Veal and White Bean Stew with Buckwheat Spätzle

 

(Veal and White Bean Stew with Buckwheat Spätzle)

Normally, when I cook I just take stock of what I have around to concoct something and rarely use recipes. But like any foodie I have a ton of cookbooks. Cookbooks for me are a bit like inspiration, it gives me general ideas, but I find I usually need to augment the recipes – either to make them gluten-free or to our tastes.

That is the story of this buckwheat spätzle, a dish I made some time back in the height of winter. One of my favorite cookbooks is Black Forest Cuisine by Walter Staib the executive chef at the historic and famed City Tavern in Philadelphia. I have always liked German cuisine, but never made it at home. With this cookbook that all changed. The recipes range from simple home cooked meals, to comforting gastropub fare and fancier hotel restaurant fare with more international influences. I got this cookbook as a way to explore another ancestral cuisine, although my ancestors hail from Bavaria, there is a lot of crossover, including spätzle which is considered a classic Bavarian dish.

(Buckwheat Spätzle – in Italian we would call my spätzle, Spätzle-one, or giant spätzle )

The flavors of the Black Forest are homey and delicious, the ingredients, simple and flavorful.  The chef in the introduction talks a lot about traditional German fare, about abundant family gardens, food preservation skills and my favorite story of all – that it is common for German families to take a walk through the woods on the weekend to get to a specific restaurant, pub or café serving some specialty – maybe a confection or cake or perhaps a home-style hearty meal to enjoy. I just love the idea of that. We did something similar in Italy, taking the Via Francigena to San Gimignano and enjoying a lovely meal of gnocchi with truffle sauce and stewed wild boar. One of the best meals of my life. Food tastes so amazing when it is well deserved.

It was this romantic thought that inspired this meal. I imagined myself taking an invigorating walk through the black forest, coming out of the forest, with a scent of something savory cooking in the air and following my nose to a cozy warm gastropub to enjoy a hearty meal.

The veal and white bean stew is entirely of my creation. The buckwheat spätzle is based on the original spätzle recipe in the cookbook.  We had originally made the spätzle to accompany a recipe for kielbasa and lentils from the same cookbook, being its traditional accompaniment.

(Kielbasa and lentils with buckwheat Spätzle )

We used some homemade kielbasa and it was good, but not nearly as outstanding as this combination!

Veal and White Bean Stew:

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of cannellini beans, cooked (I use dry beans, soaked overnight in warm water and a TBS of apple cider vinegar and then cooked until tender)

1 lb of veal stew meat browned in 1 TBS butter

2 onions, caramelized (cooked down with red wine vinegar and a little water to prevent burning)

2 cups beef stock – homemade is preferable

1 cup of water

Bay leaf

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 TBS tomato paste

2 carrots, chopped

2 cups green cabbage, shredded

Season with salt, pepper and thyme

METHOD: The day before, cook the beans, or you can use canned. You might also want to caramelize the onions, brown the veal and make the spätzle. The day of cooking place all the ingredients in a crock pot, except for the spätzle . Cook on the high setting until it comes to a boil (about 2-3 hours). Then add the spätzle and cook on low for another 5-6 hours until everything is heated through. You could put the spätzle in at the start and just cook on low for 10-12 hours, but it might become a little more mushy.

(Making Spätzle  using the “cutting board method”)

Buckwheat Spätzle

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of buckwheat flour

4 large eggs

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg

1 cup cold water

METHOD:  Combine the flour, eggs, salt and nutmeg in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (I don’t have an electric mixer and make the dough using my hands). Mix on medium until combined and slowly pour in the water until the batter is smooth, mix for five minutes more until the dough is elastic.

Bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Scrape dough into a potato ricer or colander with large holes and press dough into boiling water. Alternately, place dough on a cutting board and scrape dough into the boiling water. Cook until they are tender but still firm, stirring occasionally, about 3-4 minutes, they will rise to the surface when done. Lift the spätzle out of the water with a large slotted spoon, shake off the water and place in a bowl, mix with some butter or olive oil to prevent sticking together. Spätzle is also very good, reheated by sautéing in butter until golden.

*Note, I used the cutting board method, and as this was my first time making spätzle, they were a bit bigger than what is traditional, but I think they were the perfect size for my slow cooked stew, if they had been smaller, I would not have allowed them to cook with the stew, but stirred them in at the end before serving.

Sardinian Purcavru in Agru Durci

Purcavru in Agru Durci garnished with mirto

I told you all I was going to be making things interesting on here with different recipes from a variety of different world cuisines!

With the first in this series, I am giving a nod to my husband’s Sardinian roots. Sardinia is a small island off the coast of Italy in the vicinity of Rome. I was lucky enough to go there this past year when Roberto and I went with our moms on the “roots tour” of Italy. Roberto was born in Sardinia to Sardinian parents, but grew up in Rome. On our visit there last fall, we spent time with the extended family. It was lovely.

Sardinia is an interesting place, I immediately loved it because it has a rich culture both with herding animals (sheep and goats) but is also the place in Europe which has the greatest amount of megalithic structures, making this farm girl and history buff very happy!

These megalithic structures, round tower-fortresses called nuraghi, which ancient villages were built around are over 35,000 years old and there are over 8,000 of them on Sardinia, an island that is about the size and shape as Vermont. So that is a lot of pre-history going on there! If you aren’t into history, Sardinia is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, La Costa Smeralda- The Emerald Coast. There are also beautiful mountains (yes they get snow!) and lunar looking rock formations. There is an area towards the middle of the island that is called Valle Della Luna – The Valley of the Moon and looks just like Rohan from the Lord of the Rings movies. Fascinating landscape!

But the thing I loved about it most is that it is home to some of the oldest trees in Europe. We were able to visit 2 of these old olives, the oldest being 5,000 years old and the second oldest being around 3,000 – and still producing olives!!! For me, a nature worshiper it was akin to meeting Gandhi. The most amazing thing about Italy in general is that you can grow so much food! Nearly everyone that has even a small plot of land has fruit trees, some grapes to make homemade wine, nut and olive trees, veggie gardens, etc. I saw tons of pomegranate and fig trees. There is just so much abundance there!

Sardinia actually has its own language, Sardu, of which there are several dialects. Sardu has been influenced by Catalan, Spanish and indigenous Nuragic elements with some roots from Phoenician and Etruscan. So instead of the more familiar Italian “a” and “o” word endings, Sardinian words end with “u” and “s”, like our last name, Campus. This is because Sardinian is much like Latin. You can see this in the name of this dish Purcavru Agru Durci, which in Italian would be Cinghiale Agrodolce.

So what about the food? Well because of its location, Sardinian cuisine has been able to capture tastes from various Mediterranean influences: Catalan, Corsican, Spanish, Italian. The diet is rich in meats, like lamb, goat and pork, fresh vegetables, wonderful cheeses, fresh veggies and of course copious amounts of olive oil and rich red wine, famed for its high level of antioxidants- Cannonou. On the coast, where we didn’t spend much time, there is also a lot of fish and seafood consumed. And, like the rest of Italy the population consumes large amounts of pasta and bread. In fact as a gluten-intolerant, I had a hard time in Italy in general staying away from wheat as it is in almost everything from bread and pasta, to a thickener in sauces and a coating on vegetables and meats. I asked the question on facebook the other day after reading an article about how wheat is killing the world, how people like Italians, and especially Sardinians, known the world over as healthy and one of the longest living peoples could be in such a good state of health (the island has the world’s highest documented percentage of people who have passed the century threshold.) if wheat is the only factor. It was an interesting discussion, but none of us were able to really make sense of that!

But I digress. One thing which is very unique to Sardinian cuisine is the use of Mirto, or Myrtle. The plant is symbolic of love and immortality, and in Sardinia it is an essential plant. The berries (which look a bit like small blueberries, although there is a white version as well )are used to make a delicious aperitif, called “mirto”, which uses both varieties of berries separately, creating a red and white version and the leaves. Sardinians also use the leaves in cooking, similar in manner to bay leaves or other herbaceous plants. I was able to get some to bring home with me, and this is one of the ingredients that really makes this dish. The taste is very hard to place for me, but is most similar to a bay leaf.

I wasn’t able to get wild boar for this dish, but we did use meat from the half pig we bought this year (and butchered ourselves) from a local farmer.

Purcavru in Agru Durci (from Cooking in Sardinia)

INGREDIENTS:

4-5 TBS olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp myrtle leaves (substitute bay leaf)
1 ½ lbs boneless boar or pork meat, cut into bite sized pieces
1 tsp sugar
1 TBS red wine vinegar
1 TBS tomato Paste
Salt to taste

METHOD:
Sauté onion in a pan (I used cast iron) with 4-5 TBS of olive oil. Add about a tsp of chopped myrtle leaves. Add the meat and a pinch of salt and brown over medium heat. Blend sugar and vinegar, stir and pour over the meat. Then dilute tomato paste in a cup of warm water, add to the pan, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 45 mins. You will have to add more water intermittently so the stew doesn’t dry out. During the last five minutes, uncover pan to reduce the sauce.

Return to La Torraccia

I never understood why some people would return to the same places over and over again when traveling. With a whole world to explore out there and so much to see that no human could do it all in just one lifetime, how could anyone ever justify going back to the same place twice? That was before I ever made any profound connections to the people at a certain place, a vacation spot, before I met my favorite chef in the world, before I drank my favorite wines and fell in love with the peace and joy a certain place can bring. That was all before Torraccia Di Chiusi.

Over three years ago, Roberto and I first had the opportunity to visit the Agro-Turismo,Torraccia Di Chiusi. We had a wonderful time there soaking in the beautiful landscapes, visiting medieval villages, eating amazing food, meeting wonderful people who would become friends. While that was all happening, other important changes were going on internally for both of us that were helped along by this visit to this amazing place. Some places give you peace of mind, time away from the grind to have a quiet place to listen to the stirrings of your soul. Torraccia di Chiusi is one of those places for me, where I feel at home, away from home.

Three years ago, we were still living in Florida, planning to move to Vermont and begin our homestead lifestyle. We were full of big dreams and super excited for the change. La Torraccia was like a place of confirmation. Donatella and Stefano, the owners and all the people like Grazia and Bruno, that make the place what it is were already doing the kinds of things we wanted to – raising animals, fruits and vegetables for food and making artisanal products out of those labors of love. Their place, ideas and philosophy were truly beautiful and inspirational, a bucolic dream. We spent time after dinner each night talking about the simple, good life. Just being there and talking to everyone made us see that these dreams we had were very possible. Not just possible, but in many parts of the world very normal. This touched us both deeply and firmly footed us in our dream moving forward.

Things began to change after that trip. First and foremost my food philosophy changed after I met Bruno, my favorite chef, who cooks the amazing dinners at Torraccia di Chiusi. He is truly a master of simplicity. Pasta sauced with butter, oil, cheese and sage was a revelation. Bruno is the true personification of simple is better, and if you want simple, you better get the best ingredients. Bruno doesn’t understand fine dining where the portions are too small, and you leave hungry. He doesn’t see the point. Better to fill people up and really nourish them with good, healthy and soul filling food. He does this, every night at La Torraccia. His integrity when it comes to cooking and life really, I have never seen surpassed. I have to say that Bruno, along with Grazia, Stefano and Donatella are inspirations for Roberto and I, and the way we are now living out our lives, with purpose.

(photo courtesy of Bruno and Grazia)

I would highly recommend Bruno and Grazia’s cookbook, Cucinar Cantando*  which is a mixture of food philosophy, artwork (he is also a painter) and words of wisdom, as well as recipes. Well worth it. Not only that, but it was entirely produced by Bruno and Grazia themselves – the writing, the translations from Italian to English, the illustrations, etc. I am the lucky recipient of one of the original 11 copies, each of which have unique covers. The production of those original editions were paid for with all the tips Bruno and Grazia had received from guests over the summer before, another labor of love, to be sure.

When I returned to my own kitchen after that first visit, I really started paring it all down to the basics. My dishes became much more rustic, and I began to rely on simple herbs, good oil and salt to season food, instead of my array of exotic spices I had always relied on before. I had a new and profound appreciation for butter and stock as well as the art of braising and slow cooking. I learned that you can never really use too much olive oil and that local and fresh produce is paramount. If it is not in season, and not fresh what is the point in preparing it? It will never be as good as something that is in season. In Tuscany, you would never think of preparing a dish without local products, let alone produce from another country. Why bother? When dishes start getting too out of touch from these simple philosophies, I summon Bruno in my mind and I am put back on track. Simple is best, simple is art.

Bruno and Grazia especially have become our good friends over the years. We have stayed in touch via facebook and email, and we even did a giveaway of their cookbook Cucinar Cantando on The Foodie Blogroll and there is another one in the works soon! I came to find out that my posts about our visit to La Torraccia has brought them business over the years, and for that I am profoundly pleased because they definitely deserve it. Due to this fact, Donatella and Stefano invited us to be their guests at La Torraccia for a few days to thank us for our support over the years. How could we say no?

We spent 3 wonderful nights and 2 very restful days there. The first day all we did was rest, nap, eat, and spend time walking around the farm seeing all the changes and improvements they have done over the three years. I can tell you, I did not build up the place unrealistically in my mind. It was even better this time around! One of the biggest changes is the developments in their wine-making, which I will talk about in another post. But we had a great time seeing how much they had done in just 3 years!

The second day we took another attempt at walking the Via Francigena to San Gimignano. It was a perfect sunny, cool day and we didn’t get lost! We spent the day in San Gimignano eating (of course) wonderful cheeses, and we went back to Beppone to have a repeat of the meal we have been thinking about for years -stewed wild boar, perfect gnocchi in truffle cream sauce and we topped it off with what I believe to be the best gelato in the world.

La Torraccia and Tuscany hold a very dear and special place in my heart. The people are committed to their local food traditions and the landscape with all its farms and trees remind me so much of Vermont. I just wish we could grow olives here! If we did, my life would be perfect.

*If you wish to order a copy of Cucinar Cantando (and I highly recommend it!) please contact Grazia and Bruno at cucinarcantando@libero.it

Gluten-Free Potato Gnocchi

Even though I grew up in an Italian household, I have never been a huge fan of pasta. Don’t get me wrong, I love the filled pastas – tortellini, ravioli, cannelloni, etc. but just regular ‘ol pasta…meh. However, when it comes to gnocchi, I just can’t get enough of it. Maybe that is because I have always loved potatoes, and those soft pillows that just soak in the sauce, have always been irresistible to me.

When I became gluten-free, my pasta options reduced significantly. Pasta is such a quick and easy meal to prepare when you don’t have as much time to spend in the kitchen as you would like, and it is so easy to dress up with veggies, meats, cheeses and various sauces. Plus my husband, born and raised in Italy grew up eating it 2 times a day.  Like Roberto always says, you can eat pasta twice a day your whole life and never get bored of it because of all the various ways it can be prepared.  I can’t say I agree, but I do enjoy the convenience of it once in a while. Commercially I can get corn pasta, in two shapes – spaghetti and elbows. That is fine, but sometimes you want something a little different!

(The First Attempt)

For New Year’s Eve 2011, when my step-daughter Gwen was visiting, we decided to try our hand at homemade gnocchi. I made a big mistake and mixed it in the food processor the first time. It turned out kind of gummy, but was still pretty good. We made the gnocchi gluten-free by using potatoes and potato starch. However, for me, the consistency was still too gummy – it wasn’t just the fault of the food processor.

Gwen was visiting again last week and wanted to make gnocchi again, this time instead of the potato starch, I suggested we use gluten-free oat flour. This made the gnocchi much more like I remember – a bit firmer and toothsome. We served it with a tomato sauce that Gwen and Roberto made on New Year’s Eve – it made a lot, so we froze the leftovers.

I also like these gnocchi served with brown butter cream sauce with truffle oil. When Roberto and I were in San Gimignano, in Tuscany, almost 2 years ago, we had the most amazing truffle gnocchi, and since then, I have been dreaming about it. The version we make at home comes pretty darn close!

Tonight we are going to have the leftovers with butter, peas and prosciutto. Like I said, so versatile!

Making homemade gnocchi is very easy and straightforward and much less time consuming than other types of homemade pasta. Since we have made it a few times, we no longer use a recipe, but this is a good starter recipe from Italian: The Definitive Professional Guide to Italian Ingredients and Cooking Techniques, Including 300 Step-by-step Recipes..

A note about the book – this book includes all the Italian classics, and has detailed process pictures as well. Roberto loves this cookbook because everything we have made from it turns out like an Italian in Italy made it.

Gnocchi di Patate


INGREDIENTS:

2 lbs waxy potatoes, scrubbed
1 TBS sea salt
2 – 2 1/2 cups of flour (we use gluten-free oat flour)
2 TBS butter

METHOD:

Place the un-peeled potatoes in a large pot of salted water, Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender, but not falling apart. Drain, and peel the potatoes as soon as possible, while they are still hot.

On a work surface spread out a layer of flour. Mash the potatoes with a hand masher directly onto the flour. You can also use a food mill or ricer if you have those.  Sprinkle the top of the potatoes with about half of the remaining flour and mix lightly. Begin to knead the dough, drawing in more flour as you knead.  Keep doing this until the dough is light to the touch, no longer sticky or moist, and can be rolled easily. Do not overwork the dough, or the gnocchi will become too heavy.

Divide the dough into 4 parts. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a snake about ¾ inch thick, and cut the dough into ¾ inch long pieces.  Hold an ordinary table fork, with long tines sideways.  Once by one press and roll the gnocchi onto your thumb, making ridges on one side and a depression from your thumb on the other side.

Bring large pan of salted water to boil. Then drop about ½ the gnocchi in.  When the gnocchi rise to the top, after about 3-4 minutes they are done. Scoop them out, allow them to drain and place in a serving bowl. Dot them with butter.  Keep warm while remaining gnocchi are cooking. AS soon as they are done, stir in with other gnocchi and more butter. Then serve with extra butter and Parmesan cheese, tomato sauce or any other sauce you wish.

Serves 4-6

Holiday Baking Series: Polenta & Sesame Biscotti

A season full of sweets and baked goods for those of us who are gluten-intolerant or go without refined sugar can be a bit daunting. I have made plenty of sweet treats that are not GF to send to family and friends this year. But I want to enjoy some treats too! So I have been having fun experimenting in the kitchen and making some delicious GF cookies. That is why I was really excited to find a biscotti recipe in Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina De Palma, using polenta as a base flour. The rest of the recipe is easy to convert to make it GF and refined sugar free!

Polenta or cornmeal is a staple dish in the north of Italy, and always reminds me of when we were visiting Venice and Tuscany.  Funny how eating a certain food can so readily return vibrant memories…So, I like to say these are Northern Italian inspired cookies. Venetian in particular, with the use of sesame seeds and sweetened with honey hearkening to the days of ancient Venice and the use of exotic spices and ingredients.

Making biscotti with cornmeal is very easy and the results are crunchy and delicious – probably my favorite as far as biscotti go. These are very unique and therefore special biscotti, making them great gifts. I made the version inDolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen to send to friends and family, and made this version to satisfy my own sweet tooth!

Polenta and Sesame Biscotti
adapted from Dolce Italiano

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups GF flour – try a GF baking mix, or even oat or coconut flour
1 ¼ cup fine polenta
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup raw honey
4 large farm fresh eggs
3 large farm fresh egg yolks, plus 1 egg white for glaze
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ cup sesame seeds (I used a combination of white and black)

METHOD:

In a large bowl mix together GF flour, polenta, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter and honey, about 2 minutes. Then add the eggs one at a time then the yolks one at a time beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients and beat on low to form a soft dough. Beat in ½ cup of sesame seeds until they are thoroughly incorporated. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours, or until firm enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 325F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from the refrigerator. Using well floured hands(the dough is very sticky), divide it into 4 equal portions and roll each portion into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter and 12 inches long. Place 2 logs spaced 3 inches apart on eah sheet.

In a small bowl beat the egg white until frothy, and with a pastry brush glaze the surface of the logs with the egg white. Then sprinkle them with the remaining sesame seeds. Bake logs unti; the are golden brown and feel somewhat firm to the touch – about 30-35 minutes. Rotate the sheets 180 degrees halfway through baking to ensure even baking.

Allow the logs to cool on the baking sheets or on a wire rack until cool to the touch – about 40 minutes.

With a sharp serrated knife slice the biscotti, slightly on the bias into ¼ inch wide slices. Lay sices on the baking sheets in a single layer and bake in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes more until they are toasted, dry and crisp. Cool biscotti completely n baking sheets. Store in a clean airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 6 dozen biscotti

Sourdough Spelt Pizza Dough

Gal_Liz_Jenn_making pizza

(Gal, Liz and Jenn making Pizza)

Pizza night is a weekly tradition in this house, and something we love to share with friends and family when they come to visit the homestead. Two weeks ago, I had a reunion with my best friend from high school, Liz, or as she is affectionately known to me, Lizard. We fell out of touch, like many of us do, over some boys…and we hadn’t been in touch for nearly 10 years. BAD BOYS. I thought about her often over the years, and we were so happy to be reunited on Facebook! She lives in Brooklyn, with her beautiful family, and she and her awesome husband came to visit us.

Pizza is the perfect food for entertaining. It is also a great way to feed a crowd when you are not sure what kinds of dietary restrictions people might have. Toppings can range from all veggies, to anchovies, some sausages, or whatever. You can even use pesto or barbecue sauce in place of traditional tomato sauce. You can even forego the cheese, if someone in your group is lactose intolerant. Making pizza together is a great way to spend time with friends – rolling out the dough, making personal pizzas, and then enjoying it together, with a nice glass of red, maybe a beer, and a lot of laughs! See how much fun we are having?

Gal_Liz_Jenn_making pizza 2

We are really passionate about our pizza here. Roberto grew up eating pizza in Italy, and I grew up thinking I didn’t like pizza (don’t blame me, blame “cheesefood”). This all changed when I discovered thin, crunchy, crust, fresh mozzarella cheese and the amazing array of fresh toppings that one can come up with when you make pizza at home! So you could say that we are both very picky pizza eaters. We might even be pizza snobs. So, in order to do justice to homemade pizza, we have been experimenting and creating for the past two years to come up with THE PERFECT PIZZA (TM).

We used to use the Olive Oil bread dough from Artisan Bread in 5, religiously. However, during that time, we had a bit of a wrench thrown into the works, when I discovered that I was having trouble with wheat. So we experimented with gluten free flours, and pizza dough recipes, and all of them really left a lot to be desired. So we had some sad and disappointing Friday nights. I was determined to find a pizza dough that was up to par taste and texture wise, and at the same time didn’t make me wake up with a hangover feeling the next day. This is where the sourdough comes in. I had heard through the blogosphere that people with wheat intolerance (NOT Celiac) were able to tolerate sourdough bread products. It has to do with neutralizing enzyme inhibitors, which interfere with digestion and breaking down phytic acid, which generally blocks mineral absorption. Sourdough cultures also predigest or completely break down the gluten during the fermentation process. Creating a bread that is more digestable. I also used spelt flour, because I have found that it is not as “heavy” as whole wheat, and closer to the feeling of a traditional pizza crust, like you would find in Italy.

For us, one of our secrets to making a super flavorful pizza is to use tomato paste in place of tomato sauce. This is a family secret, that one of my great aunts came up with. Roberto feels that this “proprietary” information should not be shared with the public. But like I told him, now maybe if we have homemade pizza at someone else’s house, maybe they read my post, and we will like it all the better! :) That punch of tomato paste flavor really comes through in all its sweetness once it is baked in the oven. Also, the cheese matters. Get the best quality mozzarella that you can, not the shredded stuff. Nice slices of fresh mozzarella add something wonderfully light to the pizza – and go easy on it. It is OK to have some bare spots, where you can actually see only sauce. Trust us…

Spelt_pizza_on_Plate

Some of our favorite toppings are: fresh tomato slices, fresh mushrooms, prosciutto, arugula, anchovies, olives (capers if we are too lazy to pit olives) peperoncini peppers, and sun dried tomatoes. And you must remember to salt and pepper your pizza, and a nice drizzle of olive oil over top doesn’t hurt either!  We mix and match the toppings on different pizzas. Usually we make 2 pizzas, and then have leftover for lunches. Another favorite is using pesto as the sauce, and then adding thinly sliced potatoes, that you have baked slightly beforehand.

Perhaps the most important aspect  to the perfect pizza is a HOT oven. We preheat our oven 20 minutes ahead to 500 F. We bake our pizzas on cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper. This makes the crust super crisp and delicious! I have heard all the rage about pizza stones, and one day I might add one to my kitchen tools. But I use my Italian husband as a barometer for a good pizza, and so far, we have done well without the need for a pizza stone.

So we suggest you get your crust ready tonight to have pizza tomorrow!

INGREDIENTS:

¼ cup sourdough starter

5 cups spelt flour

2 TBS olive oil

1 TBS salt

2 cups water

3 cups sprouted spelt flour (or you can use regular, if you prefer)

1 tsp olive oil

METHOD:

Combine starter, 5 cups spelt flour, olive oil, salt and water in a large bowl. Cover loosely with a towel or lid and allow to stand in a warm place for 5-10 hours, or overnight is best. Next add 3 cups of sprouted spelt flour and work it into the dough, enough so you can handle it without it being too sticky. Form the dough into a ball, and rub 1 tsp of olive oil all over it. Place it back in the bowl and let it stand 20 minutes. Then knead the dough with your hands until it is smooth and elastic, then place it back in the bowl, and allow it to double in bulk – about 1 hour. At this point you can use it to make pizza. This recipe makes about 4 large cookie sheet rectangular pizzas. If you are not going to use it all, you can rip off 4 grapefruit sized balls and store each one in a freezer bag, until you want to use it. When you want to use it, take it out to defrost, and then roll out, and put your favorite toppings on.

Fruits and Nuts of the Forest Kefir Ice Cream

Kefir Ice Cream

We have had some really scorching days lately! The past several of them have been in the 90′s! I thought I left Florida to get away from the heat, but it looks like it must have followed my mom up here. She arrived on the coolest day we’d had in weeks, lending credence to her idea that we live in The Great White North, but in less than 48 hours, it became an absolute inferno. She loves the heat, so she’s not complaining, but the rest of us are lethargic, even the pets!

So naturally this kind of weather calls for ice cream! But really, we love ice cream and have it quite often no matter what the weather. When I was in Italy, I fell in love with what I called my perfect combination of gelato – one scoop of Frutti di Bosco and one of Nocciola – “Fruits of the Forest” or mixed berries and hazelnut. Such a dreamy combination. Light yet rich at the same time. So I decided to make my own perfect flavor at home, using kefir, a fermented, probiotic dairy drink as the base. We make kefir here at the homestead fresh every day and I love finding new uses for it, beyond a glass straight up for breakfast! So I can now confirm it makes a really delicious ice cream! Next time I will probably add an egg or two to the mix, for a more creamy consistency. But there was nothing lacking in the taste department here! So if you are as hot as we are, or just looking for a different kind of ice cream flavor to cool off on a hot summer day, give this one a try! I promise you will love it!

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups of plain whole organic dairy kefir
1/3 cup of fresh organic heavy cream
¼ cup Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
½ cup of raw hazelnuts, toasted
1 cup frozen or fresh organic raspberries
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 tsp ground cinnamon

METHOD:

I have a Vitamix, so I placed all the ingredients, in order listed into the Vitamix and blended just until the nuts were pulverized. I was looking for a creamy consistency. Then I placed all of it, in my ice cream maker and made it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can serve it before placing in the freezer for a more “soft serve” texture, or freeze for a harder consistency. I have also found that adding a ¼ cup of alcohol also lends to better scoopability.

Brunello Aperitivo

Brunello-Tasting_bottle

Brunello di Montalcino is a very special wine variety made in the Tuscany region of Italy. It is known the world over as being a very good wine. Our friends Erin and Chris, who lived for a year in Florence, had a bottle that they wanted to share with us. They had fond memories of a night in Florence that they spent with friends savoring a bottle of this wine, and wanted to spend another evening like that with us! So of course we were game and very excited to taste wine from a very different bracket than what we are used to.

Since they were bringing such a nice bottle, I offered to find some tasty morsels to go along with the wine, so we could have a proper Aperitivo – or the Italian version of Happy Hour! If you would like to learn more about Aperitivo, please check out Ms. Adventures in Italy. Sarah has a great passion for Aperitivo and has great tips on how you can have your own – or where to go for the best ones in her hometown of Milano!

I knew this was a special wine, so I enlisted the help of a professional to come up with food ideas to compliment it. With the help of my buddy, Vince DiPiazza (no known relation – though I am sure there is one somehow, not many of us DiPiazza’s in the world) from D’Italia – an online specialty store of food products from Italy, we came up with a menu of aperitivi, or small plates:

Brunello-Tasting_snacks

Variety of cheeses of different flavor profiles served with Rosemary Grissini and Garbanzo Crackers

Parmigiano-Reggiano is Italy’s most famous cheese, known as Parmesan in the English language. We know it well as a cheese for grating on top of pasta. However, if you eat it in cubes, it is a whole other experience. The cheese is made from raw cow’s milk, it is then put into a brine bath for 20-25 days to absorb salt, and then aged for 12 months. My favorite part (and Erin’s too) are the little crunchies you get in a good Parmigiano – the crunchies are bits of crystallized salt.

Morbier is a raw cow’s milk cheese from France. It is a Gruyère-like cheese with a vein of ash running through its middle. The two layers of the cheese originally came from two milkings, one in the morning and one in the evening, over it with a protective thin layer of tasteless ash, both to prevent it from both drying out and to keep away the flies. The next day, they would add the leftover curd from the morning milking and production. The result was a two-layered cheese.

Goat Fromage Blanc is from a batch of the pasteurized goat milk cheese that I made recently. I added some basil and a little dried dill – as well as a few sun-dried tomatoes (Vince said they pair well with Brunello) stirred in.

Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar is one of our favorite cheeses, and we decided to add it at the last minute. It never tastes the same from one batch to the next. It is the cheese variety that Cabot used to sell to hunters and truckers…on their way out of town. Chris said it tasted like ham to him, which as a vegetarian, was a weird experience. This cheese is amazing paired with a sweet bread and butter style pickle.

Miscellaneous Treats

Sautéed Mushrooms
Hummus
Assorted Nuts
Assorted Olives
Pickles

Dessert

French Truffles
Chocolate covered mint cremes

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Brunello-Tasting_sipping-wine

The Tasting :

When Erin and Chris arrived we opened the bottle to give it about 20 minutes to breathe. We decided to do the tasting in two stages, the first without food, and then one with food. We each had a piece of paper and a pen. We spent about 5-10 minutes sniffing and tasting the wine, and individually writing our impressions of both the nose and the taste without sharing.

NOSE:

Erin: cheese – brie, sweet chocolate, metal
Chris: robust, dank – wet wood or earth, finishes smoky
Roberto: cherries
Jenn: woody, tannins, blackberry/cherry

TASTE:

Erin: milk chocolate, cheddar, old smoke – like what your clothes smell like after a BBQ or fire
Chris: pungent, truffles, finishes with citrus (mild burn, fruity end) and something like ginger, but not quite ginger
Roberto: old fermenting cherries, blueberry and ends with citrus
Jenn: black pepper, herbal/smoky, cherry

After we shared our observations, we found it interesting that both the guys had noticed a citrus end, while the ladies had both noticed a smoky taste. Is it coincidence, or do males and females taste wine differently?

Once we headed over to the food, and had a second glass with food, we all agreed that the wine tasted much sweeter, and it was at that point that Erin and I noticed a bit of a citrus taste.

It was a really fun night. I can’t say that I have ever really enjoyed wine in this way, and I think it is a really great way to spend the evening with friends. We decided we had so much fun, that we definitely need to do it again, with different wines and food pairings.