Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dreaming of Italy........Sogno di Italia

I received an email this morning that begins "Ciao Carissima", I broke into a smile and opened the note that I immediately knew was from our new friend Katia.
This got me to thinking about our most recent visit to Panicale and 'The Pink Palace".

Panicale is a hill town in Umbria south of Lake Trasimeno and quite close to the border of Tuscany, a location that gets us to Montepulciano, Cortona, Assisi, and Siena quite easily, plus it is a good old medieval hill town.
It is through Katia that James and I rented Sogno Panicalese a.k.a. The Pink Palace, for our stay, mind you, James and I normally stay in a small one bedroom apartment, nice but cozy. This time, with the thought that our daughter and her husband Chris might be joining us for a week we wanted something a little more spacious. Did I say a little more spacious?
As usual, we wanted to stay within the walls of the town and required a workable kitchen, washing machine, two bedrooms and hopefully two bathrooms

Sogno Panicalese is an entire in- town villa that is spacious and pink, but pink only on the outside.
Yes, it had several swell bathrooms with tile showers and fitted with tubs to lounge in, but it was in the kitchen that we loved and where James and I spent so much of our time. Face it, anyone that loves to eat and cook loves Italy, but if you are staying in a hotel without a kitchen in sight how in the world can you go to the markets to face the temptation of all the wonderful ingredients and not want to buy them and make a meal. Impossibile! Baby artichokes, porcini mushrooms, guinea hens, wild asparagus and phenomenal pastas speak to us as we shop at the frutta e verdura or at Linda's, Marconi La Bottega.

To be really happy we need a well equipped kitchen at home and away. This villa was so much fun and had so many plates that we were even able to have guests for dinner. I can still hear Cecila Bartoli signing Vivaldi as we prepared dinner for eight one night.

Time for a picnic, but first a cappuccino at Aldo's, then some shopping at the La Bottega for a few ingredients.
Vorrei un po'di pecorino e un ette di salumi, e un po di proscuitto, per favore..... I would like a little pecorino.......
Linda asks," affettato a mano o a macchina?", sliced by hand or machine?
" A mano," I reply, "e meglio, si. " By hand, it's better, yes.
We also needed a can of tuna, neither of us knew how to ask for that in Italian. We looked around and found it, but how about the capers? James somehow came up with the Italian word for capers, and we were on our way.
Everyone is tolerant of my slow Italian and fortunately they politely correct my errors that I am certain to repeat.
We had bread, leftover roast guinea hen from last night's dinner, and tomatoes. All we needed was the tuna sauce to create an unbelievable sandwiches for our picnic.

Tuna Sauce

1 3oz. can of Italian tuna in olive oil (drained)
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers, diced
stock, such as chicken stock ( a small amount as needed)
1 anchovy ( optional) mashed into a paste

You can blend this in a small food processor but for this amount by hand is better.
Shred the tuna then mix in all ingredients leaving the stock until last. Use as much stock as needed until the tuna sauce is the consistency of heavy cream.
For sandwiches use it as you would mayonnaise.

The classic preparation for this sauce pairs it with poached or roast veal. We use it with poached chicken and roast turkey as well. It also is a nice sauce on sliced tomatoes or artichokes hearts.

A picnic in Umbria. The perfect sandwiches. An afternoon drawing. Does it get better? yes it does.......
Back at the villa we pour two glasses of Montefalco Rosso and talk about the day and about *Pietro Perugino and Luca Signorelli and their paintings. James asks, " How about dinner?" After a glass of wine, and by the way the clock on the wall with the dead batteries always reads 4:45, we go out for our evening passeggiata around the outside of the walls, then come back through the gate and walk to the top of the town for a look over Lake Trasimeno where we can see as far as Cortona on this clear evening.
As for dinner, a walk over to ask Andrea if he has a table for the evening on Masolino's balcony so we can dine and watch the sunset over the lake.
A day to dream about.

Man, that sandwich with the tuna sauce was really good!
Dinner at Masolino's was delicious
and James did at last put the new battery in the clock on the kitchen wall.

A few notes:

*Pietro Perugino ( 1446-1524), born in Citta della Pieve.
In the church of San Sebastiani, Panicale, there is a fresco by Perugino, The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian.

Luca Signorelli ( 1445-1523), born in Cortona ( Tuscany,on the north side of Lake Trasimeno).
We recall a climb to the top of Cortona to see a Signorelli painting in the tiny San Nicolo. The painting, hanging over the alter, is also painted on the reverse side. If you are fortunate there will be someone there that can push a button to move the painting away from the wall and reveal the painting on the verso.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Basket of Tomatoes From the Garden (Panzanella Salad)

"The Yellow Brandywine are winning the tomato contest this year," James declared, "and they are much more handsome, remember last summer they were all 'gnommy' and truly ugly."
A basket holds the contents of our lunch and beyond as the tomatoes are ripening at a rapid pace now. The perfectly shaped tomatoes are fit for slicing to create that essential summer treat, the tomato sandwich where two slices of good bread, a touch of mayo and a slice of tomato are all that is required for mid-day eating bliss.

The next day,when the bread is stale, take the perfectly ripe tomatoes, add cucumber, red onion
garlic and a dressing of olive oil and vinegar and there it is, panzanella salad.

My first taste of panzanella salad was in Italy and came by way of Aldo and Daniella Gallo in Panicale.
It was our second visit to Panicale and we were once again renting an apartment from Aldo and Daniella, the beloved owners of Bar Gallo.
We had just arrived in Italy the day before but fell right into it's rhythm. That evening as James and I were just beginning to cook dinner, after an extended sit on the small balcony overlooking the Umbrian landscape with the swallows graceful overhead and sipping an apertivio the buzzer rang. The buzzer, who could that be?
It was Aldo. Aldo with a bowl of Daniella's panzanella salad. How nice was that... and you wonder why we love this small town so much..... this is exactly why. In that bowl was a blend of all the simple elements in perfect harmony forever to be remembered.
Mille grazie!

Since that first taste of panzanella I was captive and have ordered it many times in trattorie in Italy. Making the salad my challenge is to find that balance of flavor and texture in Daniella's salad. The bread in Umbria and Tuscany does not have salt, so that creates a unique flavor, but here in New Hampshire, I find a good rustic bread to use from a small artisanal baker that works well. The only time to make this salad is when ripe tomatoes are available. It will not be the same with those icky, pale supermarket types...don't bother! Good olive oil is also a must.

The recipe requires the best ingredients, the amounts are variable depending on personal taste, size of tomatoes, etc. Everything is more or less to taste.

Panzanella Salad

Day old rustic bread, torn into pieces
2-3 ripe tomatoes, cored and seeded, chopped
cucumber, peeled and seeded, chopped
1/2 red onion diced
1-2 cloves garlic minced
parsley , finely minced
basil, leaves torn for garnish
salt and pepper

red wine vinegar ( about 3 tbs.)
good olive oil ( about 1/3 cup)

Make the vinaigrette.
Place the torn bread into bowl, sprinkle and toss with a little water to soften
the day old bread, set aside. Put the chopped tomatoes in a bowl, add about half the minced garlic, drizzle with a little olive oil, toss and set aside for about ten minutes.
Prepare the remaining ingredients.( If there is any excess liquid in tomatoes spoon it into a small bowl for possible addition to salad later if needed). Add the bread to the tomatoes, add onions, cucumbers, parsley, salt & pepper, toss ingredients and slowly drizzle in the vinaigrette using as much as necessary. Remember, this is all about balance of flavor and texture! Put into an attractive serving bowl and garnish with fresh basil.

The salad is perfect lunch or primi for dinner. How can anyone resist with all these juicy ripe tomatoes hanging around!

The work is not done yet. There are more tomatoes, San Marzanos to be cooked down into sauce and put away for winter dining and cherry tomatoes to be roasted. And then our daughter's favorite, tomato bisque to be made to be served with grilled cheese sandwiches.
Our kitchen is perfumed with cooking tomatoes. Nice!