A Reminder of My Childhood – Vitello Tonnato

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When I was a young child, we used to visit Italy about every 3 years – mostly to see my grandparents, cousins, and aunts.  During those visits, I spent a lot of time with my Nonna Luigia.  Nonna was an excellent cook (in fact, she had owned a restaurant while my dad was growing up).  Every night we would be invited to Nonna’s house for dinner.  I was always amazed how she could cook up some great meals – all without having an oven.  She only had a small cooktop, but she’d whip up some delicious dinners.  One of those delicasies was Vitello Tonnato!  This is the perfect dish to enjoy on a warm summer evening.  Last night, on another warm summer evening, I decided to try my luck with this recipe.  As soon as I took my first taste, I was transported back to my Nonna’s little apartment many years ago!

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Vitello Tonnato

The first part involves preparing the roast.  This should be done in advance so it has time to cool.

900 gram Veal roast, tied up (ask the butcher to do this for you)

2 carrots, cut in half

1 onion, cut into pieces

2 celery stalks, cut into pieces

Small bunch of parsley

1/4 liter white wine

Salted water

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the meat, wine and vegetables to the pot.  Cover and poach gently for approximately 1 hour.  Take the pan off the heat and allow the veal to cool down in the broth.  Reserve some of the broth for the sauce.  Wrap the roast in foil and place it in the refrigerator until it is completely cold. 

For the sauce:

200 g of tuna fillets packed in oil

3 – 4 salted anchovies

2 hard boiled egg yolks

2 T. capers

4 T. olive oil

Juice of l large lemon

4-5 T. of veal broth

Salt & pepper to taste

Blend together the tuna, anchovies, egg yolks and capers in a Cuisinart.  Pour in the lemon juice and olive oil and blend until smooth.

Add the broth bit by bit until you have a nice spreading consistency.  Season with salt and pepper.

To serve:

Cut up the veal into thin slices and arrange them on a large serving dish.  Coat with the sauce and sprinkle some capers on the top.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for a few hours for the flavors to blend.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Tangy and delicious Italian Antipasto

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A few weeks ago, I helped my mom make and can this recipe.  We made about 12 jars, which we’ll begin savoring in a few months, after the flavors have melded together!

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1 cauliflower – cut into bite size pieces

1 red bell pepper – cut into strips

1 pound long skinny string beans – sliced about 2 in long

1 lb mushrooms – quartered

1 lb carrots – julienned slices about 1/4″ thick

1 bunch celery – cut into bite sized slices

64 oz white vinegar (will not use all of it)

1 1/2 c olive oil

1 jar capers

1 jar green olives with pimentoes

1 jar cocktail onions

1 jar cornichons

2 pkg frozen artichoke hearts

3 small cans tomato sauce

2 cups tomato juice

1/2 bottle Heinz 57

2 T Lea Perrins

Few drops of Tabasco

5 cans of solid tuna packed in oil

Salt and pepper to taste

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Wash all mason jars and set aside with lids.

1.  Boil beans, carrots and celery in vinegar until just barely soft.  Add enough vinegar to barely cover the vegetables. Stir often.

2. Add cauliflower and add more vinegar if needed.

3. Add peppers and mushrooms.  (Again, check vinegar level…but don’t add too much vinegar.

4. Add artichokes.

5. Boil until vegetables are al dente.

6. Remove vegetables, reserving vinegar. Can use a colander with a bowl underneath to catch the vinegar.

7. Return vinegar to pot and add oil.

8. Add Heinz 57, tabasco, Lea Perrins, tomato juice and sauce, salt and pepper.

9. Bring to a boil. Taste and adjust as needed. (Usually Heinz 57 is the key!)

10. Return vegetables to the pot.

11. Strain all jarred vegetables and add them in (discard liquid from jars).

12. Break up tuna and add it in (include oil from can).

13. Bring to a boil and cook until it’s all cooked al dente.

14. While hot, ladle antipasto into the clean jars, making sure to fill them up with liquid.

15. Wipe clean the rim with a per napkin. Make sure it is dry.

16. Place lid, and while holding it down, secure the rim tightly.

17. When all jars have been filled, clean them and check that all the rims are secure.

18. Place them upside down to cool on a rack. DO NOT TOUCH THE RIMS ANYMORE!

19. Once cool, turn them over and store them in a cool location.

Alchemy’s Daughter – A Book Review

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Here’s to another great historical fiction book introduced to me by Italy Book Tours – Alchemy’s Daughter.  Mary A. Osborne successfully transported me back to Medieval Italy in this enjoyable novel about a young girl’s determination to follow her own dreams in a time when women were never expected to have a strong will.  Young Santina was a smart and intelligent girl living in San Gimignano when she fell in love with a scholar.  Their love was one of mutual respect for each other’s dreams, but these dreams also kept them apart.  Calandrino, the young scholar, was intent on deciphering ancient alchemical texts and left Santina alone in San Gimigniano while he went off in search of his quests.  Santina, not content to follow in the tradition of arranged marriages (of which hers was to be to a trade merchant whom she did not love), left her father’s home to search out her own fate.  Knowing that she desired to do more with her life than be a merchant’s wife, she sought out Trotula, the village midwife, and asked her to teach her the ways of midwifery and healing.  She soon became immersed in this world  – learning about medicinal herbs and delivering babies.  She was finding her destiny, but she was always looking for more.  Trotula cautioned her to go slowly and to think about the consequences of wanting too much.

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Plague, as well as superstitious beliefs relating to the healing arts, were all obstacles that challenged Santina and her destiny.  Faith in herself and her dreams kept her strong to persevere.  This story was a great reminder that whenever there is a will, a way will present itself if you only just believe.

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Author Mary A. Osborne discusses Italy, alchemy, the Middle Ages, and her new book, Alchemy’s Daughter.

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Q:  Your book is set in San Gimignano, Italy.  Have you been there? 

A:  Fourteen years ago, during a trip to Florence, Italy, I took a daytrip to the village of Certaldo, where the ancestral home of the medieval author Giovanni Boccaccio is located.  As I stood at the ancient brick wall surrounding Certaldo, I gazed out at the rolling Tuscan countryside and saw San Gimignano with its famous tall towers in the distance.  Although I never made it to this picturesque town, it became the setting for my new novel, Alchemy’s Daughter. 

Q:  Where did you get the idea to write a novel set in medieval Italy?

A:  Both Alchemy’s Daughter and my first book, Nonna’s Book of Mysteries, took shape after I became fascinated with the subject of alchemy, which is the ancient science of turning lead into gold.  In medieval Europe, philosophers explored the hidden symbolism of alchemy, and the subject of alchemy seemed to better lend itself to a historical novel than to a contemporary novel.

Q:  What does alchemy have to do with the plot of Alchemy’s Daughter?

A: In both Alchemy’s Daughter and Nonna’s Book of Mysteries, you will find occasional excerpts from A Manual to the Science of Alchemy.  The Manual is a work that exists only in my imagination, and it contains esoteric, but useful information which serves to guide the heroines at various points along their journeys.

Q:  Do you have any favorite places to visit in Italy?

A: As a student at Knox College I became enamored with Renaissance Art history.  So I have a special love for the art museums of Florence, especially the Uffizi—which houses famous paintings by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli—and the Bargello Museum, with its statues by Michelangelo and Donatello, among others.

Q:  You use some Italian words in Alchemy’s Daughter, and the book includes a glossary of Italian words. Can you speak the language?

A: I know very little Italian, but I made it a point to learn at least some basic words and phrases before I visited Italy. When writing Alchemy’s Daughter, I relied on an Italian-English dictionary, as well as my Italian language textbook for help with Italian phrases.

Q: Will your third book also be set in Italy?

A: I am still sketching out the plot for my third novel, but I think it will be set in 17th century London, during Isaac Newton’s time. So it seems a trip to England might be in order!

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Asparagus & Eggs – A Very Seasonal Menu

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Italians are really good about eating vegetables when they are in season!  In fact, Italy has recently been voted as the country in Europe that has the freshest menus.  So, it goes to reason, that now that asparagus season is in full swing, recipes featuring fresh asparagus are taking over.  Even though we can usually find asparagus at all times of the year, it’s always nice to eat it when it’s at its peak.  So, last week while I was at the Farmer’s Market, I decided to pick up a bunch and make it my favorite way – with some fried eggs and Parmesan cheese.  There is no simpler, yet more delicious, way to eat it!

You can cook the asparagus any way you like, but I like to just cook them in some olive oil in a pan until they are soft but not mushy.  I then fry up some eggs, trying to keep the yolks intact.  That gooey egg yolk is what makes this dish so delicious!  I then place my fried eggs (with runny yolk) on top of my asparagus and sprinkle it with some Parmesan cheese.  Such a simple meal but oh so good!

Bianca’s Vineyard – A Book Review

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When Italy Book Tours asked me to review this new book by Teresa Neumann, I volunteered right away.  It had all the attributes of a GREAT book!  Bianca’s Vineyard did not disappoint!  And what makes it even more interesting is that it is based on a true story.  Taking place at the beginning of the 20th century and spanning through World War II and a bit beyond, it described the hardships of life in Italy during the difficult war years as well the difficulties of immigrating to a whole new world!  This book hit close to home because my parents and grandparents immigrated here as well, and I am always enthralled by these stories.

Egisto Bertozzi, the youngest of 3 brothers, was expected to immigrate to the United States so that he could earn money and send it back to Italy.  Moving he did, but before he did, he was expected to marry and bring an Italian wife with him.  He was in love with Marietta and she was to be his wife.  But, Egisto wasn’t religious and refused to marry in church.  Marietta’s family forbade their daughter to marry outside the Church and therefore broke up the loving couple.  Heartbroken, but desperate to find a wife, he married a beautiful poor girl, Arilda, from his town whom he didn’t know at all.  Arilda was looking for an escape from her miserable life and thought that this would be just the perfect opportunity to make a change for the better. At first they were happy in their new home, but soon, things started to become difficult for Arilda and she became depressed.  Egisto suffered for his wife and tried to make things work out for their sake as well as their children’s.  Arilda ended up leaving them and moving back to Italy right before the start of World War II.

The story goes on to describe how difficult life became in Italy during this time.  Hunger and fear swept the country, and the citizens of Italy were desperate.  Egisto tried his hardest to help his family in Italy, but even that was hard.  There were times when he didn’t even know the fate of his family.  My parents, who lived along the shores of Lago Maggiore, have described to me what life was like during World War II in Italy, but their tales were nothing compared to the hardships endured in other parts of Italy, especially Tuscany.  The Nazi’s, Fascists and Partisans waged war against each other and anyone else who didn’t support their cause. Many innocent people lost their lives and fear was rampant.  It must have been such a horrible time in this idyllic country.  It’s hard to believe that such beautiful places endured such atrocities, but I know they did from this book as well as lots of other movies and stories I’ve read about life in Italy during the war.

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The story starts off in the present when Egisto’s grandchildren visit Italy to learn about their history and see the family homestead. There they meet Bianca, Egisto’s niece, who is now an elderly woman and who inherited the family vineyard.  She tells them their family’s story so that they may know the strong and proud lineage that they come from.

Egisto Bertozzi, sculptor

Egisto Bertozzi, sculptor

Connections to the homeland are so important to really understand one’s self and realize the sacrifices that were made to improve dire situations.  I’ve always said that it takes a very strong person to leave everything they’ve known all their lives, move to a country where they don’t know the language nor have any family, and forge a new life.  My parents did it and I am so proud of their inner strength.

Interview with Teresa Neumann:

Did you ever know Egisto Bertozzi personally?
Yes. He was amazing; suave but simple, smart but humble. Oliver Towne of the St. Paul Pioneer Press once wrote that “Egisto Bertozzi was part of the creativity of our civilization.” It was truly an honor to have known him.

What inspired you to write Bianca’s Vineyard?
First my husband. One of the things I found fascinating about David, when I met him was that he was half-Italian, which meant he possessed an unusual amount self-confidence along with generous amounts of artistic creativity and scientific savvy. Throw in a unique zest for life, and I realized I’d discovered a “Renaissance man” much like my husband’s grandfather, highly acclaimed sculptor Egisto Bertozzi, the co-main character in my book. My love-affair with Italy had begun.
My mother-in-law, Violenza (Babe)Bertozzi Neumann, was an incredible blessing. So when I learned that after immigrating to the U.S., Egisto’s wife Armida had a mental breakdown, abandoned her family, moved back to Italy, found a job as a domestic to a “high-level fascist leader” and then disappeared during WWII – only to be found years later, her death a mega-mystery – well, who could resist that challenge?!

Your book is set primarily Italy. Have you been there?
In the last 15 years, many times. Egisto was a sculptor, born and raised in Tuscany, near Lucca. He studied at the famous art school in nearby Pietrasanta. Just before WWI broke out, he and Armida secretly married and immigrated to St. Paul, Minnesota, where their two children were born. Later, after WWII, Egisto took Violenza (my mother-in-law) to meet his family and spend the summer in Italy. Until his death decades later, Egisto’s family corresponded with him. Then all letters from Italy abruptly stopped. It wasn’t until much later, after years of research, that we found out why.
Fast forward to 2001: I received a response to a query letter from Egisto’s niece, Bianca Corrotti inviting us Tuscany to meet her and the other Bertozzi cousins. By then, my mother-in-law was in her 80’s and couldn’t travel, so we reluctantly went without her. Our hearts immediately bonded with my husband’s relatives and birthed the passion and motivation to research and write Bianca’s Vineyard.

What about Minnesota, where Egisto and Armida lived after immigrating to the U.S.?
Being as my husband and I were raised in Iowa, Minnesota was in our “back yard” so to speak. Many Bertozzi and Neumann relatives live in the “Land of Lakes,” so we’ve made numerous pilgrimages there over the years. The area is home to many of Egisto’s sculptures. We’ve particularly loved studying his sculptures at St. Paul Cathedral.

What is your next project?
In 2013, Domenico’s Table, the sequel to Bianca’s Vineyard was published. My third book, not a sequel, but with an Italian-American protagonist, is called A Year in the Company of Freaks and should be out this summer. You can read more about it, and my other books, on my website: http://www.teresaneumann.com

Going Against the Grain – A Gluten Free Italian Cookbook!

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Going Against the Grain

Being that I am not gluten-intolerant, I wasn’t sure I’d be a good candidate to review this beautiful cookbook by Nuccia Ardagna, a celiac patient who happens to have deep roots in Italy!  But because I am following the Dash diet which emphasizes lots of vegetables, fruit and lean meats, I knew that I would love these recipes!  Nuccia, like me, grew up in an Italian family where Mamma and Nonna were excellent cooks, and therefore we know what good food is all about!  When Nuccia was diagnosed with celiac disease, she wasn’t about ready to give up all that she loved!  She learned to adapt the recipes so that she could still enjoy them without compromising on the flavor. And now, she’s brought those wonderful recipes to us in her new gluten-free cookbook Going Against the Grain.

The book is beautifully laid out.  She starts off with an introduction to celiac disease – how to diagnose it and how to live with it.  This is useful information for those diagnosed or those that think they may have this disease.  After these introductions, her chapters are laid out by course – appetizers, first courses, second courses, side dishes, sweets, and bonus stuff!  The recipes are clear and she has included gorgeous photos with each recipe that makes your mouth water looking at them!  As soon as I received my book, I couldn’t wait to begin trying some of them.  The first one I tried was the Insalata Mista Piccante con Asparagi (Spicy Mixed Salad with Asparagus).  If you like the bitter taste of radicchio and crispy asparagus, you will love this fresh and healthy salad!  As my mom always said, bitter lettuces clean the blood!  Whether that’s true or not, you do feel healthier after eating them!

The other recipes I tried were main courses:  Pollo Ripieno con Mortadella and Coniglio al Forno.  I made some substitutions in both of these recipes, but I don’t think they detracted from the savoriness and flavor.  In the Pollo Ripieno recipe I decided to substitute prosciutto for mortadella.  Good mortadella is difficult to find near me (unless I go into SF North Beach), so rather than buy not so good mortadella, I used Italian prosciutto (which is easily found at my local Trader Joe’s).  This substitution may have led to the dish becoming more salty, but since I’m a salt-aholic, this was not a problem :)  My absolute favorite recipe from this book, though, and maybe an all-time favorite recipe, was the Coniglio al Forno!  Instead of rabbit, I used chicken drumsticks – again, mostly because they are more readily available.  The ease of this recipe and the flavor make this an absolutely perfect recipe suitable for everyone – family and guests!

I can highly recommend this cookbook – whether your are trying to follow a gluten-free diet or not!  In my opinion, the ingredients are so healthy and nutritious that everyone would benefit from cooking this way!  Kudos to Nuccia for taking an obstacle and working with it to continue enjoying delicious Italian cuisine!

Meet Nuccia with this interview!

How did you do research for your book?

Writing a book about celiac disease does require research mainly because new studies come out on the disease all the time, and with that new information. With regards to the medical part of the book, that certainly did require extensive research. For this, I used various resources; primarily books and reputable online organizations involved in the study of celiac disease. However, much of the first part was drawn from personal experience as well. I also reached out to TME (Topic Matter Experts) for added credibility and was delighted to have worked with a renowned doctor and his staff where they provided valuable direction and useful critique of my work. That same doctor also honored me by providing an exceptional foreword for my book! The recipe part was the most extensive and the part that took the longest time. There was the cooking, writing up the recipes and of course, the pictures, which that in itself was a big project. We wanted to make sure that they came alive through the pages of the book. All in all, cover to cover, it was a lot of hard work and one that I would do all over again if I had to!

Where do you get inspiration for your recipes?

The inspiration really came from my very own home and my precious family. I grew up as a child not having much. My parents worked really hard trying to build a life for us here in Canada. That stemmed from them growing up in Sicily in the 1940’s at a time where earning a ‘lira’ was extremely difficult. Because of that, they were forced to make do with whatever they had on hand. That usually involved coming up with creative ways to feed the family yet another day with leftovers, and using whatever was in the pantry which most of the time, wasn’t very much at all. I share some of those special ones and they mean a lot to me simply because every time they made such a dish it would be accompanied by a touching story. Over the years, these dishes have been tweaked and passed on from generation to generation where many of these traditional ones are known all over the world and served in many restaurants as well. I am so proud to be a part of that!

Do you have another profession besides writing?

Why yes! I love writing but I also love to blog which is related to writing right? I blog about beauty, fashion and anything that I think we women would love to know about. My blog really started out as a hobby, blogging about anything related to women but just recently, due to my diagnosis with celiac disease I’ve transitioned over to ‘lifestyle’ blogging. Now, in addition to the ‘girly’ talk, I also like to share recipes, gluten-free product reviews and information on celiac disease. Whenever I get the opportunity, I try to do put together some YouTube videos as well.

What is your next project?

I am working on a new book and simply because I felt there was a need out there in the market to educate those who entertain family and friends on how to prepare gluten-free meals. This can be daunting to those who have no clue on what that entails. With these ones in mind, I am co-authoring a book that will focus solely on how to entertain gluten and dairy free and will feature incredible simple to elaborate menus fit for any occasion, whether simple or formal. Stay tuned!

Favorite travel spot?

I actually have two and both for very different reasons. I love traveling to Italy (from North to South) because of the rich history, family, incredible beaches, art, fashion, breathtaking landscapes and of course the food! Need I say more? While I haven’t gone back in a few years, we are planning a trip for 2016 so that we can bring our son to show him where his family is from and introduce him to his cousins and aunts. There’s truly something magical about reminiscing about old times over a glass of wine overlooking the vineyard.

However, when I want to relax, unwind, and not do a thing, I like to head south. I have visited many Caribbean islands, but for some reason, my family and I are drawn to the southern hospitality of Myrtle Beach, SC.  This may surprise some but we just love getting the best of both worlds, meaning, we get to enjoy the beautiful beaches, warm weather and at the same time we get enjoy many of the commodities we are used to here at home.

There are tons of beautiful places to visit around the world and who knows, my favorite travel spots may change in the future.

Nuccia Ardagna

An All-Time Favorite – The Crostata

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La Crostata is one of those desserts that is found everywhere in Italy!  When we last visited, it was present at every breakfast buffet we visited.  It is so simple, but yet so tasty.  I don’t know of anyone that doesn’t like it, do you?

My mom is a wonderful baker and all her Italian cakes are very genuine – no extra fluff – just pure goodness and made with everyday ingredients.  I, on the other hand, have a love-hate relationship with cakes.  I don’t like dealing with dough because, according to Mom, you have to feel the dough to know if there is enough flour or you need to add more!  I, obviously, don’t have the “feel” of the dough and end up usually getting frustrated.  But I decided to attempt my luck with this simple crostata.  My mom gave me her directions, but always looking for an easier way, I decided to “you tube” it!  They made it look so easy – just knead, chill, and roll it out with a rolling pin.  On YouTube, it rolled out perfectly and they were able to put it into the baking pan so easily.  “I can do that”, I thought.  So I made my dough without difficulty (for once!), chilled it, and took it out after about 45 minutes.  I began to roll it out with a rolling pin…and oh what a mess!  It kept sticking to the rolling pin and I wasn’t getting anywhere!  So, reluctantly, I decided to go back to Mom’s way of taking the dough and working it into the pan with your fingers.  I covered the whole pan and the sides and made it look really pretty!  And ….best of all, it was really easy!  I have to admit it, but Mom was right!  I guess Mom is always right :)  Maybe my daughters will agree!!

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Crostata di Marmelata

1 cube butter, cut up

1 cup flour

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

Dash of vanilla

1/2 jar jam

Mix altogether and form a dough ball.  Cut off a little bit for the criss cross decorations on top. 

Lay the rest out in a buttered pan with your fingers.

Spread the jam on top.

Make criss-cross decorations with the remainder of the dough.

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until golden.