Thursday, February 12, 2009

Time Out for Research and a Give-Away

If you don't hear from me for a couple of weeks, it's not because I'm not thinking of you. It's because I'm heading off to Italy and won't be toting along my computer.

I'll spend some time visiting family and friends near Piacenza, then on to Padova for a few days. The last week I'll be skiing in the Italian Alps in the beautiful Val Gardena, a scenic valley in the mighty Dolomites, close to the Austrian border.

I'd love to be able to send you posts of the food I'll be eating, especially at my relatives in the Emilia-Romagna region (Did I ever tell you my cousin Lucia was Miss Tagliatella last year? Really!) but it will have to wait until I get back. I may get a chance to do a bit of blogspotting here and there, but computer connections are few and far between in the places where I'll be.

I'll have a lot of catching up to do when I get back but I look forward to tuning in as soon as I can. So many of you have fantastic blogs and it's been a pleasure to read your posts, try your recipes and get to know you through the blogosphere. You really are a creative, talented and helpful group of people.

So I've decided to have my first give-away. Since I won't be here for Valentine's Day, I thought I'd make it something chocolate. I don't know exactly what yet, since I plan to buy it in Italy, but you should be thinking chocolate candy.

The winner will be chosen at random, but the idea is to post a comment on what you think is the name of the drink in this picture. It's one of the reasons that makes skiing in Italy a unique and delicious experience.

Even if you don't know what it is, take a stab. You'll be included in the drawing even you come up with the wrong name. Winner will be announced when I come back in early March, so you can post comments for a couple of weeks. Until then, Happy Valentine's Day and happy blogging!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Carnevale and Chiacchiere

These fried treats - also called frappe, cenci, crostoli, galani or other names depending on the region - are typically made at Carnevale time in Italy.
Carnevale is celebrated all over Italy, with parties and costume parades leading up to the solemn 40-day lenten period that starts on Ash Wednesday. While the word Carnevale means a farewell to meat, similarly "Mardi Gras" which is celebrated most famously in New Orleans, translates to "Fat Tuesday." It's a time when anything goes, including decadent desserts and bawdy behavior. It's amazing how raucous some people behave when they don a mask!

Chiacchiere or other fried sweets such as castagnole, are available in bakery shops all over Italy during the Carnevale period. This recipe comes to you via my friend Titty, who made them recently for a meeting of my Italian chit-chat group called "Le Matte" (the crazy ladies). Since the word chiacchiere literally means "chit-chat," it was most apropos.


1 cup flour, or more if needed
1 T. softened butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 shotglass of either grappa or dry white wine
pinch of salt
powdered sugar or honey

Put the flour on a board and make a well - or put the flour in a bowl. Add the eggs, butter, grappa or wine, and salt and start mixing with a fork or by hand. Knead until you get a soft and smooth dough. Let it rest for at least 1/2 hour and stretch out with a rolling pin to the thickness of a coin. Cut into strips or desired shape and deep fry in vegetable oil. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle when cool with powdered sugar or honey.

Scroll down the photos below to get a glimpse of Carnevale in Venice, where I shot these pictures two years ago. They'll give you some idea of why it's the most well-known Carnevale in Europe.

Poster Announcing "Carnevale IS Venice"

Amazing Peacock Lady

Even the Little Ones Join in the Merriment

A Poignant Couple in Piazza San Marco

A Jester and Tetrarchs near the Doge's Palace

Visions in Purple and Red

A Tranquil Tableau

Peachy 17th C. couple

Golden Duo

Klimt wannabe

Ciaochowlinda and husband (l'ingeniere) and friends Ellen and Albert in Venice
(I'm laughing to myself just thinking of the fun time we had together that year with our crazy husbands and their fifty-cent makeshift masks)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lana and tagliatelle with truffles

This is a lagotto puppy. For those of you wondering why this dog belongs on a blog about food, trust me, there is a culinary connection. The lagotto is a breed that hails from Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, and was originally used as a hunter for water fowl. Today it is more commonly associated with truffle hunting.

I can't say my brother and sister-in-law had truffle hunting in mind when they got their very own lagotto yesterday. They just fell in love with the gentle temperament, curly hair and hypo-allergenic tendencies of the breed. The fact that lagotti (plural of lagotto) also originated in Italy, in the same region where my mother was born, made them even more appealing.

After months of waiting, Lana (Italian for wool) was ready for pickup in Connecticut yesterday. Fortunately, my house in New Jersey made a nice way station for them en route home to Pennsylvania, so I got to have a sneak peak at Lana before anybody else. And now you've seen her too. Isn't she adorable?

OK, Lana may never be a truffle-hunter here in the states. So I'm glad I've already tasted truffles, both in restaurants and in the home of people we know. That includes our friends Tony and Vanda, who own a beautiful second home in a small village in the region of Molise, where we were lucky enough to enjoy this wonderful pasta of tagliatelle and a generous helping of shaved truffles. Don't even think of topping with parmesan cheese or you'll blunt the fragrant aroma of the truffles.

The recipe is simple. Start with some fresh homemade pasta. Melt some butter or olive oil in a saucepan while the pasta is cooking. Drain the pasta, toss it in the butter or olive oil, and top with shaved truffles. That's it.
Yes, truffles are expensive and yes, they're hard to find in the states. But think of all the enjoyment you'd have received if you had invested in truffles instead of the stock market.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Endive Stuffed with blood oranges, goat cheese and candied walnuts

There once was a woman from Princeton
Who ate too much brie cheese and Stilton.
The time had drawn near
For a purge - it was clear.
Or else jog each day for a long run.

Ban cheese from her diet she could not
So she just tried to eat not a whole lot.
It was always a strain,
She'd be wracking her brain.
All this dieting is just so much bad rot!

Then "Cooking Light" printed this good one.
Which she made with delight - it was so fun!
Candied walnuts, goat cheese
And blood oranges, jeez!
In a recipe that's a real home run.

The walnuts are sugared, I know this
But you can use plain. (Oh yea, boo hiss.)
Either way it's tastes great
And looks nice on the plate.
So serve to your guests dear, you can't miss.

OK, so Robert Frost I'm not. Here's the important part - the recipe:

Endive leaves
goat cheese
blood orange sections (or regular orange sections or even canned mandarin orange sections)
candied walnuts (purchased or home made)
balsamic vinegar reduction (see below)
chopped chives

Separate endive leaves. Break up goat cheese into bits and put a little inside each endive leaf. Next take some candied walnuts broken into bits and blood orange sections and place inside endive leaves. Drizzle with a balsamic vinegar reduction (take some balsamic vinegar - about 1/2 cup - add 2 T. honey and cook until reduced and syrupy) Sprinkle chopped chives over all and serve.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

World Nutella Day - Nutella Pizzelle Sandwich

It's World Nutella Day! Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle from Bleeding Espresso started this holiday two years ago for all Nutella lovers out there. The celebration takes place today, when tons of new Nutella recipes, stories, art and other adventures will be posted on the blogosphere. They'll be sharing all the recipes on Monday, February 9 on the World Nutella Day site.

For those of you who haven't posted, the day is young. Get going. For those of you who haven't tried Nutella yet, get thee to a Nutella-selling store anon. Procure spoon. Open Jar. Indulge.

Here's my slightly gussied-up alternative to spreading on toast: a pizzelle sandwich smeared with warmed Nutella on the inside.

The pizzelle recipe is thanks to my husband's Aunt Alice, who at 94, is still going strong and making her spaghetti and meatballs every Sunday for her children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. Several years ago, she invited me to her home to show me how she makes her pizzelle. I'm passing on her basic recipe to you, minus the Nutella, which is simply a matter of microwaving for about 20 seconds or until it reaches the right consistency, then slathering it between two pizzelle. My advice though, is if you plan to sandwich the pizzelle with Nutella, use vanilla extract and omit the anise flavoring, which is too strong to pair with Nutella.

3 eggs
1/2 tsp. anise seed or anise oil
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar

Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter, vanilla and anise. Sift flour, baking powder. Add to egg mixture. Let batter rest a half hour, then drop by small spoonfuls onto pizzelle iron, following manufacturer's instructions.

Related Post: Chocolate Nutella Rice Pudding

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Art and Love in Renaissance Italy AND a wafering iron

One of the exhibits on display until Feb. 16th at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art is called "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy," and it's well worth a visit. I loved the artwork, but even made a culinary discovery that I'll tell you about in a sec.

First let me recommend the show. It's a real treat to see all these beautiful works of art - from ceramic plates to dowry chests to paintings and drawings - that were created during the 15th and 16th centuries as expressions of love.

Expect to see typical depictions of "Venus and Cupid," as in the detail above by Lorenzo Lotto, as well as other less controversial paintings and art objects. But don't say I didn't warn you when you come across quite a few pieces of art featuring phalluses (phalli?)- including an engraving that must be four feet wide, with enough appendages to satisfy a brothel.

OK, so this is a family blog - onto the culinary part.

One of the items in the exhibit looked exactly like something my husband found when we were living in Rome. There it was, this cast iron implement with two rectangular plates that closed shut via two long long handles. It was leaning against a street post outside the church of San Sabino in the Aventine neighborhood. Intriqued, and an intrepid scavenger, my husband schlepped it back to our apartment, and then back to the U.S. at the end of our stay.

It was sort of reminiscent of a pizzelle iron, but the space between the two plates was too slight to accommodate a batter. Engraved on one part of the inside were the intertwined initials "C" & "R". The year "1939" was engraved on the other half. We just weren't sure what it was used for.

My husband experimented, slathering the iron with some olive oil and placing a piece of crustless Wonder Bread sprinkled with some minced rosemary in the middle. He squeezed the two halves together and cooked them for a few minutes over an open flame. What emerged was a crusty, crispy cracker that made a nice accompaniment to a glass of wine. But somehow we didn't think they had Wonder Bread in the Renaissance.

We finally found out what it really was when we saw a nearly identical one dating from the 16th century in the Met's exhibit. The one at the Met has round plates, not rectangular. We learned that such implements are called "wafering irons," and were used for making wafers that were served at the end of festive meals. Recipes for them are found as early as the late fourteenth century, according to the exhibit's catalog. The wafering iron in the show was used to provide personalized wafers for a wedding feast, and then kept to commemorate the event.

I just had to try a pizzelle recipe on my own wafering iron, even though my gut feeling was that the batter would indeed squirt out when I pressed the two plates together. As a backup, I had my REAL pizzelle iron warming up in case this didn't work. Well, guess what? It worked, but not so well that I'll be churning these out for the next ceremony held by C & R. The plates really have no space in between, so all the batter kept squeezing out, leaving me with a very thin and very crispy, easy to break pizzelle. No complaints, they tasted great. But I'll leave the wafering iron by the fireplace, where it makes a nice conversation piece. I'll continue to use my pizzelle iron and will post a recipe shortly.
It's hard to see the imprint in the center where the initials C&R are intertwined on one side, and the date of 1939 on the other.

Now the question remains. Who was C? Who was R? Did Carlo marry Rita in 1939? Or Riccardo wed Camilla? Or did Carlotta Ruspoli become a nun in 1939? I guess we'll never know.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Chicken Marbella

What - no pizza? no nachos? no ribs? no guacamole? On Superbowl Sunday?
You got that right. I'll leave those foods to the real football aficionados, while I head off to the movies tonight.

This recipe however, is an old favorite that would satisfy all foodies - whether they claim football, film, or anything else as their passion. It's adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook, and it is a great party dish since it can (and should) be prepared the night before to marinate.

If you've never had it and are glancing over the ingredient list and cringing at the thought of mixing prunes, olives and capers, my advice is: "don't knock it until you've tried it."
I have served this plenty of times, to people who claimed they didn't like either prunes, olives or capers. After tasting this dish, they became converts and were licking their fingers and asking for seconds. I'll bet you will too.

Chicken Marbella

The original recipe calls for using 4 chickens, 2 1/2 pounds each, quartered.
I like to buy chicken parts (thighs, legs and breasts WITH the bone) that have the skin removed. Otherwise, there's just too much grease. I also increased the amount of prunes and olives and blend the marinade in the food processor, to homogenize everything.

chicken parts, about 6-7 pounds
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dried oregano
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 - 2 cups cups pitted prunes
1 1/2 - 2 cups olives (whatever kind you like)
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

  1. Place chicken parts in a large casserole (or two if you don't have one large enough).
  2. Place the following ingredients in a food processor and mix until emulsified: garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, vinegar, olive oil.
  3. Pour the mixture over the chicken, and add the prunes, olives, capers and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
  4. Remove the casserole(s) from the refrigerator at least one hour before cooking.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 and pour white wine around chicken parts. Sprinkle with brown sugar.
  6. Bake the chicken 50 minutes to one hour, basting frequently with pan juices.
  7. Sprinkle chopped parsley on top.
Serve with polenta, rice or mashed potatoes to sop up the juices.