Blu Aubergine Blog

HOLIDAYS: Passover + Pesce en Saor Recipe

Venice: La Serenissima, the only city in the world with streets of water, where we're made to slow down the pace. It's home to delicious seafood and fresh veggies pulled from and grown in the briny waters of the lagoon. And, it's the birthplace of the term ghetto (based on the Venetian dialect term for foundry, original site of the neighborhood that became the ghetto...also gettare in Italian means to toss aside, throw out, which is essentially what happened to the Venetian Jews).

This ghetto was created for Jews in the 16th century and has morphed into terminology for an area into which a specific ethnic or racial group is pushed, isolated. This original ghetto separated the Jews from the rest of the Venetian population, but it also allowed, on some level, for the city's Jewish population to insulate itself and strengthen its traditions, though perhaps not into a singular Venetian Jewish community -- as evidenced by the five different diminutive synagogues in the neighborhood, catering to Italian, German, Levantine, Portuguese-Spanish, and French Jews practicing in Venice. 

Venice was truly a city at the crossroads of the spice trade and was the hub of trade routes between the east and the west for centuries before the ghetto was created. Jews were a vibrant and integral part of trade and banking for centuries in the middle ages and early Renaissance, and then once the Inquisition started driving Jews out of Spain and Portugal, many settled in Venice, and its Jewish population grew. So, on March 29th, 1516, the Venetian Jewish ghetto was established, more or less to keep the Jews "in check." Their movement about the city was limited and there were curfews set in the evenings, as entry points on the water were blocked and guarded by Venetian security men in boats. And while this was certainly oppressive and limiting, Jewish cuisine in Venice still flourished. So much of what we think of simply as "Venetian food" or "Roman specialties" or "Sicilian cuisine" originated in the kitchen of Jewish Italians. Artichokes, eggplant, and squash and pumpkins are all examples of food items that were not eaten by non-Jews, even up until the 19th century in many cases. Now it's difficult to imagine Italian cuisine without these items.

One of the signature flavor profiles of typically Jewish-Italian dishes is the element of sweet and sour, or agrodolce, in Italian. This comes from the pairing of vinegar and sugar (and honey well before sugar was widely available in Europe). The use of vinegar to preserve food is a classically Jewish one, because no work is allowed to be done on the sabbath, so all the food for sabbath meals needs to be prepared in advance -- and so the dishes are often served cool or at room temperature, having been cooked the day before. This happy coincidence allows for the flavors to develop, resulting in an even-more-delicious dish eaten a day or two after it was prepared. The sugar added to the vinegar is simply to cut the acidity of the vinegar (or citrus juice, or wine). Pesce en saor is Venice's shining example of a practically-conceived dish in the Jewish cuisine canon, going mainstream (pun intended). 

This dish is often made with sardines and called sarde en saor -- it's on most Venetian trattoria menus -- but it can be made with any fish fillets, really, though more oily fish like Spanish mackerel are suited to the sweet-and-sour preparation (they're also good for you, with lots of Omega-3s). A typical pairing would be with polenta, soft if you're making it and serving right away, or made a day in advance, cut into squares, and either served cold or grilled before serving. The addition of carrots and celery is optional, as is the choice of red or white onions. But the raisins and pine nuts are key to matching the sweet and sour flavors of the dish, and add texture and interest. it's the perfect make-ahead dish for Passover, and serves as an interesting substitute for gefilte fish on the American/Ashkenazi Passover table. Try it this year -- you may do as the Venetians have done, and incorporate the dish into your personal repertoire of favorites. HAPPY PASSOVER!

PESCE EN SAOR

 

(6 servings)

1 whole fish (about 2 pounds), cleaned, or 1.5 pounds fish fillets -- Spanish mackerel is a nice choice

½ cup red wine vinegar

3 tbs. sugar

1 onion, thinly sliced into half moons

2 small carrots, thinly sliced into a thick julienne or shavings

1 celery stalk, sliced into thin Vs

½ cup toasted pine nuts

½ cup raisins, plumped in hot water

6 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

 

- In a small bowl, stir together vinegar, sugar, pine nuts, and a little of the raisin plumping water. Set aside.

- Warm 2 tbs. of the olive oil in a large saute’ pan over medum heat. Sprinkle the fish with salt just before placing it in the saute’ pan. Saute’ until golden brown. Flip and brown on the other side.

- Remove fish from pan, add 2 more tbs. olive oil, and saute the onions and carrots an celery in the pan until softened, about 4 minutes.

- Add the vinegar mixture, cover, and cook over medium heat until the fish is done – about 10 minutes for a whole fish and 5 minutes for fillets.

- Transfer to a platter and serve warm or, better yet, the next day at room temperature.

 

* This dish pairs really well with polenta squares, grilled or pan-seared.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Dana Klitzberg at Friday, April 22, 2016

QUICK BITE: Bone Broth, Your Way

QUICK BITE: Bone Broth, Your Way

It's the dead of winter, and the entire east coast has just been hit with a major blizzard. This past weekend was, as they say, perfect "cooking project" weather. And it still is: perfect for a good, long simmer of beef bones thick with marrow on the stove, perfuming the air of your home and warming your kitchen. And then, once this broth is made, you can do so much with it. It's great just as is, of course. Much has been made of a "bone broth" revolution of sorts. Really, this is just broth, stock, whatever your want to call it -- that's been the base of soup and sauce recipes for ages. 

Some say to roast the bones and veggies in the oven first; I usually like to keep in uncomplicated when cooking this at home, and just use one pot -- a great big soup pot that's wide enough so that you can first roast the beef bones in one layer. I use a mix of marrow bones and some with a little meat on them, like short ribs or oxtail. I encourage a little caramelization with some tomato concentrate on top of the bones, and roast them on the stovetop or oven first until browned. Then I add the the carrots, onions, and celery (leeks and shallots if you're feeling it), along with lots of water, peppercorns, and a bay leaf. And really, that's it. This needs to simmer slow and low for as few as 6 hours, and as many as 24. Skim the ft occasionally from the top, and when it's done, strain it, cool it down and then place in storage containers in the fridge to completely cool overnight. This allows you to easily scrape the fat off the top the next day.

Now, the fun part. of course, you can sip the beef broth as is, even in a mug like the most restorative cup of coffee and lunch, combined. But the great thing about making a huge potload of beef broth is getting creative with it! You can freeze some in ice cube trays and then store in a ziploc bag in the freezer for use in sauces and individual servings later on. You can add some noodles and some vegetables and have a beef noodle soup. You can caramelize a pan full of sliced onions, sprinkle with flour, and add the broth for a wonderful French onion soup (top with a baguette slice and gruyere cheese for the real deal!). 

Or, make a wonderful, healthy, super-tasty Vietnamese-inspired version, like you see here. I took the basic beef broth and simmered it with a bit of soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, pineapple chunks, chopped lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, star anise, szechuan peppercorns, coriander seed, and chili pepper. The broth was infused with all of these warm and spicy notes over the course of about 2 hours.

Just before serving, I added some rice noodles, thinly-sliced bok choy, fresh cilantro and mint, a healthy squeeze of lime juice, and a bit of sriracha sauce, both blended in and drizzled on top. This is an incredibly fortifying soup-as-meal that's great both in cold weather and in hot. It's both edifying and refreshing. And it's utterly satisfying. You can create your own variations on this Asian noodle soup theme: add some red or green curry paste, a protein of choice, any kind of greens, herbs, citrus, spices. Have fun playing with your food! Keep warm, and keep cooking...

Posted by Dana Klitzberg at Monday, January 25, 2016

RECIPE: Thai-Inflected Turkey Curry Soup

RECIPE: Thai-Inflected Turkey Curry Soup

Soup 2.jpg

There are thousands of recipes for what to make with the leftovers after a big Thanksgiving feast. I always love to make stock with the bones left from the main feast, and I use it to make a collection of turkey broth-based soups that are perfect for lunches and dinners in the days following "turkey day." One of the wonderful things about soup is that it freezes so well; when you get sick of seeing turkey anything, freeze the soup and take it out when it entices again (or when you're feeling lazy and don't feel like cooking yet another meal!).

In this recipe, I've gone in a very different direction from good old American turkey noodle soup. In fact, I've taken Thai spices and flavorings and made a soup that can be anywhere from "lightly Asian-inspired" to full-on Thai spicy goodness. Based on the ingredients you have on hand, and your mood, you decide. Enjoy!


THAI-INFLECTED TURKEY CURRY SOUP

Soup 1.jpg

Serves 6-8

2 TBS. peanut or olive oil
8 cups turkey stock
2 cups shredded turkey meat
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
3 TBSP. Thai red curry paste
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, thinly sliced into rounds
1 kaffir lime leaf
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
16 oz. unsweetened coconut milk
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1-2 cups haricot vert, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts
2 TBSP fish sauce, optional
1 bunch cilantro, roughly minced
Fresh limes

- In a large pot, warm the oil until it shimmers, then add the diced carrots, celery, and onion. Sweat these vegetables over low heat for about 5 minutes, until they begin to soften. 
- Add the red curry paste, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaf, and stir over medium-high heat until fragrant, about one minute. Add the rice wine vinegar and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add the turkey broth and the coconut milk, and bring the soup to a boil.
- Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the red peppers and the haricot vert, and the shredded turkey meat, and let the flavors meld, pot covered, for about 10 minutes.
- Taste and adjust for flavor and seasoning, adding fish sauce if it needs salt (alternatively just add salt).
- Just before serving, add the cilantro and the juice of one lime, and serve topped with peanuts and a lime wedge.
   
    

ESCAPES: Puglia, ITALY, Part 2: The Southern Salento

The southern part of the Salento region in Puglia boasts some of the most dramatic and stunning landscape in southern Italy. Here, you can head to an eastern, rocky Adriatic coast beach in the morning, then head west to the mostly sandy Ionian coast for sunset and aperitivi. And this can all be done in an hour's time. The water is the gorgeous turquoise green of the Caribbean, and then gradually deepens to a royal blue found in the most pristine waters of the North Atlantic. From the eastern tip of Puglia, you can look across the Mediterranean on a clear day and see Albania. I know from experience that you can pick up their radio stations as you drive along the coast heading south.

And it's here that you hit the most easterly town in Italy, the beautiful coastal mini-city of Otranto(pronounced OH-tran-to), which abuts the water and boasts a charming harbor, the city having served as Italy's main port to the East for 1,000 years.

The beautiful seaside port belies a brutal history in the sack of Otranto in 1480, when the Turks and Venetians rushed the city with 18,000 troops and basically massacred everyone there, including the 800 survivors who were marched up a hill and beheaded for refusal to renounce their Christian faith. Some of these martyrs' remains are contained in a chapel in the nearby Cathedral. The Aragonese Castle (attributed to the 16th century Spanish) is another landmark in town that towers over the landscape. It's open for touring. Beyond this checkered history, Otranto and the Salento are lovely locales, packed with (mostly Italian) tourists and former residents-come-home in the summertime. 

The beaches in this area are gorgeous and bustling, and the coastline is a dramatic and stunning scape. You can see how this was originally a Greek outpost, just from the visuals: the Cerulean waters and arid land covered with ancient, craggy olive trees as far as the eye can see. The drives along the coast to the north and south of Otranto offer some of the best beaches in Puglia -- and arguably in all of Italy. To the north, there is the Baia dei Turchi (Bay of Turks), where translucent turquoise waters from tourist posters comes to life.

Heading south, towns like Santa Cesarea Terme (home of a renowned Moorish resort) and Castro, with a small marina much like Otranto's, are worthy of stops down to the very tip of the Pugliese peninsula.

And, they're not on the typical tourist radar. There are also grottoes to be visited -- including Grotta Zinzulusa, most famously -- offering a subterranean glimpse into the rich cave formations of the region and, where there's water, an otherworldly emerald glow. The very southern tip of Puglia is capped by Capo Santa Maria di Leuca, with its lighthouse at the very end of southeastern Italian land -- and where you're only 44 miles from Albania. 

As for lodging around Otranto, like in most of Puglia, the masserie reign supreme. These former working farmhouses for communal living that dot the Puglian landscape have been transformed into the area's signature B&B/hotel, most of which have a central courtyard with a pool, and a functioning restaurant on the property, which usually uses local ingredients often procured on the masseria's land, from its garden, etc.

One such lovely spot is Masseria Montelauro, originally constructed in 1878. Since then it has been a monastery, an herbal pharmacy, a restaurant -- even a discotheque. It now houses 32 rooms and suites refurbished in whitewashed Mediterranean minimalist chic, with wrought-iron beds, arched stone ceilings, flowing white curtains, and bathrooms in stone and marble.

The on-site restaurant serves three meals a day (including poolside and room service), and uses Montelauro's own olive oil, herbs, and vegetables in the cooking. The pool in the middle of it all is the perfect place to while away the morning or afternoon, and then you can take a short drive to one of the coasts for a few hours at the beach, after breakfast or post-lunch. Part of the charm of Puglia is that, though it's an ancient part of the Italian peninsula, it's not jam-packed with must-see tourist sites. There are those, of course, but it's also about getting into the Italian rhythm of life, and vacation, which is decidedly slow. You may very well finish that novel you pack.

Across the region, on the western (Ionian) coast, there is the area around Punta della Suina ("Pig's Point"), a beach in an area of nature reserve where you walk through a small pine forest to get to the waterline itself. (That's a view of Gallipoli in the distance, by the way -- we'll get there in a minute). Here at Punta della Suina, there are stabilimenti (beachside establishments that include bathrooms, bars, and often restaurants or sandwich and pizza bars, from completely informal shacks to sprawling, mod-design aperitivo magnets with full-on DJs). Here, you can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas, indulge in a salad or a panino and a glass of vino or a cocktail, if you like. It's one of the charms of the area.

There are also plenty of seaside trattorie where they serve local seafood dished up in various preparations. And this being Puglia, there is always a wealth of vegetable sides alongside the seafood stars. In short: you will not go hungry at the beach if you don't bring a picnic lunch.

Drive just north up the Ionian coast and you hit the famed town on the Golf of Taranto, Gallipoli -- which, fittingly, means "beautiful town" in Greek. The ancient city center ia an island joined by a bridge from the more modern (and much less interesting) part of town. The historic quarter is relentlessly charming, extremely photogenic, and definitely a must-see on any trip to the southern Salento.

The perimeter of the old city is lined with sea walls, on top of which are perched pastel and whitewashed stucco houses, hotels, restaurants, and shops. The cobblestones streets of the old city offer much of the same: charming vicoli and back alleys from which echo the patter of sandal-clad feet, reminiscent of those historic towns of the Greek islands of Mykonos or Paros. You can linger for a serious gelato or granita, particularly at the entrance to the old city, by the port, or at

Caffe' Duomo

.

There are some very lovely and stylish retail stores, including a personal favorite, Blanc, which sells everything from furniture and home design to women's accessories -- basically what you'd want your ideal Puglian trullo to look like, with you in it. The large space also contains a super-chic cafe' and lounge within its fabulous stone walls, perfect for a coffee or cocktail post-beach. Another amazing shop is Salamastra, a store specializing in fun shoes, leather and suede wraps and skirts trimmed in what's made to look like Pugliese eyelet lace, and jewelry made from lizards skins and leather. They also feature home goods made out of local shells, nautical rope and the like, inspired by the Salentino beachy style. The three co-owners also have a store in South Beach Florida. They divide their time between the two places, which is certainly a best-of-all-worlds scenario!

As for the food, Gallipoli's port is its pride, and it's all about fresh seafood here. Fresh catches arrive in the morning and again in the late afternoon, and opposite the port on the other side of the bridge, a fish market is set up twice a day until they sell out of goods. As to be expected in these parts, there are booths set up for the sole purpose of selling ricci di mare, or sea urchin. Some are meant to be scooped out and eaten on the spot, but many sellers clean the ricci at their booth and plop the little orange sacks into seawater-filled jars to preserve them.

These are sold cheaply for about 8-10 euros per small jar. We bought a jar and I added the sea urchin at the last minute to that evening's pasta, spaghetti con le vongele (with clams) -- it was a particularly rich and delicious Pugliese version! But the fish market in general is a gorgeous spot. You can bargain for great prices on the famous local red shrimp, beautiful scampi, swordfish...on all kinds of whole fish like branzino, and for octopus, calamari, and every kind of sweet shellfish you could hope for. So much of this delicious seafood is edible without cooking -- and here in Puglia, it's often best simply sprinkled with a little sea salt and some buttery-green unfiltered Pugliese olive oil, possibly a spritz of lemon. And that's it. Simple enough to do without lighting a stove, casually sitting there on your patio or terrazza or poolside at the masseria (or ask the chef where you're staying to prep it for you!). Add a little local rose' wine, and you're set. Southern Salento style.

photo credit: M. Sweeney

For more information on locations, lodging, and activities around the region, check out:

http://www.charmingpuglia.com/en

Masseria Montelauro

Uggiano Localita Montelauro

Strada Provinciale 358, 73028 Otranto

+39 0836 806 203

Blanc

Via XXIV Maggio, 19

Gallipoli LE, Italy

+39 0833 26349

Salamastra

Via Antonietta De Pace 90

73014 Gallipoli (LE)

+39 0833 261577

info@salamastra.com

HOLIDAYS: Carnevale a Roma

Today is Fat Tuesday, or Martedi Grasso, in Italian. And while Venice is famous worldwide for its traditional pre-Lenten celebration, 18th Century masked balls and all -- well, Rome has left most of its traditions in the past, save, of course, for the edible ones. Romans love their food, and what would Carnevale time be in Rome without its fried sweet treats?

They go by many names around the Italian peninsula, but in Rome, they're called frappe: strips of dough, deep fried, and dusted with powdered sugar. The best bakeries have so much turnover that you can manage to get the frappe still warm, when the sugar melts a bit to form an impromptu glaze. Eating them right out of the paper bag is what it's all about. Another Carnevale time treat is the castagnola, basically what Americans call a "munchkin" or donut hole. In Italy, Dunkin Donuts evaporated when the man running the franchise, er, took the money and ran. So no "munchkins" here. These treats are known as castagnole because they're about the size of a chestnut, or castagna. (And they definitely pre-date Dunkin!). They too are fried balls of dough covered in sugar, with a soft cake center. And they're delicious. But to my mind, the frappe are 'where it's at.' Light, crisp, ethereal. And it seems wherever I lived in Rome, I had great versions nearby. All my years in Largo Arenula, I had jonly to trot down Via Giubbonari, to hit either (or both) Roscioli, and/or the Forno in Campo dei Fiori. With all the time I spent at Stardust in Trastevere, we were just a case of the munchies away from Forno Renella on Via del Moro, famous all over the city for the noteworthy crust on its filone, its loaves of almost-charred bread.  Their frappe were thick and crunchy.

And there was that one month, that one random, in-transition month I spent on Via della Luce, on the quieter side of Trastevere, before my apartment in the Ghetto was ready for me...that month during February and March, juuuust about the time of Carnevale, when I lived across the street from the Biscottificio Innocenti. This cookie factory taunted me day and night with the wafting scent of its treats baking inside, its treats including seasonal goodies, its treats that...well, they were for sale to the public. And who better to share the love and to support the enterprise than neighbors?!

Ah, Carnevale. Carnevale in Rome: lots of memories. There were some great costume parties, because this is the time of year that Italians really get into "fancy dress," as the Brits call it. Halloween is still a relatively new holiday for Italians, and they're convinced that it's only for dressing as ghosts, witches, and scary monsters. So carnevale always brought out the variety and creativity of dressing up, even in adults. The standard masked and wigged revelers influenced by Venice still exist, sure. But I remember a particularly fun and pretty wild party at Supper Club, near the Pantheon, one year. And I also remember a great party at my friends' place near chiesa nuova -- they'd just moved in, Monica and Lorraine, and so the apartment was fairly furniture-free and just begging for a christening-of-sorts -- so the party was last-minute. Which meant we all had to throw together last-minute costumes. 

My roommate Leah was Miss America, my friend Elizabeth threw on a biker jacket and lots of small black leather items and a blonde wig: biker chick. And I was able to make a fairly convincing Native American getup with brown and tan leather pieces -- threw on some turquoise jewelry and braided my hair and via! Pocahontas. My friend Gareth had the hilarious last-minute idea of coming as Lee Marvin. He simply wore a suit and used a bit of scotch tape to tape up his nose to look like Marvin's. That was a big hit. So was the fact that one of the hostesses of the party was, at that time, dating an Italian guy who was a mime in Piazza Navona. As in, that was his job. He came to the party when he got off work, and everyone complimented him on his very convincing costume. He was confused. We loved it -- and it was a great party!

Buon Carnevale a Tutti! Happy Carnevale, Carnival, Mardi Gras...whatever you're celebrating tonight!

Valentine's Day: Cooking with Love, and for Patrick

I am a chef by profession. Despite my experience cooking for various celebrities and ambassadors, tourists and strangers, and the hours spent sweating in top restaurant kitchens, at the end of the day, I am a cook -- not a chef -- at heart. I like to define myself not so much by my professional culinary ventures, but by what I cook for those I love. It is this that measures not just skill and talent and speed, but what comes from your heart, as I believe all good cooking should.

I wrote this almost six years ago when I was living in Rome, and I still feel the same way. For me, cooking is an expression of love. It's something to be shared among friends, family, and loved ones. Cliché as it may sound, it's about more than filling stomachs, it's about feeding souls. When you're lucky enough not to worry where your next meal will come from, cooking is about pleasure: flavor and memory and sensation and smell and yes, hunger -- but in a good way. It's the ultimate sensory experience. I always say, cooking and eating are the only activities for which you utilize all five of your senses...other than sex, of course. So for me, Valentine's Day is as much about food as anything. 

This Valentine's Day, I'm reflecting on cooking for loved ones, and one loved one in particular. This past Christmas Eve, my dear friend Patrick passed away suddenly. We'd been friends since we met in Rome in 1999, and he was one of my favorite people on the planet. In a terrible twist of irony, I was a week away from seeing him. I was supposed to be his New Year's "date" and spend five days in Las Vegas with him and his Mother, his Stepfather Gary, and his 2 little boys, Sebastian and Elliott.

I was looking forward to this time with him so much that it's beyond something I can express in words. I was excited to get some good, quality time with the boys, excited to see his Mom again (she'd lived in Florence while we all lived in Rome) and to meet Gary, excited for our famous Dana-Patrick heart-to-hearts, and for our imitations and goofy accents and belly laughs, and to just hang out again with no particular agenda, like we'd done in Rome countless times over the years. And, I was really looking forward to cooking for him, and particularly for Sebbi and Elliott. When I last saw Sebbi, he was too young to have his teeth yet, and the boys had been living in Sweden with their mother until Patrick brought them back to America in 2008. They'd been living on the other side of the country from me, and though we often tried to plan visits to see each other, daily life had always seemed to get in the way. Until this year. We were going to kick off 2011 on the right foot. "I can't wait to cook you guys some good Italian food, you need my help!" I'd told Patrick on the phone back in November. He'd joked about his "master cheffing skills" as he simultaneously prepared dinner for the boys -- peanut butter sandwiches, mac and cheese. Patrick's own diet also tended towards the simple kids' menu fare he served the boys. 

I thought about all the wonderful Roman meals we'd enjoyed -- pasta all'amatriciana, Roman broccoli cooked down to a velvety mush with garlic, olive oil, and peperoncino...thin-crust pizzas and juicy beef tagliata on a bed of arugula with balsamic. I wanted the boys to taste this. For Patrick and me, it would be taste memory. For Sebby and Elliott, it would be cultivating tastes. But I didn't get that chance.

Instead, I flew out to Vegas 3 days earlier than originally planned, for Patrick's funeral. It's still surreal, even as I write this. I don't actually believe he's gone. It seems impossible. But I was there, I attended the service, I saw his family and friends, and made some new ones. We wept, we drank, we talked. And eventually, I got to cook. The day after the funeral, Barb and Gary were hosting everyone at their home. When I arrived there with my friend Gareth, the house smelled delicious. James Taylor was cooing from the speakers (Patrick's favorite -- and mine, too. I've cooked countless meals along with "Sweet Baby" James). I wanted to do something to help the family, wanted to make myself useful in some small way. So I relieved Barb of her kitchen duties, and turned the bubbling broth on the stove into a soup. It was a simple job, really: picking turkey meat off of the carcass, chopping parsley and garlic, menial tasks. But that's what I wanted, to go through the motions and occupy my time. I cooked for Patrick's family and friends, and for me, too. His sister Andrea came and put her arm around me as I worked. "You're doing what you do best. It feels comforting, doesn't it?" It did, and it didn't. The last thing I wanted to be doing was cooking under those circumstances...but under those circumstances, the only thing for me to do was to cook. Patrick's niece Sophie was my sous-chef. She'd decided over the course of those few days that she wanted to be a caterer. Strange timing for a 10 year-old to choose a career path, perhaps, but I can tell that she has what it takes, beyond already formidable knife skills: she likes to feed souls, too. Barb said that day, "Having you and Gareth and Erica in my kitchen again, it seemed like Florence -- almost normal." Almost. The one thing that was missing, so sorely, unfairly missing, was Patrick. What a presence. He always lit up the room.

Once all the family had arrived at Barb's house, we ladled out the cream of turkey soup and passed around the garlic bread. All the adults and Barb's 10 grandchildren slurped the soup happily, and I loved seeing them enjoying it, loved hearing the clink-clink of their spoons hitting the bottom of their cups. When he was done, Sebastian, Patrick's older boy, came running up to me and smiled and proclaimed, "You make the best soup in the whole world!" There was no higher praise imaginable. It broke my heart. In that moment, he was a 7-year-old version of his father. There too, no higher praise.

Patrick is gone much too soon, but he packed a huge amount of life into his 38 years. He lived all over the world, and he often said many of his happiest moments were with us in Rome. Patrick truly enjoyed to eat, drink, and be merry, something he cultivated to perfection in the aria and among the cobblestones of the Eternal City. He was an honest, caring man -- absolutely one of the good ones -- with a huge heart, which, as it turned out, was also a weak one. For better or worse, the words "heart" and "Patrick" will forever be linked in my mind.

I wish everyone much love, and time to spend with those you care about this San Valentino, and hope that you can all share some delicious food with loved ones. I'll be blogging about food-related Patrick stories now and throughout the year -- there are so many! This is a piccolo valentino to you, Patrick. I love you and miss you so much. We all do.

FESTA DE SANTO ANTONIO

In traditionally Catholic countries like Portugal, saint days are important holidays for the local population and tradition, and can often be the best "festa" going. This is definitely the case with the Festa de Santo Antonio in Lisbon. What an experience! But first, a little history.

Saint Anthony was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões circa 1195, in Lisbon, Portugal, where he lived most of his life. When he later gained admission to the Franciscan order he took up the name Antonio (Anthony). He was venerated as Anthony of Padua or Anthony of Lisbon. Canonized in 1232 by Pope Gregory IX about a year after his death, St. Antonio was the most quickly-canonized saint in history.

His dedicated church is Sant'Antonio di Padova in northeastern Italy, which contains what is said to be his tongue -- an important relic, as he was distinguished as a great orator (still, seeing his tongue is pretty freaky, I must admit. And people line up for it).

Among many other things, St. Antonio is the patron saint of harvests, lower animals, pregnant women, and oppressed people. He's also the patron saint of mariners, lost articles, travelers and mail: 4 things interestingly, that seem inherently linked (especially "lost articles" and "mail" in Italy...). And lastly, St. Antonio is the saint of LOVE in Portugal and Brazil - especially new love, newlyweds, and lost loves who find each other again, as legend states that acted as conciliator to couples.

St. Antonio died 13 June, 1231, so June 13th is the Festa de Santo Antonio in Lisbon -- a municipal holiday. Newlywed couples give thanks and singles pray for a match made in heaven (the previous day, June 12, is the Brazilian Valentine's Day). The festa is celebrated with parades and, since the 1950's, marriages of a handful of "modest" young couples who receive the blessing of Saint Anthony in one large ceremony, the "Santo Casamenteiro" at the historical Sé Cathedral in the ancient Alfama neighborhood. This also correlates with another tradition for couples and Lisboners looking for love, with the gift of Manjerico to that special someone. These little potted plants of newly sprouted Basil (for a newly sprouted love) are given as gifts throughout June, wrapped in red ribbon. Less traditionally, drunken Lisboetas wear flourescent green wigs with a red headband to signify this Manjerico, and hit each other with big red plastic hammers that squeak on impact -- something decidedly un-endearing, resembling dog toys.

Manjerico que te deram,

Amor que te querem dar…

Recebeste o manjerico.

O amor fica a esperar.

Basil that was given to you,

(Is) Love that is wanted to be given to you….

You received this basil.

The love is waiting.

After a colorful parade down the city's main artery, the streets of Lisbon are full of people celebrating in every neighborhood -- but in particular, the Alfama and area around Sé Cathedral are the heart of the festa. Music is in the air. Every restaurant, bar, and storefront sets up stalls and grills for the traditional "poor food" of the festa: sardines and pork. When slapped on a bun, these sandwiches are called Sardinha no Pão and Entremeada no Pão.

The popularity of Lisbon's large, meaty sardines during this time is a tribute to Santo Antonio’s legendary “sermon to the fish” in Padua, and also because it's high season for the healthy, omega-3-rich fish. The cut of pork traditionally used is called entremeada , and is considered the fattiest cut of ribs possible. All this great street food is washed down with cold beer, caipirinhas, sangria, and ginja (a local cherry-flavored liquor - delish). The only negative is the lack of bathroom access -- possibly worse than Mardi Gras in New Orleans -- otherwise, I highly recommend planning a trip to Lisbon around June 13th. They do their local saint proud.

Pesce d'Aprile!

Yes, it's April 1st everyone: known in America as April Fool's Day, and in Italy, bizarrely, as Pesce d'Aprile, translated as "April Fish." All over the Italian peninsula today, giggling school children are sticking colorful paper cut-outs of fish on unsuspecting schoolmates' backs (hilaaaaarious, I know). Of course these pranks aren't limited strictly to fish, or to schoolchildren. But today in New York, the sun is finally shining and it's 63 degrees out. So I don't really care about pranks right now. I want to take in the sunlight and the temperate weather.

So, at the risk of seeming like a humorless twit, I'm going to skip the practical jokes and concentrate on the pesce part of the Pesce d'Aprilefish. When I think of spring warmth and sunshine, I think of Sicily. And lemons. My first trip to Sicily was in the month of April, and it was a glorious week with some of the most amazing Italian food I'd ever tasted (authentic Sicilian is still perhaps my favorite regional Italian cuisine). The recipe below highlights the island's wonderful citrus, in a dish of Fish with Salmoriglio -- a light, lemony, herby sauce shot through with plenty of garlic that's a perfect foil to meaty or oily fish. Pesce spada (swordfish) or mackerel would be the most likely fish varieties used in Sicilia. I like to use the large bunches of dried oregano that come from Sicily and Calabria as the main herb in the sauce, though adding a bit of parsley and rosemary work to give the sauce some extra green notes, both in flavor and color.

Salmoriglio is best with white, flaky fish or steak fish, I think, but also works with shellfish and grilled meats. Whatever you pair it with, it imparts a bit of sunshine to the dish --  a bit of agrumi (citrus). Very Sicilian. And much better than that other Sicilian notion involving fish, particularly popular in Corleone: sleeping with the fishes. Buon Pesce d'Aprile! And buon appetito! 

PESCE CON SALMORIGLIO

(4 servings)

4 1-inch thick slices or fillets of whitefish (about 1½ pounds), cleaned

1/2 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Sicilian

2 lemons

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped finely

Pinch of oregano, or a mix of fresh herbs (oregano, parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme)

Salt & pepper to taste

- In a small bowl, zest one of the lemons (careful not to include the white pith), and juice both lemons. Stir together with garlic. Slowly add 1/3 cup olive oil in a stream to make a sort of citronette. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. (If you want the garlic taste to be mellowed, heat this mixture in a pan and warm for 5 minutes to cook the garlic a bit).

- Warm a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medum heat. Sprinkle the fish with salt just before placing it in the sauté pan. Sauté until golden brown. Flip and proceed the same way on the second side.

- In the meantime, chop the herbs finely. Add to the lemon-garlic-oil mixture. Adjust seasoning as needed.

- Transfer fish to a platter, drizzle with the salmoriglio sauce, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Festa Delle Donne

March 8th in Italy is the 

Festa Delle Donne

, or Women's Day. This has been a tradition for a long time in Italy and in many countries around the globe -- and recently the holiday has picked up steam in the U.S. (The photo above features the mimose, the official flower for this holiday in Italy). All over the Italian peninsula on March 8th, groups of women take over restaurant dining rooms en masse, leaving the men to stay home and cook for themselves! This year, we celebrate

Festa delle Donne

 just after an historic win at the Oscars last night for Kathryn Bigelow -- the first female ever to win best director. Congratulations and

 forza donne! 

For a great website featuring information about all things Italian, check out my friend GB's wonderful

Italian Notebook

, and sign up to get a daily dose of Italy at

www.italiannotebook.com

. Thanks, Geebs, for the photo I lifted above!