Sweet Potatoes au Gratin (GF)

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin 4

When I look at most of my holiday dinners,  many are of the meat and potato variety. (OK, there’s more likely to be pasta or polenta on the table but they do start with a “p” and that should qualify them.)  Up until several years ago, those potatoes were either mashed or baked au gratin. That’s when I decided enough with the plain potatoes. Sorry, Idaho. Bring on the sweet potatoes!

Initially, I made them as I would my potatoes au gratin: with milk, Swiss cheese, and a little butter. Over time, I swapped out some of the ingredients and in the process these potatoes earned a standing invite to my holiday tables.

The recipe below is the latest version. Earlier editions included  pancetta, bacon, garlic, and/or nutmeg. Although I liked each, the individual flavors worked better with normal potatoes, their flavors being a bit too much for the sweet potatoes. You may feel that way about the onions used here. If too much for your tastes, substitute diced shallots in their place.

One more thing to remember. Do not bring these potatoes from the oven directly to the table for serving. They really do need to sit for no fewer than 10 minutes — 15 is better — so that they set. You want to serve creamy potatoes not a runny mess.

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Sweet Potatoes au Gratin 3

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Sweet Potatoes au Gratin Recipe

Ingredients

  • butter or cooking spray
  • about 1,5 lbs. (680 g) sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced (See Notes)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 to 6 oz (140 – 170 g) Gruyère cheese, grated  (Swiss, Fontina, or Emmental, among others, may be substituted)
  • 6 oz (118 ml) heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp arrowroot (flour or cornstarch may be substituted)
  • 1 tbsp butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/4 c (25 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Pecorino Romano may be substituted)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Use cooking spray or a tab of butter to liberally grease an oven-proof baking dish.
  2. Make a slurry using 1/2 of the heavy cream and the arrowroot. Once thoroughly combined, add the remaining cream, stir, and set aside,
  3. Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C).
  4. Use 1/3 of the sliced sweet potatoes to create a layer covering the bottom of the baking dish,
  5. Cover that layer with 1/2 of the sliced onion.
  6. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  7. Use 1/3 of the grated Gruyère to cover the onions and potatoes.
  8. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6. using all the remaining onion in the process.
  9. Use the last of the sweet potatoes to cover the dish’s contents.
  10. Stir the cream slurry before pouring it evenly over the top of the dish.
  11. Cover the dish with the remaining Gruyère.
  12. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  13. Dot the surface with the butter pieces.
  14. Sprinkle the grated Parmigiano Reggiano to evenly cover the entire dish.
  15. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until the potatoes are nicely browned.
  16. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

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sweet-potatoes-au-gratin-1

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Notes

I used a 9 inch (23 cm) square baking dish and the potatoes weren’t sliced too thinly. (.15 inches, 4 mm). More or less of the posted ingredients may be needed if the size of your baking dish differs appreciably from the one used here.

The recipe, as written, is gluten-free. If you haven’t arrowroot but wish to keep it GF, add an equal amount of cornstarch into the cream. Of course, if you and your guests have no issues with gluten, flour can be used as the thickening agent.

WIth its heavy cream, butter, and cheeses, this is not a low-calorie dish. (That’s why I only serve it on special occasions and holidays.) If you’re looking for something a little more waist and heart-friendly, hop on over to Fanny Reggiori’s blog, foodidies, where she recently posted a delicious, lighter sweet potato au gratin recipe. No matter the recipe you choose to prepare, you really cannot go wrong.

Since we’re talking healthy, which do you think is healthier, baking potatoes or sweet? Click HERE to find out. And if that kind of info floats you boat, go HERE to see a list of similar comparisons. Some of the results may surprise you.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

standing-rib-roast-deja-vu

Since we’re talking holidays, here’s a look back at the method I use to prepare standing rib roast every New Year’s Day. You can catch a glimpse of one in the first photo of this post.) It’s easy to prepare but much depends upon aging the roast in your fridge before cooking it. Interested? You can learn all about it HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

hot-pepper-relish-preview

Hot Pepper Relish

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Fish Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Yes, you read the post’s title correctly. Today I’m sharing a recipe for fish tacos. As I’ve said on several of your blogs, I rarely make tacos. I don’t think it worth the effort just to make 2 or 3 tacos for my dinner. I still feel that way but at the time this post was written, my chile plants were producing at a rate that rivaled my eggplant crop.. If only my tomato plants had been so competitive.

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Fried Fish Tacos - 1

This Fish is Fried

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Well, it was far too humid to try to dry the peppers and without a dehydrator, I was loath to turn on the oven, no matter how low the temperature would be set.. So, I cooked some, pickled others, and added a few to the cherry bomb peppers that I was preserving. But the chiles kept coming and Lucy can only eat so many. Thanks to a couple blogging friends, I decided to make tomatillo salsa. (That recipe follows this one.)

Well, the salsa did make a dent — albeit a small one — in the chile inventory but what to do with it? I was stumbling around the grocery, trying to figure out what to prepare when I saw that there was a sale on pollock. That’s all I needed to make up my mind. Fish tacos would be on the night’s menu.

Since my tomatillo salsa was rather smooth, I felt that the taco needed something more crispy than shredded lettuce. That’s why the shredded cabbage was included but you should use whichever you prefer. The same is true for the tortillas. As much as I like corn tortillas, I bought flour because I felt that corn tortillas would just about disintegrate by the time I was done snapping photos. Oh, to be a better — read faster — photographer. And, by the way, hats off to those who would make their own tortillas for a dinner for one.

To prepare the fish for breading, the fillets were cut into strips about 3 inches (8 cm) long. Seasoned corn starch was used to coat the strips, just as was done when soft shell crabs were prepared several weeks ago. Once coated, the strips were dipped in a mixture of eggs, milk, and Sriracha. From there, they were coated in Panko bread crumbs and reserved. Easy peasy.

A note about the ingredients. Few amounts are listed because they will depend upon the number of tacos to be prepared and your own taste preferences. More cornstarch and breadcrumbs will be needed if you’re feeding 4, for example, than if you are preparing tacos for 1.

Lastly, for those avoiding fried foods, I’ve included instructions for baking the fish, as well as for frying.

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Fish Tacos - Baked 1

Tacos with Baked Fish

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Fish Taco Recipe

Ingredients

  • Fish fillets cut into strips (see Notes)
  • corn starch seasoned with paprika, ground chipotle, cumin, salt, and pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp Sriracha sauce, more or less to taste
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • tortillas
  • roasted tomatillo salsa – recipe follows
  • shredded cabbage
  • diced tomato (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)
  • diced red onion (optional)
  • limes, quartered

Directions

  1. Set up a breading station:
    • In the first dish, place corn starch seasoned with paprika, ground chipotle, cumin, salt & pepper to taste.
    • In the second, combine and beat the eggs, milk, and Sriracha.
    • In the 3rd dish, add enough Panko breadcrumbs to coat the pieces of fish.
  2. To fry:
    • Add enough oil to the pan for a depth of 1/2 inch (1.5 cm).
    • Heat over med-high heat to 360˚ (180˚C).
    • Place breaded strips into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.
    • Remove from oil, place on paper towels, season with salt immediately.
  3. To bake:
    • Pre-heat oven to 400˚ F (200˚ C)
    • Place breaded strips on to a rack placed atop a baking sheet.
    • Bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes, turning them over midway through the bake.
    • Remove to a platter and season with salt.
  4. To assemble the tacos:
    • Over med-high heat, warm the tortillas on a grill pan, cast iron fry pan, skillet, or barbecue grill until heated through.
    • Create a taco using a tortilla, pieces of fish, a couple tbsp of salsa, some shredded cabbage, and a squeeze of lime.
      • Sour cream, onions, and tomatoes may be added, according to personal tastes.
  5. Garnish with lime quarters and serve.

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Fried Fish Tacos - 2

More Fried Fish Tacos

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Notes

Although I used pollock here, feel free to use any white fish. Cod, hake, or tilapia come to mind, although mahi mahi, halibut, or even tuna would be very good, too. You may want to adjust the seasoning depending upon the fish you’ve selected.

Roast Chicken Tacos 2Fish not your thing? Tacos are a great way to re-purpose leftover roast chicken. Use a fork to pull apart the chicken meat and warm it quickly in a frypan with a little butter. Once heated, use it to build your taco with a bit of tomatillo salsa and whatever other fixins you like: shredded cabbage/lettuce, sour cream, diced onion, diced tomato, fresh cilantro, and/or a bit of shredded cheese would work just fine.

Roast Chicken with Tomatillo SalsaDid I say roast chicken leftovers? Well, first you have to roast that bird. Do it however you wish. Mine was spatchcocked and seasoned with plenty of herbs, lemon juice, and olive oil before roasting. Be sure to have the salsa nearby so that you can generously spoon some atop the chicken once served.

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Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Recipe

I have 2 blogging buddies to thank for this post, Kathryn of Another Foodie Blogger and MJ of MJ’s Kitchen. Had it not been for Kathryn, I never would have bought tomatillos, and MJ is the Queen of Chiles. Now, this salsa and serving suggestions may not be exact duplicates of their recipes — shower them with all the praise and I’ll shoulder any blame — but I was certainly inspired by them. If you’re looking for some inspiration, by all means check out these 2 wonderful blogs.

Ingredients

  • 6 tomatillos, husked and washed (see Notes)
  • 4 cayenne chilies, tops trimmed (see Notes)
  • 1 chile de agua, top trimmed
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic
  • small sweet onion or half of a large, cut in half
  • olive oil
  • cilantro, to taste
  • lime juice, to taste
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400˚F (205˚C).
  2. Place tomatillos, all the chilies, garlic, and onion into a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and spread on a baking sheet in an even layer. Roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Once cooled, place all the roasted ingredients into a food processor, along with cilantro and the juice of 1 lime.
  4. Pulse the ingredients several times until the salsa is the consistency you prefer. Midway through, taste and season with salt and pepper. Add more cilantro or lime juice, if needed.
  5. Refrigerate until needed.

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fried-fish-tacos-3

One More Fried

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Notes

After removing their paper coverings, be sure to rinse the tomatillos very well to remove their somewhat sticky coating.

Until this point, I hadn’t tasted any of my home-grown chiles, all having been pickled and preserved. Now that I’ve tasted this salsa, I will only add 2 cayenne peppers in the future. For my tastes,  4 of these cayenne are a bit much. (Please pass the milk.)

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Crostini Look Back

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s never too early to start working on the menu for the holiday feast(s). It wouldn’t be much of a celebratory meal if there aren’t any appetizers, and crostini/bruschette are tasty ones to whip up. You can see a couple of suggestions by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin Preview

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin

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Trenette with Zucchini Blossoms & Cream

Trenette con Fiori di Zucchini e Panna

zucchini-blossoms-pasta-5

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Ever notice that if someone asks whether you’ve spotted something unusual, something you’ve only seen rarely, if ever, that suddenly it becomes commonplace? Say, for example, you’re asked if you’ve ever seen a pink Cadillac. No matter your answer, over the next few days or weeks, you’ll see enough pink Cadillacs to make you wonder whether there’s a Mary Kay convention in town. (Now there’s an allusion that will send some of you to Mr. Google.)

I mention this because when in Italy in 2014, my friends and I noticed that boar was often on the menu. True enough, once it was mentioned, boar was seemingly served in virtually every restaurant we entered. Was it a question of boar suddenly being readily available, or, was it that we had finally noticed? It mattered little because I must admit that I did take full advantage of the situation, enjoying everything from lunches of boar prosciutto panini to suppers of tagliatelle dressed with a variety of sauces prepared with boar meat.

Oddly enough, I noticed a similar phenomenon during my visit to Italy this past spring. Somewhere along the way, while struggling to meet the rigors of my newly created pasta-a-day diet, I noticed that zucchini blossoms were very often included in my pasta. (There were a lot of sardines, too, but I’ll save them for another post.) Though the sauces were very often “white”, a few did include some halved cherry tomatoes. The protein could be a little pork. like today’s recipe, or seafood, as was served to us in Riccione, where my family gathered for a seafood feast. (In that dish, passatini were served with shrimp and both zucchini and its blossoms.) Needless to say, I took full advantage of the situation ordering my pasta with blossoms as frequently as possible. (It’s the little things — zucchini blossoms, calamari, clams, boar, a glass or three of wine — that made it easier for me to adhere to the strict rules of my new diet.) The question, however, remains. Was there a sudden increase of menu selections that included zucchini blossoms, or, did I just happen to notice them during this visit? I guess I’ll never know … Unless … Maybe I should go back to Italy and conduct more research. You know, for science …

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zucchini-blossom

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Today’s dish was certainly inspired by those that I was served while in Italy. In fact, upon coming home, I immediately planted zucchini while the memories of so many tasty dishes still lingered on my mind’s palate. Well, that was the plan. You see, for some reason, each and every blossom that appeared suddenly vanished. At first, I thought it was a cute little bunny that I saw lingering around my yard. A well-placed fence would keep it at bay, to be sure. Even with the fence installed, however, the blossoms continued to disappear. Unless that once-cute-little-bunny-now-full-grown rabbit knew how to use tools, it could not possibly have been the culprit. (If it does know how to use tools, I’ve got more to fear than a few missing zucchini blossoms.) No matter the cause, I harvested only 1 blossom this season. More to the point, the blossoms used here, as well as those used in future recipes, were all purchased at the farmers market, save that one.

ETA: Kathryn, AnotherFoodieBlogger, mentioned that I need to plant as many as 3 plants to ensure any sort of zucchini crop. I certainly haven’t the space for 3 and do not know whether I’ll try again next year with 2 plants. I really don’t care about the zucchini. All I want is a steady supply of blossoms and I’ve yet to figure out why the blossoms all vanished.

There’s only really one thing worth mentioning before getting to the good stuff. The most difficult part of this recipe is preparing the blossoms. Be sure to open each one and remove its pistil, anthers, and whatever else you may find in there. (That last bit, the part about “whatever else”, is the difficult one. You’ll know what I mean if you find an 8-legged behemoth in there staring back at you.) Once cleaned and debugged, only the flower’s petals will remain. Cut them in half, lengthwise, and you’re set to go. The rest of the recipe is quite straightforward and you shouldn’t have any trouble preparing this tasty dish.

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zucchini-blossoms-1x

Blossoms Before & After Neutering

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Trenette with  Zucchini Blossoms & Cream Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 oz trenette pasta cooked about a minute shy of al dente (see Notes) – linguine, fettuccine, or tagliatelle may be substituted
  • olive oil
  • 2 oz pancetta – guanciale or unsmoked bacon can be substituted (see Notes)
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 6 zucchini blossoms, cleaned and halved lengthwise – more or less to taste and availability (sigh)
  • 3 to 4 ounces of heavy cream, depending upon the amount of pasta being prepared
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese — Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted
  • reserved pasta water
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • torn fresh basil leaves for garnish

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zucchini-blossoms-pasta-1

This year’s zucchini harvest. (It was delicious!)

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Directions

  1. In a large frypan, heat a little olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the pancetta and sauté.
  2. Once the fat has rendered and before the pancetta hardens, add the shallots and sauté until soft. If the pan is dry, add a bit more olive oil. (See Notes)
  3. Add the halved zucchini blossoms and continue to sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the heavy cream and allow to reduce just a bit before adding the cooked pasta.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons of grated cheese, stir gently, and continue to cook until the pasta is al dente. If too dry, add a little pasta water to moisten the pan’s contents.
  6. Taste to see if salt or pepper is needed.
  7. Remove to a serving platter, garnished with grated cheese, torn basil leaves, and freshly cracked pepper.
  8. Serve immediately, dreaming of the day when you’ll no longer need to buy zucchini blossoms. (Maybe that’s just me.)

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zucchini-blossoms-pasta-4

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Notes

Like most simple pasta dishes, the secret lies in the timing. Try to have the pasta cooked just shy of al dente when the zucchini blossom mixture is just about fully cooked. Remember to check package directions when using store-bought pasta. If using freshly made, allow about 3 minutes for cooking.

In today’s dish, pancetta was used but guanciale, or even bacon, could easily be substituted. Whatever pork product you choose, try to avoid using one that’s smoked. Very often, the smoky flavoring will overpower every other element of the dish. You want to taste pork, not smoke.

The amount of pancetta and blossoms needed will depend upon the number of servings being prepared. For example, here, I prepared 8 oz (225 g) of pasta. You’ll need more if you’re going to prepare a pound (450 g) of pasta.

It is always better to add more oil to the pan once the pork fat has been rendered than to use too much early on and have to pour off any excess. There’s plenty of flavor in that excess that you’re removing from the pan.

Whenever you prepare a pasta dish, ALWAYS reserve a few ounces of the pasta water just before straining the pasta. It can be used to resurrect even the driest of pasta dishes and its starch content will help to thicken the thinnest of sauces. In my kitchen, it’s better than duct tape.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

fried-sage-look-back

 

How could I share a food souvenir of my last trip to Italy without taking a look at my favorite souvenir from my trip to Italy in 2014? That was the trip when we discovered fried sage leaves stuffed with anchovies. This little antipasto is both salty and fried. Simply put, it has everythingI You can learn how to prepare it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Fried Fish Tacos - Preview

Fish Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

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It’s Columbus Day!

Today we in the States commemorate the “discovery” of America by Genoa’s Favorite Son, Cristoforo Colombo or, as we locals prefer to call him, Christopher Columbus. As is our custom, the Kitchens would like to share a song in honor of the holiday.

We imagine that the question in this song’s title was asked, for the very first time, of Cristoforo by Queen Isabella in response to his request for her financial support of his return voyage to the New World. It has been asked millions of times since, although the lyrics do not necessarily apply any more today than they did back in Isabella’s day.

(Don’t worry if your knowledge of the Italian language is as limited as mine. Here’s a side-by-side translation of the lyrics.)

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Enjoy the holiday and wishing our good Neighbors to the North a most happy Thanksgiving.

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Olio Santo – The Spicy Peperoncini Oil of Italy

Olio Santo 2

My last post was so recipe-laden that I thought it best to go easy with this one …

I was introduced to Olio Santo during my first visit to San Marino a little over 2 years ago. My cousin Maurizio offered to drizzle a bit of it on my linguine alla vongole, a dish Zia had prepared for me after I mentioned it was a favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed the oil and was told that Zia made it and that it was very easy to do. After a brief explanation, I knew that I’d be making it once I got home. I have ever since.

Red peperoncini are grown throughout Southern Italy but primarily in Calabria and Basilicata, the toe and instep of the Italian boot. Come August, you can often see the peperoncini hanging in large bunches, drying in the hot Mediterranean sun. Across the south, their name often contains a reference to the devil – i.e., diavolett, diabulillu, diavulicchuirefers, etc. With that naming convention, it makes perfect sense that an oil made with them should be called holy or sacred. Olio Santo does, in fact, translate to Holy Oil. Yes, perfect sense.

Trying to find the origin of Olio Santo was not such an easy task. It seems that everyone from Calabria to Abruzzo (the region to the south of Le Marche), claims to be the origin of this spicy condiment. I’m not about to take sides. For me, Zia Pina is the creator of Olio Santo. You see, in Zia Pina I trust.

Zia uses dried red peperoncini from Calabria to make her Olio Santo. She grinds/chops the peperoncini, places them in a bottle, fills it with good quality olive oil, and caps it before setting the bottle in the sun for 3 days. After sunbathing, the bottle is stored in a cool, dark place for at least a week. Feel free to use it after that. (See Notes) It really is that simple and the recipe I’m about to share adds quantities to the ingredients just mentioned.

Although Zia uses Calabrese peperoncini, you may not be able to source them. For some time, I had a devil of a time finding them and eventually turned to Amazon. Of course, you needn’t go to such lengths but can easily use the more readily available chilies from this side of the Atlantic. I’ve used dried Chile do Arbol with a dash of red pepper flakes when peperoncini aren’t available. The preparations taste the same and affect the same area of the palate. I honestly doubt whether anyone would notice a difference.

Once made, use it as a finishing oil for just about any pasta dish to add a little zip to the plate. I’ve used it as a base for spaghetti aglio e olio, as well as a dipping oil for some crusty Italian bread. You may want to add a bit of grated Parmigiano Reggiano to that plate, too. Remember the pinzimonio? A dash of Olio Santo to the dipping sauce will bring a bit of heat to your veggies. Make a batch of this flavorful oil and I think you’ll be surprised to see just how many uses you’ll find for it. And we’ll have Zia Pina to thank.

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Olio Santo Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 oz dried Calabrese peperoncini
  • 1 quart (1 l) good quality extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Place the dried peperoncini into a food processor and pulse until thoroughly chopped.
    1. Alternately: use a sharp knife to chop the dried peperoncini. Wear gloves to limit the risk of a burning eye.
  2. Place the chopped peperoncini into a clean & dry glass container with a tight-fitting lid.
  3. Add the olive oil, stir to combine, and place the lid on the jar.
  4. Once sealed, place the container into a sunny spot, where it will remain for 3 days.
  5. Once “cured”, place the jar into a cool, dark place for at least 1 week. (See Notes)
  6. Place the Olio Santo into bottles more suitable for serving. You can include some of the peperoncini bits in each jar, if you prefer. (See Notes)
  7. Olio Santo will keep for months, although it never lasts that long.

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Olio Santo 3

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Notes 

I stir the peperoncini in the oil several times while it sits both in the sun and in the dark. Not only will this ensure that all trapped air bubbles are released, I think it gives all the chopped peperoncini equal access to the oil.

I always include some chopped peperoncini in each serving bottle I fill from a batch of Olio Santo.  If you don’t wish to do so, just pass the oil through a mesh strainer as your fill the bottle.

Using a small ladle, I remove any bits and seeds that may float to the surface of my Olio Santo. If allowed to remain, they may block the bottle’s pourer, only to release at a most inopportune time.

Your Olio Santo will keep for 6 months, even longer if you continue to refill it with oil after you fill the serving bottle(s). Once soaked, however, I never allow the chopped peperoncini to be exposed to the air. When the level of oil in the bottle drops that low, either add more oil or toss that batch’s remnants. It’s easy enough to make a fresh batch.

Some prefer to keep the Olio Santo in the fridge. If you choose to do that, keep in mind that the olive oil will thicken considerably when cold. You can get around this by substituting a neutral-tasting vegetable oil for an equal amount of the olive oil, or, by removing the serving bottle from the fridge about 30 minutes before it’s needed.

There are other ways to prepare Olio Santo. Some use chopped, fresh peperoncini, while some recipes steep the peperoncini in heated — not boiling — oil. Never having tried any of them, I cannot say much more about them. I can say, however, that I’m sticking with Zia Pina.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Ketchup Look Back

One good condiment deserves another, eh? A few years ago I made my first batch of ketchup and haven’t bought a bottle since. It’s good enough to have earned a permanent spot in my Christmas gift baskets, too. Better still, it’s not just for fried potatoes or burgers, as I’ll prove in a soon-to-be shared meatloaf recipe. Take this LINK to see the recipe and then you’ll have no excuse for not being prepared to make a killer meatloaf in a few weeks.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

zucchini-blossoms-pasta-preview

Pasta with Zucchini Blossoms & Cream

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The Incredible Edible Eggplant

Eggplant Blossom

Such Promise

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It all started innocently enough, with a blossom identical to the one pictured above. I had learned my lesson well, or so I thought. See, last year’s 2 eggplants were just about smothered by my tomato plants. The tomatoes quite literally took over my then-new raised garden bed as if the soil had been smuggled out of Chernobyl. I picked only 1 eggplant and it was a Japanese variety, not at all what I had expected. This type of thing has happened enough times to convince me that there are people who delight in swapping name tags between differing varieties of the same vegetable. This spring’s cuckoo was a jalapeño masquerading as a cayenne pepper.

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Growing Up Eggplant

Growing Up Eggplant

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This year, I planted 3 eggplants with the conviction that I would keep my eye — and pruning shears — on the neighboring tomato plants. I won’t bore you with the details but I was partly successful, with two plants growing nicely. The 3rd, well, is now engulfed. All facts considered, I really cannot complain. The 2 remaining plants have managed to produce more of the bulb-shaped vegetables than I thought botanically possible. (I really must get that soil tested.) As a result, I’ve pulled out every eggplant recipe at my disposal in trying to stay ahead of these 2 overly productive plants.

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The Day's Eggplant Harvest

The 1st Eggplant Harvest 

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Here are the dishes that I’ve prepared thus far. I’ve supplied the recipe for the first dish and links for the rest, the exceptions being the eggplant lasagna and a pickled eggplant. Both of those recipes are in the works.

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Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Pre-heat the barbecue or grill pan. Slice the eggplant into approximately 3/4 inch (2 cm) rings. Cut the plum tomatoes in half, removing the seeds if you like. Use a pastry brush to sparingly coat the eggplant with olive oil. Lightly drizzle the tomato halves with olive oil and then season everything with salt and pepper. Giving the eggplant slices a head start, grill both vegetables until cooked to your satisfaction. Remove to a platter. Garnish the vegetables with a mixture of chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, basil, and parsley. Season with salt & pepper before adding a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or Olio Santo (See Coming soon … ).

This vegetarian dish may be served hot, warm, or at room temperature, and will make a great light lunch or tasty side for any meal.

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Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma

A favorite of Sicily, this eggplant & tomato sauce was created in honor of the Bellini opera of the same name. You needn’t travel to Sicily nor the nearest opera house to enjoy this dish, however. Just take this LINK to see the recipe that I posted.

The recipe calls for a garnish of ricotta salata. If you cannot find this cheese, crumbled feta is a great substitute and more readily available.

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Caponata

Eggplant Caponata

Also originating in Sicily, caponata is another dish that celebrates the eggplant. Today, it is found throughout Italy with ingredients that often vary from region to region. I’ve shared Mom’s recipe, which you can find HERE.

Don’t forget to make more than needed. Add a few beaten eggs to the leftovers to make a tasty frittata the next day.

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Stuffed Eggplant

Stuffed Eggplant

Grandma served this dish to her girls, Mom & Zia, when they were young. You can well-imagine my surprise when my Zia in San Marino also served stuffed eggplant during my recent visit. The recipe for this tasty contorno — and popular in both sides of my family —  can be found HERE.

Any of the stuffed vegetables in the linked recipe can be used to make a great tasting sandwich for your lunch the following day.

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Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant Lasagna

A layered dish, eggplant lasagna features pasta sheets, baked eggplant slices, and a tomato sauce, with or without meat. Oh! I almost forgot the cheeses. Asiago, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano combine to make this one flavorful main course.

True confession time: I had thought that I’d already published this recipe and was surprised to learn that I had yet to share it. Not to worry. That oversight will be corrected in the weeks to come.

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Jamie Oliver’s Pickled & Marinated Eggplant

Marinated Eggplant

Jamie has done it again. In his recipe, eggplant is chopped, bathed in a pickling liquid, and then marinated in herbed olive oil. Best of all, this same technique may be used with mushrooms, onions, small peppers, zucchini, and fennel, with each vegetable having its own suggested herb to include. You can check them all out by taking this LINK.

I did make one substitution to his recipe. In place of oregano, I used marjoram. For those unfamiliar, marjoram is related to oregano but is a bit more mild and is favored in Le Marche, the ancestral home of the Bartolini.

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Indian-Style Pickled Eggplant

Indian Pickled Eggplant - Preview

Looking for something with a bit more heat? Well, with my cayenne pepper plants competing with my eggplants for top honors, I went web surfing for recipes. With many to choose from, the final recipe is an amalgam, using ingredients that I had on-hand or that could be easily sourced. The result was a spicy dish that I really enjoy. Best of all, it’s reduced my eggplant AND cayenne pepper inventories. A bit too involved to be shared here — this post is long enough already — I’ll publish the final recipe in the weeks ahead.

This eggplant dish supplies the heat that Jamie’s pickle was missing.

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Baba Ganouj

Baba Ganouj 1

Can you detect which has been garnished with a drizzle of Olio Santo?

Although I’ve enjoyed baba ganouj far too many times to count, I’ve never actually prepared it, relying instead on one that I purchase from my favorite Middle Eastern grocery. Well, with a glut of eggplant filling my vegetable crisper, baba ganouj seemed like yet another great use of the melanzane and I sought help from the blog of our resident Middle Eastern food expert Sawsan, The Chef in Disguise. Her blog is brimming with delicious recipes and you can view her baba ganouj recipe HERE.

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And there you have it. This is my way of handling 2 incredibly productive eggplants. If you think I’ve eaten plenty of eggplant lately, well, you’d be correct — and you haven’t even seen the inside of my freezers. I’ll be enjoying(?) eggplant dishes for months to come.

If I’ve missed an eggplant dish that you’re particularly fond of, or, you prepare a tasty variation of one of the recipes that I’ve just highlighted, don’t be shy. Please share the recipe or link in the Comments section below. These plants just won’t quit!

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You may have noticed …

… My recent absence from the blogging world. This is Honey Time in Michigan’s Thumb and my Cousin and his Wife graciously offered to open Zia’s home so that I could get honey for my friends and neighbors. That’s the official explanation. In reality, my Cousin – aka “The Max Whisperer” – hadn’t seen Max in about a year and missed their “nature hikes”. In the photo above, the 2 BFFs are returning from their last hike of the visit. Also above is a photo of 2 of the 3 cases of the honey that I brought back. All told, our little group of honeycombers purchased about 6 cases of honey that day.

As luck would have it, my Cousin found a baseball-sized puffball growing in the yard. When picked 3 days later, it had grown to the size of a cantaloupe. As of this writing, I’ve yet to prepare it — but I will!

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant parmesan is the one dish in my repertoire that I’ve yet to prepare using the current harvest. Having made 2 trays of eggplant lasagna – one of which is still in my freezer – I took a pass on eggplant parmesan. Who knows? If we don’t have a killing frost soon, I just may turn to eggplant parmesan to help me deal with this surplus. Worse things could happen. You can see the recipe that I’ll be following simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Olio Santo - Preview

Olio Santo

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Slow Cooker General Tso’s Chicken

Subscribers and frequent visitors to this site don’t come here for my take on Asian cuisine, No, as much as I love food from that part of the world, I must confess that up until recently, I very rarely prepared it, much to the joy of the local Thai, Japanese, Korean, and Indian restaurants. Now, however, there are four dishes that I prepare at home and enjoy very much. One, a chicken dish, is today’s recipe, General Tso’s Chicken.  The others can be found on blogs that I follow. The first of these, a delicious lamb dish called Karma Khorma, is from my blogging friend David’s decidedly delectable blog, Cocoa and Lavender. The second, a Korean pork dish, one of the first Asian dishes that I made with any frequency, is from Cam’s wonderful blog, Geukima, and is called Crispy Stir-Fried Pork Ribs With Caramelized Fish Sauce. The third is a very tasty Indian dish, Chicken Biryani, and can be found on The Insatiable Gourmet blog. You cannot go wrong preparing any of these and a visit to any of the 3 blogs is very rewarding. (Unfortunately, as of this writing, Geukima and The Insatiable Gourmet seem to be on hiatus. Cocoa and Lavender, thankfully, is still going strong.)  Not very long ago, the only Asian dishes I enjoyed were set before me at nearby restaurants. These days, hardly a week goes by that I do not prepare one of these four dishes. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

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General Tso 1

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Now before going any further, it’s probably best to mention the origins of today’s dish. In my last post’s Comments section, I had mistakenly stated that the dish was created by Chinese immigrants in California. A comment from Eha got me googling its origins. Although I could not find the source stating its California origins (I should know better than to rely upon my memory for anything), I did find much to confirm Eha’s account. It is widely accepted that this dish was a creation of the Hunan chef, Peng Chang-kuei, in Taipei, Taiwan, after he had fled the Chinese mainland. Created in the ’50s, he once served it to Chiang Kai-shek. Chef Peng brought his recipe to America and introduced it in New York City in 1972 following Nixon’s trip to China. Since then, the dish has continued to evolve, in ways not necessarily pleasing to its creator. That is the simple version of the tale. You can find more information on Wikipedia or NPR or, for those who’d rather look at pictures, you can watch the movie, “The Search for General Tso“.

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The Favorite Family Recipes website is the source for today’s recipe. I was attracted to it because I love both General Tso’s Chicken and my slow cooker. I can already sense some of you thinking how much easier it would be to stir-fry this dish. Well, I haven’t a wok and I am certifiably stir-fry challenged. For me, the slow cooker is the way to go. Even so, I did make a few changes. most notably replacing the original’s pineapple juice with orange juice and its cayenne pepper with ground chipotle. In both cases, I used what I had in supply. While searching for the cayenne pepper, I came upon a seldom used container of arrowroot and used it as a thickening agent instead of cornstarch,

I did make a couple of additions, as well. When I order General Tso’s Chicken from my neighborhood Chinese restaurant, broccoli is always included. Even though the original recipe makes no mention of it, I always include some form of the vegetable in my dish. Here, there was a package of broccolini in the vegetable crisper and it ended up being sautéed in garlic-flavored oil before being mixed with the cooked rice. About the same time the broccolini was grabbed, a few mushrooms were found. They had matured into the “use ’em or lose ’em” stage of crisper life and became the most unconventional addition to the dish.

Now that’s all settled, let’s take a look at the recipe.

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General Tso 2

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General Tso’s Chicken Recipe

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup lite soy sauce
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup white distilled vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ tsp ground chipotle pepper
  • approx. 4 oz sliced “baby bella” mushrooms (forgive me, Chef Peng)
  • 2 tbsp arrowroot, mixed with 2 tbsp water – flour or cornstarch may be substituted
  • 4 scallions/green onions, sliced

original recipe from Favorite Family Recipes

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General Tso Rice 2

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for the rice and broccolini

  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 8 oz (225 g) broccolini, roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place the flour, salt, and pepper into a sealable plastic bag. Working in batches, add the chicken pieces to the bag, shake to coat, and place the now-coated chicken on a plate. Continue until all the chicken is coated with the seasoned flour.
  2. Add 2 tbsp of oil to a hot, large frying pan over med-high heat.
  3. When oil is hot begin adding the chicken pieces. Do not overcrowd. It should take you 2 batches, at least. You may need to add a bit more oil between batches. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Chicken needn’t be cooked through, only browned.
  4. When the chicken is browned on all sides, remove to a plate and begin the next batch.
  5. Meanwhile, into the slow cooker, add the sugar, soy sauce, orange juice, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper. Stir to completely combine.
  6. Add the mushrooms and stir.
  7. When all the chicken has been browned, add to the slow cooker and set it to low. Cook for 3 to 4 hours or until chicken is cooked thoroughly.
  8. About 30 minutes before completion, check to see if the sauce has thickened. If not, combine the arrowroot and water to make a slurry. Add to the pot and gently stir. Cover.
  9. Bring 2 cups of water to the boil in a medium sauce pan with a lid.
  10. Add salt and butter, stir, and then add the rice.
  11. When the water returns to the boil, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.
  12. After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the heat. Rice will be ready in 5 more minutes.
  13. While the rice cooks, add 2 tbsp olive oil to a large frying pan and heat over med-high heat.
  14. Add the smashed garlic and cook until brown.
  15. Remove the garlic, add the broccolini, and reduce the heat to medium.
  16. Continue to sauté the broccolini in the garlic flavored oil until cooked to your satisfaction.
  17. Add the cooked rice to the frying pan and stir until fully combined. (See Notes)
  18. Serve the cooked chicken atop a bed of rice with broccolini. Garnish the dish with the chopped scallions/green onions.

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General Tso 3

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Notes

Although broccolini was used here, I have used broccoli and broccoli raab in the recipe. In all cases, I added the cooked rice to the pan in which the vegetable was sautéed so that the rice could absorb as much flavor from the pan as possible. Of course, you could steam the broccoli and add it to the dish however you wish.

The amount of arrowroot slurry needed will vary depending upon how much liquid is in the pot. No matter whether you use flour, cornstarch, or my oft-forgotten arrowroot, mix an equal amount of water with the thickening agent.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Green Tomato Relish Look Back

Very soon we’ll be coming to an end of our tomato growing season. Each of us probably has a favorite method for dealing with the green tomatoes left on the vine with no hope of ripening. My Grandpa placed them in the drawer of an old dresser on the patio where they slowly ripened. Others wrap them in newspaper, while some place the green orbs in paper bags. That’s great if you want to ripen them but what if you don’t want to invest the time, paper, or drawer space? Today’s look back will give you a totally different option Take this LINK to learn how to make green tomato relish. Your hot dogs will thank you.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

The Kitchens Salute Awburr-what? … Melanzane!

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The Spiralizer Chronicles, Chapter 2: Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Pancetta, Clams and Shrimp

Squash with Seafood 1

Although I may not be posting many recipes that rely upon my new love, the spiralizer, I continue to us it frequently. In fact — hold on to your hats — I use it more often than I do my pasta machine. I know! I never would have thought such a thing possible. Yet, here I am with about 3/4 lb of homemade pasta in my pasta basket, where’s its been for just about 3 weeks now. 3 weeks!!! This would have been unthinkable just last summer and I have butternut squash to credit — or is it blame?

As much as I enjoy zucchini noodles, “zoodles”, their texture often leaves much to be desired, They can go from al dente to unappealingly soft in the blink of an eye. To avoid this, I often serve them raw, making more of a pasta salad than a dish of freshly cooked pasta. Not so with butternut squash. Roasting doesn’t affect these noodles’ “bite” but it does add flavor to the final dish. Best of all, these noodles can be served hot, making a number of dishes possible. Today’s recipe is one such dish.

As is the case with most seafood pasta dishes, this one is easy to prepare and you’ll find that roasted butternut squash compliments seafood quite well. Truth be told, I’ve a squash just waiting for me to return home from the fishmonger with more seafood. It won’t be long now.

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Squash with Seafood 2

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Butternut Squash Noodles with Seafood Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 oz (56 g) pancetta, chopped
  • about 12 small clams — manila, littleneck, or cockles will do (See Notes)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or grated
  • about 12 shrimp — no smaller than 41 to 50 ct/lb
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs – omit if GF (See Notes)
  • 2 tsp parsley per serving, chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F (195˚ C).
  2. Separate neck of squash from the bulb end that contains the seeds. Reserve the bulb for another use.
  3. Peel the squash before using a spiralizer to create spaghetti-like noodles.
  4. Place noodles on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes.
  5. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, and a bit of olive oil. Mix thoroughly. Place mixture in a small fry pan over medium heat. Cook until mixture is golden brown. Set aside.
  6. Begin heating remaining olive oil in a large frypan with a lid. Add the pancetta and begin to render its fat. Do not allow the pancetta to burn. It should be fully rendered about the time that the noodles have 5 minutes to go.
  7. Place the garlic and clams in the pan with the pancetta and cover. Sauté for 5 minutes before adding the shrimp to the pan. Cover the pan.
  8. After a minute or so, stir the frying pan’s contents and cover.
  9. Remove noodles from the oven and dump them into the pan with the seafood and pancetta. Stir to evenly coat everything with the pan juices.
  10. Continue to sauté until the clams and shrimp are fully cooked — no more than 2 minutes more.
  11. DISCARD ANY CLAMS THAT REMAIN UNOPENED.
  12. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the toasted breadcrumbs created in Step 5.
  13. Serve immediately.

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Squash with Seafood 3

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Notes

Use a brush reserved for food-prep to scrub all clams before cooking. Any that remain open after a thorough scrubbing should be discarded. Opinions vary as to whether to soak fresh clams in salt or fresh water to cause the clams to expel grit. Some feel that commercially harvested and shipped clams do not need such purging. If, however, your clams are bought directly from the fishermen or harvested yourself, they must be soaked for at least 30 minutes before scrubbing, changing the water midway through.

In Italian cooking, it is definitely not recommended to use grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese on a dish with most varieties of seafood. Very often, toasted breadcrumbs are substituted, just as I did above. Do you remember the stuffed calamari recipe I shared back in March? At the time, I suggested freezing the extra cooked breading mixture. They would make the perfect garnish for this dish, as well as a number of other pasta with seafood dishes. Being roasted already, all you need do is to warm them in a small frying pan. Use them as you would grated cheese, as a garnish just before serving.

I’ve seen recipes where squash noodles are boiled first, much like pasta, rather than roasted. I’ve yet to prepare them that way. If it ain’t broke …

My spiralizer is an attachment for a stand mixer. As such, it makes quick work of the “neck” of a butternut squash. Some may find this squash is too firm for their hand-cranked spiralizer. I’ve no experience with any of them and look forward to hearing from you in the Comments.

Of course, for a gluten-free version do not include the toasted breadcrumbs unless they’re GF. Garnish with chopped parsley instead.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tart Cherry Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate Sauce

With September almost here, there’s no time like the present for frozen treats. If you’re like me and took advantage of the sour cherry season, stashing some of the red beauties in your freezer, well, now’s the time to set some of them free! Follow this LINK to learn how to use them to prepare frozen yogurt, as well as a tasty chocolate sauce to smother it. All that’s missing is the cherry on top!

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

General Tso's - Preview

General Tso’s Chicken

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If it’s Mid-Summer, it’s Time for Pinzimonio!

Pinzimonio 2

I remember this dish every year — but around Thanksgiving, long after the gardens have withered and the farmers markets have closed for the season. Sure, you can make this dish anytime but it’s best when the vegetables are freshly picked. So, what is pinzimonio?

It’s a variety of fresh vegetables served raw with a side dressing of olive oil and vinegar that’s seasoned simply with salt and pepper. (Yes, that’s crudités but I hesitate to bring a third language into the discussion.)  It’s easy enough to prepare and a great way to take advantage of summer’s bounty.

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Pinzimonio 1

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When I was a boy, Mom would serve pinzimonio just about every Sunday starting in July, when the first of our garden’s crop ripened. As we gathered for dinner, there would be a platter of cut, raw vegetables in the center of the table waiting for us. You might find bell peppers, fennel, celery, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and scallions, along with whatever caught Dad’s eye when he took Sis & I to the grocery that morning. Rounding out the antipasti/insalati, she’d also serve a platter of freshly picked, sliced tomatoes (See Déjà Vu).  But wait! There’s more.

At each of our places at the table, Mom would have a ramekin with our own dipping sauce which she would cater to our age and preference. All contained oil and red wine vinegar but those for Sis and I, being the youngest, contained just a touch of salt & pepper. My brother, being so very much older (this is one way to see if my siblings read the blog), was allowed more salt and pepper in his dipping sauce. Mom, having a life-long aversion to pepper, gave herself barely a few pepper flakes with the salt in her ramekin. Dad had no such issues and you could see a thick layer of salt with another of pepper covering the bottom of his little dish. Each of us helped ourselves to whatever we wanted on the platter and dipped it into our own ramekins. No need to pass this or that and, best of all, we could double, triple, or even quadruple dip without so much as a raised eyebrow from Mom.

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Pinzimonio 3

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Now, as for a recipe, well, I’ve pretty much explained the dish already. Gather together any fresh vegetable that you would serve dressed with an oil and vinegar dressing. Clean and trim each in such a way to accommodate their serving and arrange them on a platter. Next, place oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in ramekins or small dishes, one per place setting. Although Mom always used red wine vinegar, I’ve used balsamic and loved it.

No matter the vinegar used, you’ll find that pinzimonio is a great way to take advantage of the bounty of summer, while adding more vegetables to your diet. Not only that but if, like me, you have meatless days, pinzimonio makes a great lunch or dinner, especially when summer’s heat renders the stove off-limits.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tomato Antipasti - Deja Vu

I could hardly write about pinzimonio without offering you the link to Mom’s Tomato Antipasti. This time of year, both dishes were usually served side-by-side, much to the delight of all seated at that table. Best of all, it’s an easy dish to prepare and, like pinzimonio, no stove is required. Here’s the LINK to one of my family’s favorite summertime antipasti.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squash with Seafood Preview

Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Seafood

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Our Italian Holiday

This being such a short post, I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity and share a bit of our holiday last spring.

Bologna

My trip began in Bologna, a wonderful town with an incredible history. It is home to the world’s oldest continuously operating university and the center of what many believe to be the heart of Italian cuisine. With my nephew arriving the next day, I had barely enough time to check into my room, take a walk, break my camera, have a great dinner, and get lost on my way back to the hotel. Yes, you read that correctly. My camera was out of commission for the entire trip. Let me apologize now for the quality of the pics to follow. Truth be told, I hadn’t planned on posting many because most would be very similar to those posted 2 years ago. Even so, it would have been nice to have had a good camera with me.

Many of Bologna’s walks are covered and the “pavement” is marble. The city is meant for the casual promenade. Besides several churches and the university, there are a number of sites to see: the Two Towers, the Piazza Maggiore (site of my camera’s untimely demise), the statue of Neptune, and of course, my prosciutto store, La Prosciutteria. How I love that place!!!  Here are a few photos. Click on any one to see a full description.

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That day ended with one of the best restaurant meals that I was served.

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The Republic of San Marino

My nephew’s plane arrived on time and soon we were on our way to San Marino, where Zia Pina greeted us with open arms, Waiting with her was her grand-daughter & husband, and the newest member of our the family, the soon to be one-year-old Viola. Zia is a wonderful cook and the highlight was when she served cappelletti for the entire family. This just so happens to by my nephew’s favorite dish and one he hasn’t enjoyed since his Grandma, my Mom, passed away 14 years ago. The following day, she took us both for a tour of the city of San Marino, and the seat of the republic’s government atop Mt. Titano. The next day, Sunday, we attended a mass that Zia had arranged to honor our family’s departed. Afterward, we re-assembled at a restaurant In Riccione, on the Adriatic shore, for a fantastic seafood feast. I would go back there in a heartbeat! Here are just a few of those photos.

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Venice

Before leaving San Marino, my nephew and I “kidnapped” a young cousin for a day trip to Venice and Murano Island. It was a chilly day with showers, so, we timed our lunch and a caffè for the worst spells — or so we tried. Although we knew it was the Italian Liberation Day holiday, we didn’t know that it was also St. Mark’s feast day, he being the Patron Saint of Venice. We learned of our oversight upon setting foot upon St. Mark’s Square. Even so, we had to keep moving and, after a water taxi ride to Murano Island for a bit of souvenir shopping, we ended our day with a fine supper. Then it was a dash across Venice for a train ride back to Rimini where a cousin would take us to Zia’s. (I won’t mention that our arrival was delayed because we missed our train and, consequently, were stowaways on the next.) Thankfully, our “chauffeur” was very kind and waited patiently for our eventual arrival. These next photos are by committee. Oddly enough, each of our phones, ran out of power as we traversed Venice. Mine was the first to go, only to miraculously revive — its vibrating giving me quite a start — on the train as we approached the station in Rimini.

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Don’t let the blue skies fool you. We were drenched by the time we reached the piazza and there wasn’t a soul seated in any of the cafés that encircle it.

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Rome

The next morning, my nephew and I boarded a train bound for Rome, with Zia and 2 cousins accompanying us. What fun! Our flat was about 100 yards from the Pantheon and once we settled in, we were off for a little sightseeing around the Piazza Navona. That night, we enjoyed a fine dinner in celebration of my nephew’s graduation and, as we soon learned, my cousin’s wedding anniversary. The next morning, we walked to the Vatican to meet another cousin and her husband. Unable to get into the Vatican because the Pope was awaiting a diplomat, we took taxis to the Colosseum, stopping along the way for lunch. Well, by the time we made it to the Colosseum, it was far too crowded with tourists to enter. We headed back to the flat, said our goodbyes, and our cousins headed to the train station for their ride back to San Marino. Alone now, with only 2 days left, we planned the rest of our stay. We would spend one morning revisiting the Colosseum, with the Vatican occupying the second. The afternoons would be spent seeing everything on his “must see” list, as well as a couple of sites that I tossed into the mix. Of course, a fantastic meal would end each day.

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Corinaldo

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time for us to part company. My nephew returned home but a few weeks earlier I had decided to extend my holiday. I wanted to take a few days to visit Corinaldo, the Bartolini ancestral home. So, as my nephew boarded a plane, I caught a train to Ancona, where I rented a car for the drive to Corinaldo. It’s a quaint little village nestled in rolling hills. The very center of the town is totally encircled by walls that were built during the 1300s. Unlike similar towns in Italy, these walls have been maintained and are in excellent condition. There is but one entrance and one exit, the knowledge of which might have saved me the hour I spent circling the area, not to mention one ill-fated attempt of entering through the exit. (Ah! The joys of travel.) Once situated, my flat was quite nice with a terrace facing west and I was anxious to watch the sun set over the Italian countryside. Well, that was the plan but the clouds had made previous reservations, apparently, and I never did see a sunset. No worries. I still enjoyed my time there, walking from one end of the village to the other — make that “carefully walking”. It rained intermittently and the cobblestone streets are quite narrow. I rushed for a doorway or hugged a wall whenever I heard a car approach. Luckily, that didn’t happen very often. There is no rush hour in downtown Corinaldo. There is, however, a great little restaurant on The Stairs and they served me my final meal in my Grandparents’ hometown.

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Terrace view

The terrace view

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Fiumicino

I left the next morning taking a route to Ancona that would allow me to travel along the Adriatic coast for a spell. To get to the coast, I travelled along narrow roads that carried me over the hills, through the beautiful Marche countryside. I dropped off the car and made my way to the train station. With an early morning flight, my destination would be Fiumicino, a small town about 30 km outside of Rome and home to the city’s international airport. Lucky for me, there was a wonderful restaurant just down the street from my hotel. My holiday ended with one last fantastic meal, albeit a filling one.

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Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

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One thing more

Unbeknownst to me, I spent my holiday walking with a stress fracture of my left ankle. It had bothered me before I left but I made a variety of excuses about it. In fact, even upon coming home, the excuses continued. Finally, about a week later, I decided to have it checked and I was given this fancy boot to wear for the next 4 weeks. WIth the boot now gone, I am happy to say that things are back to normal, whatever that means.

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Stress Fracture

You won’t find this at Ferragamo’s.

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Our holiday was memorable in so many ways, and during the course of which, my now-adult nephew and I became re-acquainted. We were treated royally, with our family members freeing up their schedules so that they could spend as much time with us as possible. I’ve read that when we put to paper an objective, the odds of accomplishing it increase by 40%. With that in mind, I do not know how or when but I will be returning to San Marino. I must. I’ve promised to kidnap another cousin for a day trip somewhere.

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