27 April 2008

Small Change

I know it looks like it could be fixins for lunch.
And it was, but you might be surprised as much as I was as to what it was.
Give up?

Change. Small change.
My small change back from my purchase of the Grana Padana cheese in the left hand side of the photo.
That's right.
The other day when I bought some Grana Padana cheese in the market from from someone different than my normal GP stall just to mix it up a bit sometimes, and I gave the man my money, he asked if instead of my .50 centesimi that I was owed back, if I would like this package of mortadella, or bolgna as we call it in the States.
Obviously I said yes, Perche no?, why not.
This is not the first time this has happened. Once before I received a small sampler package of mini wurstel, or hot dogs as we, Americani, are so fond of calling them.
At first I thought how odd and then it dawned on me how clever it actually was.
More than likely he didn't lose any money on the deal, he had more small change to use for the others who said, no grazie, and on top of it all he got his customers to try a new product in hopes of upping the amount of euro out my pocket and into his again next time if I liked it. It's not always easy to increase your sales in the market stalls, so any clever marketing technique is worth a try.
I know it is a small thing, but I found it kind of fun. Instead of handing out all those little samples like they do at the grocery store where most folks sample it and then walk away and never buy the product, that includes me, he covered a few bases at once and helped the small change crunch while he was at it.
You never know I just might buy some next time. Just wish there wasn't so much plastic packaging, but then that's another topic for another day.

25 April 2008

Aprile 25 and Apples & Thyme, the Roundup

Today is Liberation Day in Italy. A time for celebration when Italy was liberated from the occupiers of World War II. A national holiday and long weekend for most. You'll find everyone heading out for the mountains, the seaside, countryside and usually that will include some special food for the occasion. It's also a time of reflection of the many freedoms of which havng a choice of what we will eat and when is a pleasure we enjoy and mostly take for granted. So it is also a fitting time for us to round up this months Apples and Thyme blogging event, "Celebrating time in the kitchen with mothers and grandmothers" this months stories has expanded to celebrating others as well that have had significant infuences on our enjoyment of the culinary arts. It has been my pleasure to host April's Apple's and Thyme blogging fest. I was thrilled to participate and honored when Jeni & Inge of Passionate Palate and African Vanielje asked me to host this month. I think you'll find some great posts here celebrating time spent in the kitchen through a variety of humorous and touching stories. If you haven't discovered the different blogs listed blow, make sure to have a good read throught hem because they are a treasure trove of interesting recipes and stories about a variety of things sometimes other than food. Grab a cuppa and enjoy!
First up this month from Bellini Valli of More than Burnt Toast in who hails from Canada and has the most incredible view on her blog. She never thought that her mom was a huge influence on her cooking, but delving into it further she decided that her mother really was the biggest influence of all. "She led me to discover new cuisines and dream of being the "hostest with the mostest" by serving up bland foods day after day."... Read about her time spent at a Greek cooking school and I think you'll find that her **Melitzanopita** will have you hankering for a leisurely cruise around the Greek islands and would be a fantastic center piece or addition to any appetizer/antipasti/meze layout you might put together.
Continuing on with a Greek theme, Ivy of "Kopiaste...to Greek Hospitality" invites all of us to discover the delights of making home style Cypriot Halloumi cheese in her post Say Cheese....or better Halloumi while reminiscing about her family. Her sister passed on her experiences of making this cheese before Ivy had the opportunity to learn it from her family. Nice to not lets these treasured recipes slip away. It's full of step by step information on how to make this family's national cheese, but best of all she gives lots of great suggestions of all kinds of great Halloumi dishes and links to recipes. If you haven't already discovered her blog wander on over with some time for a good read and plenty of recipes to keep you busy.
Transplanted island girl Rowena of Rubber Slippers in Italy, will give you a chuckle when you read about her early influences on her cooking with her entry of "Stone Soup" . It should be nostalgic look back for many of us, but you'll have to leave it to your imagination of what the soup looks like, as they ate it all before she could get a picture of it. Be sure and check out her many adventures trying out as many of the Italian festivals located near and far from her corner of Italy as she bravely samples her way around Italy. She'll inspire you to get out and up into the high country to experience what the locals are eating at the refugio when you get to the top too.
Baking Delights Mayre shares a heartfelt story of her visits with Aunt and their special early morning ritual of fresh biscuits topped with her home made Strawberry Jam. It will have you running to the kitchen to break out the biscuit makings and whipping up some jam. It's a timely variation as the strawberry season is upon most of us now. Mayre however gives it a new inventive twist to this favorite standby. Don't miss all the other interesting things on offer on her site, with links to giveaways too, if you're feeling lucky.
Hopefully, you won't be too weary to tour with Mele Cotto's Chris, through some of her old haunts, such as "Zabar's " and "Chelsea Market", as well as some new finds, like "Stew Leonards" in her post "NYC Tour Day 2 with a little Apples and Thyme" . It's worth having a double espresso to keep you going. You'll finish up over at her Mother's home for a tour of her Mother's memory wall and proudly they have the stamina to prepare some biscotti, fit for a Queen with her lovely Mom at the helm of her ever so red Kitchenaid. Make sure to check out all the delicious offerings that keeps Chris fed and will have you begging for more. Chris hosted the Apples and Thyme March edition. If you missed any of those have a look here.
African Vanielje, of the same named blog, and one of our founding hosts of "Apples and Thyme", Celebrates some time with her Mother . in which she recounts the many life lessons experienced growing up in her mothers restaurant kitchen. Working her way through a professional kitchen, she vividly and accurately describes learning not only the basics of commercial cooking and kitchen techniques, but the larger picture as well. "If you can’t make yourself heard you will be lost, and if you can’t earn your team’s respect you will be dead and buried." Amen, to that sentiment! Be sure and don't miss this South African tale.
My Bella Baita View's offering to this month's round up is a meandering story of my sister-in-laws prized family recipe, Grandmother Denzio's Ravioli . A reminiscence about how our extended family has as much influence at times as our relatives by blood. I try to take the mystery out of ravioli making and present it as a party waiting to happen. You might want to make it a basis for a fun get together sometime. Although, I have been making ravioli for awhile now, since I have been living in Italy, it took this story to push me to make this particularly special ravioli and revisit the first time I made them.

I just discovered that we somehow missed Giz and Psychgrad of Equal Opportunity Kitchen's wonderful post about Cholent, honoring Baba, their mother and grandmother respectively. They say the phots don't do the dish justice, but I think it looks very homey and I like the sounds of the crusty top. They have a fun interview with Baba talking about cholent and her family getting their dishes mixed up and the sad outcome of that sabbath meal. Do have a wander round their site as there is a lot of cooking and story telling going on.

We hope you enjoyed this months April round up. Apples and Thyme is taking a hiatus for a while due to busy schedules. Be sure to check back in with Jeni and African Vanielje, for the next edition. Although Apples and Thyme is taking a break, I would encourage all of you to find the time to spend some time in the kitchen with the people that you love, whoever they may be. Why not pass along some of your culinary tips, tricks, laughs, family stories, traditions and treasured recipes. It's an inexpensive gift and a priceless memory that can be savored over and over.

23 April 2008

Disco transformation coming along

We've moved from deconstruction and reconstruction.
Insulation, local wood beams and wood ceiling slats are in.

Dust has almost settled.
Flooring and tile work are done.

Painting and stone work are almost done.

We're getting there.

Watch this space.

20 April 2008

Grandma Denzio's Ravioli -An Apples and Thyme Event

No, Victoria Argenta Denzio wasn't my grandmother, although I wouldn't have minded. She was my sister-in-law, Nancy's maternal grandmother and quite a quite a character as I remember her. You see, influences come in many different forms and sometimes it takes the lens of time to bring back all the different influences that make us who we are. To quote a present day American presidential candidate, "It takes a village to raise a child..." or something like that. I must say that I can draw on a variety of influences that have stimulated my interest and imagination when it comes to food as a child. All the different influences have also stimulated the desire to travel and experience food in authentic settings as well and of course, that means meeting the people that make the magic in the kitchen. But that is some other tales for another time. Back to southern Illinois where I grew up and where these ravioli came into my memory as the legendary family treasure that they are.
Our normal family meals were American farm fare, simple and tasty as my mother took great pride in her cooking and it showed. My father was her most enthusiastic fan of her accomplished standards but he wasn't her only admirer. When we found ourselves in a new community with different foods on offer my Mom was game to try some of these new tastes. I still remember the first time we had spaghetti and red sauce and chop suey, which isn't Chinese at all but it was new and exciting. It was a big deal and just the beginning of Mom venturing out into the culinary world of other ethnic foods and venturing away from the familiar. When we came to to live in Herrin, Illinois I was pretty young and 2 of my older brothers were already in high school. Somewhere along the way my brother, Jim started dating Nancy, fell madly in love with her and eventually they married after college graduation. Nancy brought along a new set of family traditions that were exotic and intriguing. Nancy's mothers side of her family were Italians who had settled in southern Illinois along with a quite a few others from Chicago and the east coast as Italian immigrants found their way out of the original points of landing in America. Going to Nancy's family for a big extended family meal was a new adventure. There were super garlic salameats (which I have a sneaking suspicion is a new world pronunciation of salame) with crusty rolls that you could only get from Luigi's market and almonds covered in a hard white coating in little cups or bags tied up at their wedding reception. The even had wine with their meals, wow. My family was the straight and narrow tea totalers. Nothing wrong with that, but it was new unexplored territory in this new part of my family that my brother had married into. It was, however, Grandma Denzio's ravioli that I remember so clearly that Nancy spoke of with such reverence and affection. I was drawn in to this enticing unfamiliar world. Nancy's grandparents lived nearby and came on more than one occasion to a meal with all of us together. I was completely mesmerized by Nicolo and Victoria or Nic and Vic, as they were affectionately called. I remember Nic showing us his little garden plot that he had put in for Nancy's parents as well as his own that he lovingly tended. My favorite tale involved him returning from a visit to homeland Rome, Italy with seeds and vines of varieties of tomatoes and other veggies that he couldn't access in Southern Illinois, sewn into the lining of his trousers and jacket pockets. Sometimes in the telling of stories and general conversation Nic and Vic would get quite animated and drop into rapid fire Italian, that I could only guess at what they were discussing so passionately. I have a feeling some of it might be some of the things that you first learn when you arrive in a different country and aren't suppose to say, but don't know that yet. I don't know, but it was lively, a bit forbidden. They were colorful and interesting and I loved it. I just knew that making Victoria's ravioli was something magic that mere mortals like myself and non Italian to boot, could never master. I was in awe of this mysterious food, ravioli. It took me all these years to get around to ask for the recipe again. Actually, I think I have it somewhere, but I think it is packed away with a lot of other bits of other lifetimes back in the states. When my brother graduated with his masters degree, Nancy held a little dinner party in celebration of Jim's accomplishment for my parents, my youngest brother and I along with the student housing neighbors, Thor and Nancy, with whom they remain friends with to this day, some 30+? years later. It was quite a day, because Nancy was making her grandmother's legendary ravioli. Nancy had learned by making them along side her grandmother, Victoria. We all pitched in that day and helped. It was great fun, and I've never forgotten it, but for some odd reason most of my adult life I seemed to have thought that I couldn't' make ravioli. That you had to have a special family recipe and, you had to have an Italian gene to really be able to make them. Funny how we get things into our heads and it takes forever to sometimes even realize that it's even there. Funnily enough, I even use to make fresh pasta regularly at one of the restaurants that I worked at, but we didn't really take on filled pasta, though. Pity that. It wasn't until I came to Italy to live that some of these myths started to be dispelled. I don't have an Italian gene, but I do have a natural interest and I have learned a trick or two while I have been here and the mystery of making pasta and filled pasta isn't so mysterious as it once was and it isn't sooo time consuming either, once you get the hang of it. My mother in law even came over to have me help her with making ravioli dough a few years back and when I made Grandma Denzio's this past week, my in laws were full of praise. The first thing out Fabrizio's mouth was, these are just like my Grandmother use to make. My in laws said they same. High praise, high praise indeed. You see too these are special for another reason too, Grandma Denzio and her family were originally from Torino, so this is a truly authentic Piemontese family recipe. The local Piemontese family that I married into completely agreed. How interesting that all these years later I find myself in the heart of the Torino province and Piemonte. Who would have thought. If you've got some time and want to make a lot for a big family or crowd, then this special recipe is for you. You may want to enlist some help to make it go a bit quicker, or make a few family memories of your own. I've never forgotten that ravioli making day with Nancy, my mother and brother also. Nancy made it special. Her willingness to share of herself and her family makes it just one of many reasons that she is such a great sister in law. She has been my sister a lot longer than she hasn't. So this post is dedicated to my sister Nancy with all my love from all the years of friendship and generosity of spirit she has brought to my family. Thanks Nancy, I love you very much and thank you for sharing your grandmother and her legendary ravioli recipe with me.
I'm now sharing it with all of you.
Please make some memories too.

Nancy & Marla
New Years Eve 2005

This my entry for April's 2008 Apples and Thyme event that Jeni of Passionate Palate and Inge of Vanielje Kitchen, started. If you want more information please click here.

This recipe makes a lot! It will easily feed 10 people or more. I forgot to buy the veal and made it only with the beef and pork and I think the veal would give that little added dimension to the flavor. So the full recipe would make quite a bit more and you might run out of past before you run out of filling. When making pasta dough, you sometimes need to adjust the recipe a bit for your conditions and needs.

Grandma Denzio's Ravioli

For the Filling

  • 1 lb of veal
  • 1 lb beef steak
  • 1 lb pork steak
  • 1/2 c uncooked plain rice
  • 1 large can of spinach
  • 3-4 eggs
  • 1/2 c hard grating cheese, like Romano, I used Grana Padano
  • S&P, butter , oil and garlic
Fry the meats all together in frying pan with the oil, butter and garlic.
Saute the rice with half of a small onion.
Cook with water normally and set aside.
Drain spinach and fry with a little butter and garlic
(I used fresh spinach and used enough to have a couple of big handfuls when squeezed dry.)
When the meats are done, cool enough to handle.
(I had more like roasts pieces, so I cooked mine all together with herbs and onion, carrot and celery in a pressure cooker, which worked very well with using the food processor. I chopped the meats up and and sauteed them in a small amount of oil before putting them through the meat grinder. I reserved the vegetables and juices for the sauce later)
The meats, spinach, and rice all go through the meat grinder.
(I don't have one, so mine went through the food processor)
Then I added 4 eggs and the grated cheese.
(As I know my family's taste, I added a generous amount of fresh ground noci moscate or nutmeg, which I knew would have been pointed out, if I had omitted it.)
I then adjusted the seasoning with some salt and pepper.
It needs to be a dry, moist and flavorful filling.
I filled a pastry bag with a plain round tip to fill the pasta.

For the pasta:
Grandma D's recipe
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
2Tb oil
Mix all together and
add 1 c warm water
This will make a soft dough.
Roll out thin placing filling 1/2 apart on dough.
Cover, cut and cook.
Drain and add your favorite sauce.
Traditionally, served with a red meat sauce.
I, of course, tried a little local variation.
You take the meat juices and cooked vegetables and run it through the food mill for a passata. Often it is serve just like that and called Salsa dell' arrosto.
On Fabrizio's urging, I added a bit of the filling that I had left over
with the thickened passata from the vegetables and juices,
adjusted seasonings and voila.
It was tasty, simple and used everything up.
These were a big hit with my family.
I hope you enjoy them with yours.

17 April 2008

Stalking the Wild Asparagus

Check out the wild asparagus that my mother in law, Egle, brought home yesterday. We found some on Sunday, on our family passaggiata around the neighborhood, but Egle says it's too dry. Well guess what? It's been rainy all day and it's starting to snow a bit now, so I guess we'll be in store for another round of asparagus when it melts out again. We lightly boiled them and served with a drip of olive oil. Slightly bitter but tender and tasty.

12 April 2008

Insalata di Bresaola and Rucola, the Ultimate Italian Fast Food

Market days are always a dash to the finish to get as many of our "to do" things done before everyone is off home for lunch. We don't go into town everyday and I don't always have myself organized to know exactly what I'm making for our lunch when we get home, which often is late for "normal" lunch time here. Having been in the restaurant business most of my life, I am use to eating at very odd hours. One these occasions some times I love to pull together one of my all time favorite fast foods of Italy, Bresaola, Rucola and fresh shaved Grana Padana cheese salad. It also reminds me that the winter comfort foods are waning although not completely finished on a cold rainy day like today and lighter choices are here to stay
With a spin around the market, all I need are a few slices of Bresaola, some rucola, a hunk of hard grating cheese for slivering on top. Dress with oil and your favorite vinegar and you're there. Easy peasy. If you aren't familiar with Bresaola, it is a lean air cured beef, sliced very thin, like proscuitto crudo, or Parma ham, as it is sometimes called in the US. It is a specialty of Valtellina. You could substitute something else, but it really is an incredibly flavorful meat, if you can find it. The combination of the ingredients are a delicious balance of flavors worth seeking out. It's a handy addition to a buffet as well.
Bresaola Rucola Salad
  • 4-6 slices Bresaola per person (more or less)
  • Rucola (or arugla or rocket, depending on which country you're from)
  • Thin shaved parmesan cheese or pecorino
Lay your slices on individual plates, or a larger platter.
Generously cover with fresh rucola greens.
Shave parmasen over all to taste.
Dress with your most flavorful olive oil and favorite vinegar.
I like a squeeze of fresh lemon and Fabrizio loves balsamic vinegar.

Serve and enjoy!

09 April 2008

Trek to Torino to Eataly

Spring is a fickled season, and today, has been no exception with a few snow flurries with a warming trend this evening. So I thought a stroll back to this autumn and a visit to Torino's latest food sensation, "Eataly" seemed like as good a time as any other. I couldn't quite keep up with all of the events and festivals last autumn, so now it is between times, so I think I'll revisit it.
Torino's Eataly, opened last April in an old Carpano aperitif factory, just across the street from the original Fiat factory that has been refurbished as the Lingotto shopping mecca and convention center. Carpano was an apple liqueur that was made for many years in Torino. They kept a corner of this massive old factory building as a small museum to preserve a piece of Torino's history. There is a long tradition of cordials, liqueurs, digestivos, amaro, and grappa made in Torino and surrounding Piedmont by many small producers of these specialty drinks that Italians are so fond of. Everyone makes them at home as well, but that is another story.
I hadn't really heard anything about Eataly until some of our guests last summer mentioned it and got me intrigued to discover what it was all about. What a discovery. Walking into this supermercato of all things remotely plant, animal, vegetable, drink and more rolled up into a mega Italian cuisine extravaganza, well that would be Eataly. To say I was mildly bowled over would be an understatement. Having been in Europe for awhile I have gotten use to smaller specialized stores and going to all the small specialized shops and markets to pick up the different elements of the food adventure, that wen I walked into an American sized and styled food store, it was completely absorbing. Fabrizio had a conference next door at the Lingotto and I had a good four hours to fully explore the place. It wasn't enough time. I kid you not.
The concept seems to be "Slow Food" of Piemonte meets "Whole Foods" of America. Slow food has been consultants and they say they aren't partnered in, but it is definitely a showcase for all things Italian, and specifically all things Slow food and Piedmont. it's rather nice to see Piedmont featured so prominently. It's well laid out with just about the whole gamut covered. There are places to sample a bit of the goods dotted around the place and they have cooking courses going on with celebrity chefs and featuring the foods of this region and seasonally offered.
Wandering around all the different nooks and crannies kept me engrossed in all the different treasures to be discovered. I almost did make it round the the first part when I discovered the free use of the Internet on the 8 full sized Macintosh computers they had by the front door. As we were having computer and Internet challenges once again, I was thrilled to have a spin around their Macintosh world first thing, but opted to stroll around a little before letting the Internet dictate to me once again.

I'm so glad I did. Right around the corner was the fresh pasta station with the wall- o- pasta

A wood fired bread oven that stole my heart
And apparently caught everyone else's attention.
Top of the line local Piemonte white and black truffles. The smell was intoxicating
Cellars with Grana Padano and Proscuitto crudo

All manner of fish and somewhere to sample the wares. Wash it all down with beer from Val Chisone or wine of Piedmont.
Just one more reason, for when you're in the neighborhood to check out Torino's Eataly
for one stop shopping on all the highest of quality foods that you can afford.
Fortunately, looking is free.

03 April 2008

Calling all Culinary Storytellers

Spring is here I do believe, as my early spring indicators have sprung up all over the fields and neighborhood yards. These lovely blue and white crocuses along with this early variety of orchid are covering the fields all around us and it puts a smile on my face. It's hard to be indoors and working on a computer or cooking up a storm indoors these days. The sunshine and garden calls.
I know I'm listening.

However, cooking still happens and and I would like to invite all of you to join me this month in adding a favorite story and recipe about someone influential in your culinary journey for April's edition of "Apples & Thyme "
Jeni Of Passionate Palate and Inge of Vanielje Kitchen very kindly honored me by asking me to host this months event. If you haven't already found their sites, you need to have a good look around their sites for some exceptional recipes and stories. Check out the previous events entries when you have some time as I think you'll find it heartwarming and interesting for stories from around the world .
You know you hate to give a party and not have anyone come, so I am hoping you will find the time to share a story and recipe with us before April 20th, so I can round them up and post them for everyone to enjoyl You don't even have to be a blogger to join in, I'd be happy to post any entries that you readers would like to share. You can find out details of how to participate at either of their sites or just follow this link here or here for all the details. I will be posting something very shortly as soon as I can dig up the elusive recipe I was looking for and get it made and posted. I hope you will join in as its a great way to honor your family members or others who may have given you some great memories through the power of cooking and eating together to pass along. I'm off to do bit of digging in the ground, ta.

02 April 2008

Torino Wine Salon

Yesterday was rather gray and not a very inspiring type of day. The good news is that we are getting some much needed moisture after much grayness and little moisture. Hope for spring flowers and mushrooms looms large. On a day like today I can only think that posting about the Torino Wine Salon could brighten my day, especially if I open something other than our very tasty yet very daily Barbera table wine, and go for a heartier find from the small selection of wine in the "cantina". I feel the day brightening up already in anticipation.
Torino Wine Salon is not as long established and as well known as many other Italian wine shows, but certainly worth the effort to sample your way around a few regions of Italy. VinItaly is coming next week in Verona and people will be flocking to it in the droves from all over the world to see how the latest vintages are faring and search for undiscovered unknown treasures. the first year we went, it was a huge event held in the Lingotto conference center. It was rather overwhelming to say the least. After a few years of infancy, the event seems to have found it's footing. Now it seems that the event is held on the alternate year of the Slow Food and right after the Bra Cheese Festival
It was a fascinating display of wines and all sorts of other oddities that seem to tag along for the ride. Like this woman rolling cigars. hand rolled cigars seem to follow the wine drinking crowd.
You could find chocolate, coffee
Dessert serenaded with jazz
Wine to try by the small and the large producers

and even the Women of Wine

Take it all in with a nice glass of wine or tw0 or three.
Wine expos are always fun.
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