Finally, Spring.

I’ll admit it. I’m desperate. It’s been a brutal winter and I’m desperate for signs of Spring. Any sign at all. Where are the bursts of bright yellow forsythia and the surprise of purple crocuses? Where are the tiny red buds emerging on the barren branches of grey tree limbs? Why is my grass still grayish brown? Why do I smell rotting leaves but not rich brown earth redolent with the refreshing scent of new growth?

And why the hell are there still islands of ice and snow in my backyard?

Time is not moving fast enough for me during this transition from an epically bad winter to, hmmm, whatever comes next. These days, who knows?

oystermushroompastaHere is what I am certain about. Spring has arrived at the Brookline Winter Farmers Market. The colors, the smells, the joy. Yep. It’s all there. And so is dinner. A quick stop in to say hello offers a couple of things I haven’t seen for at the market in months: smiles on the faces of the farmers and a bounty of spring greens and veggies.

Finally, after months of stoicism, my cold, cold heart begins to melt.

insetpastaSpring Pasta with Blue Oyster Mushrooms, Sweet Peas, and Pea Tendrils

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. blue oyster mushrooms, cleaned and cut into large pieces
  • 1 lb. sweet peas
  • 1 cup pea tendrils
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sheep’s milk feta cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb. torchio, or other broad-shaped dried pasta
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.
  2. When it reaches a boil, add the peas and bring to a simmer for 4-5 minutes or until the peas are soft to the bite. Drain and reserve.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.
  4. Add the garlic, shallot, and red pepper flakes and sauté until the garlic is just browning and the shallot is becoming translucent.
  5. Add the oyster mushrooms and reduce the heat. Stir to mix and coat the mushrooms completely. Continue to simmer.
  6. Add the pea tendrils.
  7. Add the peas.
  8. Simmer mixture on low heat until you are ready to add the pasta water in the steps below.

Meanwhile:

  1. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil for the pasta.
  2. Salt the water, add pasta and boil the pasta until just al dente. Do not overcook.
  3. Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid (pasta water) in a heat-resistant container.
  4. Drain pasta and reserve.
  5. Return to the skillet, increase the heat to high and add 1/2 cup of pasta water to the skillet and bring to a simmer.
  6. Add pasta to the skillet, or, if the skillet is too small, add the contents of the skillet and the pasta to the pasta pan over low heat.
  7. Stir to combine.
  8. Add lemon, parsley, and feta. Stir to combine, and allow feta to melt.
  9. Add more cooking liquid if the pasta looks too dry.
  10. Salt and black pepper to taste.
  11. Serve immediately.

 

 

 

Sicily + Piedmont, October, 2015

Yes, my bags are packed again. This time, we’ll be bookending the best of Italy in October as we explore western Sicily, and then venture north to Turin and Barolo country and truffles! What could be better? You joining us, of course!

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Hello, my name is Linda and I’m an Instagram food addict

Yeah, I post my food on Instagram. Then I eat it. Still counts as sharing, right?

Instagrams of somebody else’s dinner. You either love ’em or you hate ’em.

What’s your opinion?

Food styling meals for Instagram – Food & dining – The Boston Globe.

Tripe? Truffles? Tastings? It’s a Barolo Trifecta.

The annual Tripe Festival. Of course! What else would make the already virtually impassable winding mountaintop roads of Barolo, Italy narrow even further with cars parked haphazardly along both sides? On the sunny October Sunday afternoon of our visit to the famed Marchesi di Barolo Winery it was the tripe festival. Who could’ve guessed? We add our van to the line-up, then walk to see what all the fuss is about.

Tripe is popular here, so popular that hundreds of visitors come to quaint Barolo, population 750, to sample Zuppa di Trippa, tripe soup, made with local favorites, Nucetto chickpeas. Or salame ‘d Tripa ‘d Muncalé, Moncalieri’s tripe salame. Still not satisfied? How about Rustia, a tripe spread? Clearly a whole lotta people here love tripe. They amble from table to table, tasting fork in one hand, hunk of crusty bread in the other, jam-packing the narrow lanes of this medieval town perched on a hilltop in the famed Barolo wine producing region of Alba.

Barolo

Unimpressed by the overhead banner that heralds A Tutta Trippa! (Everything Tripe!), we head straight to the Cantina Marchesi di Barolo, the lure of our private truffle dinner and wine tasting overpowering any other gustatory alternative. Not that tripe even makes our short list. We’re game to try lots of new foods in Italy, and the group has ventured well outside their culinary comfort zone both here and at Salone del Gusto. But tripe? Not so much. Continue reading

Hunting Truffles and Finding Friends

She was supposed to know more about the backroads around Monforte d’Alba than I do. It was the sole purpose of inviting her on our trip. But the prissy British woman tagging along in the small illuminated square on the dashboard is just as lost as the rest of us.

“Make a legal u-turn when possible,” she directs us haughtily, an obvious and somewhat condescending piece of advice since we have no other option. Held hostage by her incompetence, Jonathan, our driver and my husband, our passengers and I sigh collectively from the relative luxury of our ride, a three-row Mercedes Vito van. All except Steph, who has taken refuge, from both motion sickness and wrong turns, in the safe harbor oblivion of her Apple earbuds.

We found ourselves at a dead end, sandwiched between a small railway station and a one-story row of rose-colored buildings reminiscent of a too-cheery suburban shopping mall. A man lounged outside one of the doors that lined its flank, his camo pants a stark contrast to the fiery red of his Fiat Uno, calmly having a smoke, watching the show.

Rolling down my window, I stutter in my nearly useless Italian, “Do you know how to get to Via Monchiero Alto?”  In the languid way of Italians, he pulls his free hand from the warmth of his pocket and circles it abstractly above his head, glowing butt hanging from his lips, motioning toward the road rising past the fence beyond the train station. “There,” he said, “It’s just there.”  Ahhh. There. So close, but yet so far.

By the time we had taken our disembodied Kate Winslet’s only good advice and banged a U-ie, our friend has extinguished his smoke, grabbed his keys, and is waiting in the middle of the road. Returning to my window, he asks, “Are you going truffle-hunting? Are you going to Tra Arte e Querce? Come. I’ll take you there.” I smile in relief, he smiles in understanding, heading for his car. We are off.

Kate, you may be beautiful, have kissed Leonardo DiCaprio, won an Oscar and are aging far more gracefully than I ever will, but at this moment an Italian hybrid of Rambo and the Marlboro Man is my hero. We follow, as I dig through my bag for a 5 Euro note, a small gesture of thanks to Camo-Man for his help. Less than three minutes later, we arrive at our destination. I make my offer; he graciously declines with another engaging smile and a shake of his head.

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An embarrassment of riches.

Before each of my Morso Soggiorno tours, I travel to Italy to take a “dry run” of my own trip. Makes sense, right? I research my trips intensively, write long emails and anxiously await replies, read reviews, get references from trusted sources. I make phone calls at all hours of the day and night in Italian so broken it could make your ears bleed. But none of that considerable effort stands in for a little face time. My in-person meetings are beyond fruitful and serve a couple of purposes, aside from getting me to Italy, which, it goes without saying, is an amazing benefit.

IMG_1410 Villa Beccaris

Nailing down all important and elusive commitments from my Italian colleagues is a challenge, especially when I’m reserving limited and exclusive accommodations and events. It’s even more difficult when I’m trying to convince an artisan or craft business to open its doors to my groups. Imagine asking the fine gentleman below “Can you please demonstrate your 200 year-old, ultra-secret ricotta-making technique for my group and me?” Even the most scrupulous and hardworking farmers, vendors, cheese makers, vintners and restauranteurs are way too comfortable with open-ended plans that they are sure can be confirmed domani (tomorrow). Me, not so much. I’m all about signing on the dotted line, and inking my name on a specific date on a calendar that preferably remains in their direct line of sight.

sicilian cheesemaker Continue reading

Italy surprises me. Again.

I’ve been hawking my upcoming tour to Salone del Gusto in October pretty much nonstop. I think it’s a great trip, having attended Salone del Gusto in 2012 (you can see my blogs about it here and here.) But it occurs to me, my foodie bias is showing. I’ve been so focused on all the greatness that is Salone — the wines, the artisan and craft foods, the star-chef dinners, the cooking classes, the workshops — did I mention the wines? — that I almost broke my own first rule of the Morso travel experiences I curate: discover undiscovered Italy. Boy, was I ever reminded of the importance of my own mission on my recent “test run” to Turin and Alba in mid-July.

So, before I begin to wax effusive about Turin, a little background. Over the years, I’ve visited or passed through Turin a few times, two of them very memorable. On my first visit, in 1990, my husband, Jonathan, and I capped off a one-month second honeymoon with a one-night stay in Turin. It almost led to divorce. Why? Where do I start?

First, it was Ferragosto, the time of year in Italy when any sane person, Italian or otherwise, avoids the cities and escapes to their vacation home for a month or more. Restaurants are “chiuso per ferie,” closed for holiday, as are small businesses. The sidewalks are rolled up. The streets, deserted. I was in Rome once during Ferie, and the only other living creatures for miles around were the cats at the Torre Argentina.

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