Monthly Archives: May 2013

Time to Say Goodbye

amalfi-lemons

My Italian had vastly improved, and during lunch service at the restaurant by the pool, I was better at understanding what the guests ordered when the waiters called out the orders to us. The tagliarini with lemon cream sauce was the pasta of the day again and Alessandro let me prepare most of the orders. I remembered how my husband, Craig, liked dinner served on a warmed plate so it wouldn’t cool off quickly and I dipped each serving plate into the hot water in the pasta cooker (like a deep fryer, only filled with circulating hot water) and then dried it with a hand towel before I transferred the pasta and sauce from the pan to the plate. When lunch service ended, I helped straighten up the left over ingredients and covered containers of parsley, chopped tomatoes, lemon zest and minced garlic with clear plastic wrap so they could be returned to the main kitchen. Then I followed Alessandro to the elevator to say good-bye to Chef and change for the bus ride home.

The weather was beautiful outside when I emerged from the hotel restaurant in the afternoon.  I decided to take the ferry back to Positano instead.

When I disembarked at the long public pier, I removed my sandals and walked along the beach letting the gentle waves wash over my feet.  I was looking forward to spending my next day off reading a good book in one of those chaise lounge chairs shaded by big, colorful umbrellas that you can rent by the day.

As I walked through the sand, I found myself again thinking about my life. What is my passion? What brings me the greatest sense of satisfaction? What makes my heart sing?  I didn’t have any qualms about starting a new venture at this stage of my life (you’re only as old as you feel, right?)  I think the most important aspect of my summer experience was the fact that I had been able to decisively choose for myself what I wanted to explore. I enjoyed cooking,, but I decided that I didn’t want to own a restaurant. I wanted to cook at a more leisurely pace over good conversation with family and friends and a glass of wine in one hand. I suddenly realized that my husband and children were my greatest joys. I had traveled half way around the world to search for something meaningful in my life only to discover that I had it all along. The ringing of my cell phone interrupted my thoughts.

“Hello,” said Craig. “Happy 38th wedding anniversary!  I love you, honey. How are things going?”

“Buon anniversario,” I replied in Italian.  “I’m coming home!”

The next morning I dragged my suitcase up the hill to catch the bus to begin the complicated route to Rome, which would require two bus rides, two train rides and a taxi before I reached the airport for my departure flight.

As I sat on the covered stone bench waiting for the first bus to take me from Positano to Sorrento, an old man walked up the road with a heavy plastic shopping bag in his hand.  When he reached me, I said,

Buon Giorno. Che bella.”  (Good Morning.  The weather is beautiful).

Buon Giorno,” he replied with a big grin.  Then he reached a weathered hand into his sack and pulled out one of those huge yellow Amalfi Coast lemons and handed it to me.

Grazie,” I nodded with a smile.  I scratched the skin of the lemon with my fingernail and inhaled the strong, citrus scent. The sky was streaked with pink and blue like a washed-out beach towel and the sun was just beginning to peak around the mountains to the east.  As I watched the old man walk down the hill toward the center of town, I mused It’s going to be another beautiful day in Positano.

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Cinnamon Mocha Gelato

 

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Ingredients:

 

2 cups whole milk

 

1 cup heavy cream

 

2/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder

 

2 T. Instant espresso powder

 

1 T. Cinnamon

 

2 large eggs

 

2 large egg  yolks

 

3/4 cup sugar

 

 

Directions:

 

In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the milk and cream. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 170°F. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder, espresso powder and cinnamon. Set aside.

 

Meanwhile whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Gradually whisk in the sugar until it is well blended and the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Very slowly pour some of the hot cocoa mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, to warm and temper them (if you do this too fast, the eggs will cook & form “curds” in the bottom of the pan).  When they are lightly warm, combine the egg mixture with the rest of the hot cocoa mixture in the saucepan, creating a chocolate custard gelato base. Cook and stir the custard over medium low heat, until it reaches a temperature of 185°F. Do not allow to boil.
Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. To cool the custard quickly, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water and placing the bowl with the custard in the bowl of ice. Stir every few minutes to prevent a skin from forming. Once it is completely cooled, cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours or overnight the custard into the container of an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving. Makes one quart.

 

 

 

Gelato

imageThe Gelateria at Bucca di Baco Ristorante in Positano displayed a rainbow of colors arranged in stainless steel pans in its refrigerated case.  Tourists enjoyed cones and cups of gelato while browsing through the souvenir shops and watching the plein air artists paint the Duomo (church) by the beach or the fishing boats resting on the sand.

Gelato is the Italian version of ice cream, except that it is lower in fat and cholesterol than ice cream. It has 2-8% fat versus the 15-30% fat in traditional ice cream. Gelato uses the freshest ingredients—milk rather than cream, eggs, and natural flavorings. It is very dense because it has less air whipped into it than does ice cream, and therefore has very intense flavors: pistachio, hazelnut, lemon, strawberry, chocolate, tiramisu, mango, peach.  Gelato must also be served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream so it is soft enough to scoop because it is so dense.

Mediterranean Broccoli Salad

broccoli salad

Ingredients:

4 c. broccoli florets

1/2 c. garbanzo beans

1/2 c. pitted kalamata olives

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese

1/4 c. olive oil

Directions:

Steam broccoli florets for 2 minutes and rinse with cold water. Slice bell pepper into thin strips and then cut the strips into thirds. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, add olive oil and toss lightly.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The Cheeses of Campania

Basil and Tomatoes

The region of Campania in southern Italy is known for its cheeses and yogurt made from the milk of the water buffalo.  Water buffalos were originally brought to Italy by the Goths during the middle ages. The water buffalo milk is not used for drinking and is reserved only for cheese-making. Mozzarella di bufala and ricotta di bufala are mild, creamy cheeses that are not allowed to ripen but rather are used when they are freshly made.

The milk is brought in, curdled, and then drained to eliminate the whey. After this the curd is cut into small pieces, and then ground up in a sort of primitive mill. At this point, reduced to crumbles, the curd is put into a mold and immersed in hot water, where it is stirred until it takes on a rubbery texture. The cheese maker kneads it with his hands, like a baker making bread, until he obtains a smooth, shiny paste, a strand of which he pulls out and lops off, forming the individual mozzarella (mozzare in Italian in fact means to lop off). These in turn are put into cold water and then soaked in salt brine. As the cheese absorbs salt, it firms up. The end result is a shiny white orb with elastic consistency— so that if poked it springs back to its original shape. Mozzarella, prepared in the evening is ready the next morning, oozing with freshness and rich flavor. When the mozzarella is sliced, it should have a grainy surface and appear to be composed of many layers, like an onion. If the cheese is fresh, milky whey should seep out when you cut into mozzarella.

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The authenticity of Mozzarella di bufala is identified by the wrapping printed with the name “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana” and the brand of the Mozzarella di Bufala Association with the relevant legal information and authorization number. The Mozzarella di Bufala Association was founded in 1993 and now represents 95 producers. The Association monitors the production and marketing of the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana in compliance with the production rules for the DOC (Certified Origin Brand) as set forth by the European Union agriculture policy.

The Pumpkin Queen

Red pumpkin

One year for Christmas I had given our daughter, Gretchen, a gardening gift basket filled with gardening implements, water proof gloves and heirloom vegetable seeds.  Although the growing season wasn’t very long in New Hampshire where she and her husband lived, she managed to coax the most beautiful flowers, herbs and vegetables out of the small garden plot in her back yard.  I was pretty sure I had included seeds for one of the huge red pumpkins, which I was again chopping for another recipe.  They certainly had more color and flavor than the Halloween pumpkins that we had at home, but darn, it was hard to get a knife through the thick outer peel.

I stopped to sharpen my knife on the honing steel and resumed cutting the pumpkin into thick slices that would be easier to peel.  One of the other chefs said something to me that I did not quite catch.

“He said you are pumpkin queen,” explained Alessandro, “because you are always cutting up pumpkins.”  At least it wasn’t because I looked like a pumpkin!

When I was finished, Alessandro had me pour a little olive oil into a sauté pan, add minced garlic and cook the pumpkin until it was tender.  I had always used a wooden spoon to stir whatever I was cooking, but he scowled and took the spoon away from me.

            “Just shake pan, like so,” he instructed as he shuffled the pumpkin back and forth and then made a quick movement that caused them all to flip over.  I have seen chefs do this a lot on television and certainly in the restaurant kitchen, but I was afraid of sending everything flying out of the pan if I tried it.

“You do it,” he commanded.

I moved the pan back and forth across the flame and then made a quick jerk back towards myself sending pieces of pumpkin all over the stove.

“You must practice,” said Alessandro as he helped me pick up the pumpkin.  “I have been cooking in restaurant since I am 15 years old.”

He handed the pan back to me, and as he walked away, I retrieved my spoon.  Think I’ll wait until I get back home to try that again.

When the pumpkin was cooked, we layered it with potatoes and zucchini in small baking dishes to use for the contorno, or vegetable side dish for the evening meal.  After assembling about 40 vegetable molds, I placed them on a sheet pan and took them to the refrigerator.

Hawaiian Coconut Shrimp with Rum Sauce

 

 

Coconut shrimpIngredients:

Sauce

2 c chicken stock

¼ c. soy sauce

2 T. dark rum

4 t. sugar

Shrimp

2 pounds large shrimp, uncooked

1 ½ c flour

1 T. baking powder

1 t. salt

Water

12 oz. shredded coconut

Oil for frying

Directions:

For the sauce, combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to boil over medium heat.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.  While sauce is cooling, prepare shrimp. Peel shells from shrimp, leaving tail shell on.  With a sharp knife, make a shallow incision lengthwise along the center back.  Rinse under cold water, drain and lay flat on paper towels. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.  Gradually add water and stir until smooth.  Batter will be thick.  Place coconut in a shallow pan. Holding each shrimp by the tail, dip in batter, then lightly in coconut.  With tongs, place in hot oil and cook a few at a time until golden, about 2-3 minutes. Keep warm in oven until ready to serve. Serves 8.