Spring, Rain, Asparagus and Frittata

The calendar says the spring it’s here, but the weather says something different … rain and always rain !!! What a crazy  season: rain and cold in the morning, sun and warmth in the afternoon and the day after? who knows! We have to go out in the morning with jackets and sweater, and come back home in a sweat …

Are you going to come to Tuscany now? Would you like to know what kind of clothes put in your luggage? Everything! Jackets and tops,  sweater and light t-shirts, boots and flip flop, jeans and shorts … everything! You have to be ready for all kind of weather !!!  Last week in the morning, around 9am,  i was going to the lab crossing Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, i was wearing a jacket because it was raining and for me it was cold, some tourists were wearing shorts and t-shirt.  In the afternoon it was sunny and so hot that i sweated to death … it is hard to give a good advice!!!

asparagi

Rain or not, it’s spring and i love this season and i love the asparagus that grow in this season. Usually in April, every sunday morning, we go around  fields looking for wild asparagus. They are fantastic and very tasty, more than the normal ones. Pasta, Risotto, soups, fried eggs, frittata  ( and more recipes) are fantastic prepared with wild asparagus. Every sunday i was ready for my “asparagus hunt” with basket and knife but, as i said, this crazy season hasn’t given me the possibility to look for them: it was raining for all April and now i cannot find them anymore. Fortunately markets are full of “traditional” asparagus.

For our co-post about spring, Marissa and i have decided to share a recipe with asparagus. She has prepared Polenta Huevos Rancheros with Asparagus (yummi !!!), i have prepared my asparagus&gorgonzola frittata:

frittata asparagi&gorgonzola

Asparagus&Gongorzola Frittata

5 eggs
1/4 cup of milk
a small piece of butter
a big piece of gorgonzola
500gr asparagus, trimmed
olive oil
a clove of garlic
a pinch of salt
a pinch of pepper

asparagi  asparagi in padella  frittata

gorgonzola  frittata con gorgonzola  asparagi saltati in padella

In a saucepan saute the clove of garlic in extravergine olive oil, then add the asparagus. Cover and cook them untill they become tender.
In a bowl, beat eggs, add milk, salt and pepper. In a pan (not the one with asparagus!) melt the butter. Then pour the egg mixture, cover and cook over medium-low heat until eggs are nearly set, about 10 minutes. Cut thin slices of gorgonzola. When the frittata is almost ready ( still liquid on top), put the slices of cheese on the frittata. When the cheese is melted, add the asparagus. Cover and cook for 5 minutes more.

Buon Appetito !!!

Lacinato Kale Crostini

Cavolo Nero or Lacinato Kale … what a strange vegetable!!!

I discovered this crunchy and tasty vegetables ten years ago when I moved to Tuscany. The first time I saw it I was a little bit disappointed about touching the dark green, curly and rugose leaves. They seemed to be an “alien” veggie … a mix between organic staff and hard gum !!!!!!!!!!

Lacinato Kale  Lacinato Kale Crostini

But when finally I tried them, my idea had to change and I felt in love !!! Now i use a lot the lacinato kale to prepare soups, a nice risotto and some tasty crostini!

Every time I have a dinner with friends or a simple quick lunch with family, I prepare these crostini … sometimes i top them with different ingredients as spicy olive oil, fried bacon or flakes of Pecorino cheese, but always using the basic original recipe !

Thank to Marissa I have learned something new: I was thinking this kind of cabbage was typically from Tuscany and almost unknown in the rest of the world. When she proposed a “lacinato kale post” I had to look in a vocabulary to understand this strange word and, with joy, I’ve discovered it was my adorable “cavolo nero” and it was possible to use it in lots of different recipes as the delicious salad Marissa has prepared for her post!

Thanks to Marissa i’ll try a new delicious salad but also a “new version” of my lacinato kale crostini … with almond and garlic raisin on top!!! An incredible mix of the 2 recipe !!!

Lacinato Kale Crostini

A bunch of Lacinato Kale
2 Cloves Garlic
Extravergine olive oil
Slices of bread ( Tuscan bread if possible!!!)
Rocky salt
Water

Chop the lacinato kale in big pieces. In a pan sauté the garlic in extra verging olive oil until you can smell the garlic ( make attention not to burn it ). Add the lacinato kale, stir and make it fry a little bit. Add water and a pinch of rocky, stir and cover. Let it cook until it became tender, add water if necessary. Drizzle some extravergine olive oil on slices of bread and bake them in the oven for 10 minutes. Top them with cooked lacinato kale. If there is some water left in the pan  put some on the slices of bread before the lacinato kale …  it gives a very good taste!!!

Buon Appetito!

Cantucci for Christmas

I think a little package of homemade biscuits, well decorated and with a fancy tag, it’s the perfect Christmas gift! If you receive it, it tells you a lot about the person who made the gift!

I adore Christmas time and the feelings it creates in me … I enjoy thinking about the right gift for everyone, the decorations and a way to keep this atmosphere alive!
In this lovely mood I can spend all my days baking tons of biscuits and preparing little packages for family and friends … it is my way to tell I care and think about them!!!!!!

Christmas Gift 2012

This year for Christmas i’ve prepared a green and gold gift box, with a small tin of Olive oil, a jar of golden Honey, a cute bottle of Limoncello and a package of Cantucci.

Cantucci

Cantucci are my favorite biscuits and I love to use them as a gift. They are typical Tuscan “biscotti”, prepared with almond … usually they have to be baked crunchy because  the best way to taste these biscuits, it’s dip them in Vin Santo, a sweet, dessert wine … Delicious!!!

When Marissa proposed me to make a “biscuit post”, i could only think about Cantucci, my Christmas biscuits! Here it’s my recipe … but after Marissa’s post i have to confess i have 2 favorite Christmas Biscuits&Cookies : Cantucci and Soft Sugar Cookies!!! I adore our posts Marissa!!!!

Cantucci

50gr Butter
2 Eggs and 3 Yolks
400gr Flour
280gr Sugar
5ml Vanilla Extract
190gr Toasted Almonds (not peeled)
4gr Baking Powder
… a pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven at 180°C (350F). Melt the butter. In a bowl mix  flour, salt and baking powder. In a second large bowl whisk eggs, yolks and sugar with a mixer until the dough is soft and creamy. Add the butter and whisk. Add the vanilla extract and whisk. Add the dry ingredients and whisk. Finally add the almonds and mix using a wooden spoon.

Divide the dough in 3 parts ( 2 parts if you want bigger biscuits) and, on a lightly floured surface, roll each part into a 20cm (8inch) log and about 8-10cm (3-4inch) wide.

My Homemade Cantucci  Baking Cantucci

Put the logs on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. When ready, remove from oven and let cool them down for 10 minutes . When they are warm, but not cold, on a cutting board, cut logs into slices 1 cm thick using a sharp knife. Place the slices again on the baking sheets and back in the oven for 15minutes at 150°C ( 300°F). The longer you bake them, more crisp and crunchy they will become … I prefer to keep them a little bit soft inside, not too crunchy, and i bake for 15 minutes (as i’ve indicated above), If you like them crunchy let them bake  10 minutes more!

Buon Appetito and Buon Natale !!!!!!!!!

Polenta&Brasato … A special dinner

I love Tuscany and i adore MY life here… but MY roots …
I was born in Como and i lived over there for 25 years. I’m definetively a northern Italy person: sociabile but not too much, expansive but not too much, reserved too much. For the rest of Italy we are too unsociable to deal with !!! I do not care about what people think but at the same time, it bothers me because i’m tired to listen to people complaining about how awfull is going to live in a northern Italy: the weather is horrible ( most of them think there is only fog and rain all the time), the cities are too big and crazy ( Milan is a little bit crazy but it offers a lot of things), people are unpleasant (it’s not true and also it’s possible to find unpleasant persons everywhere!!!) and too reserved (we just think about our friends and family life), the food is always good but not in northern Italy ( we have delicious recipes but simply not known!!!) … Northern Italy has a lot of beautiful qualities and things to show off.
I’m telling all this because last night i’ve invited some tuscan friends for dinner and i’ve prepared some typical dishes from Lombardia (my “birth region”) to show them it was possibile to find something good in Northern Italy!

For dinner i’ve prepared polenta&brasato. This dish really remind me MY chilhood, when we used to spend sunday meals with parents&relatives…  Beautiful memories in a beautiful place!!!

Polenta&Brasato

Brasato (Braised Meat) is an easy recipe but very tasty, it’s perferct for wintertime!!! You just need a lot of time (preparation + 4 hours cooking) because the meat has to cook slowly in the sauce made with tomatoes sauce or red wine. A good cut of meat for braising is the shoulder of the animal (we call it “cappello da prete“).
The “Brasato meat” is perfect served with polenta or mashed potatoes.

Here the recipe from My grandmother cookboook!!!

Brasato al Vino Rosso … recipe for 6 persons

2kg  Beef Meat … the entire piece
1lt  good Red Wine ( i used Chianti but also Barolo … i love mixing italian products and recipes)
a big Onion, chopped
2 Carrots, chopped
2 Celery ribs, chopped
a Garlic clove
a can of Diced Tomatoes
a tsp of Clove
a tsp of Nutmeg
extravergine olive oil
a tbs of rocky salt

cappello da prete  soffritto

In a heavy-bottomed pan, add olive oil, carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Using a mixer, mince all the vegetables together. Saute the vegetable mixture, then add the piece of meat. Brown the meat on both side for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and add the red wine, the diced tomatoes, nutmeg, clove and rocky salt; cover the pan and simmer. Every 45minutes turn the piece of meat and check the level of the braising liquid. The liquid should just barely cover the meat. If you need more liquid (usually a liter of wine is enough) add half of a glass of red wine a time. When ready (the meat has to be tender), cut into slices the meat and serve it with the sauce on.

Buon Appetito!!!

PS. My friends all enjoyed the dinner !!!!!!!!!!!!

A busy day and a tasty soup

I like a lot to make posts with Marissa, and this time I am twice happy for our “soup swap” post. Today I had a busy day. When i got home i was really tired and freezed, outside the weather was cold. I went straight to the kitchen and i started preparing the soup i’ve decided to cook for our soup swap post, Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup following Marissa‘s recipe. While i was cooking all the fatigue e il chilly sensation went away, and we all enjoyed this delicious and creamy soup … the perfect meal after a cold and busy day! And thank you Marissa for your “buonissima” soup!!!

zuppa di zucca

Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup

a Butternut Squash ( i used 600gr)
a large onion
a sweet potato
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
chicken or vegetable broth
a piece of fresh ginger
extravergine olive oil
salt
black pepper
nutmeg

Peel and cut into large pieces the butternut squash, the onion and the sweet potato. In a pan add olive oil and onion. Cook until the onion is translucent. Add butternut, potato and garlic, stir and add the broth. The broth has to cover all the chunks. After 15 minutes add the ginger and stir. Let it cook untill the butternut squash and potato are soft. Puree the soup using an immersion blender. Add nutmeg and black pepper to taste.

In Marissa’s recipe, it’s supposed to serve the soup with creme fraiche or sour creme. I could not find both of them so i added a small spoon of fresh ricotta made with sheep milk ( it’s more salty and tasty than the one made with cow milk).

Buon Appetito!!!

Tina&Herman

I like so much my cooking classes!!! It’s always a beatiful occasion to meet special persons.

Last Wednesday i organized a cooking lesson for Tina and Herman, a lovely couple that live in Singapore. They were travelling around Italy and they spent a week at Casina di Rosa in Civitella Marittima (Gr) where they knew about my “classes” .

I had a wonderful afternoon with them full of recipes, italian kitchen and a lot of talking about everything. And they payed me a lovely and sweet compliment: ” Giovanna, you make every recipes so easy to prepare!” This is exactly what i want from my lessons, i do not know if i’m a good teacher but i put all my passion in them!!!

Thank you Tina and Herman, i hope to see you soon!

Autumn in Tuscany and Castagnaccio Recipe

The Fall Season is the subject of our second “America-Italy” Post. Marissa and I both love autumn, and our idea is to describe all the feelings that this season brings to us. One of my dreams is spending an entire autumn travelling around USA, watching the nature changing colors, living all the traditions, first of all Halloween and Thanksgiving, and trying all the delicious fall recipes. One day I’ll do for sure, for now i love reading Marissa’s post and try her tasty recipe, and I enjoy the Italian autumn!

I like all the seasons but autumn has a special appeal to me! Autumn carries something new everyday: the change of the landscape colors, the sky shades, the scents of the air, with the fall season, markets show new fruits and vegetables on stall and new flowers in vases.

In Autumn there are no important holidays or celebrations in Italy. But there is something special in the Tuscan Autumn, a particular atmosphere , a “back to the country life” atmosphere . Most the activities of this season involve products of the land and what they are transformed in. All the activities offer the possibility to go back to what it’s simple and enjoy “country life”. This is the time for walking in woods looking for mushrooms or chestnuts, spending days outside picking up olives, collecting firewood in the forest and for kids running around collecting dry leaves and pinecones. In tuscany and all Italy Fall season means also hunting season, i do not like it but it’s another part of our country life. All these activities remember to us the significance of the farmland in our life, remind us that the countryside is part of us. My last consideration: the autumn remind us also how warmful and joyful is spending time together doing all these activities.

Here some autumn activities in Tuscany:
One of the most important activity in Tuscany it’s the olive picking and the production of Extravergine Olive Oil. At the end of October the picking starts. It can be done by hand or using tractors with an compressed air machine and some mechanic rakes. Everyday, at the end of the day, all the picked olives have to be taken to the olive press. The day after you’ll have your new extravergine olive oil. Some farms, like Podere Vignali, organize olive picking days open to guests…It is a nice experience to try!!!

In autumn a lot of people loves searching for mushrooms,

and chestnuts

Chestnuts are delicious, we eat them in a lot of way: roasted, dry and boiled in milk. It is possible to produce flour from chestnuts, it is used principally to prepare pasta (principally tagliatelle), cakes ( see my recipe!!!) and biscuits. We have chestnut recipes for risotto or soups. Also it’s possible to prepare chestnut jam, sweets (my favorite is Marron Glacè … see the photo above) and taste chestnut biere.
In Tuscany there are a lot of areas with woods of chestnut tree but 5 places are very famous for the quality of these fruits, where it’s possible to find the DOP and IGP chestnut and its products. These 5 places are: Garfagnana (Lucca) known for a special chestnut flour “la Farina di Neccio”, Lunigiana (Massa Carrara) for the chestnut and the chestnut flour, Mugello (Firenze), Amiata(Grosseto) and Caprese Michelangelo (Arezzo) known for their special chestnuts.

Another autumn activity is collecting and setting all the firewood, ready for the cold season. I love to lay in front of a fireplace, with friends and family, talking and drinking wine … W Autumn!!!

My favorite activity is dedicated to the autumn fruits (and most of the time prepare jams) and vegetables. In a market it’s normal to find apples, pears, kaki, grapes, escarole, cauliflowers and broccoli in autumn, but, in Tuscany, in this season there are some other particular fruits as queens, loquat, “corbezzoli”, pomegranate

and vegetables as cavolo nero, variety of cabbage and chard, perfect ingredients for delicious soups

for example Ribollita !

As i wrote above i love autumn. For me the autumn means all these activities and more. I love all the situations that fall season inspire me … like the pleasure to walk with the cool breeze on face, to admir the morning mist rise and dissapear with the sun and when it’s too cold to stay at home with family and friends … and to cook seasonal recipe for all !!!

Here a autumn tuscan recipe, Il castagnaccio , the chestnut flour cake, easy and delicious !!!

Castagnaccio

350ml water
250gr chestnut flour
100gr raisins
60gr pinenuts
60gr walnut (coarsely groud)
3 tbs of olive oil
2 pinches of salt
some rosemary needles

Pass the flour throught a sieve and put it on a bowl. Mix the water and the olive oil and add a pinch of salt. Add the water and olive oil mix to the flour slowly, while mixing. The batter has to be soft , not too liquid. Add pinenuts, walnuts and raisins and mix well. Oil a pan large enough so the castagnaccio will be 1cm thick. Pour the batter. Put the rosemary needles on the batter ( i have not done it because i do not like it !). Bake it at 200°C (400 Fahrenheit) for 40 minutes.
Buon Appetito!!!

My Baking Day (part2) – Coconut Shortbred Cookies and Raisin Shortbread Cookies

After the chocolate cake, I wanted to bake shortbread cookies.

While I was preparing the dought, i’ve decided to add some new ingredient for a little “special touch”. My mind started thinking, i could hear its noise, a kind of “…. Mumble mumble … “. I opened the closet and I found a dry coconut jar and a raisin jar, “why not to try with one of these?” I thought … “Which one?” … Mumble mumble again … “But it is my baking day so I’ll try both!!!” … et voila’: 2 differents types of shortbread cookies!

And these are my experiments:

Coconut Shortbread Cookies

and Raisin Shortbread Cookies

Not perfect but not bad, especially the one with dry coconut, it gives a sweeter touch!!!

Coconut or Raisin Shortbread Cookies

2 cups of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of butter at room temperature
1/2 cup of superfine white sugar
1 teaspoon of vanillina or vanilla extract
3 tablespoon of dry coconut or 3 tablespoons of raisin

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and set aside. Beat the butter until soft and creamy, then add sugar and beat untill the dough becomes very smooth. Add vanillina and mix. Pour the dough in the bowl with flour and salt mixture. Add dry coconut or raisin. Mix really well. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for an hour . Preheat the oven to 180°C ( 356°F). On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 5cm thick circle. Cut the cookies into the shape you prefer with a cookie cutter. Place them on a baking sheet. Put back in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, it will firm up the dough so the cookies will maintain their shape. Bake them for 10-15minutes, they have to remain lightly brown.

Buon Appetito!!!

My Baking day (part 1) – Chocolate Cake

Sometimes i take a day off from everything, i wear my apron and my kitchen becomes my world: my baking day!

I love it, it is MY time for me and my passion, I can prepare cakes, cookies and biscuits using “already tested” recipes, try new one, taste new ingredients and mix them for MY recipes … I adore my baking day!!!

Yesterday afternoon I dedicated my baking time to prepare a cake following an old recipe, a chocolate cake recipe, and modify another one, shortbread cookies recipe.

I founded the choco cake recipe in a nice old cookbook long time ago, i’ve tasted it so many time but it has never bothered me. It is a fantastic chocolate cake, a little bit chewy, as i like it, with no cocoa powdered but real dark chocolate !!!

Chocolate Cake

200gr dark chocolate
100gr butter
3 eggs
3 tablespoons of flour
200gr castor sugar

Cut the dark chocolate in pieces. Put the pieces of choccolate with the butter in a double saucepan and melt them. In a bowl beat yolks with sugar and then add flour. Beat until stiff the egg whites. Add the chocolate and butter mix with the yolks and sugar mix, add the beaten egg whites. Mix very well all the ingredients. Pour the batter in a pan and bake it in the oven to 180°C ( 356°F) for 25-30 minutes. Serve it with confectioners’ sugar on top.

Buon Appetito!!!