Thursday, February 26, 2009

Carnevale Stia 2009

The kids really stole the show. So much fun to watch them get excited in their outfits..and then to throw "coriandoli" (confetti) at the grownups.

The great music is played by the group "Unnatural Ax" featuring Stephen Di Bonaventura on tenor banjo.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Porcospini, Zuppe, e Lasagne

Greetings from Sunny Tuscany. This week it was either snow or sun, mostly sun and it was great to just bundle up and sit in it. Which takes me to the garden. We've been hit again The morning after P had picked three gorgeous heads of creamy white cauliflower (just in time) he told me that we had a visitor. Like the last time, the broccoli and brussel sprouts seemed to be the food of choice. Since the garden looks like a federal prison with wire fencing that would surely keep out the deer, what are we looking at now? Purgatorio said "il tasso". That's a badger and yes, the European badger will eat plants but that's on the far end of its likes and preferences. Then this morning, our vegetable guy (P calls him Il Principale) said it was a "il porcospino", and that's a porcupine. Now P is securing the fencing from the bottom. This guy will be a tough one to keep out because he likes to dig which apparently he's been doing. So that's the end of the broccoli and brussel sprouts. The porc did leave some broccoli behind and P brought it in. I cooked it (for myself, three minutes boil then a little olive oil and salt and pepper) and it was heavenly. Deeply green and with a flavor you just don't get from what you buy in the stores.
We went out to our favorite place for a pizza on Tuesday night. We always order two Napoli. That's tom, cheese, anchovy and capers. SImple, and each bite packs a punch. I always take a little bottle of peperoncini (I leave it in the glove compartment of the car) with me to add more kick. My head almost swiveled off my neck when the guy next to me got his pizza. Could I believe my eyes? There were french fries and sliced hot dog on top of the tom and cheese. Now THAT deserves an exclamation point!
Lots of neat things in the kitchen this week, too. We've been working through this cookbook of old Tuscan recipes and it's been fun choosing what we'll try next. P made "zuppa ripiena" this week, stuffed soup. The carrot, onion and celery are simmered with tomatoes for a while. Spinach is added next, just enough to cook it. Then that Tuscan staple is added to the mix, stale bread. Combine it all, put it in a big bowl and make a hole in the center where you put sauteed, seasoned chicken livers. 'Stuffed'.
I made a very simple chicken soup, Zuppa di Tarlati, cooking the whole chicken in a pot of boiling water which was first enhanced with a little roux. After adding the odori it's all cooked until the chicken falls off the bone. The chicken is taken off the bone and the breast meat is saved and cut into matchsticks. The rest of the meat is either very,very finely chopped or put through a food mill and added to the cooking liquid (strained) which is now really tasty with the chicken broth, along with the breast pieces. Seasoned with salt and pepper and served very hot over that ubiquitous sliced bread. At first I thought it should be jazzed up a bit and on second thought it was wonderful the way it was. And Guido Tarlati, I later discovered was bishop of Arezzo in 1312. The city prospered while he was bishop before it was taken over by the powerful Florentines. It looks as if there is a significant monument to Tarlati in the duomo there and a Tarlati triptych in another Arezzo church. Road trip with zuppa.
P made his wonderful lasagne again yesterday and I found myself in the danger zone by last night..taking little stabs at it the rest of the day. Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, lasagne was always the dish that was brought out to serve the masses. Somebody would always bring a big dish of lasagne to a party or a buffet. And it was always made with ricotta. So when my friend Marybeth and I first ended up in Bologna she ordered the lasagna. Boy, was I sorry I didn't order it, too.
The lasagne slouched on her plate like a creamy dream and I'd never tasted anything like it before. That is until I ended up here and started eating P's lasagne. What is it with the lasagne made with ricotta that I had as a kid? Nobody around here ever heard of such a thing. Of course I'm very close to the home of lasagne in Emilia-Romagna so that makes a difference.I've been taking a little survey of my stateside friends and the ricotta version is the most familiar. There are many ways to make lasagne that's for sure but the ricotta version really got played out quite a bit in my youth. What's your lasagne experience?
We got to the Carnevale "sfilata" (it means a kind of parade or thread) last Sunday and I took lot of pix and will go again this Sunday and take more. I want to post a slideshow of the pix as soon as I figure out how to do it.
Today was fish day in Pratovecchio and P brought home "pesciolini di mare", little fish from the sea. Tiny little things, no cleaning necessary. Just tossed with flour and fried..and while the oil was hot we fried a few tomatoes, too. A simple Friday lunch. I'll hit that lasagne again later on tonight.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day nella cucina.

Happy Valentine's Day a tutti! The morning is cold and brisk with clear skies and since it's already midmorning it looks like a good day, weatherwise. I'm dressed in P's red sweater, a red vest and my red glass heart earrings. Maybe I'm overdoing it?
P and I have been busy in the kitchen, as usual. We have been in contact with the proprietor of a pretty little agriturismo up the road here in Papiano and he is interested in offering some cooking classes when the season begins again in the late spring. Naturally, we'd be introducing Tuscan cuisine to the guests and that essential part of the cuisine known as "la cucina povera". P and I brainstormed one night and I wrote down everything I've made since I've been here (I keep a kitchen journal). and he consulted a prized, very old book that contains many old recipes that nobody makes anymore. I left it to P to make some menus. We will present them to the proprietor on Monday and make plans for the upcoming season. The three of us would like to extend this to a lunch and dinner menu as well. So,"la cucina povera" it will be. Everybody's hurting these days in Italy, too. So these old recipes will be stylish once again. It's a revelation for me to see the variety of immensely diverse dishes that you can get out of bread, a few vegetables, stock, some meat, and whatever else is leftover.
The other night I made "acquacotta" (first pic) which translates to cooked water although it's much tastier than what that brings to mind.
Just a sofritto (finely chopped onion, celery, parsley and carrot ) with some pancetta cooked until soft and added to that a couple pounds of thinly sliced onions cooked until soft but not browned. Give it some color with some tomato paste, add broth and let it cook away. Then you layer it in a big dish with thinly sliced stale country bread and grated parmiginao, and put it in the oven to bring the flavors together. But I assure you, if you walk across the street your neighbor's recipe will be different.
Last night I made "scottiglia", another thing you don't find on menus much anymore. Scottiglia comes from the Maremma, the southern part of Tuscany which some books have called the "wild, wild West" of Tuscany. The scottiglia story is that the dish is based on whatever the hunters bagged that day and they cooked it with whatever seasoning they had. The other story is that the meat comes from whatever the young guys in the country could come up with after a late night raid. So, there is a variety of "meat".....chicken, duck,, rabbit, pigeon, veal, guinea hen, etc. Brown it in a big pot and the add the sofritto to brown, or soften, as well. Add due bicchieri, (that's 2 glasses based on a small wine glass measure) of red wine, evaporate slowly and then add peeled tomatoes and stock and let it go for 2 hours. We'll see what that's all about at lunch today.
Meanwhile on the dolce side of town... My friend Marybeth sent me a wonderful dessert cookbook, "Dolce Italiano". Written by Gina De Palma of "Babbo" fame, it is a wonderful book of recipes covering tarts, cakes, cookies, spoon desserts, frozen things, etc. I am so happy with it! I've made two tarts so far, one lemon, which took me to the very edge of lemon madness and the other chocolate with polenta that honestly had me swooning. And that's only me..P says, "Take it away or I will finish it all." What I like about this book is that there aren't any candied violets and no degree in architecture is necessary.
P just came home from Stia and presented me with a Valentine's flower arrangement. It is beautiful but I don't know what it is. Pretty exotic for these parts. The man in the shop told him to water it with one drop of water right where the next shoot is growing. Anybody know what this it?
Dopo Pranzo..
The scottiglia was great. Early this morning I slipped one peperoncino and a pinch of cinnamon into the pot and reheated it. I served it with toasted bread rubbed with garlic. We were pleased.
While writing this today, I recalled that on February 13, six years ago, I arrived in Florence to visit P and see whether or not this love was the real thing. I met him the the end of November 2002 and came home with the intention of sending him a postcard. Eleven weeks later I was back on a plane because, evidently, he had other ideas. Two and a half years and 6000 euro in phone calls later (his euro, not mine) I made the move to Tuscany so we could be together without phones or planes. When he met me at the airport on February 13, 2003 he was wearing the red sweater that I have on today.
Happy Valentine's Day everybody!
Marta and Piero

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Rain, rain, go away. Little Marta wants to play!

All it does is rain. Everyday. Yesterday at around 8:30 in the morning the kitchen was so bright I had to close the shutter a bit so I could see the computer screen. It looked like a strong sun and I could actually see some blue behind the clouds as they broke a bit. After P and L left to go into town for the paper I quickly threw in a load of wash which obviously was the cue for the sky to turn dark grey and pour. And that's the way it stayed for the rest of the day. Even as I write this sitting on the bed and looking out the window the sky has brightened but it's still raining. Today was to be the first of Carnevale parade in Stia. There is one every Sunday up until the First Sunday of Lent which is called Quaresima. The parade is held in Piazza Mazzini one of the two large piazze in Stia. There are a few floats but what's really fun are the costumes that people wear and the general craziness of the whole scene. The floats are spewing smoke and playing really loud music and everybody is throwing confetti and generally carrying on with the help of their identity concealed behind a mask. I had somebody in a paper plate mask throw a handful of confetti right in my face point blank, last year. I loved it and thought it was a wonderful idea. Wouldn't it be great to do that any time of the year, to anybody? So, the parade is cancelled today, Sunday.
Did you catch that? I'm writing this sitting on the bed looking out the window... Yes! I'm wirelss now! No longer tethered to the modem in the kitchen where there's human and canine traffic of all sorts. No more squeezing behind my chair because you can't go the other way around because of the wires. And let me tell you installing it wasn't easy. I'm in no way techincally proficient with the computer. Basic stuff, very basic okay, but I can't say I know the vocabulary and certainly not enough to follow the drop down menus that prompt one along. I watched my fairly tech savvy friend Valerie try to install this thing twice and for each hour she couldn't make a go of it she spent another hour trying.
So, I looked in the Arezzo phone book..Arezzo being the closest and most convenient big city. I couldn't even find a listing for "computer". And since the yellow pages (or in questo caso, il pagine gialli) aren't really that big I looked through every page for something that even resembled the word computer. Surely, I was missing something. Time to call in P. The white pages are significanly easier to navigate and there is was "Computer Discount". He called and spoke to a techie and we took the train to Arezzo and met the guy, computer in my bag. We met the guy and after commentin that my computer was old (mi dispiace!) he said he'd come to the house and do it sometime around the 26th of Jan. That was the 13th of Jan. The 26th comes and goes. P calls. Techie says Feb.4. The big day arrives and we wait..and wait. P calls him and techie says early afternoon. At 4 P calls his cell and techie said he got lost but he's in P'veccio. So he's on his way. I wait at the window and see the unfamiliar car about to take the wrong turn and I shout "la su" (up there) at a piercing pitch that I'm sure he'll here below. P flags him down in front of the car park a few meters ahead (believe me, in these little towns you can get lost between the road and the car park) and we're on our way. He sits down after remarking how small the house is and for about 25 minutes his fingers flurry across the keys like he's playing the presto movement in a piano sonata. Then he says," e' completo!" And then I realize his inglese is pretty good so I could ask him a few questions as well as his name, Alessandro, and his contact info.
It's terrific to sit in bed and read the NYTimes in bed on a Sunday morning.
There was a hair appointment this week and a different person applied my color. I'm sure I told him the correct number of my color but after 45 minutes my hair was rinsed and my usually pristeen white roots were screaming red. The boss of the salon (the one who applies the color) was trying to reassure me that it would look different after it dried. This situation was definitely a test for my l'italiano..and in a slightly agitated state, I might add. Next time I'll be prepared with a cheat sheet of useful phrases. Really though, I think I did very well explaining that this was "non va bene" and the color was wrong and that he was mistaken. Everything corrected after that. Whew! But this salon does a great job..and the cuts are 20 euro.
And then, really needing some liquid refreshment and food P and I went to L'osteria del Tempo Perso (The Osteria of Lost that name) for an excellent plate of affettati, proscuitto, pecorino cheese, bread and vino. The little bowls on the table are filled with marinated artichokes, sun dried toms, tiny little mushrooms, and peperoncini. Amazing..everybody in the place was eating the same thing. These gorgeous meats and cheeses resting on brown paper on a metal tray. And lots of it Hold the mayo,please. More about the affettati later..but these are slices of the wonderful salumi that this area is known for. They aren't the "cold cuts" that I was brought up with. I tried to explain to P about cold cuts. The slices of American cheese or "square cheese" as my mother called it, the baloney, the boiled ham, the turkey (I was losing him at this point) and the occasional appearance of what we called "American salami". Can anybody tell me what that was?
Let's hope that the rains end soon. The forecast was rain until Wednesday. Meanwhile, the clothes are drying on the radiators, the ragu' is bubbling and there's another week of lunches ahead. Ciao for now.