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

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

Feeding Teens. Portable, practical, perfect.

Teenage boys eat a lot.

Sometimes, they eat even more than usual. Swim season is one of those times. Three hours a day of laps and sprints and dry land. Even before I get the memo, clues appear that pre-season training is underway.

When I kamikazi in for a quick peck on the cheek and a stealth scalp sniff (what mother can resist that?) I smell chlorine, and stiff hair bristles scrape against my invasive nose.

The portable laundry rack in the basement, usually utilized solely for drying my unmentionables or the occasional fresh linguine, now hangs with a Speedo and Quik-dri towel.

Free periods at school are transformed from a sanctuary of adolescent angst to a quick walk home to raid the refrigerator. Leftovers are a thing of the past. The microwave hums endlessly.

Onion, sausage, black olive and ricotta sfincione“Ma,” my sixteen year old says, his back to me, arm draped over the open refrigerator door as he leans into the $300 worth of groceries I bought yesterday. “You going shopping today? There’s nothing to eat. What time is dinner?” It’s only 10 o’clock in the morning. The check hasn’t even cleared yet. Continue reading

Day Three: The Orto at Sapori di Campagna.

Is there a garden anywhere worth the trouble of a 7 am wake-up call? Before today, even an invitation to rendezvous at 7 am in the Garden of Eden would’ve gotten a big fat, no thanks, Adam, from me. Too many snakes, don’t like apples.

But today? Today the answer is yes.

If I had any doubt this whole Agriturismo thing, for all its romantic illusion of a simple return to a simpler time, is really incredibly hard work, it is put to rest when Louise drops me off at the Sapori for a farm tour.

Before the car door slams shut behind me, I feel like a sloth. By the time I arrive, the entire family is hard at work, checking guests out, cooking, cleaning. The same family I left last night at 10 pm, when they were clearing the dinner dishes from my table, the dining room still full, is back at it a scant few hours later.

After a boisterous ‘salve‘ and the welcome offer an espresso macchiato and a light-as-a-cloud slice of ricotta lemon cake, Livia introduces me to her father, the farmer of the operation. He and I pile into his car, and immediately go off-road into one of the many fields that create the velvety, tapestry-like landscape of Abruzzo. The car smells curiously of sheep’s milk cheese, a not unwelcome aroma to me.

‘Oh,’ he says, ‘I forgot to drop off the cheese.’ I turn around, and sure enough, a dozen wheels of sheep’s milk pecorino, the Cannestrato del Castel del Monte, are tucked into the trunk. He smiles sheepishly. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

He’s all business. I don’t even learn his name. He’s very serious about his farm, and perhaps a little put out that he’s taking up valuable time showing me around. He reminds me that it’s late in the season, the fields are almost farmed out. Not much left to see. Don’t expect too much.

As we move deeper into the countryside, across wide, grassy expanses of early Fall fields, we talk about the Slow Food Movement, about the Presidi of his region. He is able to rattle them off in short order, and I learn he will represent the region at the Salone Del Gusto in Turin later this month, something he has done for the past several years. Hmmm. A farmer with the soul of an advocate and activist. Things are getting interesting.

The frostiness in the air abates. We’re finding common ground. He’s speaking slower, I’m understanding more. The fluency of food talk is again working it’s magic.

More than three hours later, after touring field after field, crop after crop, stables, animal pens, olive groves, fruit and nut trees, I am in awe. I am going to take a page from the Farmer’s book and set expectations. The pictures will not do this enterprise the justice it deserves. But I can try, and try, I will.

What you will see is evidence of the fall growing season. At this time of year, the Farmer and one helper work the land themselves. During high season, the season of tomatoes, zucchini, celery, lettuces, peppers, peas (I could go on and on) he hires up to five helpers.

In addition to what he cultivates, he is quick to forage for wild herbs and vegetables, including wild asparagus, thyme, mint, lettuces, persimmon, wild fennel, mushrooms, quince. Nothing will go to waste.

Enjoy. And think about your own garden. If you like to get dirty, this post’s for you. And my friend, the Farmer? His name is Signore Costantini, and I am in his debt.

Remember, you can click on any image to begin a slide-show tour.

I wish my laptop had scratch and sniff.

They say 90% of the satisfaction we attribute to something ‘tasting’ good is really all about how it smells. More accurately, what we call ‘flavor’ is a combination of taste, smell, texture, temperature and other factors that make us go, ‘Ahhhhhh.’

If you salivate, your flavor-sensing mechanisms are working just fine, my friend. At the end of the day, I want you to salivate when you read my blog. Even drool if you must. I want the written word and the images I post to work hard toward tricking your olfactory system. I want to evoke a tangible response in your brain that says “I know what I see is going to smell and taste incredible. So I’m going to make it.”

If my laptop had scratch and sniff, life would be easier. Technology makes everything else possible, so why not? I’d just link the photo of a luscious roasted chicken to the ‘smell’ equivalent of roasted chicken clip art. Let’s call it sniff art. How great would that be?

But nothing in life is easy. So until some genius somewhere creates a sniff art app, words and pictures are my tools. Words I have no problem with. I can turn a phrase that will turn on your senses.

The images, not so much. I just can’t seem to recreate visually what I see in my kitchen, at a restaurant, on a farm. At least not to my satisfaction. My images are okay, but they’re not magical. And often times, what I see in my travels is nothing short of magical. This creates a big divide in my two-dimensional communication with you which I just cannot seem to bridge. Continue reading

Go Bold or Go Home.

Marcos Sanchez loves a little Menudo on a Sunday afternoon.

No, silly. Not the 70’s boy band starring Ricky Martin. Chef Sanchez wasn’t even born yet. We’re talking about the other menudo: a traditional Mexican soup made from beef stomach (tripe), onion, cilantro and chile paste.

But in this case, the only connection you might find between Marcos Sanchez, his restaurant Tres Gatos in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts and Ricky Martin’s Menudo is vinyl: Tres Gatos is a restaurant cum bookstore cum record shop. That’s right. As in LPs. As in vinyl. Continue reading

A Commitment to Old Ways at Ristorante La Morra

Let me get this out of the way right up front: I love La Morra.

Even if it weren’t a five minute walk from my front door, or Josh and Jen Ziskin weren’t such wonderful hosts, I would love La Morra.

Here’s why: Josh Ziskin is an old school kinda chef. How do I know? Well, to start, he has a vintage 1940’s pasta machine in the kitchen. Okay, he did do away with the foot pump and added electricity, but the output is the same: golden sheets of pasta soft as a baby’s bottom, which he cuts into various shapes and sizes and tosses with a perfectly complementary and delectable sauces. Or hand fills and shapes into ravioli, agnolotti or tortellini using techniques honed at the elbows of the restaurant family he cooked with in La Morra, Italy. (Hence the name.)

I met with Josh one Winter Thursday afternoon, pre-service. Between juggling wine, seafood, and produce deliveries and an impromptu visit from the Fire Marshall for his annual inspection, Josh enthusiastically spoke about the restaurant, food, sustainability and his famous pasta machine. Continue reading

Someone call 911. I’ve been robbed.

I may not look like it, but I am the victim of a crime. It’s true. It was a crime of passion. I was robbed of my birthright.

It happened a long time ago, before I was born. Like so many other Italians at the beginning of the 20th century, my grandparents immigrated from Italy to the United States, thus stealing any hope I had of living la dolce vita as a native Italian. I’ve never recovered. Continue reading