Marmellata di Peperoni

peppersRosanna, Luca’s mom has been making this AWESOME sweet/hot red pepper marmalade lately that I am totally addicted to.  Though pepper season here just about ended with our first big snow this weekend, I’m looking forward to making it next fall (and eating my way through Rosanna’s stock in the meantime).

It’s best with caprino or robiola cheese on bread or grissini, I think.  Luca likes it with drier, aged cheeses, but I think it covers up their flavor too much.  I like the contrast of the hot spicy marmalade and the cool creamy soft cheeses.  It’s so beautiful, you can’t help but fall in love.  Sometimes (okay, only when I don’t have either cheese or bread on hand), I open up the jar just to look at the shiny red pepper gem-iness.


1kg Red Bell Peppers

2.5 hg Hot Red Peppers (the little, perfectly round ones)

1 cup Vinegar

1 kg. sugar


1.  Clean and weigh ingredients.

2.  Dice the peppers into small pieces and cook for 10 – 15 minutes with the vinegar and sugar.

3.  Transfer the mixture to the mixer and blend.  Replace the mixture on the stove and cook until it’s dense.  Transfer to sterilized glass jars while hot.  Close the jars and turn on their tops for ten minutes.  Place jars right side up and let cool.

 These pictures don’t do the marmalade justice, but maybe you can get an idea…




The Last Garden Harvest of 2008

Explore my garden’s last harvest. Can you guess what these photos are by their thumbnail?
Click on the images to enlarge. Use arrow keys to go forward and backward. Open more than one photo at a time and move them around where ever you want!

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The last things my garden produced this year

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Decorative Squash from the garden

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My biggest pumpkins. The one on the right weighed in at 25 kilos (50 pounds) the one on the left was 11 kilos (24 1/4 pounds). The yellow things that look like squash are actually zucchini that I left out in the sun for a really long time.

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Me & the pumpkins

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This zucchini is taller than our outdoor grill!

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The last zinnia of the year

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More decorative pumpkins and the last of the basil

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I made a humungo wreath with a viney weed that was taking over the garden and gave it a little color with the dried out hot peppers that we didn’t use.

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The harvest

A Coincidence?

So the last two nights in a row when I’ve come out of work, the bar that’s under our office has been blaring Shakira.  But get this.  Yesterday it was “Whenever, Wherever” in Italian and today it was the same song in English!  A coincidence my dear Watson?  Perhaps.

All I know is that when I hear that song it makes me want to do a stacchetto.  So I really had to hold myself back from breaking out in dance there in the parking lot.  There’s a story behind the word stacchetto.  We have this program called “Striscia la Notizia” (a humorous news broadcast), and every summer they have a competition to choose the two new “veline” (sexy dancers) that dance the opening number of the show.  (See this year’s winners and their dances here).  So, on every episode of the summer competition, they interview six girls and do a variety of pranks to test these girls’ TV personality.  The girls are also judged on their clothes and makeup, which they choose and put on all by themselves.  At the end of each interview the competitors have to do a 1 minute sexy dance (stacchetto).  Luca and I had so much fun imitating the dances and ever since I’ve been getting these strange desires to break out in stacchetto…

Funny Italian Anecdotes

There’s another planned shut down of all drinking water in Verduno tomorrow from 8AM to 4PM.  Apparently they’re doing maintenance on the local acquaducts.  (Yes the Romans built them and we still use them!)

Chickens are constantly escaping from their pens.  Almost everyday I see at least three or four random chickens wandering around aimlessly.  It cracks me up!  In today’s sighting there was an old man chasing after the aforementioned chickens and clapping his hands to try and make them go back where they belonged.

Autumn Agriculture

pumpkinmy pumpkins!pumpkin

 As usual, Piedmont is bustling with Autumnal agricultural activities this year.  Everyone finished harvesting their hazelnuts in the last two weeks, so our farmer friends are all totally exhausted.  Kind of sucks for them that the hay and wheat and hazelnuts and grapes all need to be harvested in the same two months.  The vintners harvested the white grapes on Monday and for a few days the whole town smelled like grape juice – highly enjoyable and rather intoxicating.  Now they’ve started bringing in some of the red grapes.

pumpkinI feel more united with the agricultural folk this year after having labored in my own garden.  I feel I’ve earned a little of their respect and have at least a minimal right of feeling a part of their community.  (Okay, okay, so I know they’re all totally jealous that my pumpkins are SO much bigger than theirs, but seeing as how my tomato plants died off and my peppers are a little bitter, we’ll call it even).  It was helpful having neighbors that were so willing to share their gardening expertise.  Most of them are already well into their winter seeding – cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, fennel.  I decided to just do one round of gardening this year.  Mostly because my pumpkins have completely taken over the entire plot of land and I don’t really feel like tearing everything out and re-tilling the earth.  Maybe next year.  For now we still have lettuce, zucchini, peppers, funky ornamental gourds, and herbs growing healthily.  I tore a couple of the tomato plants out yesterday to make more room for the pumpkin foliage.  I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with pumpkins.  I just love them.  I love Fall (especially Fall food like hot-from-the-cauldron cinnamon & sugar donuts, fonduta and polenta), picking apples, crunchy fallen leaves and Halloween.  We had the first polenta of the season tonight (an appropriate way to celebrate the beginning of Fall!)


Ode to the Zucchino


Zucchini season is officially in full swing here in Northern Piedmont.  We’ve been eating zukes every night for the last month, and I have to admit that I’m loving it!  Our family motto this month is “Zucchini: It’s what’s for dinner tonight“.

Having to prepare the same vegetable for personal consumption every day for 30 days in a row is a good way to get intimate with zucchini, or any vegetable for that matter. (Ok, probably shouldn’t have used zucchini and intimate in the same sentence, but let’s not go there). I have a whole new appreciation for green veggies and look forward to eating them now -which is saying something, since I’ve always been more of a chocolate person than a vegetable person. Having a garden has decidedly broadened my culinary horizons.

And I’m learning a lot along the way too.  For instance, did you know that zucchini plants are totally prickly, I mean those suckers hurt when you touch the leaves or stems.  Lots of nights I spend a goodly amount of time picking zuke prickers out of my hands and legs.

Unfortunately, it seems like everyone else in town planted zucchini this year as well.  I say unfortunately because our seven zuke plants (1 trumpet, 2 light green and 4 dark green plants) churn out an average of ten pounds of zucchini every two days.  That’s 30 pounds of zucchini a week, 120 pounds of zucchini a month.

That’s a lot of zucchini.

zucchini necklaceWe’ve gotten to the point of haggling every passerby and begging them to take home what’s become known around town as the Crane/Badellino Zucchini Medley.  Some of them are excited to have the vegetables and share their plans for minestrone making.  But most say things like “thanks, but no thanks, I’ve already got zucchini growing out my ears” or “hmm, i’d take them but I don’t know how to cook them…”  Dude, lame excuse.

One of the best discoveries has been all the great things you can do with the flowers.  I don’t think I ever ate a single zucchini flower in the States, but here we eat them all the time when they’re in season.  You can stuff them with meatball-type stuffing, or put a piece of fontina or other cheese inside.  You can fill them with prosciutto cotto (ham) and bleu cheese or chop up a mix of vegetables to put inside.  At a restaurant recently, we had them filled them with branzino (sea bass) and herbs and steamed instead of fried.  The other night we put in ground turkey and goat cheese and they were really tasty.  We like to put cornmeal in the batter to give them a little extra crunch.  You just have to be careful because some of the flowers have bitter bottoms.

zucchini basil soupMy favorite variety is the trumpet zucchini because they seem to have more flavor and I love their soft, creamy consistency.  I also love the way they grow in funky shapes and made a huge gnome canopy in my garden.

So, what have we been making besides stuffed zucchini flowers?  Zucchini frittata, pasta with zucchini and sundried tomato sauce, zucchini and potatoes baked in the oven, ginger zucchini, stuffed zucchini, zucchini and cherry tomatoes, and our new favorite:

Zucchini Basil Soup

2 pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut crosswise into thirds
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
A couple tablespoons of olive oil
3 cups water
1 cup packed basil leaves

The original recipe is from epicurious, but their garnish seemed like a lot of work for a garnish, so I sliced a zucchini flower and put it on top and served the soup with croutons.  I also added more basil and cut the oil.  No need to be too precise when you’re chopping the veggies, since they’re all going to get pureèd at the end.  Just make sure they’re roughly the same size so they cook evenly.  It’s easy: Sautè the garlic in a little bit of olive oil, add the chopped onion and sweat until tender.  Add the chopped zucchini and cook until the zucchini is about 3/4 cooked.  Add the water and continue cooking, partially covered for 10-15 minutes.  Throw in the basil and blend the whole thing right in the pot with an immersion blender.  Season with salt (you need lots) and walah!  Healthy, quick, easy and cheap zucchini dinner in a bowl!  Ding.

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