La vie belle

We arrived in Milan, rented a car, and drove to the Italian Riviera, arriving at our destination, Varazze, a quaint sea-side town with charm, history, and beaches. Even thought we were a bit sleep-deprived and jet-lagged, we settled into our hotel and quickly set out to discover our first gelato, always a joy upon arriving in Italy! See the joy in Marco’s face despite the ray bans! The flavor here is Nutella with some more Nutella drizzled over the top!

After strolling a bit more, relaxing in the hotel, we were ready for our first Italian meal. Marco had set his sights on having a Spaghetti con Vongole veraci. We make Spaghetti con le vongole at home, but it is not possible to find the little clams that you see pictured here. These are the clams found in the Mediterranean Sea. I’ll be sure to add a recipe for this at some point down the road, but, for now, I’m on vacation and enjoying the meal seen below. . .

We each had our own plate of the Spaghetti and followed with some calamari fritti that we shared along with the lovely and fresh salad.

Then, after a couple of hours drive along the coastal highway, we arrived at Mas D’Artigny a hotel and spa near the medieval town of Saint Paul De Vence. As you may have guessed, we don’t hurry when it comes to travel, so we will relax near this small village for the next 5 days, enjoying our pool, driving 5 minutes to the town, exploring nearby Nice and Monaco, and perhaps discovering a few neighboring towns and villages.

As you probably know we love Italian cooking, but I, for one, harbor a preference for the art of fine French food. Look at Marco’s roasted duck below (that’s lavender sticking out of the mashed potatoes):

I had a pork rib.
This is a view of our restaurant where we had the dishes in the photos above. We returned for our breakfast of pain au chocolat and cafe au lait.

This view was just off to the side of our table.

In exploring the little medieval town of Sant Paul de Vence, I am reminded about how shop-keepers take care of their window displays and the space in front of their stores. This cookie shop is just one example.


Now, back to our pool. Today we simply bought a baguette sandwich and had our lunch poolside. Of course, the baguette itself was wonderful, but even a simple chicken, lettuce, and tomato sandwich tastes better eating it outdoors and with these views.

Torta con pere, amaretti, e cioccolato

Alas, my in-laws are gone. . . but not without leaving lasting memories. . . and recipes! I don’t often share desserts on this blog, but this just might be the best dessert you will ever taste!! Just the right balance of sweetness, flavors, texture and beauty!

Adelina made it for Matteo’s piano recital last week and, no kidding, it was completely gone within 10 minutes of the refreshment time! Another parent (who follows the blog faithfully) asked for this to be my next entry. Her mother exclaimed, “send me that recipe!” I barely got a taste as it was down to a sliver by the time I reached the table!

As I repeat over and over in my blog, the trick of Italian cooking is in keeping it simple. As you see the list of ingredients, this is not an overly complex recipe. The nice blend of almond flavoring in the amaretti along with the touch of chocolate and hint of pear, combines with the simple flour/sugar/butter dough to make this enjoyable to the palatte (al palato).

I hope you all enjoy it as much as we did at the recital!

Ingredients:

Crust:

  • 270 g self-rising cake flour (this is “00” flour with the baking powder in, King Arthur sells it. . . if you can’t find it, you will find recipes to make your own on the internet)
  • 120 g butter, softened
  • 120 g sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • a little water as necessary for the dough

Filling:

  •  3-4 pears cut into pieces
  • 10 amaretti broken/smashed into crumbs
  • 50 g semi-sweet chocolate morsels (or a little more to taste)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tablespoons rum
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar

Process:

  1. mix the soft butter together with the sugar
  2. add the flour and salt and mix well
  3. stir in the egg and water as necessary
  4. split the dough in half and press half  into a spring-form cake pan or other round pan (10 inches)
  5. poke entire surface through with a fork so that the crust does not bubble
  6. take a small amount of remaining dough and make a long thing sausage of dough to fit around entire bottom surface to make an edge
  7. mix the filling ingredients together and spread over the bottom
  8. flatten the remaining dough and place over the filling
  9. take the fork and connect the top to the edging
  10. bake at 400 °F for 30 minutes
  11. after the torta cools off, sprinkle with confectionary sugar

Click here to view a video of Marco making this tort!

  

Buon Appetito! 

Eataly, Italian goodness with American grandness

We just went for a long weekend to Chicago, our favorite city in the States! It’s no wonder that they call it the “Paris on the prairie”; with the open feel, wide avenues, eye-catching architecture, beautiful parks, gorgeous shopping, and fine dining. We took Adelina and Enzo (my in-laws from Italy) there to experience another American city. We strolled the city streets, river walkways, and the winding park paths. We shopped on the magnificent mile. And, of course, we dined.

A view of skyline from millennium park 

It can be difficult to dine out with Italians born and bred in Italy. They are used to a high standard in terms of the quality of food. Italy is a food culture. Italians plan the next meal as they are eating the present one. The first question Italians ask when a friend returns from vacation is, “hai mangiato bene?” (did you eat well?) So, we had our work cut out for us taking the family out to restaurants where their standard daily food is so good.

We tried a few places and even an Osteria. But, we kept finding our way back to Eataly. For those of you who haven’t discovered Eataly, it is coming soon to a city near you. A new, second one is about to open in New York. They are all over the world, including Italy. We went to the one in Rome last year and it was packed with locals! One is coming soon to our closest big city, Boston.  Eataly was founded by an Italian businessmen, Oscar Farinetti, when he converted a closed vermouth factory into the first store In January 2007. Other partners include Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich, and Alex and Adam Saper as they expand throughout the world.

Eataly is a place to shop for quality food products such as the home made pasta pictured below. We met the manager of this section of the 63,000 square feet store and he hailed from Puglia in the South of Italy. He said that he was making his nonna’s pasta recipes!

Cheeses and cured meats like those pictured here (we even saw one from 2 miles down the street where Marco grew up near Cremona):

Fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, fish. . .

And even a beautiful espresso bar!

The Chicago site has 14 places to eat and drink. We ate 3 meals there and each time the quality, taste, and experience was just like being in Italy. . . except while being in a beautifully crafted bustling indoor city food market! The pasta, the pizza, the wine, the desserts, and even the espresso is of a quality that you might find in most Italian restaurants. I usually don’t go in for the big box store concept that is so American. . . but somehow Eataly manages to be large while maintaining dining and shopping experiences that feel intimate and . . . Italian.

One of my favorite signs from Eataly Chicago is the one in the picture below. I think it is the key to Italian cooking, the success of Eataly, and perhaps even of life itself! It is difficult to be simple. The best cooking is simple, quality ingredients, cooked just the right way! Eataly manages to take a complex array of products, restaurants, and spaces and makes it feel simple. Life itself can be oh so complicated and anxiety provoking. . . yet it is when we cherish the plain and simple moments of everyday life that we discover joy!

What about those in-laws?

Today is Friday and I normally don’t work. I work a 4-day work week so Fridays are my days to enjoy The Bella Vita! Normally, I get up and send Marco and Matteo off to work and school. I eat my breakfast and sip my tea while reading the “paper” (a Facebook app that allows you to read sections of news that are pre-selected by the reader). Then, I go to BOSU at the Y where I work out for one hour. I sit in the sauna or steam and come home to my omelet (and Martini or Wine) lunch. Finally, Matteo comes home at 2:00 from school and we bike ride to Winter Island. We return home when he makes the pizza dough, we enjoy the pizza (see other blog posts for a video on dough and some recipes), and we have our movie night.

So, what is better than that??? Having my suocera here, that’s what! Basically, most of the above still happens except that while I go out in the morning to do a little shopping with Enzo, Adelina cleans the entire upstairs of our home and does all the laundry. Then, she makes a ciambella (bundt pan ricotta and chocolate chip cake) and makes an omelet (that was better than what I make myself). And, I enjoy the omelet with a frosty glass of Rose while enjoying their company! I guess this is partly why “having the in-laws” stay for one month is not a burden. . .

Basically, we all get spoiled with Adelina around! And the cooking is one of the main ways she shows us her love! The recipe we are sharing this time is one that she thought up when she wanted to use up some tuna. This is a simple dish that is also healthy. Use a sustainably caught tuna fish in a can (light works best as its saltiness is nice). Also, with the zucchini, you get your serving of vegetables in the main. Add a side of leafy greens and you’re doing well!Ingredients (6 servings):

Ingredients (6 servings):

  • 1 pound of Mezzi Rigatoni (would be nice with farfalle)
  • 3 zucchini, cut Julienne style or in pieces like in the photo below
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 five-ounce can of light tuna
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese

Process:

  1. heat the olive oil, add the shallots and sauté for 2 minutes
  2. add the zucchini and cook for about 10 minutes so that they are cooked, but not too soft
  3. add salt and pepper
  4. at some point during this process you can add the pasta to boiling salted water
  5. when the pasta is al dente ( or a little before), add the tuna to the zucchini
  6. then, add the pasta while also adding a ladle full of the pasta water and mix well while the heat is still on medium
  7. turn off the heat and add some grated Parmesan cheese and mix well

Buon appetito!