Italy

Le Sorelle del Conte

I want to start by saying that Turin is my most favorite city I have visited in Italy, thus far. Tell that to any local and they will usually respond with a slight gasp, giggle, or quizzical look. Don’t let this deter you! While Turin may not be saturated with art and historical landmarks like many other cities in Italy, it has so much more to offer in terms of cuisine and jaw dropping views of the Italian Alps. Turin is home to the largest open air market in Europe, host of the Salone del Gusto, a gastronomical food expo, and is located in the Piedmont region whose chocolate is internationally renown. To say the city of Turin is a foodies paradise would be an understatement. Restaurants all over the city are putting gastronomical spins on classic Piedmontese and Northern Italian dishes using innovative cooking techniques and pairings.

While my parents and I ate many delicious meals, one cafe had us coming back for more. This delightful place goes by the name of Le Sorelle del Conte, a few blocks off of one of the city’s main streets. Keeping with Piedmontese tradition, they feature a speciality chocolate coffee on their menu. The chocolate from the Piedmont region is so decadent, rich, and creamy, that there is no hesitation to add it to the caffé. The Caffé del Conte sets itself apart from the rest by adding not only chocolate cream to their morning pick-me-up, but warm whole milk, pistachio cream and chopped pistachios as well. This makes for a sweet, bitter, slightly salty, and oh so very decadent beverage. If my description did not at least peak your interesting in upping your daily coffee routine, perhaps this photo will…

Caffe del Conte: espresso, warm cream, chocolate cream, pistachio cream, steamed milk, & shopped pistachios

Caffe del Conte: espresso, warm milk, chocolate cream, pistachio cream, steamed milk, & chopped pistachios

Imagine the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when embracing someone you haven’t seen in a long time, or the coziness of sticking your feet in front of the fireplace after a long day out in the cold. Those same feelings are evoked by this luscious and creamy drink. This was my first time ever trying pistachio cream. It’s flavor was buttery and salty, a nice counterbalance to the sweet chocolate. I highly recommend adding this to your repertoire of nut butters and spreads!

Whether you prefer to start your day decadently, get your second wind in the afternoon with an enhanced espresso, or end your day with its richness and warmth, this drink fits the bill every time. It’s also a fun drink to make on your own, if you don’t have access to Le Sorelle del Conte in Turin 😉 Play around the ratios of coffee, chocolate, cream, and pistachio to create a personalized pick me up for those cold days I know you are all facing over there on the East coast.

As always, enjoy and share with your best company!

Eggplant Flan

I am so thankful that one of the many cooking class I’ve taken in Florence was hosted by Mama Florence cooking school because they opened my eyes to the thriving gastronomic scene here! Chefs are taking inspiration from classical Tuscan cooking and creating modern, conceptual dishes. I feel so inspired and exhilarated by the food culture here, from the classic cooking traditions that are centuries old, to the new innovative dishes.

The most recent class I took was called ” Italian Savory Baked Goods“. It was a very intimate class of 4 people and 2 chefs, and was as far from your average “baking” class as you could possibly imagine. We made such a wide variety of baked goods, utilizing the freshest seasonal produce. Our dishes consisted of traditional Tuscan bread, a pumpkin loaf, eggplant flan, escarole salt pie, and a rustic apple cake. However, the star of the class was, without a doubt, the eggplant flan. However, I hesitate to call this a flan because it’s the farthest things from the sweet, sticky dessert we’re familiar with in the states.I had never seen anything like it before and was amazed at how simple it was to prepare, and the amazing flavor profile we were able to coax out of the eggplant. The recipe also utilizes all parts of the eggplant so there is no waste!

Ingredients

3 tsps extra virgin olive oil

2 large eggplants

1 red onion, diced finely

2 tomatoes

2 bunches either mint or basil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2.25 ounces grated parmesan cheese

bread crumbs

1 1/4 tsps fine grain salt

butter and flour (to prepare baking dishes)

Add half of the olive oil into a sauté pan and add diced onion. Allow to cook until softened, approximately 10 minutes. Peel the eggplant, conserving the peels in order to line the baking container for your flan. Cut eggplant into cubes about 1/4″ in size, and add to the softened onion. Raise the heat slightly, add the bunches of either mint or basil. Add salt and let cook for approximately 25 minutes, adding water if necessary to avoid sticking to the pan (keep in mind that at the end of cooking, the eggplant should be dry without any excess liquid in your pan).

While the eggplant is cooking, boil water in a large sauce pan. Add salt and lower the heat. Add the eggplant peels and let cook between 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the peels from the boiling water and lay out on a dish to allow to cool. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour each muffin form in a standard 12-muffin tray. Gently place eggplant peels on the bottom of each muffin form in the shape of an “x.” Press each peel to the bottom of the form, and let excess drape outside of form. Fill with eggplant flan and use the extra peel from outside the form to sit on top of the flan, as if you’re closing a lid over the flan.

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Greased breadpan lined with blanched eggplant skins

Once the eggplant and onion mixture is cooked, allow to cool. Once at room temperature, blend well in either a blender or using an immersion blender. Combine lightly beaten eggs with parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt, then add to the eggplant mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon. The eggplant mixture will look fairly soft, so you will need to add enough breadcrumbs to the mixture to give it a slightly denser, more robust consistency. Add salt to taste, and now you’re ready for baking!

Hot out of the oven!

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove flans from oven, and allow to cool for a few minutes. Flip onto plate, and slice each flan either horizontally or vertically in  3/4″ thick pieces, plate and enjoy!

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Eggplant Flan

You and your guests, because you should share this great recipe with as many people as you can, will fall in love with the light and airy, but still oh so creamy consistency of this unique dish. It’s not too filling so it would make a nice side dish. It would also work great as a main dish on a bed of greens topped with fresh pomegranate seeds, balsamic reduction, and a nice grated parmesan.

Never be afraid to push your culinary boundaries! This dish may look complex and intimidating but it was one of the easiest dishes I have made thus far. Embrace the Tuscan gastronomic chef within!

**Recipe and instruction courtesy of Mama Florence Cooking School**

Fresh Pasta, and Why There is No Need for Boxed

I don’t think I would have fulfilled my role as a food blogger studying in Italy if I didn’t post about how to make fresh pastas. Quite honestly, that would be sacrilege! Last week I took a cooking class with the amazing Andrea and Julio, chefs of Florencetown, where myself and 20 other lucky participants got a tour of Il Mercato Centrale through a local’s eyes, and a hands on lesson in fresh pasta, Bolognese sauce, and tiramisu.

Prior to this class I had been to Il Mercato Centrale many times to buy my fresh, local produce, but was always so overwhelmed with the variety of butchers, fishmongers, and cheese counters to know which ones were the most authentic, a rip-off, or a diamond in the rough. Although, exploring it on my own has definitely helped improved my Italian. Thankfully, Julio was kind enough to introduce us to all of his favorite vendors, such as the butcher who sells the best Florentine steak, the bakery with the best olive and truffle oils, and tastiest cantucci, known to others as biscotti, but they are not the same! Throughout the tour Chef Julio was picking up the ingredients for our meal, and once we were ready we headed around the corner to the kitchen to get started.

The one thing I didn’t expect was how easy it is to make pasta from scratch! All you need is 2 simple ingredients!

That’s right, just eggs and flour.

  • 3 cups of “00” flour
  • 3 eggs

Now it’s time to get handsy. Pour your flour onto a cool, smooth surface and make a small well in the center for the egg. Crack the eggs into the well, and working from the center, begin to incorporate the flour with a fork until a thicker consistency begins to form and sticks to the fork. Then get in there with your hands and begin to knead. Be very liberal with the flour here folks and continue to add until dough is smooth and doesn’t stick to your hands.Lastly, wrap it up real tight in plastic wrap and let sit for 15-30 minutes. During this time you can start prepping your sauce or ravioli filling.


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Once the pasta is ready to be cut, roll it out so you can barely see through to the table underneath (about 3 mm thickness). Then fold the dough over itself using at 3-finger width and cut it length wise. The size of your pasta is up to you! Are you in the making a thinner, creamier sauce? Then go for linguine (0.5cm thick) or are you making a hearty Bolognese that needs a pasta strong enough to carry all that meat? If so, pappardelle (2cm thick) is what you’re looking for. You can also cut off the ends and make one wide panel to fill, and make ravioli. During this class our ravioli was a simple Tuscan ricotta and parmesan mixture, but the ingredients you can use are endless. Ravioli are receptive to pretty much anything you can squeeze into them! Just make sure you seal of each ravioli properly, free of air pockets, so they don’t burst. Make them extra secure by pressing down the edges with the prongs of a fork!

The final step, before you get to enjoy the delicious fruits of your labor, is to boil the pasta in salted water for 2 minutes, until al dente. Al dente here in Italy is slightly different from in the states. Italians would consider the way we eat our pasta overcooked. Upon tasting it, the texture should seem slightly more underdone than your used to. But, don’t second guess because it’s actually perfect!

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Ravioli w/ Tuscan ricotta & parmesan in sage butter sauce

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Pappardelle w/ Bolognese sauce

Serve with the sauce of your choice. In class, the chefs prepared a butter and sage sauce to accompany the cheese ravioli, and added the Bolognese sauce to our fresh pappardelle.

I had never imagined making fresh pasta would be this easy, and now I can’t wait to add my own innovative touches! Chef Andrea suggested adding chopped herbs such as sage and rosemary, or even pumpkin puree to the dough to create a more earthy flavor profile. I plan on experimenting with coffee grinds and cocoa powder as well!

It is really as easy as it looks. Also, notice we didn’t use a pasta roller. Everything was done by hand with a little flour, a rolling-pin, and some elbow grease. No, it’s not as quick as 10 minute, boxed pasta, but it isn’t that much longer. Plus, c’mon you gotta know that the texture and flavor is 10 times better, and you get this warm fuzzy feeling from enjoying something you prepared from start to finish!

Eggplant, Fig, & Ricotta Stack

Fig season is in full swing here in Florence, and I must admit I am LOVING it. I had never tried fresh figs until earlier this summer back in the states, and they were okay. However, the figs here in Italy seem to be a whole other fruit! They are sweet, succulent morsels full of a unique pulp and sticky sap. They come in both black and white varieties and are about the size of an oblong golf ball. White figs are on the sweeter and a little tarter side, while black figs have a more subtle and decadent flavor. I am truly infatuated with them both! In fact, earlier today I picked some up at the local market and couldn’t stop myself from snacking on one as I strolled past the other vendors.

But I digress. Since these figs are just such a prime produce item of the moment I wanted to incorporate them into an actual meal, not just an all day snack. So again I dove into the depths of the internet and found a variety of pairings with cheeses such as ricotta and goat. I am in Italy after all, so I went with something that hit close to home, the ricotta. Along with more pondering and considering the other seasonal produce I decided on a take on eggplant lasagna consisting of layers of sautéed eggplant, ricotta, and sliced figs atop a bed of spinach. In my opinion, it looks like the leaning tower of Pisa, but that may be too cheesy of an Italian comparison (oops, there I go again!). My humor is usually much more along the lines of sarcasm than puns, I promise!

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Ingredients

1/2 of a medium-sized eggplant

4-6 fresh figs

Ricotta

Spinach

Rosemary

Salt & pepper

Oil & Balsamic vinegar

Instructions

1. Slice the eggplant into medallions, about 1/2″ thick

2. Roughly chop the rosemary

3. Drizzle eggplant with olive oil and vinegar and season both sides with rosemary, salt, and pepper. Let marinate for about 5 minutes

4. While eggplant is marinating heat sauté or grill pan over medium heat. Place the eggplant in the pan so none of the pieces overlap.

5. Cover and let sit for about 10 minutes, checking on them once or twice, and flipping them after 5 minutes.

6. While eggplant is cooking, quarter fresh figs to be layered between the eggplant. I also like to take the ricotta out of the fridge while the eggplant is cooking so it gets closer to room temp, as to not cool down the dish.

7. The eggplant will be done once it’s tender and the skin is slightly shriveling. Make a nice bed of spinach leaves on a plate or bowl and begin building your tower! I went with a pattern of eggplant, ricotta, fig. And in regards to the amount of ricotta per layer, that really depends on how much you like ricotta 😉 But I spread about a tablespoon of ricotta between each layer and could fit about 4 pieces of fig.

8. Top with a dollop of ricotta and any extra fig and enjoy!

All of these measurements should make enough for 1 dish, but could also be enough for 2 smaller stacks or even multiple mini stacks if you wanted to make this for an appetizer (may be a little messy, but who cares when it tastes this good?!).

I really enjoyed making this dish because it seemed more like an arts and crafts project to me cooking. And I must say folks, this dish is as good as it looks. It’s sweet, savory, and oh so creamy. The perfect transition dish from summer into fall when we all wouldn’t mind something warm and cozy in our stomachs.  Embrace your inner child and really play around with the construction (or deconstruction) of this loose take on no-bake eggplant lasagna.

As always I love to hear feedback, so let me know how this dish worked for you! Did you add some more savory? Bake it like a more traditional lasagna? Make it into a pizza perhaps?! My favorite thing about cooking is seeing all the different interpretations of a dish!

 

All’ Antico Vinaio

Here begins my food blogging journey of my year abroad, in Florence, Italy! I am so happy I found All’ Antico Vinaio early on, because it is a gold mind of cured meats and cheeses. Tucked away on Via de Neri, a few streets up from the Arno river, this sandwich & charcuterie shop is anything but unknown. It has been rated by all the top food and travel websites as one of the places to get a phenomenal sandwich in Florence, which also means there is always a line. But, trust me when I say that not matter how long the line, it is worth the wait one hundred times over. All’ Antico Vinaio offers two types of dining; One were you can sit indoors in there intimate dining room with a antipasto platter of meats, cheeses, spreads, veggies, and jams while enjoying one of their many bottles of wine ( This is Italy after all, so I emphasize bottles).

…and this is the small!

Or you can venture a few meters across the street to their original claim to fame, and host of the infamous line, their sandwich shop. Here there are 2-3 men at any given time preparing the freshest, meatiest, cheesiest, most mouthwatering sandwiches with a sense of style and grace I never thought I’d use to describe sandwich construction. For starters, their menu consists of white writing on tall, thin chalk boards at the entrance to the shop. They make one thing, and one thing only which is Foccacia Misto, and rings in at 5 euro (7 if you splurge for the specialty meats). Listed below are all your cheese, spread, and vegetable options (which you can add as many as will fit in your sandwich for still 5 euro). Then listed on a separate board is the shining glory of your sandwich, the meats. It is stated very clearly at the bottom of the list that mixing meats is not allowed nor will it be tolerated. I believe they called it Blasphemy! There are at least 7 different meat options, 8 or so different cheeses to choose from, 6 types of spreads, and a variety of vegetable toppings. It may seem a little overwhelming at first but you will have plenty of time in line to decide, and even if you can’t, the guys behind the counter are super friendly and will even offer to build you their ideal sandwich. Also, while waiting in line be mindful and cautious of the men running back and forth between the restaurants with fresh stacks of their homemade foccacia.

For my first order, and I say first because I know for a fact I will be returning countless times, I went with proscuitto (freshly sliced as I wiped the drool from my face), pecorino toscano fresco, truffle crema, spicy eggplant, zucchini, arugula salad, olive oil, salt, and pepper. When the man handed it to me over the counter the only words I could muster in my state of pure awe and excitement were “It’s so beautiful!”

Now to put this in perspective for you guys, this sandwich felt like I was cradling a small, soccer ball sized baby in my hands. It was wrapped up just so, making  it impossible for any of those delectable ingredients to fall out of the bottom, but leaving every other part of the sandwich exposed for me to dig right in. I did just that, and never looked back.

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The flavors were amazing. The meat was perfectly salty, the cheese had just the right bite, and let me tell you, you know nothing of paradise until you have had this truffle crema. I couldn’t have been more satisfied with this sandwich.

Since I plan to become a regular at this place I will be updating this post every time I try a new combination of love…I mean ingredients…which in this sandwich’s case could very well substitute for love. So be ready, and try your hardest to re-create these back in the states!