umBria 2016 — daY oNe

siamo arrivati! the Umbrian hills. Paris far behind; kilometers of tires whistling 'n me heeding the signs. Cicerone and Missy just hunkering down for the long haul. appena arrivati, not a minute do they waste, taking up their old habits in much haste

"cicerone abandoned to his bliss"

"missy up along her watchtower"

as do I, gleaning near and far!

"as the gleaning went"

in need of something easy 'n tasty 'n nourishing, what better than some farinata? with the portulaca—purslane I glean straight out of the pumpkin patch out back. the stuff grows like a weed; here and there seems sadly to be considered a weed; thus, if in one's garden, is yanked and tossed as if a weed... when in fact, as far as things go around the stove, nothing could be further from the truth! let's just say portulaca's chocked full of goodness and ready to offer it to all 'n sundry, specially through the summer months : soup, salad, sautéed, wilted, puréed... you name it. and flowers 'n stems are most allowed


"lying low 'n crawling"

"farinata con portulaca e pomodoro"

so I head into the kitchen to make my farinata. I toss a few big handfuls of chick pea flour into a bowl. slowly slowly I add cold water, smack dab in the center, swirling the whisk, constant as it goes... all about keeping it smooth. then a final ecstatic whir to bring it all together. nice and liquid. I contemplate my batter for just a few minutes then skim off the dross that always rises to the top. now it's ready to take a nap for a good 5 hours. I cover it with a kitchen towel and set it somewhere quiet for its snooze. this gives me time to do some unpacking

I head back to the kitchen and wash my portulaca. leaf it, cut up the finer stems and drop it all into the chick pea batter. lots lots of good sea salt and a couple generous drizzles of good olive oil. stir stir stir. all the time letting the oven heat up to the max: 300 ˚C | 575 ˚F, if it'll go that high. I set my baking dish inside; was looking for one with a nice glass, ceramic or cast-iron bottom, but had to settle for a thinner coated one. oh well... can't always be choosy

I slice some cherry tomatoes in half. when my baking dish is nice and hot, I slide it out of the oven and generously coat the bottom 'n up along the sides with that same good olive oil. I give my batter a final stir then pour it right into the center of the dish—in one fell swoop—listening to it sizzle as it spreads out to the sides. I checker the top with my cherry tomatoes, give it another drizzle or two of olive oil then right back into the oven it goes to cook till getting nice 'n brown 'n crunchy all around

I pull it out pipping hot. the hard thing is letting it sit for 5 - 10 mins, 'cuz I'm kinda hungry. but I manage. then it's just to slice it up. give it many many a grind of black pepper—obligatory! maybe a sprinkle or two of good coarse sea salt and... ah!! sustenance to the belly it is ,.))

portions in grams, approx 1 chick pea flour : 3 cold water. should just lightly coat a wooden spoon and/or remind you of very melted ice cream

always try to keep the height of your farinata no more than a very slight 1 cm | 1/3 inch. so for example, for a 30-cm | 12-inch baking dish, a good generous 100 gr of chick pea flour

depending on how hot you can get your oven, it will cook from 10 - 25 minutes or more


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UNDRESSING VEGETABLES : an unfolding book of recipes—summer PEPERONATA

Oh those lusty peppers... the ones C. Columbus, way back when, brought back from the New World. Seems he announced their discovery to Old Europe with words along the lines of: You could call them a food if it weren't for their strange, intense taste.

They were first regarded with much distrust on this side of the pond. But being a most generous vegetable that adapts well to different climates, Indian peppers, as they were first named for their peppery hotness, rapidly invaded the gardens of even the poorest.

In Italy, while the aristocracy was indulging on fatty meat stuffed with truffles and seasoned with generous amounts of cloves, saffron and cinnamon, the simple-the rural-the peasant folk—masters at making a virtue out of necessity—went about inventing a more "democratic" gastronomia, which still today forms a heritage of flavors.

As for peppers, the evidence is large. From Piedmont to Sicily, there's a plethora of—what else to say—sensual dishes created around peppers, from sottaceto up North to skinned alive in the South. In Piedmonte peppers with anchovies; peperonata and the hot-sauce peverade in Lombardia-Veneta; further south along the Tirreno served with salt cod; pan-fried with olives, capers and pine nuts in Naples; and further down the boot in Puglia—such a refined simplicity in its culinary culture!—its famed frigitelli [in France corne de boeufperhaps similarly called in the States those long thin green—and red—peppers] simply fried in olive oil. Not to mention i caponati of Sicily. My, my! And well... pizza with peppers, what's there to say?

All that said... finding a pepper that "carries the Earth—that the Earth carries" ain't so easy. I walk by many a stand, many a mound of peppers at marketplace and natural food store combined, searching for the deformed, the thin-skinned -fleshed -stemmed pepper, the unweighted, the field grown, the supple, the...... Inevitable that the peppers coming from Italy—still—carry all those traits. As do the Corne de boeuf, still mainly small-producer grown inn  France... till they become industry darlings—the death knell of any humble vegetable, of any true earth-filled, dirt-filled satiation.

Alright, enough of my lamenting and fulminating. Onward and forward... here's my favorite pepper dish: peperonata. Simple as can be, sumptuous as you could ever want. Enjoy!

By the way, much of the inspiration for the words above come also from a small book entitled : Si Fa Presto a Dire Cotto by Marino Niola.


UNDRESSING VEGETABLES : an unfolding book of recipes—SUMMER tomato tarte

I love to make "naked" seasonal vegetable tartes, that is nothin' but the vegetable, a bit of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt, a sprinkling of fresh herbs and perhaps a few seeds. Thinly sliced and arranged slightly overlapping, the vegetables simply melt into the pastry dough. Inevitable that I'd set aside butter and make the dough with olive oil as well, adding to the naked earthiness of the dish.

Summer brings with it tomatoes, and I so celebrate their arrival—it's a long traveling of months and seasons without their plump, sweet, juicy presence. When they fill the vine they fill my kitchen. When they vanish from vine they vanish from my kitchen.

Now there are tomatoes and then there are tomatoes: this tarte being naked, it is a robust and ripely sweet red flesh that is called for. I can think of a few that fit the bill in France [Campari, Noire de Crimée] and Italy [Camone, Marinda], and most everywhere truly open-field-grown vine tomato from small producers. Unfortunately even the pettiest looking plump tomato might have zero sweetness... so know thy tomatoes and thy producers!

As for the pastry dough, I like to give it some crunch so I add a bit of cornmeal or polenta and a handful of poppy seeds. In France I have the choice of a variety of wheat flours and use one somewhere between white and whole. France has a tradition—as does Italy—of producing different "types" of flour depending on the amount of bran or mineral content therein—the more bran you take away the whiter it gets. The "types" are numbered from 45 to 150, the numbers relating to the weight in grams of ash left behind after burning the flour—ash is the mineral content. So there's T45, fine fine pastry flour—with around 0,45 gr of ash per 100 gr of flour; T55, all purpose; T65, a bit off-white and used in baguette tradition; T80, half whole wheat "semi-complet—and the flour I most often use; T110, considered as whole wheat, and T150, wholemeal flour and used to make "pain au son" bran bread.

I buy my flour from a very small producer, Rochefort. A family affair that grows their grains organically and stone grind them themselves. There's no way of getting around the fact that an artisan flour will be tastier and void of all those "improving and treatment agents"—not what 'm looking for in my flour—and thus more naked. Right up my alley!

In the States, you could play with making your own "type" blends from varying mixtures of whole wheat and unbleached white pastry flours. One thing to remember is: the more bran in the flour the more liquid it will absorb, so you'll again need to play with your recipe.

For a wheat-less pie dough, scroll down to the bottom.


pastry dough :
200 gr T80 flour [try something akin to 75 gr whole wheat pastry + 125 gr unbleached pastry]
25 gr cornmeal or polenta [not precooked]
Handful poppy seeds
75 ml extra virgin olive oil
Couple three generous pinches unrefined sea salt

filling :
800 - 900 gr tomatoes
Generous handful sunflower seeds
2 - 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leafed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper

||| Combine the flour, cornmeal, sea salt and poppy seeds in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the olive oil. With your hands rub the flour and oil together until the mixture turns crumbly. Wet a finger, dip it in and taste for saltiness... add more if desired. Make a new well, add 60 ml of cold water and gently mix with a fork, starting from the edge of the bowl, digging down and lifting up in the center as you turn the bowl, until the flour mixture begins to hold together [add more water, up to the 80 or 90 ml, if needed and gently mix again]—the dough should be slightly clingy. Gather up into a compact ball, place in a glass container or wrap in waxed paper and set aside in a cool place for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Feel free to put it in the refrigerator, just be sure to remove it at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

||| Preheat the oven to 220 ˚C || 425 ˚ F. On a generously floured surface, lightly knead the dough with the heel of your hand for a couple three turns. Shape again into a tight ball, flatten out slightly in the form of a rectangle then roll out to a thickness of 0.3 cm || 1/8th inch. Transfer to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cut the edges straight with a pizza cutter then roll and pinch the edges of the dough inward slightly to form ramparts 3 mm || ¼-inch high. Crimp the edges. [For a more rustic look, just fold the extra dough over the top, leaving the edges uneven.]

||| Cut the tomatoes crosswise into ¼-inch slices [if you prefer into bite-sized dice]. Set in a colander over a bowl to drain a bit. [No need to discard the juice that remains in the bowl… drink it.] Arrange the tomato slices, generously overlapping them, on the pastry dough, or spread the dice out evenly and well into the corners. Give a generous drizzle of olive oil over the tomatoes. Toss the sunflower seeds with olive oil to lightly coat then sprinkle on top of the tomatoes. Give a very light sprinkling of sea salt then bake in the oven on the middle rack for 30 - 45 minutes, until the edges of the tarte and tomatoes are beginning to brown and the juice is happily bubbling. For a bit more browned-ness, cook on the middle-high rack for the last 10 minutes. Upon removing from the oven, immediately season generously with sea salt to taste. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

||| Serve with a generous twist of freshly ground white pepper. Pour a glass of natural "living" rosé wine and enjoy.


100 gr buckwheat flour
100 gr brown rice flour
25 gr cornmeal or polenta [not pre-cooked]
75 ml extra virgin olive oil
60 - 100 ml cold water
Generous pinch unrefined sea salt

||| Sift flour with salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the olive oil. With your hands rub the flour and oil together until the mixture turns crumbly. Add 60 ml of water and stir lightly with a fork, dragging in from the edges and up through the middle and turning the bowl with each stir, until the dough beings to clump together [add more water as needed, the dough should definitely be slightly wet]. Gather up into a tight ball, place in a glass container or wrap in waxed paper and and set in a cool place for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Feel free to put it in the refrigerator, just be sure to remove it at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

||| Place on top of a large sheet of parchment paper and flatten out slightly in the form of a rectangle. Cover with a second sheet of parchment paper and roll out to a thickness of 0.3 cm || 1/8th inch. Along with the bottom parchment paper, transfer to a baking sheet. then roll and pinch the edges of the dough inward slightly to form ramparts 3 mm || ¼-inch high. Nicely crimp the edges. Return to the refrigerator for 20 – 30 minutes before baking.