Category Archives: Food

grazie dal cuore, marcella hazan

Marcella Hazan, food writer and considered one of the foremost authorities of Italian cuisine, died September 29 at the age of 89.

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Ms. Hazan married and moved from Italy to New York with her American husband in 1955. Ironically, she never cooked before she got married. But later, after beginning a cooking school and giving cooking lessons from her home, her husband encouraged her to publish her first cookbook, “The Classic Italian Cookbook”,  in  1973. She believed simple, good ingredients lead to delicious dishes and is credited with bringing traditional Italian cuisine to the American public.

Thanks to Ms. Hazan’s wisdom and detailed, quite simple and beautiful recipes, I often fry with butter and vegetable oil  (a must when you make her Asparagus Risotto) instead of extra virgin olive oil when required for better, richer and milder taste.  Her “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” (published 1992) cookbook sits on my counter and is the source of my favorite dishes including braised pork chops (Modena style) and risotto, my guide to using herbs, and provides extra meaning after the news of her death.

This NY Times article, “Remembering Marcella”, provides more information on Ms. Hazan’s life and cooking.

In honor of Ms. Hazan, below is a reprint of her simple and delicious tomato recipe.

Ingredients

 2 cups tomatoes, with their juices (for example, a 28-ounce can of San Marzano or Italian imported whole peeled tomatoes)                   

5 tablespoons butter               

 1 onion, peeled and cut in half                   

salt   

Preparation

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.
 
Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Add salt as needed.
 
Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta. This recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta.
 
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best bagels

My favorite bagels in the world, Montreal-style bagels, were on my priority “to-do”  – or rather, “to-eat” –  list during our recent trip to Ontario and Quebec, Canada.

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Ottawa’s original Montreal-style bagels

According to Wikipedia, Montreal bagels, like the New York bagel, were brought to North America by Jewish immigrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries. Differences in texture and taste reflect the style of the particular area in Poland in which the immigrant bakers learned their trade.

When my mother-in-law visits us in California from Eastern Canada, she never fails to bring a large quantity of these bagels with her, since we only find the more common, New York-style here. We have a tradition of slicing, bagging and freezing them together upon her arrival, so we are ensured months of bagel heaven. This time we were on her turf, and my plan was to bring home as many as I could stuff in our carry-on luggage, including a dozen requested by our friends. (For those interested, I managed five dozen –  ten bags of half-dozen bagels – squeezed between socks and toothpaste.)

Busy workers fulfilling orders at the popular Ottawa Bagel Shop

What makes Montreal-style bagels so delicious? In contrast to larger, doughy New York-style bagels, Montreal-style bagels are denser, slightly sweet, and have a crunchy crust. They look a little different, with a darker or uneven color from the wood-burning stove and a larger hole.  Montreal-style bagels are boiled in honey-sweetened water and they are hand-made, while many New-York styled bagels are machine-made.

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Thanks to my mother-in-law, my kids were treated to an up-close tour at the Ottawa Bagel Shop, where they were able to experience the shop’s famous baker cut and roll the egg and honey filled dough, and then boil and bake the bagels. Next the seeds and other toppings are placed on the bagels, before they cool and are packaged. The bagels are made fresh every day.

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The baker cutting and hand rolling Montreal-style bagels at the Ottawa Bagel Shop

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Boiling the bagels

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Next the bagels are baked in a wood-burning oven

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A complimentary bagel is a tasty way to end of the tour!

A complimentary bagel is a tasty way to end the tour! Sesame of course.

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lavazza love

Watching Wimbledon gets better with this playful Lavazza commercial (“Enjoy the real Italian espresso experience at Wimbledon” reads the tagline). Take a look, it’s very clever.

If you are up at 4 am to catch the finals this week, Lavazza- a big Italian coffee brand in Italy found in many parts of the world – makes its case to be your espresso of choice to cozy up to. (North Americans can take note of the cup and portion size.) When I can’t find Lavazza stateside, Illy and Peet’s Espresso Forte stand in quite nice. What’s your favorite coffee brand and style?

( While I’d sure like to be, I’m not a Lavazza brand ambassador, just a fan of good Italian coffee, Wimbledon tennis and clever marketing.)

Video credits: Lavazza

tagliatelle tonight

Say what you will, but I’m a fan of Giada De Laurentiis, the Italian-American chef, cookbook author and TV personality of Everyday Italian on Food Network Television.

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Born in Rome and living in L.A., she’s bursting with celebrity blood  – her mother was an Italian actress and her father a producer/actor. Remarkably, her maternal grandfather was film producer Dino De Laurentiis, and if you watch a Fellini classic like La Strada, you will see his name in the credits.

Her TV cooking show features a variety of foods she grew up with and I have found the most inspiration in her simple and flavorful pasta recipes.

On deck for this week:

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Tagliatelle with Smashed Peas, Sausage and Ricotta Cheese

1 pound fresh or dried tagliatelle pasta (or other wide, long pasta )

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 pound hot Italian sausage

1 pound frozen peas, thawed

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

1 bunch fresh basil leaves chopped (about 3/4 cup)

1/4 cup fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 teaspoon salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes if dry or according to package directions if fresh. Drain pasta reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a large, heavy skillet heat the olive oil and garlic over medium-high heat and add the sausage. Use a wooden spoon to break up the sausage into bite-sized bits. When the sausage has browned, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside. Add the peas to the pan and, using the back of the wooden spoon, smash the peas. Turn off the heat. Add the ricotta cheese along with the cooked pasta and toss to coat, adding the pasta cooking water in 1/4 cup additions, if needed, to make the pasta moist. Return the sausage to the pan. Add the basil, Pecorino Romano Cheese and salt. Toss gently to coat and serve immediately.

recipe and photo credit: TV Food Network, Everyday Italian

home garden inspiration at the french laundry

A wrong turn in search for an outdoor spot to eat our picnic yesterday dropped us into the outdoor kitchen garden of  3-star Michelin,  award-winning restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville, Napa Valley.

My husband is a home gardening enthusiast – and I, a garden-eating enthusiast – so we were thrilled at our luck at this chance encounter to experience world-class methods and perhaps take a few tips home. With a mix of garden envy and awe, we wandered through the carefully laid out plots in between grass pathways. They are producing unbelievably beautiful vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs.

I’ve read that in addition to being a professional test garden, the garden supplies around 30 percent of the The French Laundry’s produce. The restaurant is housed in a beautiful historic building that was once – you guessed it – a french steam laundry.

 

The restaurant’s organic garden grows many different kinds of vegetables and fruit and also tests unique plants. I walked past artichokes, lettuce, corn, eggplant,  three different kinds of basil and other herbs new to me, a variety of peppers and white strawberries. There were chickens and a bee house.

And then there were the tomatoes. We needed to find out what was in this soil to produce those tomatoes. The staff we talked to said they utilize crop rotation and organic compost – with chicken manure. There are perfectly placed drip tubes and tapes.

Enter the greenhouse where tomato vines are giant and tomatoes works of art.

The vines show off their supersized health.

The method of planting close together and meticulously stringing the vines up from top (see white string above)  are ideas we will take home.

The ice lettuce with hints of purple is beautiful covering.

The vegetables make room for flowers – many edible and used in the menu.

Freshly picked heirloom tomatoes, presumably for customers that night.

 

 Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry has earned its title as one of the  world’s best restaurants. The gardens, without doubt, are world class. Visiting them,  you will return home with fresh inspiration for your own garden.

Do you have a favorite public garden?

pirlo please

One of the first things I do when I’m in the Brescia area of Lombardy, Italy is order my favorite aperitivo Bresciano, a Pirlo. First, because it’s my all time favorite before-dinner cocktail. Second, because you can’t order a Pirlo by that name anywhere but in this province of Italy, as we learned when we lived there.

enjoying a pirlo – or spritz – in Italy this summer

First a bit of Pirlo trivia:

A Pirlo is not called a Pirlo anywhere outside of the Brescia province. It’s comparable to a Spritz in Venice.

It is not named after Andrea Pirlo, Italian soccer legend who played for Brescia. The name comes from the whirling, circular movement or “fall “of the campari or aperol when added to the base of white wine.

A Pirlo can be made with campari or aperol (I always choose aperol).

Brescians are passionate about their Pirlo. There is even a web site dedicated to the drink!

A Pirlo is a perfect, refreshing summer drink, in Northern Italy or out. Serve with some olives or patatine out on your deck or terrazza and enjoy. Cin Cin!

Pirlo Recipe

1/3 Prosecco or Brut  (a fizzy white wine)
1/3 mineral water (very fizzy)
1/3 Bitter Campari or Aperol
lots of ice and a slice of orange

photo credit: www.ilpirlo.com (cosi’ si beve a Brescia)

market day mementos

Inspired by ciao domenica blog’s recent post on bruschetta, I went to our local farmers market early yesterday morning to pick up some heirloom tomatoes and country bread for a batch of bruschetta I made for a party last night.

I have a confession to make. I can’t remember the last Saturday morning I was at our town’s excellent farmers market with its line up of local Northern California growers.  Why? Maybe when the weekend rolls around and I don’t have to take the kids to school,  the morning slips away. Or , with numerous local fruit stands,  picking patches and quality grocery stores, it would actually be hard not to buy fresh, local and organic.  (I know I’m lucky, my Canadian readers.)

In fact, I love visiting market days so much that when I’m traveling, I research the surrounding town market schedules and plan my itinerary accordingly. And, yesterday, somewhere between the heirloom tomatoes and the peaches, I was reminded of some of those market memories.

Earlier this summer when we were back in stunning Lago di Garda, Italy, we visited our favorite lake market in the town of Salo’.

prosciutto crudo at a good price at the market in Salo, Italy

It’s really a combination flea and food market. You can find underwear, Bialetti Mokas (we got one for 23 euros), cycling jerseys (husband got one), airplane gliders (son got one), a variety of meats and cheeses.

buying our mozzarella di bufala for the day’s lunch

Although we were nowhere near Campana in the south of Italy where fresh mozzarella di bufala comes from, we couldn’t help buy it to pair with tomatoes for lunch that day. (Northern Italy is closer to Campana than California at least and it was delicious.)  Back in California, my coffee poured out of our new moka each morning reminds me of our recent visit there.

I’ll also never forget visiting the Vucceria fish market many years ago in Palermo, Sicily.  This is a bustling market filled with smells and sounds including a dialect of Italian I couldn’t fully comprehend or speak. But the Vucceria is an exhilirating experience! Randomly, I have a hair bandana headband I picked up there that is stuffed in my closet and comes out from time to time at the beach. This great article describes Sicilian open air street markets.

Then there is my tablecloth from  Aix en Provence, France – which also has the most amazing open air markets. Olives, cheeses, meats, breads, housewares, linens, flowers, lighting, antiques and more.( The market at l’Isle sur la Sorgue is also well known for antiques). I have been to Aix twice and I would go back just for the markets. When I set our table – as I am about to in the above picture –  and lay out my tablecloth, I can see Aix!

olives in aix en provence

Market days are, for me, an essential part of exploring a village or city and an essential part of slow travel. Do you have a favorite market ?