18 July 2009

on vacation...

If you live in Italy, where do you go for vacation? The funniest answer, it seems, is California, which we try to do every December for 2 weeks.

However, even though the summer is our busiest season for Bed & Breakfast and cooking classes, I usually try to find a few days for my daughter and I to have ‘girl time.’ In the past we have taken trips to England, Barcellona, or Paris, or to one of the amusement parks in Italy, but this year we scaled back and had our trip closer to home.

Our first few days were camping. Well, maybe that’s exaggerating a bit, as we did stay in a campground, but in a bungalow with beds and a kitchen. Not exactly roughing it! And campgrounds in Europe are quite different from the US in that, besides the essential swimming pool, they have a lot of services such as a restaurant, night-time entertainment, and fresh pastries and cappuccino in the morning. Of course, there are spaces to bring your own tent, but for such a short stay, I was happy to just bring sheets and towels.
The campground was Barco Reale , the same name as one of my favorite wines from Tenuta di Capezzana, the estate where my friend Rolando Beramendi and I started the culinary workshops in 1992.

Part Two of our trip was at the seaside. I had the good fortune to have some credit with a small hotel chain for a translation I did. We ended up at the tiny Sette Archi hotel in Bocca di Magra, a small port at the end of the Magra River, just south of La Spezia. From our room, we looked over the docks and up to the marble quarries of Massa/Carrara… splendid views. From here we drove to the Sarzana train station and took the train to the Cinque Terre to visit friends for the day, so easy and so perfect.

But, the thing that pleased me most was the feeling of stepping back in time. This family-run hotel was full of mostly Italians, and all of us on mezzo pensione, which included dinner in their restaurant. In a few days you knew everyone, greeting them in the morning and saying good night after long evening walks along the waterfront. No WiFi, no public computer without a drive of at least 15 minutes. Imagine that! Forced vacation! We rode our bicycles, walked, swam, and read books.

Ironically, at the campground book exchange, I picked up the only English book on the shelf, one I had never read (some of you know my habit of adopting any stray books in English that I find): Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. This book once belonged to Minni from Boulder, Colorado, and I thank her for leaving it behind. It opens with a letter from Dona Flor to the author of the book, and her comment about how she learned to cook by cooking: “Was it not by loving that I learned to love? Was it not by living that I learned to live?”

Let us cook, love, and live, then!

10 July 2009

prosecco sorbettato

Weather reports say it's going to stay hot for a few days. Cicadas agree. The summer has been a long time coming this year. Yesterday's peaches at the market and the heat inspired me to pull out my Gelato! book and put together my simple peach sorbet:
5 peaches, peeled and seeded, 2 cups of spring water, and 2/3 cup sugar, all puréed together in the blender. After I chilled the purée in the fridge for a bit, I put it in my ice cream maker, and allora! Refreshing just like this, but even better in a glass of Prosecco, reminiscent of the Bellini cocktails at Harry's Bar.

08 July 2009

Gnocchi cravings

Craving gnocchi. I started by boiling potatoes, the ones with eyes and toes because they are a little dryer. These potatoes, called Bolognese, are so sweet and seem to have just the right amount of starch for feather-light gnocchi. When I was in the states, I used russets, but now I'm thinking that next time I visit there, I will try a sweeter potato like a Yukon gold or the Finnish yellow.
I don't even bother to peel the potatoes; I just cut them in half and boil in salted water until tender, about 20 minutes for 3-inch chunks. A splash of cold water and the peel slips off pretty easy... then in the ricer,
add the egg and flour and knead lightly. I prefer simple gnocchi without the perforation of a grater or fork and just roll a piece out about 3/4-inch thick, then cut into 1-inch lengths.
For 1 kg (2.2 lbs) boiled and riced potatoes, I use 250 grams (9 oz) 00 flour, 1 egg, and a pinch of salt. Once cut, I dust them with flour and stick them in the freezer for a few minutes until I'm ready to cook them... not to freeze them, but to keep them from softening and swelling in the warm kitchen.

Originally I thought to make an aglione sauce with fresh tomatoes and garlic from the garden, but when I went out to pick, I realized we used up most of the ripe tomatoes in yesterday's gazpacho. There was an abundance of swiss chard, though, so this is what I came up with: I sautéed the julienned chard stems in olive oil with onion and a little pancetta. When they were soft, I added the julienned chard leaf and let that soften. A little broth, some mascarpone, and topped with sautéed bread crumbs and parmigiano...craving satisfied!

xOx (kiss on each cheek)

04 July 2009

I could spend every day right here at Poggio Etrusco. I don't really need to go anywhere. But, when I do get out, it does make me happy. Yesterday I had the 'opportunity' to drive to Pisa airport to pick up my cousin's daughter who is having a summer vacation here on the farm. As always, I did the 'Nora Jones thing,' which is to take the long road home...past glorious fields of sunflowers. Every signpost called to me: Bologna, Viareggio, Artimino. I need more hours in the day!

And, today, back to work! Trying to refine the Tuscan Scrub, an exfoliant/moisturizer using my organic olive oil leftover from last year, blended with Sicilian sea salt. My feet have never been silkier! Today I am picking lavendar to dry and infuse in the mixture to see how that works.