Archive for October, 2009

Farro Salad

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Tired of the same old side dishes? Potatoes and rice are both great; but using a different starch can help mix things up a bit.

Farro is a grain in the wheat family typically seen in Italian cuisine. It can be added to salads or soups, treated much like barley.  The salad recipe below uses cherry tomatoes, scallions, carrots and feta as the main ingredients; but you can get creative and add any of your favorite vegetables or herbs.

For 4 people…

I cup farro                                                           3 scallions

12 cherry tomatoes, halved                         1/4 cup feta cheese

1/4 cup olive oil                                               1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tbs sherry wine vinegar                             1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped

1 tsp dried dill                                                    1/4 cup carrots, diced

1/2 lemon                                                            salt & pepper

Farro salad ingredients

Farro salad ingredients

Add 1 cup of farro to 3 cups of water, add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes; the farro should be tender. Strain the farro and transfer to a mixing bowl then add 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper. Make a vinaigrette with the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, dill, salt and pepper. Add the vinaigrette to the farro while it’s still warm, the liquid will absorb better. Chop tomatoes, scallions, carrots, and chives and add to the farro with small chunks of feta cheese. Cover the salad and put in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours to allow the flavors to meld together.

Farro salad

Farro salad

Prior to serving, taste for seasoning. The salad will probably need salt. If it also needs a touch more zing, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Serve at room temperature. The other night I had farro salad with grilled lamb and roasted asparagus; it was great.

Are there any other ingredients that you would add to a farro salad?

Grouper with a Mustard Sauce

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Simple, elegant, and tasty are three words to describe a “home run” meal. I know several people that enjoy fish, but never cook it for themselves. They say that fish from a good restaurant is usually accompanied by a delicious sauce, while at home it’s bland and uninteresting. I hope this recipe will inspire you to try again. Note that I made this recipe with Grouper because it was the freshest fillet at my fish monger, however feel free to substitute snapper, sole, flounder, or any other fillet.

For four people…

2 lbs. grouper fillet                                      1/2 cup creme fraiche

1 tbs. grainy mustard                                  1/2 lemon

2 tbs. capers                                                    2 tbs. fresh dill

4 tbs. Dijon mustard                                     2 tbs. minced shallots

Preheat the oven at 425 degrees. Place the fillets in a baking pan. In a bowl, mix the creme fraiche, mustards, lemon, capers and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread the mixture over the top of the fish. Using a scissor, snip fresh dill over each fillet. Bake for about 15 minutes (10 minutes  if using very thin fillets), the top will turn light brown.fish-filet

Serve hot with your favorite wine.

Longing for Italy – Part 2

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Ravello is the other small town that I crave for. It’s high in the hills on the Amalfi Coast overlooking the Gulf of Salerno. Ravello is a tiny gem filled with history; some of its architecture dates back to the 10th century. The nearby town of Positano probably gets most of the press, but Ravello is far more charming with a lot fewer tourists.

The first thing I think of when I hear Ravello is Cumpa Cosimo. It’s a small unpretentious trattoria run by Netta, a little fireplug that makes some of the best pasta in Italy. My friend John is a quick eater, and he downed his bowl of pasta in milliseconds. Netta was so impressed she brought him a second bowl for free…and yes he ate it. Although eating is always number one on my list, Ravello’s key attribute is the view.  Go to the Villa Cimbrone and you will be well rewarded with ancient sculpture, beautiful gardens, and perhaps the best view on the Amalfi Coast – you can see for miles. Although the Villa is only 10 minutes from the town square, I made a wrong turn and we walked down a tiny path all the way to the bottom of the hill. Getting back up the hill was not fun, but while getting lost we ended up meandering through many backyards. I share this because we came upon a couple ladies laying out hundreds of tomatoes in the sun to dry. Sometimes the best scenes are not the tourist spots, but those glimpses into the lives of the locals. Another great spot for vistas is the Hotel Sasso, go for a drink and enjoy the sunset.

Villa Cimbrone

Villa Cimbrone

Ravello is also known for one more thing – pottery. If you ever had dinner at my house then you have eaten on Ravello pottery. There are several pottery stores, but our favorite is Da Lena. The selection is amazing, there will definitely be a color pattern that suits you. Although it seems scary to ship pottery back home, we have done it twice and never had a problem.

Italy has so many small towns, I think we all need to plan another trip to explore. Buon Viaggio.

Longing for Italy

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Italy is one of my favorite places to travel.  I have been there a dozen times, but have not visited since I moved to California. I miss it terribly.

I am often asked to name my favorite city in Italy, and I have a hard time narrowing it down to just one.  I love the larger cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice for their architecture, culture, and great food.  But I think I like the small towns best.   They are quaint, warm, and filled with character. I have two favorites that hold a special place in my heart: Bellagio and Ravello.

Bellagio is a tiny town that sits on a peninsula in the middle of Lake Como.  It has a small village square right next to the marina where the ferries dock. Narrow cobblestone streets spoke out from the square and meander up the hillside. The blocks are lined with charming  and unique shops catering to almost every desire. Antique stores, salumerias, boutiques, art galleries, and wine shops will keep you entertained for hours. My best purchase in Bellagio was a wooden spoon made of olive wood, it is a prized possession.

Bellagio

Bellagio

My favorite spot in Bellagio is Villa Serbelloni, a 50 acre estate that dates back to the times of Pliny the Younger. In 1959 the estate was bequeathed to the  Rockefeller Foundation which uses the property as a conference center and a residency program. There are 12 small one bedroom buildings that house visiting scholars, artists and writers that work on projects for two to six weeks. Since most of us are not eligible for such a program, we should be thankful that the estate is open to tours twice a day.  As you begin the tour it looks like a typical walk in the woods, but as you ascend the hill you notice these small buildings that almost blend into the landscape. At the top of the hill the conference center is off to one side, and magnificent gardens dominate the landscape. The path continues up the hill for a couple hundred more yards to the  most spectacular site, a 360 degree view of Lake Como, the alps,  and the nearby towns of Varenna and Tremezzo. 

The lake is one of the most beautiful places on earth. In the morning the serene lake glistens; the royal blue water reflects the sunlight like a mirror. But what makes it so dramatic are the mountains that frame the lake. The hills are bright green and are dotted with Italian Villas painted in warm yellows, ochres and salmons.  Every villa is perfectly landscaped with the most predominant feature being symmetrical rows of cypress and olive trees. No wonder George Clooney has a home there.

Bellagio is in northern Italy, and the food is simple yet delicious. There is an abundance of fresh fish from the lake, pan fried perch being a popular dish. Risotto and a simple pasta of garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes are also  typical fare. If you go, eat at Bilacus, a small  trattoria with a deck overlooking the lake.  You won’t be disappointed.

Next week…Ravello.