Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sunday night dinner

I am posting pictures from two dinners that I made using mostly ingredients that can be found in Tuscany. First are pictures from the italian dinner that I made. I had garlic/herb infused artichokes and bruschetta with ripe tomatoes on tuscany garlic bread. That dinner was filled with garlic. Too much of it probably. lol We paired this with a 2005 Caparone Aglianico. Hearty red wine that goes great with italian food.

In the picture above is the garlic tuscan bread from Publix. (yes publix!!) And my mom's amazing bread cutter. I want one.

The other pictures are of a salmon dinner with grilled eggplant and salad. It was also pretty amazing. My mom made a nice shallot/butter saute on the salmon. This is probably more french than italian. We paired this with a 2007 Pahlmeyer chardonnay.

This chardonnay is totally amazing. I don't even like white wines that much and this knocked my Kinos (sandals) off. I know this chardonnay is not cheap, but it is worth the $50-70 splurge. (sells for different amounts at different places) This is the most expensive chardonnay that I have ever tried.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Loose Wine

Finally, a chapter about wine!!!

Sfuso in Italian means "loose wine." Most italian farmhouses/vineyards produce a house wine for themselves and friends. Most tuscans make their own wine. (like my college friends making their own grain alcohol...yet somehow different)

Frances and her husband make a trip to Montepulciano. (which is one of my favorite areas for Italian wines) They take their glass demijohn to be filled with wine. To protect the wine they put olive oil on the top so it forms a seal and then close it with a cork.
The most notable wines produced in the region are chianti and brunello. (yum and double yum) Another wine is Vino Nobile and it is primarily made from the sangiovese grape. The Vino Nobile started being produced in the 1300s, but sangiovese grape has an even older history. Sanguis is latin for "blood." Picture of Montepulciano below.

Frances and Ed buy their wine from the Avignonesi vineyards. I wonder if this vineyard was started by the french papacy in Avignon..hmmm.
Here is the quote from their website;
"Quality is made by men: made by their dreams, by their experience, by their dedication. This is why you must know their history and their passions. This is the only way that you will understand where the quality of their work springs from."
I hope this is an old antiquated quote. Quality can also be made by a WOMAN Avignonesi vineyards. Welcome to 2010.

Frances discusses a wine made at Avignonesi called vin santo. This is a smooth, nutty after dinner wine. Vin santo is also known as "holy wine." Why? It has a historic use as a wine at mass, where sweet wine (over quality wine) was preferred. An early reference to this type of wine was made by renaissance wine merchants of Florence. Stories emerged of a friar who could cure diseases with this wine. (I'm sure drinking enough of this could at least cure a sweet tooth...still it is too sweet for me)
Even more history on it --> When the Turks took over the island of Santorini, they introduced vin santo. It was eventually exported to Russia and used predominantly in the Russian Orthodox masses.

I like that Frances includes the law here...."He fills our jugs from a hose attached to an enormous vat. By law he must seal the jugs and dutifully record our names in the computer."
(almost like buying fireworks in FL and recording the purpose as scaring birds)

I like the quote at the end of the chapter...a wine quote has a special place in my heart.

"Wine is light, held together by water." - Galileo

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Artichokes and more artichokes

BELLA TUSCANY (Pg. 13- 22)

Both Frances and her husband manage to buy 25 artichokes each, separately, in the same day. That is 50 artichokes people!! I know I know...they were the "small" artichokes. I could still pack away some butter with 50 small artichokes. That is my favorite way to eat artichokes, the large ones at least. Melt some butter and dip the leaves in and heart at the end. This veggie never gets old for me.

I grew up being a VERY picky eater. We'll get to that another day. Let's just say I had a childhood love affair with McDonalds Chicken Nuggets. (and children...this was before the all white meat nuggets). Who knew what type of chicken byproducts I was eating. Gross. Moving on.

It seems the "small" artichokes are popular right now. Why? I think it's because the entire thing is edible. You don't have to spoon out that hairy part in the middle.

Frances says all the restaurants in Camucia have fried artichokes on the menu. That just sounds delish. Fried anything sound amazing right now.

The market also sells "rape." (both syllables pronounced) This is a type of flower. I don't think I've had this. Maybe I have...not sure. Frances says this is like the untamed cousin of broccoli. On the list of things to try.

The italians even put nettles into their risotto or pasta. Nettles...aren't those weeds? Even if this is prompting my gag reflex...i'm sure the Italians manage it well. A picture of a nettle is below. I really had no idea what they resembled until this moment.

Here is my favorite part of the evening -->
In the late spring afternoons in Tuscany, women walk with bags and sticks to gather wild greens for their dinner salads. These women take a bunch of wild greens from Frances' property. She calls it, "insalata mista for the taking."
HA!! Can you imagine? In America, the equivalent would be people stealing baked fruit pies that are cooling in an open window. (of course that was the 1950s and no longer really happens) (or does it?)

The chapter ends with one of the garden walls falling down and a stranger telling Frances that the house is haunted. The stranger says a small child fell in the well and drowned. The stranger says, "all old houses are haunted." That seems to be true.

Here's to the summer and baby artichokes.
A picture of the food market in Cortona, Italy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who is Frances Mayes??

Frances Mayes is a novelist and university professor. She earned her MA from San Francisco State University. This is where Frances taught and eventually became the chair of the Department of Creative Writing.

In 1996, Frances published the book, Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy. This book followed Frances as she purchased a Tuscan home, remodeled it and started her love affair with Italy.

In 2003, there was a film released under the same name. Diane Lane played the lead character, and I thought it sucked. Sorry Frances... but it did. It wasn't even really based on the book.

Frances has devoted her writing skills to many other fine projects. Her latest memoir is Every Day in Tuscany, which was released in March of this year.

Frances possesses the unique ability to describe the minute passing of life with great detail. This is partly from her experiences in Tuscany.

With this brief introductory of the author....let's begin with the book.

The books begins with a preface by Frances. She talks about living "La Dolce Vita" (living the good life). I try to make that my motto for living as well. In Italy, the good life provides fresher food and glorious Tuscan wines. My "good life" doesn't really meet the Italian good life, food wise at least. I can still dream and buy expensive Italian cheeses at whole foods. Yum.

I really respect Frances, because she went and purchased a house 7,000 miles away from home and made it her new home. She embraced the defects and imperfections of old world homes and living. Everyone wants "new" and "better" houses today. I think fixing up a senior citizen house might be fun, even with all the headaches.

What impresses me most is her determination to start a full garden that will provide all necessary vegetables and herbs. Now that is a chore. The thought of having my own garden intrigues me. It hasn't intrigued me enough to start my own yet. I managed to kill the $2 basil plant. Not a great start.

Let's hope her garden improves and so does her consumption of wine. :)
La Vita Dolce