Warmth

There is dedication in this group. After taking many mental notes until near midnight on the details of how one creates a crema della crema of an olive oil, my gals were up with the sun and ready for the market in Camucia, then onto the train to Florence, back for some wine and rosemary crackers, before dinner of ditoline with sausage and mushrooms, roast chicken with prunes and grapes, and a sformata of bread pudding with a warm apricot sauce at the Villa La Macchia.
It is lovely to be a guest in the Scarpaccini home–an evening in a world we would have never known if we hadn’t been invited. The history of the family seems to stretch back as far as the creation of the hills–it gives an American the feeling of having just arrived, like a small green sprout.
I am not sure what to make for breakfast, after such a meal. Maybe a selection of meats and cheeses with white wine and sliced oranges. Or long thin cookies with toasted walnuts and steaming pots of coffee. If they are up before I make it down the road to town, I have left a pile of wood for a fire in the kitchen stove.

Jairo, Matteo, Silvio and Marco

I fell in love with the butcher yesterday.  It’s a relationship that wouldn’t work if he crossed the counter, but love can be unavoidable. He is completely reliable, brilliant at what he does, as sure as an oak tree, and always happy to see you.  It was a great pork roast.  Each rib was beautifully cleaned, and still attached at the base to the loin to form a perfect pocket for a paste of fresh breadcrumbs, lemon zest, parsely, sage, rosemary and garlic bound by olive oil.   Another pocket was sliced along the bone at the bottom, and after the whole loin was seared, drizzled with Chianti, and roasted in a patient oven with a tray of tomatoes below, we devoured it.  On the side were string beans braised with shallot, and garlic.  While we were waiting, we had spinach and ricotta dumplings in a sage, garlic and butter sauce, showered with Parmesan, and afterwards a tart filled with roasted, sugared apples, smashed into a puree and topped with paper thin slices of the same.   We slouched in our chairs from the weight of happiness. 

Jairo came at three and drove us along the road to Florence, exiting just before, at Montevarchi, to find Matteo who led us through the olive oil press on the season’s first day of operation.  We inhaled the heavy and heavenly perfume of the smashing of olives, and trod into the  mud outside to study the trees the olives came from. 

In the dark it is always harder to find even the familiar and I am sure that we passed the same roundabout at least four times, before the right road showed itself, taking us to the Bonci Bakery, creamy hot chocolates and cappucini, and then onto lessons with the great master himself in the mesmerizing art of kneading two loaves at once.  For a finale he painted layers of puff pastry with creamy royal icing and strands of apricot jam that bloomed into layers of lightness and sweetness and butter that shatter with each bite. 

There was no time to go home, so I slept on the couch in the house of lovely ladies, and in the morning made them coffee, served them pastries and sent them on their way to Perugia, to meet Marco…

The Meatball

I used every pan, every plate, every fork, and every, every, all of it, to make dinner tonight. We made meatballs–but not just any meatball, nothing like “hey you got meatballs”, “yea, I got meatballs.” These were serious “call the cows, call the pigs, and be sure to have the number of a few chickens”, meatballs.
Saute 2 medium new yellow onions with two cloves of uncut garlic until nearly soft, and then add a heaping cup of chopped pancetta stessa (I am not sure on teh spelling of that). Cut up yesterday’s solid Italian loaf, enough for one cup of fresh bread crumbs. Soak them in just enough cream to make a thick mush. Cook a chicken leg and a thigh with a bay leaf, a spill of delicious olive oil, a shallot and a sprig of parsley in a pot of simmering water for about 40 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through. Cool the meat and save the broth for yourself. Chop the chicken meat finely. Add everything to a bowl along with 2 pounds of ground organic beef (add a little ground pork if you like) and 2 eggs. Add a tablespoon of tomato sauce, and mix with your hand until just uniform. Don’t go crazy. Form into meatballs and brown in olive oil. Finish in a 350 degree oven until cooked through. Serve with a red sauce, or gravy.
We had polenta on the side (the 40 minute variety–it pays to wait), a cucumber salad that I eat daily now, a green salad, just for fun and the opportunity to eat more olive oil and Tiramisu for dessert.
After dinner everyone went upstairs to sit by the fire. They had long day with our beloved Jairo who led them around the edges of Cortona, to Le Celle and Santa Margarita, and through its winding streets.

Arrival

I have arrived–food poisoned by the low down, no good, plastic plated chicken surprise that I ate on the plane. I missed the train in Rome, waited two hours for the next one, and by the time I made it to Mercatale I think I lost about 10 pounds. It is not a method of weight loss that I recommend.
My friend Caroline has revived me, giving me a delicious place to sleep, and when I was ready, about 24 hours after arrival, sips of tea and though Lord–I never thought I would eat again–oatmeal.
I am breathing and I am sure I will be walking by the end of the day, so no need to send flowers.
From Italy with love, Faye

A presto!

I am on my way to teach cooking and have a few laughs in Italia.
My friend Caroline is waiting for me, which always makes leaving my family a little easier.
The first business will be to make a bee line for the coffee bar outside of the Roma Termini train station for a cappuccino and cornetto.
xoxoxoFaye

salmon and sauce

In my house, there are no walls and no doors (except in the bathroom). We are a tight knit family, the three of us. The truth is, we prefer to always be together. The not insurmountable challenge comes when we have house guests because, well, because. Right now we have friends of ours who have just made the move to America, along with their baby and a Jack Russell, and they are camping in the living room area. None of us are sleeping as much as we may be used to, but it’s always a party at the table. Last night I had another two friends from out of town, and we could have gone out to eat, but why go out when it’s more fun to cook and there is room on the bench?
Because I am in love with the sweetness of fresh fish and our new grocery store sells only fish that was caught yesterday, I started out with a menu of lamb shanks and ended up buying Scottish salmon instead. I skinned the filets, cut them into fat three by two inch squares, and seared them off in a little olive oil on one side. For a sauce to set the fish on, I sauted a shallot with a sprig of thyme and a sliver of garlic in olive oil, then added a few cups of red wine to reduce to only a few tablespoon fulls. I smashed everything through a sieve, then off the heat, whisked in a tablespoon of heavy cream and a few tablespoons of butter. I finished the filets in a 350 degree oven, letting them go only long enough to swell them, leaving them pink in the middle.
They went alongside tiny scallops, roast potatoes, spinach with garlic and a loaf of French bread. For dessert we had chocolate mousse with cream and strawberries. Even the baby slept.

The goal of risotto

If you are wondering just where the heck Mama Delicious has been…
…on the road taking notes of dinnertime, cussing out American sausages that will always leave me lonely for flavor, searing off large chickens, and teaching in The New York Citay. The daughter of an institution called Manducatis, has opened her own version of a neighborhood favorite full of love, and I make a cameo on Monday nights. I have a simple goal of showing people how to cook from the inside out, and there is no easier way to do it than by stirring up a risotto. The goal of people taking the class may have been a little different–to learn some quick and easy’s–and I may have even said that that would be a possibility, but I can’t help myself. It is true for a good risotto you have to make your own stock and you have to get out there and hunt down arborio, carnoroli or vialone, (all grown in the Po Valley), saute an onion until it has surrendered, and then start breathing from your perineum for a stir that can last up to 40 minutes, but who isn’t going to know how to cook after that?

We made seared scallops, a roasted tomato risotto with fried basil and garlic, a whole roasted red snapper with shallot, a couple more of those grape tomatoes, paper thin lemon slices, garlic, fresh thyme, and slivers of fennel, seasoned inside and out with salt and rubbed with olive oil, a side of swiss chard, and a tart of roasted bosc pears and black grapes.
It took 3 hours to cook and eat our way through, and nobody left early.

It’s Brisket or bust

If you ever think that passion for food in our United States of America has gone the way of our current commander in chief or a good girdle, then think again when it comes to the holidays. My mother decided that we were going to be vegetarians when I was about eight. Not for a minute, not for a nano second did it ever cross anyone’s mind that we wouldn’t have a 20 pound turkey on Thanksgiving. Turkey on Thanksgiving crossed all vegetarian lines.
Tomorrow is Yom Kippur. For dinner–in Jewish households around the nation–there is no messing with the Brisket.
A Turkey or Brisket, or whatever one’s tradition might be–feeds the soul in a way that few things do in a such a dependable way.
My menu of choice:

Chicken soup with with coriander dumplings

Brisket

Potato pancakes (rosti) or mashed

Apple salad with endive, toasted walnuts and dried apricots

Sauted carrots and leeks

Sauteed wild mushrooms with port

Oven roasted onions with thyme, bay leaf, olive oil, and a dash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper

Honey Cake

For a beautiful brisket:

In a medium dish, mix 3 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon each of salt and sweet paprika, 2 teaspoons of dry mustard and a good grind of black pepper. Rub on both sides of a 6 pound brisket. Slice 2 yellow onions into medium slices and arrange half over a sheet of aluminum foil that has been set in a baking pan. You are going to want the edges of the foil to extend beyond the pan, so that you can pull them over the meat to make a package. Add 8 cloves of garlic. a few sprigs of thyme and 2 bay leaves. Set the brisket on top. Cover the meat with the rest of the onions and another 8 cloves of garlic. Pour a cup of water over the meat, and close the foil. Bake 4 or 5 hours until fork tender. Cool and refrigerate overnight. Remove the fat and serve with pan juices.

On cooking

My friend and I were walking as we do–some days even before the sun begins to fill in the edges of the Manhattan skyline, but today it was a little later. Flexibility is key.
Let’s just say that you decided the only way to cook was to cook every night, deliver dinner on time, and it could only be delicious. And you may be thinking to yourself, “now what kind of crazy person would think like that?”
The first time I tried being married, I made breakfast, lunch (delivered) and dinner. If I made blueberry muffins, they were made with fresh berries, in season, and the muffins were hot. If the man didn’t say
“YES!!! NOW THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! THIS IS DELICIOUS! THIS IS LOVE IN A LUNCH SUIT!”, then it was entirely possible that that lunch was going to take a short flight to the trash can and a different lunch–a better lunch–would take it’s place. I understand it’s not easy to live with a woman who cooks like that–you might eat well, but the stress of mealtime can really get in the way of enjoying your food. I had no faith in 99%. 98% could eat me alive. It was all or nothing. I lost the forest for the trees.
Do you know I never really became a cook until I gave up worrying about the judge. I became a cook when I was willing to jump off the deep end of cooking from the inside out instead of the outside in. Recipes as a reference instead of a rule. A love for all the ingredients in front of me, for giving from the core of me to bring them to life, and for feeding the ones I love. Don’t think for a minute that I don’t still do battle with that judge, but I’m winning.

Make yourself an appetizer of roasted red and yellow peppers (400 degree oven, toss with olive oil and salt, sprigs of marjormam, parsley and rosemary and whole cloves of garlic) and fresh mozzarella di bufala. Serve with roasted, thickly sliced onions, tossed with a little olive oil, balsamic and a touch of orange juice. When they are out of the oven, throw in a bay leaf and nicoise olives that you have roasted separately.

Vote FAYEFOOD

I have never been to Isreal, but I made a whole menu of Isreali food last night. The most important thing was that they liked it. Sometimes I think I live to cook, and other times I think I live to be liked. Which brings me back to…
http://bloggerschoiceawards.com for the love of FAYEFOOD. I am going for 200 votes (I get about 1300 hits a day, and I only need 200 of you to take me to the top!)

Here is the menu from Friday night:

Falafel (Mark Bittman has a fantastic recipe on line–bless his soul)

Flatbread/Pita (from Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Avenue in Brookly–the best pita and best hummus)

Hummus, Baba Ganoush

Fresh Fennel, mint, lemon

Israeli Feta, roasted beets, arugula

Roasted eggplant salad with chic peas and fresh oregano

Warm lentil salad with oven roasted green onion

Israeli couscous with roasted red pepper and olives

Seared artichoke hearts, roasted garlic and boiled egg

Spinach pies (a spinach, feta, scallion and green onion filling with feta in a triangle shaped puff pastry)

Shredded Carrot salad with fresh orange juice, red wine vinegar, shallot, currants and toasted almonds

Yogurt cheese with fresh herbs and lemon zest

Toasted pita triangles tossed with tomato, cucumber, red onion and fresh basil

To make the spinach pastries, just saute one small onion with a tablespoon of fresh dill, a clove of garlic, and a sprig of parsley. Saute until the onion is completely softened and delicious. Season with salt and pepper. Add about a pound of baby spinach leaves, and as soon as they are wilted, set the whole mix over a fine sieve to drain. Give it a good press to get all the liquid out. Add one beaten egg and a handful of Israeli feta. Use your favorite puff pastry (I love Dufour). Give it a roll or two to slightly flatten. Cut into squares and fit the squares into muffin tins. Place a heaping tablespoon of the spinach mix on top of each one. Pinch the corners together the best you can. It’s OK if they open up in the oven. Bake at 375 until deep golden.