A New House

We’re building a new house!  Actually, the construction crew has been at it for a while now and most of the major work is done.  It’s right across the street from where we currently live, so not a major move, but the new house is bigger than our current apartment, and features an extra bedroom and bathroom and a huge balcony off the kitchen.  This week our plumber di fiducia (our faithful plumber), Giovanni (pron. Jo-faaah-nee), finished the hydraulic work and Luca started pulling wires.

We’ve chosen the stove/oven block (similar to this one from Germania, but a slightly different model) and last week picked out the wooden flooring for the hallways, bedroom and one bathroom (see pic).

We probably won’t be moving until next year – no hurry as we love where we live now – but here are some sneak previews (click for bigger pics):

Our Backyard

Here are some pictures of the views from our backyard today. Click to enlarge…

A Week of Artichokes!

A couple weekends ago on a trip to the mercato (farmer’s market), I ran into a Sardinian guy selling artichokes at the can’t-be-beat price of €7,00 for 20 artichokes (that’s about .46 american cents each).  The only stipulation was that you had to buy twenty – or ten for €5,00, but why get 10 when you can get 20 for €2,00 more?!?  Needless to say, we were eating artichokes all week – and loving every minute of it.  Here’s what we made:

Artichoke Pasta

Pasta with artichokes

Orecchiette with sundried tomates, toasted pinenuts, basil, capers, olives, mozzarella

Directions:  toast pinenuts in a dry frying pan, swirling frequently.  Add a little oil, garlic, onion and sweat till transparent.  Add finely sliced artichokes, chopped sundried tomatoes, olives, capers and a couple ladles of pasta water.  Cook on low till desired consistency and artichokes have cooked through.  Add more olive oil if sauce seems dry.  Stir sauce into cooked, drained pasta and add diced mozzarella.

Artichoke Risotto

Slice artichokes finely and cook in a pan with garlic, onion, and olive oil, adding a cup or two of stock or water as onion starts to brown.  You can use whatever kind of rice you prefer and either prepare it separately, or add it to the artichokes and cover with stock or water until rice is cooked.  Serve with plenty of grated cheese.

Pan Roasted Artichokes

Prepare as above, adding pinenuts and olives if desired and serve as a vegetable side dish.

Steamed Artichokes with Hollandaise Sauce

Steamed Artichokes with Hollandaise Sauce

Steam whole artichokes, almost covered with salted water in a large pot for 30-40 minutes or until soft.  Meanwhile, prepare hollandaise sauce.  I know that seems like a lot of butter, but trust me, it’s worth it!  I like my hollandaise extra lemony.  The real fun of this dish is in how  it’s eaten:  Dip artichokes leaves in sauce and scrape the meat off each leaf with your teeth.  To die for!!

Cold Artichoke Salad

Hard boil eggs and separate the yolks.  Slice raw artichokes on a mandolin, add crumbled egg yolks, flakes of parmigiano (parmesan cheese), dress with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Next Year’s Garden


This is how I want my garden to look next year.  Aren’t these the most amazing rows of zinnia and iris that you’ve ever seen?


Look at the color!!


This woman plants the same thing every year and her flowers last for a ridiculously long time – she’s got blooms from May through the end of October.  *So jealous*.  I don’t know how she does it because she doesn’t even live that close to her garden – I always see her going to and from her flowers on an old orange Vespa with her harvest basket precariously balanced between her knees.

I hopelessly abandoned my garden this year after planting herbs, rhubarb and tomatoes.  The cuore di bue (ox heart) tomatoes below are about the only thing we harvested – they were really good, but most of them ripened while we were on summer vacation.  Here we prepared them with garlic, olive oil and basil and ate them with rustic bread and fresh ricotta that our mountain neighbor made.  I think always having colorful flowers would be a great incentive to pay more attention to what’s going on in the garden.


Va beh (oh well).  Better luck next year.

Franco’s Funghi


Pictured above is Luca’s Dad, Franco with his harvest of the day (our dinner tonight!)  It’s mushroom season here in Piedmont and we’re lucky enough to have an expert scavenger in the family.  Not to brag or anything, but these were the most flavorful mushrooms I’ve ever eaten.  They were so freaking good (of the porcini variety).  We’ve actually been eating them all week (apparently when the mushrooms are out, they’re OUT).  On Monday with steak, on Tuesday in Ratatouille, and tonight baked in the oven with sliced potates, onions and rustic pancetta.  Too bad for you that Internet isn’t more multi-sensorial, or I’d send you all a whiff and a taste.  You’ll just have to use your imagination (or come visit!).

The area we live in is actually internationally reknowned for it’s mushrooms – we’re five minutes outside of Alba in the Langhe region, which is the White Truffle Capital of the World.  It’s always pretty easy to get truffles around here in season – they’re still expensive, but in these parts there are no added shipping fees, so that helps.  There are actually two truffle seasons – Fall is the more important White Truffle season (late September through mid December) while Summer is the Black Truffle season.  Experts say that the white truffles are more fragrant and flavorful, but we’ve had some extremely awesome black truffles that were much better than many of the more expensive white truffles.


Here’s Franco in October of 2005 with the fruits of a successful mushroom scavenge:


Old Country Ambiance and Avocados

seedsOne of the best things about living abroad is the old-country ambiance that seems to have infiltrated the entire nation. Admit it, when you think “Italy” you think stone streets, gondoliers in Venice, old people with gold teeth and spaghetti with meatballs.  And to an extent these American stereotypes of the Italian way of life are on target: most roads in city centers are stoned and not paved, there are an awful lot of rowed boats in Venice, 4 out of 5 people have at least one gold tooth if not a whole set, and…well, I hate to break it to you, but nobody actually eats spaghetti and meatballs in Italy.  It can be romantic, but in many aspects, Italy is a backward country.

Take the mail for instance, I only get one English language magazine subscription, but in the two years that I’ve subscribed, it hasn’s once arrived on time.  Now, you may think that getting culinary news a month late could be a real disaster, but it’s really a blessing in disguise because by the time you get your Bon Appetit or Cook’s Illustrated, all of the featured foods are in their prime!

This was definitely the case this month when I tried out Bon Appetit’s recipe for Salad with Avocado-Lime Viniagrette and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds.  It is so incredibly awesome that I’ve already made the salad twice and the spicy pepitas four times in the last two weeks.  Their “viniagrette” is more like a garlicky spicy green goddess dressing than a viniagrette.


Luca mixing things up

The method for the pumpkin seeds is so much easier than the oven-baked version I usually make – BA made the recipe way more complicated than it needed to be – I mean who has chiles de árbol laying around in their pantry?  I used some cayenne and a mix of other random spicy things I found in our spice cabinet and they came out great.  I made the same substitution in the salad had great results too.  I also switched the cilantro that the dressing called for with parsley, which is way easier to find here.  Had to leave out the cucumber (Italians DON’T do cucumbers, at least in our neck of the woods) and the jicama (yeah…never seen that around here either…), and I switched the cotija cheese to parmigiano instead.

I guess I made more changes than I thought, but it was still an incredibly wonderful salad – the dressing and the spicy pepitas are the key ingredients, you can change up the other ingredients without any real problem.

I’ve also made some interesting crepe recipe discoveries lately, but that’s another story…


My Finished Avocado Pepita Salad

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