These are my pulses, my legumes, my dried old beans, my sad, lonely, lentils. I compulsively buy legumes from bulk stores, put them in pretty jars and rarely use them. I own an entire book on heirloom beans, pages tagged at deliciously pulse-ridden recipes that I have never made. Having an influx of legumes has caused me to create a singular New Year’s resolution – to cook my way through the stockpile. Big goals, big dreams – that’s me.
I take great satisfaction from using things up that may otherwise go to waste. At the market, I have grand illusions that I will be able to cook more than I have the time for, and now, with a newborn, this situation is only compounded. So, I cooked up a big pot of soup to use some of the beans and the veggies that were sadly deteriorating in my icebox.
Ribollita is one of my favourite soups; it reminds me of a lunch I enjoyed in Firenze with two of my dear friends. We had just climbed above the city to San Miniato al Monte, heard Gregorian chanting monks and explored the gothic graveyard while a black cat followed us. We descended back down into the Oltrarno, soaked and hungry, we saw Osteria Antica Mescita – a picturesque osteria that happened to have the slow food symbol on its door. Perfecto! I ordered ribollita, my friends ordered zuppa di ceci con farro e porcini– the meal lasted hours, living up to its “slow” distinction – thankfully the deliciousness made up for the service.
Recipe adapted from epicurious and my mind.
1 1/4 cups dried canellini or white kidney beans
6 fresh sage leaves
5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves, fresh
5 garlic cloves, sliced
2 teaspoons sea salt
¼ cup pancetta, cubed
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 leeks, sliced thin
5 leaves sage, fresh
5 sprigs thyme, fresh
1 bay leaves, fresh
2 large celery stalks, diced
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 large unpeeled Yukon Gold potato, scrubbed, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 small butternut squash, peeled, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered through core, sliced crosswise
1 small bunch black lacinato kale, cut into ribbons (about 6 cups)
1 small bunch green chard (about 4 large leaves), center stem removed, cut crosswise into ribbons (about 6 cups)
4 cups thinly sliced savoy cabbage
5 large plum tomatoes, chopped
1 2-inch square Parmesan cheese rind
1 ham hock, smoked, whole
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
10 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 lemon, juiced
Parsley, fresh, for garnish
6 1/2-inch-thick slices crusty white bread, torn into croutons
1) Combine 8 cups water, beans, sage, thyme, bay, pancetta, and garlic in large saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat, cover, simmer until beans are tender, adding more water to keep beans submerged, about 1 ½ hours.
2) Add 1-teaspoon sea salt; simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and cool beans in liquid.
1) Heat 3 tablespoons oil in cast-iron pot over medium heat. Add onion and leek; sprinkle with sea salt. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
2) Add chopped garlic, safe, thyme and bay; stir 2 minutes.
3) Add celery, carrot, potato, squash, and fennel; cook until vegetables are tender and begin to caramelize in spots, stirring often, 15 to 18 minutes.
4) Add kale, chard, cabbage, tomatoes, Parmesan rind, whole ham hock. Cover with chicken stock, and add 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
5) Add beans with cooking liquid and crushed red pepper. Add 2 cups broth.
6) Remove ham hock – let cool and remove meat from bone. Add back into soup.
7) Season with salt and generous amount of pepper.
8) Add bread to soup and simmer, stirring often to break up bread into smaller pieces and adding more broth if needed to thin, if desired.
9) Season with sea salt and pepper, and squeeze juice of lemon into soup.
10) Divide ribollita among bowls, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and parsley.
|Cavallo at La Palta|
|Cavallo baby food|
What do you get when you take a perfectly tasty sheep’s milk cheese and then bury it in a fossa, a pit made of volcanic ash filled with straw, seal it with planks and cover it in sand for four months?
Formaggio di Fossa!
In the Romagna region of Emilia Romagna, in the beautiful rolling hills of Roncofreddo, we visited Renato Brancaleoni, one of the only formaggio di fossa makers in his region. In early August, the sheep’s milk cheese is buried according to medieval tradition dating back to the 15th century when villagers were forced to hide their cheeses from looters and pillagers. The story goes that it did magically delicious things to the cheese while it was buried and thus began the tradition of fossa aging of cheese in the area. Like all traditional foods in Italy, there is a rich history that connects us to its sense of place. Local, traditional foods are the history of the people, and the land. This seems like a terribly storybook romantic view, but in my experience the pride of place and its food was very apparent in my travels and in working in an Italian kitchen. It was something we are really only beginning to see in Canada on such a wide scale. The cheese is removed from the fossa on November 25th, the day of the feast of St. Catherine and the cheese is available until it runs out.
We visited in late August when the cheese was in fossa. Thirty of my classmates piled into the medieval fossa “house” which was full to the brim with other cheeses they produce. The aroma was like nothing I have smelt before. It was overwhelming, with very little airflow and too many sweaty Canadians, I thought I may perish at that very moment, but at least I would have perished surrounded by delectable cheeses. We stood around the fossa pit which was covered in sand for over an hour, learning about the process and tasting some phenomenal cheeses.
In Italy I had many technical glitches. It seemed most electronic devices I touched stopped working in one way or another. The first of a string of electronic mishaps was when my precious life-line of a laptop died, the day before I left the safety of ALMA, my Italian cooking school, into the remote countryside of Piacenza. Until I arrived in Bilegno (lets not forget – population 70), I had no idea how much I needed the laptop. Luckily, my roommate and co-worker, Sara, let me borrow her laptop while I was there. What an angel.
One of the great tragedies of the laptop debacle was that I had just transferred thousands of photos from my time at ALMA where we went on the most unbelievable field trips. Today, I got the photos off my old laptop and thought over the coming weeks I should share some of my adventures on this blog, like I would have if I had access to them when I was in Italy.
It’s no surprise I went to many markets when I was in Italy. I took pictures at some of them, while others will be remembered fondly and revisited again. The Campo de’ Fiori is in Rome, near Piazza Navona, a famous piazza that is home to a beautiful Neptune fountain and a fun Christmas market. The Campo de’ Fiori has an interesting history (doesn’t all of Italy!?!), it once was a place of brutal punishment. There is an extremely foreboding statue in the centre looking over the market. The statue is of the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was deemed a threat to the church and burned alive. The statue is in the exact place of his death. Creeeepy.
And now, the Campo de’ Fiori is filled with a market every morning of the most gorgeous produce, puntarelle, raddichio, artichokes – anything you could imagine. We arrived when the market was closing for the day so we saw the quick clean-up with the tiny little pick-up trucks that seem to be everywhere.
We ate some tasty pizza bianco at Forno Campo de’ Fiori, a bustling bakery busy with hungry locals looking for an afternoon snack. Rome is where the heart is.
Italy is but a distant memory. And I mourn the loss of it daily. Not in an overwhelming depression, but in the little things. In the coffee, the food, the sense of adventure that being away from home brings, in not being an ‘other’, in not being able to practice another language constantly. I fell in love with Italy, and didn’t quite realize it at the time. I think of the people I met and the adventures I had and still haven’t gotten used to the fact that I won’t be seeing them again and won’t be jumping on a filthy regionale or spiffy ES train anytime soon.
Being in Canada is much easier, that is for certain. We are very lucky. Showers are large, peanut butter is rampant, but so is terrible pizza (with few exceptions) and a lack of easily obtainable quality cured meats that I grew so fond of. In my absence, lots of exciting stuff has happened in Toronto as well. A new butcher shop has captured my heart and is helping me satisfy my new year’s resolution of purchasing only the happiest of meat. And contrary to the above grumblings, I ate a fantastic pizza that had me transported back to Italy for a few shining moments. The local indie coffee shop makes one of the best coffee drinks I have ever tasted (a cortado). The winter produce is exciting, beautiful easter egg radishes and rainbow chard.
As I write this post, I am sitting on my friends bed in her tile floored bedroom complete with chandelier and balcony, eating 4 types of artisanal gelato out of a styrofoam egg listening to Simon and Garfinkel. Sounds idyllic, no? Well, it is and isn’t. The good news, I am done my placement at the restaurant. I was strong, I persevered, I can hold my head high and say I worked double shifts, six days a week in an Italian kitchen. I am grateful to be able to look back fondly on the experience already. The downside to being in Italy still is that I am not home and sometimes I painfully wish to be transported to my couch, with my pug and my husband. I will be home in five weeks, and until then, I will be in Torino, Florence, Venice, Rome, Bologna and a myriad of day trips.
The bedroom of my friend, where I find myself currently, is in the Liguria region of Italy, in a city called Savona. Liguria stretches 350 kilometers along the Italian Riviera. The Ligurian Sea and beaches, Appenine mountains and olive groves dominate this region. Ligurian olive oil will forever be my favourite.
One of the typical traditional dishes in Liguria and Savona is Farinata. My friend and I went to the Farinata shop in a narrow cobblestone alley promptly at 6pm, when the shop opens for the evening. We were met by 15 other people who also wanted farinata. The shop smelled like a wood burning oven, with neat piles of wood ready to be added to the fire all along the walls, it was warm and comforting. I felt like I was about to witness something special. A man stirred the farinata batter, made from white or corn flour, water, olive oil and salt, and poured it into huge farinata pans that were well oiled from decades of use. He put three farinata pans in the oven and waited. We could see them bubbling and cooking, salivating for every pain staking minute. There are no signs explaining costs. I asked my friend how much it was, and she said you simply tell them how many people you are feeding and they cut the farinata and charge 1 Euro per person. Once the farinata comes out of the oven, an older lady cuts rustic pieces of farinata with a sort of primitive pizza cutter, wraps it in wax paper and newspaper and sends you out into the cold streets with your steaming farinata. It took us 30 minutes to get to the front of the line, good food comes to those who wait. It reminded me of crispy na’an and was hot, doughy and delicious. I felt like I was tasting something culinarily important and historic. A good, warm, doughy evening.
Porcini’s on the floor, on the shelves, under fruit, over veg. Everywhere.