Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Even though the summer has ended for us and we are back in Rome, I’m still waking up in the morning thinking I’m in Todi. It takes me a good minute to figure out those birds I hear out the window aren’t fluttering around my fruit trees. They’re just the same old seagulls squawking away on our neighbor’s rooftop.
My fruit trees. It’s very hard not to be up in Umbria communing with our fruit trees. As I’ve mentioned our fig trees are in full swing and I’m sad to think of all the plump, ripe figgies falling to the ground or being eaten by those little birds. While we managed to bring back three kilos of figs last week, their pleasure was fleeting. They are so fragile that they never last for more than 48 hours (don’t worry, we managed to eat them all).
While our fig and cherry trees always produce big time, our other fruit trees - pear, apple, peach, plum, apricot, persimmon - are more persnickety. One year there is plenty, then the next year zip.
By the third week of August our pear tree was almost breaking in half, it was so heavy with fruit. We thought the pears - hard and green- still had at least two weeks to ripen. But we gamely scooped up some of those hard fruits from the ground and brought them inside where - over the course of two or three days - they ripened into the most delicious, juicy, tart and tasty pears we’ve ever had.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
I know with all the other weather going on lately that heat wave temps in Italy probably haven’t made it onto your radar. But let me tell you: last week in Rome was hot. I mean really hot. I’m talking 102F/42C degrees hot. Icky, gruesome, yucky, sweaty hot hot hot.
But, on the plus side, since it was the end of August in Rome there wasn’t any traffic at all. (who would be in the city if they could help it?). So Domenico and I decided to do something we rarely do: hop in the car for a drive across town. Parking, which is usually a nightmare in Rome, actually becomes fun in August. You almost feel like you have an obligation to go out and park. And besides, the car is air conditioned.
So, combining the intense heat with no traffic and ease of parking, we headed straight for Casa del Cremolato. Even though this place is way across town (off the Salaria) we went door to door in less than ten minutes. And parked right in front! (I know, this is probably beginning to bore you, but for us Romans easy parking is a little miracle).
Saturday, August 27, 2011
I usually don't post over the weekends. First of all, I like to take a break too. Also, I figure not a lot of people are looking at blogs during their time off? I know this doesn't make sense, but aren't you more likely to browse through your favorite blogs when you're supposed to be doing something else. Like working maybe?
Anyway. I've decided to do short posts over the weekends that are mostly photos that don't need much in the way of words to go with them.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Everyone and their sister (including, Jodi, one of mine) has blogged about panzanella this summer. Why should I be any different? Panzanella is a staple at our house in Todi in August. One reason is, of course, because we love it so much. But another reason is due to my Jewish mother tendency to make extra sure everyone has enough to eat all the time.
I’m always scared we won’t have enough food. So while doing the grocery shopping I’ll pick up an extra kilo or two of bread. Just in case. You never know. Right? No problem. I’m prepared.
The bread I stock up on is from the local supermarket (formally called Sidis, now called Emi, in Ponte Rio). Every morning at 10am they get piping hot crusty loaves of pane di Strettura, which comes from a village about a half hour away. It’s fantastic, naturally risen and lasts for about a week. But still, what with my over-buying tendencies, it does eventually dry out and makes the perfect main ingredient for panzanella.
But rather than give you my run-of-the-mill recipe for panzanella, I’ll share a recipe from the panzanella king. Salvatore Denaro has a completely different approach to panzanella. He doesn’t rely on the staleness of left over bread but instead is always prepared. He uses really hard and crunchy friselle, which he keeps in his pantry. (If you don’t know what friselle are, go here. And if you don’t know who Salvatore is, go here)
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I just realized I’ve been a bit remiss on the tomato front this summer. Besides the posts on friselle and the tomato stand in Bari, I’ve not given a hint that what we’ve been doing out here in Todi is mostly living off of tomatoes.
If you follow me on Facebook, then you saw some of the gorgeous heirlooms I get from Salvatore Denaro’s garden. But we’ve got our own orto and this year the tomatoes are the best they’ve ever been. Our experience with tomatoes over the years is a bit hit or miss. Sometimes they thrive, other times they get blossom rot. I’ve learned that grafted cherry tomatoes are the most prolific, but I always end up planting whatever varieties I can get my hands on. I never give up on San Marzano, even thought they always let me down.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Although I’m all for complicated cooking I’ve learned over the years to tone it down a bit when the table is set for more than eight people. Our home in Rome is self-limiting, since our dining table only seats eight. But in Todi? Between our house guests and our dinner guests’ house guests, when I decide to throw a party it’s more likely we end up with 18 at the table. At the very least.
Ferragosto is one of the biggest holidays in Italy. Although it celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin it’s not an important religious holiday. Since it falls mid-August it’s mostly an excuse to celebrate during Italy’s mass vacation. In fact, if you ask Italians for the definition of Assumption most will give you either a blank look or else a completely lame answer like “Oh, it’s when the Virgin went up.” And of course this has absolutely nothing to do with the literal feast day it’s become. It’s an excuse to eat, plain and simple.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Even though I’ve written about crostate in the past, I just realized I’ve never reported on my classic crostata di marmellata. I’ve written about variations like Quince Crostata and Cherry Ricotta Crostata, but never just plain old Crostata di Marmellata.
Which is strange. Because around these parts (by which I mean the expat community around Todi) I’m sort of known as Miss Crostata. Invite me to dinner, and I’ll bring one or two along. Come to dinner at my house, and you know what you’re getting for desert.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
This will be a very short blog post. It’s August here in Italy and everyone is on vacation. Including me. We’re up in Todi and even though I’m cooking and entertaining up a storm, I’m finding it very hard to remember to photograph things. Pasta, pizza and grilled meats tend to get eaten up before I can even focus.
I am remembering to make cocktails though. Which may have a lot to do with why I'm forgetting to photograph things. Just a thought.
Monday, August 15, 2011
One of our favorite things to do in Todi, for dinner, is make pizza. We’ve got a great pizza oven and Domenico and I make a perfect team. He takes care of the fire side of things, and I’m in charge of all things edible.
Although I’ve played around with various doughs over the years I always go back to my friend Evan Kleiman’s master recipe from her book Pizza, Pasta, Pannini. This year I’ve been tweaking it a bit, switching in a cup of rye or whole wheat flour for one cup of white.
Toppings? That’s always a work in progress. Cheeses from the local caseifici for sure. Vegetables from the garden in abundance. Bits and pieces of this and that: pancetta, garlic, onions, salame. My pizzas have seen it all.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Even though we didn’t take a real vacation this summer, I’ve certainly managed to travel a lot. Paris, Barcelona and Sicily. And London too. I almost forgot about London.
But now it’s August and as usual we’re parked at our house in Umbria. And as usual my sister and her family are visiting. I never think of it as a real vacation. You know, the get on an airplane and stay at a hotel kind of vacation. This is just a hanging out doing summery things kind of time. I guess it's a staycation.
Swimming, long walks, visits to nearby villages. And eating. Lots of eating. And cooking. Tons of cooking. Since my sister has two little girls, it’s usually easiest to just stay at home for dinner. I don’t mind the cooking part of things and in fact look forward to it. But last night we all felt like getting out of the house and so did the next best thing to eating at home: we headed down the hill to Cibocchi.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Every so often I actually have a menu planned and head to the grocery store with a very detailed shopping list. I used to be really good at this, especially when we have a houseful of guests out in Todi. But lately I just can’t be bothered. Planning out a few days of meals, making up a detailed list of ingredients. And then there’s the whole ordeal of actually remembering to take the list with me when I head out the door.
These days in Todi I’m more likely to just grab the keys and the shopping bags, get in the car and hope for the best. My first stop is the vegetable store right outside Ponte Rio. I’ve only started going here in the last year or two, since I never quite realized it was a shop. Big signs with ‘pesche nostrani’ and ‘pollame’ made me think it was a farm. Which you think would have made me stop right away. Whatever. In any case I’m glad I finally discovered it. Better late than never.
Monday, August 8, 2011
There’s a very good chance you’ve seen friselle for sale in a store in Italy but didn’t realize what they were. You may even have picked them up, wondereing "Why on Earth would anyone buy such big, hard crackers?" They usually come wrapped up, in a pack of six, looking like so many flat, misshapen bialy-shaped rejects. Hard, dry and pretty ugly.
And even if they are labeled, friselle or frise, they wouldn’t call to mind anything you’d had in a restaurant. Because this is one of those things that never show up in on a restaurant menu (and please, correct me if I’m wrong). I have no idea why. I have a feeling it's one of those cucina povera dishes that is just waiting for a come back. (you heard it here)
Thursday, August 4, 2011
My friend Ruth and I have been part of the Women’s Group for about twenty years now. We’ve been meeting about once a month to discuss things as varied as Women and Judaism, Favorite Recipes and Forensic Investigative Techniques. I can’t remember if we’ve actually discussed Tupperware. We did have Elizabeth Gilbert come and read one evening. And most of our evenings end with a George Clooney-a-thon.
We’re an ever changing group of about 12 women, living in Rome. One of our common languages is English. The other is food. I have to say that while we come from all walks of life, we are all pretty good cooks and love to eat. In fact, eating is one of the reasons we get together. (Besides discussing George Clooney that is) One person presents and one hosts and in charge of food.
Which brings me to the Lentil Salad. Almost from the very beginning, Ruth and I have been making lentil salad. And, invariably, when we make the salad, Claudia asks “What is in this Lentil Salad?” Everytime. For twenty years.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
A few weeks ago we went down to Ravello. Among the goodies I brought back was a braid of red onions and a big hunk of smoked provola that I intended to use to make Pasta with Zucchini. Which I did.
But I still had quite a huge chunk-o-cheese to use up. Which was a good thing, because as always, come Sunday night, I thought I didn’t have much in the way of ingredients for dinner. Usually my back up is pasta. I always have pasta in the house. But through some horrific mistake on my part we had NO PASTA in the house. The shame! I am sure to get points taken of my casalinga license for that one.
Lucky I had the smoked provola. And double lucky I still had the dozen eggs I had gotten up in Umbria. Actually, those eggs had only one day of shelf life left (again, points taken off casalinga license). From all points of view a frittata was calling my name.
Monday, August 1, 2011
We went down to Bari last week to visit Domenico’s mom and spend a few days at the beach. After two full days of sun, we woke up to rain on Saturday. While part of me was sad we couldn’t go to the beach again, another part was kind of happy I’d get a chance to go to the market.
I love going to the market in Bari. It’s located in this weird sort of nothing neighborhood, on the ground floor of a parking garage. Like much new architecture in Bari, absolutely no urban planning went into this. Which has a charm all it’s own, of course. It’s really Bari.