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January 2007
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March 2007

Un Bel Colazione? (a good breakfast?)

"Brillanti di Troia"
Originally uploaded by jennifermcilvaine.
I'm not so sure about this one for breakfast. I was watching a cooking show today and they made this - a jelly made from sliced pig skin, garlic, capers, and parsley...I'm not saying that it won't taste good (though I'm not a huge fan of jellied meat), but not with my coffee!
Italians have really strange concepts of breakfast (to me).
Acceptable items include:
any kind of sweet cake, tart, pastry - the sweeter the better
some cured meats, sometimes
nutella on anythng
and, obviously the jellied pig skin, as pictured above
Unacceptable items include:
eggs in any form
cooked meats, such as sausage or bacon
I don't know - I don't think I'll ever get breakfast here. Italians literally crack themselves up when anyone mentions "bacon & eggs", its almost as funny to them as "spaghetti & meatballs" - that's the real side-splitter.
I am looking foward to Easter, it is the one day of the year when it is acceptable to eat eggs for breakfast - can't wait!

First Signs of Spring

Spring is early this year, at least on the southern coast of Sardegna, where this wild asparagus comes from. Not seeing the price (€33 per kilo - that's about $20/lb -yikes!), we bought a half kilo. It had a very woodsy, pissy (sorry), kind of smell, and tasting it raw reminded me of raw fiddlehead ferns from the NW.
I first made it in risotto, by cooking it in the classic method with the rice - this was okay, but definately not worth the money. Then a few days later, I seared the aspargus in a cast iron, and cooked it with anchovies, & garlic for pasta - much, much better! In this way, the apargus took on a earthy, peppery flavor - buono.
I saw yesterday that the price went down to €22, so maybe if it goes down a little more, I'll buy some for pickling.

when life gives you lemons...

Originally uploaded by jennifermcilvaine.

make marmaletta! or candied peels! or preserved lemons!
Its prime citrus season here in Italy, and beautiful oranges and lemons are coming from Sicily right now. My favorite vendor is a guy who drives them up a few times a week and sells by the side of the road between Foligno and Spello. These lemons are gorgeous - natural, unwaxed, and all different shapes and sizes! We also always get a carton of Tarocco oranges, kind of a semi-blood orange, with a tart flavor (the next "bloodiest" being the Moro, and then the Sanguinello: we squeeze these fresh every morning for breakfast.
This weekend I made Tarocco orange and rosemary marmaletta, lemon marmaletta, and candied peels.

Blood Orange & Rosemary Marmalade

7 blood oranges
1 lemon
2 cups water
sugar (about 4 cups)
2 sprigs rosemary

1. Put very thinly sliced blood oranges and lemon into a non-reactive pan with the water over low heat. Cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat and let sit, covered, overnight.
2. Sterilize the jars in boiling water for 15min. Do not boil the canning lids, but scald them in the just-boiled water after the heat is turned off. Leave the jars and lids in the water until needed.
3. Meanwhile, measure the citrus pulp, rind and liquid. For every cup of citrus mixture, add 3/4 cup of sugar.
4. Return the citrus and the sugar to the pot over medium high heat and add the rosemary. Bring to low boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat and cook at a low simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Turn off the heat. Test for gel by putting a small spoonful of the marmalade on a plate in the freezer for one minute. The marmalade should form a skin and wrinkle when pushed (you can back this up with the spoon “sheeting” test if you are familiar with it). If not ready, return to the heat and test again a few minutes later. When the gel stage has been reached, turn off the heat, remove the rosemary, and ladle the marmalade into clean sterilized jars.
6. Process in a boiling water bath (water at a full rolling boil covering the jars by at least one inch) for five minutes.

I followed the same basic recipe for the lemons, but added more water at the beginning, and added 1 cup of sugar for every cup of liquid (instead of 3/4 cup).
This was the first time I ever made jam, and I think they came out pretty well - I'll definately have to experiment more...

see citrus pics here

the BEST thing ever...

Originally uploaded by jennifermcilvaine. can have too much of a good thing...
I went to my first Italian wedding this weekend - it was really unbelievable. There was so much food - I was literally eating for about 6 hours (yes, I felt a little sick afterwards....). I think the antipasti was the best part. There were stations set up along the outside patio of the villa/restaurant where the reception was held There was a frying station with fried mozzarella, calamari, and fried vegetables, then a wood fired pizza station, then a grill station with skewers and sausages, not to mention inside were long tables filled with cheeses, salumi, olives, prosciutto, etc..., but the BEST part was the ricotta station: they took warmed ricotta and spooned it over toasted bread with honey and poppy seeds - it was the most decadent, but light, heavenly pudding ever!!!
Then after all of that, we had six more courses, plus cake, and a dessert buffet. I really cannot believe how much I ate. And to top it all off, the next day was Fede's sister's 40th birthday, so we had a nice big 4 course birthday lunch. Can you say "salads" for the next 6 months...

see wedding photos on my Flickr

Buon Capodanno Cinese!

Chinese Boar
Originally uploaded by jennifermcilvaine.

...or Happy Chinese New Year! This weekend is Chinese New Year - year of the Boar, or Pig, so last night I was craving Chinese food - its been around 50 days or so since I last tasted soy sauce...too long...especially after living in Seattle (the asian food capital) for 5 years! We went to one of the 2 Chinese restaurants in Folingo (yes, believe it or not, their are 2 in our fair city) - it claimed to be Szechwan, but, it was pretty much just the most basic, standard chinese food that you would find in someplace like Iowa, but with an Italian flair. For instance, everything was served in courses, with long waits in between - even the rice was its own course, which makes no sense because you need it to eat with everything else, but I guess thats how the italians like it... Also, the ingredients were definately not Chinese - they are using Italian rice - too glutinous, and Italian ham for the fried rice - its gross - you just can't replace Chinese bacon with prosciutto cotto! I think if they can import TsingTao, they should be able to import everything!
I had the spring rolls - same filling, but the wrapper was really thick; the hot and sour soup - not too bad; and the roasted duck - it was okay, but it just didn't have that glazy, fatty, yumminess factor that I am used to. I was extremely disappointed that they did not have szechwan eggplant on the menu - that is a standard for me - and that is what I was really craving.
At the end of our meal, we were offered Brasilian fortune bracelets - what??!!??? just give me a fortune cookie!
I think I will be able to keep my asian food cravings under control from now until I return to the U.S.

Hands Off!

Originally uploaded by jennifermcilvaine.

See if you can figure this one out...when shopping for produce in the grocery store here in Italy, one must wear plastic gloves (to purchase your own produce, which you will most likely wash or peel). However, the people who sell bread never wear gloves! I don't mind that they don't wear gloves or use papers (I myself have never been a fan), I just think the juxtaposition of when to when it is ok to touch food is a little strange....

Pollo d'Erba

I always like to see food that goes way beyond organic. In the macellerie of Umbria, they have started to sell Pollo d'Erba, literally, Chicken of the Grass. The 'pollo' are actually an experiment from the agrarian wing of the University of Perugia. 40 years ago, the scientists there started raising native breeds of Italian chickens that were quickly becoming extinct. Basically they are chickens (mostly roosters, actually) that are allowed to wander free in grassy fields, the way nature intended. Their standards are much higher than that of American "free-range" chickens - these birds get at least 5 square meters each, and the land they peck on must be fertile, green, and grassy. Absolutely no mutilation of the bird is allowed, including clipping wings, and homeopathic cures for diseases are recommended. They also live longer, 100 days. American chickens are lucky if they get 6 weeks. These restrictions result in a bird that is significantly higher in protien, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, and lower in fat.
I was a little apprehensive about eating the 'pollo'. In Seattle, I always supported my local, organic farmers, and dutifully ate their chickens, and every single one of them was tough as nails, no matter how I cooked them. I became even more apprehensive when I saw the pollo in the butcher. It was small - really small. And thin, with long, lean "chicken" legs. Not too appetizing. Nevertheless, I wanted to try it. The Pollo d'Erba, by law, is sold whole, head and feet intact. (By the way, pollo, in italiano, means rooster, gallina is chicken.) So, we took our rooster home, chopped off his neck, head and feet (for later use, of course), split him down the center, put him over the coals of the fireplace, and crossed our fingers...(we seasoned him al diavolo).
I am happy to report that the pollo was probably one of the best chickens that I have ever eaten! It has an unbelievable amount of flavor, and was not tough at all, but truly juicy (I was worried that maybe we should have brined it prior, but that would have been uneccessary). The only negative was that the meat really stuck to the bones, but that's okay - who doesn't like to gnaw on a chicken bone? - and that's finger-lickin' good!
For more info about Pollo D'Erba, check out these websites (mostly in Italian - but Google will loosely translate some of them). Pollo D'Erba, and Centro Agro Alimentare dell'Umbria
Also, check out my Pollo photos on my flickr.

Rock & Chop!!!

Originally uploaded by jennifermcilvaine.

I was surfing through my 8 or so Italian TV channels this afternoon, when I stumbled upon one of my all-time favorite infomercials - The Miracle Blade, featuring good ol' Chef Tony. I had no idea that Chef Tony had such an international appeal! I have to admit though, I am used to watching Chef Tony at 2am, and his slashes through the pineapple are definately not as exciting at 2 in the afternoon, especially dubbed in italian too.
I googled him to get a picture, and found him listed on Wikipedia - even they say the "blade" is a scam - watch out Italy!