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!
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?
I can’t keep him off it. It’s become part of the rhythm of his daily life. A quick means to communicate what he’s feeling, thinking about, or simply experiencing. His favorite hashtag? #thereisbeautyeverywhere.
For him, posting a picture on Instagram has become as intimate and integral to his sharing of himself as a warm hug with a friend chance-met on a street or an invitation to join our family for a home cooked dinner. It’s a gift of his vision, his perspective, his point of view — all finely honed, I must admit, after years of seeing the world through the keen eyes of an ad guy. No filter, indeed.
So all those photos you see of our nightly dinners? His, not mine. “That looks really tasty,” he’ll say appeasingly, as he grabs my iPhone to snap the photo, part of his strategy to make the minutes this process takes more palatable while the whole family is waiting for him to sit down. “Let me just post a picture.”
I’m at odds with this nightly ritual. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that he loves my cooking, appreciates the effort I put into the flavors, colors, and textures that dress our family table. Or maybe, he simply likes to celebrate that we have a still have family table, a dinner together each night.
In response to my scowl and narrowed eyes, not to mention the wooden spoon I am brandishing, he reminds me that posting is good for my ‘brand.’ Hmmm. That’s true, I admit grudgingly.
The proof is in the pudding. His quick posts of our dinners get lots of likes, and even some requests for recipes.
Herein lies the rub. I don’t cook from recipes. I’m a ‘look in the fridge and make it up as you go based on what you’ve got’ kinda girl. I stock the pantry and take it from there. Writing those recipes, especially free of errors? Takes some time.
But you all are worth it.
So, here you go. For Leslie, the risotto and for Susan, the lobster pasta.
And for Jonathan, my humble thanks. I guess there is beauty everywhere.
If you want to follow Jonathan on Instagram you can find him at @jplazonja.
Risotto with Chicken and Preserved Lemon
- 2 chicken breasts, trimmed, cut into 1/2″ cubes
- white flour for dredging
- 3 tbs. butter
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 2 cups arborio rice
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 3/4 cup chopped shallots
- 1 tbs. chopped preserved lemon, pith and pulp removed
- 1 tbs. preserved lemon liquid
- juice of half of a lemon
- 2 tbs. butter
- 3/4 white wine
- 3/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
- 3 tbs. chopped flat Italian parsley leaves, stems removed
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- kosher salt and ground white pepper to taste
- Heat the chicken stock until simmering in a large stock pot.
- Meanwhile, dredge the chicken cubes in the flour until well coated. Shake off any excess.
- Melt 3 tbs. butter in a large heavy bottom pan over medium high heat. When bubbling, add the garlic and sauté until you can smell the aroma.
- Cook the chicken in batches in a single layer, until the cubes are golden brown. Remove and reserve.
- Add the remaining butter to the pot. When it is bubbling, add the shallot and sauté over medium heat until it is translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the arborio rice, stirring often, until the grains become opaque and smell somewhat nutty. Don’t let them brown.
- Add the white wine, simmering gently and stirring often until the wine is reduced and all the good bits are scraped from the sides and bottom of the pan.
- Add the preserved lemon and preserved lemon liquid.
- Add the warm chicken stock, stirring constantly over medium high heat. As it absorbs into the rice, continue to add more stock until the stock is all incorporated. This should take about 20 minutes.
- Add the lemon juice, the reserved chicken and the nutmeg.
- Add the cheese, stirring until fully incorporated.
- Add the parsley, and season to taste with salt and white pepper.
- The risotto will take on a creamy consistency, this is fine. Serve immediately and enjoy.
Egg Fettuccine with Lobster, Preserved Lemon and Baby Spinach
- 8 ounces lobster meat, cooked, cleaned and coarsely chopped
- 1 lb. egg fettuccine, linguine, or other broad egg noodle
- 2 shallots, coarsely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
- I carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 preserved lemon, pith and pulp removed, coarsely chopped
- 1 tbs. preserved lemon liquid
- 2 tbs. butter
- 2 tbs. olive oil
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 12 ounces baby spinach leaves, cleaned and dried
- red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1/4 cup flat Italian parsley leaves, chopped
- salt and ground white pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove on high heat.
- In a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan, heat the olive oil and the butter until bubbling.
- Add the shallot, celery, carrot and pepper flakes. Sauté over medium high heat until softened, about 5 – 7 minutes. Stir often.
- Add the preserved lemon, white wine and preserved lemon liquid.
- Add the spinach leaves, and cover, allowing the spinach to wilt.
- When the water is boiling, salt the water and add the pasta and cook until just before al dente.
- Reserve 2 cups of pasta water in a shatter-proof glass container.
- Drain the pasta, and add it and the lobster to the spinach mixture in the sauté pan.
- Increase heat to medium high, add reserved pasta water as needed to keep the pasta from sticking, stirring to combine ingredients.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately with a garnish of fresh parsley.
2013. Morso Soggiorno’s inaugural year.
We visited Abruzzo, Lazio, Umbria, Le Marche, Sicily, Basilicata and Puglia. We ate, we drank, we laughed. We strolled, foraged, hiked, shopped, rolled pasta, hunted truffles, pressed olive oil, picked grapes, cooked with a duchess, picked purple potatoes with a farmer in a fog shrouded field, made more cultural faux pas and grammar mistakes than even Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State could save us from, and still, we were welcomed warmly, with the love, care and attention usually offered only to family.
The only thing we didn’t conquer was the Italian postal service, who still has all the goodies we shipped home. Hope you’re enjoying them, guys.
Here are a bunch of my impressions, visual and verbal, in no certain order, of the first year living my dream. Intrigued? Hope you can join us next year. Keep an eye out for our 2014 itinerary, including Turin, Sicily and Abruzzo, coming in early January.
Bombed out Baroque palazzi and churches on just about every corner in Palermo, Sicily, each more hauntingly beautiful and staggeringly dramatic than the next.
For the Sunday afternoon passegiata in Scanno, the older women do their best to bring the guidebooks to life by dressing in the traditional style: long full skirts, black sweaters and heads covered in a dark fazzoletti. Then, they scowl at us when we take pictures. Huh?
We walked around a remote farm in the mountains of Le Marche, cameras in hand, while we waited for the sheep’s milk to heat in a giant copper pot, first to make the pecorino, and then to make the ricotta. Behind the barn, we found doves in cages, bees in hives and baby chicks hiding under a bush with their mother.
An enchanting day spent with Nicoletta Polo Lanza at Palazzo Butera in Palermo, Sicily. We cooked, learned more than a bit of the history of her husband’s family, and lived for a little while like the royalty of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily.
In the chill fields beneath the medieval hilltop village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo, three farmers compared notes. Two Italian, one American, six hands, many seeds and a meeting of the minds over farming grains in harsh conditions. Like Massachusetts. And the mountains of Abruzzo.
Everywhere in Italy, you see them. Great cars. Little cars, big cars, fast cars, slow cars, old cars, new cars. Horns blasting, engines revving, ignoring signals, speed limits, and every parking regulation ever invented. But always doing it with style.
In an old barn in Ofena, Abruzzo, we’re treated to a demonstration of the only “modern” machine available in the region that can separate the lentils from their unwelcome casings. Part winnower, part thresher, very high maintenance but lovingly cosseted, it processes every Slow Food Presidia lentil for miles around.
Paparazza, Italian style. They start ‘em young. And cute.
The chef of Sapori di Campagna, Ofena, Italy. A woman of many talents, Gabriela taught us to how to make six kinds of pasta, among other regional specialities, then she prepared us a delectable six course dinner. But by far, the best thing Gabriela shared was her 2013 calendar, hanging in a place of honor and inspiration on the back of her kitchen door. Does it feature picturesque photos of the region, you ask? Speciality foods? No. Just beautiful, and scantily clad, Italian soccer stars in all their glory.
Whimsical, colorful Opera dei Pupi, the traveling marionette caravans rest in alleys in between performances, a homage to families who travelled from town to town performing, beginning in the 13th century.
The juxtaposition of the modern and the ancient, both in the service of a sustainable life.
“Hello,” he said, a disembodied voice originating high above us. “Do you want to buy biscotti? I can come down, it’s just too cold to sit there all day.” Our answer was a resounding si! si!, yes! to the best chocolate biscotti, and incredible mostacciolo cookies, made with grape must and chocolate. My favorite part? Lifesize photos adorning the walls and doorways, all of his late wife, in her youth, dressed in the typical Scannese costume.“Take a Dramamine if you get queasy on switchbacks or have a problem with heights,” I warned my intrepid traveling companions. The drive from Sulmona to Scanno is fraught with both, but the vistas are worth the effort. Like hanging on the edge of Heaven.
When I was 12, my parents took us to Spain. There, we watched a donkey walk in a circle, his movement turning a giant stone wheel that crushed olives for olive oil. It was a sensory delight, but the smell was what I most vividly remember. Fresh cut hay, green grass, both deep, rich, and verdant. Modernization makes the process simpler, but I was transported to another time and place as the vivid green, freshly pressed oil poured from the press in Marsala, Sicily.
The men in Italy. Need I say more? When they meet, they kiss each other on the cheeks. Twice. They carry babies, push strollers, walk slowly with aging nonnas, and have been known to make an appreciative comment to a random woman passing by. At this, the feminist in me shrugs her shoulders. Italian men are demonstrative, and they demonstrate their love for their families, and the fairer sex loudly and often.
These two women gave us a simple lesson in trickle down economics and caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. We bought garlic, the lady on the left “neglected” to make us our change as she deposited our coins into a well worn leather coin purse. Later, we saw her take the same coins and trade them at another vendor for grapes, and cheese. And so it goes.
Pasta alla guitarra in a simple sauce of wild spinach foraged from the mountainside behind Il Vecchio Ristoro in Rocca Pia. Sweet, tender, deeply hued matte velvet green leaves, almost triangular in shape, have a slight mineral, earthy taste.
Here are the words I never thought I’d utter: I think I will die if I eat another plate of pasta.
Shocking and sacrilegious? Sure is. Heretical, really, since I consider pasta a religious experience. All those old adages about too much of a good thing? Well, they’re true. Just how much pasta must one consume to pass the “good thing” threshold? My marker came midway through the second week of Morso Soggiorno’s Abruzzo Tours this fall. Perhaps you felt it, the moment the Earth briefly stopped spinning on its axis.
Sunday morning. For me, another city, another hotel. What’s constant is that everyone, in every culture, has their Sunday morning ritual. Here, at the Ace Hotel in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, pork-pie hatted hipsters and their bleary-eyed companions, some with very telling shades perched on their noses, sip cappuccinos while trying very hard not to seem to try too hard.
Makes me miss Sicily. If I were in Salemi, in the mountains outside of Marsala, I’d be hanging out at the Azienda Cucchiara, feigning nonchalance while near bursting with excitement, in a group of authentically breezy middle-aged men. They stand in small circles, comparing notes on Serie A, or the family, or the olive harvest, or, in a particularly loud moment, the state of Italian politics. Now and again, they turn to look at a young man in knee-high rubber boots patiently stirring a simmering creamy liquid in a giant pot. They know he’s backed by three generations of cheese-makers. In fact, his nonno is supervising from a nearby chair. They know what’s coming will be worth the wait. Continue reading
For my whole life, when people asked me “What are you?” (back when it was PC to ask that question) I would answer, “Sicilian.” Not Italian. Sicilian.
Truth be told, my grandfather was from Basilicata in southern Italy, and my mother’s folks were mixture of Austrian, Irish, and God knows what else. For all intents and purposes, none of that mattered. The influence of the matrilineal line of my father’s family was so pervasive, so all encompassing, so organic, that being Sicilian was woven thread by thread into the very fabric of my life. Being Sicilian is a comfy blanket that I wear like a mantel over my shoulders. It gives me warmth, color and an excellent recipe box.
So, you can imagine how much I was looking forward to getting back to Sicily. Until I got there. As I began my first walk around old Palermo, I had a visceral, cell-deep reaction that screamed “What the hell are you doing here? Get out. Get out.” I was stunned. At my reaction and at myself.
You’re tired, I told myself. You’ve been on the go 24/7 for two weeks. Fatigue is muddling your thoughts and making your emotions flare. I had a week to go, so I’d better calm down, I thought. That’s when the Sicilian mantle spoke up from my shoulder. “Have something to eat,” it said. “You’ll feel better.” Continue reading