a week in tuscany

The long stretch of summer calls for a long tavola.

We need a table outdoors, the longer the better…inevitably guests gather – friends from home, a relative’s friends from somewhere else who thought they’d say hello…and new friends, sometimes with friends of theirs. Add another handful of pasta to the boiling pot, add a plate, a tumbler, find another chair. 

~ Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

I’m thrilled beyond belief to share that I have a chance to spend a week in Vinci, a town in Tuscany – I do! I was chosen as one of 12 finalists in the 2014 DaVinci Storyteller Experience. It’s down to popular vote now; one finalist with the most votes from each of 4 categories will travel to the Chianti region of Tuscany this fall, to spend a week soaking up the Tuscan sun. Along with amazing food, culture…and wine, of course.

I admit I’m not comfortable begging asking for votes (I’ll never run for office…), but that’s what I have to do. Can I tell you that this could be my first trip to Italy? I feel such a strong personal connection to my heritage; it’s really the soul of my cooking and the very inspiration for this blog.  Spending time in Italy is in my life plan somewhere; and not only for eating and drinking wine, but because I feel the need to connect the dots between the culture I grew up in, the food on all the tables I’ve sat around, and the origins of the ancestors I’ve never known.

My great-grandparents arrived in the United States from Italy in the late 1800’s, along with millions of other peasant Italians escaping poverty, disease and failing farmland in the Mezzogiorno. One family story is that my paternal great-grandfather Vincenzo has roots in Arezzo, the heart of Tuscany. After trying his luck in Argentina, he landed at Ellis Island in 1894. He was 23 years old; his occupation “farmer”.

I promise you that if I win and spend a week in the birthplaces of Leonardo da Vinci, the art of the Renaissance, and the cradle of Tuscan country cooking, I will bring it all back home to you. For the next month, I plan to cook and share recipes from Tuscany, for inspiration and good luck.

In the meantime, please think about voting for me as often as you can, along with talented finalists in the other categories. The voting page is on the DaVinci Wine Facebook  page; vote every day until July 31.

Grazie Mille!

Karen

photo above by Francesco Carrani

rye reginetti pasta, fresh peas and shoots

I made a field trip to Brooklyn to visit the workshop of artisan pasta maker Sfoglini. Owners Steve Gonzalez and his friend Scott Ketchum wanted to launch a business together a few years back, but after their initial plan to open an Italian restaurant was pushed to the wayside, they decided to focus on making pasta. Not just any pasta, but organic, bronze-die-extruded pasta made in small batches. That’s my favorite kind!

Steve is a chef with experience cooking all over Italy, and in New York City too (most recently he headed the pasta program at Frankie’s Spuntino‘s restaurants); Scott has expertise in product design and branding – a great match.

The other day, they were kind enough to let me poke around their kitchen, where I watched Steve make a batch of rye reginetti, from start to finish.

[Read more…]

clams in crazy water

“What’s crazy water got to do with cooking and anyway, who wants to eat fish in water?” ~ Marcella Hazan, Marcella Cucina

From where I’m sitting at my desk, I can hear the sound of water streaming in the room below me. It’s pleasant; Zen-like. It’s a gurgling fountain sound you’d hear while reclining on a heated, padded table with eye pillows on your face, in a dark room while aromatic oils are being soothed onto your stressed out body. SNAP! 

Actually, the sound is coming from my basement, which is not an organic spa retreat; just an ordinary partially finished one with a brand-spanking-new-just-installed-this-morning four-hundred-dollar sump pump. Hot and stone and massage are way nicer to say than sump. Or pump.

Isn’t it crazy that water is at once the beautiful blue sea or babbling brook, the very thing we want to escape to, and also a monstrous enemy when it’s flowing like a river into your house and you need it to be gone?

My heart goes out to you and anyone you know suffering from the effects of stormy flood waters. It’s happened to me before, in another house and it’s awful. This time - thank god – there was no flooding in our home; just an overwhelmed drain system that threatened to cause trouble into the wee hours last night. The trickling sound is the water table getting restored to normal. Thank you, sump pump. French drain – you too.

Anyway, there is the coincidence of my planning to write about these clams in Neapolitan crazy water – acqua pazza, as they say – and all the watery weather in my life today.

Marcella writes “water is what brings together all the seasoning ingredients, the tomatoes, garlic, parsley, chili pepper, salt and olive oil.” So simple. It’s the beauty of a brodo, or Italian broth.


Since the clams and crazy water come together to make a beautiful soupy-zuppa, I decided to fortify it with fregola (sometimes spelled fregula), a special type of pasta from Sardinia. I love the artisanal pasta produced by Rustichella D’Abruzzo; the fregola sarda they make is made from semolina. It’s much like large grains of couscous, only toasted. It’s got this great, toothy texture and sweet, nutty flavor, perfect for rustic broths like this one.

Recipe inspired by Fish in Crazy Water in Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan

clams in crazy water

clams in crazy water

Ingredients

  1. 20-24 littleneck clams or cockles, rinsed
  2. 1 pound cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  3. 3 whole garlic cloves, lightly smashed the side of a large knife
  4. 1 handful flat leaf parsley leaves plus 2 tablespoons chopped
  5. 1 fresh red chili pepper, chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
  6. 1 teaspoon salt
  7. Pinch saffron threads
  8. Extra virgin olive oil
  9. 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  10. 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  11. Juice of 1 lemon
  12. 1 cup fregola sarda

Instructions

  1. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add a teaspoon sea salt and add the clams. Swish them around a little then let them soak one hour. Lift the clams out of the water, leaving any sand or grit that settled on the bottom of the bowl.
  2. Set aside 1 cup of the tomatoes; put the rest in a saucepan with the garlic, parsley leaves, chili, salt, saffron and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a slow bubbling simmer and cook 30 minutes. Pour the broth through a strainer set over a bowl of small saucepan, (discard the vegetables).
  3. Cook the fregola sarda in boiling salted water - in my experience it can take longer to cook than other types of small pasta before becoming tender – about 20 minutes. Drain and toss with 1 tablespoon oil; cover and keep warm
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a saute pan large enough to hold all the clams (12 inches diameter should do it); add the garlic and shallot and cook until fragrant and sizzling. Toss in the clams, reserved tomatoes, broth and lemon juice. Cover the pan and turn up the heat to high and cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes. Discard any clams that haven't opened. Taste the broth to see if it needs salt (or more chili).
  5. Spoon the fregola sarda into individual bowls and ladle with the clams and broth. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
http://familystylefood.com/2014/05/clams-in-crazy-water/