February 2009

A Wooden Table

by admin on February 24, 2009

I have found the most amazing enoteca….a wine bar…..right around the corner….

One day I decided to take a short cut down a cobblestone path..it’s actually a road…I have to accept that these “cobblestone paths” are roads…that cars race…..vespas wiz and bikes meander down…when you first arrive in Florence it is unsettling….you feel as if you are walking on a path and suddenly…without warning…. a vespa is flying toward you… you turn to find the sidewalk….and a car nearly sideswipes you…so you freeze…until the woman next to you hits you with her Gucci bag which inadvertently shoves you to safety….

Anyway…walking down the ROAD… one of the first weeks in my new neighborhood….I noticed a small wooden table with two small wooden stools sitting alone on the road…a pretty single flower springing out of a clear vase….I looked around….this table…it is on the road….and it is freezing outside…who would sit here?

As I approached, I immediately sensed the energy on the right…I glanced over into a window framed with beautiful thick wood…and a door to match….on the door the words read…Enoteca…..I started racking my brain for what that meant….ok I KNOW it means that they serve wine….but there’s a whole protocol around it….do they serve caffe…is that why they are open….I see paninis spilling over through the window…at 9am?…ah…I see a large espresso machine…and a man at the tiny bar receiving his caffe….I hear muffled music and laughter…hmm….I need my morning caffe….but I’m not sure if it’s protocol to go in there…and it’s so small that there would be no room to hide my ignorance….so I walked past…very slowly….looking in….knowing that this place was special….and I would be back.

When I got home, I quickly went to the internet to remind myself what a enoteca was…..” An enoteca is used in three diverse ways around town: it can be a wine store  a wine bar or a restaurant that prides itself on its special wine list”….hmm…..no mention of morning caffe and brioche….I then searched the travel pages for this particular enoteca…couldn’t find it.  I was on my own….it was up to me to find out whether I could go in for caffe or not….

The next few mornings, I would pass by the wooden door very slowly….casually glancing in to see …always a flurry of activity….people coming and going….speaking Italian…..well wishes, thank yous and laughter in abundance…it was a neighborhood haunt.  It was not until I had the most unappetizing experience in a “caffe” down the block that I became fed up with my behavior….you’ve blown a meal because you are too afraid to venture into small spaces….give me a break….it was at that point that I realized that even my pride would not hold up to my desire for REAL food…I would risk humiliation and rejection for the possibility of REAL food!  The next morning, after the girls left for school, I headed off with a renewed sense of self.   I approached the door of the enoteca…reciting quietly…un caffe per favore……grazie….that’s all I need to say….un caffe per favore….grazie…..and push…remember the doors here all push in……here it goes…as I entered, an immediate warmth surrounded me….it was true warmth….a small space…people…large coffee maker…stove….there was heat indeed…a true escape from the bitter cold…but there was WARMTH….a man behind the counter….nicely dressed….a bit older then me…..great jeans….big sweater…and he was singing…to the very loud music….and making caffe…..bantering (loudly) with his customers… the music playing was the same gendre as our stores back home…and his singing made me smile….I believe Frank Sinatra was on when I walked in…

I chose to play the gendre in our stores because it is the background music to so many great memories growing up…our house would be filled with music at times…and singing…and dancing….joyful times….and my dad…loved to dance the babies to sleep….usually would hold them up in the palm of his hand and dance….no one worried….he was a surgeon after all….and played quarterback for the University of Vermont….

The entire enoteca is the size of a large bathroom…there are three wooden tables squished inside and a bar area the size of an ironing board….it was filled with a few plates of pastries…brioche filled with soft cheese and jams that looked as it they had just been preserved…..thumbprint bisquits with nutella…oozing out the sides…..all usual things seen throughout Firenze…but I sensed something about these….they were special…..and why would that be…this was not a forno (bakery)…they didn’t make the breads….they obviously prepared some of these but others were chosen with great scrutiny from a local forno I presume….

Do you think you can actually see quality?  Or do you think that you sense quality?  Or maybe a bit of both…..Somehow…before I even ordered my caffe…I knew that every thing they put inside a brioche…or a thumb print was the best…it was the freshest….it was real….it wreaked of goodness…I had to smile…it’s happened again….I’ve stumbled upon a gold mine.

After “the man behind the counter” did the ceremonial avoiding the newcomer dance….the man came over and said prego….un cappuccino I said softly so the entire place wouldn’t recognize my accent…or lack thereof…..the man continued to sing…make loud exchanges with the regulars…and without as much as a glance my way, he set down my cappuccino…I said grazie and he said prego….yes prego can mean…what do you want…..follow me….ok….and thank you…..tell me that wasn’t hard to get a grip on at first!

As I took my first sip I immediately sensed the lack of heat…oh great..this isn’t hot….how can it not be hot….he just made it….I’ve been had!  Just as my heart began to sink, I was struck by sensation of the warmth in my mouth….the foam lay over my palette like silken sheets and the soft bitterness of the espresso meandered through..grabbing onto foam and folding it into itself..until the two tastes became a blend of one… flavors in perfect harmony….. that was all that I could hear….I set my cup down and thought….Holy Shit….what was that?! ….my eyes were fixated on the  stained foam that remained atop the elixir in my cup….I stirred it a little and tried it again… the bells of Santa Croce began to ring…..and I do believe…the angels began to sing.

I haven’t even begun to tell you about the pastries….and the paninis….and the “house wine”….you could write an entire novel on the tastes in this tiny space…and the warmth….not just the heat…but the joy…exuded by all who gather together….and share un caffe or a meal….whether meaning to or not…and maybe that’s part of the goodness…

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The Pursuit of Real Gelato

by admin on February 24, 2009

Procrastination…writers block….a touch of the flu….lack of adrenaline..some of the causes for the latest lapse in writings and recipes….but now look what I’ve done….I have such a back log of experiences that I won’t be able to go into them all….should I dive into a few or touch upon a lot?

I did try to write…honestly…..but I made a promise to myself that if I didn’t feel it…I wouldn’t post it.  I finally MADE myself yesterday…..I knew even before I reread it…my heart was not in it….mediocre at best….I couldn’t post it with out a guilty conscience…..

SO…..until I can genuinely discuss the true inspiration and excitement that came from the discovery of the best gelato in Florence then you will just have to wait….to find out how to identify REAL gelato in Italy……home made…..straight from the mouth of a local…..I’ll try to work on it soon
….hmm….maybe another visit is warranted….and I should probably get the larger size….and since it is a few blocks away I should vow to return….every day….until I get the motivation to write…and give you the insiders scoop (sorry)…on what everyone should know about…..GELATO!!!

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Lasagne

by admin on February 23, 2009

I went into my grocer’s today with the idea of making pasta with ragu sauce. When I asked Elizabetta what pasta I should use…her eyes widened….you could make lasagne…yes you should make lasagne..she said…you are making ragu….just make bechamel sauce and you have lasagne…my mouth opened but no words came out…I was tired….I didn’t want to make lasagne….I just wanted to make ragu…I’m just a beginner….I don’t even know what bechamel sauce is…..but I couldn’t bare to disappoint her….yes…great….I will make lasagne!…I got out my familiar notebook and took down her every word…that I understood!

Ingredients

Instructions

  • In a casserole dish, begin to layer your ingredients
  • TO BEGIN..cover the bottom of the dish with your ragu and lay your pasta over it.
  • Now..begin the official layers:
  • FIRST a layer of ragu…
  • SECOND…cover with bechamel sauce….blend in with ragu if you would like
  • THIRD….cover with parmesan cheese
  • FOURTH…drizzle with Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  • Go through steps one through 4 until you have reached the top…
  • Brown in the oven on high temp and then let it set for 10 minutes before serving.
  • Observations

    Watching me make this was not a pretty site. My kitchen and I were a mess. I was sure it would a disaster because I didn’t have “exact” measurements…and really guessed at some parts…I just tried to use my own judgement…and went back to the “balance of ingredients” theory. I was anxious to take the first bite to see where I went wrong..and before I could…I heard the table begin announcing…..”this is really good mom!”…and you know what?….it was!

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    Ragu (Meat Sauce)

    by admin on February 23, 2009

    I’m always prepared now before I go to my Italian grocer, Elizabetta….today I proclaimed I was going to make Ragu….she was excited.  Before I could tell her what I needed, she grabbed a bag and filled it with one of each of the vegetables that I would need and at the end, added a nutmeg…she must have seen my expression as she immediately did sign language to show me to grate the nut into the sauce…ah…and Elizabetta’s secret….”balance your ingredients”….”a lot of people make ragu but not many make GOOD ragu….make sure your ingredients are balanced!”  Why do I have a feeling that Elizabetta makes a GREAT ragu…..

    Ingredients

    Instructions

  • Heat the oil in a saucepan.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, cover it and cook on a very low heat for about 15 minutes.
  • Remove the cover and add the garlic….cook for another 2 minutes or so.
  • Add the meat and brown on very high heat.
  • Add the flour and “toast” it….I have no idea what that meant so I just mixed it in.
  • Add the wine and let the alcohol evaporate…another guess as to timing..
  • Add the tomato sauce, parsley….give a few grates of the nutmeg…a pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Cook on low heat for about an hour.
  • Observations

    Remember Elizabetta…make sure your ingredients are balanced!  I do this by sight and taste…trust your own instincts…I have to say this recipe trumped my old one….I could eat it alone by the spoonful!  But…you may want to add pasta and some parmesan cheese!

    You are still energized…..take it and create our lasagna!!!

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    Pomarola (Tomato Sauce)

    by admin on February 23, 2009

    Okay…stop buying canned tomato sauce….Pomarola is so simple….the aroma of the sauteed garlic is reason enough….you will feel as if you have cooked a masterpiece. Enjoy it with pasta and parmesan cheese or as a base in other sauces.

    Ingredients

    Instructions

  • Saute garlic in olive oil.  Don’t burn the garlic or it will turn bitter…
  • Add tomatoes and a pinch of sea salt and cook for about 10 minutes.
  • If you want to puree then now is the time.  I just cut the tomatoes up and press them as they cook.
  • Rip up the basil leaves and put in….to your own taste.
  • Cook for another 10 minutes.
  • That’s it!
  • Observations

    This is a staple in our house…especially for my vegetarian!  You can take this and create masterpieces…add chili with the garlic if you want to spice it up.  Here I’m told they will add clams, mussels, tuna or shrimp and make a seafood sauce..just add the fish in the last 10 minutes.  OR…..add capers, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, anchovies and oregano for another version….again in the last 10 minutes. Use this as the base in our ragu sauce!

    Did you know you NEVER put parmesan on a spicy sauce…like Arrabbiata or Carretiera….me neither! :) And you tear basil….you don’t ever cut it? I told you I was an amateur!

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    Salsa Bechamel (Bechamel Sauce)

    by admin on February 23, 2009

    I’ve noticed there are many different versions of bechamel sauce…hot milk….cold milk….add it then….add it now…..I like to stick with Elizabetta so I’m proceeded with her direction:

    Melt 3 ounces of butter…..stir in the same amount of flour (3oz.) and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add about 1 pint of cold milk and keep stirring until it boils.  Add a pinch of sea salt, white pepper and a grate of nutmeg.  Let cook for at least 10 more minutes….keep stirring.

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    I Love A Parade!

    February 18, 2009

    I have to admit that throughout my childhood, history class was incredibly boring to me. I would memorize the facts so I could do well in the class but there was no understanding….no desire to absorb. As I’ve “matured” or gotten older I should say….I’ve come to value our past….our traditions. I think it may [...]

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    Settling into our New Neighborhood

    February 17, 2009

    It took me a week but I finally got up the strength to explore our neighborhood and look for new finds. I will never give up my grocer…who by the way is Elizabeth….but I thought I should give my hood a chance. I decided to try my luck at the Market on this side of [...]

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    Fagiolini (Green Beans)

    February 17, 2009

    Simply boil the green beans for just a bit….so they retail a bit of the crunchiness….strain….drizzle with our St. Helena Olive Oil Co. Extra Virgin LEMON Olive Oil and finish with organic grey sea salt and freshly ground pepper…that simple!

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    Patate Arrosto (Roasted Potatoes)

    February 17, 2009

    Who doesn’t love roasted potatoes? I encourage you to skip your normal butter routine and try the different extra virgin olive oils that we produce with your various potato recipes. You will never go back! Ingredients 4 potatoes 2 cloves of garlic 1 rosemary sprig 1 tablespoon St.Helena Olive Oil Co. Sparkling Wine Vinegar Organic [...]

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