Slow Food’s Terra Madre: Regional Cuisine

June 13, 2013 § 1 Comment

Regional cuisine is a concept that should be no surprise to anyone; after all, food (like humans, animals and microbiota) is as unique as the place that it came from. Globally, food cultures exist by region, state, city, neighborhood and family. In October I was lucky enough to serve as an International Delegate at Slow Food International’s biannual Terra Madre conference held in Turin, Italy.  Like the United States, and virtually everywhere else on earth, Italy’s regional cuisine varies based on geography.


All things preserved…

TerraMadre Terra Madre, a food-centric celebration with over one hundred-thirty countries, was insane; the entire experience a revelation. It was there that the concept of eating traditional foods – that are whole, nourishing, adhere to cultural culinary practices and that protect and restore communities and their surrounding environments – really began to resonate with me.

TerraMadre Fish


Artisinal cheeses from France


Poland’s display of smoked meats and pates.


At Eatly in Turin there are meat and cheese aging cellars – I had to sneak in to get a whiff!

DSC09677Rich cured meats, pungent fermented cheeses, smoked fish, organ pates, heirloom vegetables, saccharine desserts and glutenous breads are just a few nourishing traditions I encountered. With Terra Madre comes Salone del Gusto. Salone del Gusto is a concentration of Italian regional specialties spread throughout a refurbished Fiat factory in Turin. Below you’ll see two men carrying a heavily marbled cured specimen (possibly salami or bresaola) spanning at least fifteen-feet. I’m convinced that one must be in Italy to see such a sight. Along with the cured meets, Italian desserts populated nearly every region represented at the gathering. Rhode Island (my home) has a robust Italian population, much of which inhabits our capital city’s gem, Federal Hill, the home of exceptional Italian food. I’ve tasted some delicious cannoli, a Silician pastry, but never anything like the little tubes of sheep’s milk ricotta that I tried at Salone del Gusto.  TerraMadre3 Alyssa at Terra Madre Turino_Cheese DSC00116 DSC00103 Between constructive workshops and meetings, a handful of delegates explored Alba’s annual white truffle festival. While in Alba we were submerged in the slow food culture that makes Italy so appealing . At a humble market nestled between the town’s church and several cafes we bought some of the highest quality food I’ve ever tasted and sat in the piazza enjoying our findings. DSC00193



White truffle sausage and wine-aged cheese with pesto and crudites (the best part).



White truffles

DSC00230Terra Madre was a clash of all things culturally relevant; traditions, environment, family, religion, livelihood, art and education. And, it’s especially important to note that food was the conduit that connected such diverse people from every corner of the earth.Only through Slow Food.  Sometimes I miss the important things because I’m rushing off to accomplish something else. Sound familiar? If so let food act as the anchor that grounds you, that slows you down. As you grow, prepare, cook and share food realize, as I did at Terra Madre, that food not only nourishes our cells, but also feeds our soul.

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Lion House Rolls

November 19, 2012 § 4 Comments

A love affair? Maybe, but I guess I justify it since it only happens once a year. And, like me, you won’t believe you made these pudgy little suckers, nor will your guests. Yes, I know, bread is not exactly nourishing, but smothered with ghee or creamy butter, it sure is a perfect indulgence once and a while (i.e. once a year at Thanksgiving).  Lion House rolls are heaven. This is not my recipe but I’ve adopted it, made them the last three years and I must say, if every family chef made these buttery babies, we’d never have to rely on Pillsberry for pokable perfection ever again.

If you’re a visual learner, watch this Lion House video and get to swingin’ your dough!

Lion House Rolls
2 cups warm water, 2/3 cup nonfat dry milk, 2 tbsp dry yeast*, 1/4 cup white, granulated sugar, 2 tsp salt, 1/3 cup organic butter, plus 1/4 cup for brushing 1 egg, 5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, organic butter for topping
*2 tablespoons are equivalent to 2 packages of dry yeast.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the water and the dry milk, stirring until everything is dissolved. Add the yeast to the mixture while milk mixture is still warm. Proof the yeast (let it dissolve and start to react before adding anything else) for a couple of minutes then add the sugar, salt, butter, egg and only 2 cups of the flour.

Mix on low speed until ingredients are wet and shaggy; turn to medium speed and mix for 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and add 2 more cups of flour (total of 4 cups added at this point). Mix on low speed until the ingredients are wet, then turn mixer on medium speed and mix for 2 minutes.

At this point, the dough will be stiff.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and knead in the remaining flour by hand.

Add approximately 1/2- 1 cup of flour and knead. The dough should be soft, not overly sticky, and not stiff. Note: It’s not necessary to use the all of the 5 1/2 cups of flour.

Scrape the dough off the sides of the bowl. Coat the sides of the bowl with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  Turn the dough over, keeping it in the bowl, so it is covered with the oil. Coating the dough with oil ensures moisture won’t escape. Cover the bowl with a small towel and allow it to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size.

Dust a cutting board or the counter with flour to prevent sticking, and roll out the dough (see the video above). Roll into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick and brush with about 1/4 cup of melted butter.

You want to cut the rectangle into smaller rectangles that are 2″ by 4″.  If you make and “L” with your thumb and pointer finger, as it shows in the video, that will yield the right width and height to cut the rectangles.

Roll or flip them (like in the video) and place them on greased baking pans with the end of the roll resting on the pan. Cover with a towel so they don’t dry out as they rise. Let them rise until they double in size; this usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half (in a warm kitchen).

When they’ve risen, bake at 375 degree Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they’re golden brown. Serve immediately. Leftovers (although there probably won’t be any) can be frozen- they make a great base for bread pudding!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Coconutmeal: A New Take on Oatmeal

November 7, 2012 § 4 Comments

Fall is nearly over; the leaves have hit the ground, filling the air with the saccharine scent of decomposition. Long walks in the ginseng-scented woods yield hens and chickens hiding on rotting trees, dilapidated bikes and a flush that rouges my cheeks. Against the setting sun the tips of the barren trees look like black lace. Once the sun is gone, the air is silent and chilling. I was lucky enough to catch some glimpses of Rhode Island’s color before it was wiped away by the brazen winds of hurricane Sandy.

The lack of warmth and daylight at this time of the year instigates (for me at least) a craving for craze sweets, breads and hearty roasts (all things I hardly ever eat). However, now more than ever it’s imperative to really dig in and feed our body things that will nourish it.

With the length of the days rapidly decreasing we can all feel winter’s threat; naturally most of us go into hibernation mode. Comfort food keeps us warm, but unfortunately many of the dishes we’ve come to know as our favorites are not exactly the best fuel for keeping us healthy. As I’m sure you know (and have read on every health-related website), whole foods (aka foods with only one ingredient in the ingredient list) are the fuel our body needs and craves. When we’re hungry, tired and stressed (common feelings for this time of the year, are they not?) we tend to make food choices that don’t benefit us. Then we’re forced to deal with the consequences of our poor food choices when we feel lethargic or get sick. Everything we put in our bodies matters, yes, every little thing.

I said all of that to say this; coconut flour is not only satiating with its high fiber, protein and fat content, but is also delicious. Coconut is indulgent and nourishing at its core and this flour proves it. Coconut flour can be used to make cookies, cakes, waffles, pancakes, tarts, “oat”meal and may be a substitute for flour when thickening sauces. But, because coconut flour holds water so well, there are some adjustments that need to be made. When using 100% coconut flour, for every one cup used, 4 eggs should be added to the recipe. By the way, coconut flour is gluten-free so consider experimenting with it if you’re cooking for someone with an intolerance.

This recipe can be made many ways, my favorite is just the fragrant coconut flour, a pinch of stevia and some hot water, but adding coconut milk (cream) an egg and vanilla extract makes for a heavier, more custard-like dish. Below I’ll provide both recipes. Experiment and enjoy!

Coconut Flour “Oat”meal

My Favorite way:
(makes one hearty vegan, gluten-free serving)

1/4 cup raw, organic coconut flour, 1 tsp organic powdered stevia, about 1 cup of hot water and fruit, nuts and nut butters for topping with cinnamon, cardamom and/or cacao powder for spicing

In a bowl mix coconut flour and stevia. Add hot water 1/2 cup at a time, mixing as you add the water. The coconut flour requires a lot of water, but to avoid making your “oat”meal too watery taste it as you go. I like mine on the drier, less soupy side.

Traditional way:
(makes one hearty gluten-free serving)

1/4 cup coconut flour, 3/4 cup water, 1/4 cup coconut cream or milk, 1 egg, 1 tsp stevia or other sweetener, 1/2 tsp organic vanilla extract and fruit, nuts and nut butters for topping with cinnamon, cardamom and/or cacao powder for spicing

In a small sauce pan mix coconut flour, water and cream over medium heat until there are no clumps of flour. Add the egg. Immediately mix so the egg doesn’t cook. Continuously stir the mixture while you add vanilla extra, stevia and any desired spices. Top with something delicious and serve while warm.

More on Turin and Terra Madre to come. But for now, enjoy your “oat”meal.

A Short Time in Santorini, Greece

October 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

For those of you who don’t like to read (or don’t like to read my writing) this post is for you. Santorini was bittersweet. It was the last island we visited, so to maximize what we saw, we spent our time AVT-ing around the island. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted some of our (Shann and my) best pictures of Oia, so most of these picture are from Thira, the island’s main town. But, Oia was like nothing I’ve ever seen; a small city crowded with cafes, restaurants, eclectic art shops, homes of  locals and (my highlight) an aged Greek woman selling plump figs. My favorite part of the town was Ammoudi bay, a hidden inlet at the base of steep rocks that separated the village from the ocean. Ammoudi bay was dotted with seafood restaurants selling the freshest fish imaginable, bright boats, electric blue water and an incomparable view of the sunset.

Anyway, I’ll stop now. Keep in mind that Santorini was, at one point, a volcano. Enjoy the pictures.

Yes, that is a donkey.

Here, at “Moma’s”, we had fava dip with capers, fried tomato balls and the infamous Santorini salad (like a Greek salad with no greens and lots of capers).

A long distance shot of Oia, from Thira.

The “red sand” beach.


Ammoudi Bay

The north eastern side of Santorini, a small village in Oia.

Exactly two weeks until I’m in Turino, Italy savoring Slow Food’s international Terra Madre conference! IF you have any tips or suggestions for what I should see while visiting the Piemonte (foot of the mountain in Italian) region please let me know.

Sugar Pumpkin “Hummus”

October 6, 2012 § 2 Comments

This is going to be quick; no convincing, no nutrition information or wordy phrases (sorry Paul) and it’s mainly because every second spent doing something other than studying alpha helices, beta-pleated sheets and amino acids seems kind of, I don’t know, unproductive. BUT we all have to eat so I might as well share one of my recent favorites.

I know, why didn’t we think of this before? Anyways, this can be used as a dip, a spread, a body mousse or a dressing and, can be made with other fleshy winter squash, nut/seed butters and spices. With that said, this lightly spiced pumpkin-tahina combo has been my favorite thus far.

I do have to mention that a creamy tahina (also know as tahini but I have had trouble calling it that since hearing Israelis throatily proclaim it tah-hina as if it’s a goddness of some sort) and pungent garlic are necessary here (since they are really the only ingredients). Cumin, sumac, nutmeg, black pepper, paprika or a touch of cayenne would certainly lend some character, but here is the base, you do the rest. Also,  I will give the recipe for homemade tahina, which is by far the strongest and most satisfying, but you can certainly fine some decent tahina around.

Oh by the way, I was joking about the body mousse thing…

Sugar Pumpkin “Hummus”

Hummus: 2 cups of sugar pumpkin puree*,  1/3 cup tahina,  2 cloves raw garlic,  about 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil and fine grain sea salt to taste.

*Roast a large, gutted pumpkin at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until soft then scape out the flesh. In a food processor, or blender pulse the pumpkin until sooth. 15oz of organic canned pumpkin works as well.

Tahina: 2 cups hulled sesame seeds, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or sesame seed oil and 1/4 tsp sea salt (or more to taste)

In a skillet, toast the sesame seeds one cup at a time until light brown and fragrant. In a food processor pulse the toasted seeds until they form a fine meal. Add the salt. While running the food processor, add olive oil in a stream, processing for about 15 seconds. Pour the tahina into a bowl and mix with a fork until there are no dry lumps. Taste and season with more salt if necessary.

Note: Freshly milled tahina can be stored in a mason/bell jar in the refrigerator for approximately 2 weeks.

In a bowl combine the pumpkin puree, tahina and olive oil. Mix until fully combine. Press (with a garlic press) or chop the garlic then add it to the pumpkin mixture. Mix well, and season with salt or desired spices. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

This recipe makes about 4 servings. It can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for 4 days, but I guarantee it won’t last that long.

Black Quinoa, Pignoli & Tomato Toss

September 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

What do you do with a tomato beaten by the sun, scorched fiery red, with flesh so plump and juicy that it has folded over upon itself?

I found it cloaked with purslane beneath a mound of weeds while picking kale at my secret kale picking spot.  I got lucky, had it been there much longer it probably would have turned to mush, but its scarlet skin caught my eye. Tomatoes are delicious, but I only eat them in the summer because, well you know; they suck in the winter. First off, they are gassed red with ethylene gas made from petroleum. Secondly who wants to eat a cold, watery tomato when it’s snowing – I’ll take a warm, sweet buttercup squash over a mealy tomato any winter day. Anyways, a lot of the tomatoes we grow end up getting cooked down and jarred, so they can be used when the days are short and there is snow on the ground, but big ones like these require eating now.

Brandywine, Amish paste, Aunt Rudy’s paste, Pineapple Bicolor (my personal favorite), Sungold, Cherokee Purple, Black Prince, Cosmonaut Volkov, Green Zebra, Big Boy, Verde Puebla, Tomatillos, Jubilee, Rutger’s, Early Girl, Grandma Mary’s paste and Black Krim tomatoes made up this summer’s collection. I will miss going into the backyard before every meal, but I am relishing in it, using every bit of fresh food that I can.

So, while tomatoes are everywhere you should be throwing them into everything (unless of course you’re allergic to them, in which case I’m very sorry but you’ll have to sit this one out)! Here I’ve combine bright tomatoes with organic black quinoa, pignoli (aka pine nuts but pignoli sounds so much better), basil and a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice. This recipe is fast and delicious, it’s vegan, gluten-free and because it’s quinoa based, it is a good source of complete protein.  Oh, and it makes a convenient salad topper; keep it in your refrigerator and scoop some onto a bowl of hearty spinach or spicy arugula.

Black Quinoa, Pignoli & Tomato Toss

2 3/4 cups vegetable broth,  1 cup black quinoa,  1/2 cup pignoli nuts,  4 large tomatoes, any variety, diced,  1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped,  juice from 1/2  of a lemon,  1/2 tbsp dried mint, 1 tsp dried tarragon, black pepper and sea salt to taste and extra virgin olive oil

In a medium sauce pan over high heat bring 2 cups of vegetable broth and quinoa to a boil. Once boiling, cover and turn the heat down to medium. Stir every couple of minutes until the quinoa has absorbed all of the liquid.

If the quinoa doesn’t fluff up, but remains chewy add the remaining 3/4 cup of broth and continue to cook over medium heat until the liquid is gone and the quinoa is fluffy. When finished quinoa has tiny white strands that separate from the black part of the grain (see above).

When the quinoa is completely finished toss it with 1-2 tbsp of olive oil, transfer it to a serving bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until cool.

While the quinoa is cooling, dry roast the pignoli nuts in a cast iron skillet or saute pan. This takes less than 5 minutes. Once the pan is hot the nuts will brown and become fragrant; this means they are finished.

Chop the tomatoes, discarding the water and seeds in the center; this prevents the dish from being watery.  Julienne the basil and combine it with dried mint, tarragon, lemon juice and a teaspoon of olive oil.

When the quinoa has cooled toss in the basil dressing and the pignoli nuts. Season with salt and black pepper before serving.


Crete from East to West

August 22, 2012 § 3 Comments

From Athens we shipped out on an overnight ferry to the southern most of all of Greece’s Isles: Crete. Drawn to the island for its mountainous terrain, thriving local cuisine and its burly edge I appreciate Crete the most now, sitting here, wondering if I’ll ever have the opportunity to traverse it’s bountiful hills again.

The view at 5:00 am from off the back of the ferry was incredible, with colors so vivid not even the camera could accurately portray them.

Getting to Crete (economically) required us to take an overnight ferry that docked in the new port of Chania (Xania, pronounced han-yah) at dawn. In Chania, Crete’s most charming port city, we were greeted by the luminescent colors of the morning sun and a quiet bus stuffed with both travelers and locals.

This stray dog followed us from the bus to the B&B. I’m sure he greeted all of the tourists looking for something to eat and a nice belly rub.

At six in the morning Chania was otherworldly, with character so bold it was nearly tangible.  Woven between the intimate B&Bs, humble taverns and homes were narrow alleyways with curves and secrets as bountiful as a woman’s body. Aside from the few learned locals who seemed to know that the site of the rising sun igniting the city’s old port was worth experiencing, the alleys were silent. With a few hours before we were able to retreat to the room to catch up on sleep we stumbled upon the ultimate breakfast food: bougasta.

Here bougasta was kept warm, weighed, sliced then coated with cinnamon and sugar. They were so busy that the “case” where the pastry was kept warm required a refill every ten minutes.

Bougatsa is so heavenly its characteristics should never be verbalized, but for the sake of those who have yet to have the experience I’ll try my best. Bougatsa begins with practice and practice leads to perfection. Perfection seems to be necessary when crafting the fragile layers and layers and layers of filo pastry that embrace myzythra, a soft Cretan cheese. As if that’s not enough, when warm out of the oven the filo becomes saturated with a buttery oil from the heated cheese, then is sprinkled with cane sugar and cinnamon. Surely now you might understand why words lack the meaning to accurately describe bougatsa. For twenty-two years, Bougatsa Chania, the place we found the filo pastry, has been turning out this indulgent sweet served with Greek Coffee or espresso, every day from dawn to noon. Visiting the humble bakery to eat with the locals felt authentic – and yes we went back for more.

Stuffed in the corner of a windy alley was this packed tavern. Everything on the chalkboard menu sounded good to me so we headed there for a late dinner and some raki.

Crete has more local specialties than we had time to try but we did enjoy a fair share of raki, tzatziki, paximadi, stewed rabbit and goat, fresh sea food and my (our) favorite, a meze called staka. Staka, made from slowly heating goat’s cream while mixing it with flour to form a roux-like consistency, is an appetizer served with bread for dipping. Its rich buttery flavor  makes staka irresistible; with each bite the oil that has separated from the curd coats your lips while its milky aroma soaks into the pads of your fingers until you realize you’ve completely wiped the plate clean. Staka is dangerously delicious. I’ve already decided that when I come across fresh goat cream, staka is how I will use it.

Shann took this picture at twilight in the old port of Chania.

Staka was first introduced to us at Xani, a bustling restuarant with live music and a staff composed fully of family. Throughout my entire life, I’m not sure I’ve eaten more than a handful of meals that could compare with the freshness, the quality and the intense flavor of the food we were served here. We started with a dark Cretan Syhra and a plate filled with creamy staka at which point I was sure it couldn’t get much better – boy was I wrong. After the staka we were served fragrant goat stifado (goat braised in wine with vegetables) with a hunk of bread for soaking up the juices. After the goat we finished with the restuarant’s specialty, rabbit stifado. The rabbit, slow cooked in a tomato and red wine sauce, was served with the request that we eat it using only our hands and that we had to be sure to suck all of the meat off the bones. Yes, we’re American, but come on, you don’t have to beg us to indulge.

A view from inside Rethymno’s fortress.

After a few days in Chania, we left to explore Rethymno, a city nestled between snow capped mountains and the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. There we toured a fortress that started as a temple of  Apollo, morphed into a place of protection for the Venetians then was seized by the Turks. From the fortress grounds there was a panoramic view, so we took in what we could then headed down to the port where we were bombarded by somewhat aggressive male waiters. The enthusiastic restaurant staff danced and sang and shouted greetings in every possible language to encourage those who passed by to stop and dine with them. So, although they were probably all great places, we headed away from the port to a small tavern that caught our attention when we first arrived.

Lunch was better than I expected. We were served traditional meze consisting of apaki (smoked Cretan pork), cheese flutes, tzatziki, stewed black eye’d peas, dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat with lemon sauce) and dakos (twice baked barely rusk bread) topped with myzythra (local soft cheese) and tomato, with an enormous Greek salad. Rethymno was nice, but I preferred Chania.

Where are the bright yellow homes and businesses in the
US and just how to the Greeks make it work so well.

Our last full day in Crete was spent hiking the Samaria Gorge, an eleven mile stretch through the White Moutains. The trail begins outside the village of Omalos and concludes in Agia Roumeli, a fishing village perched on the Libyan Sea. The hike was long and the terrain fluctuated based on our elevation. We began in fragrant pine forests, descended through the abandon village of Samaria to rocky water-filled canyons and finished when we hit the hot sea swept streets dotted with family-owned taverns. Upon arrival to Agia Roumeli it wasn’t long before our relaxing hike turned to anarchy as we realized that the only ferry back to the bus we needed to get to Chania arrived at the bus station after the bus was scheduled to leave. It took a bit of communication and a whole lot of trust, but we finally decided to believe what the locals were telling us; that the bus always waited for the ferry.

Thankfully, they were absolutely right, so while we waited for the ferry to arrive we enjoyed  house specials, a Greek salad flecked with rose petals and outstandingly fresh fish with capers and stewed summer vegetables, from a curiously under the radar tavern.

No filet can compare to the entire fish, especially from a fishing village on the Libyan Sea. The freshness was incomparable and the flavor was not the least bit “fishy”.

 Fatigued we headed back to Chania and caught the next possible bus to Heraklion, Crete’s largest port city, where we took a ferry to Santorini. Heraklion was the most metropolitan, but I have to say,  at seven in the morning, the old port was surprisingly peaceful as it hummed with fishermen who were busy loading and unloading their boats.

Crete treated us well; the food was hyper-local, the people were kind and the sights were incredible. However, if I were to do it again I would rent a car and give myself more time on the island.