Monday, May 28, 2012

One Day You Will be Old Enough to Read Fairy Tales Again

"I look for magic in the ordinary and ordinary in the magic." So says my artistic statement. And I base my work life around that. Whether I'm adapting La Cenerentola (Rossini's opera about Cinderella) or writing about teens during the Vietnam War - that statement resonates through my work. And even more through my daily life. I have a decade birthday coming up. I've always been good with "decade birthdays" but this one has thrown me. There's more vulnerability, less taking anything for granted and many glimpses back to understand now.  

Somewhere in the time-machine meanderings of my mind, I came upon these s'mores cake pops And decided they needed to come to roost on my dining room table. Never mind that there is no cake in them. Never mind that it's been a long time since I embraced s'mores. Never mind that no one at my dining table is younger than 22, this is what I would serve. The cannoli would wait. Although this is a rare occurrence, I must concede that "something cute just struck my fancy." So out of character for me - is this what the new decade-birthday is doing to me? Searching for "cute?"

I am looking back. I am wondering to trust memory. When I write for young people - am I dipping into what I remember as a child? What I wish I remember? Am I writing what I think is their world - but viewed through mine? 

Last week I commented on a blog - a blog that showed a high school commencement and the sweetness therein. The blogger replied with happiness and ...

"... sometimes I wish I could go back to shoes that light up and Winnie-the-Pooh sneakers."

Sometimes I wish that, too. But usually - I don't. Twenty years of Halloweens, road trips  and cuddling with books are little heartbeats that still make me skip and still make me ache. There is the utter sweetness of being and your second chance at glimpsing through the eyes of a child. Because when you were a child and glimpsing - it wasn't easy. And there are the playground lessons. Lesson you cannot protect them from. Lessons that you cannot kiss and put a band-aid on. Lessons you thought you let go of when you were finished with them. Lessons that hurt far more than when you were doing battle. No, I won't go back. I'll stay here and marvel at how far we've come.

I saw these on Pinterest and followed it to The Family Kitchen blog. They suited my mindset. I may have cynicism furrowed on my brows but I still must count each color in the rainbow - not to verify it - but to hold my gaze.

Buy marshmallows, heavy cream, your favorite chocolate bits and graham crackers. Target has the lollipop sticks. Put about 8 graham crackers in a food processor and pulse till you have crumbs. (Yes, you may buy the already crumbled ones.) Put crumbs in shallow dish. Mix 1/2 cup heavy cream with 2 cups of chocolate on top of a gently simmering double boiler. As cream simmers and chocolate starts to melt, remove from heat and stir till smooth.  Put lollipop stick in marshmallow, dip in chocolate mixture and then dip in graham cracker crumbs. Put on baking ban or parchment paper to set.

Behold: Cute!

You may want to halve the mixture. This may not be Italian but you do start to feel like you're feeding Sicily. This makes at least 60 - and more chocolate leftover for dipping strawberries. And even more chocolate leftover to send home with someone skinnier than you.

Nobody passed the dining room table without grabbing one. And we're talking about people with a few more decades on those 20-somethings.  I even found myself saying,

"Aren't they cute?"

While wondering who I was. But you know - they are so ordinary and so magical. They are simple + childhood.

"When I grow up, I want to be a little boy." - Joseph Heller.

Well, I don't want to be a little girl. I don't even want to go back to "if I knew then what I know now." Really, how awkward would that be?

I did not grow up with "Drama Queen," "Daddy's Little Princess" or "Pretty in Pink" bandied about so I cannot explain what I needed to make this drink.

But it is so pretty in pink, isn't it? It came my way via The Inventive Vegetarian who got it from Martha Stewart. It's rhubarb iced tea. Except it has no tea. (Kind of like my cake pops with no cake.)

It's rhubarb, water and sugar.
8 stalks rhubarb
8 cups of water
1/3 cup of sugar

Cut your clean rhubarb stalks into 3 inch pieces (make sure you discard poisonous leaves!). Simmer in 8 cups of water for one hour. Strain liquid. Add sugar - stir till dissolved. Cool. Fill glass with ice and pour "tea" into it. Garnish with mint leaf and serve. I would have added some strawberries - but I used them all dipping them into the extra chocolate.

"One day you will be old enough to read Fairy tales again." - C.S. Lewis

And so I am. And so I do. These are the perfect accompaniments to fairy tales. They are sweetness and light to defend yourself against the sometimes dark and scary places fairy tales can inhabit. I don't believe in sugar-coating fairy tales. But once in a while, I like to sugar-coat my life. Have I finally found balance?

When I was one, I had just begun.
When I was two, I was nearly new.
When I was three I was hardly me.
When I was four, I was not much more.
When I was five, I was just alive.
But now I am six and I'm as clever as clever
So I think I'll be six now and forever.
- A.A. Milne

The first poem I fell in love with. I think I was more than six. But I'm not anymore. I'm not six yet. So don't wish me a happy birthday!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Caramelized Red Onion-Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Our group exploring Gourmet's List of 50 Women Game-Changers in Food has come to Week 49! This week is interesting because the focus is not on a chef - but on a website that has exploded: Foodspotting. Unlike TV chefs, I have heard of Foodspotting. But because I cook a lot at home, I have never used it.

The web-based company's description says, "Foodspotting is a visual local guide that lets you find dishes, not just restaurants, thanks to foodspotters who report sightings of foods they love." Co-founded by two women and a guy: Alexa Andrzejewski, Soraya Durabi and Ted Grubb, the company came about when Alex came home from a trip to Korea and Japan craving dishes she had had overseas but could not find any easy way of finding the dishes locally. Alexa was an experienced mobile and web designer and set out to create a "field guide for foodies." She has succeeded. Time Magazine listed Foodspotting as one of the 50 best websites of 2010. Not bad for a website that was launched in January 2010! This website is changing the way people choose restaurants. And while it will not take down the huge restaurants, the website gives some glitter to the tiny restaurant that is unknown but may have one splendiferous dish.

Just as you can "follow" people on Twitter and pins on Pinterest, so you can follow your favorite foodies on foodspotting. You can become a "foodspotter" and move up in the ranks earning points. There is a hierarchy and from what I can see on the web - people just love it.

I am going to cut to the chase and get to the recipe because life has exploded. Just as I thought my workload would be eased this summer without the Summer Theatre Program, the Minnesota Fringe Festival has shaken me up and turned me around and I am knee deep in weeds as I (ha!) "simplify" the garden and elbow-deep in theatre. If you've ever developed a 210-character blurb designed to be your primary marketing tool, you'll understand how obsessive one can be. I'm not complaining - just crazed! So if this has piqued your interest - FAQ's about foodspotting can be found here. Who knows? Maybe you will be the next grand foodspotter!

Because Foodspotting is not a site for recipes, many of us decided to find local restaurants and their offerings and then try to recreate the dishes at home. Some were lucky enough to get a recipe. Me? I winged it - but they were lovely wings!

I started my Foodspotting journey somewhat tenuously. There were a lot of deep-fried pickles from the Minnesota State Fair before I came upon a dish that gave me a "voila!"

And "voila!" Here it is

From Bar La Grassa in Minneapolis, my interpretation of their Red Onion-Goat Cheese Bruschetta. (Note: this is not the restaurant's recipe and these days they serve a "Charred Red -Onion-Goat -Cheese Bruschetta.) Either way - it's mighty fine! And if a trip to Minneapolis is not in your future, play with this - it's ripe for substitutions, additions and deletions - it's just plain fun. 

Caramelized Red Onion-Goat Cheese Bruschetta - serves 6
6 slices of favorite bread (I used whole grain but Italian, French and Ciabatta work)
1 garlic clove
6 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large red onions
1 tablespoon brown sugar (can use white)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (can omit or use your favorite vinegar)
6 ounces plain goat cheese
Garnish: Italian Parsley or Thyrme and olives (I used Nicoise, I also like Kalamata in this)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Rub bread with garlic. Brush with olive oil and baker 7-15 minutes (depending on size of bread) until bread is lightly golden. Remove from oven.

In a large skillet or fry pan, heat olive oil on medium high. Add onions and stir - coating all. Add sugar and stir. Add vinegar and stir. Cook on medium high for 3-4 minutes and then turn burner down to low. Cook 40-50 minutes until onions are soft and lightly browned.* Stir every 5-10 minutes

Put caramelized onions on bread, top with 1 ounce of goat cheese. Put under broiler (set on high) until goat cheese starts to melt. Garnish with herbs and sprinkle with olives and serves.

*By all means, caramelize your onions as you wish - some people do this for 20 minutes - if your heat is on low enough you can do this for an hour. This recipe is all "suggestion" to me rather than absolutes.

Also, it is easy to vary amounts for servings and taste. More goat cheese? Less? Your call.

Check out what the other bloggers are doing to honor this week's game-changer and if you want to join in the fun for our last week, e-mail Mary at One Perfect Bite. Mary started this delectable journey.

Susan - The Spice GardenHeather - girlichef,
Miranda - Mangoes and ChutneyJeanette - Healthy Living
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Simple Nourished Living

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rhubarb Streusel Muffins for Small BItes Sunday

Nothing Italian going on here today. This post is pure Minnesota. Using a plant you could forage in this state. As Italians are great, grand, stupendous foragers - maybe that's where I make my tie to Italy. Or maybe I should be quiet and let the muffin speak.

When I moved to White Bear Lake, the yards had 4 trees, 2 overgrown bushes, an elephant hosta that could eat Manhattan (and could have been the inspiration for Little Shop of Horrors), a sedum plant and this:

I had no idea what it was.

"Rhubarb," replied my husband.

""What's rhubarb?"

In the years... okay decades that followed, I learned about rhubarb. It's the first plant up in Minnesota. You can't kill it. It grows wild by the highways and it's tart. Really tart. And I love it. I pick it before it's large and stringy and make compote for pork and chicken, muffins, strawberry rhubarb pie and - for the first time rhubarb frozen yogurt (coming soon at a blog near you). And it keeps on giving - after cutting 12 stalks today, I will have new shoots in a few days. 3-4 harvests of the stuff.

The leaves are nasty - poisonous - and I shudder to think how people found that out. But those sunset-red stalks work magic with a little sugar.

These streusel rhubarb muffins are a cut above the average muffin recipe. They're from Smitten Kitchen and I love that they are not sweet (when I want a muffin, I want a muffin; when I want cake, I'll bake a cake). Sour cream gives them depth and richness without being cloyingly sweet. And the right amount of sugar keeps your lips from puckering (although, I like to suck on lemons - so what do I know?)

Streusel Rhubarb Muffins - makes 12
(Find Smitten Kitchen's original and healthier recipe here. Deb used whole wheat white flour - I couldn't find my wheat flour; I know - who loses flour in their kitchen?)

It looks like a lot of steps - trust me - you know how I love ease - this is easy.

1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon white, granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter - melted

1 large egg
1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons white granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter - melted and cooled to room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream (I actually used light sour cream)
1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced rhubarb cut into 1/2 inch pieces (6-8 stalks - go for thinner stalks and use 8 of them)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 12-muffin pan.

Streusel: In a small dish stir flour, sugars, spices and salt. Stir in melted butter until it looks like crumbs. Set aside.

Muffin: Whisk egg in a large bowl with sugars. Whisk in melted, cooled butter and sour cream. In a small bowl mix flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir into sour cream mixture until combined - can be lumpy. Stir in 1/3 of the streusel mixture (eyeball it).  Fold in rhubarb. With spoon, add mixture to muffin tin. Top each muffin mixture with streusel mixture. Using a spoon, press streusel down into mixture a bit. (I sprayed hands with Pam if you like and press it down).

Bake for 18-24 minutes - until tops are golden brown and tester toothpick comes out clean.

This is a real muffin. Moist, fruity, not too sweet. It doesn't pretend to be something else. It doesn't masquerade. It's not a coffee cake muffin - it is simple fare - heightened with a little spice and sour cream.

I may have been an ignorant New York City girl when I first spied rhubarb. But I'm smarter now. As is our yard. We now have 250 bushes and plants (that one elephant hosta - it's morphed into 30 hostas). So I'm eating muffns (yes plural) as I look at the yardwork that needs to be done and wonder, "What was I thinking?" Must be time for another muffin.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chocolate Budino from Cat Cora

I don't know if you can tell - but there's chocolate oozing over the top crumbs. There would have been more chocolate seeping onto the plate if I served these right out of the oven (recommended). But I am expedient. When people are over, I do all ahead of time. Except take pictures. There were impatient people waiting for these delectables. I needed to get all the photos done in the time it takes for everyone at the table to make fun of Claudia and her pictures of food.

So, the photos are not splendifrous - I tried. There's irony here but you will see that in a few minutes.

These chocolate pillows are from Cat Cora. Who is Cat Cora? Never heard of her until this week. It's that not-TV-watching thing that snags me again. (All right! I confess, I watched Downton Abbey. Nobody does soap opera better than the Brits.)

Bundino means "pudding" in Italian - and they are almost like a British steamed plum pudding. Except they're not British and they're not steamed. They are irresistible. I baked small ones in muffin tins (everyone's on a diet for swimsuit season). And everyone ate 2 or 3. Small bites, right? It's always fun to fool yourself.

Cat Cora is best known for her featured role in Iron Chef (someday will watch). She's easy to spot - she's the woman. And she is #48 on Gourmet's Female Game-Changers in Food. Born in Mississippi to a Greek-American family of restaurateurs, Cora got the cooking bug early. She may have gone to college for Exercise Physiology and Biology, but after graduating she headed to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY to pursue her love of food.

(Cat Cora 2010, photo from Wikipedia)

Her accomplishments are varied and considerable. She co-founded Chefs for Humanity "a grassroots coalition of chefs and culinary professionals guided by a mission to quickly be able to raise funds for important emergency and humanitarian aid, nutritional education and hunger-related initiatives throughout the world."

On the flip side of the coin, she had a voice role in a video game Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine.  And if the coin had a third side you'd find that she has partnered with Disney producing videos about helping and teaching families to cook together. In 2010, she created webisodes with the Muppets (specifically a spicy Italian Muppet named Angelo) that centered on the joys and health benefits of cooking as a family.

Yes, she has cookbooks, kitchenware and some lovely recipes. Read more about Cat Cora at her website.

More of a molten cake than a pudding, this is simple (my mantra) and is simply velvet night.

Chocolate Budino (makes 12 Budini or one large Budino) Ingredients
1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate cut into small chunks (I used Sharffen-Berger chunks)
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks (which gave me an egg white omelette the next day - points for being thrifty & virtuous)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
12 tablespoons unsalted butter - softened

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Grease or spray a 9-inch cake pan or muffin tin.

Place the chocolate over the top pan of a double boiler set over gently simmering water. Stir till melted.

In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, eggs yolks, sugar and flour until well -incorporated.

When the chocolate has melted, remove pan from heat and add butter, mixing until all is a deep brown and smooth. Add the egg mixture into the chocolate (I did the opposite) mixing well. Pour into prepared pans. If using muffin tins, fill half-way. (Which I did but next time I would fill them 3/4).

Bake 18-20 minutes if using a cake pan and only 11-12 minutes if using a muffin tin. You will see the edges start to pull away from the pan. Remove from oven and cool for ten minutes. To serve, place a pan over the in or cake pan and turn upside down. Quickly turn it back onto your serving platter. It is best served warm but I got the happy sighs when I served it at room temperature.

I served it with double Devonshire clotted cream and berries.

Remember how I complained over not taking good photos?

After the dinner ended, Kirsten came home stressed from work ("stress" being the predominant gene in this family).

"Chocolate! I need chocolate!" She popped a chocolate-muffin-budino is her mouth and then slathered cream on the last two.

She didn't care how it looked.

And then she covered it with raspberries and it looked better than my rendition that I like to think I did with care.

Go figure.

My "Project" continues to grow. I think it's the spot from the Cat in the Hat. And when chocolate is not readily available, this has been a grand week for looking out my window.

Check out what the other bloggers are doing to honor this week's game-changer Cat Cora and if you want to join in the fun, e-mail Mary at One Perfect Bite. Mary started this delectable journey.

Susan - The Spice GardenHeather - girlichef,
Miranda - Mangoes and ChutneyJeanette - Healthy Living
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Simple Nourished Living

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Goat Cheese with Roasted Grapes

"I'm not hungry, I'll just pick." That was my mother's mantra when I was growing up. I embrace this notion - although my "picking" can add up to a substantial meal. My beginnings for Small Bites Sunday is probably genetic.

My mother is ageless. Truly. She doesn't have an assigned age. Or - if she has one - we don't know it. Nor did we know the ages of her sisters. My cousins and I spent a lot of time around each other's kitchen table guessing at the ages of our aunts and respective mother's. What we all know today - is - it doesn't matter.

What mattered was being together around food. Small bites. Big bites. My mother had the Italian touch with pasta, salads and all meals Mediterranean. When I was young, she also started taking home these little cards from the wine store that was the start of the magazine Bon Appetit.  Thinking "this looks good," she experimented with all cuisines. In her Peking duck phase, I would come home from school to find ducks hanging in the back of my basement. I was not amused. Then.

There was the Christmas when she baked 225 cookies to serve 7....

After moving to Minnesota, she would pick up two live lobsters at LaGuardia and bring them back to St. Paul to have a Maine feast with my father. At an early age, she introduced me to lox, artichokes, fondue and halavah. She also (with barely a cent to her name), managed to take me to the old Met for special children performances in opera and to the New York Town hall for ballet created for young people. (And she wonders where my theatre gene came from!)

Thank-you Mom for my love of cheese, care with a meal and those lovely legs that I got from you! This is for you. Happy Mother's Day!

Life is good when simple grapes turn into become tender and cherry-like via the simple task of roasting them.  Robustly sweet, they make the perfect foil for the slight tang in a goat cheese.

I found this on Glow Kitchen's blog. She dressed it up more with honey and her photos really do it justice. I encourage you to view the original recipe here. This is such minimal work for grand results. My kind of cooking.

Roasted Grapes with Goat Cheese - serves 4-6 depending how hungry everyone is!
1-4 oz goat cheese log
2-3 cups red grapes
1 teaspoon sea salt
Herbs to garnish
10-14 pieces crostini or crackers

Take your goat cheese out of the fridge 60-90 minutes ahead of time to soften. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray baking pan (cookie sheet with rims works) with Pam. Once the grapes start to caramelize, they will stick. Scatter grapes on pan. Toss with a little sea salt. Bake for about 25 minutes until grapes reduce, give off some liquid and sweetly start to caramelize. Cool. Serve atop goat cheese atop crostini!

I served this at a meeting for my "Big Project." Meeting ended after 2 hours. Nobody left the dining room table until 5 hours later. I think that constitutes "a hit!"

Happy Mother's Day to all of you generous and caring caregivers out there!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Salad

I just love it when it's easy to be virtuous. I'm gratified when the sun is setting and I have accomplished ... you know ...something. When a huge project that looms like the spirit of doom over you is suddenly broken down into bits and pieces and you find - you're not tearing your hair out and muttering odd words to yourself - but actually completing the project. Those are my happy days.

Tell me virtuous eating is all about celery sticks and carrots and I go running to the nearest bowl of pasta. And gelato. And salty-dark chocolate. During my week of the "huge project that follows me like a storm cloud," I have been contemplating a new diet - only carbs! They jump start my brain. For five minutes and then I need a nap.

When this happiness salad appeared (tender, chopped zucchini, fresh corn, berries, pears, peaches  and then topped with that decadent fruit that masquerades as a vegetable - the avocado), I found a midway point. I could balance my carb-laden dishes (which fuels my spirit) and my plant-laden meals (which offers me balance).

My happiness salad is from Zarela Martinez and she is Week 47 of Gourmet's Female Game-Changers in Food. Martinez was born and raised in Mexico but began her cooking career in El Paso, Texas. Paul Prudhomme and Craig Claiborne noted her extraordinary Mexican cooking and encouraged her to move to New York City.There she became the menu designer and eventually the Executive Chef for Marimba. She garnered a lot of attention for creating true Mexican  Cuisine but with local New York resources.

Her dishes have been described as "vivid" and "vibrant." I find that so appropriate because when I think of Mexico - vibrant colors are indeed what come to mind.

In 1987, she opened her own restaurant Zarela - which received excellent reviews and had a fiercely loyal customer base. New Yorkers still lament her decision to close Zarela in 2011. It was time to move on to other things. She has an unwavering commitment to Mexican culture and wants to promote that knowledge through her knowledge of food and Mexican traditions. To that end, she is on the Board of the Mexican Cultural Institute. Martinez continues to make TV appearance, cater and offers cooking lessons. There are whispers of a new restaurant or salon - we shall see. Meanwhile, her extensive knowledge of Mexican cuisines and many recipes can be found at her website:

This salad is not the typical fare at any Mexican restaurant in Minnesota! And for those who think Mexican cooking is all about the carbs (not that there's anything wrong with that)- this recipe may have you rethinking that.

Fruit and Vegetable Salad - serves 6-8
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1 medium zucchini - diced
1 small cucumber - diced
1 pear (preferable Comice - I used Bosc) - peeled and diced
1 firm, sweet peach, peeled and diced
1 cup fresh blueberries
Seeds of 1 pomegranate (I omitted - when you can find a peach in the store - you cannot find a pomegranate)
2 small avocados - peeled and finely diced (I used 1 medium)
1/4 olive oil (I used less)
Juice of 3 limes (I used 2)
salt to taste

Combine fruits and vegetables in a large bowl. Whisk olive oil and lime juice to taste. Add salt. Pour over salad. Serve immediately.

One thing I did note is that this salad does depend on having at least 3 seasons worth of fresh ingredients at your grocer. Pomegranate and blueberries don't jump into the stores at the same month!

I must also note that although this serves 6-8, 3 of us ate it all with glee.

And my huge project?  It is becoming so exciting I am like the countdown to New Year's Eve. With garden-fresh ingredients on my right side and pasta on my left side, I am no longer creating a bald spot from tearing out my hair. On the contrary - I am leaping awkwardly around the house in sheer excitement and alarming the cat. Time for balance. Time for more of this salad.  

Check out what the other bloggers are doing to honor this week's game-changer Zarela Martinez and if you want to join in the fun, e-mail Mary at One Perfect Bite. Mary started this delectable journey.

Susan - The Spice GardenHeather - girlichef,
Miranda - Mangoes and ChutneyJeanette - Healthy Living
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Simple Nourished Living

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ricotta Gelato for Small Bites Sunday

I have a three small bites for you this week but only one is edible. The other two are for your heart and mind.
- a peek into Stolen Figs and Other Adventures in Calabria by Mark Rotella
- a glance at the cookbook My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino with Janet Fletcher
- ricotta gelato (so rich that you need to have it in small bites - you've been warned)

I like my recipes with history and my history with stories so both books filled me with yearning for places still to come.

Political prisoner Carlo Levi (doctor, lawyer, writer, painter anti-fascist) was sent as a prisoner to Basilicata from 1935-1936. He characterized Basilicata and neighboring Calabria as "that other world, hedged in by custom and sorrow." His account as a prisoner in Basilicata (formerly Lucania) is the basis for his book Christ Stopped At Eboli  and was reviewed as "a starkly beautiful account of a place beyond hope and a people abandoned by history." "A kind of grey, El Greco beauty."

According to Mark Rotella in his 2004 book Stolen Figs and Other Adventures in Calabria, northern Italians do tend to think of both Calabria and Basilicata as "bereft of culture and economy - a burden on the rest of Italy." Having discovered his cousins in Calabria, Rotella spends months at a time visiting his family and getting to know Calabria from the inside out.

What he discovered was a land rich in rugged coastlines, mountains and forests. A terrain so wild that it only will yield if you have respect for it. Conquered over and over by Greeks, Arabs, the French, the Austrians, the Spanish and of course the Roman Empire itself, Calabria encompassed bits of their cultures and created a cuisine that gives a nod to their conquerors while at the same time celebrates what easily grows in their rugged terrain.

While the book sellers like to recount Rotella's lessons in how to make 'nduja, soppressata and how to steal a fig without committing a crime, Rotella's book is much more than a Tuscan sun travelogue. As Rotella grows to understand Calabria, he recounts bits of history, folklore and tales of humanity from the Calabrese that speak of sorrows mixed with joys. Pain and mirth co-exit side-by-side. Rotella recounts is beauties and its warts. There is generosity and slyness. (He even mentions the "M" word.) And there are figs and chestnuts and pasta and gelato.

He visits Cosena for a few days and eats at the recommended L'Arco Vecchio.

"My first course was an amazing fusilli, corkcrews tighter than even my grandmother had made with Calabrese sausage and tomato sauce.... the main course was pork fillets stuffed with zucchini and smoked scamorza cheese which tastes like a combination of provolone and mozzarella. An orange sauce had been drizzled over the stuffed pork and edible orange rinds garnished the plate. To finish the meal ... a tartufo di Pizzo, a chocolate and hazelnut gelato  molded around a soft, syrupy chocolate fudge, then covered with a crunchy chocolate coating and surrounded by small, tart, fragole di bosco, wild strawberries."

When I closed the last page of Stolen Figs (reading every so slowly as I neared the end knowing my time in Calabria was ending), I picked up My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino with Janet Fletcher and decided to cook. I needed a sweet for a family dinner. While I yearned for Rotella's Tartufo al Modo di Pizzo (ice cream truffle), simplicity won out and the ricotta ice cream would be made.

Gelato di Ricotta Stregata (Makes 1-1/2 quarts)
from My Calabria
(Ricotta Ice Cream with Strega)
(With no eggs but heavy cream this is almost more ice cream than gelato; this does not store for days so serve it the day you make it)

2-1/2 cups (560 grams) homemade ricotta or top-quality ricotta
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons Strega Liqueur (I had to do the alternative below - no Strega Liqueur to be found)*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 cup (250 milliliters) heavy cream
2 ounces (60 grams) Candied orange peel - chopped (optional) (How to make candied orange peels can be found here.)

In a food processor, blend the ricotta, sugar, Strega, vanilla and lemon zest until smooth. Scrape down ides of bowl and add the cream.Pulse to combine then scrape down the bowl and pulse again until completely blended.

If using, fold in orange peel. Transfer mixture to an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's directions. Freeze until ready to serve.

Strega is an herbal Italian liqueur. If unable to find, make a cannoli-type ice cream with chopped bittersweet ice cream and chopped, toasted pistachios. If doing the cannoli-ice cream, omit the orange peel.

I have yet to find a cookbook from Basilicata! My Calabria with its emphasis on olive oil, spicy peppers, bitter greens, polenta and sheep's cheese has been the closest I could find to my grandmother's cooking. The lure of My Calabria is not just the recipes (once considered "poor cooking" is now lauded - what goes around... ) and the recipes do beckon - but the journey of how the Calabrese through mean circumstances and foraging developed a delicious cuisine that could not have happened anywhere else would draw in any food-lover. The recipes for jarring and canning are a bonus - in true form - they wasted nothing.

So there's a wee bit of irony that from the land of peperoncini and soppressata, I bring you ice cream. But look at it all melted and creamy and yielding in the sun. Imagine it in the hot Calabrese sun...

It's worth the calories.

You might also like: Goat Cheese Ice Cream

Friday, May 4, 2012

Savory Zabaglione - Gael Green

Gael Green changed the way New Yorkers dined. She changed they way people thought about food. And in changing New York City, she effected change throughout the country. As such, Gael Green is Week #46 on Gourmet's list of female game-changers in food. Widely credited as coining the word "foodie," Green intended to make her mark as a novelist. In-between writing her novel she supported herself by being a stringer in Detroit for the Detroit Free Press and freelancing for magazines. After a stint at the New York Post, she became the restaurant critic for New York Magazine in 1968. She would remain there until 2008 when she was quite famously - fired.

"It's as if they removed the lions from the library steps," said Michael Batterberry, editor and publisher of Food Arts Magazine.
But by the time she was fired, she had established herself as knowledgeable, lusty and irrepressible (having written articles titled "Nobody Knows the Truffles I've Seen," "Everything You Wanted to Know about Ice Cream but Were Too Fat to Ask" and "The Mafia's Guide to Eating Out.") and her unemployment did not last long. She would continue to write books (a novel Blue Skies, No Candy, and her memoir Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess had been published earlier.)

Famous for wearing huge hats that hid her face, she also gave back to society with such programs as City Wheels-on-Meals which she co-founded in 1981 with James Beard. She has been honored with awards for her writing as well as for her humanitarian work.  

Today she continues to write, judge chef competitions and has a website Insatiable Critic by Gael Green which chronicles her food journeys as well as her still-present lust for life.

Because Green is a writer and not a chef, her recipes were either sparse or admittedly from other chefs. I scoured her food writing and came across her review of eating-all-things-wonderful in Sicily at the blog SICILIAMO which contained one of her articles for the NY Times.

"Tradition hits the fan at Il Mulinazzo, with its two Michelin stars, helmed by Nino Graziano, a veteran of several kitchens in France. It’s just south of Palermo in Villafrati, a quick drive for lunch. Even the tradizionale tasting menu shows off Sicilian cooking creatively rethought: elegant snapper tartare with oil and lemon on warm chickpea fritters, lasagnetta with sardines and wild fennel, almond couscous in a fish soup, rack of lamb with an asparagus zabaglione."

Asparagus zabaglione? What was that? A savory zabagalione? Taking something traditionally sweet and making it savory and you have colored me 'obsessed.' A little cayenne pepper in a rich chocolate cake surprises me and makes me dig in further. Give me dark chocolate (please) and add some salt and I return again and again to pack on the calories with spice and glee.

When I read books - and suddenly a moment of inspired silliness turns poignant - or a tender turn of phrase continues on to the irreverent, I am intrigued. I think there is a truism - that really - that is what life is like. Rich with sweet cream and hot peppers. Careful and careless. 

Is this the asparagus zabaglione that Green describes? No. I am sure the zabaglione actually had asparagus in it! But it is a fun inspiration of Green's description and perfect with a grilled or roasted vegetable. Inspired by Gael Green, I bring you Mario Batali's Savory Zabaglione with Black Pepper and Parmesan.. Richly decadent with hints of salt from the cheese and spicy black pepper, it's a concerto that's not afraid of containing too many notes.

Play with it - once you wrap your taste buds around this, the possibilities unfold. Today, I am thinking of this with asparagus puree, or taleggio instead of the Parmesan or pungent herbs...

Warm Asparagus with Black Pepper-Parmesan Zabaglione - serves 4
2 pounds medium asparagus
6 extra-large egg yolks (which makes me thankful for my sincere love of egg-white omelettes))
1 extra-large egg
1/2 cup dry, fragrant wine (he suggest Vin Santo - I cannot get that here, in Italy every home seems to make their own)
3 tablespoons sweet butter - room temperature
3 tablespoons heavy cream - slightly warmed (I didn't warm it but it was at room temp)
1/4 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon freshly-cracked pepper
salt to taste

Note: Batali has you cook the asparagus for exactly 1 minute and 15 seconds in the bottom of the double boiler as you whisk the zabaglione on top. I roasted it at 425 degrees F for about 5 minutes. I have a thing for roasted asparagus. It balances my "thing" for salty-dark chocolate. 
Wash asparagus and snap off stems with fingers. In a double boiler combine yolks, egg and wine with whisk and stir vigorously until frothy. Remove egg mixture from heat and add asparagus to the bottom half of pan and cook for 1 minute, 15 seconds (remember: I roasted). Meanwhile, whisk butter, cream, Parmesan and pepper into egg mixture. Season with salt. Drain asparagus, dry it, divide into four servings, spoon sauce over it and serve. 

Check out what the other bloggers are doing to honor this week's game-changer Gael Green and if you want to join in the fun, e-mail Mary at One Perfect Bite. Mary started this delectable journey.

Susan - The Spice GardenHeather - girlichef,
Miranda - Mangoes and ChutneyJeanette - Healthy Living
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Simple Nourished Living