapeño chile, minced-no seeds or ribs (include ribs and seeds for a hotter taste if desired)
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp chile powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the salsa ends up being a little too hot or acidic for your taste, you can temper it by adding some diced avocado. (If you do not want it hot at all, instead of using the Jalapeno chile, substitute a green pepper.)
Coconut Cilantro Rice (quick rice version)
1 2/3 cups water
1/3 cup light coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups uncooked instant rice
1/4 teaspoon grated lime rind
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (1/2 lime)
2 Tbsp. dry shredded unsweetened coconut (baking type)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Combine first 3 ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add rice. Cover and let stand 5 minutes or until rice is tender. Stir in lime rind, juice, and cilantro. Serve chicken and rice topped with mango salsa.
Coconut Cilantro Rice (Jasmine rice version)
2 cups Thai jasmine-scented white rice*
2 cups good-quality coconut milk
1 3/4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon grated lime rind
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (1/2 lime)
2 Tbsp. dry shredded unsweetened coconut (baking type)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vegetable oil
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Lightly grease sides of a deep-sided pot with a tight fitting lid with vegetable oil.
Place rice, coconut milk, water, shredded coconut, and salt in pan. Cook ove medium-high to high heat.
Stir until liquid comes to a gentle boil (stirring will keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning).
Once the coconut-water has begun to gently bubble, stop stirring and reduce heat to low (just above minimum). Cover tightly with a lid and let simmer about 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice (to check, pull rice aside with a fork to see down to the bottom of the pot).
When the liquid is gone, turn off the heat, but leave the covered pot on the burner to steam another 5-10 minutes, or until you're ready to eat. Tip: Your Coconut Rice will stay warm this way for up to 1 hour or more, great for when you're expecting company!
When ready to serve, remove the lid and fluff rice with a fork.
Grilled Lime Chicken
4 Boneless Chicken Breasts
salt and pepper
Wash and dry chicken. Rub breast lightly with cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze juice from one lime on top of the chicken. Place breasts on hot grill. Grill for 3 minutes then turn (not flip) the chicken to get cross grill marks. Grill for 3 more minutes. Now flip and do the same on the other side. Total cooking time should be 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken. Adjust accordingly.
This picture of my pasta salad is placed on a tablecloth that I picked up in Italy. There were many markets that came to the villages once a week. I brought this tablecloth at a market that came to Lake Garda. It is amazing how a tablecloth can enhance a dining experience! After dinner, we commented on how good the salad tasted. I believe that it was the tablecloth that set the mood---or could it have been the two glasses of white wine??????
Italian Tuna Pasta Salad
On the night before we were to leave Lake Garda, Italy and head for home, my old school friend and I sat up talking about our trip—the places we visited, the foods we tasted (I think she had at least 30 gelatos during our visit!), and the trains and busses we cussed (I think she had more gelatos than the number of times we rode on the trains and busses!). We both agreed that the 17 days we spent together went by very fast. However, after our long flight home we both agreed that even though the trip went by fast, we felt that we had been away from home for a long time----if that is not an oxymoron!
Early this morning I woke up still trying to get my schedule adjusted to US time and trying to sleep in past 3:30 am. Shortly after rising, I began the task of taking back control of my garden. Being gone for 17 days means lots of weeds! I decided I would tackle my herb garden first as I did not get the annual herbs planted before I left. Once I weeded, I ventured down the street to a local garden center by the dam. I love it there as I can see the water as I walk around catching all the colors and smelling the flowers as the wind off the water whiffs the fragrances past my nose.
It was difficult to find healthy herbs this late in the season. They were lanky, dried up, and shown a lack of TLC that they would have had if I would have be their caretaker. But, after scouring around for over an hour, I managed to find twelve herb plants that I thought I could nurse back to health. I brought them home and place them back by the garden where later tonight I will give them a place to rest their little roots and give them a chance to produce the flavors and aromas they were intended for.
As I sniffed the parsley, I immediately knew what I wanted to make for dinner. It is a recipe that I have change many times over the course of my lifetime. It is my Italian Tuna Pasta Salad. It started just as a Tuna Pasta salad when I was younger. I would smother it with mayonnaise and stuff it in a tomato. Good yes---healthy---NOT! So, over the years I changed the recipe by eliminating the mayonnaise and adding olive oil. I continue to experiment with it. Do keep in mind that you can add any kind of vegetable that you like. I often use what I have on hand. This is the basic recipe.
Italian Tuna Pasta Salad
3 cups multi-colored spiral pasta noodles
Boiling salted water
1 can (12-1/2 ounces) white chunked tuna in water- drained (you can add more if you want a heavy tuna taste)
1/2-cup olive oil (more or less as needed) I love to use a flavored oil and you can flavor your own oil. Simply place the oil in a bottle and add herbs and garlic cloves. If you want it spiced up a little, you can add red crushed peppers.
3 tablespoons herb vinegar - You can make this too. Just add herbs to the bottle and let it rest.
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup minced onions (you can use red if you prefer)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Cherry tomatoes for garnish
Black olives for garnish
Cook macaroni or pasta in boiling salt water according to package directions. Drain. Rinse in cold water. While pasta cooks, combine tuna, oil, vinegar, garlic, parsley, chopped vegetables, salt and pepper. Toss tuna mixture with the macaroni.
Chill until ready to serve. If pasta becomes too dry, you can always add more olive oil and vinegar to add more moisture.
Spoon pasta over sliced tomato on a bed of crisp lettuce. Garnish with olives and pepperoncini peppers.
Good served with hot Italian bread or crostini. Spread with herb or garlic butter.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I was born in Ohio, but since returning from a life-long dream vacation of 17-days exploring the sights, smells, and sounds of Italy, I realized that I should have been born in a little farmhouse tucked in the valleys of the Tuscan hills. Italy's county side mesmerized me. Its hillside villages surrounded by wild flowers, olive trees and vineyards painted a picture that will forever be embedded in my memory. While touring Cortona, the quaint old farmhouses called my name to explore their charm and warmth, and I responded as I endlessly snapped photos of windows, doors, gardens, and the rooflines as they met the Tuscan sky. The smells of the markets and cafes allowed me to breathe in the bouquets of garlic, basil, sage, and rosemary. The taste of wines, cheeses, breads and pastas still lingers fortunately on my lips and unfortunately on my hips! There is a part of me that wants to hang on to those extra pounds I added as a souvenir of my trip---afraid that as I loose the weight I will loose my treasured memories of Italy.
Like most Italians, l enjoy wine, pasta, and olive oil with the sound of Andrea Bocelli playing in the background. The smells of cheese and prosciutto get my salivary glands working as if I were a participant in a Pavlov's dog experiment. I get satisfaction when sipping latte and dunking my biscotti in it just to the point that it is soft—not soggy (a true skill that I am still working on!). Hearing the cork pop on a bottle of wine, rather in Italy or at home, means that good friends and conversation are not too far behind.
My favorite colors are red, white and green (the colors of the flag of Italy), and I secretly adore the thought of kissing everyone I meet on both cheeks when I see them as if I have known them all of my life. The conversation of the Italian language makes me feel like I am listening to the poetry of Dante Alighieri, even if it is just asking a local towns person where to find the toilet (Mi scusi, dov'è il bagno?) I find it truly amazing how bodily functions can sound romantic when spoken in Italian.
Why this love affair with Italy? I am “part” Italian. I am sure that the “part” of me that is Italian is my sense of taste and smell. In addition, I inherited the Italian stature---I am short and busty! I have strong hands like my Nonna that can knead dough and open olive jars without asking for help! I can stir polenta for an hour, and I have scars from where the hot molten cornmeal splashed on my skin. These are cooking battle wounds that I am extremely proud of!
My Nonna came to the United States and, lucky for me, met my Grandfather and they married. Together they produced my father, who married my mother and produced four children, three girls and one boy (again lucky for me!). I am the oldest of the children. In my early teens, my father had to also play the role of my mother as he faced the challenge of raising four kids on his own. Being the oldest, I found myself more like a mother than a teenager. This forced me to spend time in the kitchen with my Nonna and Father as I learned how to cook and prepare meals. These are the memories of my somewhat unconventional childhood that I cherish, and these are the memories that I long to share with my family and friends.
What is it that inspired me to start this blog? Besides the fact that many of my friends have blogs, it was my recent trip to Italy to discover my roots that beckoned me to share my recipes and memories. The time I spent in Tuscany awakened my need to continue to learn about the art of cooking. I love spending time in the kitchen experimenting with food. At times, I feel like a chemist mixing, pouring, and concocting a menagerie of delicacies that are awaiting compliments and “oohs and aahs!”
On this blog you will find old recipes that are family favorites as well as new recipes that I will try and share. I brought back from Italy with an Italian cookbook filled with new and exciting recipes that are awaiting a home in my pots and pans and our growling stomachs! Each week I will post a recipe or two. Some will be tried and true family recipes that continue to be requested. Some will be new as I continue to increase my repertoire of recipes to pass on to my children and grandchildren.
Please join me as I cook my way through my new Italian cookbook and as I share my best cooking memories and recipes. Many of these recipes are from my Nonna, my father, or from my personal recipe box. You can also share with me as I try the successes and failures from my new Italian cookbook.
This blog and all of the upcoming recipes are in memory of my father, Aldo, who inspired me to be all that I can be. He left me with more than memories. He taught me about loving to cook and cooking with love--thus the name of this blog---Cooking with Aldo’s Daughter.