Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Farro Vegetable Soup

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Umbria is a lesser known region of Italy just east of its more famous cousin Tuscany. Just as beautiful, but less crowded and more rustic. In October the warm sunny days of summer are gone, and the air is chilly. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that almost every restaurant I visited for lunch was featuring a farro vegetable soup. This classic dish is hearty and robust; but interestingly it was slightly different in almost every restaurant. I have made this soup many times, and in the spirit of a peasant dish, I also modify the ingredients to reflect what I have in my pantry.


Farro is a grain with a nutty flavor and a toothsome texture. I use it in many recipes as an alternative to rice or orzo; not just in soups but also in salads and risotto. Farro is readily available in Italian specialty stores or online.

When I make this soup I would always add onion, carrot and celery. Today’s version also includes leek and turnip. If you look at the Mise-en-Place below, you will also notice a little pancetta. In Umbria, either pancetta or a ham bone is included to add depth of flavor. I prefer pancetta.


Recipe for 4 Servings:

2/3 cup farro, chopped                                            1 leek, diced

1 onion, diced                                                             1 small turnip, diced

2 carrots, diced                                                           1/4 cup pancetta, diced

2 celery, diced                                                             1/4 tsp tomato paste

pinch oregano                                                             pinch parsley flakes

1 qt. vegetable broth                                                  2 cans chicken broth

Parmigiana Reggiano cheese, grated                     salt & pepper

First, saute the pancetta till brown, then remove it from the pan. Next I use a knife to rough chop the farro, which I believe  produces a thicker consistency. Now add the vegetables to the pan and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes (add a little olive oil is needed). Add the farro into the pan with the vegetables and toast the farro for about a minute. Finally add the other ingredients (except the cheese) and cook for about 30 minutes. You can test the farro just like you would risotto, the grain should be cooked, firm but not mushy.

Ladle the soup into a bowl and grate Parmigiana Reggiano cheese on top.

Farro Soup

Buon Appetito!

Restaurants that WOW you

Friday, April 27th, 2012

I love going out to dinner; but I find it rare that a restaurant serves a dish that takes your breath away. This past year two restaurants caught my attention, and I would highly recommend them: Redd in Yountville, Ca. and Red Rooster in New York City.

Redd was the first restaurant opened by Chef Richard Reddington in 2005. Although everything I have tasted at this restaurant was delicious, one dish was spectacular. Glazed Pork Belly with a soy caramel sauce was  layered in flavor, and each bite was pure heaven.

Glazed Pork Belly

Glazed Pork Belly

Red Rooster is a restaurant in Harlem that was opened by Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit fame. On their website they describe their offerings as “comfort food celebrating the roots of American cuisine”.  For my main course I had Fried Yard Bird, more commonly known as fried chicken served with collard greens and mashed potatoes. Wow, a whole plate of greasy goodness. I don’t eat this type of food often, but once in a while it’s great to dive into a dish that is pure fun. I think that is the best way to describe the vibe of this restaurant…fun.

Fried Yard Bird

Fried Yard Bird

I was stuffed after a cup of peanut soup and the yard bird, but I ordered dessert anyway. Who could pass up pecan pie with bourbon ice cream? I rolled out of Red Rooster, but I was smiling.

Outstanding in the Field – Ojai

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Last week I went to an event organized by Outstanding in the Field at Earthtrine Farm in Ojai, Ca. What a hoot! Outstanding in the Field is a group started in Santa Cruz, California by Jim Denevan. The concept is to hold dinners in the fields of farms, ranches and vineyards. These dinners celebrate local farmers, fishermen, winemakers, and other artisans and their products. This year they will hold about 90 dinners in over 25 states. You can visit their website here.

Our event was held at Earthtrine Farm run by BD Dautch & family. BD is a fixture at the Santa Barbara’s Farmers Market offering the finest organic produce.  They grow a wide array of herbs, fruit, and vegetables.

Farm Table

Farm Table

As you arrive at the event you are greeted with wine and appetizers. The wines were from Cantara Cellars  (website); a small family run winery owned and operated by Chris & Mike Brown. They served a crisp Albarino and a lively Tempranillo; two great choices for a sunny afternoon in the field. Four great appetizers were served. My favorite was a carrot pancake with creme fraiche, fried garlic, and carrot tops; it was so tasty.

We then went on a tour of the farm. BD discussed what he was growing, the typical hurdles he might encounter, the micro-climates, and his passion for keeping everything organic. It was interesting how he utilized the growing area between the rows of citrus; the shade from the trees provided the perfect environment for some crops.

BD discussing his farm

BD Discussing his Farm

After the short farm tour it was time to head to the table.

Time to Eat

Time to Eat

The feast was prepared by local chef Rachel Main of Main Course California. The first course was chilled lettuce soup followed by Earthtrine vegetable kimchi with lettuce and red basil. The turnips on this dish were amazing; it was candy for grown-ups. The first two courses were paired with a Chardonnay and a Syrah Rose respectively. The Rose paired really well with the acidic kimchi dish.

Serving Rose

Serving Rose

The main course was a Baja Yellowtail served with tempura Japanese turnips. These turnips were spectacular; but I seem to find anything in a tempura batter delicious. The side dish combined carrot puree and grilled sprouted broccoli. The carrot puree was my favorite dish of the evening; rich with layers of spices. We got the recipe; but we are still trying to recreate the flavors we tasted at the farm. I think there were 2 key elements that made this dish fabulous; the quality of the carrots and that they were roasted prior to pureeing. The carrots were from Dave Pommer, a local farmer from Santa Rosa. I would recommend seeking out his carrots.

Baja Yellowtail

Baja Yellowtail & Tempura Turnips

Carrot Puree & Broccoli

Carrot Puree & Sprouted Broccoli

I encourage you to check out Outstanding in the Field; odds are they will be holding a dinner near you. I had so much fun at this event I will definitely go again.

The Wines of Montefalco

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Montefalco is the key region for Umbria’s great wines. Their claim to fame is the Sagrantino grape; which is bold and flavorful. Sagrantino maybe my favorite Italian varietal; but you need to enjoy powerhouse reds to appreciate it.

The two best know producers of Sagrantino are Arnaldo Caprai and Paolo Bea. I had the opportunity to visit the Caprai winery a few weeks back and really enjoyed it. I was surprised how modern the winery and the tasting room were.

Caprai Tasting Room

Caprai Tasting Room

We went on a tour of the winery and then returned to the tasting room. Chaos might be the best way to describe the wine tasting; but that actually turned out to be an advantage. Rather than tiny sips of wine accompanied by a long lecture on each, we got huge pours of wine accompanied by a platter of cheese. The most impressive wine we tasted was a 2005 Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni DOCG which is 100% Sagrantino grapes. This wine is huge and needs to rest for at least 5 more years. The wine is complex with layers of flavor that are perfectly balanced. This wine is a must for anybody collecting great red wines, but know that the wine costs about $90.

I’m not patient when it comes to letting wines rest. therefore my pick is the Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso, which costs about $20. This wine is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, and 15% Merlot. The wine tastes like a good Chianti but with a bit more structure due to the Sagrantino grape. I think this is a perfect everyday wine that will pair nicely with almost any meal.

One night we at dinner at Pane & Vino, a restaurant in Todi. The owner recommended a bottle of the 2005 Perticaia Sagrantino di Montefalco, and it was delicious. It was a big, bold red, but far more approachable than Arnaldo Caprai’s wine.

Perticaia Wines

Perticaia Wines

The Perticaia Sagrantino was a full bodied wine that exhibited great flavor, significant structure, and yet was elegant. This wine retails for just under $50, which is very reasonable for a Sagrantino.

I know you can purchase great wines from the Montefalco region in New York City, as well as online. Hopefully we can all work together to get some of the other retailers around the country to carry these great wines.

Renting in Todi

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Sunrise in Todi is gorgeous; as dawn breaks, clouds and fog envelope the valleys. The fog was quite mesmerizing, I would stare at the valley for hours watching the terracotta roofs poke their heads through the clouds. We recently rented a renovated farmhouse called Pergolaccio on the outskirts of Todi, Umbria. The terrace overlooked the rolling countryside, which provided the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening.

Dawn in Todi

Dawn in Todi

Terrace View at Sunset

Terrace View at Sunset

You may wonder why I would rent a house rather than stay in a hotel. Well, there are many advantages. If you are traveling for more than a week, it can be tiring eating three meals a day in a restaurant or a hotel. Having a refrigerator, stove, and microwave allows you to settle into an environment rather than just feeling like a tourist. Renting can have financial  advantages also; room service and restaurant costs can really add up. I have found that renting allows you to get more space when compared to a hotel, which is a real advantage for longer stays. If you rent a larger apartment or a house, you can share the space with friends, which can further reduce costs. Lastly, we were traveling with our dog Buddy, so a backyard was a real plus.



Renting a house or an apartment has become very easy with the internet. Sites like vrbo and homeaway have thousands of places to choose from. Many of the units for rent will have dozens of pictures so you know what to expect. Some sites also have reviews by former renters, and that can be a real plus.

The next time you travel, you may want to consider renting an apartment or a villa; it will certainly give you a different perspective.