Porchetta

porchetta

Right off the bat let me say to my good friend MKM, sorry about the picture of the pig. That being said, porchetta is one of my favorite food finds in Italy. It’s a pile of seasoned (fennel, thyme, rosemary) pork that’s salty and crispy tucked into a roll. You’ll find porchetta panini in some food shops, but more often you’ll see it being sold from a food truck at open air markets. I’ll take two please.

Maybe I should start a porchetta truck in San Diego? Might not be “healthy” enough for the fitness crowd there…

Bologna-How Did I Get Here?

tower

We were trying to catch a train to Lecce and somehow ended up in Bologna! Actually, I’m kidding. When we started planning this trip we had intended to go south, but for a variety of reasons we ended up going north instead and what’s not to love about being in Bologna?

hotel

Two years ago I stayed at Hotel Porta San Mamolo based on a recommendation from my friend Palma, a Bologna expert. This charming small hotel is tucked away in a quiet residential area near the southern entrance to the city, yet a quick walk up to Piazza Maggiore where the action is.

hotel2

There’s something to delight the eye at every turn in the common areas of the hotel. The patio is lush with plants and trees and it is a calm oasis after a day of sightseeing. There’s great attention to detail even in small things such as door stops and light fixtures. And don’t forget the resident cat who is just waiting for you to take notice.

-table

The shining star of this hotel is actually the staff. They are there to answer every question, facilitate reservations and make your stay an enjoyable one. Be sure to reserve in advance as this is most definitely a popular spot and Bologna hotels can fill up fast when there’s a convention in town.

patio

I would write more but we are off to do some serious eating-after all this is Bologna-known as La Grassa-the fat one-famous for its food!

Tazza D’Oro-Cappuccino Perfection

caffe

Whenever we’re in Rome a visit to Tazza d’Oro is always a must. Years back before I ever set foot in Italy I wasn’t even a coffee drinker. Tea was my morning beverage of choice. That all changed when I experienced a cappuccino in Italy. Gone was the bitter taste that I had always associated with coffee. In its place was something creamy and flavorful and suddenly I was a convert.

Yet I was soon to find out that a cappuccino at home in the states is a far cry from what I’d been drinking in Italy. Even the most humble Italian bar makes a cappuccino that far exceeds Starbucks, Peets or whatever your local chain is. In Italy the coffee and steamed milk are a single element, not a layer of coffee with foam over top. How do they do that? Why can’t I do that? Is it the milk that they use? I’m open to suggestions.

There are two schools of thought here in Rome on coffee perfection-Tazza d’Oro and Sant’Eustachio. Both are located in the vicinity of the Pantheon. Both have their ardent followers and we just happen to fall into the Tazza d’Oro club. Maybe because we went there first but whatever the cause we’re happy when we order due cappuccini and hand over 2.20 euros (for two drinks!) and muscle our way up to the counter. Thank you Tazza d’Oro for never changing.

tazza

Tazza d’Oro
VIA DEGLI ORFANI 84 – 00186 – ROMA (RM)

Pizza Fritta

pizza fritta

Yes, we’re in Rome but I’m showing a specialty of Naples and the surrounding area. For me pizza fritta is one of my fondest memories from my grandmother’s kitchen. One bite and I was instantly transported to my grandmother frying up dough in oil and simply topping it with tomato sauce and grated cheese.

We’re staying briefly in the vicinity of the train station since we’re heading out tomorrow. It’s not an area I would rush to, but if you find the need to be located near the station, definitely consider staying at The Beehive, a small eco-friendly hotel with both dorm-like and private rooms. Run by an American couple, it’s clean, comfortable and very affordable. Last night while searching for a restaurant I saw a pizzeria-Meid in Nepols-serving food from Naples.

Located just a few blocks from the hotel, Meid in Nepols was a definitely a good choice. We were pleased with our meal, but for me the pizza fritta was by far the star of the evening. It was hot and crispy, not the least bit oily and with the exception of the basil leaf it was exactly the pizza fritta of my childhood. Normally I would pick this up and eat it in hand but I was trying to blend in with the locals and use a fork. Shortly after this photo was taken I abandoned the fork and just went for it!

Tomato Soup With Basil

tomatoes

Let me say this right up front-this is not diet food, but it’s really delectable and an end of summer treat. I just realized that I better hurry up and post this as even here in southern California there’s a little nip in the air and the glorious summer tomatoes will soon be a thing of the past.

This soup is just the right combination of ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, a hint of clove and crispy croutons. Don’t even think of trying to figure out how many calories are involved!

Tomato Soup with Basil

10 ripe tomatoes
6 slices day old country bread sliced 1/4″ thick, crusts removed
2 garlic cloves
1 mild onion, peeled and cut in half
10 basil leaves, shredded
1/2 bay leaf
3 whole cloves
2 cups heavy cream
Salt & pepper
2 tablespoons butter

Peel tomatoes by marking an x with a knife on the bottom of each tomato and drop into boiling water until the skin splits. Remove and place in a bowl of ice water. Slip off skins and discard. Seed 3 of the tomatoes and cut into a small dice. Slice the other tomatoes into large chunks, place them in a food processor and puree. Pour puree into a strainer set over a bowl and set aside.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut one of the garlic cloves in half and rub the bread slices with the garlic. Cut the slices into 1/4″ cubes and place on a baking sheet and put in oven for about 10-12 minutes, until crisp.

Pour the pureed tomato into a saucepan. Add the cloves, onion, bay leaf, and one garlic clove. Bring to a boil and and let cook over medium heat, uncovered for about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf, garlic, onion and cloves.

Add the cream to the tomato liquid and bring this to a boil, whisking. Salt and pepper the soup, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter. Place the soup in the food processor and process to emulsify. Pour it back into the pan, add the diced tomato , shredded basil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Ladle into shallow bowls or cups and top with croutons. Serves 6.

Tomato Onion Tart

You can tell that summer is winding down when butternut and acorn squash start showing up on the tables at the farmers’ market. I am craving autumn and the cooking that comes along with cooler weather and yet I can never seem to be able to let go of fresh tomatoes. Happily there are still plenty of tomatoes piled next to the fall squashes and I plan on eating them day after day until they are gone.

Maybe if you live in NYC you have visited Once Upon A Tart. I love their cookbook and wish they had a shop in my neighborhood. The inspiration for this tart came from their book and the crust recipe is theirs. The semolina gives it just the right amount of crunch. I’m glad I have another crust tucked away in the freezer.

crust

Savory Crust (from Once Upon A Tart) Makes enough for 2-9″ crusts

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons semolina flour
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3 tablespoons cold solid vegetable shortening
a glass of ice water

Put flours and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse to combine.

Add the butter and shortening and pulse several time until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some butter chunks still visible.

Remove the blade from the food processor and dump the dough into a large bowl. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water evenly over the dough, then use your hands or a wooden spoon to bring the dough together to form a ball. The dough should be just past crumbly, but holding together. Add more water as needed, a tablespoon at a time, if necessary to get the dough to come together.

Cut the dough in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness, fit it into your tart pan, and trim the edges. Chill 30 minutes. Prick the bottom of the tart with the tines of a fork, line the tart with parchment or foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

Place the tart shell on the center rack of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and weights from the pan and return the tart crust to the oven. Bake another 5-10 minutes for a par-baked shell (crust is golden brown and no doughy areas remain), or bake for 10-20 minutes for fully-baked tart shell (golden brown all over). Cool on a wire rack.

tart

w:tomatoes

filled

Filling

3 large tomatoes, sliced
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium low heat. Add sliced onions, season with salt, pepper and thyme and saute until onions are soft and slightly caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Place the tomato slices in a colander and place in sink. Let the tomatoes sit for 15 minutes to drain off liquid. Spread the cooled onions over the bottom of the tart shell. I used a rectangular tart pan but the recipe works in a 9″ round pan too.

Lay the tomato slices in overlapping rows (or concentric circles if using round pan) over the onions. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Mix eggs and cream together, season with salt and pepper and pour over tomatoes.

Place the tart in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until custard is set. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack. Allow the tart to cool slightly and then remove from ring and place on a serving dish. Serve warm or at room temperature.

baked

slice

Blueberry Crostata

crostata

Need a quick and easy dessert? The crostata is the way to go. The secret is to make a few crusts ahead of time and pop them in your freezer. When the mood strikes for a fruity dessert, simply defrost your crust, toss some fruit with a little bit of sugar and you’re on your way. What I love about a crostata is it doesn’t have to look perfect. Roll the crust out, top with fruit and fold the dough up around the filling.

Blueberries are really simple as there’s not peeling or slicing involved. I’ve also used this recipe for peaches, strawberries, apples, or eliminate the sugar in the crust and go savory with tomatoes or zucchini. The possibilities are endless!

Blueberry Crostata

Crust
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
about 1/4 cup ice water
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
1-2 tablespoons sugar (for crust)

Mix flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Cut butter into cubes and toss with flour mixture. With a fork or pastry blender, cut butter into the flour until it’s the size of small peas. Mix the water in by the tablespoon until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Filling
1 pint blueberries, washed, stems removed
zest of one lemon, grated
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon sugar

Dry off blueberries and toss in a bowl with, lemon zest, sugar and flour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Roll out crust into circle. Place on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Spoon berries in to the center of the dough, leaving a 2″ border around the edge. Fold dough up around the berries. Brush edge with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Place in pre-heated oven and bake for about 40 minutes, until the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling. Remove from oven and cool on rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream. Happy Summer! Serves: 4-6

Lucca May ’15-Let’s Go!

anfiteatro

Before you know it the holidays will have passed us by and in the doldrums of winter we’ll be dreaming of spring. Well, I’m not only only dreaming about spring, but I’m starting to plan a week in Lucca in May.

church

As for as I’m concerned it’s never too early to start thinking about getting on a plane and landing in Italy. Lucca is like a second home to me and I’d love to take you along.

guinigi

Our week will focus on the food of the area with day trips to local farms, cooking classes and of course a day in Florence exploring its famous food market and tasting our way through the city.

guinigi2

There will be time for getting to know the treasures of Lucca and once there you’ll know why I’ve fallen for this charming Tuscan town. I guarantee you that you’ll be planning a return trip before the end of our week together.

lucca view

miranda

wall

wall2

formaggio

il pollo

ravioli

biscotti

gabriella

We’ll cook together, dine in my favorite Lucca restaurants and sample more than a few of the local wines. There will be time for shopping and strolling around town and finding your own favorite spots.

I’ll be posting dates and more details soon but in the mean time send me an e mail if you’re interested and have questions: paninigirl4@gmail.com.

Broiled Tomatoes

broiled tomatoes

I could eat tomatoes every single day when they’re in season and never tire of them. Our counter has been covered with bowls of cherries and San Marzanos fighting for space next to pedestals bearing larger heirloom varieties. Sliced and topped with mozzarella or burrata or tossed into a salad, they seem to find a way into every meal.

This simple baked tomato dish is a great side for grilled meat or fish. The topping puffs up a bit and when you cut into the tomato the juices spill out onto your plate so be sure to have a piece of bread ready to sop them up. The Dijon mustard lends a little tang to the creamy topping while the chives give it a subtle onion flavor. The tomato is still the star, but this topping really makes it shine.

Broiled Tomatoes (adapted from Diane Worhtington)

3 medium tomatoes
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the about 1/4 off the top of the tomato. Place cut side up in a single layer in an ovenproof baking dish.

In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, chives, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the mayonnaise mixture on top of each tomato, spreading to cover the top. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese.

Bake until hot, 10 to 12 minutes; the time will depend on the size of the tomato. Turn the oven to broil, move the tomatoes to the broiler, and brown until glazed and bubbling. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

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