Two recipes for friends.


For all the private and circumspect person that he is, my husband loves Instagram.

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.

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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.

Cookie_Man_Scanno

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.

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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

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Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  1. Heat the chicken stock until simmering in a large stock pot.
  2. Meanwhile, dredge the chicken cubes in the flour until well coated. Shake off any excess.
  3. 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.
  4. Cook the chicken in batches in a single layer, until the cubes are golden brown. Remove and reserve.
  5. 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.
  6. Add the arborio rice, stirring often, until the grains become opaque and smell somewhat nutty. Don’t let them brown.
  7. 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.
  8. Add the preserved lemon and preserved lemon liquid.
  9. 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.
  10. Add the lemon juice, the reserved chicken and the nutmeg.
  11. Add the cheese, stirring until fully incorporated.
  12. Add the parsley, and season to taste with salt and white pepper.
  13. The risotto will take on a creamy consistency, this is fine. Serve immediately and enjoy.

Serves four.

Egg Fettuccine with Lobster, Preserved Lemon and Baby Spinach

Lobster, baby spinach and preserved lemon fettuccine

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove on high heat.
  2. In a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan, heat the olive oil and the butter until bubbling.
  3. Add the shallot, celery, carrot and pepper flakes. Sauté over medium high heat until softened, about 5 – 7 minutes. Stir often.
  4. Add the preserved lemon, white wine and preserved lemon liquid.
  5. Add the spinach leaves, and cover, allowing the spinach to wilt.
  6. When the water is boiling, salt the water and add the pasta and cook until just before al dente.
  7. Reserve 2 cups of pasta water in a shatter-proof glass container.
  8. Drain the pasta, and add it and the lobster to the spinach mixture in the sauté pan.
  9. Increase heat to medium high, add reserved pasta water as needed to keep the pasta from sticking, stirring to combine ingredients.
  10. Season with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve immediately with a garnish of fresh parsley.

Serves four.

Morso Soggiorno’s annotated year in review: 2013

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.

bombed out baroque in palermo

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?

costume sundays in scannoWe 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.

dovesAn 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.

ducal splendorIn 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.

Farmers taking crops

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.

funky fabulous cars

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.

lentil harvester

Paparazza, Italian style. They start ‘em young. And cute.

paparazzi

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.

pasta maker with calendar The salt flats in Trapani, Sicily. Don Quixote, eat your heart out. Sprinkle on a little salt. We’ve got plenty.

salt flats don quixote style

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.

sicilian puppet shows

The juxtaposition of the modern and the ancient, both in the service of a sustainable life.

sustainability, modern and age old

“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.the biscsotti man in scanno“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.

the road to scanno 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.

there is nothing like virgin olive oil

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.

three generations

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.

trickle down economics 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.

wild spinach pasta

Cacio e Uova, the anti-pasta.

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.

So many pastas

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Beat That, Bourdain #3

signore cucchiaraSunday 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.

Caseficio Cucchiara sign, Salemi, Sicily makers of pecorino

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

Beat that, Bourdain #2

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.

Hotel Patria Palermo, Sicily

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

Care. In a package.

“My mother is sending you some of the special foods of our region. The package should arrive today.”

So said our houseguest, Flavia, a lovely, engaging young woman who is visiting from Abruzzo, Italy, while she interns as a researcher in a lab at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

From the dispensa. products from abruzzo.

Flavia arrived one Sunday in July, sight unseen. Meaning, literally, we had never set eyes on her, nor spoken to her. As I waited for her outside of Customs at Logan Airport, I held up a handwritten sign that screamed ‘FLAVIA’ in giant red letters. Needless to say, she didn’t miss me. Continue reading

Panzanella with mozzarella and lemony grilled shrimp

Remember last Thursday? It was hot. Fry eggs on the hood of your car hot. Lose five pounds just walking to your mailbox hot. Melt the make-up off my face hot.

Too hot to cook hot. On this kind of day, in the world before air conditioning when I was a kid, my mother would buy a half gallon carton of color-not-found-in-nature neon orange sherbet, scoop it into bowls, cut up some fresh fruit, pour it over the top and call it dinner. Didn’t fly for my father, and it wouldn’t fly for my family.

My mother had one thing right. To keep cool, the “no cook rule” is a good one. Fortunately, there are better choices than sherbet and fruit. Panzanella is one of them. It is a recipe based on circumstance: heat, long work days, left over bread, a bounty of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers from the garden. Knee-high basil plants that proliferate in the dead of summer, heavy with bright great leaves, begging to be cut so as to not go to seed. Sassy red onions, fruity olive oil and tangy red wine vinegar from the pantry. And that’s pretty much it. Panzanella is a bread and fresh vegetable salad, well dressed in a tart vinaigrette.

Hot day? Try Tuttomorso's simple refreshing panzanella salad.

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Vermont Cheesefest at Shelburne Farms

Shelburne FarmsLast July, I was lured to Vermont by the promise of over 200 artisanal cheeses, and a sampling of more than 20 locally produced chocolates, craft beers and wines. It didn’t hurt to have a chance to be alone with my husband for an entire weekend. The scent of the hay in the air, and the song of the crickets at night were added bonuses.

The night before the Cheesefest we basked in the romantic glow of the waning Thunder Moon as it rose over Lake Champlain, the setting sun casting the Adirondacks in purple, black, grey, and lavender relief across the calm blue water.

The Adirondakes over Lake Champlain Continue reading

March Madness. Literally.

Lonely chairsThere is a very good reason why I’ve been shirking on my blogging responsibilities. I’m in a funk. See the above photo for the primary reason why. That’s some joker’s idea of 2-4 inches of snow. Nothing we’ll have to shovel, he said.

I hate March. I’ve been underground for three weeks in morbid anticipation of endless days of wind, rain, snow, and more snow. I haven’t been disappointed. The relentless Winter weather is offset by just enough sunshine to make us crazy with lust for real Spring. In an ideal world, March would be eliminated from the calendar and we’d move directly from February to April.

Yes, March has a few questionable highlights, dates we cling to, IMHO, just to have something to pass the time. But really. The first day of Spring? A non-starter in the age of global warming. The Ides of March? Caesar definitely would have skipped it, if Brutus had given him a choice.

This year in March we have two pieces of religious pie to chew on. Jews and Christians will celebrate Passover and Easter and as an added bonus, the Pope quit. Big news. We held our collective breath until Pope Francis finally ventured forth to greet his flock. His first act of office? Click together the heels of his campy ruby red Prada slippers and chant ‘There’s no place like Rome.’

The Pope's red shoes Continue reading

The Groundhog lied.

New England Farmer's Market  Cassoulet Damn that groundhog. Punxsutawney Phil is a prevaricator.

On February 2nd he got our hopes up for an abbreviated winter. On February 9th our hopes were buried under 30 inches of snow. By February 10, our shoulders and backs ached from too much shoveling, our nerves as brittle as the two-foot icicles that dangle like ganglia from rooftops, ready to shatter with the briefest provocation. Now, on February 17th, it’s snowing again.

In my house, at least, we are desperate for succor. Fast. And in my house, comfort comes from a pot.

Cassoulet on the stovetop 3 Continue reading