Buon Natale!

It’s finally my favorite time of the year! Family, food, food and family. We woke up this morning to a happy kitten, a cold but sunny morning … a perfect time for vanilla pancakes. Every Christmas in Milano we would meet at my parents’ house. Tables were set up for about 20 people. Pounds of steamy polenta with chiodini mushrooms decorated our plates and Pandoro with mascarpone cream filled our tummies with festive sugary treats. Ah, the memories!

I wish you a very yummy Christmas. Buon Natale!

GQ’s Best Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: Brookville Restaurant

It’s not every day that a chef from a small town in Central Virginia makes the same list of super chefs of the caliber of Thomas Keller. Brookville Restaurant‘s Harrison Keevil made a grilled cheese sandwich so good, that it landed him on a national spread of GQ Magazine.

I’ve eaten at Brookville before and I can honestly say that it is one of the best new restaurants in town. Sure, the decor is simple, yet sophisticated, but it’s the attention to details that makes Brookville stand out from the rest. Local produce and meats, frequent menu changes and a hint of molecular gastronomy are the right combination.

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Picture: the first layer is The French Evolution by uber chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. The second is the brain child of Brookville’s chef Harrison Keevil and is called Southern Comfort and the bottom one is The Crispy Caprese from Artisanal in NYC.

From GQ:

The French Evolution
Chef Thomas Keller, The French Laundry, Yountville, California, and Per Se, N.Y.C.
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices brioche
2 oz. Gruyère, thinly sliced
Southern Comfort
Chef Harrison Keevil, Brookville Restaurant, Charlottesville, Virginia
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices rustic bread
3 thick slices high-quality pre-cooked bacon
3 thin slices Granny Smith apple
2 Tbsp. Duke’s mayonnaise (optional)
2 oz. Swiss cheese or Gouda, thinly sliced
The Crispy Caprese
Chef Terrance Brennan, Artisanal, N.Y.C.
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices pagnotta (Italian country bread)
1 ripe tomato, sliced
Several sprigs fresh basil
3 oz. fresh burrata or mozzarella
Brookville made it on my list of most decadent desserts in Charlottesville (something I wrote for my paper’s Food and Drink Annual – scroll down to the very end of the page). I had the really hard task of going around town tasting desserts and deciding what made my nose tickle. Brookville’s Maple bacon waffles with grilled peaches were right at the top. Do yourself a favor, go try it.

The Weekend List

They are calling for snow in the mountains of Charlottesville. I cannot believe winter is already here. To honor the capricious season, here is the Weekend List:

*Since I am obsessed with saffron (see here and here), I found Tim Carman’s story about the Saffron King running out of his namesake spice both an interesting and sad tale. Read it here.

*I would love one of these.

*It’s going to be freezing cold (and snowing), so I might just give that Beef Bourguignon a try. Or this.

*This weather makes my want to roast some chestnuts and have a quiet afternoon with this spread.

*Almost done reading this. Next up is Barry Eastabrook’s Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. Listen to this NPR interview.

*I couldn’t get enough of Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw, looking forward to seeing this on Sunday night! Look out for a full report!

Happy weekend and happy thoughts!

Grandma’s Cabinet: Unconventional home remedy for a stressful day

I must admit, this has to be the most unorthodox and unscientific home remedy in history. Still, it works every time! Let’s pretend you’ve had a really stressful day…work is driving you crazy, the weather is not cooperating, you are feeling less than ideal. All you want to do is go home, put on your comfy sweatpants and curl under your blanket. I do it all the time…with the added bonus of having my kitty Diego snuggle with me. My favorite part of these days, however, is running home to make my mom’s perfect Riso e Prezzemolo – Rice and Parsley.

Parsley is a fun little spice, vegetable and herb. It is said that Apigenin, a chemical found in parsley, has anti-cancer properties, it fights bad breath when chewed and parsley seed extract can help lower blood pressure.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 potatoes
  • A handful of Italian Parsley, chopped and some for garnish
  • 1 vegetable bouillon
  • 2 cups of Arborio rice
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • hint of extra virgin olive oil

As long as you have good potatoes, this dish won’t fail. It just cannot fail. Peel the potatoes, dice them and set aside.

Now the parsley. A fresh bunch is preferred, and the great flexibility of parsley is that it freezes beautifully. The amount of parsley in this dish is absolutely subjective. I love my rice to have tons of parsley, my husband, on the other hand, prefers it with a light sprinkle of fresh parsley. Once you have decided the right amount of this leafy green, finely cut it and set aside. This will be added to the boiling rice almost at the end.

The secret to this dish is the vegetable bouillon. I usually use a store-bought one (as pictured below), although I am experimenting with a homemade version. More to come on this, so stay tuned!

Add the diced potato to a pot with hot water. Before the water and the potatoes are brought to a boil, add the bouillon.

After the bouillon is in the pot, stir it quickly so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Once the water boils, add the rice. I use a 1 cup per person, although that makes for quite a bit of rice. Arborio rice is perfect for risotto and works great for this dish as well. No need to rinse the rice before adding to the water.

Once the rice is added to the boiling water, turn down the heat and let it cook slowly for 10-15 minutes, or until tender. Do not overcook the rice, like I did multiple times, or you’ll have mushy rice and not broth.

Add salt and pepper to taste, stir it and add the parsley and serve it with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a hint of extra virgin olive oil. It’s that easy. Not only will this dish make you feel so much better, but you’ll want to make it again and again. I usually make a big batch,  store it and bring it with me to work the next day. It makes for a superb quick lunch.

I hope this recipe will help you with your stressful days. I’d love to hear what are your go-to recipes to relief stress. Personally, this dish represents everything I want when I am down. It also reminds me of my mom at the stove, making it for us in the pit of an icy winter in Milano.

Out and About: My parents’ orto in Los Angeles

It’s been quite a while since my last post. My apologies. I have done some traveling, some eating, cooking. It’s been an interesting summer, but I am back and ready to roll.

Our first stop was Los Angeles. My cousin Federica, her daughter Gaia and husband Alessandro traveled from Italy for their first U.S. vacation. I hadn’t seen them since our wedding in May 2010 and since Federica and I are really close (she is the older sister I never had), it just felt right to hop on a plane and spend some time together…plus, the last time I was home was Christmas. Either way, it was a win-win.

One of the things I love coming home to is a plentiful garden, l’orto. My grandma Pierina and grandpa Piero used to tend to what I used to call “a little forest:” carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants, cabbage, you name it, they were growing it. My parents are keeping up this family tradition.

After only a few minutes in the garden, we had at least 20 big carrots, a couple of bunches of green onions and tons of lettuce. It never really hit me until I found myself without an orto, but getting my hands (and knees) dirty is divine: the cold and wet soil underneath my fingernails, the occasional snail slowly making its way through the arugola patch. It’s an almost invisible microcosm, a grounded cycle of life.

These tomatoes were juicy and so much tastier than the ones I usually buy at the local grocery store. These fantastic fresh veggies didn’t go to waste, they went right into our bellies! My mom and dad made a simple, yet sensational, veggie soup, much like a Minestrone.

Our tomato bounty. Can you imagine a fresh Caprese salad with these and Mozzarella di Bufala? That’s right. I dream of it at times.

Aside from the orto, the garden sports an impressive spread of citrus trees: two orange trees, one lemon and a grapefruit, too. Every summer morning, my brother and I used to make homemade orange juice. Of course we complained and our—well, at least my less-than-optimal arm strength, would only produce a couple of drops. Nonetheless, we never got sick – no fever, sore throats, no flu. This summer, we all pitched in and collected pounds over pounds of oranges, and even little Gaia got into the game.

A homemade garden is a healthy, communal and revolutionary notion. It brought my family together, enhanced my desire to learn how to cook and made for a better life, plain and simple.

Of course, a Los Angeles vacation could not be complete without its stunning sunsets. Cooking with family is good for the soul. Do it and do it often.

Kobi Levi food-inspired shoes

It’s Friday and the weekend brings good and happy thoughts. Although we are impatiently waiting Hurricane Irene, Francesco and I are actively house hunting and, of course, cooking up a storm. So, expect some delicious fajitas all’italiana coming your way. Yes, this post is really random, but let me explain. I have two weaknesses in life: chocolate and shoes. Imagine my delight when I discovered these!! Kobi Levi is a freelance designer and, obviously, pure genius.

The banana peel shoe. Fantastic. It will go with anything in my closet, because, really, do you need an excuse to wear a pair of these? (Image)

Tea or coffee cup? Who cares. Amazing. (Image)

The coffee or tea cup even in black. (Image)

Not a food-related shoe, I know, but I couldn’t resist. (Image)

Pardon. Again. But, hello? I want a pair now. (Image)

Lessons from Julia Child

We have a bit of Julia Child in all of us. What I love most about Mrs. Child is her fervent humor (witty and pointed). While I was reading My Life in France, her book with Alex Prud’Homme, I began thinking about my own food related memories and heritage. I grew up in a family of excellent and inventive cooks—mom is a champ baker (her crostata is to die for) and dad is an unafraid alchemist, mixing ingredients and revising recipes without a hint of anxiety. I have only recently rediscovered the sheer pleasure in making a meal from start to finish. Pity. In college, I relied on Ramen instant noodles, processed, really-bad-for me, so-called food. Sure, I’d add in the ever-present pasta dish. Sad. It was only when I began cooking for two that I realized I needed to get over myself and learn how to cook properly. Hence, my infatuation with Julia.

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Interestingly enough, Julia Child is not well-known in Italy. I actually never heard of her before moving to the United States some 10 years ago. Is the never-ending feud/rivalry between Italy and France to blame? Not sure, but I am disappointed to have met Mrs. Child so late in the game.

I am a romantic at heart and I found the book melancholic, but exciting at the same time. From Julia and Paul’s arrival to Paris in the Blue Flash, their oversize, very American Buick, to their farewell to France many years later, I was transported back in time. Reality seemed to stop, at least for me. I have been to Paris before (it is my favorite place on earth), but I would give anything to go back and see it through Julia Child’s eyes; to navigate the streets of the city of lights with her, a braccetto, cheerfully stopping at our favorite butcher to pick up the ingredients for the glorious Boeuf Bourguignon.

Needless to say, I ordered Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After dreaming about Julia’s life and kitchen in their first grandiose apartment in Paris, I was hooked. The recipes’ butter content is something I will need some time and training adapting to…but I will try anything once. I’ve always wanted to master the art of brioche making and now I have my chance. No more excuses. Until next time, Bon Appetit! (Image)