Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lemons, lemons, lemons

Picture 5

I dreamt of Italy last night. Again. What is it about this country that gets you hooked? Sure they have all that glorious nature, wonderful, exuberant people, pizza, gelato, opera, unforgettable sunsets over the Colosseum, etc... but I have traveled to lots of exotic, remote corners of the world (getting almost crippled by the weight of my backpack, a.k.a. my best friend), saw incredibly beautiful things, met all kinds of people, and ate my way across several continents and none of these places trigger as many nostalgic emotions as Italy does. And things ought to get better, as far as my daydreams are concerned anyway. Memories get better with age. They get wrapped in this strange fog like filter. You know, like the ones they use to make new photos look old. You look at them, immediately see a story there, and in your mind it all plays out in slow motion. But I digest, as Joey Tribiani so eloquently put it.( If you don't know who Joey Tribiani is, you should probably stop reading this blog). What I wanted to talk about here are lemons. Amalfi lemons, to be precise. These ubiquitous little gems that litterally fall on your shoulders when you take a stroll on the notoriously narrow roads of the Amalfi. You can't escape the scent of lemons here, they're everywhere. In the air, in your pasta, in your salad, in baba al limone or that hornlike little thang Italians call sfogliatelle. What surprised me the most was that it's mostly the zest of lemon that is used, rather than the juice.
So in keeping with tradition, I made this lemony panna cotta today. Not a traditional one, as this version is made with buttermilk and lots of lemon zest, making it lighter and tangier than the usual panna cotta made with cream. And because strawberries are in season, why not serve your panna cotta with some honey-lemon strawberry salad?
Finally, if you're ever in the Amalfi region please, oh please have some lemon granita for me. And maybe a shot of Limoncello. Or two.Thank you.

Buttermilk panna cotta with honey-lemon strawberry salad



750 ml buttermilk
100 g sugar
zest of one organic lemon
3 1/2 gelatin leaves, softened in cold water

1 cup sliced strawberries
1/2 tsp mild honey
juice of half a lemon

In a medium saucepan combine buttermilk with sugar and lemon zest. Bring to a slow simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Do not boil. Squeeze out excess water from gelatin and add to buttermilk mixture. Stir to dissolve completely. Strain into 4 cups and refrigerate at least 6 hours.
For the salad combine all ingredients and spoon atop panna cottas.
Serves 4 of you or 1 of me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bella Italia and a recipe


I've already done this countless times in my head. Create this post, I mean. Create, recreate and so on...Considered the many things I should write about. The good, the great, the unexpected, the magic of it all. Just trying to share all the incredible experiences I've had, complete with the sounds, smells and yes even the soundtrack of the whole trip, as all good stories need a soundtrack. Try Gianna Nannini , Madonna's Miles Away or Open Road by Grace. I've had these tunes in my head for months now, playing over and over again...And every single time they take me back to the long, scenic drives in the south of Italy and the poppy fields of France. The lemon scent in the air in Amalfi; savouring every bite of the world's BEST pistachio gelato in Polignano-al-Mare, while the rough waves hit the rocks so hard your feet start trembling; gazing for hours at wild horses in the south of France, need I say more??
It all started in March, when we shuttered our humble abode and set off on a pilgrimage to the culinary motherlands of France and Italy. Being quite aware of the fact that not much can be done to temper the self-indulgence of this story's premise I will rely on just a few of the pictures to give you a taste of what it was like. For me.


Picture 10


Picture 11
Picture 12

Strawberry Mozzarella salad with Prosciutto di Parma


After having mozzarella and prosciutto for lunch almost every day while in Italy, I felt (at the time) that I needed a break from both. Clearly this so called break did not last long. I found some gorgeous local strawberries at the market and just couldn't resist. On my way home I dropped by my local Salumeria for some fresh mozzarella and a few slices of prosciutto and hey presto lunch!

For the dressing mix some extravirgin olive oil with grainy mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Toss some sliced strawberries and mixed Italian greens with the dressing. Serve with torn mozzarella pieces and a few slices of prosciutto.Enjoy!
More on Italy and France coming soon...