Wednesday, July 27, 2011


The month of July in Italy means there is an abundance of zucchini. It is everywhere you look ... in the markets, in the gardens, at the grocery stores, at the neighbors, at the grandmas and it eventually finds its way into your fridge. Zucchini grows very well here and when it is ready to harvest there is A LOT to be eaten. People can't give it away fast enough! I have loved being the recipient of the freshest zucchini I have ever tasted and I have loved eating it ... every day!

The challenge with so much zucchini is to find creative ways to enjoy it. As you may suspect, developing new zucchini recipes was my favorite task over these past few weeks. And not only did we come up with some great uses of this vegetable, but the flower is edible as well. I tried to document as many as I could but here is the list of dishes we made with our zucchini.

Zucchini Tart (with egg, onion, poured into a pastry-lined tin and baked)
Zucchini Frittata (Italian Omelette)
Sauteed Zucchini
Mexican Burrito stuffed with rice, sauteed zucchini, beans, corn, etc.
Marinated and Grilled Zucchini
Zucchini Shredders (grated zucchini with grated onion, egg, seasoning and then pan-fried)
Fried Zucchini Flowers stuffed with cheeses
Vegetarian Lasagne (zucchini as a layer or instead of pasta)
Veggie Burgers (zucchini is grated and incorporated into the mix)
Pasta with Cauliflower Puree and Sauteed Zucchini (zucchini is the garnish and in the puree)
Farro Pilaf with Sauteed Zucchini Flowers
Roasted Tomatoes stuffed with Zucchini  (breadcrumb mixture and topped with gratineed cheese)
Stuffed and baked Zucchini "Boats" (stuffed with eggplant, cheese and cous cous)
Cous Cous with Sauteed Eggplant, Zucchini, Lemon, Chicken Broth and Parmigiano Cheese
Thai Curry with Vegetables (with zucchini, cauliflower, peas, etc.)

Zucchini and the flowers on sale at Eataly in Asti

Grilling marinated zucchini and eggplant

Zucchini flowers stuffed with cheeses and battered, ready to be deep-fried

Vegetarian Lasagne: layers are grilled zucchini, eggplant, spinach, fresh basil, ricotta, mozzarella, homemade tomato sauce and pasta. This one made it to the table twice while I was here.

Roasted Tomatoes stuffed with Zucchini filling and Zucchini Boats

At a Middle-Eastern Restaurant in Torino with Farro Pilaf and Sauteed Zucchini Flowers (somewhere on that plate)

Pasta with Cauliflower & Tomato Puree and Zucchini Garnish

Other ideas we had but didn't get a chance to try...
Sotto Aceto (under vinegar)
Zucchini Bread
Zucchini & Corn Soup
Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Zucchini Pizza

Looking forward to what August has to bring to la tavola! 

The Plan... Part 3

I am back in Italy for the next 3 months and plan to see as much of the north of Italy as possible. My goal is to experience the cuisine, wine growing regions and culture from the Alps to the Dolomites. My only experience in the north is in Milan and Lake Como so I am really looking forward to discovering the other hidden gems of the north.

July 8 - July 27
The Monferrato Farm
Via Roatto, 27
Maretto, Asti

I am at a cascina (large Italian farm house) that has a few acres of land with a vineyard (freisa & barbera grapes), hazelnut trees, walnut trees, figs and other fruit trees and a variety of tasks to do around the house. The hosts are American and Italian. The American is a gal from Colorado and works in the food safety industry! We have had a great time together and enjoyed many evenings of creative cooking with the bounty of fruit and veggies available during the summer.

July 27- August 15
Au Pair Family, Albugnano, Asti Province

Venturing outside of agriculture and food and beverage for a short time, I will be an Au Pair for a teenage girl. My main duties will be to teach her English, and swimming instruction. I will also be part of the Italian family life and will do activities with the girl such as cooking, hiking, etc. If they go to the mountains or seaside, I will accompany them there as well.

August 15- August 21
"Vacation Week" for me!
Going to Siena for the Palio (!!!!),  exploring Lucca for a day and then will meet up with my sister in the Cinque Terre to enjoy some hiking, pesto and limoncino.

August 21- 31
Azienda Agricola L'Amaranto
Loc. San Giacomo, 2 - fraz. Rivalta
12064 La Morra, CN

This is a small farm located in the Langhe between Bra & Alba, just north of Barolo. Lauren and I will be WWOOFing together and we will be helping with the hazelnuts, vegetables and fruit. They sell their items in markets in Piedmont and Liguria. They also make bread and biscuits in their wood stove.

August 31- Sept 15
Chalet Ghiazza
Casella Postale 68
11013 Courmayeur, Aosta

This is a small chalet in the mountains at the foot of Mont Blanc. Located in the highest part of Italy, they have a fruit and vegetable garden and chickens. I will be staying either in the house or in a studio int he village. Looking forward to seeing the leaves change and taking long walks in the Alps!

Sept 16- Sept 26
Collina Cerreto
Loc. Cerreto, 5 
27052, Godiasco, Pavia

Small family run farm located in the Oltrepo' Pavese hills. They have a vineyard, other crops and a few farm animals. I will be joining my friend and fellow WWOOFer, Reva, and together we will help with the grape harvest and other agritourism duties. We will also help in the restaurant and guest activities such as trekking with the horses and cheese making!

Sept 26- Oct 3
Anna Campetti
Loc. Laghel 3
38062, Arco, Trento

Reva and I will go to the base of the Dolomites in Trento to be with this couple who has an organic vegetable garden, olives and fruit trees. We will be working with preserves, preparing firewood and preparing the olives for harvest. Hoping to do a few excursions to Verona, Bolzano and other great spots in this area.

Oct 4- 5
Travel to Florence to fly to Chiappas, Mexico to visit my friend and her kiddos for about a month. Will be sad to leave Italy but plan to return next year to explore Sicily, Sardenia and Marche.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Frutti di Bosco (Fruit of the Forest)

Typically "frutti di bosco" refers to fruit (typically berries) commonly found in the forest here in Italy. Think cherries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, etc. The north is particularly famous for its figs and hazelnuts that are plentiful in the forests that dot the landscape here. Also found underground in the forest here, at the root of trees, are the infamous Piemonte white truffles, but that is a totally different season and blog all together! 

Figs grow on trees (in case you didn't know) and most people in the countryside here in Piemonte (Piedmont) have a fig tree in their yard or many in their gardens and orchards. 

My hosts here in Maretto (Asti province) have a black fig tree, but they are also available in a green variety. 

Figs are sweet, delicate and delicious! They have lots of pulp, small seeds, and a thin skin. When they are ready to harvest there are a lot of them and everyone is finding ways to preserve them! We have made fig jam, fig ice cubes (for cocktails or to add to sauces), fig tart, fresh figs and balsamic vinegar and we are thinking of making fig sorbet.

In the markets figs are displayed on their leaves.

Here is a photo of the green figs, complete with a few flies, which are everywhere here!

The other fruit of the forest in Piemonte is the hazelnut!  The hazelnuts of the Piemonte region are often sold to Ferro Rocher and Nutella for making their chocolate hazelnut deliciousness. 

Hazelnut trees have long, thin trunks in clusters and the nuts are located under the leaves. They are picked in the fall and require a lot of work to process (which is why they are so expensive). 

Here at the Monferatto Farm, there are baskets of hazelnuts that always need cracking. One hot afternoon I decided to tackle a basket, with a "Hell Bier" in hand and a nut cracker in the other. 

Whole hazelnuts 

The cracker

The nut has a soft, papery, fuzzy coating on it.

Doesn't make too many nuts and the process takes a while.

Final step is roasting them off in the oven for approximately 15 minutes and then removing the outer coating. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Recipes from the Heron Gallery Cafe

I have loved helping at the Heron Gallery Cafe in Ahakista, Ireland. The Heron Gallery Cafe is a beautiful organic oasis on the Sheep's Head Peninsula.

They grow most of the vegetables and herbs that are used in the cafe. Pictured below are a few of the raised beds that have onions, kale, spinach, lettuce, celery, fennel, herbs, and other yummy greens.

 This is one of the many herb boxes located on the property. Annabel uses a seaweed mixture to fertilize the soil. It works really well as you can see the size of the sage and parsley leaves are huge!

All of the ingredients at the Heron Gallery Cafe are gorgeous both in presentation as well as in peak flavor and high quality. As you know, starting with purely delicious ingredients can only yield wonderful end results. Also of note... all of the ingredients used in the Heron Gallery Cafe are organic and fair trade.

I'd love to share a few of the recipes we use here so you can enjoy them too!

Lemon Polenta Cake (Gluten-free)
Yield: 12 slices

195g Ground Almonds
195g Polenta Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
3 each Lemons, grated and juiced
270 g Butter
270g Caster Sugar
4 each Whole eggs

Glaze: Juice from 2 of the lemons and add sugar to taste. Heat until combined and then cool before pouring on cake.

1. Preheat oven to 145C (300F).
2. Grease a 24 inch spring-form pan with melted butter.
3. Combine almonds, polenta, baking powder, lemon rind and juice from one lemon in a bowl.
4. In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
5. Add eggs, one at a time, beat well
6. Fold in dry ingredients until just combined.
7. Bake for 50 minutes- 1 hour.
8. Cool slightly and then prick cake with a fork and pour on cooled glaze.

Carrot Cake
Cake Ingredients
1 C White Flour (AP)
3/4 C + 2TBS Whole Wheat Flour
1 tsp Salt
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Mixed Spice (not sure if we have this in the US, but here it is a mixture of Cinnamon, Nutmeg, All Spice, Cloves- baking spices)
1 C Brown Sugar
1/2 C White Sugar
3/4 C Vegetable Oil
3 C Carrots, finely shredded
4 each Eggs
8 oz Pineapple Chunks, drained and halved
1/2 C Coconut (optional ingredient which I do not use)

1. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl (except coconut)
2. Beat sugars, oil and eggs until well incorporated and slightly fluffy
3.  Add in the dry ingredients, carrot and pineapple and beat together.
4. Grease a bundt pan.
5. Bake at 160C (325F) for 50 minutes

Icing Ingredients
110g Cream Cheese (approximately 1/2 of a rectangle package)
1 TBS Butter (room temperature)
1 C Confectioners Sugar (sieved)
Zest from a lime and an orange

1. Cream all ingredients together- whip until white and creamy.
2. Put in fridge and spoon over cake when cooled.
3. Sprinkle with zest.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (Gluten-free)
1 TBS Ground Almonds
300 g Dark Chocolate (must be very high quality, at least 70% cacao. We use Green & Blacks brand)
280 g Caster Sugar
150 g Butter
Pinch of Salt
5 each Eggs

For greasing pan: Melted butter and ground almonds to coat the bottom

1. Brush the sides of a 8-9 inch spring-form pan with melted butter and sprinkle the bottom with ground almonds.
2. Melt chocolate, sugar, salt and butter over low heat until just melted- be careful not to burn it!
3. Whisk eggs and almonds until frothy.
4. Slowly and gently fold egg mixture into the chocolate.
5. Bake at 160 C (325F) for 35-45 minutes.
6. Cool on wire rack and remove from spring-form pan.

Dust with powdered sugar over a patterned doily or decorate with fresh flowers or as you please. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream and fresh fruit. Many variations could be done with this--- orange, raspberry, mint, etc...

Brown Sugar Meringues
Yield: Approximately 9

3 Egg Whites
90 g Caster Sugar
90 g Brown Sugar

1. Preheat oven to 110C (225F)- low heat oven!
2. Line baking tray with parchment paper.
3. Whip egg whites and white sugar until tripled in volume (approximately 10 minutes)
4. Slowly add brown sugar and keep whipping.
5. Spoon onto parchment paper and bake for approximately 40 minutes- 1 hour.
6. When fully cooked they will come up easily. If not, return to oven for another 10 minutes.

Cool and serve with fresh strawberries or peaches and whipped cream! For another variation, you could also macerate the strawberries in balsamic vinegar or orange zest/juice.

Thai Fish Cakes
1 Chili Pepper (red thai chili)
1 lb Fresh Fish, cubed (salmon, smoked hake, cod, etc...)
1/2 C Spelt Flour
2 TBS Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
1 tsp Brown Sugar
1/4 C Parsley & Cilantro (be generous here!)
4 each Green Onions/Scallions
1 each Egg
1 each small Red Onion
1 TBS Lemon grass or Lemon zest

1. Combine all ingredients in food processor and grind together.
2. Refrigerate for 30 minutes
3. Shape into patties and dust with flour
4. Fry in vegetable oil for 8 minutes or until golden brown on each side.
5. Serve with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce and a lemon or lime wedge.

Summer Vegetable Pistou Soup
Basil Pesto
100g Fresh Basil
4 cloves Garlic
100 ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
1 tsp Sugar

Grated Parmesan Cheese, for garnish

1. Blanch and shock basil and then puree with all other ingredients (except parmesan)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large Onion, small dice
2 each Carrots, small dice
1 head Celery, small dice
2 each Zucchini, small dice
1 each Fennel bulb, small dice
2 large Tomatoes, small dice
1.5 L Boiling Water with a dash of bouillon (or use your own stock)
Salt & Pepper

(We also add broad beans, green beans, squash, marjoram, parsley and what ever else is fresh in the garden)

1. Sweat vegetables in olive oil (low heat) for approximately 15 minutes
2. Add water and tomatoes
3. Cook 2 minutes and turn off!
4. Ladle hot soup in bowl, top with parmesan cheese and add a dollop of pesto.

Heron Gallery Summer Potato Salad
This potato salad is so fresh, herbal and delicious that you will want to make it all year long! The potatoes are just coming into season here and the skins are so thin and delicate that it makes the salad that much more special. I picked the potatoes in the morning and made the salad right away. Talk about "farm to the table"!

New Potatoes, quartered
1 Bunch Scallions, sliced
1 Bunch Parsley, chopped fine
1: 1 ratio of Mayonnaise and Greek Yogurt
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Wash and quarter potatoes.
2. Steam potatoes until just cooked.
3. Drain and cool.
4. Mix all other ingredients to taste and coat cooled potatoes.

Heron Gallery Whole Wheat Pastry Dough
This "no-fail" pastry dough is so versatile! We use it for our quiche, pasties and onion tart. Here you can see it as the shell for our caramelized onion and goat cheese tart with black olives and sage. Yum!

500 g Whole Wheat Flour
250g Cold Butter, cut
150 ml Cold Water
Pinch of Salt

1. Pulse all ingredients except for water in food processor until combined like bread crumbs.
2. Add water slowly and mix.
3. Once sticky and pulling from the sides, remove and squish together on the table.
4. Roll it out to desired thickness and shape and use for a savory or sweet preparation of your choice!

You will need to bake it off for approximately 15 minutes before you fill it. This is called "blind baking".

Moroccan Chickpea & Apricot Tagine
(it is the red/orange one in the foreground)
Olive Oil for sautéing
2 Onions, diced
2 Red Bell Peppers, diced
2 cans of diced Tomatoes
2 TBS Vegetable Boullion
1 Pint of Water (add more if needed)
2 pinches of Saffron
24 dried Apricots, diced
3 cans of Chickpeas
2 Oranges, zest and juice
2 tsp Sun-dried Tomato Paste (get smoked sun-dried tomato paste if possible)
1 Bunch fresh Cilantro, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste
1/2 Tub Greek Yogurt

1. Heat oil and saute onions and peppers for 5 min, stir well until onions start to soften.
2. Add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes.
3. Add saffron to warmed stock and then add to pan with apricots, chickpeas, orange zest & juice and tomato paste.
4. Bring to a boil and simmer until liquid reduces down.
5. Finish on the oven for about 20 minutes until the sauce is thickened.
6. When ready to serve add cilantro and yogurt.

Serve over cooked couscous.

I hope you will be able to use these recipes and enjoy a little flavor from the Heron Gallery. And if possible, try to use the freshest vegetables possible- buy local, organic and in season! 

Buon Apetito!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Three Uses

One must be very selective when packing a bag that will be carried for an entire year, through all seasons, and across various countries and climates. Being "selective" takes on a whole new meaning when the bag will contain items needed for playing in the dirt on farms, presenting oneself well at a potential job interview, having what is needed to comfortably tour around cities, as well as relaxing wear for days in. Selecting items that will stand up in snow, sun, wind, rain, cold and extreme heat is difficult, though not impossible.

I started mentally packing for this trip 4-6 months before I left. I physically packed the bag 2 months prior to leaving. They say to pack what you think you will need and then take out 1/3 of it. Instead, I used the rule that an item could only stay in the bag if it had 3 uses.

For clothing, I packed mostly black or dark colors ... for 3 reasons.
#1: All could be washed in one single load of laundry without worry of running colors.
#2. Black doesn't show dirt.
#3. Black is slimming and everything matches.
In retrospect, I wish I would have packed a few more patterned and colored items because I am getting tired of the same black stuff. But it has been very practical!

Here is my list of items that made the cut, and their 3+ uses.

Sarong- Beach cover-up, "Robe" to walk to showers in hostels, Blanket, Scarf, Pillowcase, Window Shade/Drape/Cover, Table cloth...

Flip Flops- Hostel showers, For the beach, On hot days

Head Lamp- Looking into wine barriques when topping up, Walking home late at night from pubs, Night light when sharing a room, For looking under beds to be sure you packed everything

Scarf- Keeps your neck warm (duh), Head wrap, Shoulder wrap, Small towel, Belt. Dark color and wrinkle-free fabric is best. I love my black one, go figure.

Gloves- Keeps hands warm and dry, Used for lifting objects with rough edges and keeping hands safe, Provides extra grip. I came with 3 pairs of gloves (different styles) and have acquired 2 more along the way and I have used every pair. Gloves are important.

Head Band- Small piece that makes big difference when growing out your hair! No styling needed, allows you to see what you are doing, helps with kitchen hair cleanliness, Adds a bit of style to your otherwise boring black outfit, Allows you to not wash your hair for another day!

Tweezers- Eyebrows, Splinters, Jewelry tool, etc.

Wine Opener with Pocket Knife- Opening Vino, Cutting cheese, Peeling fruit, opening bottles...

Face Wipes- No face wash needed to carry (or spill), Can be used for "bird baths" or hand wipes too, Disposable (not carrying extra weight), Collapsable packaging

Travel Towel- A MUST! For hostel showers, small blanket, Hand towel, and many of the "sarong" reasons too.

Leggings- To wear when layering, sleeping, running, lounging, doing all other laundry, under dresses/skirts when colder out. These are essential!

Tank Tops- For layering, can be worn in hot and cold climates, for sleeping, for work that will make clothes dirty, can be thrown away and replaced easily for not much money.

Note pad- You just need one! To write down directions, new words, things to do, sites to see, contact info, etc... All kept in one place and on you so no WIFI is needed.

Rain Coat- Windbreaker, Extra Layer, Rain Coat, Can sub for umbrella.

Ear Plugs/Eye Shade- Seriously valuable little pieces! Ear plugs are wonderful as you never know what kinds of environments you will be in and how loud people will be. Eye shades are great for summer months in countries where the sun rises early and/or you are in rooms with poor shades or other people and you just want darkness.

Sunglasses- Protects eyes from the sun (duh), wind, and can be "safety" glasses in the field.

iPod- Helps pass the time when waiting, Allows you to feel connected with friends who put songs on it, You can listen to new stuff you download along the way, 'Nuff said

Ear Buds- You can listen to what you want (as loud as you want) without disturbing anyone, Good for Skype chats, Rosetta Stone programs, etc.

Plaid Long Sleeve Shirt- Love this one! Good for an extra (light) layer, Rain protection, Sun protection, Can layer with other colors, Gives a pattern to mix it up, etc... really useful! You will see me wearing it in MANY of my photos.

Colored Sweater- Nice outfit for bopping around town, going out, good for all day and night out wear, gives color to the wardrobe.