30 March 2006

Fruited Olive Oil Ciambella

This cake is the result of a pleasant after-work experiment and a fruit bowl filled with very ripe fruits! The crumb is moist and pleasant, punctuated by bursts of silky fresh fruit, and the marsala and lemon juice cut the sweetness and add character. Adapted from a recipe from "Moosewood Restaurant: Book of Desserts." Brightens the spirit!

~makes 8 good servings

5 large eggs

1/3 cup olive oil

1 cup sugar

pinches of cinnamon and salt

dashes of vanilla, marsala wine and the juice of a lemon

2 cups white flour

1 tsp baking powder

melange of tiny chopped fruit (I used 1 pear, 1 apple, 1 banana, and raisins)

1. Line a 10 inch bundt pan (or equivalent) with parchment, oil and set aside
2. Separate the egg whites from the yolks, and beat them until stiff but not dry
3. In a large bowl, mix the sugar and oil, add in the yolks and combine
4. Add the cinnamon, salt, vanilla, marsala, lemon and mix well
5. Gently fold in the flour and baking powder, then the fruits, then the egg whites
6. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 50 minutes to an hour, cool on a rack before slicing

27 March 2006

Day dreams of a working girl~ beginning a blueberry & banana clafouti!

23 March 2006

Battered squash with caramelized onions and black olives~

Angela's recipe: Dredge thin slices of squash in flour, fry in hot olive oil, drain on paper towels. Caramelize thin slices of onion, adding a spoon of sugar and a bit of vinegar near the end, throwing some black olives on top to warm. Place squash slices on a plate, lightly salting each layer, and place the onion mixture on top. Buonissimo!

Raspberry, candied orange peel & bittersweet chocolate clafouti~

Place about 2- 3 cups of your desired fruit and/ or garnishes in the bottom of a buttered 10 inch dish. In a blender/ food processor whiz together 4 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1 tsp vanilla or other flavouring, 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 or 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tbsp butter. Pour the mixture over the fruit and bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, until puffy and golden and a knife inserted comes out clean. Voila! If you put this in the oven before you begin to cook supper, you will have a warm, wholesome dessert in no time...

21 March 2006

Fluted Sprigs of Spring~

Apparently, it is spring here in Toronto. While the weather tells me otherwise, the one thing that has changed is the early morning light--it is already light when I wake at 6:30. I am longing to live out of doors, build up calluses on the bottoms of my feet and become sun tinged. Sometimes I even have fantasies about rolling around in sun-warmed soil... These are the things racing through my head as I am racing through Union station, already 3 minutes late for work, bumping into people and wishing I was in a flowy dress on some hill top somewhere. Ahh, for the spring days of youth--when you could smell the soil awakening~

14 March 2006


Born in Canada to an immigrant mother (from Rome, Italy at age 18) and an Italo-Canadian father, mine is the experience of many a Canadian--that is, a continual pull between two cultures, sets of customs, value systems and two heartlands. Unlike those Italians who immigrate later in life, or continue to surround themselves with people of their own cultural background, my mother has more and more defined herself as a Canadian, and has more and more left behind fond memories of her country of origin. When I was a kid in grade school however, my mom was still distinctly (in my mind, and in my understanding of others' perceptions) "Italian," as was I, and several aspects of my life were affected by this--my dark skin and hair, my tomato sandwiches for school lunches, my nonna and nonno, my large family and related get- togethers, an entire set of relatives residing in Italy, my parents' strict rules, my dad's strong and silent demeanor, my mom's accent, pasta as a staple food, homemade pizza nights, etc, etc. While this all sounds like fun and games--and some of it was, like the trips to Italy, the tons of cousins to play with, the pizza--as a kid attending a school founded in Germany with few 'minorities' in the student body (the Waldorf school), I felt like an outsider myself.

Now, I'm sure there are as many reasons to be made to feel like an outsider in this world as there are people in it, but I have wanted to comment on the 'culture' issue for some time now, as it is what spurred me to take a long trip to Italy in the first place. After a childhood where I had resented being Italian, as a teenager I mostly ignored it, except in cases where it might have helped, of which there weren't that many since I was a little bit of a hippy and identified with a diverse crowd of literature- lovers and artsy types...

A few years after breaking off a 3- year high school relationship, attending university in Toronto and more than a little bit lost, the idea became lodged in my head that I lacked a true heartland, a place yes, but more of an emotional and psychological locale where I felt at home. I think I only truly understood the nature of my longing after I arrived in Italy, where despite the stereotypes and assumptions (some of which my mother had even cautioned me with), I felt more free than I ever had.

I now know better than to get carried away in the opposite direction by neglecting or critiquing my other homeland Canada, because growing up here has shaped me and nurtured my growth. What I found in Italy though--besides family who I get to see only rarely, and a husband (though that's another story altogether!)--are a people who I feel naturally comfortable among; it's as if those incongruent aspects of my childhood suddenly made sense, and the person I have grown into has discernible roots. Because of the homogeneity of the Italian populace, there is not the same racial or cultural tension that we in Canada are used to living with on a daily basis, and I experienced a new feeling of belonging. I attempted to capitalize on this feeling to the largest degree possible, and found I was easily able to achieve looking and feeling Italian, that is, until I opened my mouth and spoke! Even then, the language I did know I tried to produce with as accurate an accent as possible, though I'm sure I was deluding myself...

There is something about the Italian landscape that I feel myself drawn to, and traveling by train from Rome to Sicily along the coast line, I walked down the aisles to reach the last car and was mesmerized by the passing vistas quickly disappearing behind me. I was enchanted and filled with a strange longing to know a different life every time we passed through small towns and I glanced up at the balconies of apartments, the clothes lines with fresh laundry flapping, the cliffs, the golden light and the lapping of the sea. And then we reached Sicily. The land of Sicily that I feel is my own is a palette of colours- golden yellows and oranges and deep and dark greens and blues. In August the fields are burnt and crackle with the heat, the sea offers respite, as does the deepest night and the arcing mountains and hills. Somehow, and this probably sounds too lyrical to be true, but it is true--the mysteries and emotions and hollows within me are echoed in the wilds of the Sicilian landscape. I felt this like a stone dropping, thudding quietly inside, and I feel it when we go there now. The wild joy I feel at simply taking a ride through the country to replenish my in- laws' water supply is indescribable. Skin dry and golden, barefoot, hair jumping out the car windows, I felt that I found a heartland.

Nothing is ever that simple though. I was born into this cultural duality and that is how I will die too--but now I believe that it is a blessing, with its own hardships. Two cultures, heartlands, languages, origins will always allow for a wider point of view than just one, and the love of learning, of language and of reading that I inherited in the English tradition, will be pushed to futher plains with the acquisition of a new language.

Funny how I know that sitting on a great divide is where I will always remain, even when we move. Though I could use my own mom as an example of someone who integrated almost seamlessly into a new culture, she lacks an important aspect of her life, which is her family. Antonio and I will inevitably lack part of our families, either here or there, and that just comes with the territory. Since I do not want to live with regrets because the sky is too wide and will always remind you of them on those misty days, I would like to live in Italy and raise our children there. Many things conspire to stand in the way between my heartland and I, but I trust that some divinity has my life in her hands, and will transplant us when the time comes!

09 March 2006

Tales of Chocolate & Chickpea and Sweet Potato Stew with Prunes~

Last night Antonio and I went to visit the chocolate maker Soma in Toronto's "Distillery District"--to try some different types of dark chocolate and to take a look around. I had seen a write- up about the shop in last month's Toronto Life, and always on the look out for new favorites (as well as reliable after- dinner 'dolci') we braved rush hour traffic to get there before it closed at 6. The chocolates on offer were lovely, and I was happy to see a sign posted admonishing "chocolate melts at body temperature--please use a basket when shopping." Having worked at a chocolate store myself (Eitelbach Chocolates--they make delicious treecakes or baumkuchen, also in a truffle form which, by the way, they will ship,) I know that people can ruin small chocolates just carrying them around in their hands. We bought a long, 250 gram bar of dark chocolate (from Venezuelan beans) for $12 CAD, and another 25 gram rectangle of chocolate made from organic Madagascar cocoa beans for about $4. We tried some of the larger bar last night--it was delicious! I think what makes it so good is its extremely smooth texture and its very low level of sweetness. It beats any Lindt bar hands down, and rivals (or perhaps surpasses) my favorite chocolate from Frangipan. If you are in Toronto, I would recommend a visit.

On to the pictured stew, which I whipped up in half an hour when we arrived home starving and filled with road rage... It has an incredibly rich and complex flavour, both sweet and savory, and did a good job of comforting and warming us. The sweet potato chunks were so unexpectedly smooth and buttery! The recipe suggests serving it over couscous, but that was the one item I had forgotten to pick up on the weekend so I served it with my homemade fruited bread instead, which matched well because of the sweet notes in the stew.

You Need: 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced small; 1 large can chickpeas, rinsed and drained; 1 large onion, sliced thinly; 2 garlic cloves, diced; 1 tbsp of fresh ginger, diced; 1 tsp cumin; 1 tsp cinnamon; 6 prunes, chopped; 2.5 cups vegetable broth; salt, pepper, olive oil; chopped parsley or cilantro to serve

To Make It: (1) Warm some olive oil in a large pot, saute the onion until soft, add the garlic, ginger, cumin and cinnamon and cook for about 1 more minute, stirring to prevent burning (2) Add the small sweet potato squares, chickpeas, prunes and broth (or water and bullion cube) and bring to a boil (3) Lower the heat and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes, until the sweet potato is tender (4) Season to taste with salt, pepper and chopped parsley or cilantro (5) Serve over couscous or with muslei bread~

07 March 2006

Mmmmm Marzipan~

After reading Linda's (Make Life Sweeter) blog entry for a marzipan covered cake, I remembered my own experience over one year ago with my marzipan covered wedding cake. Oh to relive the experience--of eating the cake that is! I decided to cover it in marzipan because it is so much tastier than fondant, but mostly because almonds and marzipan are a typical Italian flavour and I wanted to include them. I also wanted to have a simple presentation and to put my efforts into achieving a marvelous flavour instead. As you can see from the photo, the cake was decorated only with some fresh currants and a few flowers. The cake I made was an egg- and butter- rich hazelnut sponge, which I adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe for a plain butter cake. For between the layers I made a real buttercream and flavoured it with Grand Marnier. The end result was a rich but not heavy cake with a complex nutty, orange taste--exactly what I wanted, but more stress than I bargained for! In order have the freshest possible cake, I slotted about two hours to cover it in marzipan (at a pastry shop that I had apprenticed at), in between my manicure appointment with my mom downtown and my wedding rehearsal uptown. It was pouring rain the day before my wedding, and we were running late at the spa--not to mention I hadn't considered the stress of trying to roll out huge pieces of marzipan with a freshly done manicure...suffice it to say, I was the last one to show up for my wedding rehearsal!

The photo I posted beside my wedding cake is of typical Sicilian confections made by expert hands out of marzipan. Good quality marzipan is sweet for many palates, and I think it is most delicious when paired with other flavours, as a complement.
In a bit of a long winded aside, one of the most memorable moments I shared with my husband Antonio when we first met was during a bicycle jaunt we took from his grandfather's farm in Sicily. We hopped off the ancient bikes, surrounded by rolling hills and the great expanses of a moody sky, to sit beneath an almond tree, crack open the green shells with a heavy rock, and devour the sweet white flesh inside. I felt that I was in another world entirely from the one I knew, and I felt my emotions strangely mirrored by the wild landscape. I wonder if the Sicilian terrain played a significant role in our love story? Perhaps this is why I feel so strongly pulled back in that direction. Or it could just be the concrete jungle and swarming masses of people "taking care of business" that is doing the compelling...

05 March 2006

Bread Stories

Yesterday, I tried to make marmalade again, only this time with the Seville oranges that the recipe called for. Minor emergencies and burnt pots aside, the marmalade came out perfect--thick, with thin squigglies of bitter sweet peel, and not too sweet. The marmalade made our Sunday morning breakfast complete, alongside the fruited bread that I baked yesterday, cappuccino and a small fruit salad.....bliss! I will post the recipe on request--very easy and non- labour intensive (for a jam).

There might be nothing quite as satisfying in the kitchen as storing away one's homemade bread for the week ahead--I slice mine and pack it tightly into well- sealed ziploc bags so that we can pull out a piece or two at a time and warm them in the toaster. I think I will make bread making a weekly tradition, considering the amount of joy I receive from the ablutions of a Saturday morning. So much contentment in exchange for so little work and attention! I feel that making bread connects me to the past in a way that is warming and important--imagine if our culture raised a generation who thought the bread meant that sweet white soft goo sold in plastic bags at the grocery store! Not a nice thought...

Following is the recipe I have adapted from Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, which I recommend trying on a morning when you are home and have various other short tasks to complete (in my case, doing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, washing my hair, making lunch, blogging, etc., etc.!) The recipe turned out well the first time I made it, which is the first time I ever baked bread (hint, hint--go forth and be bold, you just may become addicted).


Sponge: 2 cups good quality, wrist temp. water (about 100-105 degrees), 1 package active dry yeast (1 tbsp), a drop of honey/molasses, 1.5 cups whole wheat bread flour
Mix: 4 tbsp olive oil, 1/3 cup honey/molasses, 1.5 tbsp salt, 1.5 cups of a combination of nuts and seeds, lightly toasted and chopped (I use walnuts and sunflower seeds), 1.5 cups of a combination of unsulfered dried fruits, chopped (I use figs, apricots and raisins)
Additional Flour: 3 cups of one or all of stone- ground organic whole wheat bread/ kamut/spelt flours and 3 cups of unbleached white flour (not pastry or cake flour)
Pans: any combination of shiny silver pans or shiny silver cookie sheets, oiled

1. In a large bowl with the warm water, sprinkle the yeast and drop of sweetener, give it a quick stir with a fork and let sit for 2-5 minutes. Whisk in the 1.5 cups whole wheat bread flour, cover loosely with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let stand in a warm corner for 35 minutes.
2. Uncover the bowl and by hand with a wooden spoon, or with the paddle on a stand mixer, add the mix to the bowl and stir until incorporated. Add the additional flour 1 cup at a time, stirring and mixing to combine, switching to the dough hook on your stand mixer, and eventually to your hands. The end texture should be firm without being sticky (essentially, incorporate as much of the additional flour as possible while maintaining the dough in one piece--in the mix of flours I have suggested above, I usually use 6 cups--do not "pack" the flour while measuring). Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, pushing all the fruit and nuts that escape back into the dough.
3. Oil a large bowl (I use ceramic) and put the kneaded dough in, turning it about so it gets covered in the oil. Cover loosely with the plastic wrap and a few kitchen towels, and set in a warm place to rise for about 1.5- 2 hours, until it approximately doubles in size. I usually leave it in the kitchen if I'm cooking and the stove is on, or on the top of a shelf in a room with the window closed.
4. Punch down the dough, remove it from the bowl and knead for a few minutes. Divide the dough into the number of pieces you need for the loaves you want to make--this recipe makes enough for 2 9" by 5" loaf pans (standard bread loaves) but you can use any combination you like, even forming "freestanding" loaves and baking them on a flat cookie sheet. Form the loaves well, pulling the dough smooth so the tops will be seamless. For the regular loaf pans: pat the dough into a flat rectangle, fold the two short ends in towards one another, flatten, then roll the dough up and tuck in the ends. Very cute and satisfying work!
5. Cover the pans or tray with the towels and let rise until again about doubled in size, around 45 minutes to an hour. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and put the rack in the middle.
6. Bake the risen loaves for about 40 minutes to an hour, until a knock on the bottom responds with a hollow sound. Cool on racks, and wait (if you can!) about 30 minutes before slicing.

04 March 2006

White Bean and Butternut Squash Stew with Rosemary~

This recipe is adapted from Jack Bishop's "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen"

This stew is the ultimate in tasty comfort food, and will sustain you through the last dreary dregs of winter...


-olive oil, salt and pepper

-1 onion, halved and sliced thinly

-5 cloves of garlic, chopped finely

-2 19-oz cans of white beans, rinsed

-1 small butternut squash (weighing about 1.5 lbs), peeled, seeded and cut into tiny squares

-1 medium can/jar of diced tomatoes

-1 hard cheese rind

-3 cups water

-chopped, fresh rosemary (1-3 tbsp)

-crusty bread

1) Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, add the onions and a good pinch of salt and cook, stirring until soft (about 8 minutes), add most of the chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute more

2) Add the beans, squash, tomatoes and juices, cheese rind and water--bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, removing the lid for the last 15 minutes to thicken

3) In a small bowl combine the chopped rosemary, the remaining garlic, salt to taste and about 1 tbsp of oil and stir to combine

4) To serve: remove the cheese rind, stir in the rosemary mixture and salt and pepper to taste, and pour into bowls lined with a slice or two of toasted crusty bread, drizzling olive oil on top if desired

Serves 2 with leftovers for lunches!

Marmalade Tea Bread!

This is my rendition of Linda's recipe for "Marmalade Tea Bread," on her blog Make Life Sweeter. We had this last night while watching The Ice Harvest, with slices of pear and Marsala wine with lemon--delicious evening!

01 March 2006

'Semplicissima' French Lentil Soup

This recipe is posted specially at the bequest of my cute cousins Jessica and Adele, and more tasty legume recipes will be forthcoming for them as well. Even though this soup should simmer on the stove (perfuming the kitchen with lovely smells) for about an hour, the hands on cooking time is only about 15 minutes. If you add chunks of a good crusty bread and a quick green salad and some fresh fruit to finish, this soup will make a comforting and complete lunch or dinner. Come on girls--impress your parents and roommates!

Note Regarding the Lentils: make sure to find "French lentils," also sometimes called green lentils for this soup--the other lentils don't survive with shape intact through the long cooking time, and these have a flavour all their own. They are also sometimes called "green lentils" which is confusing because they look almost black to me. Just make sure they resemble the above picture. If you can't find them at the grocery store, try a health or bulk food store.

- 1 lb/ 500 grams French lentils, rinsed (in a colander/strainer)
- 1 - 2 carrots, peeled and chopped small
- 2-3 celery stalks, peeled and chopped small (plus celery leaves, washed and chopped)
- 1 large onion, chopped small
- few garlic cloves, chopped
- filtered water
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- a rind of any hard cheese (pref. grana padano or parmigiano, but anything will do)
- few sun dried tomatoes, chopped (optional)
- jar/ can of whole tomatoes with juice, chopped
- white wine (optional)

1. Place a large heavy bottomed pot over medium- high heat and cover the bottom with several good drizzles of the olive oil.
2. When the oil has warmed, add the chopped carrots, celery and leaves, onions and bay leaves and stir frequently to prevent burning, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
4. Add about half a cup of wine, if using, and stir until partially evaporated. If not (or once it has almost evaporated) add the chopped tomatoes with their juices and the lentils, turning the heat to high, and stirring to combine everything about 5 minutes.
5. Add enough water to cover the lentil mixture by about 2 inches (you can always add more later depending on the consistency that you like your soup) as well as the cheese rind and the optional sun- dried tomatoes.
6. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer (medium- low) for about an hour- if you are in a rush, you can test to see if it is ready after 45 minutes.
7. Serve hot with a swirl of olive oil and some grindings of black pepper!