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Tomorrow, I will be traveling with my husband to Barcelona for a little vacation.  Neither of us has visited Spain before, so we’re both really excited!  Jay is looking forward to shooting photos of Gaudi’s creative examples of Modernisme architecture, while I am anticipating the exploration of Barcelona’s culinary scene.  I’ve only recently begun to investigate Spanish gastronomic traditions.  Until now, my knowledge of Spain’s culinary delicacies was pretty limited.  Paella, Sangria, and a few basic Tapas were the extent of my Spanish recipe repertoire.  While those are all wonderful things, I know that there’s so much more to Spanish cuisine!  I can’t wait to find out first hand!

I’ll be sure to post stories, photos, and (hopefully) recipes after we return from our trip early next week.  In the meantime, here is a video of famous Spanish chef, Jose Andres, preparing one of my new favorite Spanish recipes.   I make it quite frequently because it’s simple and full of flavor.  It’s great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack…you get the picture :-).  I love to eat it with some crusty bread or homemade flour tortillas (even though they’re Mexican, and not Spanish), and a cold beer at any meal other than breakfast.  The video is pretty self-explanatory, but if you’d like the actual written recipe, let me know, and I can send it to you.  In Jose’s cookbook, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America, there is also a similar recipe which also includes potatoes.  I can’t wait to try that one!

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Our “Open That Bottle Night” didn’t quite go according to how I had planned it.  Originally, I had wanted to pair the perfect meal to go along with the bottle that Jay and I had chosen to open.  I had already gone out and purchased all of the necessary ingredients to make Bistecca Fiorentina (grilled, thick Porterhouse steak), roasted potatoes, a salad of fresh arugula and parmigiano, and molten chocolate souffles.  Jay and I were really excited about sharing a perfect, romantic evening over great food, and amazing wine!  However, as so often happens in life, other things came between me and my plan.

Earlier in the day, we attended a party to celebrate the 1st birthday of our friends’ son. We were originally told that just cake, ice cream, and coffee would be served.  Upon arriving, however, we quickly discovered this was not the case.  There was a table completely filled with food (including some yummy Thai and Philippino dishes), not to mention 3 different cakes!  We didn’t want to be rude, and sampled a little bit of just about everything.  We were especially excited about all of the yummy international dishes.  Needless to say, by the time we left the party, the thought of a big dinner was far from our minds.

Even though our initial plan was obviously no longer going to happen, we didn’t want to just cancel our “Open That Bottle Night.”  We still really wanted to drink the special bottle of wine that we had chosen.  So, we opted for Plan B.  On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket and picked up some cheese, salami, and bread.  Instead of dinner, we enjoyed our wine with a few simple appetizers and each other’s company.  While the wine would have been amazing with the orginal meal that I had planned, it was equally as wonderful with just snacks and good conversation.  It was just another reminder for me that things don’t have to be “perfect,” to be perfect.

I know what you’re wondering…”Which wine did you drink?!!!”  Without further ado, our selection was…..

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2004  Lucente – Luce della Vite, Toscana, Italia – 50% Merlot, 35% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon

We chose this wine for several reasons.  First, Jay and I have wonderful memories of meeting the winemaker, Lamberto Frescobaldi, this past November.  He sat at our table at a wine dinner that we attended, and even signed several bottles of wine from his collection for us.  He and his family also own the famous Marchesi de Frescobaldi, which has been producing wine for over 700 years!   Second, we simply LOVE Tuscan wines!  Who am I kidding…there aren’t many wines that we don’t love!  However, both Jay and I have a soft spot for for red wines from the region of Toscana.  Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano…we love them all!  Third, Lucente is a wine that is available for purchase in the United States.  I wanted to share a wine with all of you wonderful readers that you could also easily try for yourselves without having to make a trip to Italy (although, I think that you should do that, as well).   Finally, we have a second bottle of Luncente that we can continue to hold onto for another couple of years and see how it changes.

Jay and I with Lamberto Frescobaldi

Lamberto Frescobaldi, Me, and Jay

The origin of Lucente has an interesting story.  In 1995, the Frescobaldi family joined forces with Robert Mondavi to make “world-class Italian wines.”  These two wine-making giants jointly purchased land, each family with a 50% stake in the company.  Their first wine, Luce, was released in 1997, followed by Lucente in 1998.   However, in 2004, the giant American wine corporation, Constellation, took over control of Mondavi.  Lamberto Frescobaldi did not want to be part of such a large corporation, so he purchased Mondavi’s share of the Luce company.    He is now completely in control of viticulture and oenology for both Luce wines, as well as Marchesi de Frescobaldi.

So, what did the rest of you drink for “Open That Bottle Night?”  I want to hear about what you drank, as well as the stories from your evening.  So, leave a comment and let me know! 🙂

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This past weekend, Jay and I headed to the town of Acireale for Carnevale.  While Venice is probably the most well-known Italian city for Carnevale celebrations, many other cities all over Italy also host festivities.  Here in Sicily, the cities of Acireale and Sciacca host the largest Carnevale events.

The word ‘Carnevale’ is of Latin origin.  It comes from “carne levare,” which means “cessation of meat.”  Carnevale celebrations always take place during  the weeks prior to the beginning of Lent, which is a time that Roman Catholics are supposed to abstain from eating meat.  In addition, people are supposed to give up something they enjoy as an act of penance to bring them closer to God.  Most often, these are things like sweets and alcohol.  Carnevale is sort of like a last chance to enjoy all things frivolous and hedonistic before devoting 40 days to God in preparation for the Holy Easter holiday. 

Even Jesus comes out to celebrate Carnevale!

Even Jesus comes out to celebrate Carnevale!

Acireale’s Carnevale celebration was a feast for the senses!  Colorful, allegorical floats made their way down the streets in the Baroque city center, music blaring from loud speakers perched on the floats themselves, followed by marching bands, and performers adorned in elaborate costumes.  Masked and costumed festival-goers tossed confetti and sprayed silly string at one another.  The smell of crepes, cotton candy, and fried pastries wafted through the air.  It really was quite an experience! 

The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper float had canons that shot even more confetti into the air.

The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper float had canons that shot even more confetti into the air.

 

An example of some of the elaborate costumes worn by parade participants.

An example of some of the elaborate costumes worn by parade participants.

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The most memorable moment of the festival involved me accidentally spraying silly string into the face of a carabinieri (police officer) because my intended target (a teenager who had just nailed me with the stuff) ducked.  OOPS!  Luckily, the man didn’t see where the silly string came from.  A sweet, little old lady behind me, who was also armed with silly string, I might add, got a good chuckle out of it, though.  Really, it’s impossible to go to Carnevale without coming home covered in confetti and silly string!  It’s been 4 days, and I’m still finding confetti in unsuspecting places!

Me at the end of the night.

Me at the end of the night.

In Italy, special pastries are prepared for just about every holiday, and Carnevale is no different.   The names of these sweets vary from region to region, but the basic concept is the same: Sweetened Fried Dough.  YUM!  In Tuscany, they call them cenci (“little rags”).  They’re called bugie (“little lies”) in Liguria.  Here in Sicily, they are chiacchiere (“little gossips”).  I’ve been told that they get their name from the chatty hisses and pops that are made when the dough is dropped into the fryer.  Regardless of what they are called, they are absolutely delicious!  I purchased some yesterday for Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday).  In additional to the traditional recipe, I was very happy to find some that had been drizzled with chocolate.  They must have known that I was coming 🙂

Chocolate Drizzled Chiacchiere

Chocolate Drizzled Chiacchiere

Even though I did not make my own chiacchiere this year, I do have a good recipe for them that was given to me by one of my friends here in Marsala.  Although Carnevale  has officially ended for this year, you can enjoy these crunchy little sweets year-round.

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Chiacchiere

1  1/2 cups “00” or unbleached all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 Tbsp. lard or butter, chilled

1 egg

3 Tbsp. sweet Marsala wine

Vegetable oil for frying

Powdered sugar for dusting

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a medium mixing bowl.  Cut in the lard or butter until the mixture resembles course cornmeal.  In a small bowl, beat together the egg and wine until blended.  Pour into the flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together into a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes.  Cover and refriegerate for one hour before rolling out.

Divide the chilled dough into 4 pieces.  Keep the unused portion covered while you work.  Roll a piece of the dough very, very thin, dusting the work surface with a tiny bit of flour if it sticks.   The thinner that you roll out the dough, the flakier and crispier the cookies will be.  Cut the dough into 2 by 4-inch strips using a fluted pastry wheel or a pizza cutting wheel.

In a deep fryer, or large, heavy pan, heat 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees.  Fry a few chiacchiere at a time, turning once, until lightly browned, about 45 seconds per side.  Remove and drain on paper towels.   Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy.

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Today is the Festa di San Valentino, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day.  In honor of this romantic day, I decided to make my hubby, Jay, something special for breakfast as a small token of my love for him.  In my opinion, nothing says ‘I love you’ quite like chocolate (flowers, jewelry, and other presents rank up there, too, but this is a food blog), so I decided to make him something warm, gooey, and oozing with chocolatey goodness.

Me with my amazing husband, and photographer, Jay.

Me with my amazing husband, and photographer, Jay.

Now, Italians aren’t big on the typical American-style breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, etc.  They generally enjoy a caffe or cappuccino with either a panino, or a cornetto (croissant) instead.  Cornetti are available plain or stuffed with yummy fillings.  My personal favorite is a Cornetto con Nutella (Croissant with Nutella), which is the inspiration for this morning’s breakfast treat. 

For those of you who have never tried Nutella, let me tell you what you’re missing.  Nutella is a creamy, yummy, chocolate-hazelnut spread that is basically Europe’s answer to peanut butter, but oh so much better!  I’ve eaten it as a creamy frosting on cupcakes, a rich filling in crepes and panini, a dip for fresh fruit, and simply by itself directly out of the jar.  Nutella even has it’s own special day.  World Nutella Day was actually celebrated just this past week on February 9th (I’m a little late, I know).  You can learn more about World Nutella Day, as well as get some great Nutella recipes, on the blogs of Bleeding Espresso and Ms. Adventures in Italy.

My recipe for Cornetti con Nutella Veloce (Fast Croissants with Nutella) is actually a variation of a recipe for Chocolate Crescents from InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook.  The book is filled with information, stories, sexy food photos, and recipes using foods that are considered to be aphrodisiacs.   My copy is in storage back in the U.S., so It’s very temping for me to purchase the recently-released 10th Anniversary Edition of the book, which contains additional recipes for enticing your beloved, to use while I’m here in Italy.  Luckily, this recipe is so easy that I don’t need to have my book as a reference.  It’s main ingredients are simple: Pillsbury Butter Flake Crescent Rolls, Nutella, and a little egg, water, and sugar to create a shiny glaze on top.  No, Pillsbury products are not available here in Italy.  I just have access to a special grocery store that sells American products.  I would think that the Pasta Sfoglia (puff pastry) that is available in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets in Italy would probably work in place of the crescent rolls.  I just haven’t personally tried it yet.  Word to the wise, make two batches.  The first one will be gone all too quickly.  Happy Valentine’s Day to you and the ones you love!  To my husband, Jay, ‘Il mio cuore e tuo per sempre!  Baci e abbracci (My heart is yours forever!  Kisses and hugs)!

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Cornetti con Nutella Veloce

1 Can Pillsbury Butter Flake Crescent Rolls

Nutella

1 Large Egg, beaten

1 Tbsp. Water

Granulated Sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

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Remove the crescent dough from the tube, and separate into the pre-cut triangles.  Evenly space the triangles on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Place a dollop of Nutella at the base of each triangle (about 1 Tbsp.), and roll up just as you normally would when making crescent rolls.  Beat together 1 egg and 1 Tbsp. water.  Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of each crescent with the egg wash, then sprinkle each one with a little bit of granulated sugar.  This will give the cresents a shiny, slightly-sweet glaze.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.  Enjoy with coffee or a tall glass of cold milk.

Caution: Make sure to let these cool for just a few minutes before eating.  The Nutella inside will be very hot!

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A sunny greeting in my cappuccino from Aloha Bar

A sunny greeting in my cappuccino from Aloha Bar

I’ll be honest…winter in Sicily is not my favorite time of year.  The vines in the vineyards are totally bare, my vegetable garden is empty (except for the weeds that have grown up), and worst of all, the weather is completely unpredictable.  While the temperatures don’t really get too awfully cold, the sun spends more time tucked away into the clouds, and the rain and winds take over.  Most of the time when there’s rain in the forecast, strong winds also accompany it.  Umbrellas are rendered almost completely useless in weather like this.  Either the wind whips your umbrella completely inside out and you get soaked, or the rain blows sideways, so every part of your body that the umbrella doesn’t actually cover gets completely drenched.  Either way, you come home looking like a wet dog.  Needless to say, I spend a lot more time at home during the winter months.

 

There is, however, one bright spot in the dreary winter days that I look forward to every year.  SICILIAN CITRUS!!!  Around mid-December, the trees finally begin to show hints of color other than green.  By January, they are completely dotted with yellow and orange!  Mandarins, tangerines, lemons, and navel oranges abound!  The most prized, however, and one of my favorites, are the Sicilian Blood Oranges.

 

 

One of the many trees dotted with juicy oranges

Sicilian Sunshine

Blood oranges get their vibrant red color from the presence of anthocyanin, a pigment present in flowers and fruit, but not usually found in citrus fruits.  Sicilian Blood Oranges are prized throughout Italy and Europe, and with good reason.  While blood oranges are grown in other parts of the world, including Spain, Australia, and the states of California, Texas, and Florida in the U.S., the flavor of the Sicilian Blood Orange is far superior to any other type that I’ve tasted.  Its tangy-sweet flesh is incredibly good for you, too.  Just one medium-sized blood orange contains 15% of the FDA’s recommended daily amount of potassium, and 28% of the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber. 

 

 

Sicilian Blood Oranges

Sicilian Blood Oranges

There are three different varieties of blood oranges:

 

 

Moro  classified as a “full-blood” orange.  Moro oranges have a reddish-orange rind, and flesh color that ranges from orange-veined with ruby coloration, to vibrant crimson, to nearly black. 
 
 
 
Tarocco – classified as a “half-blood” orange.  While tarocco oranges are considered to be the sweetest of the three varieties, they also have the least amount of anthocyanin, resulting in the color of both the rind and the flesh to have significantly less red coloration.

 

Sanguinello – classified as a “full-blood” orange.  The Sanginello has characteristics similar to the Moro, but with an extended growing season.  The first mature fruit appears in February, but can remain unharvested on the trees until April, and until May once they are harvested.

 

The vibrant red flesh of a Sicilian Blood Orange

The vibrant red flesh of a Sicilian Blood Orange

I saw the first Moro oranges of the season in the market this week, so I immediately snatched them up.  Since it’s early in the season, the color of their flesh wasn’t as dark as what I was hoping for (solely for the sake of photos), but the flavor was all there!  So, I decided to grill some whole Spigola (sea bass), seasoned with the blood orange zest, crushed fennel seeds, salt and freshly-ground pepper, accompanied by the very typical Sicilian Blood Orange and Fennel Salad.    The salad is one of my favorite ways to showcase blood oranges.  It is very fresh and crisp, and reminds me of summer, even though it is made with winter produce.  It is the perfect accompaniment with jsut about any fish, as well as pork.

 

 

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Spigola alla griglia con un'insalata di arance sanguigne Siciliane e finocchio (Grilled sea bass with Sicilian blood orange and fennel salad)

 Fennel is a vegetable that is completely underappreciated in the United States.  Prior to moving here, I can’t say that I remember eating fennel even once!  That’s really because everything that I had read about it told me that it had a licorice-like flavor.  I HATE black licorice, so I steered clear of fennel.  What a mistake!  It is now one of my favorite vegetables.  While it does have an anise-like flavor, it is not nearly as strong as licorice.  Its flavor is a bit stronger in its raw form, but mellows when roasted.  Raw or cooked, it is absolutely delicious!

 

Below you will find my recipe for Sicilian Blood Orange and Fennel Salad.  If you cannot find blood oranges, regular oranges taste just fine, as do tangerines.  I love to add chile flakes to mine (I just love a little spice in my life), but feel free to leave them out.  Some people add black olives to the salad, which is delicious, but I do not.  My husband does not like olives, so I leave them out.  He says that he’s allergic, but I know better.  His job is what allows me to live here, though, so I try to be nice to him by leaving olives, asparagus and Brussels sprouts, which are his only food dislikes, out of my cooking. 

If you would like to know how I prepared the fish, please send me a note, and I will e-mail it to you.

 

Fennel and Sicilian Blood Orange Salad

Sicilian Blood Orange and Fennel

Sicilian Blood Orange and Fennel Salad

 

1 fennel bulb, with 1 Tbsp. fronds reserved and chopped

1 small red onion, cut in half, then thinly sliced into half moons

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

About 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

Freshly-ground black pepper

1/2 small lemon

5-6 blood oranges

3-4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. fresh Italian parsley, chopped

 

Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, and then slice it as thinly as possible.  The best way to do this is using a mandoline.  Using a food processor equipped with a thin-slicing blade would also work well.  If you do not have either, just make sure that you are using a very sharp knife.  Toss the fennel slices with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes (if using), some of the chopped fennel fronds, and the juice of half of a small lemon.  Add the onion slices, and 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil.  Toss to coat, and set aside.

 

Juice one of the blood oranges.  Whisk in the remaining olive oil.  Set aside.

 

Slice off the top and bottom ends of the remaining blood oranges so that they will stand upright.  Then, use a knife to cut off the peels in long strips, including as much of the bitter white pith as possible.  Turn the oranges on their sides, and slice into thin wheels.  Alternately, you can cut the blood oranges into supremes by cutting in between the membranes to free the sections, and then discarding the membranes.  Add the blood orange slices to the sliced fennel and onions.  Pour in the juice and olive oil mixture, add the chopped parsley, toss to coat, and serve.  Buon appetito!

Wine Pairing: Donna Fugata Lighea (50% Zibbibo, 50% Catarratto)

 

 

 

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