Mar 312013
A Whiff of Spring, a Waft of Rome

At long last, a streak of warm sunlight beams through my kitchen window. The day brings to mind Easters in Rome and the city’s abbacchio, butter-tender baby lamb, and the first artichokes of spring. No one, but no one, makes lamb and artichokes taste better than the Romans, though my mother would disagree. Being from Sardinia (Sardegna) where some of the best artichokes in the world grow under that island’s blazing sun, the thistles are a religion in her house. In a region where there are nearly twice as many sheep as people (some 3,000,000 of them to about 1,675,000 Sards), you know […more…]

Mar 212013
Hey Mark! Whoa Mario! About Those Potato Gnocchi...

If you had a look at Mark Bittman’s recent New York Times column about potato gnocchi, this post is for you. Mark and I are old friends from his Cook’s magazine days when we worked on some stories together. Since then, you and I have seen him on a dazzling journey in the world of food. He’s no slouch when it comes to cooking Italian. But about gnocchi specifically, and his recent article with Mario Batali… some input and insights—I’ve been on my own journey with the little dumpling. Continue reading and you’ll find how my own potato gnocchi (gnocchi di […more…]

May 072012
Cooking with Julia:  MAY is for Artichokes

“Cooking with Julia”  ||  MAY 2012 This new feature on my blog called “Cooking with Julia” offers a recipe every month for ingredients in season. I’d might as well begin with artichokes, now in their prime, because I love them, probably more than any other vegetable I can think of. Perish the thought of pickled artichokes, frozen artichoke hearts, or the canned variety. You’ll ruin your recipe if you substitute them when the ingredient list calls for fresh. While artichokes can be tedious to clean–what’s required is snapping off the hard part of the leaves and whittling away the tough […more…]

Apr 062012
Feasting with Leopards: An Unordinary Cooking Lesson

On a recent morning in Palermo, I found myself a guest at the historic Lanza Tomasi palazzo, where Nicoletta Polo, the Duchess of Palma, was planning a cooking lesson for American students who would arrive after breakfast. I first met Nicoletta some twenty years ago when she was living in New York City. Originally from Venice and an excellent cook, she versed me on the food of the Veneto for research on a book I was writing then, which includes some of her recipes. Today the Duchess lives in the ancestral palace that her husband, Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, has restored. […more…]

Mar 032012
Luxurious Penance: Italian Fast Day Potato Salad

The Italians love good food, fast days or not. All kinds of special dishes have popped up over the centuries to get around papal restrictions designed to curtail excess (sumptuary laws), for Lent and other holy days. Take the fast day salad. There are many resourceful variations on the theme. What all have in common is that they’re meatless. This one is a composed warm salad of creamy boiled potatoes, canned tender Italian blue fin tuna filets, hard-cooked eggs, and asparagus. Italian tuna, called ventresca (stay tuned for a future  post about this as yet under-appreciated delicacy), comes from the belly […more…]

Feb 062012
About that Stracotto: Italian for Very, Very Slow-Cooked, Sublime Stew

And for which I promised a recipe in a recent post (December 15). Just the remedy for February’s chill.  Go to RECIPE> After I finished off producer Piero Catalano’s bottle of Suavis, the aged vinegar from Sicily’s desert island (“The Other Face of Balsamic” [December 15 post]), a small flask of Modena aged balsamic vinegar took its place in my cupboard. Unlike the Suavis, a souvenir from my September in Trapani (I drank it as a cordial, an “amen” to the day, blissful thimbleful by thimbleful and it was gone by January), aged Modena balsamico can be more easily replaced. […more…]

Dec 312011
FOR THE NEW YEAR: Lentils for Luck and Sausages for Plenty, Infused with Holy Oil

Put them together for the quintessential Italian New Year dish, lenticchie di capodanno (lentils for the new year). Lentils, round and copper-colored, should remind you of money; pork shouts fatness and increase. And the olive oil? Nectar of the gods. “A drop of olive oil on the head, a drop of wine on the lips” remembers writer Bill Marsano, was an infant’s blessing in Italian households. It anoints the breasts of monarchs at their coronations and marks the foreheads of the dying in their final breath of life. In your food, it’s no less a benediction. New Year is an […more…]

Dec 152011
Piero's "Better Than Balsamic," Postscript with Pictures

Frost has snuffed out the last breath of Indian summer in New York, but warm up with these images of Sicily.  From Piero Catalano, the artisan food producer and master vinegar maker I met in Trapani province this past September (see “A New Vinegar is Born,” 26 October post), a postscript in pictures.  Next, go make yourself some stracotto (Italian extra slow-simmered meat stew) with aged vinegar…stay tuned for the recipe…. Piero Catalano’s sun-dried tomatoes and other local products on the shelves in his Trapani shop, KusKus. The most precious item is his vinegar. Since then he has picked all […more…]

Oct 262011
Pantelleria, Sicily: A New Vinegar is Born

Day 4   I don’t think there is a place in the world more ideal than Pantelleria to think of the Moon. And Pantelleria is much more beautiful. The endless plains of volcanic rock, the calm sea, the dammusi (traditional volcanic rock houses) where you can see African lighthouses through their windows on windless nights… the bottom of the sea asleep… an ancient amphora with stone garlands and the remains of some wine corroded over the years… bathing in a vaporous bowl in water so thick with minerals you can walk on it… –Gabriel Garcia Marquez, describing the Sicilian island […more…]

Oct 042011
Revisiting Fontanasalsa, Trapani

If yesterday’s post has left you hungry, here is a description of the excellent lunch I had at the Fontanasalsa agritourism when I visited in the spring. The table was filled with the fruits of the fields and woods nearby–platters piled high with sweet or peppered cheeses and salamis from the countryside, sweet-and-sour eggplant and zucchini compotes, tender glazed veal rolls stuffed with caciocavallo cheese and herbs, and baby cuttlefish coddled in pungent tomato sauce, as tender as they could be. There was hand-made pasta stuffed like a jelly roll with freshly made sheep’s milk ricotta and tender greens, and […more…]