Category Archives: fruits and vegetables

Dining: Just in time for Umbrian White Truffles at Spirito di Vino | Montefalco, Italy

My series of entries from my time in Umbria concludes with our last dinner in Montefalco at the award-winning Spirito di Vino. If I could go back in time to the day of our visit, I would change only two things:

-I wouldn’t have over-ordered.
-I would have made arrangements to stay in Montefalco instead of driving back late (in pitch black darkness) to Perugia.

Spirito diVino has got to be one of my most favorite dining destinations in Italy. Why? Because they’ve got a ridiculously solid wine list (boasting hyper-local and natural wines), and their simple farm-to-table cuisine is rustic yet luxurious. Aside from the copious amounts of Paolo Bea’s wine, it was one pasta dish that particularly blew me away. This, my friends, was the BEST pasta dish we had in Italy:

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Handmade pasta with a light truffle cream sauce, generously covered in fresh white truffle shavings. OMG.

Need I say more? Had the meal ended right then and there, I would have been happy as a clam. My error was in thinking that this needed to be a multi-course affair. Once my (still delicious) pork tenderloin came out with a melange of sweet peppers, I began to fade into the depths of too much food & too much wine sleepiness. My couple of bites of the boy’s eggplant dish was cheesy, comforting goodness which also didn’t help in aiding my looming exhaustion from the day’s wandering.

Luckily, dessert helped put the pep back into my spirit. A clever dessert of sorbets and gelato utilizing the shells & bodies of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that lend them their flavors was an almost meta dessert experience. Walnut ice cream made with the walnut meat and then shoved back into the shell, a sweet green bell pepper turned into sorbet and scooped back into it’s body…flavors I wouldn’t have dared to consider as a sweet end to a meal. And on top of that, a small tiramisu because I’m just a sucker for those it seems.

Overall, this intimate meal was a memorable one. And while the prices weren’t as economical as other places we visited on this trip, it surely didn’t break the bank and was worth every penny. Be sure to make advanced reservations, and be patient with the service. Our lovely hostess was also the only waitress of the evening, but with that wine list, who can really complain?
Spirito di Vino is located at Piazza Mustafa 2, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy, 06036. www.spiritodivino.net. 

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Filed under Comfort Food, Dinner, fruits and vegetables, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, organic, Pasta, Pork, seasonal foods, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation, wine

Travelogue: Exploring Florence’s Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo

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One of my favorite pass times is visiting local markets when I travel. It’s something my mother and I did growing up– searching for local food at farmers markets and bargaining at eclectic flea markets. Growing up in California with a mom like mine meant that I appreciated waking up at the earliest hours of my Sunday morning if it meant getting the first crack at the season’s bounties. So when planning our trip to Italy, I knew that heading into markets as often as possible would be a must. Not only do you get a sense of the local culture at these markets, but you get to taste your way through their specialties and dive into every day life.

The Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo is one of these must-visit markets. It’s history dates back to the 1870s during the brief time when Florence was named the capital of what was then the Kingdom of Italy. Many of the vendors within the Mercato Centrale have had long-time ties to the market including one of my personal favorites, Nerbone. I am filled with sheer delight as I make my way through the labyrinth of produce vendors, butchers, and specialty stalls selling fine quality olive oils, wine, and truffles. Our visit in October meant that the season for white truffles had arrived and so I spent an obligatory few moments lingering near the luxurious tuber.

While the market attracts many tourists day in and day out, this is still very much a locals market. Lines form at the top of lunch hour at some of the more popular food stalls dishing out traditional tripe dishes and other offally good treats that may take the unaccustomed foreigner by surprise. and there are even a few purveyors who will have trouble understanding English. For the most part, enjoying this market comes with relative ease. Most stalls have someone who can understand some English and if you’ve got a simple phrase book handy, you can easily shop to your heart’s content. Take some time to peruse the cheap goods lined up in the outdoor market, too. While it may not look like much, you can find some pretty great Italian leather goods here and bargaining them down 10-25% isn’t considered rude– it’s part of the game.

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Filed under fruits and vegetables, Italian, Italy, local food, Outdoor Market, Travel, Vacation

In the Kitchen: Panko-Crusted Artichoke Hearts

We’ve been seeing some beautiful artichokes at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market these past few weeks, and while there is nothing better than farm-fresh artichokes, they can be quite a bit of work to prepare. If you’re looking for a quick and easy appetizer, look no further than these Panko-Crusted Artichoke Hearts. Since I highly doubt anyone has the time to gut over a dozen artichokes just for their hearts, I recommend using good quality canned artichokes which are available at most grocery stores. For this recipe, avoid hearts that are marinated or are sitting in oil; you’ll want the simplest artichokes you can find– preferably whole canned or sealed in a glass jar in water or a salt-water brine; organic if possible.

If using artichoke hearts that are in a salt solution, really make sure you give them a good rinsing as they can be a little on the salty side. Frozen artichokes also work, but I have found that many flash frozen brands yield an undesirable texture and are more likely to fall apart when defrosted. You’ll need to defrost frozen artichokes in order to dry them and coat them in batter.

This recipe is great for entertaining. It’s also a good change of scenery for meatless po’boy sandwiches or even artichoke parmigiana. And since we’re using canned artichokes for this, you’ll be able to make this dish all year-round. Note: Since 99% of all domestic artichokes come from California, it’s not difficult to find locally canned or bottled artichoke hearts for those looking to keep their produce local. Whichever you choose, just be sure to stay away from any canned produce that has any scary sounding preservatives; salt, water, and citric acid are what you’d typically see on a decent canned variety. Continue reading

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In the Kitchen: Avocado Key Lime Pie

Avocados rank pretty darn high on my list of favorite foods. Being a California girl and all, we’ve got no shortage of them year-round. From giant Pinkertons and Zutanos to the delectably creamy Gwen and Haas varietals, our Golden State has got an avocado for every occasion. Simply put, this pie will blow your mind.

I’m not much of a baker (although to be fair, I haven’t tried much), so when I saw this no bake recipe for Avocado Pie on Evan Kleiman’s Good Food blog a few days ago, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I had a vague memory of having a similar dessert at a friend’s house growing up, but over the years, the notion of such a thing had fallen into another dimension. Thanks to the internet however, I found out a little more about this wonderful pie (although not enough to really know it’s origins).

Also called Jagger Pie, this recipe is painfully easy. I decided to put my own spin on it however so follow the recipe after the jump for a slightly sweet, slightly tart cream pie that will sure to please your friends are this summer’s picnics and barbecues.  Continue reading

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In the Kitchen: Herbed Ricotta Stuffed Squash Blossoms

I love it when squash blossoms start popping back up at my local farmers’ markets. Typically found in the Los Angeles area in the late spring, these edible flowers are a special and versatile ingredient that are only available for a very short time before they disappear until the next season. You will often find squash blossoms at high-end restaurants ( Osteria Mozza and Jar included), but what many people don’t know is that these beautiful blossoms are very inexpensive. The Hollywood Farmers’ Market has them for about $4.50 a pound and our handful of 10 flowers only cost $1.50. Not too shabby for a popular gourmet ingredient.

There are so many different things you can do with squash blossoms but one of the most popular ways you’ll see them prepared is stuffed, battered, and fried. I am particularly fond of making stuffed squash blossoms as a light appetizer served with prosciutto or as part of a cheese plate. I try to get younger blossoms with a longer stem, but these blossoms with baby zucchini attach work just as well and make for a lovely presentation.   Continue reading

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Farmer Fare: Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes

We’ve been having some pretty nutty weather these past few weeks; warm sunny days well into the 80s and then cooler days with overcast skies. However, the spring season is surely peeking its head at the Hollywood Farmers Market. Vendors are slowly rolling out early spring produce such as asparagus and peas. There are even a few farmers with some early strawberry crops, too. Today however, it was the organic heirloom cherry tomatoes that caught my eye.

I wanted to make a simple side dish to accompany our bbq chicken pizza lunch so I whipped up the easiest Caprese salad using today’s farmers market finds.

(For a serving for two people as a side salad): A handful of cherry tomatoes (halved), about a half dozen Ciliegine mozzarella balls (or any type of semi-soft mozzarella, fresh buffalo is best), 3 or 4 pieces of fresh basil sliced into thin ribbons, two tablespoons of very good olive oil, and a dash of salt and pepper to taste. Toss everything together and you’re good as gold. Fresh and comforting; something that is sure to please all the way until late summer.

 

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Filed under cheese, fruits and vegetables, heirloom, Italian, organic, recipes, salads, seasonal foods

Straight Trippin’: Julian, the apple of my eye (Pt. III)

Visiting Julian, CA during Apple Harvest seems to be one of the best times of the year to make this mountain pilgrimage. Julian is home to over a dozen orchards and surprisingly, a handful of vineyards, too. On this last visit we decided to drop in on two places: Raven Hill Orchards and O’Dell’s Organic Orchard. Both experiences were unique in their own way and I’m looking forward to making this an annual affair.  Continue reading

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Farmer Fare: Photo post.

We made a killing at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market this weekend.

$30 for a week’s worth of goodness got us…(all local, seasonal, and organic except for the Girl Scout Cookies and dog treats): Swiss Chard, bunch carrots, avocados, Meyer lemons, heirloom tomatoes, heirloom blue, white, and gold potatoes, brown onion, garlic, D’anjou Pears, celery, fresh Bay leaves, cabbage, Cara Cara Navel oranges, asparagus, baby bok choy, and one dozen cage-free, sprout-fed, large eggs.

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