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Lana And Tagliatelle With Truffles

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.

Endive Stuffed With Blood Oranges, Goat Cheese And Candied Walnuts

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.

World Nutella Day – Nutella Pizzelle Sandwich

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

Art And Love In Renaissance Italy AND A Wafering Iron

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.

Chicken Marbella

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.

Casale Sonnino Olive Oil

Casale Sonnino Olive Oil

If you read this blog, you care about food and the basic ingredients you use in your cooking, including extra virgin Italian olive oil.

But are you really using extra virgin Italian olive oil? Or are you the unsuspecting owner of a bottle of hazelnut oil from Turkey, or sunflower oil from Argentina?

It’s not so easy to know, even if you buy olive oil that you think is a well-known, well-respected, international brand. A lot has been written about fraud in the industry, including a well documented piece written a while ago in the New Yorker Magazine entitled “Slippery Business,” the trade in adulterated olive oil.

Aside from the question of whether it’s really olive oil, there’s little way of knowing (assuming it is olive oil), how the olives and trees were grown and maintained, whether they were overly sprayed with pesticide days before picking, whether they were sitting around too long before milling, subject to bruising, whether all the olives came from Italy or whether the oil in the bottle really was the first cold pressing.

Casale Sonnino, vineyards and olive trees

That’s something I don’t give a second thought to when I buy olive oil from Casale Sonnino, a villa and vineyard in the hills outside Rome owned by my friend Clo Sonnino Treves.

The olives from the 700 trees on her property are hand picked by a small group of local women in the traditional manner. Nets are strung below the olive trees to capture any falling fruit before they hit the ground to prevent bruising. The olives are transported within days to a local mill, where Clo’s son George supervises the pressing from start to finish. I can always be sure that their extra virgin olive oil is the first cold pressing from estate grown olives. Like grapes, olives for oil come in many varieties. Casale Sonnino olive oil uses Broccanica, Rosciola, Venina and the Tuscan Leccino.

Clo’s daughter Claire says that last November’s harvest produced a bumper crop and the most delicious batch in recent memory.

Casale Sonnino

I’m planning to put my order in soon since the shipment arrives from Italy in February. You should too if you want to try a truly artisanal, truly exquisite, unadulterated extra virgin olive oil. Contact Claire to find out about prices and/or place your order. She can be reached by email at claire@casalesonnino or at 516-767-7188.

She can also tell you about the Casale itself, an 18th century ancestral home that is rented out by the week to vacationing family groups, artists and travelers all year long. Their website is www.casalesonnino.com

Four-Cheese Eggplant Parmigiana

Four-Cheese Eggplant Parmigiana

So I’m in the kitchen –all set to start the recipe when I discover I have only three cheeses on hand. Suddenly it becomes a three-cheese, not four-cheese eggplant parmigiana sandwich like the delicious one I ate recently at “Tre Piani,” in Princeton’s Forrestal Village.
OK, I can live with that, I tell myself, but whoa — then I realize I don’t have any nice crusty Italian rolls. Should have checked the larder first. So my longed-for sandwich morphs into just eggplant parmigiana, with a salad on the side. Sometimes you gotta go with the flow.

There were no complaints — we practically licked the plates. But next time I make it, I’m gonna go for the gusto and use all four cheeses, which I’ve included in the recipe below. The sandwich I ate at Tre Piani had a really sharp bite, and I’m guessing it was blue cheese, so I included some in mine. Naturally, you can use any combination or proportion of cheeses you like. Just keep Velveeta out of the picture — please.

The cheeses may make this a really rich dish, but let’s face it, they don’t do much for your hips. So I made an adjustment for calories’ sake and baked the eggplant slices, rather than fried them. Honestly, you’d never know the difference. And it may help come bathing suit season.

Four Cheese Eggplant Parmigiana

1 large eggplant
salt
1 cup flour
1 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg, beaten with 2 T. milk
olive oil, to coat pan
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated blue cheese
1/2 cup grated Asiago or Fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese

about 2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
(I used a good homemade sauce my brother Frank had canned and given to me)

About an hour before starting, slice the eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Place on paper towels and let sit for a half hour. Press down on the paper towels, then turn around to the other side and sprinkle with salt. After a half hour, press down on the paper towels again, or use more to get rid of excess moisture.

Dredge the slices with flour, then dip in the egg mixture and dredge with the bread crumbs. Spread a light layer of oil on a cookie sheet and place the eggplant on the sheet. Bake the slices for about 15 minutes in a preheated 425 degree oven. Flip the slices and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

In a heatproof casserole, spread a layer of tomato sauce and add a layer of the eggplant slices, cutting them to fit the casserole. Mix all the grated cheeses in a bowl and spread half of the mixture over the eggplant. Repeat the process – tomato sauce, eggplant slices and the cheeses. Spread a layer of tomato sauce on top to finish. Bake lightly covered in a 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. Serves four normal appetites or two really ravenous folk.

Le Cirque and Lucia

It was supposed to be a memorable meal and evening at the opera. And it was, but not for the reasons we’d expected. We had dinner reservations at Le Cirque and tickets for “Lucia di Lammermoor” at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera with the much-heralded Russian soprano Anna Netrebko singing the lead. We’d heard her sing last year in an ethereal “Romeo and Juliet” and couldn’t wait to hear her in the Donizetti role. But more about the opera later.

First stop was at Le Cirque, which is taking part in New York City’s Restaurant Week, a two-week promotion where dinner with three courses is offered for $35. Sirio Maccioni’s temple to food is legendary, most recently through HBO’s documentary, “Le Cirque: A Table In Heaven.” The food was delicious, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t exactly transport us to the culinary firmament.

Most of the diners at our table ordered the chestnut pappardelle with veal ragout as the first course. Good pick, but since everyone else was ordering it, I chose the “Le Cirque” salad instead. Dumb me – should have stuck with the pappardelle, which was probably the best dish of the evening.

My main course was cod topped with a shallot crust and served with a raisin sauce. About seven small cubes of roasted beets looked stranded on the other side of the plate. It tasted wonderful, but if you eat with the eyes as well as the mouth, I think my eyes were straying elsewhere. The fish and beets felt lonely on such a large space and were looking for company. Rice maybe? potatoes? Take a look and judge for yourself.

The diver scallops and chicken breast that other diners at our table ordered were both beautifully presented and well-cooked, but nobody was exactly swooning over them either. Good, but not great.

For dessert, nearly everybody at the table zeroed in on the chocolate fondant, which turned out to be a very small portion of chocolate lava cake, along with a quenelle of ice cream on the side. Trying to limit my fat intake, (in a nod to my expanding waistline) I felt righteous in ordering the citrus parfait. Wish I’d joined the crowd in picking chocolate instead.

Maybe we’re just too picky, or maybe we’re jaded diners who know how to cook well at home. We all agreed that we’d had a good dinner considering the $35 restaurant week price, but nothing so transcendent as to validate the prices normally charged by this upper east side restaurant ($98 prix fixe, or $120 tasting menu).

Next we were off to the opera to hear the lovely Netrebko, partnered with tenor Rolando Villazon, a duo that has sung together to rave reviews in the past.

Netrebko was returning to the stage after giving birth six months ago, and looked as beautiful as ever. Her voice didn’t seem to have suffered much from the hiatus either, even if she doesn’t have the vocal power as many Lucias from the past and even if she missed the high note in the famous “mad scene.” Villazon’s voice cracked once in the first act, but it was barely noticeable. By the end of the second act, uh oh, it happened again and this time you couldn’t help noticing. He had to stop dead in his singing and compose himself before continuing. Poor guy. Something was amiss.

Before the third act began, the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb appeared onstage and everyone expected him to announce that Villazon would not complete the opera. But no, he asked for patience in explaining that the tenor was not feeling well, but didn’t want to disappoint his fans and would finish the opera.

We held our breath, since the third act is really the tenor’s showpiece. Surprisingly, Villazon rallied. Maybe it wasn’t the tour de force that you might want to hear from this Mexican singer, but it was respectable, especially considering he was ill. As for Netrebko — a Joan Sutherland-style Lucia she wasn’t. But she still carried the evening and we were happy to have been there.

I’ll leave you with a really dreamy clip of Netrebko singing an aria from the opera “Rusalka.” See if you don’t fall in love with her too.

Thank you to Maryann of “Finding La Dolce Vita” for explaining to me how to add a video clip from Youtube.

Lunch,  Locavore Style

Lunch, Locavore Style

Here’s what I consider a near-perfect lunch – a glass of wine, a hunk of bread, some good cheeses, cured sausage and pears.

We bought the cheeses and sausage at a winter farmer’s market held at “Tre Piani,” a restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey’s Forrestal Village.

The chef and co-owner of the restaurant is a founder of the local chapter of “Slow Food” so you know he cares about eating local and eating well. The three floors of the restaurant (Tre piani means three floors) were taken over by local food producers — everything from creamy gelato to baked goods to sausages and cheeses. A jazz combo provided musical entertainment.

I had no idea that such fine cheeses were being made right here in New Jersey. Valley Shepherd Creamery, located in Long Valley, N.J. had set up a table highlighting a dozen or so of its cheeses. It was difficult to choose, but I ended up with one called “shepherd’s logue,” a raw sheep’s milk cheese wrapped in herbs de provence, and a “crema de blue,” a gooey cave-aged veined cheese.

Then I spotted a table laden with sausages from a place called Salumeria Biellese, located both in Hackensack, N.J. and in New York City. They make wonderful cured sausages, including one made with boar’s meat, and the picquant Neapolitan-style one I purchased. As I was tasting a sample, it occurred to me that their name sounded familiar. Then it dawned on me that two weeks earlier, my son and I had eaten at Biricchino, a New York City restaurant. Turns out that Salumeria Biellese is right next door to Biricchino and both are owned by the same proprietor. Turns out that the waitress who served us was the woman helping set up the samples at Tre Piani. Small world.

Armed with our goodies, we headed home for a great lunch. The fig jam I made last fall would make a sweet accompaniment to the cheeses, and I still had a few slices of crusty homemade bread left from earlier in the week. A sliced pear, a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and we were set for our near-perfect lunch.

Now if only we were enjoying it with a warm summer breeze overlooking the Mediterranean — that would have catapulted it to perfection.

Fusilli With Portobello Mushrooms And Ham

Fusilli with portobello mushrooms and ham

This dish was quickly thrown together with our first portobello mushroom harvest. I sliced the mushrooms, sauteed them in some olive oil and butter with a shallot and minced garlic, added a little white wine and some pasta water, salt and pepper and that was it. But it still needed some umph, which is why I thought to add the ham. If I were making this vegetarian, I’d kick up the heat with more cracked black pepper.

I had only a couple of slices of prosciutto cotto in the fridge, which was plenty for just two people. Prosciutto cotto is a very delicate cooked ham and could be kind of hard to find depending on where you live. But you could substitute regular baked ham, or even prosciutto crudo if you like. Another option that would be delicious is to fry up a slice of pancetta or bacon and add that. There are lots of variations, but to me, turning out a tasty dish with what you’ve got on hand is important – not only because you don’t want to always be running to the store, but so that you learn to become resourceful and not waste anything either. It can lead to interesting combinations that you’d never have thought of otherwise.

I finished the dish off with a scattering of parsley and a dusting of freshly grated parmigiano cheese. Not bad for a quick meal, as my mother-in-law used to say.

For two people:

1/3 pound fusilli, or other pasta (or however much you eat)
about 3 cups sliced mushrooms
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T. oil
2 T. butter
1/4 cup white wine
salt, pepper
2 slices prosciutto cotto, cut into bits
freshly grated parmesan cheese, to sprinkle on top
minced parsley

Get the water boiling and throw in the pasta.
Saute the shallot and garlic for a couple of minutes in the olive oil and butter, then add the mushrooms and saute until cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and cook for a few minutes on high heat to reduce a bit. Add a little pasta water too at this time, but only a few tablespoons or so. As you can see from the picture, this is not a dish that is swimming in sauce, but you should have enough for a light coating of liquid. Lower the heat to a slight simmer until the pasta is finished cooking.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the mushrooms, stirring around in the sauce to coat the pasta. Remove from the heat and put into a serving dish. Add the ham, top with parsley and parmesan cheese and serve.