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Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

A fantastic vineyard where we went for a "tasting" and were treated to a 6-course Italian feast with LOTS of wine!

A fantastic vineyard where we went for a "tasting" and were treated to a 6-course Italian feast with LOTS of wine!

Nectars of the Gods? You bet. Especially when you are staying in a rustic B&B on an organic vineyard in the hills of Tuscany. Which is what we did last May. They made their own wine, olive oil and honey on site, and we consumed generous quantities of all 3. I will never forget those tastes: straight from the rich, green countryside. Now that the brief warm spell in Colorado has vanished and we are once again plunged into low temperatures of 18 degrees and highs in the windy, chilly 40’s, I’m dreaming of Italy more than ever.

It is truly the land of food and wine. Olives, kale, artichokes, rosemary, lavender, fennel, thyme, basil, tomatoes. And that’s just what was growing in people’s gardens and out of the cracks in their country roads. In May. The actual cooking there was a daily revelation for me. How just 3-4 ingredients could taste so incredible is still something I marvel at. The rich soil, sun, and – must be – all that love really do create foods so innately luscious and dripping with flavor that they need no further embellishment. In Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, she has two chapters of ultra-simple, elegant recipes that I fell in love with as I was both eating and reading about the native cuisine – things like marinated bell peppers or a basic polenta. It doesn’t get much easier than that, and it sure doesn’t get any better.

An old stone wall along a Tuscan roadside. I found fennel, thyme and other herbs growing in between these stones. The landscape is a giant pantry!

An old stone wall along a Tuscan roadside. I found fennel, thyme and other herbs growing in between these stones. It was like walking through a giant pantry!

Just a few of the typical Italian goodies lining the shop windows in towns.

Just a few of the typical Italian goodies lining the shop windows in towns.

The drive leading to our old stone house B&B on an organic vineyard, 5 miles up a long hill from the town of Greve in Chianti.

The drive leading to our old stone house B&B on an organic vineyard, 5 miles up a long hill from the town of Greve in Chianti.

What would a visit to Italy be without gelato? The incredible flavors tasted as fresh and tangy and luscious as they looked.

What would a visit to Italy be without gelato? The incredible flavors tasted as fresh and tangy and luscious as they looked.

Most of our days consisted of walking for miles through countryside like this, eating unbelievable food, and finally collapsing into an exhausted heap at night.

Most of our days consisted of walking for miles through countryside like this, eating unbelievable food, and finally collapsing into an exhausted heap at night.

A touristy food shop in San Gimignano. The Italian wild boar is the source of some supposedly incredible 'salumi,' though I did not consume any myself.

A touristy food shop in San Gimignano. The Italian wild boar is the source of some supposedly incredible 'salumi,' though I did not consume any myself.

I think more food blogs should focus on settings - where food is eaten. This picture is one reason why. We ate dinners and liberal quantities of red wine, cheese and salumi here with a view of the distant hills and sunsets. I have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself it really happened...

I think more food blogs should focus on settings - where food is eaten. This picture is one reason why. We ate dinners and liberal quantities of red wine, cheese and salumi here with a view of the distant hills and sunsets. I have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself it really happened...

Here's one of those sunsets, as seen from our dinner table.

Here's one of those sunsets, as seen from our dinner table.

The extremely charismatic Sienese pig - the source of some very fine prosciutto.

The extremely charismatic Sienese pig - the source of some very fine prosciutto.

Parting shots, for now: produce at the Saturday market in Greve...

Parting shots, for now: produce at the Saturday market in Greve...

...and il Duomo in Florence, under construction, at night. Not a postcard shot but worthy of my wonderful memories nevertheless.

...and il Duomo in Florence, under construction, at night. Not a postcard shot but worthy of my wonderful memories nevertheless.

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Basil is beyond bountiful again in my garden. Last time (just a few weeks ago) I managed to chop up and freeze a good-sized load of it in ice cube trays. I found out that if I really pack the cubes, I get a tablespoon of basil into each square. Perfect quantities for soups or sauces, when the occasion arises. I also made a batch of the incredible maple-basil balsamic vinaigrette that I can’t stop eating. Stuff like that seems too good to also be good for you.

Here’s something else that’s good for you. I decided to whip up a batch of pesto this time, since it’s the only way to reliably use up decent quantities of basil. In my eagerness to harvest the best of my herbs, however, I picked far too many and as a result I made two batches – it worked out to 3 generous cups, or one for the week and two for the freezer. Naturally, the first has already been polished off tidily. This recipe – which substitutes easier-to-find, superfood walnuts for the expensive pine nuts – is adapted from Biba’s Italian Kitchen – perhaps a sign of my renewed obsession with all things Italian, at least culinarily speaking. (I made her recipe for potato gnocchi the other day too, but that’s another, very lumpy, story). In terms of ratios of ingredients, pesto recipes run the gamut. This one seems to me to have the right balance of basil, oil, nuts, garlic and cheese. I did omit the salt on the second round though – there was plenty of it in the parmesan cheese.

Walnut Pesto

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/2-3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I went for a little less to keep the consistency thicker)

1/3 cup shelled, chopped walnuts (since I was using a food processor, I sort of skipped the chopping part and just filled the cup a bit more to compensate for the size of the nuts)

2 garlic cloves

salt to taste

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the bowl in between as needed. Set aside or refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup.

I found that “sealing” the sauce with a thin layer of olive oil before storing in the fridge or freezer helps prevent the rapid discoloration that happens once basil is cut and exposed to light. My batches came out a bit more than a cup each. Not that I’m complaining about ending up with more pesto than predicted.

Mangia!

 

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There are so many ways to eat beans. I feel like every time I talk to someone about beans, they can’t imagine eating them daily (horrors!!). Yet one of the healthiest things you can do, especially if you are vegetarian (and maybe even have to avoid soy on top of it all) is to eat beans, and to eat them every day.

Beans have huge amounts of fiber. We know this, because of what they do to your digestion. Turns out that your body adapts over time and your gastrointestinal reactions will simmer down, so to speak. You can in fact eat beans every day and have no problem – you just need to start doing it! How can you get to the recommended level of 35 grams of fiber PER DAY without the massive fiber punch that these little nuggets are packing? I don’t know. A bowl of grape nuts is just not going to cut it.

Then there’s protein… goes without saying. Except that what’s worth saying is that it is no longer considered necessary to eat beans AND rice, or beans AND any other starch, at the same time in order to consume a “complete protein.” You can eat them any old time, all by themselves, and it will all end up in the right place and be properly put to use by your body. Less worrying about food combining – always a good thing, if you ask me. I never could get my head around that.

So how many ways can you eat beans? Well, let’s think of a few ways I’ve had them since I started this new anti-cancer, vegetarian diet thing last November.

  • tossed into salads (I use them from a can, rinsed; or make a batch from scratch on the weekends to use for whatever ideas come up along the way during the week).
  • hummus, red pepper hummus, green chili hummus, garlic hummus, I could go on.
  • refried beans, popular on restaurant menus but also available in cans with NO FAT and no lard or any of that nonsense. Seasoned with lime juice, this is a great spread for any sandwich or taco or piece of toast.
  • for that matter, any bean dip in a jar, if you can be careful to get something without sodium, additives or any other junk, is another great spread for sandwiches, wraps and other concoctions, and for dipping as a pre- or post-dinner snack of course.
  • Bean soups: blended, chunky, pasta e fagiole or minestrone or one of my favorites: white bean and sweet potato soup from Claire’s Corner Copia, yum.
  • Geez, I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. I practically live on Chipotle’s fajita burrito bowl (without the tortilla) – black beans, rice and fresh sauteed veggies with a good dollop of guacamole and I’ve covered most of my bases for the day (I eat an avocado a day, too… still not tired of that…).
  • baked beans, such as ridiculously easy and delicious vegetarian baked beans in a can.
  • Dal! So many great ways to make this wonderful Indian lentil stew. I recently made a lusciously sweet and spicy one that I’ll have to post here – I used several kinds of terrific lentils (all but the boring brown European kind), various Indian spices, coconut, and olive oil and it was fantastic. We scarfed it down in short order, even Tomas who has an aversion to lentils (from growing up eating too many of the boring brown European kind I suppose).
  • Lentil soup.
  • Split pea soup.
  • Black bean soup.
  • Chili.
  • Cuban black beans and rice. This super-tasty dish deserves its own bullet to remind you to make it once in a while! I will have to post a recipe soon.
  • Falafel. My problem with this is that it’s fried. I tend to avoid it.
  • Veggie burgers – order the fresh ones made in restaurants (yum) or check the ingredients of store-bought ones for those with beans, lentils, or chickpeas. There are some awesome recipes in vegetarian (and any other health-conscious) cookbooks as well, everything from black bean burgers to who-knows-what else.
  • Succotash.
  • Black-eyed peas. Cooking Light had several great recipes in a row for black-eyed pea stews and soups right around the holidays and New Year’s, including a vegetarian version.
  • Black bean and corn salad. Black bean salsa. Seasoned black beans right out of the can, or at most heated briefly and dumped over some rice or veggies.
  • Five bean salad.
  • All kinds of bean salads.
  • Frijoles… any old cooked beans they happen to have around when you are in Mexico, or the terrific refried beans always available for breakfast, lunch or dinner with eggs or anything else you might want.
  • White bean pesto dip. White bean salad from the Moosewood Cookbook.
  • Spiced chick peas, popular at Indian buffets, just as easy to make at home.
  • Speaking of Indian, all those divine curries and masalas with beans, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans or combinations. After your appetizer of dal of course.
  • The Italians have some splendid, simple ways of cooking beans that you would just never get tired of. White beans in a simple soup with tomatoes, kale or spinach, and sausage if you want it – now that’s comfort food.
  • White beans sauteed in a pan with some spinach, garlic, olive oil and a dash of parmesan.
  • How could I forget 7-Layer Dip? Not the healthiest though. Unless you just go for the beans and guac and avoid the sour cream and cheese…

Good lord, I’ve written 850 words about beans and I’m only just getting started. Get your basket into the bulk food aisle at Whole Foods and your nose into a cookbook or two (Italian, Cuban, Indian, all great places to start) and enjoy your beans!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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