Tag Archives: pasta

MY MANHATTAN ADDICTION (3 extemporary days of fun!)

Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry

This was merely meant to be a trip to drop off my car to be repaired (by my brother who lives north of Manhattan), and while it was being fixed, I thought it would be nice to take my daughter, who had just escaped from school for the summer, to the city for a quick over-nighter to visit our friend Bird.

Central Park

Central Park

Ide (the sweet daughter!) had been to the city tons of times, but we rarely spent the night, (me always opting for the comfort of my own bed after a day of jam-packed city-ing!). The plan was to drop of the car, take Metro North to Grand Central station, spend the night, and then hijack my friend back with us to rural Pennsylvania for a few days in my newly fixed-up jalopy.

Little Cupcake Bakeshop 30 Prince St. NYC

Little Cupcake Bakeshop
30 Prince St. NYC

Not exactly how it turned out. Here is the story of how this city, (my home for 8 years) lured me into its charismatic arms for 3 whole days and nights! It’s nothing I will ever regret, but more especially, something my daughter will forever remember.

my little niece on a not-so-little zipline!

my little niece on a not-so-little zip-line!

So, dropped of the car and had an amazing lunch with my brother and sister-in-law. I  will wait to wax on about this marvelous little restaurant in Briarcliff Manor, NY, when I go back to eat there again, only this time, with my camera (the one time I leave it in the car – honestly!). Then, it was up to the house to hang out for a few hours with my crazy and cute nieces. In defense of the crazy nieces; it’s not really their fault. I blame a dad who installed a zip-line in the back garden hefty enough for rain forest travel!

whhhoaaa

WAAAHHHH!

As I perused the train schedule to NYC with Jennifer (the sister-in-law!) I mentioned that Pascal (the brother in question) expressed an interest in dinner in the city. My brother loves nothing better than sitting in a nice restaurant being fed, so I harangued him into leaving work early and be our dinner companion, (as well as our transportation!). Off we went with Pascal, Ide, Eve (the most adept at zip-lining and oldest of the nieces) and I to Eataly in Chelsea, the now famous (made so by all the previous blogs about the place) bustling Italian market created by superstar chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich.

The lovely Flatiron building across from the Eataly market

The lovely Flatiron building across from the Eataly market (with Ide)

When you find a restaurant serving a dish that makes you fall in love with the place, it is a mistake to go anywhere else. I wanted pizza and so our destination was La Pizza La Pasta in the heart of this market. Besides the pizza being reminiscent of the pizza I enjoyed while living in Tuscany for 3 months a couple of years earlier (God, I sound like a pretentious, puffed-up bragger – I’m not!!!), I knew it was the perfect place for Pascal. The culinary delights it had to offer would satiate all of his senses, while also distracting my young niece who was ravenous and tired.

The new Nutella Creperia in Eataly

The new Nutella Creperia in Eataly

While waiting to be beeped for our table (very cool idea: get your name on a list at one of the 9 restaurants and then leave to have a drink, shop or people watch until your table is ready!) we drooled over the fresh fish, bread and pasta, as well as hit the newest addition to Eataly, NYC Nutella. I have dedicated a post on my blog (click THIS) to Nutella because it has been my favorite thing to put on toast since I was a teenager (yes, quite a time ago).

Walls of Nutella!!

Walls of Nutella!!

And, I am not the only addict – the Eataly market opened a “Creperia” dedicated to this thick hazelnut chocolate-y spread a month ago, and now here we were standing in the doorway minutes before our dinner reservation. What to do…..try a pre-dinner crepe of course!

Making nutella crepes in Eataly

Making Nutella crepes in Eataly

The walls of the Creperia were surrounded by mod wooden shelving on which rows upon rows of Nutella from the smallest jars to the biggest were stacked from the floor to the rafters. It was a thrill to see such a quantity of Nutella in one place, and of course impossible for us to leave without trying one between us. The crepes are made to order on hot plates and folded into neat steaming triangles. We all got a bite before dinner and it was an amazing appetizer. If you ever make it to Eataly, leave room for one of these (we most certainly did!).

Yum!

Yum!

Dinner was sumptuous and my brother made sure to get a bite from each plate.

The last of my Pizza at La Pizza La Pasta in Eataly (I did finish it!)

The last of my Pizza at La Pizza La Pasta in Eataly (I did finish it!)

That night, Bird, Ide and myself stayed up late nattering on her bed. I felt like I had entered my daughter’s world, the one where thinking about the next day is not important when there are so many more important things to discuss (which we did into the wee hours). That of course meant getting up late and deciding that the only thing to do was go to Pain de Quotidien for Berry Tarts and coffee (a great chain of french cafes, which I have already written about here).

Raspberry tart, Mixed-berry tart from Pain de Quotidien

Raspberry tart, Mixed-berry tart from Pain de Quotidien

The big dilemma for my daughter was whether to have the raspberry or mixed berry tart? As we ate, we made a plan to visit the Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side, and we decided that the best way to get there (or most interesting and fun way) was to walk from where we were (57th st and & 7th Ave)  through Central Park until we reached our destination.

Ide & Bird

Ide & Bird

The berry tarts were amazing and the walk through the park was momentous. It had rained earlier making the paths, grass and trees feel luminous and magical. Everything felt worth exploring, down to the trash cans!

Trash cans or art? - you tell me!

Trash cans or art? – you tell me!

We met lots of dog walkers and petted as many as we could (the dogs of course), and climbed on rocks and marvelled at how the city skyline would suddenly appear above the trees and rocks, and the rolling perfectly manicured hillocks of Central Park. We walked winding narrow paths and traversed magnificent tree-haloed avenues until emerging right below the Metropolitan Museum on 5th Ave and 80th st.

The Beautiful Met Museum

The Beautiful Met Museum

The Met steps were, as usual, thronged with people sitting around and it was hard to pass and not scoot in for a few minutes (impossible to leave once inside!). But I really wanted to take Ide to The Guggenheim. She had seen it so many times in pictures and knew that Frank Lloyd Wright was behind its magical turret-like structure and it really didn’t matter what exhibit was on the walls – it was all about the building itself!

The Guggenheim easily recognizable on the Upper East side

The Guggenheim easily recognizable on the Upper East Side

There is really nothing quite like it and it sticks out like the most wonderous sore thumb in a city full of amazing buildings.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The current show was called Italian Futurism, and as cool as it was to see it, the real thrill was winding our way up the spiraled wall to the top. The feeling of intimate space around you disappeared when you looked out from the cement banister across the museum. Looking out gave you the feeling of a vast and never-ending space; a crazy contrast that serves to make us feel both big and small at the same time.

Inside The Guggenheim Museum

Inside The Guggenheim Museum

We were feeling a bit sad when we left as the next part of the day included leaving the city. I called my brother and as luck had it, the car was still not ready. I think he knew that I needed more time with this city and gave me an excuse to stay. When I told Ide that the car was not ready, she jumped for joy and confessed she wanted to go to Eataly for dinner AGAIN – which we did!

Inside The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Another perspective (Guggenheim Museum)

And this time it was more superb than the last. I think this was because last minute we decided to order a sort of appetizer pizza that turned out to be the best thing I had tasted on the menu to date. It was like a pizza salad, and set us up for the robust pasta dishes  that followed.

The best pizza topped with arugla, shaved parmiagiano reggiano and cherry tomatoes

The best pizza topped with arugula, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and cherry tomatoes

So given that we had more time, my daughter figured she could keep us up late two nights in a row and convinced us that going to a movie, which started at 10.40pm, was a reasonable request. Bird and I looked at each other and thought it would take toothpicks (for our eyelids!) and a good dose of caffeine to keep us awake. We managed to get a second wind and rallied.

The Pasta with Short Beef Ragu wasn't so bad either!

The Pasta with Short Beef Ragu wasn’t so bad either!

At 10.25pm we left her apartment and walked to the theatre via the Lincoln centre (which was lit up like a Christmas tree) and saw a movie called “Chef”. Luckily it turned out to be entertaining, and bordered enough on the quirky side to keep me entertained.

The Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry

We strolled home at 1am in the morning and decided right then and there that we needed 1 more day. After all, there was the lower part of Manhattan to explore! We made a plan to take the Staten Island Ferry (great way to see the city, as well as get a great view of The Statue of Liberty)  and have lunch in China town…which we did.

The View of Lower Manhattan from the ferry

The View of Lower Manhattan from the ferry

The Staten Island Ferry is such a part of the city for me. When I arrived in Manhattan in 1986 with very shallow pockets, the cheapest thrill in the world could be had via The Staten Island Ferry. It was from the outside rail on The Staten Island Ferry I got my first view of lower Manhattan, the skyline at that time being dominated by the World Trade Center (or Twin Towers) and also my first real live encounter with The Statue of Liberty.

Lady Liberty gracing New York Harbor

Lady Liberty gracing New York Harbor

I have taken this ferry countless times since with family and friends and the The Statue Of Liberty still takes my breath away each time I sail by her. So many people ride the ferry for just that look, and it is impossible not to think about all of those immigrant eyes sailing to the new world searching for comfort in the face of this giant sculpture standing in the middle of New York Harbor.

Riding the Ferry

Riding the Ferry

Since 1905 the ferry has been taking passengers to and from Manhattan at Whitehall Terminal, the southernmost tip of Manhattan (close to Battery Park) to St. George’s Ferry Terminal on Staten Island. This 5-mile commute runs 24/7 365 days of the year carrying 75,000 passengers per day.

Cozy

Cozy

Last Saturday we became one of the 75,000 waiting for the huge doors at the Whitehall Terminal to open which led to the gang plank of the ferry, and I got to take my daughter on a trip I had made over 20 years earlier. Pretty Special.

view from the window

view from the window

We made sure to get a spot by the rail, and the 25-minute ride was full of famous, unforgettable views of Manhattan, Lady Liberty, Ellis Island, the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, as the wind whipped around us and the plumes of white water from the ferry misted our faces.

Just Ide

Just Ide

Such a monumental ferry ride left us ravenous, so after disembarking we made our way over to China town (via City Hall) for a feast at a delicious hole-in-the-wall that Bird knew about. It is a very handy thing to have a few places in mind when wanting to eat in Chinatown as the hodgepodge of restaurants, fish markets, vegetable stalls and shops selling all manner of trinkets from lucky Chinese cats to fake Gucci watches can bamboozle the most experienced of travelers!

Lunch in Chinatown

Lunch in Chinatown

We arrived back to Bird’s apartment right before most people are thinking about dinner and fell on the bed exhausted and spent. This is how the city beats you up and the idea of another midnight movie came in second place to me cooking dinner and watching a movie in Bird’s cozy little home.

Last minute treat from thecuppcake Bakeshop on Prince st

Last minute treat from The Cupcake Bakeshop on Prince st

I cooked a lovely pasta from ingredients I had bought from Eataly’s market and we settled in for our last night.

Made from food bought at Eatlay's market: Buccatini past with Mortedella and lemon butter

Made from food bought at Eatlay’s market: Bucatini past with Mortadella and lemon butter

The day after we got home we decided that we had to replicate the Nutella Crepes from NYC Nutella in Eataly for dessert for the whole family, and I must say Mario Batali would have been hard-pressed to tell the difference between his and ours (I will post the recipe on its own very soon, so look for it if you want to add something easy and different to your repertoire).

Our Nutella Crepe!

Our Nutella Crepe!

All in all, this was something worth remembering, and so worth writing about. I can read this later and know not to envy anyone’s life but my own.

Ide (Central park, NYC)

Ide (Central park, NYC)

Something Fantastic Made With Leftover Chicken Stock or Rich Penne with Chicken Sausage (serves 4-6)

ah yes (glad I didn't throw that stock out!)

ah yes (glad I didn’t throw that stock out!)

Have you ever cooked a chicken or some other meat (either roasted or boiled) and after dinner still have a couple of cups of liquid left over? The thing that I hate the most in this world is to waste perfectly good food. People go to the trouble of making dinner and then after dinner something strange happens: the thing that was so enjoyed a few minutes earlier gets relegated to the category of waste or scraps. Why do we regard the part of the dish that has not been eaten as somehow inferior to what we just oohed and aahed over moments earlier? It’s time for you to start saving that cooking liquid and stop buying pricy cans and cartons of broth that is not half as good as the stuff you throw out after dinner!

as unappetizing as this looks, you should never throw away perfectly good stock for a cooked chicken!

As unappetizing as this looks, you should never throw away perfectly good stock from a cooked chicken!

What you see in the picture above is what I had leftover after a chicken dinner the other night. I had roasted a chicken with some basic veggies and added liquid to my pan halfway through to get a pan sauce without actually making one. After dinner, the chicken was gone (along with everything else) but this was left in my roasting pan. Most of the time this gets thrown out – admit it! it is so much easier to scrape this into the garbage than it is to put it in a container and store it in the fridge. When you throw something like this away you are throwing out the backbone of so many dishes that can be made in a hurry with delicious results if only you had saved what looks like a congealed mess.

The Ultimate Cheese!

The Ultimate Cheese (If you have a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in your fridge at all times, it can be the savior of many a pasta dinner!)

I made this dinner merely to prove my point, and this is only one use. It can be used in a soup, in simpler pasta dishes, or added to a rice dish as the stock. You can also add water to it and discard the cooked veggies (using a sieve or small colander) and substitute it anywhere broth is called for in a recipe. It will taste far superior to its store-bought counterpart.

the backsteps

The back steps are beginning to look a little more Summery and I can’t wait for my garden to become lush and alive with herbs and flowers.

Of course you can still make this dish with bought stock! I guarantee you that I most definitely do not have stock in my fridge every time I need it and resort to bouillon cubes and water more often than using precious saved chicken juices. I just wanted to let you know that the thing you have been throwing away after some of your dinners could be put to good use!

__________________________________________

You will Need:

1 lb sausage (chicken, turkey or pork will work – it can be a seasoned or flavored sausage), removed from casing

4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 tsp chili flakes

4 to 6 cups chopped spinach (we love spinach so used 6!)

1 1/2 cups leftover stock (it can have stuff in it like onions, carrots, garlic, celery and herbs) OR 1 1/2 cups chicken broth OR 1 good quality bouillon cube and water

1/2 cup tomato puree

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 lb ridged penne pasta (I used Barilla Brand mini-penne)

1 tbs cold unsalted butter (optional)

grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (if you have it)

Method:

1 – Put big saute pan on medium heat and add the oil. When it has warmed, add the chopped garlic and the chili flakes. Swirl around and cook for about 1 minute.

cook garlic and chili flakes

Cook garlic and chili flakes

2 – Add the sausage in bits (I broke it into the pan right out of the casing). Cook until the sausage is browned and nearly cooked through (about 12 minutes). You will need to stir and break sausage up with wooden spoon intermittently as it cooks.

add sausage

Add sausage

*Put the pasta water on (add about 2 tsp coarse salt to the water) and when it boil cook pasta according to instructions. Your aim is to have the pasta cooked by the time you reach step 6. Scoop out about 1/2 to 1 cup of pasta water before you drain the pasta. You may need it to thin out your sauce. Do NOT rinse the pasta when it is drained*

3 – Add the leftover stock (or whatever broth you are using) and let it come to a simmer. You may turn heat up slightly while you add the liquids.

add leftover stock or broth

Add leftover stock or broth

4 – Add the tomato puree and stir into the sausage mixture before adding the cream. Add the cream and let the sauce come to a slight boil.

add tomato puree and cream

Add tomato puree and cream

5 – Add the spinach and stir. Cover pan with a lid, turn heat down and cook for about 2 or 3 minutes at a low simmer.

Add spinach

Add spinach

6 – Turn off heat and add the cooked penne to your sauce and stir. You may also add a tablespoon of cold unsalted butter at this time if you want more glossy creaminess. If you like a thinner sauce or want to loosen the pasta a little, you may add some of the reserved pasta water until you are satisfied. You may also taste for addition of salt and pepper.

add cooked penne

Add cooked penne

Divide between bowls and pass grated Parmigiano Reggiano and more red pepper flakes if you so desire.

serve

Serve

Quick Pork Ragu (serves 6 with Pasta)

Okay, this is a crazy weekend with far too many things on my plate to wax on about how great this easy-peasy (lemon-squeezy!) pork dish tasted. As is pretty obvious I love to cook, but sometimes the pressure of time makes it an activity that is squeezed in between all the other things that are part of my life.

A great speedy ragu

A great speedy ragu

The same goes for the writing. I have only time enough to give the recipe before zooming off to do the million things that very inconveniently came crashing down on me all at one time! I don’t like when my weekend is taken up with things that are not so important to me but still need to be done.

On the bright side, if you only came to my blog for a recipe then it will be convenient as you to not have to scroll through a lots of extra stuff to get to it!

This is a great dish if you too find yourself short on time this weekend. You can also double up and feed a crowd!

___________________________________

You will need:

1 lb pork tenderloin, thinly sliced

3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

2 stripes bacon, roughly chopped or sliced

1 medium sweet or yellow onion, small dice

1 tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (chili flakes)

1/2 cup white wine

28 oz can tomato puree

1 tbs tomato paste (regular or smoked)

1 tsp salt

several grinds of black pepper

Method:

1 – Put sauce pot or deep saute pan on medium heat and add oil. When it warms add the onions and cook for 2 minutes before adding the chopped bacon. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally before adding the rosemary. Cook for another minute.

saute onions, bacon & rosemary

Saute onions, bacon & rosemary

2 – Season the pork with the sea-salt and pepper and turn up heat. Add the pork and cook for 5 minutes until it takes on a light brown color. Add the wine and turn the heat up to high. Let it bubble for about 1 minute.

add pork

Add pork

3 – Add the tomato puree, paste, and chili flakes and bring to a boil. Turn heat down, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

et voila!

et voila!

Serve with spaghetti, ridged penne or pasta shells. A salad on the side would also be a nice addition.

Mother’s Day In New York City With My Two Lovely Children!

I find that a bit of planning can go a long way. I stopped ad-libbing my free time when I had kids and my personal time had been reduced to about 0%!

NYC for Mother's Day

NYC for Mother’s Day

I am a planner when it comes to going on day-long outings. The free spirit in me that just wanted to jump into the car and go where the wind took me was no fun when countless times I ended up eating in crappy restaurants because we were just too tired and hungry to find the best place and also arriving at museums or some other “must-see” spot only to find it closed. Additionally, when you take kids on these outings you can multiply your frustration by 100 when things are not going smoothly.

Not Italy, The Metropolitian Museum of Art in NYC!

Not Italy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC!

I can safely say I have attained a balance when it comes to Day Trips, Weekend Getaways, Vacations and Holidays. Balance is a very beautiful thing when you think about it. For me it means (where trips are concerned anyway) having a plan but also having time built-in for the sheer luxury of time itself.

How Central Park looked this past Sunday

How Central Park looked this past Sunday

For example, this Mother’s Day was planned and it was one I will remember forever. I have found that if I make a plan when it involves a holiday about me specifically (like Mother’s Day and my birthday) it is best to plan it myself. That way I get to do exactly what my heart desires and everyone around me is happy for a couple of reasons; they don’t have to kill themselves trying to guess what I would love to do, and they are just glad to tag along on my selfish adventure (sometimes my plan is to do something on my own, like maybe read undisturbed for a couple of hours!).

The MET

The MET

This may sound heavy-handed and bossy but I assure you I am easygoing and easily pleased when it comes to where to go, what to do and what I want! What I really don’t want on Mother’s Day is a big hoopla with flowers and chocolates and my husband being roped in to giving me something extravagant too! I am not his mother and really hate how commercial this whole day has become. All I ask from my children is that I get to be with them if possible and to do something fun if we can manage it.

One of my favorite artists, alexander Calder. This necklace forged in brass is called "The Jelous husband"

One of my favorite artists, Alexander Calder. This necklace forged in brass is called “The Jealous Husband” (at The MET)

I absolutely love being with my kids and enjoy their company to no end. I have spent motherhood working around their schedule instead of the other way around just to get the most out of my time with them. This has resulted in us being close and easy in each other’s company, and there is no one I’d rather go to a movie, stroll a museum or walk a strange city with. This past Sunday was no exception.

My son had a big history paper looming on the American Civil War and this Mother’s Day I had the perfect excuse to work his project into my plan. His assignment was to write about any aspect of the war and after lots of discussion he came up with looking at the war from the point of view of how Photography changed the general public’s perception of the war. Of course I helped sway him in that direction as I thought it was more interesting than just recounting a battle or talking about the president. This is the first year my two children are not being Home-Schooled by me and I’m afraid I cannot let the school have all the fun or leave them to conduct their entire education. In this regard, I will always be a meddling parent, intent on them making the most of their opportunity to spend their days learning!

What my daughter liked in the modern painting Wing

What my daughter liked in the modern painting Wing (The Potato, 1928, by Jean Miro)

This Sunday I planned to drive to the city, park the car downtown and take the subway to each of our planned destinations: The Metropolitan Museum of Art on the upper East Side and afterwards to Eataly for lunch in the Flatiron District. Yes, only two things planned because I knew from experience that it would only take two things to exhaust the three of us. I am the old lady in the group but I can take a lot more of the city’s stimulation than my children. I find I can tune things out while kids feel bombarded by every little thing; subway rides, traffic noise, side-stepping crowds of people, not to mention all the visual stuff.

P

Photography And The American Civil War Exhibit now until Sept. 2nd at the MET

Anyway, the reason for The Met visit was to see a special exhibit called: Photography and The American Civil War.

As I was looking up information about photo journalism during the war I discovered that this exhibit was at The Met. I was so happy to find such a great resource and built my Mother’s Day outing around seeing it. I was happy, as any excuse to go to Manhattan suited me just fine, and I took the opportunity to visit the European painting wing for my own personal treat while we were there.

Making our way to the exhibit

Making our way to the exhibit

The Civil War exhibit was so well done and very moving. To see those famous photographs up close and personal like that made a foreigner like me, who learned nothing about American History in school (save for their involvement in World War I and II) more informed and further curious about American history and the early years of American politics. A lot of these photographs were very  disturbing to look at (battle fields of dead soldiers, amputees) and I was hoping my children would be able to handle some of the more vivid images on display. Suffice to say that there was no nightmare drama that night so somehow the exhibit was also able to achieve that balance I talked about earlier. If you are lucky enough to be in NYC this summer, you should check it out for yourself (it is up until September 2nd).

Trying to catch pink petals on 5th Ave.

Trying to catch swirling pink petals on 5th Ave.

It was a beautiful Summer day and the walk back to the subway on 5th Avenue by Central Park was as good as it gets in New York. We walked under the cherry blossom trees which were loosing petals so fast it was like a pink snowstorm. The wind was whipping and gusting all around us making our clothes and hair flutter like mad. My daughter tried to chase down some petals as they fell but they were too fast and eluded her grasp at every attempt.

Flatiron building, NYC

Flatiron building, NYC

We took the train to Eataly, an Italian market in the Flatiron District that I have been to a couple of times (Click HERE and HERE to read each piece),  but I wanted to show the kids the place. I was more than pleased to visit there again to have pizza and pasta for lunch! They were excited to see the food that they had become familiar with last year while in Italy for 3 months (click on Italy in the right hand column of this blog to read posts about our trip), and to  sample the pizza and robust pasta dishes they had grown to love while there.

Pizza in Eataly

Pizza in Eataly

Eataly (the giant Italian marketplace created by world-famous chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich) was bustling with diners (there are 9 places to eat everything Italian!), food shoppers and curious tourists who had heard about this Italian food emporium.

Pasta

Paccheri con Sugo di Mare (Shrimp, calamari, & scallops with tomatoes. white wine and parsley) While my son really loved this dish he said he did not agree with Eataly’s slogan, “Eataly is Italy”. He said “Eataly is not Italy” and while most Italians would love to duck in here for a taste of home, i have to agree with my son. it’s pretty good though.

We bee-lined it for La pizza and La Pasta and got our name on a list for a table to have lunch. We were depraved with hunger and it was hard to walk around seeing luscious food at every turn, while also smelling it. While we waited I bought pici pasta from Siena (at my son’s insistence since he loved pici so much and we had been to Siena, – click here), cooked ham with rosemary and chewy, stick-in-your teeth torrone with hazelnuts from the Piedmont region.

pasta

Tagliatelle with braised Short-rib ragu

 Our friend Bird, who lives in the city, joined us for lunch and the four of us had a hard time deciding on what to have. In the end my kids had dishes that they remembered having in Italy and wanted to compare the two. I had a robust and strong-tasting pizza with anchovies and black olives. We took a bite of each other’s food but were happiest with the one we had ordered.

clean plates all around!

Clean plates all around!

After lunch it was an absolute must to have gelato and coffee to get in the right mindset for the drive home. The walk back to the car in the late afternoon was mostly silent with each of us only having the energy to hold hands and remark on how wonderful a day we were having.

My son asked me if the person who lives here "is rich?" - hmmmm...

My son asked me if the person who lives here “is rich?” – hmmmm…

We got home when it was still light outside and the first question I got when we walked in the door was, “What’s for dinner?”

Our next big trip is for my birthday, and grand plans are already under way!

Lunch In Siena; Spectacular!

Saturday we took a day trip to Siena. After a short bus ride I was transported to yet another beautiful Tuscan city. 

Beautiful Siena

We assembled on the steps of the Basilica Cateriniana Di S. Domenica, who is one of Italy’s two beloved patron saints, (St. Francis of Assisi being the other). She not only took part in religious life (being a member of the Dominican Order), she was also a philosopher, theologian, and politician, and worked her whole short life (Died at 33), to bring lasting peace to the city states, aswell as being responsible for bring the papacy back to Rome

The impressive Duomo

After visiting the church, which incidentally houses her actually head in a gilt bust from bronze, we took the short walk to Siena’s Duomo (above). Here was yet another amazing cathedral, and I wondered how on earth anyone who lived in this country could be anything but devote. Religion was all around you, for better, or for worse.

My friend Shawn sketching from a nook on the rooftop of the Duomo's gallery

After meandering through the Duomo’s Museum, (Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo), and more importantly climbing to the top of the museum to enjoy a fantastic rooftop view of Siena, I began to get excited about lunch!

Our merry band off to lunch

Shawn, who has been to Italy just about every year for the past seven, knew of a great place to eat lunch. We ducked out of the Duomo early so as to secure a table at one of the most popular Trattorias in Siena (for those in the know at least…).

Our Table at Trattoria La Torre

As we entered the Trattoria La Torre we arrived to a completely empty restaurant, the calm before the storm as it were.

Tri-color elephant pasta

The first thing I noticed was the giant pasta strands being displayed on a table in front of the small open kitchen. This was a very good sign.

My first course of Ravioli with Olive Oil and Sage

We were greeted by a tower of a man whose easy, quiet charm permeated the room. I immediately felt at home, and found my place amongst our party of seven.

Marco's Minestrone Soup

After the flurry of water and wine being poured, the same man, who turned out to be the owner of the Trattoria stood alongside our table and proceeded to list off what was available today for our first course. With the help of our friend Marco, and the little bit of Italian I was picking up (mainly due in fact to Marco, our Italian teacher!), I was able to figure out that I wanted everything being offered!

three of us had this amazing dish; Pappardelle al Ragu di Cinghiale

However, being that I did not want to make a pig of myself in public, I settled for some wonderful-sounding ravioli, and a bite from everyone else’s plate.

My simple roast chicken dish which was singularly perfect

My dish was exceptional, and the fresh sage brought out the best of every other ingredient used. I also swooned over the Cinghiale (boar; my son’s new favorite thing!) with those giant colorful noodles.

Mario's delectable Pork Chop

I was in food heaven, and could not believe that this meal topped the one I had in Lucca the previous Saturday (see post Lunch in Lucca). I think it has been decided that each Saturday (over the next seven), as we visit a different city, I will be spoiled beyond imagining, in my pursuit of the best meal in town.

My daughter had the Osso Buco; the best I have ever tasted.

As the restaurant began to fill to the rafters, our second course arrived. I had a very simply roasted chicken, which I believe is the gold standard by which to measure excellent food. If you have been following my recipes at all, you will know that I cook chicken more than any other meat.

The busy stove top at La Torre

When a chicken is roasted perfectly, with crispy skin and delicately moist meat, I am completely won over. The chicken at Trattoria La Torre had all the requirements as far as I was concerned, and it was very hard to share a bite with anyone.

very satisfying indeed

We ended the meal with espresso and were graciously thanked by the owner. When Shawn complimented him by saying it was the best restaurant in Italy, the man coyly replied, “no, in the world” We laughed at how his modesty was replaced by boastful humor, as we headed over to Siena’s giant Piazza del Campo for a lazy nap.

The Piazza del Campo in the heart of the city where we napped after lunch, which is also the site of the famous Horse Race ( Il Palio) held here each year!

The campo was crowded with people taking a break from their day to enjoy the sun, and relax after lunch. The red bricks were warm, and there was nothing more pleasant than lying on them and soaking in the blue sky.

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f1/Palio_di_Siena_2008_%282%29.jpg

the famous Il Palio horse race

This Campo is also the site of the famous twice annual horse race; Il Palio. Ten horses are ridden bareback, decked out in the appropriate colors, representing ten of the city’s seventeen wards or districts.

This treacherous race lasts no more than 90 seconds, as the horses fly at breakneck speed around the piazza (which is filled with dirt for the occasion).

There is great celebration after wards, with the winning horse having top honor at the head of the table!

Beautiful Siena

We spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost on the streets of Siena, stopping off for gelato before heading back to Cortona. What a life!

A Very Good Lunch in Lucca, Tuscany!

The plan was to stop in the ancient town of Lucca on our way back from Pisa for a tour of the points of interest, as well as to have lunch. We were all famished!

The ancient city walls of Lucca in the late afternoon sun

As we approached the city, I was taken aback by the mighty wall (one of three incidentally, as the town continued to conquer and expand their territory), which stoutly embraced its inhabitants.

San Michele Church in Lucca

We all gathered in the Piazza in front of the San Michele church to listen to Danielle (one of the wonderful professors on our little school tour) tell us about the history of the church and the town.

Trattoria da Leo on an obscure corner in Lucca

 As we were all hungry and somewhat tired from our early start (6am), she said she would make it brief.  She pointed to the namesake of the church referring to him as St. Mike. There was an embarrassed pause, following by apologies and laughter. We chalked it up to hungry delirium.

Polpette di Carneall Appetitosa (fried meatballs in tomato sauce and capers)

As we broke away for lunch and complete freedom for the next five hours, we decided to tag along with Rebecca. Food is very important to me, and I hate to be landed in a strange place absolutely starving. These are the very times that bad food decisions are made, (the other one being to eat doughnuts while supermarket shopping, and going home with a tummy ache and no appetite).

Minestra di Farro Lucchese (Local speciality with spelt and red beans)

Rebecca has been living in Cortona for the past 20 years (a love story I have not heard all the details of yet!), and has also been hungry in Lucca several times! So, she knew of a place known only to locals and transplants like herself.

Ravioli alla Crema di Zucca (ravioli with pumpkin cream)

We followed her down a street off the piazza, and after a few short turns, we had arrived at Trattoria da Leo. She was all worried that we would have to wait for a table. Being that we were all ready to turn cannibal, I crossed my fingers.

Cavolfiore Gratinato (Baked cauliflower with Parmigiano)

Low and behold, we were greeted with much gusto by one of the owners (an unassuming elderly lady in a house coat!), and led to a couple of tables close to the kitchen, which she pushed together in a businesslike fashion.

Tortellini in Brodo (tortellini in Chicken Broth)

As we sat, she appeared again with bottles of water (both still and sparkling), and a big carafe of wine. There wasn’t a question that we wouldn’t be enjoying red wine with our lunch (I love this country!).

Baccala alla Livornese (Stewed Saltcod)

 I was so happy to have the chance to eat in a restaurant that prided itself in basic Italian fare.

Caffe Macchiato con Biscotti

The other great thing is that while I have been here, I have never had to worry that my kids will lack for something to eat. They love everything, from the salt cod to a rich ragu.

A sweet ending to our good lunch (limonciello)

 It was the best lunch I have had to date.

The busy front bar at Leo's

 It was a combination of things really. The lady who welcomed us in was also the person who took care of our table. When she figured out that we were new in town (based on my bad Italian pronunciation alone!) she proceeded to treat us like royalty. Along with what we ordered, she brought us a plate of meatballs and some ravioli to try on the house

Mother and son happy to pause for a photo-op during their bustling lunch business

We were loud, and ravenous. The wine disappeared fast, while we all tried a bite of each other’s dishes. My favorite thing was the salt cod, and the pumpkin ravioli.

Chatting after lunch.

We ended the meal with caffe macchiato and limonciello. The treats did not end there, as our newly adopted grandmother came to our table with a plate of almond-y biscotti to compliment our coffee.

Shawn getting ready to do a little after lunch exploring. (this picture is for Sharon. X)

As we left, we were hugged and kissed, with promises for our return. I know that things don’t always work out so perfectly, but on this particular Saturday I had a day to remember.

Baby Zucchini, Squash and Sausage with Lemony Pasta (serves 6)

What excited me about my box of vegetables from Good Work Farm this week? (look to top right of my blog to find out what I am talking about); baby zucchini and baby yellow squash. When I opened the box and found a hoard of these little gems I wanted to kiss them, they were so darn cute!

My little zucchini and squash from Good Work Farm, along with lemon basil and thyme from my garden.

They were no more than 4″ long and the last thing I wanted to do was slice them up and hide them in a complicated sauce. They deserved to be the star of my dinner last night and I worked hard to make that happen.

For the past couple of weeks I have been doing all sorts of summer stuff with my kids and getting home tired, and not much in the mood to cook. Then, something happens. I start to think about food and I get excited about the possibilities, especially when I have something wonderful at my disposal, like baby zucchini.

Is there anything lovelier than a baby zucchini?

I sliced them lengthways so as to keep their shape and size, and this allowed them to cook faster and brown the flesh a little. I tossed them with fresh lemon basil and intensified that flavor with lemon zest and butter. I added thyme sprigs to soften the tangy edge, and it all worked beautifully. I used an apple and onion seasoned sausage and tossed it all with some pasta and dinner was ready, with only 1 pot to clean! It was fresh, seasonal, and light-tasting, not to mention how good the tender squash and zucchini tasted. I am sad to think that by next week the remainder of the zucchini crop will have outgrown their cuteness, but, thankful that I had a chance to cook and eat them at least once this year. Little things like this is what makes eating seasonal food special.

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You will need: 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 lb sausage (Sweet Italian, seasoned sausage such as garlic, garlic and onion, onion and white wine etc), sliced into bite-sized pieces, 1 medium/large sweet onion, diced, 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped, a mixture of 12 baby zucchini ans squash, halved lengthways, 6 thyme sprigs, 1/2 cup lemon basil leaves, left whole, 1 tbs lemon zest, 2 tbs unsalted butter, 1 lb pasta (penne, shells, spirals), coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 cup hot pasta water (scoop from pasta cooking water before draining).

1 – Put big pan on medium heat and add 3 tbs of oil. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes before adding the thyme. Continue to cook for another 2 minutes

Saute onions, add thyme sprigs

2 – Add the halved zucchini and squash, 3/4 tsp coarse salt, and cook for 10 minutes, turning gently every few minutes. The goal is to get them a little brown in places. Transfer everything with a spatula to a plate and set aside.

Add zucchini & squash

3 – Add the last tbs of oil and fry the sausage pieces until cooked (about 12 minutes.

*While the sausages are cooking put water on for pasta and when it boils cook according to instructions. Before draining, scoop out about 3/4 cup of pasta water and set aside.

Cook sausage pieces

4 – Transfer the vegetables back into the pan and cook until they have warmed up (about 1 minute). Adjust heat if you need to.

Transfer veggies back into pan with meat

5 – When pasta has cooked add immediately to pan, along with the lemon zest, butter and a 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Give everything a stir. If you want a looser sauce add the rest of the pasta water. Taste for seasoning and turn heat off.

Add butter, lemon zest , pasta and pasta water

Serve in warm shallow bowls and add a little Parmigiano Reggiano if you have it, OR leave in the pan and everybody can help themselves.

Lovely bowl of food topped with Parmigiano Reggiano