August 18, 2017

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Sweet Corn Polenta


When I think of making polenta it’s usually a wintry evening and I’m craving a heartwarming dish. I always have a bag of  cornmeal in the freezer that I’ve brought back from Italy with plans for a dinner. The Panini Girl Tour  usually visits a miller on one of our day excursions and what a treat it is to see the corn being ground by a method that’s been used for centuries. With every bite of our supper I relive our visit to the miller.

Now it’s summer and here I am talking about “polenta”. This a a dish made with fresh corn and it is every bit as delectable as the wintry version. The recipe comes from the Ottolenghi cookbook Plentywhich is a vegetarian book from the famed London restauranteur. His version includes an eggplant topping and since I didn’t have an eggplant in the house I topped mine with a combination of olives, golden raisins, celery, tomatoes and pine nuts that I had prepared for grilled swordfish earlier in the week.

This is more like a creamy porridge rather than the thicker wintry dish. There’s no cream involved, but feel free to add whatever cheese you might have on hand. I added some grated parmesan and fontina rather than the feta.

I have to add that our great friends L & B make a similar corn dish and unfortunately we don’t have the nifty “corn scraper” that they use nor did we have the incredible homemade chile topping that they serve. Until we  are invited to their house during corn season this will have to make do!


Sweet Corn Polenta

ears of corn

2 1/4 cups water

tablespoons butter, diced

ounces feta, crumbled

1/4  teaspoon salt

Black pepper

Remove the leaves and “silk” from each ear of corn, then chop off the pointed top and stalk. Use a sharp knife to shave off the kernels — either stand each ear upright on its base and shave downward, or lay each ear on its side on a cutting board to slice off the kernels. You want to have 1- 1/4 pounds kernels.

Place the kernels in a medium saucepan and barely cover them with the water. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer. Use a slotted spoon to lift the kernels from the water and into a food processor; reserve the cooking liquid.

Process them for quite a few minutes, to break as much of the kernel case as possible. Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry to process.

Now return the corn paste to the pan with the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring, on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to mashed potato consistency. Be aware that if you have a lot of liquid left in the pan, it can take a while to cook down the polenta, and it will sputter. Consider holding back some or all of the liquid. I held most of it back and added it a little at a time.

Fold in the butter, the feta, salt and some pepper and optionally cook for a further 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.


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August 5, 2017




For years we grew tomatoes in our small yard. What a thrill it was to go out every day and pick whatever we needed for our supper. Some days it was actually a bit overwhelming as there might be thirty or forty tomatoes covering the kitchen counter. I spent hours making sauce with our lovely San Marzanos . Bruschetta was on the menu most evenings. Salsa, tomato jam, platters of sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, tomato tarts-we were in tomato heaven!

Last year we planted more tomatoes than in previous years. We patiently waited for our tomatoes to ripen, but unfortunately the squirrels in our neighborhood got the better part of our crop. At first they helped themselves to whatever was ripe, but in time they grabbed even the green tomatoes.

This year we decided to forego planting and decided to rely on the locally grown tomatoes from the farmers market. The selection is amazing and we no longer cringe every time we spy a squirrel in our yard.

One of my favorite summer salads is panzanella-an Italian tomato and bread salad. The key here is to use a good crusty bread in addition to vine ripened tomatoes. I love this particular recipe as it incorporates other vegetables. Bell peppers, celery cucumber and onion add a nice crunchy counterpoint to the softer tomatoes and bread.



2 thick cut slices of Italian country bread

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons minced red onion

1 pound ripe tomatoes, cut into large chunks

1/2 cup red bell pepper. sliced

1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, sliced

1/2 cup peeled and thinly sliced carrot

1/2 cup thinly sliced celery

1/2 English cucumber, sliced

1/2 cup shredded fresh basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place bread slices on baking sheet and toast for about 10  minutes. Cut bread into 1″ cubes. Place in a medium bowl. Add warm water to cover bread and let stand for one minute. Squeeze bread gently to release excess water and then transfer  bread to a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons vinegar and the onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand for at least 30 minutes and up to one hour.

Mix tomatoes, bell pepper, carrots, celery, cucumber and basil into bread mixture. Whisk remaining 1/3 cup olive oil and 3 tablespoons vinegar in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and pour dressing over salad and toss to blend. Serves: 4

Panini Girl In Lucca May 2018  (April 28-May 5)

July 23, 2017


Spicy Corn Fritters

corn fritters

As soon as corn appears at the market this is the first dish that I make. I found the recipe years ago in Gourmet magazine (ah the good old days…) and it’ still a summer favorite. I tend to make the full recipe even if it’s just the two of us as they’re just as tasty reheated the following day. The key is to have your oil really hot ensuring crispy fritters-not hot enough and they’ll be soggy. These are the perfect side to grilled salmon or barbecued chicken or would make a nice addition to a vegetarian menu.

Spicy Corn Fritters

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1-3/4 teaspoons salt

1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 cup milk

1 large egg

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

4 cups fresh corn kernels (from 5-6 ears)

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced scallions

1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper

1-2 medium jalapeños, minced

Vegetable oil for panfrying

In a large bowl stir together the flour, salt and baking powder. In a medium bowl combine the milk, egg and butter and stir into the dry ingredients until well blended. Fold in the corn, scallions, bell pepper and jalapeños until incorporated.

In a large heavy skillet heat 1/4″ of vegetable oil until almost smoking. Add heaping tablespoons of the fritter batter to the skillet and fry over moderately high heat until golden all over, about 4 minutes or longer. Transfer the fritters to a paper towel to drain. Fry the remaining fritters, adding more oil if necessary-be sure the oil is very hot before adding another batch to the pan. Serve immediately. Serves: 6-8

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July 15, 2017

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Condimento Alle Verdure

It may seem like all I’ve been doing for the last seven weeks is reminiscing about my time in Italy and yes, there’s been a lot of that going on, but I’ve also been back in the kitchen.

My first impulse when looking for a summer starter is to grill up some bread for bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes, but I wanted something a little bit lighter. This recipe comes from-Italy in Small Bites (by Carol Field)-a book I’ve had for years and I’ve never been disappointed with anything that I’ve tried. It was everything that I hoped it would be and is the perfect topping for crostini. I loved the surprise of the slight crunch of the cucumber. This would also be delicious tossed with pasta for a summery salad or spooned over grilled fish. The other side of the bowl holds pickled vegetables, a recipe (coming soon) from Cerasa, the farm in the Garfagnana where the Panini Girl Tour spent the day.


Condimento alle Verdure

1/2 small red onion, diced
1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced
2 ripe tomatoes
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely shredded basil
Scant 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the diced onion and the cucumber in a bowl. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut an X on the bottom of each tomato and drop into the boiling water for a minute. Remove the tomatoes, place in a bowl of cold water and the skins should slip right off. Slice the tomatoes in half, seed, chop and add to the bowl with the onion and cucumber. Sprinkle with the salt and leave for 2 hours.

Drain any liquid from the vegetables and stir in the oregano, basil, parsley and red pepper flakes. Toss with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Serves: 6 as an appetizer

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July 8, 2017


Doors Of Calitri


One evening I decided to go out and take a stroll around the borgo. We walked the same paths every day on or way to and from the bar or the pasticceria and I knew that I hadn’t seen nearly a quarter of the town. It started as a search for a restaurant that I had seen a sign for and I just kept exploring.


To be honest it appeared that many of the homes that I passed were uninhabited, although every now and then I would hear bits of conversation and the aromas of food being cooked would drift out a window and I wished I would have been invited in.



I walked for some time and then realized I was not sure how to get back to our apartment and it was getting dark. Eventually I would have found our street as our apartment was pretty much up at the top of town. Now that I’m back at home thousands of miles away from Calitri I wish I had kept walking.


door 8

This last photo is the only door that I passed that was open. I peered inside and it was deserted and I’m not exactly sure what stopped me from going  in, but I got a strange feeling and backed away. Maybe next time…

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July 1, 2017


Calitri-What I Discovered


Take a look at this gorgeous town. I remember seeing photos similar to this when doing research on Calitri and there I was taking my own shot from down below the village. On our first full day there (which was a Sunday)  we were looking for a place for lunch when  the friendly woman from the tourist office let us know that many of the restaurants were fully booked due to the fact that it was First Communion (or Confirmation) and families were celebrating with lunch. She directed us down the hill  to Golden Mill, the restaurant where I had my first plate of cingul‘ and after our meal I walked outside and got my own shot of the borgo.


The following day we saved for our visit to the Commune, the home to the town offices. We were met there by Emma, our rental agent and Enzo (I think that was his name) the local genealogy  expert. Armed with only my grandparents’ names and birth dates Enzo set to work to find their birth certificates in the the town records. The books were massive and of course all hand written in beautiful script. His first task was to search for their families and after that he moved onto smaller bound books where he looked for their actual birth certificates. My grandfather Lazzaro Capossela was easy to find, but initially he couldn’t locate my grandmother, Maria Maffucci. It turns out that there was a discrepancy with her birth date, but eventually her records turned up.

at commune

Enzo worked tirelessly for quite some time on this task and then moved on to seeing if there was anyone still living in town who I might be related to. It turns out there is a gentleman who is my mother’s first cousin, but unfortunately we didn’t get to meet him.

birth certificate

What I did learn was that my grandfather’s sister Teodora (who was his only sibling not to emigrate to the US) lived in the same apartment that we were renting! We also discovered the location of my grandparents’ births.

grandpa's street

This street is where my grandfather was born and below is the doorway to my grandmother’s home.

grandma's doorway

And finally-Lazzaro and Maria on their wedding day. I don’t believe that my grandfather ever returned to his home town. He did fight in France for the US during WWI, but am not sure that he traveled to Italy. My grandmother returned once after WWII and I remember hearing that she left everything that she had brought with her for her impoverished relatives.


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June 23, 2017


Calitri-Around Town


One of the first things we did when we got to town was walk down and sit on a bench in town in front of this statue commemorating Calitri’s fallen soldiers (I think that’s what it’s dedicated to). Sitting there I glanced up the street toward the borgo and reveled in the knowledge that we were finally there.



On our first morning we set off in search of an open bar to get a cappuccino when I spotted the sign for a pasticceria (pastry shop). Of course I insisted that we stop in and check it out. Coffee would have to wait.

the baker

The shop isn’t very large, but the case was full of tempting baked goods. I’m not sure if the baker is also the owner of the shop, but she was so charming and every time we visited she gave us a little something extra to try. I had to have  the sfogliatella. This isn’t something I would normally seek out back home, but seeing that it is specialty of the Campania region it was my first choice. The pastry was incredibly crispy while the filling was creamy with a hint of citrus. I almost ordered a second one!


Calitri isn’t very large and there aren’t a lot of restaurants.  On our trip here twelve years ago we had lunch at Osteria 3 Rose and knew we wanted to dine there again. Tucked into a street in a residential neighborhood this restaurant seems to be a favorite with the locals.

tre rose

We ate there twice during our stay and now that I’m home I wish had gone a few more times. I’m still dreaming of my plate of cingul, Calitri’s specialty which are a version of cavatelli. This is a dish I grew up eating at my grandmother’s table and of all the meals she prepared for us, this was absolutely my favorite. Hers were melt in your mouth tender and Osteria 3 Rose’s were just as good. In my attempt to recreate my childhood memory I paired it with braciole, rolled veal which had been simmered in a simple tomato sauce. The portion served of cingul was more than I could eat and of course now I wish I had finished it anyway.


Thursday morning the traveling mercato sets up shop on one of the main streets in town.  I loved this display of herbs, but more than that the two men manning the booth were adorable. The older gentleman was thrilled that I wanted to take a photo and made me show him how it turned out. He inquired as to where we were from and when I told him San Diego he just shook his head, so I mentioned Los Angeles, then Hollywood and finally Disneyland. None of it meant a thing to him!


All of the produce looked amazing and it made me want to get in the kitchen and get cooking. Shiny firm eggplants, baby artichokes, tiny pears and what I think is puntarelle which I’ve only ever seen once here in California. Next trip, when I hope to stay for a month, I will be cooking with the stunning local produce.



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