Saturday, April 12, 2014

More Home Meals

  As much as I love the thought of making "grand meals", with fresh pasta I've made by hand, in Italy, no less…Well, what I usually end up fixing are very simple meals, requiring only a few ingredients. It's also a good way to clean out the fridge.
  What can I say? I cook meals in Italy just like I do at home. Sigh. Someday I'll get with the program. Plus, just between you and me…..all I ever really want to do is eat out somewhere. Have the professional take care of the cooking.
  Is that so wrong?

  All kidding aside….
  Since the days are long, without all those pesky hours spent at work, I do spend more time cooking here, and enjoy it more. I'll start something early in the day, to finish up later, or cook up a bunch of something that we can enjoy for a couple of days.
  Artichokes, for instance. 
  "Carciofi"(car-cho-fee), as they are called here, come in various shapes and sizes, and I am most fond of the lovely purple types I buy at the farmers market.

Globe style. 

  They usually sell these by the dozen, but I'll just go for six at a time. That's about all I can fit in the big pot here. They are so beautiful, and get even prettier as you peel away the outer leaves….

  Once I get them down to this stage, I like to cut them back by half, and clean the stem part up. I always cook up the stems, too. They are just as good as the heart...

So gorgeous!

  Here, the locals cook them in water with lots of olive oil, garlic and bunches of wild mint found all over the fields. It's not like any mint at home…in taste or appearance. The leaves are tiny, fuzzy and sage colored. 

  I stick to my way, though, and cook them in water with lots of garlic and a few bay leaves. When I shared my recipe with locals, I was surprised that they questioned this preparation. It seems so Italian to me, but I guess it's a California thing. 
  AND... I wouldn't even think about mentioning the mayonnaise element...

California style Carciofi.

  Here, we enjoy our carciofi with good olive oil, of course!

Sadly, the color changes with the cooking.


  Another favorite veg in the markets are the these other-worldly Romanesco cauliflower/broccoli. We see them in the states for a short period when in season, but there are stacks of them in the markets here. I can't resist the odd and wonderful look of these!

Don't stare too long, or you'll get hypnotized.

  I like to break them up, throw on some olive oil and herbs and roast them. 

Add a Caprese salad with unbelievably good fresh mozzarella,
and you have dinner. Wine, too, of course.

  Sometimes I'll throw together a nice soup, with the vegetables from Yolanda's, our local market specializing in fruit and veggies.

  At home, I rarely make soup from scratch, but on cold days here, like a few weeks ago, I made several pots….I start with carrots, celery and onion, and just go from there. I like to add beans at the end, too.

Lunch time "zuppa".

  I'm always roasting vegetables, and it's my "go to" dish to bring to a dinner with friends. We were recently invited to a dinner with some wonderful Canadian pals we've met here, so I cooked up a dish to share.

Potato, fennel, red onions and black olives.
Lots of garlic, herbs and olive oil.

  Our friend Katia gave me the most beautiful eggs from her Grandma's chickens, which was a treat. She told me that now, this time of year, they are producing about forty eggs a day! Lucky, lucky!

  I had some leftover pasta, made with Katia's own tomato passata (just cooked & pureed tomatoes, and nothing else added), that she had canned in the summer. This sauce is so good, all the flavor of summer tomatoes..I just embellished with garlic and herbs. 

  Anyway, there wasn't enough pasta left for dinner for two, but I'll make a frittata out of anything, so…..

Add some onions, cook up the leftover pasta...

Grate some excellent parmesan...

Must be excellent….

  Just whip up those beautiful eggs, add them to the pan (olive oil in pan, no butter), get the bottom nice and browned..Then I like to add lots of the parmesan on top, and stick the pan under the broiler until you just can't stand to wait any longer.

Yum. Yes, it's a pasta frittata.
Don't knock it until you've tried it!

  Another regular dish I like to make is a crouton and tomato salad. The bread here goes hard in about four minutes, so there is always a chunk of hard bread hanging around. 
  I like to cut it up, toss it with way too much olive oil that has been cooked with loads of garlic and some herbs, then toss it all in the oven to brown up a little…..

Grate some parmesan on top, while still warm...

Cut up Yolanda's perfectly ripe tomatoes….

Add a chopped cucumber, and toss together with good oil and vinegar.
I like to throw in some lettuce and arugula, too...

Home cooking, My style!

   Another great lunch or dinner for us. A chunk of cheese on the side, perhaps…. a piece of onion/sage "pizza" from the local baker..the requisite glass of wine at hand.
  Who says I don't cook at home? 
  Oh, it was me. I guess I do my share.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Side Trip: Bologna

  This is year four for us here, in Umbria, staying extended lengths of time. 
  Every year we try to do an overnight side trip somewhere not too far, but far enough. 
  Every year Bologna is on the list. 

  Why Bologna? Well, firstly, it is the home town of Italian Artist Superstar, Giorgio Morandi. He is best known for his simply gorgeous still life paintings in muted tones. 
  We are both big fans, but Johnny was especially excited to have the opportunity to see the house and studio of Morandi. An important pilgrimage, to be sure.

  Me? Well, as much as I wanted to see these fantastic works of art, I also was more than aware of Bologna's claim as a major Italian food city. Land of fresh pasta! What's not to love? 

  We finally went for it, a week or so ago…I booked a room, we checked the train schedule, and high-tailed it north. It rained most of the 2-3 hour train ride, which was fine. Gave us both time to read/nap. We arrived later in the day, checked in, and went out in the rain to check the city out.
  I loved walking through town, snapping shots of amazing displays of goodness….

The fresh tortellini are famous here.

  I was tempted by each and every window….but I must say, as much as I love a good, aged cheese….this one just didn't do it for me.  I'm absolutely certain this cheese is a "foodie" wet dream, but come. Too much of a good thing, perhaps?

There she sits, third shelf down… the middle.
Expensive and rare, from what the sign indicates.

Ummm……I don't think so. Not for me, anyhow.

  Stinky cheese aside, we ventured along to see more sights in the evening light, and find a place for dinner. 

"Due Torre", the famous two towers of Bologna...

  Our friends, Roy & Diana had been to Bologna recently, and Roy told us about a little restaurant that was just the right place for us. 
  Small, friendly, and a little away from the fray, Incrocio Montegrappa is a local favorite, it seems. As we were somewhat early, we were able to enjoy everyone coming in, watching them greeted with hugs and kisses, lots of laughter and good vibes all around. It quickly filled up.

  I also noted a few tables of single men or women, dining solo, and just relaxing and enjoying. I love to see this in any restaurant…solo diners getting all the best service from the very attentive waiter.
  The main waiter was magical…able to give the best service to each and every person in the place, playing host as well. When it began to get real busy, he did have a couple of helpers.
  He also helped us in choosing dishes that could easily be made vegetarian, though there were some nice choices either way.

  We started with two salads...

Pear and pecorino.

Raw artichoke and parmesan…a favorite of mine.

  There were some tough choices for the pasta course, our main course….I was quite intrigued by the pasta made with Spanish paprika in the dough. It was served in a suase that had cherry tomatoes and fava beans. I asked them to hold the speck, a cured meat. Still great without the speck. Spicy and sweet, and nutty, too.

  Johnny had a super simple, but very rich tagliatelle, served in a creamy, buttery saffron sauce, with shards of aged parmesan….

  Both the pasta dishes were so different from what we've had in Umbria…naturally. Bologna is in Emilia-Romagna, an entirely different region of Italy. So close, but so far when it comes to cuisine! Each region has it's own special dishes, and theirs are THE BEST. Always. 
  I admire this hold on tradition.
  Oh, at the end of our meal, we were presented with an open bottle of chestnut cream liquor, and two tiny glasses…also, a small plate of crispy, buttery cookies…..

  Home to bed, and up early to see the current exhibition in town of Vermeer's "Girl With The Pearl Earring", as well as many other classic paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and others. Glad we did this early, as we beat the crowds that showed just as we were leaving.

No photos allowed inside, so…..

  Then on to Mambo, the local museum that now houses the Morandi collection. The original location was damaged in the recent earthquake, so it is here for now. A fantastic retrospective show…including old photos, works he did as child, and all the best of his landscapes and still life paintings. 
  There was also a companion show by contemporary Art Star, and Turner Prize recipient, Rachel Whiteread. She sites Morandi as one of her biggest influences, and I can see why…the simple forms, subtle colors and vision of the works are very simpatico…... to me, anyway.
  The connection became even more obvious when we later visited Morandi's studio.

  Again, no photos allowed in these museums, but you can do your own sleuthing to see the like-mindedness of these artists.

Ok, I did sneak a shot of Johnny sketching Morandi's personal objects, in the
media/lecture room at Casa Morandi.

  We walked around Bologna for the rest of the day, stopping here and there to sketch, soak in the now sunny day, and have a sip of wine.

Beautiful porticoes that Bologna is famous for..

Street scene.

Cool old sign for a book/paper/card shop.

The colors knocked me out...

Near the university….

Peeking through the gate of a local villa…..

 Getting a bit hungry, we stumbled on a vegetarian friendly place I had read about online…
 Clorofilla. No website, but good reviews. 

Those of you who understand, will get it. We were so happy to see tofu, tempeh AND seitan on the menu! Wow!
  We had to have a meal here, certo!!

I had the seitan "steak", with fresh raw veg on the side.
Just having something different in texture and flavor profile! YUM!

Johnny had the special "light" plate..
Farro salad, chunks of tempeh in a curry sauce, and veggies.
Also great.

  We were very satisfied on all levels, having finally made it to Bologna. I loved the food, Johnny was righteously inspired by the art, and it was even a fun train ride. 
  Will we return? Who knows? For now, we are just happy to have finally made it to this important Italian city.


And happy.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Il Tempo & Osteria Il Gallo nel Pozzo…Again!

  We always look forward to coming back to our favorite places here to enjoy a nice lunch or dinner…as well as discovering new places along our drives about the area.


  One of our favorite stops for lunch, Il Tempo, was just as charming and yummy as before. Of course, it would be…the young owners here are dedicated, hard working and attentive. On a visit about two weeks ago, we had a very elegant and delicious lunch. 

  We were glad to see some recent changes, including an outdoor garden area for drinks, food, and in warmer weather, music. Nice!
  I had written about Il Tempo before, here, and talked about it being a "tavola calda". This has changed, and we are just fine with the new menu, which had several vegetarian things to choose from.
  The lovely Olimpia and her husband Romeo, are the quintessential hosts. It was great to see them both again, and catch up on things. Then, down to the serious business of eating!! As always, we had to have a plate of grilled vegetables….

The small onions are in a balsamic glaze…incredible.
We had a plate of just the onions, too...

  I ordered a "crespelle", which is a stuffed crepe. In this case, stuffed with cheese and truffles. Yeah, it was that good…. Rich, sure, but just rich enough.

Johnny opted for a porcini risotto, which was very good.
 Very porcini-forward. He loves his risotto!

  We were not planning on "dolce", but were treated to a beautiful tiramisu to join the espressos we did order. A nice end to a great lunch, and an even more special visit with Olimpia & Romeo. We look forward to seeing them again this trip, but for dinner, next time.

Tiramisu for two!
Thanks, Il Tempo!!


  Another of our favorites is very close to home, being just steps away in Panicale's piazza. 
  Osteria Il Gallo nel Pozzo, run by the Simone & Lorena Gallo, is a great little spot for lunch, dinner, or even a sweet treat, after we've had dinner at home. These two are very easy going, professional, and seem able to handle any questions we have. 
  Simone is the man in front, knowledgable to the extreme about Umbrian wines, with Lorena doing some amazing things in the kitchen. There is a third young man, who's name I sadly can't remember..Franco, I think? He is always helping in the kitchen. It's a perfect combination of talents!

  We started with a nice bottle of Umbrian white, and this wonderful "fondue" type dish….

We love this grape variety, Grechetto. Very much an Umbrian staple.

We loved this dish of
melted pecorino with homemade fig jam and pistachios..

  There are always a couple of really interesting vegetarian pastas on the menu, which changes with the seasons. I was intrigued by these tortelli, because I love a nice saffron cream sauce. This saffron is special to the nearby town, Citta della Pieve.
  I enjoyed this. Not too heavy on the saffron, which can sometimes be a problem. This was seasoned just right, with a nice creaminess.

My tortelli stuffed with parmesan, aged for 30 months..
served with baby artichokes in a saffron cream sauce.

  Johnny just had me pick something for him.
  I chose the "Quadri", a large ravioli, that sounded fantastic..stuffed with 'ricotta fresco di bufala' (ricotta cheese made from buffalo milk) and spinach, the three pasta pillows were served in an aged pecorino cheese cream sauce, heavy on the black pepper, and then sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs.

These are so good…I will go back for this dish.

So pretty on the inside, and check out that pepper! It was a spicy, crunchy delight.

  We always switch our dishes mid way, so it's nice to taste everything.
  For our vegetable side dishes, we had a pea and zucchini mash-up, with lots of fresh spring flavor….

….and fire roasted red onions, special to a nearby region in Umbria. Nice caramelization….I like!

  We had stopped in a week or so ago after a home made dinner, for desserts, so we knew we wanted something different. Lorena's cannoli never fail. We shared one, and went home very content, very happy, very ready for a good night's conk-out.

  Before leaving, though, we had the nicest chat with Simone and Lorena, just catching up on Panicale, business, vacations... all that sort of thing.
  Really, a perfect evening.

  Thanks, Osteria Il Gallo nel Pozzo!!

Was not the first, and certainly will not be the last!

For info on either of these favorites….