It’s unusually cold in coastal California—a chilly 50 degrees Fahrenheit in our little valley with frost blanketing the landscape at night. The horses wintering over in our pasture have grown sturdy winter coats, their collective breath rising like steam from a boiling pot. We’re bundled up and filled with joy as we prepare to spend the first Christmas in with our family since we moved to Italy. Read more
Posts tagged ‘Pascarosa Extra Virgin Olive Oil’
The temperature here is dropping as I write. Snow flurries and high winds blew in last night, but today’s snowfall is almost an afterthought, with patches of brilliant blue sky behind ominous clouds. Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, but we welcome the chill if it will lay waste to the olive fly larvae that burrow in the soil of our olive grove. There’s little else to do but stay inside and cook while entertaining visions of insect death and destruction, hoping the incongruity of these two activities doesn’t indicate something troubling about my state of mind. Read more
Maybe you’ve been following the Italian and Spanish olive harvest news this year. If so, it won’t come as a surprise that 2014 will be remembered as one of the worst years in history for premium olive oil. For a variety of reasons, olive oil production is down by as much as 40% overall in Italy this year. And for premium extra virgin and organic olive oils, the situation is even worse. Read more
After the eating endurance event known as a southern Italian holiday season, we’re tightening our belts. Or at least we’re making an effort in hopes of tightening them. Pasta al forno, that decadent layered masterpiece of the Christmas table here, has been banished from ours. Likewise the zampone, a pig’s trotter stuffed with, yes, more pork, is off the list. And the pettole? Those deep-fried puffs of yeasty dough immersed in vanilla-scented sugar are now just a guilt-tinged memory. But if you think we’re resigned to insipid plates of sad, boiled vegetables, you are dead wrong. We’ve embraced a world of flavor with the bounty of Puglia’s winter vegetable, fruit, grain, nut, seed and legume harvest. And Puglia’s seafood and farm players still figure in the equation, playing a supporting role to great effect. Read more
2014 is drawing to a close. In Puglia, snow flurries blanket the cone-shaped roofs of this region’s iconic stone houses. The air is brisk as the sun sinks low in the sky, limestone-paved alleyways glow with the reflected light of wrought-iron streetlights and residents settle in for winter as they have always done. But there is disquiet here, a growing sense that so much of Italy’s infrastructure, the modus operandi that touches all aspects of life, is profoundly troubled. From the morning caffè chat in the local bar to the increasingly gloomy headlines in evening news, there is collective acknowledgement that years of “crisi,” the pervasive economic stagnation that is crippling Italy’s younger generation, is here to stay. But amidst the endless stories of despair, there is reason to hope. Read more
Summer seemed to fly by in Puglia this year, and not only because of the weather. Along with partner Nancy Harmon Jenkins, we’ve been busy planning AmorOlio in Puglia, our food-focused tours that start this fall. We were almost too focused to notice the late spring rains and capricious thunderstorms that blew into Italy in June, effectively putting summer on hold. When it finally arrived in mid-August, the southern heat settled in as if to make up for lost time. So we took a time out and did our best to maximize the long, sunny days and balmy nights here. Aperitivi on the roof terrace, lunch at the beach and as many bike rides as we could manage, but only when the thermometer stayed on the cooler side of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. And we dove deeply into the sea of summer produce that swells the markets in late summer. We’re still making all our favorite fair weather dishes as often as possible before the gorgeous fruits and vegetables disappeared for another nine months. Read more
It’s a little trickier than it looks. You need nimble fingers, perseverance and a patient teacher. We had at least one of these attributes when we joined a workshop at La Casa degli Uccellini last week to learn how to make ramasole, Puglia’s iconic tomato bunches gathered together with thick cotton strings for long preservation. Thanks to cultural historian Teresa Acquaviva, the founder of an organization that develops events like this to acquaint Italians with their agrarian past, the evening we spent learning about this seasonal pastime was inclusive, engaging and lots of fun. It represents the very best kind of tourism in a place that deserves so much more focus in Italy and beyond for its culinary traditions among so much else. Read more
It’s August 15th, the day when ancient Romans rested, the Virgin Mary’s sinless soul and uncorrupted body ascended into heaven and modern Italians take to the nearest body of water to escape the inevitable August heat wave. Called Ferragosto today in a nod to its origins in antiquity during Emperor Augustus’s rule, this holiday marks the pinnacle of the summer season in Italy. And like every holiday here, it is celebrated en masse in exactly the same way all over the country. Read more
We always appreciate the scale of our town in Italy when summer rolls around. Just about everything we really need is a short walk away from our front door. But we are especially grateful for all this proximity when the relentless Pugliese summer sun beats down, sapping every ounce of energy from our limbs. Then we summon ourselves into action early in the morning, making the rounds of the bar for a quick caffè ghiacciato (iced coffee), the pescheria (fish market) or the maccelleria (butcher) and, best of all, the fruttivendolo (fruit and vegetable shop) that is so mercifully close to us that we call down our order from our balcony. Italians call this shopping a kilometro zero, literally sourcing products at zero kilometers of distance. We call it incredibly lucky and we take advantage of the ease every single day. Read more
Everybody has one. Whether you are a world class chef or a home cook with a week’s worth of dinner menus on regular rotation, you are inevitably known for one special dish—the one you never get tired of making. Friends always want the recipe, you count on it to be great every time you serve it and you can make it in your sleep. It’s your signature dish—your piatto forte.
You probably can’t remember how you came to be associated with your piatto forte. Maybe you found a recipe that intrigued you so much that you just had to try it. Your initial effort was met with enthusiastic approval, so you found yourself recreating the dish for guests, growing more confident with its execution with every repetition. Or maybe you learned it from your grandmother, adjusting the recipe over time to make it your own. By now, you never even look at the recipe, though, so ingrained is the process of crafting your signature dish. You can reproduce it when you’re away from home in someone else’s kitchen, even without access to familiar, go-to ingredients. Whether your piatto forte is as basic as guacamole or as complicated as paella, you’ve made it your own and the world is a happier place because of it.
My piatti forti always seem to come from the antipasto (appetizer) category. I love the way appetizers tease the palate, making way for the main
meal to come. Antipasti are a great vehicle for in-season vegetables, too. The best ones offer contrasting textures and flavors along with visual appeal. And antipasti can be designed to comprise an entire meal, offering intriguing tastes without overwhelming guests.
I have already shared my family’s all-time favorite—Braised Leeks— in another post, but Peperoni Ripieni (Stuffed Peppers) run a very close second. I learned how to make them when we visited Puglia for the first time almost 20 years ago and still make them for Italian friends here—a very tough crowd. Now that shiny, fleshy red and yellow peppers are dominating our local vegetable market, I am rediscovering why this recipe lives at the top of the list, ticking off all of the elements that transform a recipe into a piatto forte. Peperoni Ripieni can be made well in advance. Their baking time is flexible and they can be eaten hot from the oven or, even better, at room temperature. Their filling is equally flexible, rendering them highly customizable, which is how they could easily become your own personal piatto forte, too. Don’t be tempted to skip the pepper roasting and peeling process, though. In addition to creating one of the most addictive kitchen aromas ever, the flavor of freshly roasted peppers just cannot be replicated with jarred or canned peppers.
Peperoni Ripieni—Stuffed Peppers
4 large red and/or yellow peppers
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. roughly chopped capers
2 Tbsp. toasted, roughly chopped pine nuts
1 salt-packed anchovy, boned, rinsed and roughly chopped (If necessary, substitute 1 scant teaspoon of anchovy paste or leave it out altogether for vegetarians.)
½ cup toasted breadcrumbs
½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano or marjoram (optional; if you don’t have any fresh herbs, just omit them)
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
First, roast the peppers. Set the oven to broil and cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the peppers on the baking sheet, then put the baking sheet in the oven about 4 inches from the broiler unit above them. Roast the peppers until the side facing toward the broiler is blackened, then carefully rotate each pepper and broiling until each pepper is thoroughly blackened. Place the blackened peppers in a resealable plastic bag and let rest for 15-20 minutes or until cool enough to handle.
Carefully remove the peppers from the bag, one at a time, as you peel the blackened skin from the flesh underneath. Remove all seeds and white, pithy membranes. Lay each pepper flat on paper towels to absorb excess moisture. Don’t be tempted to remove the skin by running cool water over the surfaces of the peppers; water dilutes the exceptional pepper flavor.
Sometimes the peppers will separate into sections. This is fine as long as the pieces are at least 2 inches wide. For each pepper, you should end up with four pieces, each of which will be stuffed with the filling mixture and rolled up.
While the skinned peppers are draining, mix the capers, pine nuts, anchovy, breadcrumbs, and parsley. Add the extra virgin olive oil and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
If the peppers aren’t already separated in 2-3 inch-long pieces, slice them accordingly. In an ovenproof dish, swirl a little extra virgin olive oil into the bottom to coat thoroughly.
On the inside side, place a heaping teaspoon (approx.) of filling at end of each pepper piece closest to you. Carefully roll up the pepper piece to enclose the filling and place the roll, end underneath, in the baking dish. Repeat this process until all of the pepper slices are filled. Drizzle a little more extra virgin olive oil over the tops of the pepper rolls.
Bake the rolls in a hot over (400 to 425 degrees) until they are hot, with a golden toasty appearance on the top. Serve them hot, or let them cool to room temperature and serve as part of an antipasti selection. You can also prepare them early in the day, waiting until just before serving to bake them.
Serves 4-6 as part of an antipasto (appetizer) selection.
Note: In Naples and Sicily, it’s not unusual to find currants or raisins added to the filling mixture. To do this, soak 2 Tbsp. of currants or raisins in hot water for 15 minutes, then drain, chop and add them to the filling mixture.