Today is Friday, it’s January 11, 2013, and we’re about as snowbound as we’ve ever been in the seven years we’ve lived in Utah. We should have paid more attention to the weather predicting turtle who lives nearby here in the shadows of Mount Olympus. According to local news sources, this season’s is the biggest snowfall accumulation in the valley since 1993.  E.T. (Extra Tortoise), 69, is a 17-inch-diameter desert tortoise, rescued by Tosh Kano in 1988 through the State Division of Wildlife Resources during the construction of the Tuacahn Amphitheater. She warned us this was likely to happen back in October. Kano was the public works director for Salt Lake County at the time, and over the years he noticed a correlation between E.T.’s appetite and winter conditions. He was so certain about her ability to predict winter severity that he based his yearly order for road salt according to E.T.’s “predictions.”

Kano said that normally she stops eating in September to prepare for her six-month hibernation, but this year she was eating  kale, mustard greens, parsley, and carrots until mid-October, so he knew something was different. Those are considered “super foods” in a turtle’s diet, thus he knew she was storing up fat for a long and hard winter. Other signs were noted as well. Acorns were bigger this year and there were more of them as well as more 100 degree+ days over the summer. I remember we were forced to take our neighborhood walks long after sundown because of the heat. Then we forgot about tortoises and  went on to Italy, extended our summer for several more weeks.   (In case you’d like to see E.T. and her owner yourself, to this KSL Utah channel 5 television site.)

trevi fountain

It seems like a long time ago looking back now, but this picture proves we really did enjoy a warm interlude at Trevi Fountain in Rome this fall. Ahhh, it looks so sunny and warm. Legend has it that if visitors toss a coin into the fountain they will return to Rome. Should we hear E.T. is eating like a pig again this September, I may have to reconsider my swearing off airline travel if. I’m pretty sure that’s the quickest way to get to Italy, which sounds very appealing now.  :grin:.

For today though, we continue to look out the window to see if it’s still snowing . . . yup! it is, and is expected continue all day. The nearly two-feet snow cake on the back deck may come close to swallowing that yardstick Hubby left in it (above photo) if it doesn’t let up. Did I mention the basement furnace broke down last Sunday? It’s working hard at the moment, but it’s an old old unit we’ll be replacing next week just in case.

I’ll be back with more news in a few days. That is, if we don’t freeze first. Does anybody know how to build igloos? Cháo for now!

the rest of the story: Italian cooking class recipes

032 In response to a reader request, I’m posting the remainder of Chef Andrea’s Italian cooking class recipes, plus his suggested wine pairings. Hopefully these wines or suitable substitutes are available locally. The home made Gnocchi (see recipe in previous post) is served with Bolognese style meat sauce. The recipe follows; for non-meat eaters, Chef recommends marinara.

Wintersong notes: While the chef specifies San Marzano style fresh tomatoes for these recipes, there are alternatives for Americans. The Marzano is a variety of plum tomato considered to be the best paste tomato. Comparable to the Roma, Marzanos are thinner and more pointed, and the flesh much thicker with fewer seeds with a stronger, less acidic taste.  They have a longer growing season than other paste varieties which make them more suitable for warmer climates, thus understandably unavailable in colder areas of the country. Canned San Marzano canned tomatoes grown in Italy may be ordered in bulk online, but can be quite expensive. I make my sauces using canned Marzano-style tomatoes grown in California. They’re available in some but not all American supermarkets.  In my own taste test experiments, I find that the extra time spent in finding and using the best paste tomato you can find, canned or fresh, is well worth the effort and extra expense.

As for “Spelt,” it’s one of those things that sounds–to me anyway–like something it’s NOT. (Does it sound like a type of fish to you?)  It’s a whole grain with a nutty taste and texture, a “cousin” to wheat. Due to several health benefits–more protein than wheat for instance–it’s an excellent source of essential nutrients, and is available in many grocery stores (like Whole Foods) and can be found in health food stores year-round.

The eggplant used in the cooking class was the Italian variety which are usually smaller than American eggplants which can weigh a pound each, and 4 would obviously be too much eggplant (in my opinion). I choose the smaller purple eggplant more in line with the size of slices in the picture above the recipe. They generally have less seed also.

In the Tiramisù dessert, Chef doesn’t specify type or quantity of chocolate chips. He intended you to use your own judgement and personal taste I’m sure. Each recipe serves 4 people with hearty appetites. 

Appetizer:  Insalta di Farro (Spelt Salad)

2 cups spelt
8 tomatoes green and not very ripe
black olives pitted
2 bunches of arugola
lemon zest
extra virgin olive oil

Cook the spelt in a large pot of salted boiling water until tender. Cool well under cold water, drain well and place in a large bowl. Add all other cut ingredients, making sure that they will have a nice shape and good presentation. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Allow about 10 minutes to rest and season well before serving.

Suggested wine pairing: Frascati Spumante – it’s a pure Malvasia grapes Spumante, handmade produced with the Champenoise Method from the local Winery San Marco from the Lazio region ed. 2009.

Ingredients for Bolognese meat sauce:

1 lb of grounded mixed meat (70% beef and 30% pork)
5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of salt
one carrot, one stalk of celery, one onion
1 cup of dry white wine (Frascati is preferred)
1 lb of whole peeled tomatoes (like San Marzano quality)
fresh herbs like rosemary, bay leaves, and sage
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan cheese, as you prefer)

In a large frying pan over low heat, stir in the “soffritto” made from carrots, celery and onion with olive oil (extra-virgin) and cook until it starts to brown. Then you can add minced beef mixing with minced pork. Let it cook for about 10 minutes. When it’s browned, turn the heat to medium-high and stir in some dry white wine and cook it until it evaporates (please never use any sweet wine, it’s disgusting!). Now you can add your chopped tomatoes (boil them first and get rid of the skin). Cook it for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours (depending on how much sauce you’re cooking). Saute your gnocchi with the ragù sauce (or marinara), drizzle with Parmesan cheese to coat your dish. Serve hot. It’s gonna be delicious!!!

Wine Pairing: Marmorelle, it’s Frascati Superiore DOC – it’s a pure Frascati grapes from the Winery Principe Pallavicini ed. 2009 (Colonna – Rome – Lazio).

022 eggplant parm








Eggplant Parmigiana (Parmigiana di Melanzane

5 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggplant, cut into thin slices
200 ml/2 cups sun flower oil to deep-fry
1kg./1/2 lb italian fresh tomato skinned-chopped (Tomatoes on the vine or Roma tomatoes are the best types that you can get back home)
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon fresh organic basil
9 Oz. fresh (250 gr.) mozzarella cheese, shredded (I’d suggest normal mozzarella and not the buffalo one because it’s drier and will not release too much liquid to the Parmigiana)
3.5 Oz. (100 gr.)  grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the sauce first. In a large frying pan over low heat, stir in the clove of garlic (remember to keep the skin on, just smash it an saute into extra virgin olive oil) and cook until it starts to brown. Boil the fresh San Marzano tomatoes and remove the skin, then chop them and add to the frying pan. Cook it for about 15 minutes, then add salt and freshly chopped basil leaves. In the meantime place the eggplant sliced into circle in a colander and sprinkle with the coarse sea salt. Let drain for 1 hour (we skipped this in the class, because we didn’t have time, but it’s okay because the eggplant I got for you at the market were very small and seedless). Heat the oil in a large deep frying pan until very hot. Shake the salt off the eggplant and fry ub small batches until golden brown, 5-7 minutes per batch. Drain onto paper towels. Add salt.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a medium baking dish. Spread a layer of eggplant in baking dish, top with tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, few leaves of fresh organic basil and top it with Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers. Bake the tray of eggplant until hot and bubbly (about 10 minutes) and serve it covered in Parmesan cheese. Decorate with fresh basil. Can be served hot or cold.

Wine Pairing: Cesanese di Olevano Romano – it’s a pure Cesanese (the typical red grapes from Lazio Region) aged in small barrels from the Winery Azienda Agricola Proietti ed. 2009

Side dish: Broccoli Romaneschi (Roman Style Broccoli)

1 clove garlic (don’t forget to keep the skin on it while you’re sauteing with extra virgin olive oil)
2 heads of roman broccoli (about 2lb/1kg)
Chili Flakes

First clean and wash the broccoli. Remove the bottom of the plant, leaving the smaller leaves and cutting it into smaller pieces. Let the broccoli cook in salted boiling water for a few minutes, until each piece is tender and soft. Then in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, leave garlic to brown with extra virgin olive oil. Once the garlic is brown, take it out (the garlic taste is still there) toss in your boiled broccoli, leave to simmer with garlic until everything is nicely sauteed. Season your dish with saltl Add chili flakes if you’d like. Serve warm.

037Dessert: Tiramisù

4 eggs
4 tablespoon of confectioner sugar
250gr (about 9 oz) mascarpone cheese (it’s an imported product in the States, so I’m using the Italian measurement so you will know how much to get!)
ladyfingers or savoiardi biscuits
200ml (about 2 cups) espresso coffee

Make some coffee to dip the lady fingers in and set aside. To make the cream mixture, separate 4 egg yolks from the whites, use an electric whisk to whip the 4 egg whites with 2 spoons of confectioner sugar and a few grains of salt–until stiff but not dry. In a separate bowl beat the 4 yolks and 2 spoons of confectioners sugar until very thick and light in color. With a wooden spoon, stir in 250 gr of mascarpone cheese  until smooth. As soon as both of the creams are ready, fold them from the bottom to the top with a spatula (so the egg whites will maintain their consistency). To assemble, dip half of the ladyfingers, one at a time, into the coffee mixture and line a long flat serving dish with them. Spoon a layer of the cream mixture over these. Add another layer of dipped ladyfingers and some chocolate chips, then spoon the remaining cream over the top. We prepared only one layer of ladyfinger, even if the quantity of cream was enough to make two layers. Cover with a thick layer of grated unsweetened chocolate/cocoa powder and leave it chilling in the fridge for a minimum of two hours. If you want, this dish can be made up to one day in advance. In this case sprinkle cocoa powder only before serving and not in advance. It will be delicious!!

Finally, in Chef Andrea’s own words, Have fun cooking and a great dinner!!! And when you’re planning a trip to Rome, be sure and consider signing up for one of his cooking classes yourself. Here’s a link to learn more.

the magic of rainy days in Venice

The week in review: It’s been fairly quiet this week along the Wasatch. The snowstorm that swamped us for three days last weekend finally quit sometime Sunday, and we were able to get out of the house and into the city for our bi-monthly lecture from the Forum for Questioning Minds, where Jill B. Jones, author of CASINO WOMEN, shared stories of women casino workers in Reno and Las Vegas.  Monday night I had a longgggg night in the Sleep/Wake Center at the University to learn whether I ever learned to sleep and/or breathe correctly upon birth 70 years ago. In other words, “why do I snore so bad?” More on that when I have results. Also, got good news from my Halloween colonoscopy. No more of that, thank goodness, for three years.  Now all that’s left until January, barring unforeseen maladies, is another blood test. Now let’s go to Venice to see how rainy weather only adds to the magic of the city.

The Grand Canal, Venice (the 8th day): Here our driver guides us along one of the major water-traffic corridors in Venice, which the Italians pronounce Venezia (ve-nit-zi-a) by the way, in a water taxi or water bus, not sure what to call it. The S-shaped canal continues for about two miles, and most of the 170+ buildings date from the 13th-18th century. Rich Venetian families apparently vie with each other to show off their richness with these picturesque palazzos. Most buildings emerge directly from water with no sidewalk pavements, and can only be viewed from the front by boat. And here I am looking and feeling like a country bumpkin all agog in the big city, hardly able to believe where I am… It’s mid- to late-afternoon and we’ve been warned to take along our rain gear as clouds gathering suggest there’s a real possibility of some showers later. At the moment I’m not concerned about getting wet. All I can think about are scenes from movies (like James Bond’s Casino Royal & Moonraker, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and wasn’t there one with Meg Ryan or some other American sweetheart?); all I can hear in my head are the voices of Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and Placido Domingo, and even Dean Martin pops in with That’s Amore.  Here’s one of my favorite waterfront palazzos. Two things never fail to catch my eye: flowers in flowerboxes and color.

All too soon we’ve covered the full two-mile length, past idle trade ships and and impressive cathedrals (so many we can’t possibly remember all the names; we’ve discovered it’s fairly safe to say either St. Mark’s or Santa Maria’s and be right 30% of the time) and pass through the famous Rialto Bridge to enter the area of St. Mark’s Square where we’ll disembark and get ready for our much-anticipated Gondola ride.

Back at the boatdock, we all line up into six-person groups waiting for our turn. Three or four boats with our groups had already loaded and left the dock when the rain began. It didn’t seem so threatening at first, and then it was nearly our turn to take the next boat. Suddenly the sky darkened and all the clouds overhead seemed to burst at the seams all at once. Someone saw a gondola with our people aboard, already drenched to the skin, trying to make it to one of the smaller canal bridges where they would wait out the storm looking rather miserable. For a change I was really happy we weren’t in one of the first groups, hence we stayed reasonably dry under the canopied waiting dock. When it became clear the rain had no plans to stop, our tour director announced the gondola rides had been cancelled.

If we were lucky we’d have one more chance for that Venetian gondola ride tomorrow, weather permitting. We proceeded to our hotel in Venice’s mainland suburb. While Mestre is modern and industrial and cheaper than its neighbor, the “canals” we viewed from our hotel window, admittedly picturesque in their own way, could not compare to the romantic canals of Venice. On the way to the coach, a dazzling rainbow set against a brightening sky seems to promise our group, many of us understandably disappointed–many wet and hungry–that our chances were very good. (That’s me in the green jacket with the street lamp jutting out from my head.)

Sure enough, the next morning we made it, and, again, I learned the gondola rides featured in movie settings and picture books are a little more complicated. Should my readers visit Venice someday and seek out your own gondola adventure,  be advised that there are different ways to navigate the canals. And I’m pretty sure if you want to snap a digital or two, you’ll have loads of opportunities. The chances are more than even that you’ll encounter a bride and groom along the way. But where were the singing gondoliers from the movies? You know…the ones with the striped shirts and straw hats? The reality is that you see all kinds of boats on the canals used for different purposes, weddings, funerals, pageants, even races. It’s considered a special occasion boat and the current cost of a ride is around €80 for a 40-minute cruise (sometimes with a glass of wine). There are cheaper deals available, but our tour was apparently one of those. Six to a boat instead of two, no serenade. I had to content myself with the voices in my head–Bocelli, Pavarotti, and Domingo, and danged if Dean Martin didn’t pop in again once or twice!

You may be struck, as I was, at the vast number of clothesline you’ll see hanging outside. Seems because of the high cost of electricity, most Italian homes do not have clothes dryers, only about 3-4% from what I’ve read. Most Italians hang their clothes to dry in yards, on folding racks set out on the porch, or clotheslines outside in front of their windows. They reason that it’s not only easy, but economical, an important consideration when you consider how expensive it must be to rent or own a home in Venice.

Lest you think all of Venice as a city exclusively spread out along water canals, I offer this alley view. That’s Hubby waiting for me to catch up along one of the mazes of sidewalks leading back to St. Mark’s Square. Always at a loss for navigating, I’m always asking, Are you sure this is the way out? Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, he’s right, as he was this time, thank goodness!

Back on St. Mark’s Square is  the great church (St. Mark’s Basilica) with its beautiful clock tower. On the top terrace below the winged lion  with an open book are two bronze figures, hinged at the waist, which strike the hours on a bell. One figure is old, the other young, to show the passing of time. They are said to represent shepherds as they are wearing sheepskins, and are giant in size so that their form can be recognized at a distance. Although the clock tower has undergone numerous restorations over the years (originally a statue was kneeling before the lion but was removed in by the French in 1797 after the city surrendered to Napoleon), the bell is the original one.

Now you may have heard or read about the flooding in northern Italy the last few weeks, and of course scientists have been saying for years that Venice is slowly sinking. Every time the rains come, the winds blow, and tides sweep more water in. It’s easy to see from this picture taken along the boat docking area how flooding would be a big problem for Venice.

And it’s no secret that in this 21st century, there are few places a person can’t get to within a day of travel, and more people than ever are now realizing long-held dreams of seeing the world, fulfilling their own “bucket-dreams.” Thus the tourist industry continues to flourish, particularly in Italy. It continues to be an important part of our global economy. Thus, in an effort not to discourage visitors to Italy’s famous city built on the seas, Venetians came up with alternative ways for tourists to get around the square in the (more and more) likely event of flooding. Indeed, you can see the props scattered around the square when not in use although you may not recognize what they are. When they are needed, here’s how they look.

Rather than complain, since you can’t argue with Mother Nature anyhow, nor can we yet agree among us that global warming is real, floods are now a fairly regular part of the Venetian tourism experience. Ever resilient, the tourists have learned to take it all in stride and make the best of it, even thinking of it as an different kind of travel adventure. This picture is from Reuters News Agency, but you can go online and do your own search (floods in Italy) and come up with your own assortment of tourists flopping around straddling floating tubes or surfboarding through the streets. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad philosophy for life. Let me add quickly, however, that in spite of the magic of that Venetian rainbow, I’m glad we saw it while you can still navigate on foot there. We got out at just the right time. Venice, or Venezia, as my new Italian friends would say, still holds a lot of magic.