There are witches in the air: purple cauliflower soup

Purple cauliflower soup

2 Servings

Looking at Her Majesty’s Halloween menu, I had the impression that something was missing. What was it? We had the bats and the skeleton and the ghost … so? But some witches of course!

Purple cauliflower soupOver the last few days, I have been thinking about a dish which would be reminiscent of witches and when I saw a purple cauliflower at the grocery store, the idea struck me like a thunder. Isn’t purple a typical witch color? How about a purple soup to be served after the bat eyes and before the skeleton stake? :-)

I decided to use very few ingredients – kind of a basic soup recipe, because I didn’t want the color of the other ingredients to alter the purple color of the cauliflower. And since witches are always a little bit sinister, I thought that a touch of yellow was a must, beside contrasting nicely with the deep purple (no, not the band…). So I sprinkled some olive oil and added some lemon strips on top of the soup. I was very pleased to find out how beautifully the citrus flavor contrasts with that of the cauliflower.

Purple cauliflower soupHer Majesty was so excited by the purple color that for the first time ever she ate some soup without making any fuss. Actually, I couldn’t believe my eyes! :-) And I’m pretty sure that if you serve this dish for a dinner party, your guests will be really surprised and amazed at the same time. :-)

Ingredients:

1 shallot, chopped
2 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
2 potatoes, diced
1 purple cauliflower
1 1/2 Cups, vegetable stock
1 lemon
Salt
Ground white pepper

Directions:

Wash the cauliflower and cut the florets off. Set them aside.

In a medium/large pot, place 1 Tbsp of olive oil, the shallot and a couple of tablespoons of water and cook, on low heat, until the shallot softens.

Purple cauliflower soupAdd the cauliflower florets, the potatoes, some salt and pepper (to taste) and the vegetable stock and toss to coat. Cook, stirring often, for about 20/25 minutes. Eventually, the florets and the potatoes will turn kind of mushy and the stock will almost completely evaporate.

In the meantime, using a citrus zester, cut some strips out of the lemon peel. Set them aside.

Transfer the soup to a food processor or a blender and blend until it is smooth and creamy.

Return the soup to the pot and, on a very low heat, cook for a few minutes, stirring often.

Pour the soup into two serving bowls or plates and add some olive oil and lemon strips on top of each.

We wish you all a super fun and sweet Halloween!

Francesca Xx

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Sofia’s first birthday and a pinch of Halloween

Sofia in the Fall

This post is way overdue. After I terrified half of the blogosphere last January telling my blogger friends stories about my neurosis during the first weeks of my life with Sofia, I haven’t written another post to let you know how things have been working out in the following months (well, except Stefano’s very quick note back in April). I thought it was time for me to break the silence.

People say that puppies are like babies. They are absolutely right. After Sofia turned 6 months (about 3 years old in human terms), my domestic life got much easier and quite enjoyable.

Sofia in the Fall

Sofia is a sweet, cheerful and happy dog. She is great at playing with children and other dogs and everybody ends up liking her and petting her. Some chewing is still there, but it is getting better and better. Is she the most disciplined dog? Of course not! I find myself being less strict with Sofia than I am with Her Majesty. Every time I am about to put her in timeout, she looks at me with those begging eyes as if she wanted to ask me “are you seriously considering to put me in timeout?…” Well, that look is too adorable to resist, even for me! ;-)

What I really learned and discovered during the past months can be summarized in two words: unconditional love. Unconditional love is such an unattainable feeling. It is the purest kind of love. I believe it is what Sofia feels for the members of her family. She is happy for me and with me when I’m in a good mood and she is sad when my day is not so great and I feel kind of blue. She tries to comfort me: she licks me and lays down with one of her paws on my foot as if she was telling me “don’t worry. Everything is going to be fine. I’m here for you”. Sometimes I feel that she can read my soul. All this without saying a word. Only with her body language. And most importantly, without asking anything in return.

Sofia in the Fall

When did I find out that I had fallen in love with Sofia? It happened this summer. One afternoon, I was home by myself (Stefano was on a business trip). She started feeling very sick and I had to rush her to an emergency hospital. Thank goodness my friend and neighbor was home and she was kind enough to drive me and Sofia to the hospital. I’m a very bad driver and, under the circumstances, I couldn’t think straight. When the doctor told me that she had no idea why Sofia was sick and that it would have been better to hospitalize her for the night, my heart missed a beat. I cried all my way home, I barely slept a couple of hours that night and I found some peace again only the next morning, when I got a phone call from the same doctor telling me that Sofia was much better and I could go to pick her up. You see, that night I realized that I cannot imagine my life without Sofia.

So the message that I would like to send to those who dislike dogs (like the previous version of myself) and those who are undecided whether or not to join the dog lover camp is simple. Sure, a dog is a huge commitment. Sure, a dog can be messy and the cleaning is virtually endless. Sure, life with a little puppy is a nightmare. However, if you are patient enough and willing to surround your dog with love, tenderness and care (yes, and the right amount of discipline!), it is only a question of time before this wonderful furry creature starts to fill your heart with infinite love and joy.

Banana and Nutella sandwich

Enough with this! It simply does not sound like me and people can get scared. :-) Only a few more words on the photographs of this post.

Her Majesty was really excited about Sofia’s first birthday. She made one of her own favorite treats – a banana and nutella sandwich – and prepared the shooting set for Stefano taking care of every single detail. The last photograph was taken by Her Majesty herself and Stefano is really proud of his pupil! :-)

Halloween decorations

As you can see from the image below, she also decided to give you a sneak peek of her Halloween dinner menu: who could ever resist bat eyes, skeleton stake and ghost gloup? If you are wondering what ghost gloup is, Her Majesty told me that it is a new ice-cream in her fantasy world. Maybe a variant of glop?… Care to join us for dinner that night? Anyone? ;-)

Francesca Xx

Halloween decorations

Posted in F'sT Home, Stuff We Like | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments

My goodbye to summer: tomato, olive and eggplant spaghetti

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghettiIt is time for me to let it go. Summer is my favorite season. It is when I feel my best. Every day I pick a pretty dress (preferably with a floral pattern) and a pair of ballet flats (I have way too many of them!) even if I just have to go grocery shopping. Oh by the way, is there someone out there that can explain to me once and for all why men (including my beloved husband) think that only women wearing high heels are sexy and feminine? How can’t they possibly understand that flats are very difficult to wear because they do not elongate the leg but it’s the leg itself that must be proportionate? Does the name Audrey Hepburn ring any bell? Wasn’t she feminine and chic with all her flats? I believe she was one of the most glamorous women on earth!

But I’m digressing. Back to summer. I drink lots of water and I eat tons of fruit and vegetables. I can easily follow a very healthy diet and lose a few pounds. This year I managed to lose about 14 pounds which – of course – I’m going to regain in the next few weeks because that’s just how my body reacts to the cold weather. I feel like mama bear preparing for going into hibernation, and I need a layer of fat to keep myself warm! ;-)

Unfortunately, mother nature has her own agenda. Everything is turning brown and orange and temperatures are lowering. Don’t get me wrong: fall is a wonderful and colorful season, but I’d rather enjoy it from the warmth of my house. :-)

So, I have decided to kiss my summer goodbye by sharing a recipe where tomatoes are the main character. I’m talking about those incredibly red tomatoes, so juicy and flavorful and whose scent is able to capture your nostrils from a distance. In Italy we called them “sauce tomatoes” and all by themselves they manage to turn the simplest tomato sauce into a winner! Of course, I couldn’t find sauce tomatoes in October, but the tomatoes that I used were really decent and so I said to myself: What the heck! Let’s draw the curtains over summer in style!. :-)

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghetti

Ingredients:

1,5lb, fresh tomatoes
2 garlic clovers
5 Tbsp and 1/2 cup, extravirgin olive oil
10 leaves, basil
1/2 cup, black pitted olives, cut in half
6/7 oz, spaghetti
1 eggplant
salt

Directions:

Wash the tomatoes and cut them up into 1 inch pieces. Set aside.

Rinse the basil leaves and shred them. Set aside.

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghettiUsing a citrus zester, cut some strips out of the eggplant skin. Add some salt (to taste) and set them aside.

In a large skillet, heat 3 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the tomatoes, the garlic, the basil, some salt (to taste) and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the skillet and add the olives. Keep cooking on a low heat until the water from the tomatoes has completely evaporated. Remove the skillet from the stove and add 2 Tbsp of olive oil.

Put a pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, in a small pot, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant strips and cooked them until they brown. Remove the strips from the pot and place them on some paper towel.

When the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the spaghetti, put them in the skillet with the tomato sauce and toss to coat.

Put the spaghetti into the serving plates and add some eggplant strips on top of each plate.

I wish you all a great end of the workweek and a wonderful weekend!

Francesca Xx

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When life spices up: an interview with Gourmandize

Red chili pepper plant

Hello Everyone!

Today, we are barging into your house for a few minutes only to share some exciting (at least for us!) news!

Do you know those early mornings when you have just switched the alarm off, your eyes are still half-closed and sleepy and your are trying to remember your name and figure out where you are? Oh well! Who am I fooling? All my mornings are like that! ;-)

Anyway, after I regain all my senses and before getting up, my mechanical arm grabs my phone from the bedside table and I check my emails. Not that I usually get great emails (quite the opposite!) but, every now and then, I happen to receive good news.

Now, you can imagine my surprise first, and excitement immediately afterwards, when – on one of those mornings – I read an email from the editor of Gourmandize asking us if we were interested in being interviewed and featured as Blogger of the Day on their site!

I have to admit I was not familiar with Gourmandize, but the more I check their website the more I get hooked. Gourmandize is a recipe sharing site created last year where the content is contributed by its members. You can register your blog with them, join their community and enjoy the benefits of their platform, while sharing your recipes and getting to know fellow food bloggers. Can it get any cooler than that?

So do yourself a favor: check Gourmandize out and open yourself and your food up to new possibilities!

If you are interested in reading our interview, you can do so here:

My interview on Gourmandize

Enough with the bragging! ;-)

I wish you all a great day!

Francesca Xx

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Scenes From an Italian Wedding and Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli Florets

Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli FloretsHello there!

Long time no talk and no cook! :-) My personal photographer has been buried alive in the office, working long exhausting hours, and I have been busy with a … home project that is taking more than I was expecting.

So where were we? Ah, my cousin’s wedding! Care to know how it was? Sure!

Let me set the tone of this post right away by saying that I don’t like weddings. With my being an introvert, I just hate big gatherings and I try to stay away from weddings as much as anyone tries to protect themselves from contagious diseases. I can literally count on the fingers of one hand the weddings that I enjoyed, which thankfully include mine – maybe because I was kind of the main character there. ;-) Still, I end up attending most of the weddings I’m invited to because good manners and social conventions require me to do it.

But let’s start from the beginning. The groom and the bride (my cousin) picked Ravenna, a town in Emilia Romagna (a region in Northern Italy) as their religious celebration venue. This choice upset some of my family members for different reasons, including that it contravened the old Italian tradition that a wedding must be celebrated in the bride’s hometown (which, in our case, would have been in Southern Italy).

The mass was set to start at 6:00pm on a Saturday. My close family, Her Majesty and I (Stefano, my sneaky husband, deserted the happy gathering adducing work-related excuses! ;-) ) arrived in Ravenna from Rome at 10:00pm on Friday, after (only!) a 5-hour train ride. I hadn’t even put one foot through the hotel doorway that a countless number of my mom’s relatives (first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, whatever degree cousins!) started hugging me and asking “Do you remember me?” The first thing that came to my mind? “Honestly, I haven’t the faintest idea who you are, maybe because the last time I saw you I was seven and please let me go since I need to breathe every now and then”. Did I go for it? Of course not! Only because I wouldn’t have heard the end of it from my mom. I put on my fakest smile and, using my best Virgin Mary voice, I said that it was very late and I had to put Her Majesty to bed.

The next morning, at breakfast, the same scene repeated itself more or less, only with more people and the additional tiny detail that everyone was speaking dialects from the south of Italy (both the bride’s and the groom’s families are originally from there). Now, I grew up listening to those dialects so, even if I cannot speak a word, I understand them pretty well. But Her Majesty? There is no day that goes by without Stefano correcting her Italian pronunciation and grammar so that she only speaks a perfect, proper and accent-less Italian, and as a result she felt completely lost in that breakfast room and she asked me which foreign language our relatives were speaking! ;-) That’s when I knew that I had to leave that room and leave fast. Ravenna gave me the perfect excuse.

Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli Florets

Ravenna is a little gem from a historical and artistic point of view. It was the capital of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and then of the Byzantine Empire until the 8th century. Ravenna’s monuments and mosaic art are so unique that UNESCO added eight, I say eight, of its monuments to the World Heritage List. Of course, it was impossibile for me and her Majesty to visit all of them that morning but I was determined to see as much as we could. When we stepped into the Basilica of San Vitale, Her Majesty was speechless (and believe me, it doesn’t happen very often!) in front of the extraordinary beauty and magnificence of the mosaics. We spent most of the morning contemplating as many mosaics as we could and Her Majesty got all excited at the idea that, maybe one day, she could attend Ravenna’s mosaic restoration school. Another site that you do not want to miss if you happen to be in Ravenna is Dante’s tomb. Yup, the divine poet died and was buried there in 1321. The stories of how Florence (Dante’s hometown and the same town that condemned him to exile) has been trying over the years to bring the body of the most famous Italian literate back home are really amusing. Time literally flew by and, at lunch, it was time to get back to my “family” reality.

Eventually 6:00pm came. Her Majesty was the ring bearer and she was supposed to precede the bride down the aisle. I immediately knew that the ceremony was going to be a disaster by the tone that the priest used to address my daughter outside the church: arrogant and rude! I disliked him instantly!

Now, the usual Italian catholic wedding ceremony is very long and the sermon is crucial in making the difference between a good one and a bad one. In my mind, a good sermon is one that is supposed to convey a sweet message of love, happiness and blessing for the newlyweds. Sweet sermon my foot!

The opening statement of that guy was that there was not going to be any sermon because the love of the two lovebirds didn’t need any comment and then he went on and on for 2 hours (two hours, I say!) pontificating and thundering against us, poor sinners, so strongly that I thought the dome was about to crack open and the arrows of some vindicative angels would pierce our hearts. I’m pretty sure that Michelangelo was listening to a sermon like that when he got the idea of how the Final Judgement should look like! ;-)

Finally, past 8:00pm, after surviving the Inquisition torture and avoiding divine punishment, we got out of the church and jumped on a private bus to go to the place where the wedding reception would be, which was (only! :-( ) a 40 minute ride away!!!
When we got there, people were famished. When they saw the appetizers’ buffet table, they attacked it like there was no tomorrow. I saw plates so full of food that a starving dinosaur would have turned pale in front of them!

And after everyone stuffed themselves with so much food that they were ready to blow up (à la Monty Python, you know the “wafer thin mint” scene?…), the unavoidable wedding dinner started. After two endless pasta courses (it felt like it took me less to give birth to Her Majesty!), at 11:30pm the second course was starting being served… Now, the newlyweds’ choice fell on pork (seriously? In August?) and they wanted to impress their guests showing the whole poor cooked animal on a serving plate before it was all cut out to delight our palates (like I still had one!). I had the brilliant idea to wear a pair of gorgeous Sergio Rossi high heels (over 12 cm) for the occasion. After all those hours, my feet were so swollen that you could have replaced them with those of the poor pork on that darn serving plate and nobody, nobody would have noticed the difference.

Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli FloretsAt 1:00am the wedding cake was finally brought out to the garden. I couldn’t care less at that point. I don’t even know what cake was served. I kept just staring at the people sitting at my table falling asleep on the plate and constantly watching their watches. Why? Because 2:00am was the time that had been set for our freedom. That was the time when the bus was going to pick us all up and take us back to the hotel.

The cherry on top of the cake? That night, the Italian gods decided to surprise us sending a thick fog our way – in August… The bus driver had to drive very slowly and it took us way more than 40 minutes to get back to Ravenna.

When I put my face on the pillow at 4:00am thanking God that this excruciating night was finally over, I promised myself that the next wedding I am going to attend will be Her Majesty’s!!!

Oh well, enough with the wedding! Let’s talk about something more tempting. :-)

Did I tell you that I love appetizers? A good appetizer (along with a glass of champagne or white wine of course!) has the magical power to put me in a great mood. Don’t get me wrong: I love the classic cheese platter, especially if it is full of rich, soft French cheeses, but variety is what makes life beautiful, isn’t it?

The good thing about this appetizer is that you can really cheat yourself. After all, you are eating vegetables. Let’s not focus on the fact that they are fried and wrapped in bacon, shall we? ;-)

Now, there is really no recipe for this appetizer. You will just need some broccoli and cauliflower florets, plus the same ingredients you would use to make your breaded chicken cutlets (flour, eggs, breadcrumbs), some extravirgin olive oil and some slices of bacon.

Directions:

Coat the florets into the flour. Shake the excess off and dip the florets into some beaten salted eggs. Let the excess drip off and coat the florets into the breadcrumbs.

Fry the florets in olive oil. When they are browned, remove the florets from the oil, place them on some paper towel and let them cool off.

Preheat oven at 375F.

Wrap the florets with bacon slices, overlapping the ends of the slices under the florets.

Put some parchment paper on a baking sheet, place the wrapped florets on the paper and bake them for about 10 minutes.

Remove the florets from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes.

Decorate the florets with party toothpicks of your choice et voila’!

Hope you are enjoying this gorgeous fall weather!

F. Xx

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So little time in the kitchen: peach and chocolate chips mini tarte tatins

Mini peach tarte tatinsHello everyone!

Hope you are having a glorious summer!

As a food blogger, I know I’m expected to share recipes, tips and culinary adventures that I have experienced during my stay in Italy, but I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed … or maybe not! ;-)

As I said on several occasion, cooking is just one of my passions. There are so many other things I tremendously enjoy. One of these things is resuming my royal role of daughter every time I go back to my country. :-)

You see, I was a very lucky, spoiled girl who never had to deal with any domestic chore for as long as I lived at home with my parents. When I left that house to play the role of an independent woman and a wife, I realized that real life was quite different from the one I was used to and it was kind of shocking to me but that’s another story! ;-)

Anyway, truth to be told I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I entered my mother’s kitchen to cook something during my stay.

I happen to have made the recipe I am going to share with you today during one of those miraculous times (as my mom likes to put it! ;-) ).

It was a Saturday of a very hot Italian summer and I had terrific plans for the day: taking Her Majesty to her swimming class, having lunch on the terrace of the yacht club and spending the entire afternoon on the beach reading, swimming and sun bathing. That morning I was daydreaming in my bed when my mother announced me that she had invited twelve guests for dinner that night and asked me if I could take care of the dessert.

Now, you can understand my predicament! I didn’t want to change my plans, not even a bit, but I didn’t feel like not helping my mom either. While brushing my teeth (I get a lot of ideas brushing my teeth ;-) ), the thought of a very simplified version of mini tarte tatins came to my rescue.

These little treats are very easy to make, even ahead of time if you have a busy day, and they look and taste wonderful. The combination of peach and chocolate is one of my favorites and I still have to meet a human being that doesn’t go for it.

So how did it go? Dinner was scheduled for 9:00pm (yup, that’s how we roll at my parents’ house!). I came back from the beach late afternoon and I had plenty of time to make the tarte tatins and be ready to help my mother serve the aperitivo to her guests. Our guests devoured the mini tarte tatins and I had exactly the day that I planned. In other words, those little beauties saved my day and, hopefully, they may do the same for you! :-)

Mini peach tarte tatins

Ingredients:

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 peaches
1/3 Cup, chocolate chips
1 Cup, confectioner’s sugar
1 yolk
1 Tbsp, milk
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place some parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Peel the peaches, slice them and set them aside.

Mini peach tarte tatinsLay the sheet of pastry on a floured surface and roll over so that you have a smooth sheet. Following the same technique to make linzer cookies, with a large round cookie cutter (of course you can pick the shape you like best), cut the pastry into rounds and place half of the rounds on the parchment paper. Using a smaller round cookie cutter, cut out the center from the other half of the rounds, put the outer edges of the circles aside and discard the centers as scrap. Combine such scraps, roll and cut again until you have used all your pastry.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolk and the milk.

In a non stick pot, combine sugar and about 1 Tbsp of water to make caramel. Bring the mixture to boil and cook until the mixture has thickened and turned amber in color.

Using a spoon (be careful because the caramel is very hot and it’s super easy to get burnt), place some caramel on the pastry solid rounds and add a couple of peach slices and some chocolate chips on top of the caramel.

Press the circle cut rounds on top of the solid ones and brush the edges with the egg wash.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the tarte tatins are golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and let them cool. Dust the tarte tatins with some confectioner’s sugar before serving them.

I’m heading over to Italy again this weekend. My first cousin is getting married and, according to my aunt, this wedding will be remembered as much as that of William & Kate. ;-) Plus, after two months of vacation, it is time for Her Majesty to come back home in time for the first day of school.

I wish you all to enjoy the rest of August. Talk to you soon,

F. Xx

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From Italy to Iran with love: Pepper and Pancetta Tortiglioni

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioniI have been fortunate enough to be asked by lovely Azita to write a guest post that she has published on her wonderful blog, Fig and Quince. If you don’t know Azita yet, do yourself a favor: go check her blog out and enter her enchanted Persian world.

This is the original guest post that I wrote for Azita, which contains a few differences (in the story, not in the recipe!) compared to that which Azita published: in other words, this is the director’s cut, if you will. ;-)

I have been lucky enough to get to meet Azita in person a few months ago. I don’t remember how we found each other on the blogosphere but I remember how I felt at the beginning of our “relationship”… cautious.

I have always been a big introvert and extremely good at keeping my distance from people – a huge disappointment due to a friendship that fell apart a couple of years ago didn’t help, and actually ended up making me even more skeptical, if possible, when it comes to meeting new people, either in person or over the internet.

However, when I started reading Azita‘s posts, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the cheerfulness, the lightness and the language richness of her writing style.

There is no doubt that her country, culture and culinary traditions are fascinating in and of themselves, but she is astonishingly capable to write about them in such an articulate and eclectic way that every time I read one of her posts I have the impression of reading one chapter of “One Thousand and One Nights”, where flavors, aromas, perfumes and ancient customs all blend in together to give birth to something magical.

And yet, her posts are always funny and cheerful and modern and colorful. Even her pictures and her compositions speak for the talented artist that she is. Her attention to details is impressive to say the least and her comments to other people’s posts are always brilliant with a touch of graciousness.

When I was about to meet her in person, I was nervous. I’m always nervous when I have to meet new people. It is simply not my thing! ;-) As soon as she stepped into my house, she came toward me and she hugged me and kissed me as if we had known each other for years. I will never forget that hug. Why? The warmth that her hug gave me as a human being was totally unexpected and yet so refreshing and fulfilling!

When I had to pick the dish to be published on Azita‘s wonderful blog as a guest post, I immediately went for a pasta dish with peppers. Why? Well, I’m Italian and pasta is one of the emblems of my culinary tradition. So no doubt there! :-) The reason I picked peppers is because I think they represent Azita in her fullness. Their color is so vibrant that they bring cheerfulness and happiness in your life as soon as you look at them and their taste is so strongly flavorful and overwhelming that as soon as you eat them your taste buds are literally pervaded by their richness the same way I was by Azita‘s hug that Sunday afternoon.

So from Italy to Iran – one way – with love!

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioni

2 Servings

Ingredients:

2 peppers
4 oz, chopped pancetta
1 leek
4 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
6/7 oz, pasta of your choice
2 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
four/five thyme stalks
Ground black pepper
Salt

Directions:

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioniPreheat your oven to 400F.

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Rinse the peppers under cold water, dry them and place them on a baking sheet (I always put some parchment paper on my baking sheet to be sure that nothing sticks :-) ). Bake for about 20 minutes (or until the peppers are cooked), take them out of the oven and, with the help of a knife and fork, remove the skin of the peppers.

In the meantime, cut off the green top of the leek and its root. Discard the outer layer. Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse the halves well under water. On a chopping board, slice the leek thinly and evenly. In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, add the leek slices, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add some water and stir occasionally until the water evaporates. Set aside.

In another skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of oil, add the pancetta and fry, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta gets golden and crispy. Set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, place the peppers, the leek slices, some thyme leaves and 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a blender or a food processor. Season with salt and pepper (to taste) and blend everything until you obtain a smooth sauce. Transfer the sauce to a pot and warm it on a very low heat.

When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook it until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and put it in the pot where you warmed the sauce and toss to coat. Add the pancetta and toss to coat.

Put the pasta into the serving plates, dust the top of each plate with some Parmigiano cheese and garnish the plate with some thyme leaves.

Love,

Francesca Xx

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Wine Review: I Borboni, Asprinio di Aversa “Vite Maritata” DOC 2011

Today’s wine is a very particular, small production Italian white wine from a little known appellation in the Campania region, namely I Borboni, Asprinio di Aversa “Vite Maritata” DOC 2011 ($21).

The Bottom Line

I Borboni, Asprinio di Aversa "Vite Maritata" DOCOverall, the I Borboni Asprinio was a good to very good white wine from an appellation that is not widely known, with a good QPR. It had a very good nose, if not too complex, with nice citrus and flowery aromas and hints of herbs. In the mouth its crisp acidity was all the way to the top of the scale and it went hand in hand with a marked, pleasant sapidity, both of which were very nicely balanced by the wine’s creamy smoothness. I Borboni’s Asprinio is a solid, good-priced option to consider for a warm Spring or Summer day, either by itself or paired to a seafood pasta or Francesca’s asparagus and pea flan.

Rating: Good to Very Good and Recommended Good to Very Good - $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape Variety and the Appellation

While Asprinio has for a long time been considered an autonomous grape variety (and still is by many today), DNA profiling has recently showed that Asprinio is actually exactly the same variety as Greco, which in turn is close to Aleatico. Greco is a white-berried grape variety that is mostly cultivated in Southern Italy, particularly in the Campania region.

If probably the best known appellation for Greco-based wines is Greco di Tufo DOCG near the town of Avellino in Campania, “the” appellation for Asprinio wine is Aversa DOC (also known as “Asprinio di Aversa DOC”) which was created in 1993 and encompasses an area, always in the Campania region, near the town of Aversa and the city of Naples, requiring the use of a minimum of 85% of Greco (locally known as Asprinio) grapes.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

Harvesting Asprinio di Aversa (AKA Greco) Grapes Image Courtesy of the Town of Aversa

Harvesting Asprinio di Aversa (AKA Greco) Grapes
Image Courtesy of the Town of Aversa

The word Asprinio is a variant of the Italian word “aspro” which means “sour” due to the high acidity that is typical of the wines made in this appellation. Based on the ISA wine pairing guidelines, this makes it the perfect wine to pair with dishes with considerable latent sweetness (please refer to my post about wine pairing guidelines for a more detailed explanation).

Another distinctive feature of the Asprinio di Aversa DOC appellation is the traditional way to grow the local ungrafted grapevines, where tall trees serve as natural trellis, resulting in vines that climb up to 82 ft (25 mt) high and require the use of very tall ladders to harvest the top grapes – the photograph to the right illustrates this singular grapevine growing method which is also known as “vite maritata” (literally, “married grapevine”).

About the Producer and the Estate

The winery that makes the Asprinio that we are reviewing (I Borboni) as well as their vineyards are located in the town of Lusciano, near Caserta, in Southern Italy’s Campania region and have been owned by the Numeroso family since the early 1900’s.

There, the Asprinio is still fermented and briefly aged in a winery that was built in a cave 43 ft (13 mt) deep into the ground, right underneath the owners’ family house. This provides an ideal environment for making and preserving the wine, ensuring even temperature, coolness and dampness throughout the year.

Our Detailed Review

I Borboni, Asprinio di Aversa “Vite Maritata” DOC 2011 was 12% ABV and it fermented for 15 days in stainless steel vats, where it then aged for 6 months, plus an additional month in bottle. A minor gripe that I have is that the bottle comes with a silicon closure, which I just find cheap and unbecoming of a good wine… but maybe that’s just me. ;-) It retails in the U.S. for about $21.

As usual, for my reviews I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine was a lush golden yellow in color and moderately viscous.

On the nose, it was moderately intense (bear in mind that this wine really opens up when it is not too chilled: for me, it peaked at 58 F/14.5 C) and moderately complex, with fine aromas of citrus, orange blossoms, orange zest, butter and herbs.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, had medium ABV and was smooth; it was acidic and tasty, medium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine flavors of citrus, orange, minerals and brine, with very accentuated sapidity and a medium finish. In its life cycle, the wine was mature, meaning drink now, do not hold.

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An unusual mini-bundt: asparagus and pea flan

Asparagus and pea flanLet me apologize first! I know this is my second asparagus post in a row. The truthful, not very glamorous reason is that I’m about to leave for Italy and I needed to empty my refrigerator. ;-) The first rule I learned when I started cooking is that food waste is a big no no and I try to abide by it.

However, you know me. Whatever the reason may be, I always try to go for something nice that satisfies my aesthetic sense in addition to my palate, especially when I’m handling ingredients as expensive as asparagus. Since I had just bought a mini-bundt pan at Williams Sonoma, I thought it would be fun to use it to make asparagus-based flans. I’m very pleased with the results. What do you think? ;-)

These flans are the perfect appetizers for a dinner party. They can be made ahead of time and served at room temperature or warmed-up. But above all, they are very cute and will impress your guests for sure! ;-)

I like to serve them with warm cheese sauce on top. I think the savory cheesiness of the sauce complements the very delicate texture of the vegetables wonderfully.

I wish you all a great beginning of summer. I’ll try to stay in touch as much as I can but I apologize in advance if I might miss some of your posts. Spending time with my extended family is wonderful, but it is also a full time job! ;-)

Asparagus and pea flanIngredients:

1 lb, asparagus
2 Cups, peas
1 leek
10 leaves, basil
2 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
1 1/2 Cup, stock
4 Tbsp, ricotta
4 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
5 eggs
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 340 degrees F.

Wash the asparagus spears and cut off the woody ends. In a large pot, heat some water until it boils, add the asparagus and keep boiling for 3-4 minutes. Strain the asparagus, rinse with cold water and cut into ¾ inch pieces.

Wash the peas under cold running water. In another pot, heat some water until it boils, add the peas and keep cooking until they are tender. Strain the peas and rinse them with cold water.

Cut off the green top of the leek and the root. Discard the outer layer. Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse the two halves well under water, being careful to leave them intact. Place each half, with the flat side facing down, on a chopping board. Slice the leeks thinly and evenly with your knife so that you end up with thin strips.

Asparagus and pea flanIn a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the leek, the peas and the asparagus, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add the stock and stir occasionally until the water evaporates. Set aside.

Chop the basil leaves roughly.

In a blender or food processor place the vegetables, the ricotta, the Parmigiano cheese, the basil and the yolks. Blend until you obtain a smooth mixture. Taste it to check whether you need to add more salt and blend again.

In a bowl, beat the egg whites until they get fluffy. With the help of a spatula, incorporate the beaten egg whites into the vegetable mixture.

Coat the mini-bundt pan molds with butter. If you do not have any such pan, you can use your regular muffin pan.

Fill the molds with the mixture. Place the mini-bundt pan inside a large, shallow pan. Add warm water to the large pan such that the lower half of the height of the mini-bundt pan is under water.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the mini-bundt pan from the water bath. Let the mini bundts cool.

Invert onto a serving plate and add some warm cheese sauce on top. Serve right away.

That’s all for today: talk to you soon from the old continent!

F. Xx

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Wine Review: Coppo, Moscato d’Asti “Moncalvina” DOCG 2011… and the Moscato Craze

Disclaimer: this review is of a sample that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the ISA wine tasting protocol and the opinions I am going to share on the wine are my own.

Coppo, Moscato d'Asti "Moncalvina"The wine that we are going to review today is a sweet wine from Italy’s Piemonte region, namely Coppo, Moscato d’Asti “Moncalvina” DOCG 2011 ($16).

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Moncalvina was a very good Moscato, one that is easy to drink, pleasant in the mouth, with great bouquet and flavors, as well as a lively acidity that perfectly counterbalances the wine’s sweetness. Whether you desire to match it to an appropriate dessert (something simple, like shortbread cookies or panettone) or just want to hop on the “trendy Moscato” bandwagon and have it as a sweet-tasting aperitivo (you can read more about this below), either way the Moncalvina is the right wine for the job and will deliver very good quality for the price.

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good - $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

And yet, before getting to the actual review of this wine, Moscato gives me the right opportunity for a little digression…

About the Recent Popularity of Moscato in the US

Over the last couple of years Moscato has known a period of incredible popularity in the U.S., where in particular a younger crowd (45 and below) seems to have embraced it as a “cool” wine to drink in the warmer months, not only with dessert (the way Moscato was originally “conceived” in Italy) but also as a before dinner drink (“aperitivo“) or even as a wine to pair with a meal. Just to give you an idea of so massive a commercial success, in 2013 Moscato has been the third most-sold wine in the United States, according to Nielsen, achieving an astounding $625 million in sales, thus surpassing those of Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling and closely trailing Pinot Grigio’s.

This process of making Moscato a hip wine has been facilitated by a few popular hip hop singers like Lil’ Kim and Kanye West who mentioned Moscato in the lyrics of their songs. Moscato’s generally affordable prices and typical low-alcohol, sweetish taste profile were also contributing factors to the appeal that Moscato seems to have for younger people.

Although I just barely fit within what has been identified as the Moscato lovers age group, I personally go in the opposite direction. I realize that Moscato is a wine that has incredibly identified itself with its traditional territory in the Asti area in northern Italy’s region of Piemonte and that has garnered a certain recognition (especially in its sparkling version) as an inexpensive, low-alcohol dessert wine traditionally served with panettone or pandoro on New Year’s eve. I get that. However, I have to be honest, Moscato is not my cup of… wine.

I mean, my favorite sparkling wines are dry (and actually, to me the less residual sugar the better) and they have good structure and a complex bouquet/flavor profile, essentially they are Classic Method sparkling wines, be it quality Champagne, Franciacorta, Trento DOC, Cava or the like. On the other hand, the sweet wines I like are still, but with similar characteristics: structure and complex aromas/flavors, such as Sauternes, Tokaji or quality Italian Passito or Muffato wines.

Anyway, I realize that simpler, lighter desserts may call for simpler, fresher sweet wines such as Moscato. What I struggle with, though, is how can people enjoy drinking a sweet Moscato with a main course… (if you want to learn why the ISA advocates against matching a sweet wine with a savory dish, you may go back to my earlier post about the ISA wine pairing criteria).

Perhaps it is just that everyone’s tastebuds are different or… could it be that, beside the nod of celebrity singers, one of the reasons why Moscato made it big in the U.S. is the proclivity of a large part of the U.S. population to sweet beverages?

I mean, the data is pretty impressive: according to a study, two thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight and half of them is obese and one major source of the “new” calories in the U.S. diet is sweet beverages such as sodas. U.S soft drink consumption grew 135 percent between 1977 and 2001 and, while people often choose “diet” or “light” products to lose weight, research studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to weight gain.

Whatever the causes, the Moscato phenomenon seems to be here to stay, but let’s now get back on track and go on with our review of Coppo’s Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti!

About the Grape

Moscato Bianco (also known as Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains) is a very ancient white-berried grape variety that may originate from either Italy or Greece. The oldest mention on record dates back to 1304 in an Italian agricultural treatise under the Latin name “Muscatellus”, referring to a table grape grown near the Italian town of Bologna. Supposedly, the variety was indigenous to Greece and from there it was brought to Italy.

DNA profiling has shown that Moscato Bianco is the same variety as a number of Greek grapes, including Moschato Aspro, Moschato, Kerkyras and Moschato Mazas. Also, DNA parentage analysis demonstrated that Moscato Bianco has parent-offspring relationships with six other varieties: (i) Aleatico; (ii) Moscato Giallo; (iii) Moscato Rosa del Trentino; (iv) Moscato di Scanzo; (v) Muscat of Alexandria or Zibibbo; and (vi) Muscat Rouge de Madere. Five out of such six varieties originate from Italy, which could point to an Italian (instead of Greek) origin of Moscato Bianco. Without additional evidence, however, it is impossible to prove from which of such two countries it actually originated.

Moscato Bianco is an aromatic grape variety. It is widely grown in France and in Italy, where it is the only variety allowed by Piemonte’s “Asti DOCG” appellation, which comprises both Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti and encompasses a territory near the towns of Alessandria and Asti. Limited Moscato Bianco plantings also occur in the USA (California and Washington) and in Australia, where a mutation known as Brown Muscat (or Muscat a Petits Grains Rouges) is used to make Liqueur Muscat, a sweet, dark, fortified wine.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

About the Producer and the Estate

You may find information regarding the producer, Coppo, and the estate in the first post of this series of reviews of the Coppo lineup.

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review today, Coppo, Moscato d’Asti “Moncalvina” DOCG 2011, was made from 100% Moscato Bianco grapes from the famed territory adjacent to the town of Canelli, near Asti. It was just 5% ABV and very slightly sparkling, and it fermented for a mere five days in stainless steel vats, where it also aged for one month, plus one additional month in bottle. The Moncalvina retails in the U.S. for about $16.

As usual, for my reviews I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine was straw yellow and moderately viscous.

On the nose, the Moncalvina had intense, moderately complex and fine aromas of apricot, tangerine, orange blossoms, panettone (an Italian Christmas sweet bread), and candied orange peel.

In the mouth, the wine was sweet, with low ABV and smooth; it was acidic, moderately tasty; light-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine flavors of apricot, tangerine and orange peel, as well as a long finish. In terms of its life cycle, the wine was mature – meaning, drink now, don’t wait.

 

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