Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Second Day in Tuscany - Taking a Bite out of Sicily

Our second day in Tasty Tuscany proved just as fruitful as the first - if not more.  During the day, we visited a quaint town called Certaldo, whose most famous resident was Giovanni Bocaccio, an author and poet whose most notable contribution was his skill with language and particularly dialogue.  We visited a local cafe named in honor of this literary master, during which we had some pretty spectacular looking (and tasting) cappuccino.  The cafe, Bar Bocaccio is in fact known for its flowery cappuccino designs, and Paolo told us they've even won some accolades for it.  I can see why - just take a look at the beauty below.

During our visit, we also met talented local artists, who Paolo knew personally, including Silvia Borgogni.  Specializing in a technique called acquaforte, which uses copper-plate engraving to create a print, Silvia showed us her gorgeous works as well as demonstrated the process she uses to create them.  My travel companions, Angela, Marjorie and myself each indulged in a Silvia original, which will always make me remember my time in Tuscany.

But now...on to cooking! 

Cooking Lesson 2 - A Mediterranean Dinner
When we returned to our villa for our second cooking lesson with Pat, we were excited to find out that the dishes we were about to make had Sicilian roots.  Pat explained that this region is mainly what Italian-American cooking is known for - tomato sauce, olives, seafood and of course pasta.  One of the dishes below, the chicken, was invented by Pat and she's quite proud of it, as she should be--it was vibrant, interesting and most importantly, it tasted molto bene.

Penne Coi Broccoli Alla Mediterranea - Since I'm completely partial to pasta and sometimes get bored with meat, I was really looking forward to making this.  It proved to be my favorite dish of the night, mainly because it was totally different from what I'm used to--containing a vegetable-based pasta sauce with hints of garlic, spicy chili peppers and black olives.  The main vegetable in the sauce was a broccoli/cauliflower hybrid (see first picture above), which looked like something out of a fantasy flick.  Its saturated neon green color and gorgeous spirals made it almost too pretty to cut into, but once we decapitated it, it made the most delicious pasta sauce.  I'll even share the recipe with you:

Ingredients (serves 6)
1 large head of broccoli/cauliflower hybrid (you can get this at your local farmer's market)
4-6 anchovy fillets
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
A pinch of hot chili peppers
20 black olives

1 cup of parmesan cheese
Salt and extra virgin olive oil

Short pasta such as penne, ziti, fusilli

Cut up the broccoli/cauliflower hybrid into small pieces - simply separate the florets with a pairing knife.  Then make a paste out of the anchovy fillets by pressing them with the top of your chef's knife, then chopping them into small pieces, and once again pressing them with your knife.

In the meantime, blanch your broccoli/cauliflower in boiling water and then put it immediately in cold water to shock it.  Use the water in this pot to cook the pasta of your choice.

Place the prepared anchovy paste into a large, hot skillet, preheated with olive oil (and butter too if you want).  Add the garlic and mix frequently so as to not burn it.  Add the broccoli/cauliflower hybrid and stir well, letting the mixture cook for a few minutes until the broccoli/cauliflower softens.  Next come the olives and the chili peppers.  Let the mixture cook for about 10 - 15 minutes, stirring once in a while.  Add a ladle of the water, which you used to cook the broccoli/cauliflower to thin out the sauce.  Cook for another 10 minutes until it thickens up.

Toss the broccoli/cauliflower sauce with the cooked pasta, stir in most of the parmesan cheese, but save a little bit for the topping.

Chicken Alla Siciliana - Pat made up the recipe for this dish and we were impressed with it.  Not only was it a versatile meal that could be made with a different protein (even fish), it also incorporated inventive ingredients that surprisingly went well together.  If I tell you that we mixed sun-dried tomatoes with raisins, black olives and pine nuts, you might question our choice of ingredients, but I want to assure you that the mix of sweet, savory and crunchy sent our tastebuds on a most exciting trip to the Mediterranean coast. 

Orange and Fennel Salad - I often marveled at Pat's creativity with salads.  These were no ordinary leafy greens, tomato, pepper, cucumber combos, Pat's salads always incorporated something interesting, unexpected and delicious.  This fennel salad was most refreshing, paired with bite-sized orange chunks, those lovely, sweet black olives and lots of parsley.  It tasted like a cheery springtime dish, and I could very well see myself eating it for lunch on a comfortable, warm day.

Drunken Pears in Vanilla Ice Cream - A common thread in all our cooking last week involved using a lot of local wine.  That's why I wasn't surprised to see that the recipe for this dish called for the inclusion of Tuscany's signature, Chianti wine.  Used to make a sweet, syrupy reduction, which was further flavored with wine-soaked raisins, dry ginger, cinnamon, honey, cloves, nutmeg and brown sugar, it was then poured over the softened pears, which were also topped with creamy vanilla ice cream.  The juxtaposition between the warm and cold was most welcome, and the ice cream was particularly needed to cut the sweetness of the Chianti reduction.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's menu when we really take a bite out of Tuscany.


  1. Your Italian week is turning into a great series of posts—I've clipped both recipes so far and can't wait to make them.

  2. Thanks so much - so glad you're enjoying!

  3. That pasta was soooo tasty. I'm not a fan of anchovies (as you learned) but I think it really did make the dish. As long as I didn't see it, it was all good haha. Great posts! Keep them coming! Ciao-Angela



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...