There are a lot of great recipe genesis stories. Everybody seems to know the old tale of the Earl of Sandwich, so obsessed with his cribbage game that he ordered his servants to bring him a conveniently portable meal. And thus was born the now ubiquitous sandwich. There is also the fondly recounted story of the chocolate chip cookie. Apparently some intrepid cook in Massachusetts lazily threw chocolate bits into traditional cookie batter hoping the chocolate would evenly melt to create a chocolate cookie. The bits remained in tact and now we have the beloved chocolate chip cookie. Yet another story of accidental invention in the kitchen is my personal favorite, the Tarte Tatin!Read More
This week I have decided to become a paragon of efficiency. Usually these bouts of manic organization last roughly 24 hours and then I burn out in the bathtub where I can be found reading gossip magazines and drinking crappy chardonnay. It has thusly come as a shock to me that I am now on day three. If there were a Container Store nearby, I would have visited no less than 67 times by now. Alas, all I have is some crackpot everything store off our main piazza that sells things like clothes pins and canning jars when what I really want is an overpriced, aspirational closet organization system that makes me feel as if I have FINALLY MADE IT IN LIFE! Then I remember—I don’t even have a walk-in closet. #whitegirlproblemsRead More
When I first arrived in Agerola, Giuseppe liked to go around telling people that I was a “great cook,” which in retrospect was just about the most ridiculous thing he could say about me. I remember a man I worked with in Washington who once told me, referring to his wife, “Oh Hillary is a great cook.” This same man later invited me over for dinner, probably so that he could later gloat that Hillary was indeed a great cook!!!!
For some reason beyond my current comprehension, I actually accepted this man’s invitation to sample Hillary’s great cooking. Upon arriving at their home (yes, you guessed it, they lived in suburban Virginia), I quickly learned that this Hillary lady was a ‘HUGE’ fan of Food Network chef Melissa d’Arabian. Unsurprisingly our night’s feast featured a full menu exactingly prepared according to Ms. d’Arabian’s much touted testament to parsimony: Ten Dollar Dinners. I don’t even recall what we ate that night. It was uninspired, but not exactly bad. I am sure that Hillary prepared everything according to Ms. d’Arabian’s precise instructions. What I do know is that the pièce de résistance of the evening was pot de crème and that Hillary spent the entire evening proudly trilling the words ‘pot de crème’ as if she were a modern day Charles de Gaulle (or a current day Stéphane Bern). It’s just fucking custard I thought to myself. I was never invited back for another ten dollar dinner, and I’m not complaining. They served Cupcake Chardonnay, which was probably out of budget.Read More
I have come to a shocking conclusion: I sound like Dr. Phil. whenever I speak the local dialect. It is not that I am proffering sage advice to my small town Neapolitan compatriots. That rickety yola sailed off into stormy waters long ago when I realized these yokels prefer the counsel of more salubrious individuals, like Berlusconi or Don Corleone. No, I am starting to sound like a Dr. Phyllis because I have adopted a new disturbing habit of speaking in ridiculous American clichés that prominently feature animals, and usually animals behaving badly. I imagine Dr. Phil confidently pontificating to a group of incestuous Arkansans getting ready to start the Atkins diet and finally quit the meth—You can’t wrastle a gator with out breakin’ into a back sweat. Or some other similarly vacant zoological aphorism that masquerades as wisdom. I laugh. I don’t speak that way. The electrically dulcet tones of my voice sound more like E.E. Cummings making love with Emily Dickinson.Read More
This year I spent yet another uneventful Fourth of July in Agerola, which now makes it the third consecutive year that I have been outside America for the holiday. As it were, in addition to being the heralded anniversary of America’s independence from Britain, the Fourth of July also marks my independence from America or rather the date on which I left my native country to ridiculously establish my life as an “ex-patriot” in Italy. Two years ago, I was en route to Napoli, Italia. And as it seems that my invitation to Taylor Swift’s Fourth of July party was lost in the mail, I have spent the day reflecting, somewhat nostalgically, on just what sort of mad woman I must have been to leave a perfectly nice life in Washington, DC to live in Agerola, crazy-town, Napoli, Italia.Read More
The law of diminishing marginal returns reigns supreme every year around the time of zucchini season in my little nook of Italia. We all start out thrilled by the endless possibilities. We make zucchini and baby shrimp scialatielli pasta, parmigiana of eggplant, stuffed eggplant, marinated eggplant. Then around mid-July, we want nothing more to do with the offensive little squash.
The zucchini started arriving in my garden about a week ago, which means that the next few weeks will likely feature a rush to pickle, preserve and EAT as many zucchini as I can possibly stomach before they all start turning into massive gourds unfit to feed even the family pig. I usually start off the season with a rush of excitement, and this year is no different. The units of pleasure I derive from picking zucchini from my very own garden will continue to grow for approximately the next 17 days, and thusly I rather jauntily scurry from my garden to my kitchen to my table, a veritable if not slightly sanctimonious Alice Waters.Read More
The frittata isn’t fancy—though the word has a nice ratatata ring to it. There is also nothing particularly creative about the humble frittata. It is simply a dish made at the last minute for a hungry family, or carried to the beach for a convenient picnic. In my case, it is usually a “meal” consumed in a frenzy after returning home from a long day at the beach, and a several hours on a public bus. Lately, I have been adding arugula because it grows wild like a weed in our garden, and given all of the time spent in beaches and busses, I can’t be bothered to grocery shop. We have literally been reduced to eating garden weeds and breakfast for dinner due to my housewifely negligence.. This week has been no different.Read More
"Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate"- DANTE
Renovating a house is trying in the best of circumstances. Renovating a house in the South of Italy is chaos, not even controlled chaos, just chaos. Tiles go missing. Parts of wall fall from the ceiling. Artisans come and go according to their own indecipherable schedules. Occasionally doors get left open and stray dogs wander into the house, albeit it with more regularity than the local craftsmen. All of this means that I have unwittingly become part project manager, part zookeeper. Or as my by old boss used to trill when I worked in the federal government, "It's like herding cats around here." More depressingly, when I tell friends I am renovating an old house on the Amalfi Coast, they often imagine Under the Tuscan Sun. My situation is more akin to another book that loosely takes place in Italy: Dante’s Inferno. I occasionally imagine dipping local craftsman into vats of cement, meting out my punishment Dante style.Read More
It goes with out saying that I have taken a year hiatus from writing about food. While I have been away from the kitchen, I managed to get married, renovate a house, curse the day I moved to Italy and swear I was becoming a vegan, just to piss off the nutty people in the even nuttier town that I currently call home. Yet here I am, still in Agerola, Napoli, Italia. I battle it out with the locals, lament the lack of infrastructure and on my worst days, just wish I could go to the Whole Foods and freebase a sample tub guacamole chased with an overpriced bottle of asparagus water. But then there are days like today, when I look outside at my garden and realize, whatever, I might as well go pick some fava beans.Read More
I seem to have developed the curious local habit of never leaving the house without a busta—plastic bag. After ridding our house of hundreds of hoarded plastic bags, I now can’t seem to get enough of them, and there is chiefly one reason for that— food foraging. It pains me to admit that I am now not only a bag lady, but also a forager. Food foraging has become a somewhat twee, overly precious pastime in the much of the world thanks to the rise of René Redzepi and the reign of hipsters
Like many pesky habits, my food foraging developed so gradually, that I failed to realize what was happening. In Washington, my good friend Kareem and I liked to nance around Logan Circle with kitchen sheers, furtively snipping rosemary out of other peoples gardens. We weren’t serious ‘foragers.’ We just couldn’t bear to purchase overpriced herbs at the Whole Foods so we pounced around our urban jungle gossiping about who we saw at the gym and what we would make for dinner, all the while snipping rosemary from public parks and private gardens.
And then I moved to Italy.Read More
It is not often my mother-in-law praises my cooking. Generally she is of the school of thought that I use too much olive oil and not enough pig fat, my pasta is too al dente, and my use of black pepper too ribald. Yesterday was a rare exception and I continue to savor the simple words of praise (?), “Cristina…this dish is not so terrible after all…..”
Of course the dish was not so terrible because I followed mamma’s recipe precisely and occasionally let her take over when she guffawed, “oh, just let me do it.” We were making Savory Pastiera, a noodle cake of sorts that is so thoroughly Agerolese it could be emblazoned on the city seal and offered the town key.Read More
No Easter is complete in Naples without Pastiera. Custard-like in texture, and filled with grain and citrus aromatics, Pastiera is a dessert tart of legends. Eggs, a universal symbol of rebirth, prominently feature in this classic dish, which make it an indispensable part of Easter throughout much of Campania.
Making Pastiera is an event in itself. The true recipe calls for ‘grano duro’ or farro that is soaked in several changes of water for at least 24 hours. Many take the easier route and buy pre-cooked grain, which is convenient, but lacks a certain ritualistic authenticity.Read More
We don’t eat meat during holy week in our house (or at least if we do, we do it in secret where mamma can’t see us). Yesterday, Giuseppe made the mistake of scarfing down a piece of salami and we are all paying the piper now. We are also technically not supposed to work during holy week, but with a house under construction, we have no choice but to bend the rules a little bit. It is entirely possible our names are written on naughty list somewhere.
So with hungry mouths to feed and penance to pay, we eat the classic spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) every afternoon the week before Easter.Read More
Sometimes when we are out in public, Giuseppe pretends not to know me. Such occasions have occurred in public busses, ferries to Capri, airports, shopping malls and most recently, the misleadingly named electronics store, Expert, in Castellammare di Stabia. These events usually follow the same arc: I sense general Neapolitan chaos is about to erupt; Giuseppe tells me to calm the f*ck down; I develop an imperious American attitude; Giuseppe walks away and whistles ‘o sole mio; I loose all grip on reality and respond to said chaos in much the same way Joan Crawford responds to the Pepsi Boardroom in Mommie Dearest…’Don't fuck with me fellas. This ain't my first time at the rodeo.’Read More
March 19th is the day of Saint Giuseppe. It is special in our house because it is my fiancé, Giuseppe’s Saint Day. As with most Saint Day’s in Italy, there is a special sweet treat that we eat to commemorate the day. On March 19th throughout all of Naples, we make the traditional Zeppole of Saint Giuseppe. Zeppole are donut like in texture and appearance and for Saint Giuseppe’s day, we fill these little donuts with pastry cream and top them with Amarena sour cherries.Read More
In Italy, we often say, “Marzo è pazzo….March is crazy.” My adopted hometown of Agerola is particularly neurotic the entire month of March. Gale force winds blow up from costal Amalfi to create cyclones of plastic recyclables, vineyard trellises, garden vegetables… It rains for days. Then a glimpse of sublime sun might peak above our mountains only to fade again and leave us to our seasonal depression.
Last week we had especially operatic weather. With fierce winds tearing through Agerola, Giuseppe’s mother woke up uncharacteristically early one morning, stalked into the kitchen and shouted, “Where are my sausages?” I struggled for a moment to grasp why she woke at 7am (her usual wake-up time is roughly noon) to determine the location of a missing, but apparently treasured pork product.Read More
Tuscany always gets the romantic treatment. Americans love Tuscan sun, wine, hills, olive oil…. Tuscany is a magic word in America and especially at silly restaurants where the word ‘Tuscan’ is used to sex up uninspired menu options in a pinch.
I often have to remind myself that Tuscany is a special word in my native lands. Not because I don’t find Tuscany beautiful, (it is beautiful) but because Tuscany is usually the site of epic road trip meltdowns for Giuseppe and me. Generally by the time we reach Tuscany, we have been in the car for eight hours and we start realizing Tuscany is big, like really big.Read More
Tardivo is the king of radicchio. Heads of it resemble curly purple witch fingers. It is expensive and nearly impossible to find in America. But if you chance upon it, don’t be intimidated by its vaguely pernicious looks. Generally when you buy radicchio in America it is a slightly browned ball (which we call Radicchio Rosso or Radicchio di Verona in Italy) that has inexpertly traveled from the Veneto (or the Salinas Valley) to your local supermarket.Read More
I am a food romantic. Before venturing to a new destination, I envision what typically regional dish I will eat, what sort of carefully paired spirit (there always seems to be some sort of alcohol involved in these ruminations) I will enjoy with said dish and most importantly what kind of effortless characteristic ambiance will surround me as I eat. At times this overly calibrated romantic approach to dining leads to my inevitable disappointment or bemusement.Read More
After a hair-raising drive down the Napoleon Route and through the Maritime Alps, Giuseppe and I arrived in Sanremo two days ago. Our half-baked travel planning resulted in a screwy journey through slushy conditions 1800 meters above sea level in the height of winter. We had no snow chains, but we did have according to my count: exactly two bottles of Riesling, four walnuts and a block of foie gras.
Around the time my butt warmer stopped working and our old BMW convertible started swerving, I wondered if we might have a little Donner party situation on our hands. Giuseppe invoked the name of Saint Rita. I contemplated fashioning a shiv out of a twig in the car. And somehow, aided by Saint Rita, cigarillos and the plaintive crooning of Serge Gainsborg, Giuseppe maneuvered the car out of the Alps and finally to Grasse.Read More