Fashion and food

Italians are born and bred with at least two special gifts for the discernment of beauty. . .  an eye for fashion and a taste for food. Milano is one of the world’s fashion capitals and it’s no wonder because Italians seem to have some gene that produces a natural affinity for color, texture, and style that go into a fashion statement that is classic, bold, and constantly reinvented. 

Marco was horrified by my clothes when he met me 21 years ago. I wore pleated Khakis and a short-sleeved button-down shirt. He has a point. Probably only in New England and the U.K. do so many men wear these pleated pants that do a disservice to the male form. The beige color is also a testament to the drab days of winter gloom and fit right in with the clouds and mist and rain. And don’t even get him started on the short-sleeved button down. . .

In terms of food, I don’t even know where to begin. I was raised on tuna noodle casserole. . . he was raised on spaghetti alla carbonara, I was raised on peanut butter and jelly. . . he was raised on Nutella spread on a fresh-baked bread, I was raised on meatloaf. . . he was raised on polpette.

The other day, we were eating this year’s  favorite winter soup, the one with butternut squash and chick peas. We each had sprinkled a bit of grated Grana Padano cheese on top and drizzled some extra virgin olive oil. Then, Marco commented that the cheese was “stale”. He has a refined Italian palate honed through years of wonderful Italian home cooked meals. I couldn’t tell the difference. I grew up on grated parmesan from the carton, so this grated cheese was just fine. I stopped and tasted again, trying to put these 21 years of Italian training to the test, and, I have to admit. . . the cheese was not its freshest.

You see, we get the Grana Padano wedges when we visit Cremona and freeze them. Then, we grate the wedge and have it in a sealed container ready to use. This reminded us of that simple Italian rule: cook with the freshest of ingredients for the best tasting food. So, from now on, we will freshly grate the wedge each time we need it!

Ingredients: (4 servings) – click here for recipe in Italian with step by step photos

  • 430 g butternut squash, peeled, cubed (the recipe on Giallo Zafferano uses pumpkin, but we prefer the butternut squash)
  • 400 g pre-cooked chickpeas
  • 100 g kale, cleaned, sliced thin
  • 1/2 onion, chopped 
  • 3 juniper berries (double if they are small)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1.5 L water
  • we add the “Better Than Bouillon” brand paste for a chicken stock that gives the soup more flavor
  • extra virgin olive oil q.b. (quanto basta or as needed)
  • black pepper q.b

Process:

  1. sauté the onions and juniper berries  in the olive oil over low heat until the onions are soft
  2. add the squash pieces and brown them, adding a little water to the pan
  3. add the  chickpeas, kale, salt, pepper, bay leaves and the rest of the water
  4. cook over high heat for 15 minutes
  5. remove the lid and cook for another 15 minutes
  6. remove the juniper berries and bay leaves
  7. serve and drizzle with olive oil

 

 

Buon appetito!

Cooked with love

My sister just returned from a stay at our condo in Cremona, so she thanked us with an evening out at our favorite place outside of Italy to eat Italian without Americanized flares, Firenze Trattoria (click here). On the way in, her husband asked me about the word Trattoria. I told him that it’s basically a term for a casual restaurant, often owned and run by family members. The food is usually the best home-cooked, local recipes in an atmosphere that welcomes you in and embraces you as one of the family.

This is exactly what we love about Firenze Trattoria in Salem. It is the best of Italian food, with recipes representing the local foods of one region in Italy. Each bite brings you to the rolling hills of Tuscany with its golden hues, picturesque country-side, and terra cotta-tiled hill-topped towns. Owners and brothers, Andi and Zamir welcome guests to their family run neighborhood dining room like members of their family.

The foods of a Trattoria are made with simple, fresh ingredients, representing the flavors of local products. We often strive in our home cooking to cook this way. As I’ve said before, we are now using a meat delivery service. Walden Local Meat Co. (click here) delivers meat throughout the Northeast sourced from local farms where the animals graze in fields like in our grandparents days. 

A recent monthly share delivery included some lamb pieces intended for stew. Marco searched and searched for a recipe and landed on a Stufato di Agnello (Lamb Stew) from tastykitchen.com (click here to view on Pinterest). For the “herb mixture” he used Herbs de Provence and he couldn’t find pearl onions so used a regular onion coarsely chopped. It was a wonderful stew of simple flavors, combined with love, worthy of any fine Trattoria.

Buon appetito!

Winter warmth

We don’t like winter. But, given this reality, we do the best we can to turn this around and make the most of it. We plan fun times with friends. We ski some. We enjoy our fireplace on most cold nights. We catch up on favorite television series and oscar-nominated films. And, we make lots of soup!

Currently, one of our favorites is a soup with butternut squash, kale, and chickpeas. It’s flavored with  juniper berries, and, being a fan of gin, I love the little taste these tiny berries give to the soup (and, of course, to gin!) Lately, we’ve been bringing this one to work for lunch. It’s a nice way to eat vegetarian, get some protein from the chickpeas, enjoy the flavors, and, especially, be warmed by a hot, homemade soup.

The soup in today’s post is a little more hearty and not quite vegetarian with some pancetta thrown in. Potatoes are also in the mix for this nourishing, dense, and rustic soup. With a fettunta (click here to check out this simple crostini) alongside the soup you have a nice meal.

Ingredients: (or click here to view a video and recipe in Italian)

  • 3 medium potatoes
  • 250 g of dried borlotti beans (can be called cranberry beans in the U.S. and a substitute could be pinto beans or a red kidney beans)
  • 80 g of smoked pancetta
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 celery stick
  • 4 sage leaves
  • a bunch of parsley
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 4 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste

Process:

To prepare the potato and borlotti soup, start by soaking dry borlotti in cold water (if you use fresh ones, do not do this) for about 10/12 hours. Then cook for 15 minutes in a pressure cooker, with salt water (if you want you can also add a carrot and a leg of celery) or for about 40 minutes in a regular pot.

Once cooked, drain them conserving the water. Meanwhile clean the onion, carrot and celery and chop finely. Peel the potatoes and cut into small cubes. Chop half of the bacon.

In a pan place the extra virgin olive oil and add the clove of garlic, the chopped onion, carrot and celery and sage leaves. Let them wither and then add the smoked bacon you have chopped as well as the remaining in small cubes. When the bacon has browned, add the potato cubes and brown them. Then add 4-5 ladles of the cooking water of the beans and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender; if necessary add more cooking water. (We also added some sliced tomatoes).

Season with salt, pepper and, if you prefer, remove the clove of garlic that has released its aroma. Finally add the cooked borlotti beans and leave everything to flavor for another two minutes. Take about half of the soup and process it with an immersion mixer. When it reaches a velvety consistency, add it to the rest of the soup, then sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley. Serve the hot potato and borlotti soup with grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil!

Buon appetito!