The True Olive Oil Experience!

16 01 2012

Yesterday was an incredibly special “Culinary Gathering” co-hosted by my wonderful Italian friend Cristiana.  We met last year in San Casciano, her home town in Chianti, Italy.  She opened the doors of her life to me as we ate wonderful meals at her family’s home, toured her famous Tuscan farm and nursery, wine-tasted all over the region, met local pasta makers and olive oil producers and traveled to different regions of Italy together.

Yesterday Cristiana was in my home. It was quite an honor to share my life, my home and and especially my passion for food with her. We hosted an “Italian Culinary Gathering” to share the unique recipes from her Grandmother’s kitchen, “La Bruna”, with some of my most loyal clients.  The food was unlike any Italian food I have tasted in the US.  It was full of bursting flavors and unusual techniques that I have never considered in my approach to cooking.  Most importantly, this “Culinary Gathering” was full of love, warmth and appreciation for a fantastic culture.

I’d like to share with you a small clip of Cristiana teaching the class how to taste the olive oil from her farm.  It’s a tradition in Italy called “Fettunta”: The only way to celebrate the new olive oil of the year.

To purchase Maldon Salt check out The Spice House in Chicago or Evanston


Alberto’s Pasta Carbonara

22 12 2011

There is nothing better than eating an incredible meal when you have no expectations.  Last year when I lived in Italy for four months I had a ton of over the top food experiences.  Most of them were when my mom or friends came to visit and we went to fancy hot spots in Florence, Chianti and Sienna.  The raw ingredients in Italy were so incredible that it was truly hard to have a bad meal.

However, one of the most memorable dinners in Italy was when my boyfriend at the time, Alberto, offered to make me dinner.  Now I have to be honest, in the four months I lived with this man, I never saw him make a sandwich.  Alberto was a total guy’s guy.  The refrigerator would have been empty if I didn’t live there…completely bachelor style.  He actually went home on his lunch breaks from work to eat with his family because his mom made elaborate three course meals. (could you blame him?)  So the night Alberto said, I’m going to make you my “famous Carbonara”, I didn’t get too excited.

My expectations were in-line with the Americanized Pasta Carbonara which is typically pasta with bacon, cheese, eggs, garlic, green peas and cream.  Nothing about that combination ever seemed too sexy to me, primarily because my tummy doesn’t do well with rich heavy dishes. (lactose intolerance doesn’t help).  I’m an olive oil kinda girl.  That’s why I love Italian food!

Alberto’s Carbonara was full of simple ingredients, bold flavor and was amazingly light for a Carbonara.  He shared his special tricks with me and I’d love to share them with you.  If you notice, there is no cream, butter, or peas in this recipe.  Instead, the whipped raw eggs and Parmesan cheese naturally make a light creamy sauce.

Watch the video and try this recipe for satisfying and delicious winter meal!

Alberto’s Pasta Carbonara: (with a Kasey twist)
12oz. fresh spaghetti or linguine pasta (I recommend Al Dente Pasta)
½ large yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
7 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced in thin lardoons
2 extra large eggs, at room temperature
4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
1 handful of fresh arugula
½ lemon, juiced (optional)
Kosher Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper, to taste
Put the thin slices of bacon in large sauté pan over medium heat.  Let the bacon render and begin to crisp for 10-15 minutes over low heat. In a separate pan, heat 1-2 Tbs. of olive oil.  Saute the slivered onion and minced garlic and for 4-5 minutes, until the onions start to caramelize. Place the cooked onion, garlic, bacon and bacon fat in a big bowl. (reserve the bacon fat to add later)  In a separate bowl, scramble the eggs with 2 oz. of Parmesan cheese.  Set aside.
Boil the pasta in a big pot of salted water.  When the pasta is al dente (just done with a bite), drain it with a slotted spoon and put the hot pasta in the bowl with the bacon, onion and garlic mixture.  Stir in the scrambled egg mixture and the bacon fat.  Mix together while slowly adding in the rest of the Parmesan cheese. Season with lots of fresh black pepper and Kosher salt.

Adventures in Goat Cheesing

4 11 2010

After spending four days on a goat farm in Italy, I can honestly only compare it to one other experience of my life: Wine Making.  Six years ago I had the chance to work the harvest on a vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina.  I expected to work a few hours, maybe stomp on some grapes, drink wine all day and be merry.  My expectations were quite far from reality.  Wine and cheese making are completely glorified arts.  While the finished products are full of pleasure, most people have no idea how much hard work, manual labour and finesse goes into them.  Fortunately, my friend Kelly and I had the opportunity to “visit” a fantastic goat cheese farm (without doing the crazy work) in exchange for room and board.  Here are some highlights of the trip:

Brent’s (the cheese maker’s) Vegetable Garden: Along the side of Brent’s property,  lies a beautiful vegetable garden.  Let me preface with the fact that we were there in the middle of October so I was shocked to see so much life in the garden.  The vegetables that were growing were plump and succulent. The garden was sprouting everything you can imagine: cherry tomatoes, blossoming zucchini with yellow flowers, green and red peppers, lemon verbena, mint, basil, rosemary, chives, spring onions, cabbage, etc. We also discovered a luscious fig tree bearing juicy red fruit and olive trees with un-ripened green pellets waiting to be pressed into fresh olive oil.  Within 30 minutes of being at the farm, I discovered the beautiful garden and picked a huge bunch of lemon verbena to brew hot tea and a combination of zucchini, sprouting scallions, garlic, pepperoncino, thyme and chives to saute for an afternoon snack.  Gotta love seasonal gardens!

Pizza at a Dive in Small Town Italy:

Brent and his partner invited us out for a local dinner the first night of our stay. We went to this tiny town called Anghiari (with literally 4 restaurants) where they apparently know how to make some serious thin crust pizza.  It was honestly more similar to flatbread than what I know as pizza from Chicago.  It was also Kelly’s first pizza in Italy and she really hit the jackpot. Her order: homemade tomato sauce, creamy buffalo mozzarella, roasted eggplant, fresh pepperoni, gorgonzola, and arugula. It sounds like a lot of ingredients, but let me tell you this pizza stopped conversation.  I watched as Kelly’s eyes rolled back and she literally took a moment for herself.  It put a big smile on my face…having my friend really taste the essence of Italy in one delicious bite.

Selling Cheese at a Local Farmers Market: The next morning we helped Brent at the local Farmer’s Market in the center of a rustic cobble-stoned piazza in a nearby town. He was joined by about 20 other local artisanal farmer’s, each representing their own specific trade.  Consequently, all of the food was absolutely out of this world.  The market was filled with the ingredients of Fall: black and white truffles, firm sheep’s milk cheeses from Sicily, local Sangiovese wines, fantastically crisp pears and apples, green olive oils, almond biscotti, Porchetta, moldy salami’s and of course all of the fresh goat cheeses that we were selling.  Kelly and I took breaks from our cheese stand to buy ingredients for dinner that we were going to cook in the evening. We assisted Brent as he sold his artisanal cheeses, watching wide-eyed as he bargained with old italian women, conversed in the native tongue with a few Dutch and German expats, joked with young cherub italian children as he handed out samples, and bartered with the italian wine maker to trade his cheese for wine. To be behind the booth at a local Italian farmer’s market is an experience I’ll never forget. It was a truly amazing morning.

Best Cappuccino of my life:
During the farmers market, I experienced one of the best hot beverage moments ever. (I say “hot beverage” because I the wine moments I have had on this trip our countless) The cafe itself was adorable.  Not because it had cute tables, couches or a fireplace, but because it was filled with a warm yet excited energy.  The weather was absolutely freezing  outside and even though I was wearing 6 layers and a funny hoodie scarf, I felt chilled to the bone. That didn’t stop locals from being overwhelmingly friendly and seemingly joyful about being alive.  It was the kind of coffee shop you wanted to stand in and people watch all day.  The cappuccino was like the chocolate icing on a delicious red velvet cake.  It was the perfect mixture of dark Italian espresso, hot whole milk and the foamiest foam in the world.  The best part was that it was served with a freakin dark chocolate spoon!  I mean, come on!  My freezing hand-picked up that dark spoon of love and dipped it in right in the foamy coffee deliciousness.  The flavors were like an instant dark chocolate mocha in my mouth.  Kelly and I hung out at this spot for another 15 minutes, lingering over with our perfect cappuccino’s and marveling over the quick movements of the baristas.  Before I left, I told one of them,” multo bene (very good). Este cafe es perfectione!” The barista looked at me stunned and when she finally realized what I was saying she bowed and graciously thanked me for my compliment.  I guess Italian barista’s don’t get that kind of complement from their local customers every day!
A Seasonal Feast on the Farm:
The best part of  knowing how to cook is that it is universally appreciated.  It is my way of giving back.  Kelly and I felt so lucky to be having this experience on the farm that we offered to make dinner the last night for Brent, his partner, and Tierney. The night was filled with intimate stories, enough laughs to make your belly hurt, great food and too much wine. To start, we enjoyed some of the cured meats from the farmers market with crispy apples and fresh figs. Brent picked some huge pieces of fresh sage from his garden and fried them up, seasoned them with crispy salt and served them right out of the pan.  Kelly nearly died over the unique flavor of the fried sage chips.  For dinner we ate a salad of spicy arugula, roasted peppers, capers, anchovies, sliced celery, and shaved goat’s milk cheese from Brent’s farm, with balsamic and olive oil. As a side, I roasted small pieces of baby cauliflower and broccoli with Brent’s homemade chili and garlic oil. For the main course we had some artisanal pasta with some sautéed miniature chanterelle mushrooms, local pork sausage from the market, garlic, olive oil, and white wine. It was a serious feast, if you can imagine. We sat around the table, talked about life for hours and got seriously tipsy. Fantastico!