Category Archives: cooking

Mozzarella and Burrata

Hot, hot weather now. Big heat wave covering most of Europe. Here in Italy this front is called Guida, or Judas for obvious reasons. It blows across the Mediterranean from the Sahara and is HOT.

So, hoping to beat the heat, today I descended the stairs to visit the weekly market aiming for cool things, like salads. The wonderful tomatoes are in now and we are loving them. I aimed to buy some and some mozzarella and burrata. There is a man with a small truck who is here every week with the best. It’s sent up from Paestum (mozarella) and the Burrata comes from Puglia.  When the burrata is sliced open, a spurt of thickened cream flows out. The cheese has a rich, buttery flavor and retains its fresh milkiness. It is best when eaten within 24 hours and is considered past its prime after 48 hours. I you’ve not had it, it is a literally a bag tied up and inside are the creamy leavings from Mozzarella making. It is a useful way of using up the ritagli (“scraps” or “rags”) of mozzarella. But it is oh so much better than that!

Behold, burrata fresh from Puglia!buratta

Sliced open to reveal the creamy inside.
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Trying to divide it is difficult. I wanted some for lunch and the rest for dinner. Bag on the right is saved for later.
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My lunch. Beautiful pomodori con basilico e Burrata.
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Brochure from the producer of the Moazarella.
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Picture of the lady without which we’d never be able to enjoy this pleasure.
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And it’s summertime in Umbertide. The outdoor cinema is open on Piazza San Francesco. It has seats outside with beer and wine sold and on Thursday they screen original language films.
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Project: Corn

Ciao a tutti! Today I’m posting about a food that is near and dear to my heart. Sweet, summer corn! When we lived in the US as SOON as the corn started coming in I had it frequently. I am a corn snob, however, and when I was buying at the farmers market I would push my fingernail into a kernel and if there wasn’t a squirt of liquid I wouldn’t buy. It is a sign of freshness and when it was picked. As soon as corn is picked the sugars in the kernels start to turn to starch and harden. No longer a succulent sweet ear but a hard starchy one. I had a garden a couple times in my life in which I grew corn, my mantra was…get the water boiling, go pick the corn off the stalk, immerse in boiling water for 5 minutes, slather with butter and a sprinkle of salt and EAT! Heaven.

The sad story is that here in Europe, all over as far as I’ve seen, people see corn as animal fodder, not for human consumption, on the whole. In Italy they do have canned corn, they do NOT have frozen which is infinitely better. I have searched for corn here and on two occasions last year I found some. The first had been allowed to stay on the stalk far too long and was all starch and inedible. The second, from Umbria, in the super market, in NOVEMBER(!) was actually almost good. SO…

I decided to buy seeds and find some way to plant some. On the Burpee website I came across Container Corn. It is corn that will do well planted in pots. So I bought some to try. I also bought two other types in hopes of finding an outside place to plant. I did manage to partner with my British friend Angela and paid for a plot to be prepared. It was hardly optimal. Good sun but the soil really wasn’t tilled deeply enough. We planted anyway so we’ll see.

I’m happy to say my corn on my terrace is doing really well. Angela told me the corn there was up and growing. I think I will have at least some corn this summer. Happy days!

Here is my corn.
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I call this my orto. It means vegetable garden in Italian. It has my two spicy peppers and the corn.
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I love sweet basil and it’s almost ready to harvest the tops for pesto!
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My herb garden: parsley, thyme, sage, rosemarie and chives.
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Flowers
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tunias

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Happy growing to any of my gardening friends. I will post progress reports occasionally.
Buona estate!

Lemon harvest!

My little lemon tree had 12 lemons on it! I am amazed at the output of these little trees. They flower and fruit all year. Already we have many new flowers and baby lemons. So I harvested ten of the pretty lemons and decided to make preserved lemons with them. Then I can make some Moroccan food this fall. They have to sit for at least three months.

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Bellissimo view with our new Tende di Sole open.
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Table set for dinner all’aperto. Nice. Did you know Al Fresco doesn’t mean eating outside in Italian? It means spending time in jail!
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Kilometer zero market

Beautiful weather has brought EVERYONE outside for the Kilometer zero market. I’ve mentioned it before but to explain again, it is a market of only local and self producing or growing vendors. Diverse but much smaller than the Wednesday market. I bought a jar of tiny preserved artichokes and the nice lady gave a jar of asparagus paste to put on bread, fish, chicken, just about anything. I also browsed through all the stands, thoroughly enjoying the scene.

Items for sale by the nice Senora
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The local Alpaca farm called Maridana Alpaca brought in their wares. All natural colors of the Alpacas.
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The baker from Citta di Castello is always at this market with pizza bread, focaccia, breads, donuts(!) and sweets.bread

Next weekend is Pasqua which is Easter. Everywhere you go there are small to giant chocolate eggs and specialized cakes and biscotti. This is a cake all wrapped up and ready to go! Today is Palm Sunday and I was treated to a lovely bell serenade from the big bells in the old church on the Piazza. They are wonderful.easter_cake

This is my favorite greens and vegetable man. He also sells herbs and plants for the garden.greens

Local honey and products of the bees.honey

Black kale is what the sign says but I’ve never seen any like this before. I didn’t buy it. I think you’d prepare it like any cavolo nero.
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And here is the Slow Food booth. They had all sorts of free food for the taking. I tried that square cake. It was apple and super moist.   slow_food

Anyway, that was my day at the market. And later that afternoon me made the Passagiata (stroll through town) along with a bazillion Italians. Then sat in Bar Mary to have an aperitivo and watch the action. We are happy it’s spring!

Gorgeous Saturday

We are just back from a three night trip to Torino (Turin). I will post about it soon. But today we are just enjoying this beautiful spring weather. Everyone is out and about and Umbertide is coming alive after the long hibernation. I bought some more asparagus today. This time it is wild asparagus that people around here go out in the fields and woods and forage. I am looking forward to trying it tonight.  I am now using my new Canon EOS 100D camera. Takes nice pictures! Click to see larger versions.

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I also got a tip from a friend about a butcher I had never tried. I don’t know why I hadn’t as it is very close to us. Perhaps because there is a large butcher just before you get to it that I always went to to buy our meat. This butcher shop is quite small. The selection is different too. They always stock Pork Belly or Pancetta in big slabs. I got to try it recently and it was melt in your mouth good with great cracklin’ skin. They also always have lamb and of course beef and chicken. I decided on a pork leg and first seared in the oven, then slow cooked it. We will eat it tonight.

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This time of year is artichoke season. I do love them. But I don’t buy them like the Italians do! they get dozens at a time! Goodness knows what they do to them. I’d like to know!artichokes

And these are the beautiful “famous onions of Canarra”. They are very sweet. Two people come with their van every week. A very old man and a young man who must be his grandson. They are very nice and I always tell them buongiorno even if I’m not buying that day. The onions are beautifully braided. I buy whole ropes of them. They are perfect on salads and roasted. They also caramelize like a dream.onions

This is the old man. I’m sorry his face is in shadow. It was a very sunny day. His grandson is in the van behind him braiding more onions.

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We made it!

Well it’s here…March. Meteorological spring. And it shows. The winter wheat is brilliant green. The forsythia is blooming. And I found some new things in the Wednesday market.

First, a picture from my kitchen door. Still wintery mountains but blue skies and the temperatures are reaching the 60s sometimes.
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I’ve seen agretti, or monks beard, always the first spring vegetable we see. Since Luther is not fond I don’t buy it but it’s a real delicacy only found in central Italy. This week I found asparagus! The first of the season. I asked the lady selling it where it came from and she said Spoleto which is here in Umbria. So I bought some!
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I also found these small cartons of tomatoes. They were grown in Sicily and reminded me of the Cherokee Purple variety. It also says on the carton I can see who grew my tomatoes on their website!
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I bought a new camera so I need to come up to speed on it so I can again post good pictures. We’ve also been doing our beginning of the year chores. Signing up for our health care this year was a royal pain. Normally we just take our social security statements in and pay our money. This year they told us they needed our paper to have a stamp on it from our American embassy in Rome. All of the stranieri were scuttling about trying to figure out how to do this but finally, after a phone call we managed to get it sorted. The Social Security section of our embassy has all our records…a surprise to me…so they were able to stamp it and send it to us via the Poste Italiane. So that’s done.

We also are starting to go through the process of getting our Permessi di Sogiorno renewed for the coming year. The fees have actually dropped this year to about 60 Euro each down from about 130 Euro last year. There also  seems to be another thing or two changed so we will have to wait and see.

Next week we again are trying to get our Italian driving licenses. This has been an ongoing saga. Stay tuned!

 

Pranzo

Last Sunday we were happy to join Alberto the chef at Calagrana, the nearby Agriturismo, for Sunday lunch. Ely is in England tending to her Mom. We missed her. But we enjoyed Alberto’s “old fashioned lunch”. It consisted of a starter of lasagna bolognese (no picture – ate it before I thought!). He said it was his grandmothers recipe. Next we had steak Diane. It brought back memories of my sister making this for my mother. It is traditionally made tableside.

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Then we had a Lemon Padlova which was unfamiliar to me but was excellent.
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Archie is the resident terrier and happy to visit.
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Last week, I was craving banana pudding but realized I could never make it here without Nilla Vanilla wafers. BUT! I remembered a resource I had not tried called My American Market based in Europe to provide Expats with ingredients they are craving. Once I got on their site I couldn’t resist the other items and figured it was worth it to buy them all at once! Sure!
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Here’s my haul. Pam is something I’ve been wanting for ages. You cannot bring aerosol cans on airplanes so there was no way to get it here.
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Winter snow

Winter here in Italy has been brutal so far. Friend in Abruzzo, next region to us, had 3 feet of snow! Other friends way down south in Basilicata and Campagna are also slammed with frozen water pipes and lots of snow. Yesterday earthquakes south of us triggered a tragic avalanche in Abruzzo which completely buried a hotel. 4 dead and 27 missing so far. We felt the quakes here but they were not strong. There were 10 quakes in the last 24 hours.

We have had our first snow. It was only a dusting but probably the most I’ve seen here since we came. I heard it was much worse up in the hills surrounding us. Still it was pretty.

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Montone is the hill town nearby. This is the mountain upon which it sits. It was snowing so the view is softened.DSC06612

Luther wanted a steak yesterday. Cuts here are very different from the US but this one is familiar. Here it is called a Contrafiletto. In the US it is a ribeye. Ready to grill!DSC06615

The fire was welcome in more ways that one. It warmed my frigid kitchen up and I sat close by to enjoy the warmth. It also cooked our dinner of steak and two potatoes wrapped in foil and embedded in the coals.
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Finished product. It was pretty good. They don’t finish beef on grain here so it is not as marbled. Hence it is not as tender. Good flavor though.DSC06618

Cinghale Stew on New Years Day

OKAY for all you folks waiting with bated breath for the results of my Cinghale stew (wild boar stew) here are two pictures. First is the boar after marinating for 2 days in red wine plus other stuff.
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This is the final product which we ate last night.
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It was surprisingly yummy. I don’t own a crockpot but I looked up how to emulate it. It said to cook in an 200F oven for 6 hours, covered tightly. This worked well. The meat was tender and falling apart.

I got this recipe from the internet but modified it some. Here it is:

Wild boar – cinghiale – Stew

2 pounds wild boar meat, cut into stew-sized pieces

Marinade:
1 bottle red wine minus 1 glass
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 carrot, 1 stalk celery, 1 onion, chopped into big pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled
4 bay leaves
Juniper berries, whole (to taste); approx. 1 Tbsp.
Sprig rosemary
Sage if desired
Red chili pepper flakes (to taste); approx. 1-2 tsp.

To finish:
Olive oil, 5 Tbsp.
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) passata, plain tomato sauce, or tomato puree

Prepare the marinade with the wine, vinegar, chopped vegetables, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries and chili flakes. Pour marinade over the boar meat, stir to coat, and marinate, covered, for at least 8 hours or overnight. (I marinated it two days. You can’t really over-marinate)

Drain the meat and vegetables, reserving the liquid. Chop the vegetables into smaller pieces and sauté them in 5 Tbsp. olive oil for several minutes, preferably in an enameled, cast iron casserole or any heavy stew pot. Remove.

Now add the wild boar meat to the pot, salt and pepper it, and brown the meat in the oil in batches. Return the vegetables to the pot. Add one soup spoon of the wine; let it evaporate at high flame. Now add the reserved marinade liquid, the tomato sauce or puree and bring to a boil; Cover tightly with a lid and foil to keep in the moisture. Put in a 100C/200F oven for six hours. This emulates a crockpot. If you have a crockpot then you can use that. The meat should be melt-in-your-mouth tender when done.

Delicious with roast potatoes and cannellini beans (white beans).

Buon Appetito!

A US wedding trip

We are just back from our trip to the US to help celebrate our nephew’s wedding. A good time was had by all.

We arrived in DC on a Sunday and crashed. Then we did a couple of days sightseeing and a day of shopping. We visited the newly re-opened Smithsonian Gallery of Art – East Wing. The building is in itself a work of art designed by I.M. Pei.

3000It’s only flaw was a limited amount of exhibit space. With this redesign it now has much expanded space and they opened two of the three towers. On the roof terrace is a big blue chicken sculpture by German artist Katharina Fritsch.dsc06475

We also got to see the recently de-scaffolded US Capital building. When we moved away it was completely covered. Now it gleams in the sun. It has never looked this good.

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We dined on some ethnic food to include Oyamel, a great Mexican place, and Rappahannock Oyster bar which has world class farmed oysters. We’ve missed them! The big splurge was Komi which many said should have received a Michelin star in the recently published guide. I will say it was mighty fine. There is no menu. They bring about 12 courses, starting small and getting bigger as they go along. So good. And we elected to get the wine pairing. We never do this but we were glad we did. The sommelier is excellent and all the wait staff made us feel very special. Recommend it.

On Thursday we rented a car and drove to The Homestead in Hot Springs, VA – about a 3 1/2 hour drive. We attended the beautiful wedding of our nephew, Dave and his bride Shira. It was a Jewish ceremony although our nephew is Christian. It was lovely. I did not take pictures. It was outside and the weather was fine. We partied into the night. I wish this young couple all the best in life.

While there we strolled the grounds and played a rousing game of mini-golf with Luther’s brothers family who were there from California. Again, the weather was perfect. The trees were beautiful.

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We are back home and I am happy to say we have finished our travels for this year. I am glad to be home in tranquil Umbertide. Long trip back. While we were gone there were three (!) earthquakes of 5.6, 6.1 and 6.6 on the Richter scale. No damage in Umbertide but in the mountains just 40 miles away is devastation. So much lost. One of my favorite cathedrals collapsed in the town of Norcia. Here is the picture I took about 2 years ago. Sadly it is almost totally destroyed. My heart goes out to the people. The one good bit of news is, no one was killed.

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On our way home we stopped for provisions. I spied, of all things(!) corn on the cob! Now, if you’ve been reading this you know I have searched for decent sweet corn since our first summer here. I found some inedible this past summer. So I slyly put my finger nail into a kernel and lo and behold! it squirted juice. This meant it wasn’t totally gone to starch. I notice they are grown in Umbria so are local. I bought two cobs and cooked them last night. They were decent! Sweet. Not as good a fresh summer corn but, good. The only thing that puzzles me is…it’s November! I mean who heard of corn in November?dsc06501

Coincidentaly, I had ordered corn to be sent to my sister. I picked it up on our trip so next year I will have corn! I hope to find someone with garden space to lend or rent. But one of these packets has “Container Corn”. It can be grown in pots! So next year my terrace will be farm-like. I am pretty excited about this!
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