Monday, October 31, 2011

Autumn Notes

The chill is back. We had our last bike ride by the lake.

The deep blue may have thin crusts of ice any day now.

And the last of the tomatoes - red and green were consumed in this fall-inspired roasted tomato soup. Tomatoes are roasted with onions and garlic and then simmered in broth. All is pureed and you're done. Make it vegan with vegetable broth. There's no dairy - it's just earthy goodness. Simple. Fresh. Autumn. Find the recipe at Tupper Cooks. But beware: it will have you wishing for tomato season.

This is what I have come to see as the wonder of Italian cooking - when the ingredients are good - there's no need to embellish.

I think soup was given to us from the gods.Soup has always made me feel as if I had a home in the world. Soup has reassured me, nurtured me and smiled at me throughout my life. There's never been a soup recipe that didn't make me stand up and pay attention. And when it has Parmesan dumplings - life is good. Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice posted a vegetable soup with  Parmesan dumplings. I was hypnotized - bid to make this immediately and ended up swiping a few dumplings as a snack before the family came home. Find the recipe here.

I came to the charms of winter squash later in life. It still doesn't hold the same allure that soup or Parmesan does but it does bring you back to earth telling you quite firmly that autumn is here. I found these roasted pumpkin wedges from Proud Italian Cook.

If you have followed my blog you may have noted that I have great lazy-bones tendencies. The first thing that appealed to me was that I didn't have to peel the pumpkin. Coated with thyme, parsley, lemon zest, breadcrumbs and well - a little Parmesan certainly added to its allure. And - my husband loves this stuff. Once in a while - you need to think of others! I did roast pumpkin seeds along with the wedges and tossed them all over and piled a few into the cooling dip. Find the recipe here.

The lake has given way to autumn. These days I simmer soups listening to Nick Drake's exquisite Northern Sky. Listen to it here.

"I never felt magic crazy as this
I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree
But now you're here
Brighten my northern sky."

- Nick Drake

The autumn days keep Pip busy - running from window to window "chasing" falling leaves. Pointing out our autumn mice. And by evening he falls into deep slumber. "How is he breathing?" asks Kirsten.

Tonight Kirsten's jack-o-lantern will turn ghoulish. Pumpkin seeds will roast, cider will mull, fairies and super-heroes with an occasional zombie will come calling. Too many miniature chocolate bars will be consumed.  And the streets belong to the children. And in the warmth of my home, I will be simmering soup.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Godiva Coffee inspires Cappuccino Muffins and Affogato

I have spent ten days locked in the computer room writing an "Artist Statement." Downstairs in the den, Kirsten is writing her "Statement of Purpose" for grad school applications. We have bridged the generation gap and compare word count and ask each other "are we writing in the active first person?"  

Days like these call for coffee. On hour 50 as I contemplate the themes that stream through my plays and just  what is my 'artistic vision for theatre' anyway - I crave coffee. The promise of coffee lures me out of "artist statement purgatory." I received two bags of Godiva Coffee's seasonal flavors: Pumpkin Spice and Caramel Pecan Bark through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program. Theatre is "all in the timing" and these were perfectly timed gifts! Kirsten and I bonded over word-count and many cups of coffee.

Aside from downing many pots of rich, autumn-spiced black coffee - I baked. These cappuccino muffins have been on my to-do list for awhile. Black coffee is such a tease. It knows you will cave in and make a sweet.

Cappuccino Muffins (slightly changed from Home Baking)
(Makes 12 - okay, mine made 11)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar plus 1/8 cup sugar (divided)
2-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup Pumpkin Spice Godiva Coffee - make a strong brew
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 egg - slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used bittersweet)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line muffin tin or grease liberally.

In a large bowl whisk flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, salt cinnamon and nutmeg. In a coffee mug, add 1/8 cup sugar to 1/4 cup of the brewed strong coffee. You could even simmer it down a bit and let it caramelize Let the coffee cool. In a medium bowl mix the milk, egg,. butter, vanilla and cooled coffee. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Do not over mix. Fold in the chocolate chips. Fill muffin tins 3/4 cups full. You should get 12 muffins if you don't spill the batter all over the tin as I did.

Bake 15-20 minutes until toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean. The website states this freezes well. I have no idea. After I announced this on Facebook all sorts of friends came-a-calling.  It's a light treat - and some people related to me consumed 4 at one time. Just a touch of coffee - and enough chocolate to keep it interesting. And for the very few of you who don't love chocolate (although how anyone can write an artistic statement without chocolate and coffee baffles me) - if you left it out - I wouldn't berate you. 

The next treat is a no-brainer. It's perfectly suited to Godiva's Caramel-Pecan Bark coffee. If you're Italian - you know it form the photo. If I took a proper photo. While creating the perfect artistic statement... 

Affogato. Traditionally it is simply the best quality gelato you can get your hands on doused with equally good-quality  espresso. A little chocolate or caramel wouldn't hurt!

 No brain cells were destroyed in the creating and consumption of these coffees and sweets. Indeed, the Artistic Statement left the house late this afternoon. And I feel like I just scored the winning run in Game Six of the World Series. Oh! Someone did that yesterday, didn't they?

And there's a bonus to this coffee. Not only does it deliver a non-bitter rich cup of java - it brings autumn into your home. One sweet whiff of the pumpkin spice coffee or the caramel-pecan bark coffee would entice Sleepy-the-dwarf out of bed. (I know - my daughter models herself after Sleepy!) The aromas are that enticing. Autumn just caresses Minnesota. There's nothing wrong with prolonging the season with coffee! (I think the artistic statement hung around this house longer than autumn.)  Thank-you to Foodbuzz and Godiva. These were a pleasure to review!

Monday, October 17, 2011

When Tortellini met Brodo...

You'd be surprised by what we didn't do in Italy. We didn't see a lot of churches.

Well... we saw a few. It's required.

Nor did we make it a mission to hit every piece of art.

But sometimes you'd simply walk into a building and look up and Italy surprises you.

We ate a lot of this.

And this - yes - chocolate tortellini. From Bologna - the city of tortellini and tagliatelle. Even their food is musical. And I continued my search for tortellini in brodo. There's something about those little stuffed pastas - years ago I wrote a script - Commedia Delight where the very tall character - Teeny Tortellini was a character. Some things stay with you.

After seeing this, I was begging Paul to rent me a kitchen so I could make my own.

We did a lot of people-watching in the piazzas. Found a medieval art fair, ate a hippo's weight in gelato, consumed every meat and cheese platter that winked at us and investigated side streets.

We walked off most of the calories. Just turning a corner brought smiles. Nothing looked like home. Nor should it.

We tended to eat wherever we found ourselves. Some days had a plan and some days were subject to whimsy.

The bruschetta was so simple but we loved how it was placed in a small puddle of olive oil and fresh pepper - the reverse of how I do it. Messy in the most luxurious way. When I came home to a bounty of cherry tomatoes and the arugula still hanging on, my husband requested this over and over again. And I complied.

This is not the way to take off the Italy weight.

Fresh tagliatelle with a Bolognese sauce. We had a required pasta for every city and town we visited. Some people have sights to see and our sights were food. I think we thought we would slide into the Italian state of mind by walking the streets and tasting all.

Every side street held a promise. Somewhere out there was tortellini in brodo.

I brought home a few of these.

And a lot of these. I am looking for a no-fail torrone recipe if anyone has - mine is always too soft. And we are a torrone-family. Sometimes I think torrone is the glue that binds us. Every time I open one - a conversation starts with "remember..." All too soon, it is "remember?" Gilberto's - where the torrone is from. And where my husband patiently waited while I investigated every centimeter of the store.

And then Taburini's (all in Bologna).

This is a place where you really wish you had rented a kitchen.

I could get even chubbier at Tamborini's.

I remain a soup-fiend and a ricotta addict. And this is where the ricotta spread its magic.

7 Archi - very touristy. But during the course of a long lunch, the restaurant worked it's charms and we could see the torches and the craftsmen of Medieval Bologna. Until this jolted us back to our time -

Simple. Some vanilla gelato perched on a diminutive ricotta tort - laced with chocolate and tiny chocolate bursts. I never ate anything so slowly in my life. But like a good book -when  the last page comes and you finally must read it - the last spoonful was downed. And this delectable was memory.

After the Medieval Fair, we were back in the piazza - waiting for sunset and restaurants to open again. We were in no hurry.

In our last night in Bologna, I was in despair. Obsessed with finding a simple toretellini in brodo, I led Paul down side street after side street reading menus. We had had the ragu, the tagliatelle served every way but I could not find tortellini in brodo.

Until a dark side street showed promise - Vicolo Colombina in Dove Lane - an alleyway just steps from Piazza Maggiore. Part art gallery, part wine bar and part ristorante - with a small but succinct menu that showcases the food of Emilia-Romagna.

It boasted of the best meat platter in Bologna.

These were no hastily cured meats. Delicate, a touch of salt, a classic - gracefully aged meats to be savored. This restaurant did not idly boast.

And then - yes it is simple - yes - it is peasant - but there it was - my tortellini in brodo. I fell in love with this at a dive restaurant in Rome years ago and have flirted with it, longed for it and have become staunchly devoted to it ever since.

By the time I was finished, I was attached to the restaurant. I wanted to move in and write plays all centering on tortellini.

And I so trusted them that when it came time for dessert, I asked the owner to surprise me.

And his choice did surprise me.

Panna cotta - silky, smooth cooked cream surrounded by caramel - so simple. The way a simple gold bangle resting on your wrist is - the way one milky white rose can greet you and so fitting for a place that specializes in not only local fare but art.

I asked to take some photos. Inside the gallery was featuring the work of Carlo Ferrari. His studies of flowers - particularly of roses  caress the senses. Heavily influenced by the Flemish paintings of the 17th century, Ferrari offers a sweet nod to the past while making it his own.

The owner disappeared while I tried to do justice to the exquisite rooms with my simple point and shoot. And returned with a booklet for me to take home - containing photos of all of Ferrari's 'study of roses' paintings.
Truly I am in the land of generosity of spirit.

And now, I slowly move through the pages of Ferrari's glorious roses - now - as I write this -  remembering. In front of me is a hastily prepared tortellini in brodo. Good for what ails you - when you are remembering.

Tortellini in Brodo
(This is a broth that takes canned chicken broth and enriches it. While I am a a lover of and cooker of fresh chicken broth , you may recall that I can also be a great, lazy-bones and if making broth is not in the cards, I will do this - from the wonderful Lynne Rossetto Kasper's The Splendid Table. Her long-simmered poultry stock is truly a winner - but after this long post - I thought I would leave you with something simple.)

1 medium onion
58 ounces low-sodium chicken broth (preferably organic)
1 large celery stalk with leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 large carrot - coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, unpeeled (trim root ends) coarsely chopped
2 sprigs Italian parsley
1 large garlic clove crushed
generous pinch of dried basil

Preheat broiler. Trim root end from first onion but do not peel. Cut it into 4 thick slices. Arrange them on broiling pan (aluminum foil if you wish) and slip under broiler - broiling for 15 minutes until browned on both sides - turning once.

Pour broth into large stockpot and skim off the hardened fat (easily done if the broth has been chilled). Add broiled onion and all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat so the broth just simmers, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Remove pot from heat and strain. Use broth immediately or refrigerate or freeze.

The tortellini - given that my ravioli skills are in preschool - I will admit it - I buy the tortellini - the fresh stuff. Maybe this is the winter when my patience will increase and true Bolognese tortellini will come from my kitchen. I did note that the tortellini in Bologna is much tinier and more delicate than the American counterparts.

France is said to be the land of cuisine while Italy is the land of ingredients but I don't know - for what is cuisine without the ingredients?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Winning Panettone and a Winner

There are many legends surrounding panettone - a delectable Christmas confection of a bread from Milan. Most of the legends have to do with love. So it was with great delight that I arrived home with my love from our Italian getaway - a country of love - to two boxes of Bauducco's Pantettone welcoming me. For fun, find some of the stories about how panettone came to be here.

After two weeks of feasting and not any cooking, I was anxious to get back into the kitchen. After I slept for two days. The Bauducco Panettone was given to me as part of the Tastemaker program at Foodbuzz. I have made Panettone. It's not the sort of thing you put together in the morning for your evening meal. And it shouldn't be. It's for the holidays - it's celebratory. It takes a wee bit of work.

 I was greeted with the scent of vanilla as I unwrapped the package. Soft and pliable - it is not the panettone sold at most grocers over Christmas. One loaf - designed for stuffing contained raisins and the other loaf - designed for French Toast and bread pudding contains bits of chocolate. So, it was not the traditional Milanese load containing many fruits such as citron.

I made the stuffing first. I traditionally make sausage-apple stuffing - I like it savory. This was to be a sweeter stuffing - with additions such as dried apricots and sour cherries. It felt like autumn in my kitchen. Outside it was 87 degrees F (I think Minnesota did not want me missing Italy too much so it arranged for a second summer - I felt all sultry - autumning it in Rome - at home).

Panettone Stuffing (serves 6-8)
1 Bauducco Panettone with Sun-Maid raisins (26.2 oz. package)
1/2 cup butter
3 teaspoons finely shopped fresh sage
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried sour cherries (dried cranberries would also work)
1/2 cup dried apricots - cut into thin strips
1-1/2 cups finely chopped onion (I used 1 cup)
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped carrots
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the panettone into 3/4 inch squares and place in a large bowl. Melt half the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook bread squares until they are browned - about five minutes (mine browned much faster). Remove from heat and add half the sage, salt and pepper. Gently toss the bread. Spread the bread squares on two baking sheets and bake until toasted - about fifteen minutes. Transfer toasted squares to a large bowl.
  2. Place the dried fruit in a medium bowl. Add boiling water to cover. Sewt aside to plump and soften. Drain plumped fruit.
  3. Increase oven to 375 degrees F. Heat remaining butter in a medium saucepan (I used same one I used to toss the panettone). Add onions, carrots and celery and cook over medium-low heat until softened. Remove from heat. Add sage and fruit and toss. Add to bowl with toasted bread and toss. Add broth to moisten. Pour all into 9x13 ovenproof casserole dish and bake uncovered until golden brown - about 40 minutes.

I paired it with a simple pork chop. The family swooned. This was perfect autumn fare - dried fruits, sage -- and the stuffing was packed with autumn colors. I'm glad they were thrilled but I did wonder - perhaps they were tired of my sausage-apple stuffing after 20 years? They loved the sweet. And they all had stuffing for lunch the next day.

For the last two years I have made Ciao Chow Linda's Panettone bread pudding - it's impossibly rich and I feel decadent and wicked when I add all those eggs and heavy cream. After being so good in the days leading up to Christmas - a little wickedness always seems in order. So you can use Linda's - or you can use Bauducco's. They both evoke warmth and the cozy. Below is Bauducco's. For Linda's... follow the link.

Panettone Bread Pudding - serves 8
6 ounces Bauducco Panettone - thinly sliced - about 8 slices
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup rum (I omitted it; I don't tend to mix rum with my wine)
3/4 cup sweet Marsala (I added 1 cup)
3 eggs
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
confectioner's sugar (I omitted that - it's pretty - but didn't need it)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a shallow 3-quart baking dish. Layer the panettone slices in the baking dish. 
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the milk and sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and add the rum, Marsala and heavy cream.
  3. In a bowl, beat the eggs, orange zest and cinnamon. Slowly stir it in the milk mixture. Pour the mixture over the panettone slices, pressing down on the slices to keep them submerged. Bake for 30 minute or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (it took 40 minutes in my oven).  Serve warm or chilled, sprinkled with confectioner's sugar.
(My family wanted ice cream - in fact they wanted salty caramel gelato and that's what they were served/

I later baked them again for fifteen minutes and cut them into squares and served them the next day to a group as "bars." The group loved the tender, fluffy vanilla-scented bites.

Both dishes were delicious. The panettone was light and really you could just slice it and eat it. But as I said - if you want the traditional - this does not include all the fruits that it is famous for but it does make for one satisfying bread slice! Spread it with Nutella or a rich berry jam. You will evoke smiles. Now for the giveaway....

(Don't you love random people in your photos - do you ever make up a story about them?)

The winner of  The Cuisine of Italy from the Random Number Generator was #1 - Claudia from What's Cookin' Italian Style Cuisine. Congratulations to Claudia and I will be gathering your info to get that out to you ASAP. Thanks for the warm welcome home, all. There's no place like home... and there's no place like Italy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pasta Luna and a visit from the Fairy Hobmother

While I was away, many things happened. My daughter had to crawl on the roof to rescue Pippin who managed to dislodge a screen and fall out the window. All went well with the rescue which is good news. The other good news is I was gifted by the Fairy Hobmother for leaving a comment on Kim's Stirring the Pot - My Kentucky Home blog (which I read regularly). I came home to an Amazon gift card! Thank you so much Fairy Hobmother! And the other good news is that you may be gifted by the Fairy Hobmother also - just by leaving a comment on this blog. You never know...

First - the recipe. It begins here. On the Adriatic in the town of Milano-Marittima. I came here to see where my Godfather - Uncle Canttaneo (known in America as "Chuck") grew up. He was a gentle man with a hearty hug. He had a rose garden in Queens. And his paintings graced the walls of his home. I can still hear his greeting to me whenever I walked in the front door.

I must start with Biancaneve - the hotel run by my Uncle's family. We didn't stay there because after trying to book by phone, my lack of meaningful Italian (I speak food) was a barrier. And while I had met some of my Uncle's family - I had never met his nephew. We had no intention of strolling into their lives unannounced - just planned to snap a few photos on our morning walk.

But first,  the recipe gets interesting here - on the terrace of a restaurant.  A dog came in from the street and immediately gave us a joyous greeting as if to ask:

"Where have you been? I've been waiting for you!"

The dog's shy owner tried to shoo her away from us. Indeed the waiter was most insistent that he do so. But this was one determined dog. She wanted to be our friend and she simply slipped under our table and refused to come out. In the worst Italian, we asked the owner the dog's name.

"Luna," he replied.

"And your name?" we asked the dog's human.


As Lorenzo went under the table to retrieve Luna, Luna fled and she and Lorenzo embarked on a Keystone cop chase around the terrace of the restaurant. The waiter was not amused. We were. Luna returned with one more happy greeting and then allowed herself to be captured. Lorenzo and Luna went on their merry way. Paul and I enjoyed our encounter with Luna and Lorenzo but now it was time for seafood.

The next morning we made our way to Biancaneve. Click on the link for some lovely photos - it's all seaside rustic charm.  As we turned the corner and saw it, things happened so fast - I didn't get good photos. I held up my camera and three people came from the house - Signora Berti and two of the staff. I didn't want them to think I was a hotel-stalker, so (again in broken Italian) tried to explain my tenuous relationship to their hotel. All they needed to hear was "Canttaneo" and before you could say "ciao," Paul and I were inside enjoying cappuccino and crostada.

And then - in walked Luna!

"Luna!" we cried.

And in Italian, I hear a surprised, "You know Luna?"

"Si, we know Luna."

And Lorenzo soon followed Luna into the dining area. It felt like old home week. It felt good. It felt right. Luna look satisfied. As if she had planned this.

It was arranged that my Uncle's nephew Marcello would meet us back here for lunch. So after phone calls and Italian-English charades, Paul and I explored the old town.

And returned for lunch. All four courses of it.

The pasta - which I now fondly think of as Pasta Luna.

Fresh, simple - and because food - for me - is forever intertwined with the company and circumstances of breaking bread at a table - I will state that this was some of the finest pasta in my life. Made by my Uncle's sister-in-law and shared with his two nephews and my husband. And Luna.

At one point during dinner, they decided to put Luna on the patio. Well, Luna's no dope - there are three entrances into the dining area. She was shooed out one door, walked around the patio and returned via another door within the minute! And stayed. I'm sure she thought she brought us together - she wasn't going to miss the celebratory lunch.

Pasta Luna (this generously served 5)
1 pound (fresh if possible) tagliatelle noodles
small amount olive oil
3/4 -1 pound minced pork
salt and pepper to taste
1 pint cherry tomatoes - finely chopped, most seeds removed (don't go crazy)
4 baby zucchini - minced
red pepper flakes
handful of coarsely chopped Italian parsley
pasta water to moisten

Cook pasta according to package directions - saving 1 cup of the pasta water to moisten.  Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large skillet and brown the pork. Add some salt and pepper if you wish. When pork is browned, add the tomatoes and zucchini. Lower heat and stir until the vegetables soften. Either add the pasta to the skillet or mix it all in a large bowl. Add red pepper flakes according to taste and add pasta water to moisten. Add chopped parsley and combine. Serve - passing some Parmigiano-Reggiano of course.

Are you just sighing thinking, "But - so simple. Why so special?" Because all came together sweetly. Nothing overpowers. All are joined in pitch-perfect harmony. You'll notice no pungency here - no onions or garlic or leeks. All is tender with a wee bit of heat from the red pepper flakes. But you know - Italian recipes are sometimes mere suggestions. Change the meat or eliminate it. Play with other vegetables. What allowed the dish to not be ordinary was the careful mincing of both the meat and vegetables.  That kept the dish delicate and elegant. It's seamless. And it took care. Care adds flavor.

We also had chicken and potatoes baked with rosemary and a lovely pepperonata dish. Followed by sorbet. There were more courses for lunch than I make for dinner!

 My giveaway of The Cuisine of Italy with such recipes such as pumpkin tortellini, macaroni timbale and baked pizzoccheri can be found here   If you haven't commented, head on over for a chance to win. The giveaway closes Sunday, 10/5 at midnight with the winner announced Monday morning. And it's just possible that a comment here may win you a visit from the Fairy Hobmother!

Luna and her beautiful family. I think that dog knew more than she let on!