When you think about appetizers, you really don’t have to go to extreme lengths. Simple ingredients are always the best, keep that in mind. Fresh honey that comes from somebody that has his own bee farm or wildflower honey can be special if some spice is added like crushed pepper or jalapeño is added. I use italian crushed red peppers, and I like to dip my cheese in it. My favorite to dip is pecorino (salted or unsalted) and sometimes I drizzle the honey and pepper onto bruschetta with brie, which is downright sexual.
Artichokes are a wonderful vegetable. I am flabbergasted by the size of the gigantic artichokes that I can find here in the states. A few years ago I was finally able to find someone that is growing and harvesting baby artichokes, which are my favorite. The smaller the artichoke, the less effort goes into cleaning it. Especially baby artichokes don’t have a choke that bothers you, so you don’t need to slice the artichokes in half to remove the choke. I braise them, I fry them, I use them in salad, I even save their hearts and oil for about a year. There are so many things that can be done with artichokes, and they’re rich in iron and super healthy.
White pizza is the way I test my oven. I do not have a thermometer on my oven, I go by eye. That’s how my father taught me. Before using too many ingredients or making a pizza that doesn’t come out I test the surface of the oven and the temperature by making pizza with no red sauce. In Italy and in many restaurants white pizza is one of the kinds of bread you can get delivered in the bread basket. It’s nice because it shows care because it’s warm. Kids love it so while you’re browsing your menu if kids have some white pizza in the bread basket, kudos to the cook!
I’d never made fresh cheese until last year. Now that I have kids I am prone to try new things that aren’t just kitchen things, but can be fun for all of us. Making fresh cheese is one of those things that you might think is incredibly hard, and I discovered is incredibly easy, so I am really happy to share these tricks. There will be more fresh cheeses made on season 2 of “Extra Virgin” so stay tuned.
Frittata is a wonderful snack in Italy which is used for an appetizer, for breakfast or whatever. It’s mostly used to recycle any leftover you’ve got in the fridge like string beans or zucchini. I’ve even known people who make spaghetti frittata (which isn’t my thing really). The good thing is it’s quick, it’s wonderful and can be served warm or cold. It’s versatile, so every family in Italy loves it.
Besciamella is a sauce, you don’t eat it as is. You use it for preparations like lasagne or manicotti or cannelloni. In America, besciamella has been substituted with mozzarella and ricotta which is the way Italian-American lasagne is defined (with a lot of cheese.) The Italian lasagne doesn’t have that much cheese, only some parmesan to add saltiness and flavor. The fluffiness and richness is from besciamella, which is easy to make.
In Italy, salad is eaten just because your mama told you so. We absolutely don’t care about salads. However living now in California, trying to stay healthy and making the best of the constant fresh produce we have because of the wonderful weather, Debi and I have worked salads a little more into our life. If you go to a restaurant in Italy and ask for a salad, they’ll just bring you some lettuce and shaved carrots and that’s it. In America, the sensibility and approach to salads is very different and I’m learning to enjoy it.
This is a traditional farmer’s dish which is made with stale bread and garden vegetables. The farmers in Italy, especially during the months of July and August when the droughts start getting really hard, only have water for their tomatoes and basil and they save their bread. So they bake it once a week and when it’s stale they make panzanella.
Pheasant is one of those animals you always see crossing little dirt streets in Tuscany. You can hear their noise in the morning, but they’re super, super cute. The male is full of color, has a nice green head with a red beak and wonderful feathers. The female looks more like a quail, more of a sandy color, and they’re adorable when they cross the streets. Hunters love to hunt them. They’re dumb and they taste delicious.