Friday, May 14, 2010

Bertolli's Into the Heart of L.A. Festival of Flavor

L.A. Home of palm trees, light and extraordinary food. Bertolli Foods brought five bloggers and five of their readers to enjoy a Flavor Festival - utilizing fresh, local ingredients in the same way Italians do. When Rocco DiSpirito was asked why the food is so extraordinary in Italy, his answer was simple.
"Usually, nothing comes from more than ten miles away. Food is not trucked in from around the world. It's local and fresh."
And so my Culinary Tour of L.A. from Bertolli Foods begins.

I found myself on an exquisite journey of chasing light, chasing aromas, palates, and emerging from a cocoon. Looking at the hills of Beverly from my hotel window and dazed at how this all came to be.

A wee bit raw from the loss of my father, missing his support and love mixed with three years of various challenges, I found L.A. had light to shine, light to spare and light to give.

(Photo from Pat from Mille Fiori Favoriti)
We were an eclectic group - from at least nine different states representing all the regions of the continental United States: an opera singer, an editor, marathoner, professional scrapbooker, photographer, playwright, recovering economist and retired nurse-turned photographer. The above photo is one of the few photos I have of us with faces....
Mostly we looked like this:
(Photo from Pat from Mille Fiori Favoriti)
Pat from Mille Fiori Flavoriti and I embarking on our adventure. Please visit Pat's blog - generous of heart and spirit, her blog unfolds the wonders of New York City not always prevalent on the tourist map. As the posts go forward, I will be linking to all the bloggers on the trip.

(Photo from Pat from Mille Fiori Favoriti)
And what an adventure it turned out to be. A whirlwind of flavors, a jostling of light, a luxury of luscious. The limo was not hard to take!
(Photo from Pat Mille Fiori Favoriti)
Bertolli had set an agenda of sweet, savory and delectable feasts. The day was a banquet. And as they say in Italy, "A tavola non si invecchia." (You don't age while seated for a meal.) Taking that literally, I youthened a few years on the trip.
I am dividing this trip into four posts - ending with the very gracious Rocco DiSpirito. (How can he not be gracious - he grew up in Jamaica, Queens - my hometown!) Dividing the posts is the only way to do the trip justice. I am the proud owner of two, autographed copies of Rocco's newest cookbook, Now Eat This! and I will be posting a recipe from the book at the end of each post. Pat generously brought me one as a gift and Bertolli kindly supplied me with one in L.A. My son has already confiscated the second one! From my samplings thus far, Rocco did not sacrifice one iota of flavor in trimming down the fat and calories. And in answer to Rocco's constant question, "No, I have not made the meatballs... yet."
First stop: breakfast at the Griddle Cafe.

Wooden counters, retro charm, a step inside a time machine to the past. Journeying backwards to go forward. Food does this. It links us to to our past, grounds us in the present and give us eyes for the future.

Someday I may write a play about the strangers in my blog photos... wondering about their stories...

But for now, shall stick to my timeline....

And drink some welcome and much-needed coffee.

I had the Manhattan frittata - smothered with cheese, a huge hunk of ham, tomatoes and a side of fruit. The meal could have fed ten hungry ranch hands. I dug in.

"Mom's French Toast" - the most popular item on the menu. Each portion could have fed Sicily.

We introduced ourselves and except while eating, never shut up!

Representatives from Bertolli and Zucola group explained their passion for their brand. (The care of using fresh ingredients, making sure the pasta is al dente, giving a taste of Italy to the busy cook.)

And we dug in. All was quiet for a few minutes. Then the clattering of coffee cups, the laughter, and the stories began. As someone immersed in my own cocoon of woven stories, I was beginning to see my way clear. My time with the computer, my immersion in Dicken's London, NYC's 9/11, the Village of the Brothers Grimm - I had not interacted with the present for awhile. In-between sips of coffee, there was reflection. In-between flavor-bites, there were budding friendships.
And after breakfast, we were on our way to L.A.'s oldest Farmer's Market. Back chasing the light. Finding new flavors, sampling the city. Embarking on a journey of tastes, rediscovering what I always knew - each journey is always personal.
Rocco's Tortilla Soup: (from Now Eat This!)
Rocco also makes homemade tortilla strips. But you need to buy the book - I cannot "tell all." I used more tomatoes, more broth and more chicken (which I poached). Peppered with some chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (good for you! increases metabolism, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure), this soup is packed with flavor and comes together very, very fast.
Serves 4:
2/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup fire-roasted, diced tomatoes
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, chopped fine
2/3 cup hot, fresh salsa (I'm a wimp, I used mild - but locally made!)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 cup shredded, cooked chicken breast (from a grocer's rotisserie is fine)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (I did not use either)
1/2 ripe Hass avocado, sliced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro (I am odd about cilantro and used Italian parsley)
Combine broth, tomatoes, chiles, salsa and corn in medium sauce pan. Bring soup to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to medium-low, simmer for 8 minutes. Stir chicken into soup (I simmered another few minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and serve. Top with sliced avocado and fresh cilantro.
"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." - J.R.R. Tolkien. And so it would.
Tomorrow: Farmer's Market
Disclaimer: All of my transportation, hotel and meals were paid for by Bertolli Foods. The reporting and the opinions are my own.


Proud Italian Cook said...

Welcome home Claudia, How exciting for all of you to experience this, looking forward to your upcoming posts to hear more. I love the photo with all the cameras covering everyones faces. So true!

Angie's Recipes said...

wow How fun and exciting! THe tortilla soup sounds very very delicious!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

It was such a fun filled dream event, wasn't it Claudia? From morning coffee to drinks on the roof top bar the day could not have been more perfect, and I really enjoyed spending it with you and all the other wonderful young women we met! Cheers to Bertolli and Rocco!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

PS The tortilla soup looks so good! Aren't Rocco's "before and after" calorie counts eye opening?

Lyndas recipe box said...

What a wonderful trip for you Claudia-I'm so glad that you had this experience and can't wait to read every post!
The soup looks very tasty. I like cilantro, but not in the huge quantities that I find in recipes. I have to tone it down and like to use parsley as well.

Anne said...

Looks and sounds like you had a great trip. What a wonderful experience!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Welcome back Claudia. Looks like everyone was having fun. I couldn't help but smile when I saw the photo of everyone snapping pictures.

Whats Cookin Italian Style Cuisine said...

Just what the doctor ordered, this couldnt have been a better time for you to relax and unwind. Looks like you tried to do so, hopefully a little. Dad is smiling down at you proud to have you as his daughter and your thoughts of him through every step you take is his watching over you, after all he is the reason your here today, a wonderful experience for you very well deserved...xxxooo....

Barbara GF said...

Welcome back, Claudia. And can I say, You Rock! It amazes me that you did this with such aplomb. You are a class act, a true poet, a generous soul and a fabulous cook (I can just tell these things). Not to mention a soul sister. Your photos provide a great taste of L.A., Bertolli (great olive oil, btw) and Rocco's new book. I look forward to reading more. Now it's time for you to settle back with a glass of vino and relax!

Claudia said...

Barbara, can I hire you to do PR for me?

tasteofbeirut said...

I was laughing looking at the photo with everyone aiming with the camera on their face! haha! are we caricatural or what?

Fun time

chow and chatter said...

so happy you got to go lol

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Oh my I am living this trip vicariously through your post. It certainly sounds like a lot of fun and that cookbook is one I must get. The soup sounds and looks delicious. So glad you had a great time with Pat - two of my favorite bloggers.

Kim said...

Hooray Claudia, what an fabulous and exciting time you had! I LOVE being in LA, there is a certain energy in the air there. What a fabulous time you had with all your fellow bloggers. Loved the pic of you all snapping away with your cameras;-)

I have Rocco's Now Eat This and I'm excited to see everything you make. The tortilla soup looks great!

Maureen Brady Johnson said...

I will read every post and savor the words and the recipes!
Love the simplicity of fresh, local ingredients...waiting for my spring peas...I've already used some of my rhubarb!

OysterCulture said...

What fun - thank you so much for sharing. I loved the picture of everyone in the limo - several on their phones all documenting the occasion. It looks like such a grand time.

Reeni said...

I love the pictures - especially of you all snapping away with your cameras - so typical! And the food looks wonderful - love that big slab of ham. Can't wait to see more Claudia.

theUngourmet said...

What a lovely trip! It's so terrific that you had a chance to experience all of this! ;)

Katy ~ said...

Claudia, I am so thrilled for your good fortune in having this experience! Oh my, the food, the friends, and the memories.

denise @ quickies on the dinner table said...

What you said about the French toast and Sicily actually made me laugh out loud and I love the pic of everyone snapping away, faces obscured by cameras :D

Looks like you were having a fantastic time!

Jen_from_NJ said...

Welcome home Claudia! This looks like such a fun trip and what a great group of people! I can't wait to read more. I went to the L.A. Farmer's Market once and loved it!

Velva said...

This is so amazing! What a great opportunity. I am really looking forward to you rnext few posts about this trip L.A. What a fun time for a food blogger.

Julie M. said...

Now THAT's an amazing giveaway! What an amazing opportunity you had! It looks like it was a lot of fun. thanks for sharing it with us!

Anonymous said...

So loving sharing in your experience and you know, what struck me as being the oddest thing when I moved here, was that even in Italy, Bertolli is seen as a mark of quality and excellence. everyone's first choice! Looking forward to the next posts!

Mary Bergfeld said...

I am pea green with envy. What a fantastic time you spent in LA. They really did go all out for you. I'm so glad you had a good time. I hope the weekend is not too much of a let down. Blessings...Mary

Pam said...

What a great experience! It sounds like you had a fun time.

Fresh Local and Best said...

What an amazing time! I can't believe all the luxurious experience of limos, fine cocktails and fancy meals. How lucky you are!

sweetlife said...

great post, looks you had a wonderful the pic of all the bloggers with their cameras


My Little Space said...

Oh wow, you ladies were on a limo! Hey, no kidding! And the food sounds yumm yumm yumm... I bet you had a fantastic time there with your friend Pat! The soup looks marvelous too. Have a nice day!
Cheers, Kristy

3 hungry tummies said...

That looks like a lot of fun...but where are the men? :)
Love you still have time to post a recipe, looks wonderful. Continue to have fun throughout your trip!!

Claudia said...

Yes, interesting that all the bloggers were women. I think the female gender is more prolific in the cooking blogosphere. And not posting on the road. Left May 10, toured May 11, home May 13. Still in food-recovery!

Nancy said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip! The tortilla soup looks great, too.

Juliana said...

Wow, from what I see you had a great time here in LA, look forward to hear more about it :-)