Friday, November 11, 2011

Boar from Sant’ Ambrogio Framed in Northern California, Tina’s Italian Dining Tips & Ingrid’s Tapenade

It wasn’t a jealous lover that started this dialogue about being framed, but rather a boar – jealous from being upstaged by a story about some oranges on a doorstep. Remember Sidewalk Still Life, the photo of oranges and bicycles that jurors selected for a gallery show in Auburn, CA? Well the boar, actually a framed photo of a boar’s head, was also selected for the same show and is on display through Tuesday, November 15th. ( But the real reason the Boar from Mercato Sant’ Ambrogio takes the headline position here is because a holiday feast is soon approaching and a food story seemed appropriate. Here’s a photo from a different perspective of the boar in the outdoor marketplace. He's huge! The chef carved off a slice from the boar’s midsection and, let me tell you, it was moist and filled with the full-bodied flavors of Tuscany – it was the real deal!

Shopping is the start to all good meals and the Italians are fortunate to have huge indoor/outdoor farmers markets like the Mercato Centrale and Mercato Sant’ Ambrogio in Florence, as well as neighborhood grocers with fresh produce spilling out onto the street to tempt the casual passer-by. The produce displays seem to match the personality of the shopkeepers. Some arrange the fruits and vegetables by shape and size, some by colors, and others mound unlikely combinations as if creating a sculpture. The abundance of readily available and beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables makes cooking a joy. 

When a group of artists visited the home of Santa Reparata International School of Art founder Dennis Olsen (printmaker) and his wife Meredith Dean (painter), Meredith allowed me into her kitchen for a look behind-the-scenes. She cut ripe selections of fruit into chunks for a favorite home style Italian dessert called “Macedonia di Frutta.” Lemon juice and sugar are added to the fruit and sometimes it’s laced with liqueur like lemoncello or grappa. The dessert is served in a bowl or cup, often with a dollop of whipped cream or zabaglione, the classic Italian custard flavored with liqueur or wine – a tasty refreshing treat at the end of a meal.

Her kitchen was a hive of food prep activity. For appetizers, she took a long slender loaf of bread called a baguette and sliced “crostini” (literally translated in Italian to mean small bread slices.) The slices were toasted or grilled and ready to use as the bed for a topping. “Bruschetta” is the term for the toasted bread (rubbed with garlic and coated with olive oil) topped with a variety of combinations of finely chopped ingredients including tomatoes, olives, cheese, meats, beans, basil and other herbs. Just about anything tastes good atop those little grilled toasts. Meredith plated the appetizers like color fields on a palette. Seeing these reminded me of the appetizers on little rounds of bread that mom served to guests when I was young. There’s something really satisfying and home-spun about a crunchy piece of bread loaded with a tapenade, a chopped mixture with an olive and caper base. Tapenade originated in the Provence region of France, but anywhere you find olives – you’ll find a local version.

My “Whatever’s-in-the-Fridge Tapenade” is always a winner. It’s quick (about ten minutes to prepare). You can make it thick and pile it high, or loose and let the juices soak into the crostini, and you can change the color by changing the ingredients. Spice it up or down to suit your current attitude. Chop and mix the ingredients, or toss them in the food processor and press pulse. How much? A handful, a dash, a dab – there’s no right or wrong way to measure for this tapenade. Don’t be afraid – just keep mixing the ingredients a little at a time until you find your favorite flavor of the day. Then chill an hour to let the flavors merge. When you’re ready to serve, spoon the mixture into a pretty bowl and set by the crostini (yes, if you’re short on time it’s ok to use store bought crostini) so your guests can fix their own appetizer or make up a colorful party platter.

Ingrid’s Whatever’s-in-the-Fridge Tapenade
·        Olives (I like the color of big green martini olives with pimento)
·        Capers (drained)
·        Minced garlic (optional)
·        Lemon juice
·        Olive oil
·        Tang-it-up with red wine vinegar
·        Sweeten-it-up with a dab of honey
·        Flavor-it-up with a splash of brandy
·        Bulk-it-up with grated parmesan

Tina’s Italian Dining Tips: Planning a trip to Italy during the holidays and expect to be invited to a private home?  The dinner table is the center of Italian family life and a great deal of time is invested in selecting the ingredients and preparing the meal. Enjoy the food, enjoy the company, and enjoy the lively conversation. Tina Fallani (cooking instructor, Italian film expert, and great hostess) has a long list of tips for dining with Italians – here are a few.    

·        Nobody eats until everyone is seated, unless the person who is serving insists.
·        Different courses are served on different plates not on the same plate.
·        Italians don’t drink milk with meals.
·        You don’t put grated cheese on a pasta dish with seafood.
·        There is usually fruit and or cheese at the end of the meal.
·        There is almost always red wine at the lunch and dinner table.
Remember to allow plenty of time to enjoy the feast in an Italian home. It’s guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience. “Salute!” (good health)

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