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.

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israeli farro salad

I have a friend from Tel Aviv, a talented pottery artist who now lives in St Louis. When I first met them, she and her husband taught me a few things about what to do when you have people over. It goes like this:

Put some chairs around a table inside a charming screened porch that overlooks a lovingly tended garden of native plants, trees and bird feeders, complete with a creek running through it. At the same time let the kids outside to explore amongst themselves.

Next open a bottle of wine, maybe some chilled rosé, and set out some glasses so everyone can help themselves. Finally, put some fresh pita bread and a bowl of salad on the table, composed basically of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, fresh herbs and some olive oil.  Commence talking and sipping while enjoying this perfect snack, one I think is about thousand miles away from the usual chips and salsa.

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