27 July 2009

Torino Details (some)

Someone once described Torino as a city that wouldn't over whelm you with grand scale sights, but would win you over with it's small details. I would certainly agree with that. It's not that there aren't enough big sights, there are, like the Mole Antonelliana, symbol of Torino and at one point in time, the tallest building in Europe. And quite a bit of interesting architecture through out the central part of the downtown area.

So when ever we find ourselves in Torino, I always find myself snapping away, photos of many of the small details that for me makes Torino so charming. I have added 3 of such interesting details that I have snapped along the way. I think I will from time to time add on to my interesting details that I find myself drawn to and share them with you.
Tell me what you think.
I particularly like this lamp that isn't exactly dragon nor gargoyle, but mythical I think and certainly eye catching. Turin has a history of being on a magical meridian intersection, but that is a subject for another day. Today I just wanted to share some images to make you a tiny bit more curious about Torino, and if you want the full scale guide to what to do and see in Turin, have a look on the Turismo Torino site for more details.

18 July 2009

Still time for some Italian flavored summer reads

I am sometimes asked what I like to read? My standard glib reply would be, whatever anyone leaves behind. While that may not be entirely true, it isn't very far from the mark. I do miss the library system of America and haven't quite gotten the drift of ebooks, let alone an ebook reading device. I'm still more than ecstatic when guests not only leave behind their holiday book, but sometimes arrive with books in hand to swap or press into my greedy little hands. I've had numerous friends send me new and used books alike, but that is a bit trickier as the Dogana or customs department are more than a little zealous to making sure that customs have been paid on all gifts and parcels. That is another story, but I promise not to have a little rant.
Earlier this summer one friend brought me a few books which I quickly devoured and two of these selections stood out for me.
The first, "Mozzarella Most Murderous" by Nancy Fairbanks is a light "whodunit' set in Sorrento, Italy. It has a clever premise and a few decent recipes sandwiched in between this tale of a homemaker turned food writer turned amateur sleuth caught up in solving the mystery of the untimely death of her newly acquainted and gorgeous Italian friend. The story line has plenty of twists and turns to keep you wondering with enough references to Italian cuisine and culture to give it an authentic feel. The recipes will have you trundling off to the kitchen to fix a little something while you make your way to the conclusion. It seems that this is one in a series of culinary capers that Ms Fairbanks has spun while she does her research along the way. I thoroughly enjoyed the familiar recipes as well as something to whet your appetite while you lounge by the pool.
The other murder mystery "A Long Finish" by Michael Dibdin, I found particularly interesting as it is set in neighboring Alba, just about an hour from here over in the the Langhe famous for it's wines, Barbera, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, just to name a few, and of course, the most famous of all, Barolo. Naturally, this Piemontese tale revolves around one of the main focuses of the area, wine making. It is a bit of a macabre story, but the atmosphere and insight into the personalities of this region is authentic and fascinating. His writing draws you in and sets a mood that is as complicated and textured as the wine that is at the heart of the story. I found I wanted to race to finish the book, but then savored it as I would a great bottle of wine. A tale worth exploring for a window in to the personality of Piemontese. Worth a read and I just might find myself rereading it sometime, down the road. I think you would enjoy it too especially if you find Italy and it's culture interesting. This one hits the mark.
Happy reading.

13 July 2009

Stork Family update

Back in April I posted a photo of of our resident nesting stork in Pinerolo and was commenting on how this feathered family has seen fit to make their home there on an old smoke stack from an abandoned factory in Pinerolo for the past few years. Recently on our return home from the market the other day, I was delighted to catch a glimpse of the whole family. I'm not so sure how delighted the other folks in the cars next to us at the traffic light were to see us make a quick swerve over to the side of the road, so I could snap a couple pics of the growing family, but that's another story.

It won't be long before this young un flies the coop and the nest will be empty for another year. Actually, it is quite a long family nesting time compared to the little family that nests above our electrical box on our balcony every year. Within two weeks of hatching the little ones they have all flown the coop and the nest is devoid of any living thing. I'm always taken by surprise at how quickly it all takes place. Must be a metaphor in there somewhere about the speed of families growing up and leaving the nest, some quickly and some not quick enough. I just find it all fascinating.

10 July 2009

Divina "Baccala alla Livornese"

"Everyone should try being Italian at least once a year", exhorts Judy Witts Francini from her enviable spot in Tuscany. Judy, sometimes known as Diva from "Divina Cucina" cooking school in Florence Italy and always known as the women with the inside track to the Florence and Chianti food scene. For many years Judy has operated a popular cooking school in central Florence with one of it's main attractions being the fabulous Florence Market classes. An insiders tour of the indoor market and then cooking with her students all the yummy finds of the day. Over the years many dishes have been cooked and many secrets have accumulated and now the culmination of these experiences have come together in her cookbook aptly called,
I was excited when I first heard about her cook book coming out as I have enjoyed several of her recipes over the years from her site and newsletter. I was thrilled when my friend Martha of "Go Italy", came for a visit in May and brought along an autographed copy for me. What a great gift, thank you very much Martha. It has been a busy period for us, but when I was perusing the cookbook, deciding which one to make first, the Baccala alla Livornese jumped out at me. Why is that? Well, because my local fishmonger had given us a great deal on some baccala, or salt cod, and I had some just waiting to try a new recipe on. I often chuckle at Judy's disclaimer, "all recipes tested ad approved by her Florentine husband". I know the feeling well, as I always check with my Piemontese husband about the authenticity of my recipes and look for his approval from his discerning palate.

I wondered how he would like this version on baccala as he is very partial to the Piemontese version. So I set about preparing this simple and tasty version and was not disappointed when my husband heartily approved it. It was simple to prepare and I used fresh tomatoes that have been coming in strong lately. I'm not going to share the recipe here, because I think you should buy the cookbook, as it is a wonderful bargain that will keep you coming back to try all the different recipes again and again. Whether you're a newcomer to Italian cooking and just want some insider tips or a seasoned veteran, there is a nice range of recipes to keep you intrigued and making notes in the handy lined page opposite each recipe. You can purchase the book directly from Judy here and keep up with her on her blog at "Over a Tuscan Stove". If you find yourself in Florence on Monday, do book in for her legendary Market Tour.

07 July 2009

Zucchini Carpaccio

If you haven't already discovered this delectable way to prepare zucchini, then you must run, not walk and beg, borrow, or steal some of the freshest and firmest zucchini that you can find. Or if you are the law abiding type, then just purchase some from your favorite green grocer, farmer's market or pick some from your patch and make this for lunch or dinner right now.
It is that good, honest.
I like zucchini as much as the next person, but must say they can get a bit done, so to speak. So when I brought these home the other day. I was struck by their solid texture and freshness, that I knew that these were just the ticket for a raw offering for the day.
This really couldn't be simpler, doesn't really require a "formal" recipe, lends itself to endless variations and comes together in a flash. So what are you waiting for? Oh your zucchini to be ripe? Well, like I said before, get thee to a grocery. OK, enough with the string of cliches, and on to the preparation and best of all the eating.
Buon appetito!

Zucchini Carpacio
Serves 4
2 zucchini, medium, firm and fresh
1/2 lemon
olive oil, extra virgin and flavorful
Chives or thinly sliced red onion if you like
Mint, fresh spearmint or basil if you prefer
salt of choice, coarse pink works for me although one of the smoky varieties would be tasty

Slice your zucchini on a mandolin or as thin as humanly possible
Arrange slices as a single layer on a plate.
Salt to taste
Squeeze your lemon juice over all.
Liberally sprinkle fresh snipped mint and chives to cover
Add a second layer of zucchini if they didn't all fit the first round.
Repeat with herbs, lemon juice and salt.
Drizzle oil over all.

Cooks notes and variations
Cheese, very optional, Parmesan thinly slivered or a crumbled, salty firm goat cheese
I found the cheese somewhat overwhelmed the subtle flavors of the zucchini and the oil, and enjoyed it without.
Chopped tomatoes and olives make another nice variation.
And of course basil is a natural with zucchini.
I think lime would be fantastic if I run across any, as they are few and far between here, oddly enough.

03 July 2009

Red White and Blue Muffins

Happy 4th of July with Red, White and Blue Muffins

This was always my favorite holiday in America, as I love this summer celebration complete with barbecues, corn on the cob, sour cherry pie, watermelon, friends, family, parades, and naturally, spectacular firework displays. Well, actually, growing up in a small town, our spectacular display was a little on the meager side, but exciting all the same. It also meant that my birthday was just around the corner and the festivities seemed well under way as a warm up for my main event. I'm not as keen about the birthdays now as they pile up much too quickly, but I still feel pretty nostalgic for America's birthday party. So for those of you celebrating. Here's a pan of raspberry blueberry muffins just for you to start off your day of celebrations.

Red, White and Blue Muffins
Yields 12 large muffins or more smaller ones


1/2 c (80g) butter, melted
1 c (190g) sugar, I like to use brown demerara
2 eggs
1 c (225g) yogurt, plain
1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
3c (430g) flour
4 tsp (15g) baking powder
Pinch salt
1 c (150g) Blueberries,
1/2 c (75g) Raspberries


Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C)
Prepare your muffin tins with oiling or buttering or using papers so that it is ready to fill immediately upon mixing your batter.

In a medium sized bowl, Whisk your melted butter and sugar together.
Whisk in the two eggs, till emulsified.
Add the yogurt and vanilla, if desired, and mix thoroughly.
If using frozen berries take 2 or three tablespoons of your measured flour and sprinkle over your berries and toss lightly to cover, so they won't stick together so much when mixed with your batter.
Add the flour, salt and baking powder.
Gingerly mix the batter only partially before adding your fruit and finishing to mix your batter.
One of the key factors in tender muffins is to quickly mix your batter taking care not to over mix. Don't worry if everything is not completely mixed in, that is normal.
Just make sure at least eighty percent is mixed in. You will get a bit of streaking with the fruit, so handle carefully but quickly, so as not to crush your fruit.
Scoop into your prepared muffin pans.
Top or not.
Bake for 15-25 minutes depending on your oven and size of your muffins.
You only want the tops to be firm to the touch and light golden brown.

Cooks notes
I use an ice cream scoop to portion my muffins, whether large or small, to get nice rounded tops.
A dash of crumb topping is a nice addition, but not necessary.
I seldom use a recipe for making crumb topping, also called streusel.
This topping lends itself to all kinds of additions, like oats, nuts, coconut, cardamom, brown sugar, you get the idea.
Crumb topping, freezes well and is a great last minute garnish for any number of baked goods to keep on hand for a quick last minute variation or baking garnish.

A general rule for making an all-purpose topping for all sorts of baked goods is as follows
Crumb Topping
Mix together in a small bowl
1 c (100g) sugar, your choice of type
1 c (100g) flour
Add 1/4-1/2 c (50g-100g) cold butter, cut up into pieces
Rub the butter into the flour/sugar with your fingers
Mix till you get lumpy bits and loose flour.
You can add cinnamon and/ or other spices as desired.
I generally leave the cinnamon out, as I like the fruit flavors to shine through

Enjoy setting off some flavor fireworks with these muffins soon.
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