Tag Archives: Italy

Market Things & Gluten-Free Pizza

marketthingsThe outdoor market is one of the highlights of my week. It’s my chance to pick up some plump Medjool dates, pick out bunches of fresh veggies, and get my hands on some amazing Italian cheese. It’s also a great chance to practice Italian with the local merchants. Today is that much brighter after buying fresh flowers, carrots, spring garlic, spring onions, and fennel.

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To be honest, I had only eaten fennel a handful of times before coming to Italy, and boy, was I missing out. Fennel is a staple in Italian cooking and I am so grateful for the different versions I have been exposed to. I adore fennel’s slight liquorice flavor and its wonderful versatility. It is great raw or cooked, added to salads for some crunch, or baked in the oven with some cheese, breadcrumbs, and fresh herbs. Fennel sauteed with coconut oil, raisins, and pine nuts is heavenly. Fennel is anti-inflammatory, aids in digestion, and contains vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc.

I am also discovering the magic of fennel seeds, which add delicious depth and flavor to sauces and soups. Sometimes I even nibble on them to freshen my breath. I recently made this recipe from Green Kitchen Stories and wooooah baby was it packed with amazing flavor!

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I left the market feeling some powerful fennel inspiration and so I decided to make this gluten-free pizza with caramelized fennel and goat cheese for my host family. I joked to my host mother that I must be breaking some sort of Italian law with this gluten-free crust but it turns out they loved it! I mean, can you really go wrong with sweet caramelized fennel and goat cheese?

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Gluten-Free Fennel & Goat Cheese Pizza

Inspired by My New Roots’ recipe

Makes one medium-sized pizza

Ingredients for topping:

1 large fennel bulb

1 large tomato [optional]

1/2 cup soft goat cheese

olive or coconut oil

2-3 tbsp. fennel seeds

2 tbsp. balsamic glaze [can also use honey or maple syrup]

sea salt

bunch of arugula

Gluten-free crust:

1 small head cauliflower

1 egg

3/4-1 cup shredded mozzarella

sea salt

2 tsp. herbs of choice [I used oregano and garlic]

Directions for crust:

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease with olive or coconut oil.

2. Wash and dry the head of cauliflower and then cut off the florets. Place the florets in a food processor and process until cauliflower resembles rice. Place in a bowl and microwave for 5-6 minutes.

3. While cauliflower is cooking, mix the egg, cheese, salt and herbs in a separate bowl until combined. Drain cooked cauliflower in a sieve, pressing with a spoon to drain as much water from the cauliflower as possible. Add the cooked cauliflower to the egg & cheese mixture and mix well.

4. Spread mixture onto the covered baking sheet and spread until your preferred thickness [I like mine to resemble more of a flatbread]. Bake for 15 minutes and let cool.

Directions for topping:

1. While crust is cooking, prepare the topping. Wash fennel and remove fronds. Cut vertically into thin slices.

2. Heat coconut or olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Place fennel on the pan, making sure the pieces are flat and not overlapping. Sprinkle with sea salt.

3. Wait for the fennel to become golden-brown on the underside and then flip the pieces over. Let the other side become golden-brown.

4. Add the fennel seeds and balsamic glaze to the pan and toss to coat. Cook fennel for another minute and remove from pan.

Assembly:

1. Once the crust has cooled, drizzle with olive oil. Lay the fennel pieces on top [and slices of tomato if using] then place pieces of goat cheese evenly over the top.

2. Bake in the oven for another 3-5 minutes or until the goat cheese has slightly browned. Remove from oven and dress with fresh arugula.

Enjoy lovelies,

Sarah D.

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Ginger me up

IMG_3773Sometimes a girl needs a break from bread. And bread. And more bread. Needless to say, I have been eating a lot of bread while in Italy. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a slice [or two] of warm, soft baguette. I even joked to my boyfriend that I am turning into a loaf of pane. But sometimes, white just ain’t right.

This past weekend I took a trip to Sestriere, a ski village just miles from the border of France. While my host family skied I set out on a walk, which turned into a three hour trek in the snow. It was quite a workout, to say the least. But more importantly, it was a glorious adventure. I spent those hours marveling at how I could be snowshoeing on three feet of snow and at the same time sweating in a tank top. I took a cat nap in the snow, in awe of how close I was to the shining sun, how grateful I am to have seen this part of the world.  And I was savoring. Savoring the majestic mountains around me with all their pristine and profound silence.

IMG_3804My days have been filled with a language I find incredibly beautiful but still hard to understand. There have been moments of frustration, when the language barrier makes it difficult to express myself exactly how I would like. Luckily, these moments are few. Most moments involve me sitting back and happily listening to those double r’s and rolling words.

But that walk was just what I needed. Alone in the snowy mountains, 7000 feet high, I was able to connect back to a language that is so clear to me, a language that wraps me in that wonderful balance of feeling so small yet part of something so grand and divine. This language reminds me of the connection to myself, to a space where my own beauty and light are realized and celebrated. Oh, the beautiful language of silence. I am reminded in times like these, surrounded by nature and all of its mysteriousness, that silence is truly a gift.

I came back from the mountains feeling reinvigorated and inspired, which usually means my brain is dancing with yoga poses and food ideas. I also came back more in touch with my body, with its needs and its language. My body was asking me for nourishment and groundedness. I listened. The result? A luscious morning yoga practice, a walk along the lake, and a craving for ginger.

I start my mornings with ginger and lemon tea. Simply cut up some ginger and drop into a tea cup, squeeze lemon juice over it, and add boiling water. Voilà. A simple way to flush out your digestive system, stimulate the livers and kidneys, and alkalize the body. Drink before your morning coffee and breakfast for best detoxifying benefits.

IMG_4138Ginger is soothing for the stomach, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, contains anti-cancer properties, and has been found to relieve pain and muscle aches. Ginger contains loads of antioxidants, which are especially great as summer rolls around [YAY!] because they help prevent free radical damage caused by sun exposure. Plus the zesty nature of ginger will give you that ZING! you’re looking for in the morning. Feeling gingery yet?

Flavor profile: aromatic, spicy, pungent, zingy, invigorating.

IMG_3889And then lunch rolls around with a grand appearance by farro, an old Italian favorite. I love farro for its nourishing and comforting nature. Farro has been used in Italy since Roman times and is mostly grown in Lazio, Umbria, and Abruzzo. A cup of farro contains about 8 grams of fiber and 12 grams of protein, vegetarians rejoice! Farro also contains magnesium, which relieves tension and menstrual cramps. It is a complex carb which means it breaks down slowly, keeping your energy levels stable. This versatile grain can be used to make a cheesy risotto, sprinkled over salads, tossed with grilled veggies, used in desserts, or made into a breakfast porridge [which is what I did with my leftover farro].

Flavor profile: slightly nutty, toothsome, earthy, undertones of oats, versatile.

And from ginger and farro was born this flavorful, hearty, nourishing lunch. Just what the doctor ordered.

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Farro with a Gingered Vegetable Medley

Ingredients:

1/2 cup farro

1 1/4 cup water

eggplant & zucchini, cut into cubes (however much you desire)

4-6 cherry tomatoes, halved

sliced avocado for topping

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup raisins

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1-2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tsp paprika

3 tbsp. olive oil for marinating

Directions:

1. Coat eggplant and zucchini in olive oil and toss with curry powder and paprika. Set in the fridge and let marinate for at least one hour.

2. Rinse farro. Combine farro and water in a pot and set on high. When it starts to boil turn to low heat, add a pinch of salt, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. If you like your farro on the chewier side, simmer for around 15 minutes. If you like it more tender, simmer for longer until you achieve your desired texture.

3. Set a pan over medium heat. Coat with 1 tbsp. olive oil or coconut oil and add the marinated eggplant and zucchini. Cook until soft (mine took about 5-7 minutes) then add the tomatoes, pine nuts, raisins, garlic and ginger. Cook for another 2-3 minutes and stir occasionally so the garlic and ginger don’t burn.

4. Spoon the veggie medley over a bowl of farro and top with sliced avocado. Enjoy!

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Butta la pasta!

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Five days ago I arrived in Arona, Italy, greeted by the Italian family I will be living with for the next two months. Though I have only been here five days I feel as though I have already been here a month. My host mother and brother, along with their friends and extended family, have been gentilissimo [so kind] and accogliente [welcoming]. And what comes along with Italian hospitality? Lots of amazing food.

On my very first night here, my host mother cooked a traditional Ligurian dish of salted & baked fish with roasted tomatoes, pine nuts, & raisins. She roasted the tomatoes, pine nuts, and raisins in Beck’s beer until the nuts were toasty and the raisins and tomatoes were warm and plump.

On the second day for pranzo [lunch] she made pasta with steamed broccoli, garlic, and anchovies. A very simple dish but full of flavor. Before arriving in Europe almost a month ago, I had practically no gusto [taste] for anchovies. But since being here, and eating more anchovies than I have in the totality of my life, I’ve started to love how they compliment a dish with the perfect amount of salt and fishy flavor. I have had anchovies in salads, sandwiches, grilled and salted on their own, and in pasta. A little goes a long way.

For cena [dinner] the same day my mother made Torta Pascualina [Easter cake], a dish traditionally served on Easter. It looks similar to a quiche but is made differently. You mix thawed frozen spinach with raw eggs, lots of fresh ricotta cheese, and fresh parmigiano then pour the mixture into a pre-made pie crust. Then you tuck artichoke hearts into the filling and set in the oven for about an hour until you are left with a beautifully baked torta.

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The third day I made lunch for myself, inspired by the first night’s Ligurian meal. I sauteed zucchini with tomatoes, pine nuts, and raisins in olive oil and had it with a homemade pesto lasagna my host mother’s friend made. And when I say homemade I mean everything- the pasta, the ricotta, and the pesto. It was the silkiest, creamiest, tastiest lasagna I’ve ever had. Divine.

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But by far, the best night was last night, not only because my host mother made homemade risotto but because she busted out her RECIPE BOOK!

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I was giddy, to say the least. As my host mother began the risotto process, I tried to translate the recipe for riso zucca e gorgonzola [pumpkin and gorgonzola risotto]. I noticed that there were no measurements or times on any of the recipes, just pages written as simply as a love note . My host mother used her mezzaluna [half moon] tool to chop the onions very fine. “The key to good risotto is lots of onions” she told me, gripping the two handles with her manicured hands.

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She toasted the risotto in the browning butter and onions, then added white wine. When the rice began to soak all of it up, she started to add in–ladle by ladle– boiling water with dado [stock cube]. This part is crucial for good risotto. You ladle the flavored water in little by little, watching the risotto attentively as it soaks up the liquid. As steam wafted through the kitchen and my host mother kept her eye on the pot, stirring rhythmically, I realized why there were no times or measurements in the recipe book. The recipes are like love notes, heirlooms passed down from generation to generation, traditional recipes that are always good not because they change, but because they remain the same. Italian cooking is intuitive, historical, artful; it is simple but flavorful. I could sense that my host mother cooked with feeling, that she could sense when the time was right to add more water or add in little globs of gorgonzola and pieces of roasted pumpkin.  For a busy lawyer who works 12-hour days, a single mother raising a son, I was amazed at how when it came to the kitchen, everything stopped for her. Work is work. Home is home. When she is home she truly leaves her work behind, focusing on the pleasure of making and sharing a home-cooked meal. My host mother didn’t say pronto! [it’s ready] until 9:30 but it was well worth the wait.

Today was spent enjoying tea and sweets at a friend’s house, soaking up Italian language, and  looking out to all the sailboats on Lake Maggiore during an aperitivo. Bliss.

If the first five days are an indication of the next two months, there will be lots of beautiful conversation, new discoveries, and amazingly rich food.

Buon appetito,

Sarah D.

P.s- butta la pasta! is a common Italian expression that means “toss in the pasta!”

[Photos: An Italian kitchen//Sarah Diedrick]

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