All Tom Colicchio, all the time

Ever wonder how a busy celebrity chef lives? Well, guess no more! The Wall Street Journal has an amazing feature that chronicles Top Chef Host and James Beard Award winner chef extraordinaire, Tom Colicchio’s typical day.

Enjoy! A Day in the Life of Chef Tom Colicchio

{Photos from WJS}

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A garden on our little, fake balcony

I have been doing some research on small gardens, alternative gardens, anything dealing with growing plants in small spaces. I finally landed on this really interesting website: Life on the Balcony, where space and weather are not deterrents for some hearty gardening—even on pallets! Francesco and I live in a one-bedroom apartment in a nice community. Our outdoor space is close to nothing: a 6” fake balcony. That’s right. What you see here is what we’ve got.

Our "garden"

I was a bit disappointed at first. Granted, I was raised helping mom and dad take care of strawberries, rosemary and basil plants. I even remember that we each chose a fruit tree to care for: I went with the pear tree (I adore pear yogurt and juice), my dad got the cherry tree, my mom the apple tree and my brother…we ran out of fruit trees in our garden, so he adopted the apricot tree that sat triumphant in the middle of my grandparents’ garden. Not too shabby. [We sadly sold our home in Milano, Italy – where I grew up, but I believe my brother’s tree still exists].

Sage

As I was saying before I took a turn to the sentimental and nostalgic, I was disappointed with the outdoor space, but knowing that my green thumb was still very much in training, I did a little research and decided that we could still make a garden happen.

Mind you, before this little experiment, I bought a miniature orange tree. It lasted about a year, until my new kitten Diego, who is also my sous chef in the kitchen, ate the only two leaves the plant had ever had. I know. Sad story.

I charged on and went to the local hardware store and bought myself a flower box. I entertained the idea of just seeding flowers—lushious, colorful daisies, daffodils and gerberas. But I realized herbs would be much more in tuned with my style. I like flowers, but I love herbs. The decision of which herbs to seed was simple: basil, rosemary, sage and lavender. (I tried carrots and lettuce in pots, but always failed to get decent results). Had I thought more deeply, I would have added some thyme, too.

Believe it or not, my little basil plant that could brought me some happy times making delicious pesto that I used with pasta and that I added to tomato sauce in an attempt to emulate my grandmother’s pesto-pomodoro sauce. The rosemary adorned some mean pork and beef roasts.

As you can see for yourself, these plants are now in need of love. Not having space to keep them indoor, they survived a tough Virginia winter with snow, hail and ice. But it’s time to start over and welcome spring with open arms. What could I plant/seed this time?

Lavender
Rosemary

A morning at Maple Hill Farm – The Local Food Hub

This morning, as part of a volunteer event for Charlottesville’s Future Fund,  a group of about 12 of us trekked to Scottsville, Virginia to help with planting and seeding at Maple Hills Farm, the educational farm of The Local Food Hub, a nonprofit working to strengthen the regional food supply by helping small farmers. Since Francesco and I use our fake balcony as our small…minuscule garden, I jumped at the chance to get dirty.

Maple Hill Farm

This is the entrance to Maple Hill Farm. The farm is about a 18-mile drive from Charlottesville, just a few minutes from downtown Scottsville.

Tractor

This tractor caught my eye…old, rusty and perfect.

 

Greenhouse

It was an amazing spring morning…the first ray of sunshine after a very LONG winter. The greenhouse was humid and hot, hence the fogged camera lens. Genovese Basil, Roma tomatoes, peppers and flowers are the happy residents of this house.

 

Potting basil

After seeding flowers and tomatoes, we switched gears and began potting basil plants…hundreds of basil plants that will eventually be sold to raise money for the farm and for the nonprofit.

 

Cuteness

The farm is house to about 250 chicks and an equal number of chickens. If this photo doesn’t melt your heart, I don’t know what will. Although the farms barely breaks even with their egg business, co-0wner Steve told us that keeping and growing chicks and chickens is a great way to teach local teens how to care for animals.

 

Bluebird

Just one almost-spring day at Maple Hill Farm: Sun, wind, blue sky, birds chirping. Doesn’t get any better than that.

Mushroom and saffron risotto

If there is one thing I love to make is risotto. Give me any ingredient and I’ll think of some way to make it eatable. This does not mean I have perfected the art of making the dish. That’s a completely different story.

Risotto alla milanese, risotto with saffron (zafferano), originates from my home town in Italy, Milano. I have this vivid memory of my grandmother standing by the kitchen stove stirring a pot of risotto with a long, thin wooden spoon. She made me taste it every time. No matter how many times I attempt to master this dish, my risotto still manages to be a dry, dark (which I found out means too much mushroom water) and too salty. A bit of a mess. Without further ado, here is my documented attempt.

I started by soaking dried wild mushrooms for a couple of hours in warm water. If you more time (more than 15 minutes), use cold water and let them soak for about 3 hours. Clean the mushrooms under running water; strain their soaking water and put aside. It’ll come handy once you’ll begin needing liquids to add to the rice.

Dried mushrooms

The dried mushrooms pale in comparison to fresh Porcini mushrooms like these below Francesco’s dad brought home one day a couple of years ago. I mean, can it get any better? Three words: Linghine with Porcini.

Fresh Porcini mushrooms
After soaking the mushrooms, let’s get the pressure cooker ready. Cook garlic or onions in a bit of olive oil until golden. I used to add the liquid before the rice, but mom told me otherwise. So, add the rice and let it broil for about 5 minutes. Add the saffron and cook for a couple of minutes. The fragrance and color of saffron are, I believe, unrivaled in the kitchen.

After cooking the rice and saffron together for a couple of minutes, add about a cup of good white wine. Add the mushrooms. Let it simmer and begin the arduous task of adding liquid about every 10 minutes.

I typically use vegetable stock, but I know the real Italian recipe calls for either beef or chicken stock. My secret weapon is a pressure cooker: 20 minutes and the risotto is ready!

Mushroom and saffron risotto

Vocabulary:

Il risotto – risotto

I funghi – mushrooms

Lo zafferano – saffron

L’aglio – garlic

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I had never really seen a vegetable shaped like the butternut square before moving to the United States. I’ve eaten plenty of winter squash, but the round looking kind. In Lombardy, the region where I am from, winter squash is a friendly face. My mom used to make a killer squash risotto, which I hated until I was old enough to really appreciate the distinct sweet taste. Big chunks of zucca in a juicy layer of steamy rice – how can you go wrong? Another prelibatezza, delicacy, is the revered ravioli alla zucca, squash ravioli.

For this task, however, I wanted to soup it up. I came up my own recipe. The result was surprisingly good.

Heart-shaped goodness

 

ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

1 Medium-sized squash

2 Shallots

1 Big carrot

1 Leek

Celery

2 Blue potatoes

3 Cloves of garlic…(I’m Italian, I can’t resist)

1 Cup of chicken stock

2 Tablespoons of heavy cream

Hint of wine

Salt and Pepper

Before prepping the squash, pre-heat the oven at 400 F. Wash and cut the squash, place it in a baking sheet and season it with salt and pepper.

Season for success

I decided to roast the squash to enhance its sweetness and give it a more defined flavor. Leave the squash in the oven for about 40 minutes or until tender.
In the meantime, dice the shallots, celery, potatoes, carrot and leek and add them to the pot with garlic and olive oil. I chose to use blue potatoes because of two simple reasons: they are adorable — I mean, they are blue — and because they have a sweetness that I thought could pair well with the squash.

Ready to go

Splash the veggies with a bit of white wine and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the squash. Season the ingredients again and add the roasted squash (after it cooled). Cook together for another 5 minutes and add the chicken stock. The last step is to add the heavy cream. Let the ingredients come to a boil and cover the pot for about 10 minutes.

With a hand blender, puree the ingredients until desired texture.

Pour it in a bowl, sprinkle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and Italian parsley. Buon Appetito!

 

Delicious and velvety

 

 

Vocabulary:

La zucca – winter squash

Le patate – potatoes

La cipolla – onion

Il sedano – celery

Il porro – leek

L’aglio – garlic

La panna – heavy cream

A first: Blueberry Cobbler

Blueberries are the cutest fruit there is: Small, round, juicy, healthy. I love to eat them right out of the basket, for breakfast and as a snack, but I wanted something more. So, I searched for a recipe that would elevate the blueberries’ sweetness without overpowering it with unnecessary ingredients. I found the perfect recipe on allrecipes.com, the right combination of fruit, sugar and butter. (Although I made a few changes…less sugar and less butter).

Blueberries in all their glory

BLUEBERRY COBBLER

2 Cups of blueberries and 1/2 Cup of frozen blueberries

3 Tablespoons of sugar

1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

2/3 Cup of flour

1/3 Cup of butter

1 Egg

1/2 Cup of sugar

1/4 Tablespoon of baking powder

Vanilla extract


First off, pre-heat the over at 375 F (190 degrees C). After washing the fresh blueberries, I added the 1/2 cup of frozen ones in a squared baking dish.

I added the sugar and the lemon juice and mixed the goodies together. Now, onto the crusty goodness. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add egg and vanilla extract. Mix together. Slowly add baking powder and flour until the dough is sticky. Drop and spread the dough onto the blueberries. It’s important to try to spread the batter onto the entire surface, so that the blueberries are completely covered.

At this point, the cobbler is ready to go into the oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until the crust is a golden color.

Ready to enjoy

I had no idea cobblers were this easy and this tasty. To complete the dish, I had to splurge on some vanilla ice cream. The hot and juicy blueberries are the perfect match for the cold ice cream.

Vocabulary:

I mirtilli – blueberries

Lo zucchero – sugar

Il burro – butter

La vaniglia – vanilla

Il gelato – ice cream