Monday, November 21, 2011

Taste of Cortona #5: A taste of two pastas!

Penne with fresh tomato sauce shares a plate with fettuccine al funghi 
You gotta love the Italians: if one pasta with a fabulous sauce is good, then two of 'em must be better! I always love watching people new to "The Cortona Experience" as they realize the heaping pile of pasta they have just been served is going to be followed by a second one  of a different shape and sauce -- they just can't quite believe it. This happens often at special dinners at Tonino's -- and I'm glad it does! There are never enough days for me in my limited trips here to try every combination I fancy, so I always do my best to join the "clean plate club".  Not only is my tongue quite happy with the experience, but it is a lot of fun to try to decide which I like better ("I think definitely this fresh tomato sauce . . . no -- wait, this fresh fettuccine with the subtle hint of mushrooms . . . how DO they make it so creamy without tasting too heavy? . . . Hmmm, maybe I like the simplicity of the tomato sauce against the al dente of the penne. . .") My mind argues with itself as my taste buds dance with delight.

And this is JUST the second course!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Taste of Cortona, Installment #4: Abundant , Ambrosial Blood Oranges!

Blood oranges on display outside a Cortona store
Blood oranges are as beautiful as they are delicious. I never saw or tasted one until I was well into adulthood, and "my first time" I was as entranced by their ruby-to-orange-back-to-ruby color as I was by their sweet tartness.  Here in Georgia they can be hard to find, but in Italy they are abundant.  I love strolling down Via Nazionale in Cortona and seeing the display of fresh fruits and vegetables lining the old stone walls; I especially love how the sunlight reflects off of the vivid hues of a box of blood oranges. I can't resist: I purchase one to take back to my room, where later I cut it open and sink my teeth into its juicy  flesh. I love that this a pleasure but not a guilty one. I love to lick the crimson droplets off of my lips. I love how this fruit is as much a feast for the eyes as for my tongue. It's as if I have bitten into the Italian sun and swallowed some of its unique warmth and purity.

The fruit is so red that my white shirt is tracked with scarlet stains -- a typically "Del" sort of souvenir of my Cortona visit!

I will attempt a painting of this photograph soon -- I look forward to capturing the vivid color in pure pigment. I know that as I am pushing and stroking the pigment onto the paper my  mouth will water as my mind recalls this bright taste of Cortona.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chestnut Pasta with Shaved Truffles: Brown and Down!

When I look at this photograph I took of my lunch in Arezzo, I see a "study in brown" -- it all looks brown! The chestnut flour pasta is, of course, a beautiful chestnut color, and the shaved white truffles on top are almost the same shade. (I've learned that white truffles aren't really "white" as in snow, vanilla ice cream or mashed potatoes, but are definitely a lighter shade than the also-delicious black truffle. . . which isn't really "black"! Hmmm-- the color theory of truffles: perhaps a topic for another day?)

Chestnut fettucini with shaved white truffles in Arezzo
Since I love shaved truffles over a simple pasta, and since I had never tried chestnut flour pasta before, this menu offering drew me in. The place was a little trattoria on a side street away from the monthly Arezzo antique market. My companions and I were getting quite hungry and were in a desperate search for something other than pizza when I spied the outdoor tables. What a find it turned out to be!

It was a relief to sit down after a morning of browsing the antiques and other offerings all over this charming town. The day could not have been more beautiful, so it was perfect for eating al fresco. When this bowl-full-of-brown was set before me, I breathed in the aroma: it smelled of Italy! Earthy, fresh, simple goodness. The pasta was perfectly al dente, giving my teeth a slight resistance. It didn't taste like chestnuts, but it did have a fuller flavor than regular wheat pasta, with a wonderful nuttiness. I'm not sure exactly what the sauce was, but it was that "barely-a-sauce" slight of hand the Italians do so well, especially when adding truffles. It tasted slightly buttery, perhaps with a tiny bit of young olive oil that had been introduced briefly to a bit of garlic. I couldn't see a sauce, yet my tongue knew it was there! Topped by the paper-thin bits of precious white truffle, that magical fungus that has a flavor and aroma that defies description -- subtle, earthy, REAL. 

While I was twirling it onto my fork the artist side of my brain was musing that it sure needed to have a bit of color on the plate or in the dish to make it look more appetizing (maybe a sprig of flat-leaf parsley? A slice of lemon? The splash of bright red from a sliver of roasted pepper?) But once the fork made it into my mouth, the gourmand portion of my brain took over, and it took all the grace I possessed not to wolf the entire bowl down in minutes. "I'm in Italy" I reminded myself. "Stretch this meal out and enjoy it!" 

Which is exactly what I did. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bacon & Eggs Pizza: Inspired or Absurd?

Bacon and Eggs Pizza from FuFluns in Cortona, Italy.
OK, it is time for me to get back to telling you about my amazing meals in Cortona this past spring. (Thank goodness I have photos to remind me what they were!) I'm still having a hard time incorporating blogging into my life. (And I used to be such a good  multi-tasker! That talent seems to have been affected by my autoimmune disease.)

FuFluns is one of  my favorite places to eat in Cortona -- it is just down the Via from the main piazza, and you can always depend on it for a good meal. I especially like their pizzas: thin, crispy, tasty crusts, with perfect combination of toppings.

I had been staring at this offering for a number of visits, over a number of years. As you probably know by now, I am a complete bacon FREAK, and I love my fried eggs, too! So it seemed as if this menu item was calling me. Why did I resist for so long? I think because it seemed to be an item aimed at Americans or Brits, and I usually want something very Italian when in Italy. But on this particular visit I was with a young friend, one of the students in the spring semester of UGA's program, and she encouraged me to try it. Since I had a small kitchen back in my apartment that I could heat the leftovers for breakfast the next day I went for it.

And I'm glad I did-- it was wonderfully tasty! Like the best of American food with the best of Italian pizza: the bacon was definitely American bacon, thin and crispy-chewy. While the pizza was still very hot I broke the shimmering yoke and spread it across the hot cheese, where it cooked itself into the hot Italian cheese.  It was like having bacon, eggs and cheese toast all in one bite (but the toast was the best toast ever made!) 

It was even better for breakfast the next morning; toasting it in my apartment's oven brought the crust back to its crunchy goodness, crisped up the limp bacon, and warmed the eggs and cheese into a gooey-chewy morning delight.

This is so good that I am surprised we don't see it offered more often here in the States. I think Waffle House should invest in a wood-fired pizza oven!

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Taste of Cortona: Installment #1: Turkey is NOT just for Thanksgiving!

First night's antipasta: thinly sliced turkey,asparagus and carrots with some sort of Bechamel-type sauce. Incredible!
I just recently returned from Cortona, Italy, where I was privileged to lead a workshop on creating your own travel journal as part of your travel experience. This was one of the offerings of the University of Georgia's "Cortona Experience", an annual 10-day trip to Cortona, Italy that enables its participants to be immersed in this wonderful Tuscan Hill Town and its environs. The trip was truly a "Cortona Experience", jam-packed with excursions, demonstrations, cooking classes, wine tastings, and wonderful meal after wonderful meal.  I may post some of my journal entries and sketches later, but since I made an effort to record some of these wonderful meals, I thought I would do a series about the FOOD. . . because, after all, I'm all about good food!

The first installment is from our welcoming dinner at Tonino's Restaurant. If you've been to Cortona, you know where Tonino's is: right in Piazza Garibaldi, where you get off the bus (if you've arrived by bus!) If you were a student in the UGA Cortona Studies Program, Tonino's is where you had many a meal. . . but I can promise you, students were never served anything like this!

This was the "opening act" of an over-the-top meal, and it was my favorite course (as well as my cousin Leisa's favorite course.) Had I not been a glutton, I could have happily stopped here.

So simple, yet so sublimely good. Thinly sliced roast turkey (and when I say thin, I mean mandoline-thin!) along with just as thinly sliced asparagus and carrots (just a touch of carrots for color.) I had never seen asparagus sliced length-wise before; it was brilliant. Not only did it look great, but it let your tongue taste the tender greeness of the asparagus as a silky counterpart to the roasted saltiness of the turkey. The sauce was creamy and rich -- just enough of it to wrap everything up in a hedonistic flair. I'm not sure what it was, but it reminded me of Bechamel: not too cheesey, but just enough tang-to-sweetness ratio to make me have to control myself from licking the plate.

And like I said, this was just the first course! It epitomizes to me what is the essence of Italian cooking: emphasis on a few simple but QUALITY ingredients, put together in a pleasing way.

So, I shall savor this taste memory for a while!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Glimpses from Bali

Page from my Bali Journal: Sketch from the Water Palace

It looks like I'm not doing to well at consistently blogging about my Bali experience, so I'm going to go the "snippet: route. You know, writing little snippets when I have a snippet of time. (One day I'll get a scanner and can scan my journal into the blog, a few pages at a time!) But for now. . .

This is a sketch from the end of the first day of my trip around the island. Literally, AROUND the island! I hired a driver (Christian, a Javanese Christian--- love that coincidence, don't you?) It was the best thing for me to do, as I really got to see the country, and understand it better. The cost was 400,000 rupiah, which translates to about $45-50, so I'm not talking big splurge here.

Anyway, the last stop we made, Christian and I, was at this ancient "water temple", built by one of the long-ago rulers. It was overcast when I arrived, and with claps of thunder in the background began raining as I left.  It was pretty awe-inspiring, seeing all the fountains, with the mountains framing the scene from a distance.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Savoring the musician who created my life's soundtrack

Photo of Elton John in Reno concert taken by friend Stewart's i-phone
I've just returned from my annual (almost 20 years!) visit to Lake Tahoe, visiting friends. Our hosts, a friend I've known since 1st Grade and his lovely wife, are incredibly generous, and this year surprised us with tickets to see Elton John in concert in Reno. And not just "tickets", but tickets ON THE FLOOR, on the 12th ROW! (Do you know how close that is??! I could actually see Elton's cute pudgy face!)

Surprisingly, I was the only one out of the 5 of us who had ever seen Elton in concert . . . and this makes my 4th one! All have been different, and all special in their own way. But the constant is how I (along with all the other thousandas of people in the audience) know almost every word to all the songs (except the new ones sprinkled in, which soon become "old favorites"), and how each song brings back specific memories of time and place. Sir Elton's music popped onto our radios in 1970, and his hit singles remained there throughout my high school and college years. I listened to all his albums throughout that decade, and studied and caressed their artful covers.

I now live in the same building that houses one of his many homes, and I've not only had the honor of meeting him, but used the photograph of us from that occasion to create a Christmas card   ("NOELton") that many of my friends still keep on their refridgerator all these years later. I have ridden in the elevator, both up AND down, with him, and it was only my shyness (and his) which kept me from blurting out to him "I LOVE YOUR MUSIC! YOU CREATED THE MUSICAL BACKDROP OF MY YOUTH!!!!"  (Instead I nodded hello, he politely nodded back, and we assended/descended in silence.)

The Reno concert, high energy though it was, seemed less out of control than the two I saw at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta (more like the one I saw at the Lakewood Ampitheater, when it rained). Perhaps that is because most of the fans, like me, are older, and no longer have an enexhaustable supply of energy to expend. Or maybe it's because Sir Elton is older, and no longer jumps up on the piano or leaps about the stage with the hyper-energy he displayed when HE was a younger man. (We've aged together, Elton and I.) But he still had the energy (or the professionalism) to perform for 3 hours with NO intermission WITH BRONCHITIS!  And perform amazingly. (It is only seeing him perform live that one realizes what a talented pianist he is.) How he was able to get a voice he could barely speak with to do the vocal acrobatics he engaged in that evening was something that had me shaking my head with every other song.

So, I thank my hosts; I thank their friend who got the tickets from a gambling friend of his; I thank the dear four people who were there with me that night to enjoy the evening (especially the two of them who are also part of my high school and college memories); and finally, I thank Sir Elton John, for not only his talent , for not only this particular performance, but for being a survivor (like me.)  I'm glad your are still part of the soundtrack of my life.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Where did last year go?

I can't believe I haven't posted anything on this Blog since last year. Well, yes I can. It isn't that I didn't think about it a lot. But last year was a struggle for me. I admit it. I'm hoping to do, and BE, better this year!

So, I think my book club died last night. Frankly, it was a mercy killing. Oh, there is still some last gasps of breath as the long-time members try to keep it going as a supper club or movie club, but I don't think the effort will succeed. If so, it will be without me. I wanted a book club, and what I got was a get together of old friends... and I wasn't part of their history. The few who would actually read the book would talk about it with me for about five minutes, if that. What I really want is a book club of like-minded folks who love to read, with some sort of organized discussion about the book. I'll probably have to start one myself... but not this year. Too many other things to accomplish first.

However, last night wasn't a total loss. I got to play around with a new salad recipe, as I was the designated salad-bringer. Being low on cash and time, I needed something easy and inexpensive, so I found a recipe for a salad that sounded good to me, and I adapted it. The result was this light, crunchy salad that went perfectly with the hostess' lemon chicken and rice. The leftover salad held up well overnight (even with the dressing in it) and I polished it off for lunch today.

So, here's  my recipe. I think I'll call it "Pepita-Lemon Salad" (or should I call it "Pepita Cilantro Salad"?)

Del's Pepita-Lemon Salad
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (or pistachio or sunflower oil)
  • 3 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
  • 2 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (more if you like cilantro!)
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons roasted and salted pepitas (pumkin seeds) 

 1. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon zest and lemon juice. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly, until the dressing is mixed well. 2. In a large bowl, toss together the sliced napa cabbage, sliced romaine lettuce, parsley and baand cilantro. Mix in the dressing, salt and pepper. Gently toss until dressing is distributed evenly. Top with chopped pistachios. Enjoy!

Note: pepitas are naturally high in magnesium and iron, so this is not only a refreshing salad, but nutritional as well.

I promise to be back here soon. I want to post about my trip to Bali!