Friday, December 28, 2012

Marina Mercato

Friday's are mercato days in Marina di Massa.  While the mercato also has clothing, shoes and other products one half is dedicated to fresh foods, (certo questo mercato Italiano.)  There is another mercato in Forte dei Marmi that I also love (this is on Wednesdays.)  You can see it here: Mercato di Forte dei Marmi  This day while it was still chilly, the beautiful sun was shining making our walk quite wonderful.

Fresh produce for sale

Fresh seafood caught right off the shores
Baccalá, cod that is salted and dried, I am not a fan, but the large flat pieces are impressive
My favorite treat, we always get a few potato fritters to eat as we stroll

The mountains where Carrara marble is found

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Buono Natale

After Christmas lunch you are certain every Italian household will be playing Tombola

Here we are another Christmas in Italy at my mother-in-laws home.  In Tuscany for Christmas there is food you can always count on having at the table.  By now I know we will always have to start numerous crostini followed by homemade ravioli and then troppo dolce (a lot of dessert.)  My mother in law doesn't really make desserts, (and she really doesn't need to be bothered as she had received about 4-5 panettone alone,) but she makes everything else which is always excellent!  Here is just a taste of all the flavors we celebrated this Christmas.  Happy Holidays!

For the crostini primi we had mushroom pate, olive pate, onions agrodolce just to name a few
This is baccala, basically dried, salted cod that can be cooked in numerous ways; my sister-in-laws favorite
Cabbage, cipolle agrodolce and biological chick-peas (Italian version of organic)
I absolutely loved these little guys!  Don't worry, a post dedicated to making these to follow...
Homemade ravioli filled with spinach, ortica and ricotta

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Winter Pimm's

As the days move closer to Thanksgiving and Christmas time I am starting to want tastes that remind me of these times, pumpkin pie, turkey, corn bread stuffing, mulled wine, etc.  Lucky for me that I heard of this spirit at work and went straight out to the store to purchase some for my household and to bring to my family in America for Thanksgiving.  I made this drink as I was boiling my halloween pumpkin in order to make pumpkin pie later.  It was the perfect partner, and rather relaxed me.  Winter Pimm's is similar to the normal version where you mix it with a juice (in this case with apple juice,) with the exception you drink it warmed.  You can add bits of orange, apple, cinnamon stick and cloves, really whatever suits your taste.

A snapshot of my Winter Pimm's warming on the stove.
There is quite a bit of information regarding the history of Pimm's on the web, I rather enjoyed this blog's information: Recreating the long lost Pimm's cup

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Risotto Romance

Making risotto is really something you do for someone you love or people you care about.  I say this because although the dish seems quite simple, it requires constant attention...meaning you basically have to stand in front of the stove the entire time it cooks.  Thus the title of this post, "Risotto Romance."  I returned home from work and had time before my husband got home to make a nice dinner, so because I wanted to make him feel special, I made this risotto.  My first post about risotto you can find here: Risotto 101 .  This is a basic recipe that you can alter according to your tastes.  (For example I used vegetable stock, but you could use chicken stock and add pieces of shrimp or another meat or vegetable, or use a champagne or prosecco instead of wine...I could go on.)  This post shows an alteration of the same recipe for risotto, but it shows one how to add additional flavor with a puree. 

Here in England they call these "banana shallots," I find these quicker to cut up then others.
I am making an asparagus risotto, so I set them to boil as I prepare the risotto
Here the shallots are cooking down, (I used two.)
I want to point out a few ingredients here, I am using carnaroli instead of arborio.  The main difference between the two types of rice is that carnaroli remains "harder" at the heart of the grain, thus making a more consistently "al dente" risotto.  (Also carnaroli is a bit more expensive then arborio.)  Also I am using to make my broth a vegetable powder as opposed to a cube, I find using the powder it is easier to control my flavoring to my taste, rather then the cube that is always either too salty or not enough.  (Sometimes I use the powder in combination with one cube to add a bit more taste.)
Add the rice to cook with the shallots until you see a "white dot" appear in the middle of the grains.
When the asparagus is finished cooking, cut it up saving the tips for adding into the risotto later, using the rest to make a puree 
Here I have started to add my vegetable broth to the rice and shallots
Halfway through the cooking of the rice (normally 20 minutes)  I add the asparagus puree
Towards the end of cooking stir in the asparagus tips
Of course at the very end add a pat of butter to "tighten" the dish
The final touch is freshly grated parmigiano

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chocolate Brittle

Dark chocolate, sultanas, dried apricots + cranberries, cashews and sugared ginger add up to a lovely dessert

Love this quick and easy dessert from Ina Garten.  (But most of her recipes are quite simple with major flavor that look and taste like you have slaved in the kitchen when you really did not.)  Perfect to bring over to a dinner party with a bottle of port.

Toast the cashews in the oven for 8-10 minutes, just to brown them and bring out their nutty flavor, try to use salted cashews or add some salt after toasting, the combination of sea salt and chocolate is great
Chop 7-8 ounces of dark chocolate and bittersweet chocolate, I like Green + Blacks 
Mix the chopped chocolate together and temper in the microwave watching it like a hawk, there is nothing worse then overcooked chocolate you have to throw away
After the chocolate bits are just melted continue to stir, stirring makes the chocolate glossy
Smooth out the melted chocolate onto your parchment lined baking sheet
Add the toppings in a specific order: ginger, cashews, cranberries (cherries are better, but I only had cranberries on hand) finally apricots and sultanas
Let the chocolate harden, I probably have too much toppings for the amount of chocolate I used, but that's okay
After the chocolate hardens break into pieces, this would be a great gift too, as it looks beautiful

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Up by the Sea

My husband's lunch, paccheri with vongole

Our last day of the long weekend was a cloudy, damp one.  All of the day was connected to the sea, from waking up to the beautiful sunset at the end.

Picturesque views from the town of Montemarcello
Montemarcello is high on a hill with lovely sea views
Down by the sea at Bocca di Magra (where the Magra river meets the Mediterranean)
Being here made me a bit homesick as it reminded me a lot of Balboa Island, also we spied the little boat named Luna

Stunning sunset in Marina di Massa

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bar Apuan

This bar is in Massa, Tuscany

We took a long weekend and escaped to Italy.  One of my favorite things to do in Italy is to go out and have colazione, (breakfast.)  This means a coffee and a pastry, basically.  I always order a cappuccino (as this is the time of the day to do so) and whatever pastry turns my head that day.  It is great to sit and enjoy the dolce far niente.

Colazione for the day, cappuccino and pasta con mele 
Beautiful array of pasta (pastries)
Crostata selection
Construction going on at the Piazza degli Aranchi, see how it used to look here:

Elena the cat sleeping
Gelato in the fall, I know you wouldn't think one would be in the mood, but this is so good you are always in the mood 
Gigante crostata!