Tuesday, August 28

Italian Card Sharks

 Behind many closed doors and drawn curtains this is what you will find in Italy: back door card games.  Ok, it may not be the Poker World Championship in Vegas, but the stakes are just as high for these small town hustlers! 
It's not just the men that sit for endless hours outside Crazy Bar playing scopa, the women do it too...look what I found as I peeped inside this window in Piobbico:

 After I was spotted,  I asked the women if I could come in & take their photo as they played. I tried to snap a few quick shots because I was getting the evil eye - they were in the middle of some serious business: 

...just a glimpse of life in Le Marche.

Thursday, August 23

Grilled Eggplant, Fresh Mozzarella and Peppers with Capers

A staple of an Italian vegetable garden is eggplant/aubergines or melanzane - so of course we grow plenty! The plant and flowers are gorgeous, the only problem is, we're not huge fans of the veg. itself. I do like them stuffed like a little quiche or thinly cut & fried is always good. But I must say the recipe below of grilled eggplant with mozzarella topped with peppers & capers is my new favorite! Ok, now don't be turned off by the capers - they impart an amazing saltiness to the yellow peppers!

Grilled Eggplant, Mozzarella, Yellow Peppers & Capers
Melanzane di Caroline

1-2 eggplants (the fat short kind)
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
1 yellow pepper
couple of tablespoons capers under salt
handful of clean parsley leaves, washed (keep the leaves whole)
olive oil
sea salt

Thickly slice the eggplant into 1inch or 2.5cm slices and place on a wire rack with a sheet pan underneath. Generously salt both sides and let sit for an hour to drain. 

While you're waiting: Rinse capers. Cut peppers into 1 inch/medium sized squares and combine with capers in a bowl, let sit.

Back to the eggplant: Rinse and pat dry. Brush a little olive oil on the eggplant.  Grill on medium heat or broil for 3-4 minutes on each side until soft. Make sure they don’t burn.

Now put it all together: Drain mozzarella and cut them into nice thick slices - about the same thickness as the eggplant. On a plate alternate between the eggplant and cheese creating a cir
Add parsley into the peppers & capers. Place the pepper & caper mix into the center/on top of the  eggplant/mozzarella circle.  Top with a generous drizzle of olive oil.  Allow to sit before you serve to let everything to incorporate.

Monday, August 20

Oh How I've Missed Corn on the Cob...The Trials & Tribulations of Eating Corn in Italy

It's been five years since I've eaten an ear of corn....

Corn on the cob is generally not eaten in Italy, at least not in our area. Corn is strictly considered food for pigs unless it's coarsely ground into polenta, only then is it acceptable to eat. Even that is considered peasant food to some city folk, (I'm talking to you Pesarese.) And to eat it off the cob, off the grill - well that's just unheard of! So much so that we asked friends in Piobbico if we could have an ear of the corn we saw growing in the back yard. They said, "you don't have pigs, what are you going to do with it?" Jason & I looked at each other confused and said - "Eat it!" 
Here's what's funny - they responded. "OK, we'll give it to you only if we can watch you eat it!"

 Now in recent years, you may see corn nibblets in all the wrong places (not that there's any 'right' place for them),  my favorite example is a frozen pizza; "The Big American Pizza" (yes, that's really the name) topped with everything from hotdogs to corn! I hope that's not what Italians really think Americans put on pizza.

Well, we have a garden, so why not grow it ourselves we thought!  We were given some seeds and boy did they grow! The stalks were massive & we joked about cutting a corn maze for Halloween because we just had so much!! I thought hot -damn we're going to be corn-rich!! Drooling over all the possiblities...then came the first taste ... STARCHY as hell, it was the corn for pigs!! So there goes another year without a bite...and the taunting of the tall stalks as we pass neighbors with row upon row of inedible field corn.

After all this corn-drama, my lovely sister sent us a packet of organic sweet corn from the States.  We just started picking it and let me tell you, it's the real deal!

After five years of not a single kernel of fresh shucked corn on the cob, I was almost in tears when I bit into that beautiful golden, homegrown ear and tasted the sweet juicy flavor, instantly took me back to summer bbq's growing up and that unforgettable taste of grilled corn on the cob! 
It's a beautiful thing.

Friday, August 17

Mouthwatering Roasted Tomato & Bread Soup {Pappa al Pomodoro}

Make your kitchen smell outright divine with this Tuscan-based slow roasted tomato bread soup, Pappa al Pomodoro. Home-grown tomatoes, in-season, peasant cooking (using stale bread)- a perfect example of Slow Food. Our tomato plants are thriving in this long warm summer in Italy, the colors deepening & the flavors intensifying as the days go by. Originating in Tuscany (about an hour away) we can't resist sharing this mouthwatering recipe at our farmhouse using our plump andjuicy homegrown piccadilly & cherry tomatoes!

(I've posted this recipe before, but since today we started jarring the first batch of jarred/canned tomatoes it was only fitting to post a delicious tomato recipe & this is what's cooking for dinner & one of my absolute favs!!)

Serves 4
1/2 kilo of ripe cherry tomatoes
few cloves of garlic, peeled & sliced
large bunch of basil, set aside soft stems for later (chopped)
good extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
2 medium cans of good quality tomatoes
2 big handfuls of good stale bread, crusts removed
olive oil for cooking

Preheat oven to 375 F / 190 C
Toss cherry tomatoes with oil, 1 clove of garlic chopped, 1/3 of your basil, salt & pepper. Place on a cookie/baking sheet. Place in oven for 20 minutes or until the tomatoes burst open.

In a heavy bottomed pot, heat a couple glugs of olive oil SLOWLY cooking your garlic & basil until soft for a couple minutes. Turn up heat, add tomatoes & 1 can of water. Break up tomatoes with back of a wooden spoon. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Tear bread into bite size pieces, mixing well.
Season with salt & pepper.

Turn down heat, cooking for another 10 minutes.
When cherry tomatoes are done cooking add them to the soup. Make sure to scrap all the good, caramelized juicy bits from your pan into the soup.

Stir & taste check. You are looking for a thick soup. If it is too dry, adjust with water. When you are happy with the consistency remove from heat. Stir in 7-8 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil and torn basil leaves.

Serve warm or hot.

Wednesday, August 15

Buon Ferragosto

Ferragosto is the culmination of summer in Italy, celebrated on the 15th of August with a festival or feast everywhere you turn from Rome to the Adriatic sea and every tiny village or backyard in between!  It's a day to gather & eat with friends and family, soaking in the sun as barbeques are ablaze, copper cauldrons bubble with polenta and every pool's max capacity is stressed to its limits, not a single empty sunbed in sight. 

For years we have hosted huge ferragosto feasts for Italians and our guests with a whole porchetta and panzanella party, polenta over an open fire, a four course farm feast and even a pizza party for groups of 30-100 hungry locals! It's always an insanely chaotic opera of sorts: sun, food, fun, drinks, a bit of drama, merry music, a game of scopa and more food of course, followed by caffe' (you see it lasts all day)... But no matter how exhausted you are at the end of the day (see final photo below) it's worth it because everyone had a great day and left full & happy!

 This year we decided to take it off and enjoy the day at Dr. Gaggi's for lunch - so, Buon Ferragosto! - we're on our way to lunch!

A look back at Ferragosto at our farmhouse from years past....

And the tired Chef at the end of the day...asleep on the kitchen table with a half a porchetta at his fingertips!

Saturday, August 11

Our 1st Video Recipe: Lunch {Pranzo} in 90 seconds

In our first attempt at 'film making' with our Nikon we thought we'd start simple: lunch.
Here's our 90 second recipe of a simple farmer's lunch of fresh picked tomatoes, aged sheep's milk cheese & olive oil on good crusty bread filmed in the kitchen of our farmhouse in Le Marche, Italy. As Jason prepared our pranzo, I shot this rough video & we edited as we ate.  
Pardon the wobble & focus - I'm learning and the camera gets heavy without a tripod.

So - what do you think? We'd love to hear your comments!!

Wednesday, August 8

In Season: Heirloom Tomatoes with 5 Tasty Tomato Recipes

...And so it begins, the big tomato harvest! 
We literally can pick kilos of tomatoes every morning with hundreds of plants in 10 varieties. We grow the classics like San Marzano, beef steak & ciliegino to more rare plants like tiny yellow 'egg yolk'  & black Japenese tomatoes. Needless to say, we eat a LOT of pomodori in the summer and preserve 300+ jars for the winter/spring. Even with all the delicious tomato dishes we eat, I love them most of all freshly picked, warm from the sun, roughly chopped drizzled with olive oil & a good sprinkle of sea salt piled high on crusty bread! Now that's lunch (seriously, almost daily).

Enjoy the tomato photos from our garden.

Here are a few of my favorite tomato recipes to enjoy at the height of tomato season:
5 Tasty Tomato Recipes
Pappa al Pomodoro - amazing tomato bread soup
Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Anchovy - savory & so simple
Pasta with Raw Tomato and Lemon Infused Olive Oil - keep the kitchen cool with a raw tomato sauce
Classic Tomato Bruschetta - it's a classic for a reason
Cranberry Beans, Cherry Tomatoes & Cucumber Salad- the perfect lunch with a wedge of cheese
 Stuffed Tomatoes with Rice & Shrimp - a great "meatless Monday" recipe

Sunday, August 5

A Refreshing Twist: Mint Infused White Wine Syrup

On a hot afternoon, pass on the soda or sugary flavored teas and pour a cold glass of sparkling water with mint infused white wine syrup. The recipe is ridiculously simple and makes for a refreshing twist to an aperitivo or perfect for macerating fruit.

 Mint grows like weeds in our garden, popping up everywhere and spreading its long roots across the herb patch invading in on the chive and dill so I'm always looking for ways to use it!

Mint Infused White Wine Syrup / Cordial
Sciroppo di Mente

Wednesday, August 1

Italian Butchery and Sausage Making Course with Mushroom Hunting & Wine Tour, 22-27 October 2013

If you call yourself a "foodie," pig lover, wine-o, gourmet or gourmand this culinary holiday is for you! Vegetarians seek refuge elsewhere because for five nights in October it's a all about meat in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains of Central Italy. This fall savor the slow food & experience Italian farm life first hand with this unique holiday at La Tavola Marche (Organic Farm, Inn & Cooking School)  for our annual Forage, Slaughter & Butchery Program with mushroom hunting, pig & chicken butchering, sausage making and hands-on cooking classes incorporating the fresh butchered meats and a fabulous wine tour and tasting. Five Nights: 22-27 October 2013, 885 Euro Total per person (max 10 people).
  At La Tavola Marche you know where your food comes from; vegetables fresh picked from the garden, eggs from the free-range hens, truffles foraged from the woods and fresh meat from the neighbor.  In a small group of ten you will truly experience the Italian country life & way of eating.

 The first night you are welcomed to the 300 year old stone farmhouse with the rich smells of a slow burning fire escaping through the kitchen door, a feast to be remembered with each of the five courses paired with local Marche wines and topped with truffles. 
Spend the morning outside Urbino (UNESCO World Hertitage Site) at a locally famous pig reserve for a tour of their farm, demonstration on butchering and a delicious lunch of Carlo's cured specialties. While at Ca'Bianchino students will follow the process, identifying and trimming different cuts of pork, learning the best cooking and curing technique for each cut well as a range of basic butchery skills as well as the basics of the aging process, how to make salami, cured meats and sausages. 
Back at the farmhouse we will stuff our own sausages to grill over the open fire for dinner! After a day of meat, relax the following day by sampling the best family-run vineyards of Le Marche with a full day wine tour & tasting. Later in the week hike into the woods to forage for mushrooms then get down & dirty; slaughter & butcher our free range chickens incorporating it into cooking class for classic stock, stews & roasts.

Forage, Slaughter & Butchery Course in Italy
5 Nights: 25 - 30 October 2012
885 Euro Total per person 
(max 10 people)
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