Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Culinary Tips & Tools: Tegole (Roof Tiles) for a Serving Platter

I never seem to have enough serving dishes and platters when I have a big group to contend with. Bringing out the silver isn't always the right way to go (fortunately, as I'm short on silver anyhow!). Besides, given our location, country chic is much more appropriate, especially in the summer months. So I always look around for something I already have at home to cleverly adapt into a serving platter, but generally nothing jumps out at me. So I usually resort to ceramic serving dishes and platters. Don't get me wrong, I love them! They're all hand-painted from different places in Italy. Some I've had made, some purchased, some are antique and quite valuable. Still, a little variety is nice.
The other week we attended an event at the American Academy, home to the Rome Sustainable Food Project. For those who don't know, it's a joint endeavor dining program for the Academy residents, between the American Academy and Alice Waters, the mother of culinary sustainability.
The food is simple, but delicious fare: all grown in the Academy's edible garden or sourced locally from organic producers and then transformed into masterpieces by Chef Mona Talbott and her chef assistants and interns. Our cocktail was served on the Academy grounds, next to the edible garden. A simple but tasty appetizer: almonds and cherry tomatoes. What charmed me was the serving platter: antique Italian tegole (roof tiles), covered with a fig leafs. It was in keeping with the theme and style of the event, and the sustainable philosophy of the Rome Sustainable Food program.
Our dinner of roast lamb and vegetables was also served on the tegole. Lighting was poor (an insufficient number of candles placed on the tables) so I was unable to see the food well, let alone photograph it. Food is multi-sensorial and I like to be able to see what I'm eating... it's a large part of the pleasure.

The tegole I have are not antique, but I think they'll lend themselves admirably to my next terrace dinner or cocktail event. I plan to use the tegole to serve fruit & breakfast for our B&B guests. And why not use some other household terra cotta pieces while I'm at it?

If you're looking for some appetizer serving ideas, check out or

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Scoop of the Week: Banana Ice Cream

I've always loved bananas and eat one or more a day. They go against my goal to always eat sustainably and locally, but it's one of the exceptions I make. If bananas were ever in season in Italy I'd wait patiently, but they aren't. So I eat them a lot, all year round.
Lately I've been trying to make ice creams that recall something sweet and delicious that I love. Banana bread is one of these things, but it's only recently, thanks to Cook's Illustrated, that I now make a perfect banana bread.
My approach to ice cream (in this case banana) is to look at the ingredients in banana bread and try to use them in my ice cream. Bananas have to be over-ripe to achieve a rich banana flavor, but Cook's Illustrated takes this one step further. They suggest microwaving the bananas for five minutes and then using a fine mesh strainer to separate out the banana juice. The banana juice is then cooked until it is reduced by half and added back to the bananas. What you achieve is a deeper, richer banana flavor and a banana bread that is much lighter. I used this same approach in my ice cream and it worked divinely.

  • Over-ripe bananas (black and soft), peeled and mashed - 2 1/2 cups, about 6 bananas (600 grams)
  • Cream, 1/2 liter
  • Sugar, 1/2 cup ( 100 grams)
  • Eggs, two whole
  • Toasted pine nuts, 1 cup (125 grams) - optional
  • Dark rum, 1/8 cup (30 ml) - optional
  • Use a potato masher to mash the bananas. Don't process the bananas: you want to have some bits of banana in the ice cream.
  • Whisk the sugar, cream and egg together in a saucepan.
  • Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon.
  • Place the pan, lidded, in an ice bath and cool thoroughly, stirring occasionally.

  • Cook the mashed bananas in the microwave on high for 5 minutes.
  • Strain the bananas for about 30 minutes over a fine mesh strainer.

  • The banana juice, once cool, has a gelatinous appearance. Cook it in a saucepan until reduced by half.

  • Whisk the cream mixture, banana pulp, banana juice and rum together until well amalgamated.
  • Place the mixture in the freezer.
  • Every half hour whisk, or stir, the mixture vigorously until frozen solid to avoid the formation of ice crystals.
  • Place the pine nuts in a frying pan and toss gently until just golden. Cool.
  • Once the ice cream is almost frozen solid stir in the pine nuts.
I made the ice cream in four different ways: without pine nuts and rum, with pine nuts only, with rum only and with pine nuts and rum. It was great all four ways. This ice cream is so tasty, and the texture of the bananas so luscious, that I think I like it best just with bananas.

If you are allergic to dairy or eggs try this recipe using only bananas.
David Lebovitz uses brown sugar and coconut milk in his version of banana ice cream.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Edible Lazio: Sagre this week-end

I spent the morning, as I always do on Saturdays, with my husband. Enjoying a coffee and cornetto, reading the paper, driving around to different towns in northern Lazio to run errands...and just for the pleasure of it. Fiano Romano, pictured above, is one of my favorites.
I also spent a bit of time tweeting about the different sagre (food fests) going on in the fabulous Lazio region this weekend.
The tomato is the star of most sagre as in one way or another it usually appears in the signature dishes each town is showcasing over the weekend.

The essential element of the sagra is that it features the town's tastiest, locally produced, in season food or beverage. In other words it's all about sustainability. Many of these sagre have been going on for decades and are a time for the town to celebrate with music and dancing and other activities. The main event, however, is the food and everyone gathers in the town square to enjoy a feast.
I love snails, both the sea and field variety, and happily a few sagre feature them this weekend.
  • Monte Rotondo's Ciummacata (field snails) will be prepared with tomato sauce and peperoncino.
  • Valmontone is celebrating its 31st field snail sagra.

Some of the other sagre happening in the Lazio region this weekend:
  • Rocca Priora is hosting its first ever clam sagra, and will also prepare fried moscardini.
  • Sipicciano's 6th sagra features something sweet: the bombolone casareccio, fried and filled with cream, jam, nutella and white chocolate.
  • On this hot weekend head to the hill town of Montelibretti for the town's wine fest featuring wines from local grotte antiche (antique wine caves).
  • Nerola offers up pappardelle al ragu' di cinghiale (wild boar sauce) as part of their sagra of homemade pasta and game.
  • Faleria hosts its second summer tartufo fest today and tomorrow.
  • Valcanneto's arrosticino (skewered lamb) sagra will also be its second ever.
  • Pizze fritte for the 28th sagra della frittella in the Laziale town, Terrignano, today and tomorrow.
  • Ardea will feature spaghetti cacio e pepe, served at the town's Sforza castle.
  • Lazio's abundant sagre are not just ebible fests: check out the infiorata artistica (flower display) in charming Poggio Moiano.
If you'd like to keep up to date on the various sagre going on throughout the year in Lazio there are a few websites you can look at: or

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Scoop of the week: Cherry Ice Cream

When I was little we used to spend part of the summer at our grandparents' home in Downers Grove, outside of Chicago. I haven't been back since, but at the time Downers Grove was a small suburban location, almost rural.
Two of my strongest memories from those visits pertained to food. Pepperidge Farm was located in Downers Grove and I used to love walking by their baking facility; the aroma of baking bread was almost tangible. The other memory was cherries. My grandmother used to can cherries from her trees and her pantry was laden with quart-sized jars of cherries. I can't recall what my grandmother looked like, or anything about her, but I do remember the shelves of canned cherries. They were delicious eaten right out of the jar and to this day I don't think there's anything tastier than a cherry pie made with fresh cherries.
Cherry season in Rome doesn't last long, just a month or so from mid-May to the end of June. It's unbearable that cherries are available for such a short time period, but it makes them all the more desirable when they are in season. I plan to bake a cherry pie this week, but today I opted for cherry ice cream. We're doing an 80th birthday dinner for one of our clients and her family, and I've baked her a luscious chocolate birthday cake for the event. Cherries and chocolate are a natural together, so cherry ice cream seemed a grand idea on this hot June day.
My ice cream is in the freezer now and every half an hour or so I give it a good stir with a wooden spoon. It should be frozen solid by dinner time.

Here's the recipe:

  • Cherries, pitted - 525 grams (3 cups)
  • Sugar - 65 grams ( (1/4 cup)
  • Cream - 410 ml (1 3/4 cups)
  • Milk - 180 ml (3/4 cup)
  • Egg yolks - 2
  • Sugar - 65 grams (1/4 cup)
  • Salt - a pinch
  • Cherry syrup - 30 ml (2 tbsp)

  • Pit the cherries using a cherry (olive) pitter, like the one below.
  • Toss the cherries in the sugar and set aside.

  • Cream the egg yolks and sugar together until the yolks are a pale yellow.

  • Put the cream, milk and cherries in a blender and process until the cherries are roughly chopped.
  • Cook the cream, milk and cherry mixture several minutes on medium until warm.
  • Add the salt, egg yolks and sugar and cook several minutes over low heat until the mixture coats a wooden spoon.
  • Stir in the cherry syrup.
  • Place the pan in a sink full of ice water and stir occasionally until cool.
  • Put the pan in the freezer and stir every 30 minutes until frozen solid.
You might want to try the Simply Recipes version of cherry ice cream with chocolate chips.
Another cherry ice cream recipe you might want to take a look at: Canadian Living