pomegranate panna cotta

The pomegranates were ripening, falling to the ancient staircase below with a thump. The heavy fruit split apart on impact, exposing crimson seeds and fleshy insides.  There was a tree laden with fruit just outside the casale in Tuscany – the magical place where I was staying almost exactly one month ago.

The skin of these fruits wasn’t the familiar mottled, deeply red color of the ones I buy in late fall from produce bins in the grocery store; these were yellow tinged with green, looking more like extra-large Golden Delicious apples than what I’ve come to recognize as pomegranates. Pomegranates are melograno in Italian, derived from the Latin word for apple.

When I first noticed the tree I didn’t recognize the fruits; it wasn’t until I saw them cracked open on the ground that I saw what they were. The property, surrounded by vineyards, was outlined with hedges of bay laurel, rosemary and oleander. All plants that love the Mediterranean climate as much as pomegranates do. [Read more...]

venere black rice bowl, inspired by obicà

So here it is October already and if I were a good little food blogger, this post would involve a pumpkin. Ideally, something that could be called Decadent Pumpkin Fill-in-the-Blank. (Ok, brief aside…did pumpkin marketing frenzy start with those Starbucks drinks or what? It’s too much.)

There will be things pumpkiny and squashy soon (It is fall. Oh, well). But I returned less than a week ago from traveling in Italy and that’s pretty much all I can think about. I spent two whole weeks(!!) there, not an epic amount of time, but enough that I felt totally immersed. In the language, food, art. The color of the sky and the taste of the caffè. Every night since I’ve been back home, my dreams have been set in Italy. I’m still processing it all.

Being in Italy only made me hungry for more Italy. I soaked it up, and it will be spilling over and inspiring me for a long time – hope you don’t mind.

Italians make their way of life a priority. It’s a life close to the earth, the seasons, and hundreds of years of tradition, but the basis is simplicity. It feels so different from how we live here in the States, which may explain why it seems idealized to me.  I saw an art exhibit spanning the 16th and 17th centuries in Florence, at the Uffizi Gallery. It’s titled Puro, Semplice e Naturale: Pure, Simple and Natural – those are the perfect words to describe what I love about the place in this century.

In a few weeks, I’ll be sharing more about my experience as a DaVinci Storyteller, which is what brought this Italian adventure my way.

For now, here’s a few shots I took while wandering in Florence one beautiful day; the first was a small produce stand I walked by on a narrow street near the Duomo and the second an inviting-looking restaurant, open and ready to serve pranzo.  [Read more...]

fresh tomato, basil and bread soup

A tomato grown in New Jersey just tastes like a Jersey tomato. ~ tomato grower David Shepherd

What’s so special about a Jersey tomato? I’m not sure. I’m now on my second season of Jersey tomatoes, and I have to admit when I first tasted one late last summer, a memory revived with a tiny shock.

It reminded me of another lifetime ago; maybe the time I tasted my first garden tomato from my friend Jeanne’s grandfather’s backyard, or when I lived in the very southern part of Florida where tomatoes were abundant and at their prime in December, when I’d last cut into a heavy, ripe tomato that was still warm from the sun, deeply red all the way through. There was that taste of TOMATO that I can’t find the exact words to describe – somehow sweetly meaty and delicately tart, fruity and savory all at once. That flavor has nothing to do with the greenhouse-grown tomatoes I buy – we all do – all year round, that look red and perfect and lovely but taste like … not much.

Could be it’s marketing and hype at work  –  yes, the term  “The Jersey Tomato” has been trademarked – and also the fact that my attempts at growing tomatoes tend to end badly.

The cute and beautifully colored cherry tomatoes I cultivated by the back deck became snacks for hungry squirrels, and the fancy heirlooms I planted in a raised bed produced more sprawling foliage than fruit. It’s been a while since I’ve had a super-fresh, home grown tomato that actually made me pause. [Read more...]