Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

This is lovely recipe is inspired to an autobiographical novel and it is placed not very far from my home city, Florence!

Food In Books

Though I disliked the movie, which was absolutely nothing like the book (and not in a good way,) Under the Tuscan Sun is so beautifully written that you almost feel as though you’re walking through sunlit fields of sunflowers in the countryside surrounding Cortona. Normally, I don’t go for these types of memoirs, simply because the majority of them – and I’m looking at you, Eat, Pray, Love – are such self-absorbed, whinily written, so-called journeys of discovery by wealthy, pampered, spoiled women who don’t appreciate what they have. Frances Mayes’ gorgeous tale of her life in the stunning countryside of Tuscany, however, is truly a voyage of discovery.

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The author is a teacher who, with her husband, buys a rundown villa in the town of Cortona. They fix it up when they return each summer, and it becomes not just a second home, but a true oasis for them both…

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Mistletoe puff pastry appetizer with chard and buffalo mozzarella

Still digging into Frazer’s “Golden Bough” to understand why mistletoe is one of the symbols of this season.

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This book can be downloaded for free at the site of the project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3623

“…Thus among the Celts of Gaul the Druids esteemed nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the oak on which it grew…”

“…Now, like fern-seed, the mistletoe is gathered either at Midsummer or at Christmas that is, either at the summer or at the winter solstice and, like fern-seed, it is supposed to possess the power of revealing treasures in the earth… The treasure-seeker places the rod on the ground after sundown, and when it rests directly over treasure, the rod begins to move as if it were alive. Now, if the mistletoe discovers gold, it must be in its character of the Golden Bough; and if it is gathered at the solstices, must not the Golden Bough, like the golden fern-seed, be an emanation of the sun’s fire?”

So what would be better than an appetizer in the shape of mistletoe to celebrate the slowly rebirth of the sun after longest night of the year hoping that those tasty leaves will help us to find the treasures of the coming year.

 

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Savory puff pastry filled with a mix of chard (or spinach) and then arranged into a mistletoe branch makes the perfect appetizer this holiday season.

 

INGREDIENTS

Serve 6 persons

  • 2 sheets (40 x 35 cm) of real butter puff pastry
  • 250 gr of boiled and drained chard or spinach
  • 100 gr of buffalo mozzarella
  • salt
  • natural (vegetal) green food coloring
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 tidbit buffalo mozzarella balls

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INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  • Sprinkle a little flour on top of a sheet of parchment paper.
  • Unfold one sheet of puff pastry on top of the parchment paper.
  • With the help of a blander, mix the chard and the mozzarella (you can season as you please but the natural flavor is exalted by the butter in the puff pastry, so I preferred to add only some salt)
  • Spread the chard sauce on top of the puff pastry sheet being careful not to go too close to the edge.
  • Place the second sheet of puff pastry on top of the first sheet of puff pastry that has the chard sauce. Press gently to seal the two sheets together.
  • I cut the leaves without a template, because I liked them a bit irregular but you can download a template from the internet.
  • Now that you cut the leaves you have to slice them to simulate the veins on a leaf.
  • Starting on one side, make horizontal slices into the sides of the leaf being careful to stop before you reach the center.
  • Repeat the same process on the other side each leaf; again being careful to stop before reaching the center.
  • Starting at the bottom, twist the veins away from you.
  • Continue twisting the veins moving up the tree and then move on to the other side and twist those veins as well.
  • Mix the egg white with some green food color a brush all the three leaves
  • Bake in the preheated oven until puffy and golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
  • Arrange your mistletoe leaves on to a serving platter with three tidbit mozzarella ball to create the fruit effect.

NOTES: You can use Nutella Spread and strawberry or grape to make this a dessert.

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I cornetti del Bar Lume

Bar Lume è un bar in un paesino di mare vicinissimo a Pisa (leggendo il romanzo ho pensato che fosse Marina di Vecchiano), in questa località turistica, nemmeno a farlo apposta, avvengono spesso delitti e Massimo, il proprietario del bar e suoi quattro fedelissimi avventori (tutti pensionati) passano il tempo a cercare di risolverli. La prosa di Malvaldi, è divertente e frizzante piena dell’umorismo toscano che talvolta piega sul cinico.

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Ma venendo ai cornetti, Massimo, come probabilmente ogni barista, la mattina mette in forno quelli congelati. Noi in famiglia amiamo i cornetti a colazione, ma dopo che ho visto per caso questa puntata di report sui cornetti industriali, ho perso l’entusiasmo per la colazione al bar ed ho deciso di provare a farli da sola. La ricetta dei “veri” cornetti è piuttosto complessa ma quella che propongo è semplificata, potete preparali in poco tempo e potete congelarli in maniera da avere cornetti caldi per diverse mattine. Provare per credere!

 

 

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Ingredienti:

550 gr di farina forte (tipo Manitoba)

180 gr latte

70 g acqua

70 gr zucchero (+ alcuni cucchiai per gli strati)

10 gr lievito secco

2 uova

1 cucchiaino di essenza di vaniglia

la buccia grattugiata di un’arancia e di un limone

70 gr burro  (+ circa 100 gr a temperature ambiente per gli strati)

un pizzico di sale

1 uovo sbattuto per lucidarli

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Preparazione

Il lievitino:

  1. Nella planetaria, dissolvere lo zucchero con il lievito in 100 gr di latte tiepido
  2. Farlo lievitare per circa un’ora a riparo dagli sbalzi di temperature (per esempio nel forno con solo la luce accesa.

Impasto:

  1. Mescolare la farina con il sale and ed aggiungere al lievitino insieme al resto del latte e l’acqua
  2. Con il gancio, impastare per circa 10 minuti a media velocità poi aggiungere il resto degli ingredienti e continuare ad impastare per altri 10-15 minuti.
  3. Togliere l’impasto dalla planetaria e lavorarlo per qualche minute su una superfice infarinata, coprire con un foglio di plastica e lasciare lievitare per un’altra ora.
  4. Riprendere l’impasto, sgonfiarlo e dividerlo in 8 palle, metterlo di nuovo a lievitare per un’ora.
  5. Prendere la prima pallina e stenderla con un mattarello fino ad uno spessore di 2-3 mm, spalmare la sfoglia di burro e spruzzarla con lo zucchero, ripetere lo stesso procedimento sovrapponendo le sfoglie (si devono ottenere 8 strati).  L’ultimo strato non deve essere spalmato di burro. Tagliare la torre di sfoglie in 16 triangoli che devono essere arrotolati come cornetti. Farli lievitare per circa mezz’ora
  6. Spennellare i cornetti con l’uovo sbattuto. Cuocerli in forno già caldo a 200 C. per circa 20 m. fino a quando sono dorati. Se utilizzate un forno combinato a vapore, si può iniziare a 200C con il livello di umidita basso per circa 10 minuti e poi metterlo in modalità forno ventilato fino a quando i cornetti non sono cotti.  IMG_0539

English Muffin 2 (The Jane Austen Challenge)

As I anticipated in my previous post, I wasn’t very happy with the results of my muffins. So I tried to prepare following the instructions of Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury:

Mix flour in a pan, with warm new milk and water, yeast and salt, according to your judgment. Beat it up well with a wooden spoon till it is a stiff batter; then set it near the fire to rise, which will be in about an hour. It must then be well beaten down, and put to rise again, and, when very light, made into muffins, and baked in flat round irons made for the purpose. The iron must be made hot, and kept so with coals under it. Take out the batter with a spoon, and drop it on a little flour sprinkled lightly on a table. Then lay them on a trencher with a little flour; turn the trencher round to shape them, assisting with your hand if they need it. Then bake them; when one side is done, turn them with a muffin knife, and bake the other.”

Not an easy recipe to follow! She gave no hint of how much should be the proportions and “to your judgement” doesn’t seems quite a straightforward indication to me. Some clues were given by the fact that the batter should be soft enough to be worked with a wooden spoon. So this time I prepared a very wet batter, using 350 gr. of strong flour, 140 gr. of water and 140 gr. of milk and a table spoon of yeast. The procedure was nearly the same as suggested by Lady Carlotte:

1. I mixed the batter, I let it rise for a couple of hours than I mixed again and I dropped in 8 different cans, lightly sprayed with oil. To make an experiment I dropped some batter on a floured surface and I let it rise for another hour.

2.  I heated the oven at 200 C. only on the bottom and I put the cans directly in the           bottom of the oven for ten minutes, then I turn them upside for another ten minutes.

For the other experiment I sprinkled a lot of flour and rolled oat on an electric griddle and I gently put the raised batter. I let them cook 5-6 minutes each side.

I got two very different results:

The muffins I cooked in the oven were very light and fluffy:

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Don’t forget to split it up with a fork:

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Then I grilled it and this is the final result:

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And this the result for the ones cooked on the griddle. A bit rustic maybe, but the taste was even better than those cooked in the oven.

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Bolognese Sauce (Eat, Pray, Love)

“Even the gelato in Bologna is better (and I feel somewhat disloyal saying that, but it’s true). The mushrooms here are like big thick sexy tongues, and the prosciutto drapes over pizzas like a fine lace veil draping over a fancy lady’s hat. And of course there is the Bolognese sauce, which laughs disdainfully at any other idea of a ragù.”  It is an excerpt from Elisabeth Gilbert “Eat, pray, love”. Who doesn’t know the book or haven’t seen the lovely film with Julia Roberts? Eating became such an intense, fulfilling experience… That’s the way I feel it… I have learned to prepare the ragù (or spaghetti sauce as my American friend call it –she was surprise visiting us in Italy “do you guys prepare your own spaghetti sauce?”) from my mom and she learned from my nana, it is not a secret recipe but pay attention to make it simmer for long hours… and enjoy!

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INGREDIENTS

100 gr. of non smoked bacon (or better, pancetta)

1 small onion (finely chopped)

1 stalk celery (finely chopped)

1 small carrot (finely chopped)

4  tbs olive oil

½ kg of lean mince meat

1 fresh sausage (better a salsiccia)

1 cup red wine

300 gr. of tomato sauce (the Italian style Passata)

Salt

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DIRECTIONS

  1. Put the olive oil in a medium over low heat.
  2. Add onion, celery, carrot and sauté it for a few minutes until onion is translucent.
  3. Add the bacon and sautee it until the fat became translucent.
  4. Add the sausage and sautee it until cooked.
  5. Add mince meat, and cook until meat loses red, raw color.
  6. Raise heat and add wine (is better if you had it warmed up to let the alcohol evaporate, alcohol can give to the meat an unwanted flower).
  7. Cook the sauce until wine is mostly evaporated.
  8. Add passata and bring heat to a boil.
  9. Once the mixture comes to a boil, return to simmer.
  10. Let sauce simmer (very slowly) covered for a minimum of 3 hours (the longer the better), stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  11. Use it to dress your pasta and do not forget abundant Parmigiano
  12. Remaining sauce may be frozen for up to two months for future use.

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