Less is More

15 02 2012

Sometimes less is more when it comes to food.  The Italians definitely understand this concept.  Italian food is all about using the best ingredients in their truest form.  While I tend to complicate my recipes with a list of 15 ingredients, my new goal is to restrain this impulse and use less to develop big flavors.

What does that mean to me?  It means, sourcing food that is in season.  If food is in season then you don’t have to add all sorts of fats, sugars or spices to make it taste better.  It’s simply delicious and full or flavor to start.  I also try to use one unique speciality ingredient in each recipe for a “wow” factor. Last, I try to focus on delicately balancing flavors in a dish.  When I am using only four ingredients, they are all strategically picked to form a ying and yang balance.

A few weeks ago,  I was in Ann Arbor Michigan again with my close Italian friend, Cristiana visiting Monique, the owner of “Al Dente” pasta.  Monique proposed a challenge to me, “come up with a pasta recipe using only three main ingredients.  I want this pasta to be easy to make, economic, and delicious.”  I am not the most competitive person in the world, but I love challenges when it comes to food.  My mind started wrapping around flavor combinations that would not only showcase the pasta but make a unique statement.

That afternoon while we were walking around a fish market in Kerrytown, I passed by some high-quality Italian tuna in olive oil.  Immediately my mind flashed back to last year in Italy when was I was shopping for one of my first meals in Pisa.   I went into the best specialty shop in town and carefully examined the case of cured meats, cheeses, fish and antipasti.   What stood out to me was this huge chunk of gorgeous tuna sitting in a large bowl of golden olive oil.  Everyone in the store was buying a bit of the tuna, so I knew I had to try it.  I purchased about 1/2 lb. for 15 dollars.  The high cost assured me this tuna was going to taste a hell of a lot better than our fishy canned tuna “Starkist” in the states.  That night I made a meal, flaking the tuna into a pasta dish with some local ingredients.  The flavors of the tuna were savory and delicate (with no fishy taste at all) combined with the bitterness of arugula and creamy Parmesan cheese.  I was thrilled to discover how sexy and seductive tuna could taste with a simple pasta dish.

So my decision was made, right then and there in the Kerrytown fish market.  I was going to create an Italian flaked tuna pasta recipe with seasonal ingredients for Monique’s challenge.  I picked out some gorgeous pink turnips, fresh blossoming spinach, and imported  Tonnino Italian Tuna in oil and set out to re-create that magical dish inspired by the Tuscan market.

Monique, her friends and Cristiana all loved the pasta!  I hope this recipe makes you appreciate good quality canned tuna and inspires you to play around with new combinations of flavors.  Please let me know what you think!

Flakey Tuna and Roasted Turnip Fettucini:


6 large turnips, cut in small pieces

4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic, minced

6 oz. fresh spinach (or arugula)

6-7 oz. high-quality Italian Tuna in olive oil

1.5 Tbs. capers, minced

1/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated

½ lemon, juiced

1 bag (10 oz.) whole wheat “Al Dente” Fettucini

Kosher Salt and Black Pepper, to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut each turnip in half horizontally.  Cut each half of turnip in eight pieces and put the small pieces on a sheet tray.  Repeat with the rest of the turnips.  Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until tender and caramelized.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil from the jar of tuna.  When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and sauté for 20 seconds.  Toss in the fresh arugula, seasoning with a pinch of salt and black pepper, and sauté for 3-4 minutes until the spinach is wilted.  Flake in the tuna over the spinach and add the capers and roasted turnips. Turn off the heat.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for 3 minutes.  Before draining, add 1/3 cup of pasta water to the pan with the arugula, tuna and turnips.  Drain the pasta and add it directly into the pan with the other ingredients.  Stir over low heat for 2-3, adding the lemon juice, 2 Tbs. of olive oil, fresh Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!



30 08 2011

It’s amazing to think that no matter how old you are, food is always a part of your life.  Everybody has to eat.  People gather around food all over the world to bond, celebrate, catch-up, share remorse and make memories.  In certain cultures, life  revolves around food gatherings.  Last night I was reminded of this.  It warmed my heart and made me realize why I love what I do and how it does make a difference to some people.

I was given Sylvia’s number over a month ago.  A client of mine told me her mother’s friend was looking for a caterer.  I gave Sylvia a ring the next day and the sweetest woman answered the phone.  Her soft and gentle voice was a focused on the task at hand: feeding her family for her son’s birthday party.  She explained,” I am getting bids from several caterers in the city for my grandchildren. They are throwing a big party for their father.  They are so busy with their lives, I told them I would do the research for them.”  I could feel Sylvia’s sense of purpose over the phone.  It literally softened my heart to think that an older woman was taking on the role of a party planner.  We spoke for a good 20 minutes and I told her I’d call her back with a price quote.

When I called Sylvia back, the dynamic on the phone was a bit different.  It took her a moment to get situated as she found a pen, paper and asked me to speak slowly.  She explained that she was getting older but her brain was very sharp.  When I told Sylvia my catering fees and suggested some appetizers for the party, she was overjoyed.  She cautioned me that the party would have to be “Kosher-style” and asked me if I knew what that meant.  I told her I was Jewish and mentioned that I had several friends that keep Kosher.  This put Sylvia over the edge.  The questions came pouring out, “Where are you from?  What is your favorite Jewish food?   Do you eat Nova lox? Who is your rabbi? Are you single?

I decided from that moment on, I loved Sylvia.  She was absolutely shameless, without being insulting.  Sylvia declared, “You will cater this party.  I can’t wait for you to speak to my granddaughter!”  The next line out of her mouth took the cake.  “Now Kasey, you have to understand as a 60 year old, my family really loves food, so your food must be great.  Also, my granddaughter is very busy.  She is a doctor and has a baby.  But I assure you she is a wonderful host.”  I paused for a few seconds, smiled from ear to ear, took a breath, and confessed to Sylvia that I was not 60 years old.  She did not understand.  She said, ” Well how old are you then.  You seem too professional to be younger than 60?”  I told her I was 30.  Sylvia became utterly flustered.  She just couldn’t believe I was as young as her granddaughter. I thanked her and immediately asked,” Well how old are you Sylvia?”  She answered, ” Dear, I am 92 years old live in a nursing home.  You need to speak louder.”

That was probably the best party planning moment of my life.  My client thought I was thirty years older than my age and I thought she was thirty years younger.  I guess, it really didn’t matter.  We both came together around the topic of food with passion, focus and joy.

The highlight of the event last night was meeting this amazing matriarch.  Sylvia walked into the party and everyone stopped speaking.  Regardless of the fact that she was 4ft, tall and had a fabulous white hairdo, you could feel that Sylvia was the most respected person in the family.  She came right up to me with her granddaughter and introduced herself.  We embraced with a huge hug and she whispered in my ear, “Kasey, so lovely to meet you.  You really pulled it off darling.”

Minutes later her granddaughter came over to me smiling.  She said Sylvia wanted a detailed description of what I looked like.  She was blind as a bat and just wanted to make sure I was not “12 years old”.

Under the Tuscan Sun

21 09 2010

Anyone that knows me would describe me as a romantic.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love food so much.  Food is sensual and enjoyable in so many ways that words can’t describe.  As a romantic food-lover I see it as my duty to watch all movies that fall under this category.  One of my favorites was definitely “Under the Tuscan Sun”. As a woman, how can you not love the idea of taking a trip around Italy and spontaneously getting off your tour bus, falling in love with an Italian villa in and buying it.  I mean, how romantic can you get?  After seeing that movie years ago I remember thinking “Do Italian towns like that actually exist? ”  If so….I want to go there!

Last week I finally made my way to the town where “Under the Tuscan Sun” was filmed.  I was invited to stay at a restored farmhouse on 60 aches of land in the
mountains.  This house overlooked several incredible Italian cities including Arrezzo, Castigleon and Cortona (the actual town the movie was filmed in).  Thanks to the networking gods of Glencoe, the town I am from, I was put in touch with a the owner of this farmhouse.  Tierney and I met for coffee in Chicago before I left and she invited me to stay for a long weekend at her house in Italy.  Tierney lives a pretty amazing life, splitting her time 50:50 between Glencoe and this magnificent home in Tuscany.  She runs a unique bed and breakfast business called “Tierney does Tuscany” (www.tierneydoestuscany.com), in which she hosts clients in one of her three bedrooms and customizes Tuscan adventures based on their specific interests.  She knows all of the locals in these towns and has more connections than you could believe.  Tierney is good friends with local goat cheese farmers, mushroom foragers, honey makers, pottery teachers and wine makers (all of whom I met when I was there). She literally knows all of the best farmers markets, restaurants and current festivals and sees it as her job to take her clients to them.  You could probably imagine how excited I was when Tierney invited me up for the weekend!

As you would expect, everything on my wish list for Tierney had to do with food. My first full day at her house was a Saturday which meant market day!  Tierney warned me to get excited because we were not going to just any old market, we were hitting up one of the best in the region.  I have to admit, it was actually a bit overwhelming.  I thought Tierney might have been hyping up this market, but when we arrived, my jaw dropped.  This was no joke. (it blew the Ferry Building Market in SF out of the park)  The market was literally seven blocks long and sold everything related to food that you could imagine: live chickens, fresh bread, wild mushrooms, cured meats, herb and lettuce plants, artisan cheeses, exotic fruits…..you name it, it was there.  Before arriving at the market we decided, that we were going to buy anything that looked gorgeous or interesting.  It was my job to figure out how to make these fantastic ingredients taste good (um, kinda and favorite thing to do)

We bought so much food that it took three loads of carrying bags to get the ingredients to our car. Our food adventure did not stop there.   Next, Tierney took me to a local grocery store to buy the proteins that we might need to make our produce purchases into actual meals.  She insisted that an Italian grocery market is a cultural experience.  How could I say no to this?  The grocery store was unbelievable.  It literally had every type of meat, fish, cheese and produce that you could ever think of cooking.  I was most fascinated by the protein section….the meat looked more fresh than Whole Foods and cost about a fraction of the price.  Plus, there was a huge variety. After debating on buying wild boar, quail or rabbit I decided to buy a whole rabbit and figure out a rustic Italian preparation to make for dinner.  I thought, “when do I have the chance to cook a whole rabbit”? When we finally arrived back at Tierney’s house we were laughing at how much we bought.  We both agreed that it was THE MOST manic shopping spree we had ever had in our lives. (at least we weren’t in the Prada outlit)

The meals for the next few days were full of delicious local ingredients from the farm to the table:

Day 1 lunch:

  • Fresh sliced cantaloupe (lightly salted with fleur de sel) with hand-cut prosciutto
  • Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half with fresh snipped basil, thin olive oil and salt bread crisps and Tartufo Pecorino cheese
  • A light Sauvignon Blanc

Day 1 Dinner:

  • Sautéed Padron Peppers with chanterelles, shallot and garlic
  • Roasted Celery and Summer Zucchini with shaved Parmesan
  • Crispy whole Branzino fish stuffed with herbs, lemon, garlic and white wine with fresh focaccia bread
  • A local Chianti Classico

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Lunch Day 2:

  • Crispy fried eggs (fresh that day from chickens)
  • Goat’s milk Ricotta (make the day before on the goat farm) drizzled with chestnut honey (from the honey-maker we met) and toasted walnuts
  • Tomatoes with Tierny’s olive oil and fresh basil
  • Light Tocai Italian wine

Dinner Day 2:

  • Round 2 of Padron Peppers with Chanterelles, shallot and garlic
  • Stuffed Whole Rabbit with garlic confit, crispy pancetta, fennel tops, oregano, sage, sliced lemon and white wine-seared in pork fat and roasted
  • Crispy purple spring onions
  • Local chianti Classico and beer

Let’s just say that this region of Italy was another slice of heaven!


18 09 2010

In Tuscany, no one would argue that Livorno is the best place in the region to taste and buy seafood.  Lucky enough for me, this seaside town is only a 15 minute train ride from Pisa.  My friend Marlene and I went early this morning to buy an assortment of seafood for the seafood stew I am making this evening. Check out my videos!

The finished Product:  Cioppino

Pappa al Pomodoro

14 09 2010

I was always a good student growing up.  I studied hard, memorized the facts, and then took the tests.  I executed well on the exams but if you ask me to recall anything I learned from history or english class in college I would have little to tell.  The two things I never forget are the people I meet and anything related to food.  When I say I never forget food….I literally can recall special meals that my mom cooked for me when I was five, the ingredients in a dish I had at my 16th birthday or a recipe technique I read from a Savour magazine two years ago.  My heart and soul soak up food memories and new ideas like a sponge.  I guess it’s just how I was made.

When you are planning a trip to Italy, it seems like everyone has a suggestion for you about where to go and the food you “have to try”.  Pappa al Pomodoro, or Tuscan tomato-bread soup, is one of those dishes that I knew I could not miss. My best friend Bree, from culinary school, went to Italy for her honeymoon and came back with a some serious food stories.  I vividly remember her describing this Tuscan tomato soup with the juiciest tomatoes in the world absorbed by chunky pieces of bread and coated with the flavors of fresh basil and garlic.  The description made my mouth salavate ….I knew this was a dish on my list.

Last week when I was visiting different regions in Chianti, my friend Cristiana introduced me to a beautiful town called Greve.  This town had a different feel from the others I visited.  It was far more sophisticated and chic then the other rustic villages nearby.  Some might notice a snobbish vibe while walking around because the stores are pristine, the prices are high and the streets are full of high-end wine shops and restaurants.  I felt like I was in foodie heaven.

A local in a town nearby suggested that we try “Osteria Mangiado Mangiado” for lunch.  I typically don’t throw down thirty or forty dollars for lunch in the states, but when in Greve I thought “why the hell not”.  The menu enticed me from first glance when I saw the “Pappa al Pomodoro” and other local specialties.  I choose the famous tomato soup for my first dish and  also ordered a Porcini Risotto with a glass of local Chianti Classico (it was a bit intense, but I can not help to over order these days). Let me just say, the first taste of the Pappa al Pomodoro blew me away.  This was not a typical summer soup.   It was more like a thick, summer stew with robust, clean tomato flavors that seemed to burst in my mouth. I savoured every bite, closing my eyes and feeling as if I could taste all of the flavors of Italy….tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil. The other thing I truly appreciated was that this was a simple peasant soup.  This soup was constructed so that the peasant farmers would never throw away ingredients in their kitchen.  Pappa al Pomodoro became an efficient and hearty summer soup that was made to use the leftover scraps in the kitchen.

As a chef, this dish reminded me of how important it is to stay creative when you have a limited amount of ingredients or a low-budget.  I have developed some of the most interesting dishes by combining leftover ingredients to create something new and different.

Check out this link for a good Pappa al Pomodoro recipe:


Chianti=Heaven on Earth

9 09 2010

Read the rest of this entry »

My Artichoke Obsession Continues….

5 09 2010

Ever since I was a little girl, artichokes were my favorite food in the entire world.  I guess that might have been an indication that I was far from a picky eater and might become a foodie later in life.  I remember going to the grocery store with my mom and she would ask me what I would like for dinner.  I always begged for artichokes and she would shake her head and laugh because most kids my age craved chicken fingers and mac and cheese.  I was lucky to have a mom that loved to cook and knew great food.  She definitely passed on her appreciation of food to me.
My last day in Rome I decided to hit up the Jewish Ghetto to obviously connect with my Jewish roots but more importantly (sorry dad) to eat the food.   We all know that Italians love their food and family so i thought it would be interesting to check out the Jewish scene here.  When I read about the typical food of Rome, the fried artichokes in the Jewish Ghetto were mentioned several times. I thought this was pretty odd because artichokes never seemed particularly Jewish to me, but I couldn’t wait to taste what all the hype was about.

I sat down and checked out the menu.  I think about 4 of the 8 options for antipasti were made with artichokes (again, this made me very happy).  I knew I had to try the fried preparation and I asked the waiter, in seriously broken Italian, if he could suggest another typical item of the region.  He pointed to the baked anchovy and endive tart on the menu.  This was definitely something I would never order back in the states, but that is exactly the reason I choose it.  My goal in Italy is to eat anything and everything out of my comfort zone to be inspired and truly get a feel of the place through its food.

The fried artichoke was served first and I couldn’t help but smile when it was put in front of me.  Nothing could have looked more gorgeous to me that this fried vegetable (it sounds funny but it seriously looked like a crispy sunflower) .  The stem and the stingy tips of the artichoke were cleaned so every bit was edible. I dove in, squeezing a wedge of lemon over the top, and devoured some of the outer leaves first.  They were perfectly crispy, fried to perfection, and they tasted exactly like artichoke chips.  Then I cut into the heart of the artichoke, obviously the best part, and enjoyed its perfectly tender and juicy taste.  The only issue I had with eating the artichoke was that it was almost too pretty.  I felt like I was ruining a well constructed piece of art with every bite, which made me eat it slowly and admire its taste and beauty.

I was sure that the artichoke was going to be the centerpiece of my food experience that afternoon, but I must say, the anchovy dish blew me away. I don’t know what I was expecting because I have seriously never eaten a dish solely based on anchovies in my life. When it was served, I sat and looked at the plate, admiring the rustic preparation and realizing that it was not a tart by any means.  I actually wasn’t looking forward to eating another bread based entrée, considering my last few days were filled with pizza, delicious sandwiches and pastries.  I took a bite, closed my eyes and enjoyed the new mixture of flavors.  I couldn’t believe how savory, delicate and creamy the anchovies tasted.  I expected to be overwhelmed with a fishy and salty flavor from the anchovies and bitterness from the endive.  It tasted nothing like this. I learned that slowly cooking anchovies and endive softens the flavor and creates a lovely mixture that can be served as a main dish, a topping on bruschetta or pureed into a delicious dip. I asked the waiter if there was any Parmesan or cream added to the anchovies, but she shook his head, waved his pointer finger (very Italian) and said “absolutely not”. He was almost offended that I asked this question.  I realized this was another example of simplicity at its best. All you need is a few quality ingredients, good technique and a lot of love to create beautiful food.