Tonight, Eggs, But Only À La Coque! | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

In Italy, as I believe in most European countries eggs are not considered breakfast food only. Kids eat them as an afternoon snack and they are common to find in the home’s evening menu, as a simple, fast to prepare and nutritious food.
(Photo basket of eggs – free download pngimg.com)
(Click on each photo to view it larger).

In Europe lunches are the main meals and dinners are much lighter in portions and caloric intake. Often a bowl of salad, a piece of cheese with bread and olives, a glass of wine and a piece of fruit will make a good dinner.
Other times, some eggs scrambled with meat and vegetables also make a good meal.

In my native region of Puglia, in Italy, lamb cooked in the oven with fennel, green peas and scrambled eggs is one of the most common dishes. My favorite of all the egg styles is egg à la coque, oeuf à la coque in French, uovo alla coque in Italian. Before you embark on the egg à la coque ritual, because it is a ritual, you must have the right tools, the coquetier (egg cup) made of any material, from glass to ceramics to metals and the egg topper (cutter), also made in a variety of metals, each ranging in price from $10 up to $90. If you like to have a professional restaurant type topper, the price will be much higher. Stainless-Egg Topper

For long time, I had searched for an attractive egg topper, if it was a second-hand piece, or an antique I would have not cared, I just wanted an interesting piece.
Once I was visiting some relatives in Bologna, Italy. Strolling around in downtown area, I stopped to admire the merchandise in the window of a jewelry store, it was clear to me the store carried some unique home pieces all in silver.
The store was elegant and expensive looking. I entered because it was inviting. I asked for an egg topper and the owner looked at me puzzled: “nobody uses this tool anymore, you must be a food connoisseur” he said.
(Photo egg topper: http://vermontkitchensupply.com/hic-stainless-steel-egg-topper)

Apostrophizing one as food connoisseur is a bit over rated, I just want to treat myself to good things in life. He showed the only example he had available and I purchased. I was lucky to find the egg topper I wanted, it is made of silver, not a contemporary design and they got rid of something that had not sold in years. I have used it ever since.

Back in the kitchen. Prepare some mouillettes, long bread strips.
I cut the bread in slices, then in strips, brush olive oil on each piece, roll them in grated Parmigiano cheese, place under the broiler and toast for a few minutes. The bread is for dunking inside the egg yolk and a small spoon is for scraping the egg white off of the interior shell.

In a small pan, boil the water, with a needle poke a hole on both ends of the egg, when the water boils, rest the egg on the dipper and slowly drop the egg in. Let it boil for 4 minutes, take it out and place it on the coquetier.

 

Make a decisive clean cut at the top with the egg topper to expose enough of the egg, serve with the warm toasted mouillettes.
Asparagus tips sautéed or grilled, or a small bowl of green peas will fit really well with egg à la coque.

I like caviar, for me it is like the parsley in every dish. If you like caviar, place it on the caviar dish and eat it together with the egg à la coque.
What a way to end the day! A lite dinner with eggs, caviar, a glass of wine and you will be happy, happy. I hope you will try it. Ciao,
Valentina
http://www.valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved  


Valentina Cirasola
is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. She is also the author of two Italian regional cuisine books available here and in various locations:

http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen


Cure Olives, Eat Olives, Live Longer | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

Time to harvest olives goes from late August through November at any stage from totally green not mature to fully ripened. The stage of the harvest depends on whether  the olives will be used for eating or oil production. Olives for eating are handpicked to avoid bruising. Olives cannot be eaten directly from the tree, they are very, very bitter and very unpleasant. The first thing to do is curing them using various methods for each type of olives. The most effective curing method is using lye, good for large, fleshy green olives such as Spanish Manzanilla, Italian Bella di Cerignola and the Queen green olives, which are often  stuffed with garlic.

Curing Green Olives
Dissolve 0.7 oz. of lye in warm water for each 2.2 lbs of olives. Place the olives in a large plastic bucket or stainless steel pot, add the water with dissolved lye, cover with tap water to the top. Leave them to cure for 2 days, mixing every so often using kitchen gloves and a long wood spoon or stick. After this time, rinse the olives with clean water many times and leave them again in a clean water for 24 hours. After this time, change water one more time, add 3.5 oz. of salt for each 2.2 lbs. of olives. Place the olives and the salty water in glass jars (only glass) with air tight lids and store in a dark cool place. They will be ready for consumption after two weeks and will keep up to two years, but once the jar is open, you must consume it.

Curing Black Olives
Black olives must be large and mature. Put them in a large plastic container filled with water and with a lid that will close tightly. Add 4.5 oz. of salt for each 2.2 lbs of olives, stir well and leave it to macerate for one year in a cool place.  Stir every so often during the year.

 

Curing With A Brine 
The elongated green olives are the best to cure in a brine. The round green olives become sweet only when they are mature, or if they are left in the sun to dry with lot of salt.  Add 3.5 oz. of salt to each 34 fluid oz of water, place the olives in this brine and leave to macerate for one month. Rinse the olives and make a new brine with 2.8 oz. of salt for each 34 fluid oz. of water. Dump the olives in the new brine, they will be ready in a month.

To accelerate the process without the brine, make small cuts to each olive, put them in a large colander with lot of salt and leave to drain for 3-4 days. In a large pot bring water to a boil with a couple of peeled garlic heads, throw all the olives in it and bring the water to a boil again for about 10 minutes. Fill glass jars with water and olives while the water is still warm. Close with an airtight lid. With this method the olives are ready to eat right away.

 

Some Health Talk
Olives contain the good elements our body needs for a natural and nutritional diet: fat, proteins and minerals.
Olives have a therapeutic effect on the liver as they help drainage, help with constipation and have a beneficial effect on colitis.
Eat olives to get just as good proteins as meat but without the animal fat. Thus olives consumed every day with a mixed salad, whole wheat bread and a glass of red wine constitute really a good balanced nutrition.

After curing olives comes the pleasure of eating them. I am including one typical recipe from Puglia, Italy, not even well-known anywhere else in Italy and which I have included also in my book ©Come Mia Nonna-A Return To Simplicity.

Pan Fried Black Olives With Peanuts
1/2 lb. of pitted black olives in water not treated (olives in t he can OK)
a hand full of raw peanut  shelled
2 tablespoons of olive oil
a hand full of finely chopped Italian parsley
salt, black pepper or chilli pepper to taste

Drain the water out of the olives, pat them dry.
In a frying skillet sauté the peanuts in olive oil at medium fire, for about fifteen minutes or until they are golden brown.
Take them out the pan and drain the excess oil on paper towel.
In the same pan sauté the olives until they become crinkled.
Drain the oil, mix with the peanuts.
Season with salt and black pepper or chilli peppers if you like them hot. Sprinkle parsley finely chopped.
Be generous with the condiments.
Serve warm as an appetizer.

If you have food questions, or questions on kitchen design I shall be here to answer them all and I shall be ready to find the best solutions for you, just leave your name down below in the box. Ciao,
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn unattractive spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. She is the author of two published books of Italian regional cuisine, available in this site at the Books page and on:
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

Plates and Chopping Boards | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

When we sit at the dining table, we hardly waste much time thinking of how tableware originated and evolved in time.  We might briefly admire the beauty of a plate or a particular decoration perhaps just  as ice breaker and small conversation. We might treat ourselves with the elegant newest collection of dish ware made by Alessi called “Dressed”, or some hand painted ceramic plates, or we might end up eating in any casual dinnerware with nonchalance. The important thing is to have food into a washable or throw away vessel and assign a plate to each person sitting at a dining table. It was not this way a few centuries ago. (Photo: marcel wanders alessi)

Think about how it was in the Middle Age when diners in noble courts and taverns alike shared bowls, glasses, chopping blocks and tin plates.  This meant that diners sharing tableware had to pay attention to each other and respect table ethics because they were facing each other while eating from the same plate.

Each person had a spoon to dip in a common soup bowl and in a common sauce bowl. Meat and solid food were cut in a serving dish placed in the center table from which each person took a piece and place it on the chopping block shared with another person. If the other person was a woman and supposedly not a master in the art of cutting, the man sharing the chopping block with her would cut a pieces and offer it to the woman.

Forks did not exist yet, they arrived on the Italian Florentine tables around the 1300. Women held each piece of solid food between two fingers and brought it to the mouth gently. Men stabbed solid food or meat with a knife and ate directly from the blade.

Napkins did not exist yet either. It was an accepted custom to clean oily hands on the tablecloth, but it was not acceptable to suck the fingers clean with the mouth. To avoid offending table decency, a piece of food which had been in the mouth first, could not be put on the shared chopping board, or shared thin plate, that was not acceptable.

Why I am talking about table customs in the Middle Age and what does it have to do with the way we eat today? It seems that every thing old at some point become new again. I was really surprised to see that some restaurants in Italy have taken this historical table custom and twisted to today’s novelty.

In a restaurant on the Amalfi cost in Italy, I observed some appetizers being served on a cold stone or some others on a pre-heated stones depending on the type of food. Some restaurants serve also the main entrée on hot stones and it becomes really spectacular. Food arrives at the table seared halfway, the rest of the cooking is completed at the table by the customers, the way they like it.
(Himalayan Sal Slab: surlatable.com)

This trend is spreading throughout the U.S. too. I have eaten at upscale restaurants in California where one time I enjoyed appetizers on a Himalayan salt plate, the next time I delighted myself with an Argentinean Seared Flank Stake on hot slate with chimichuri sauce and the next time again I tried a fried kale with parmesan churros. All three times it was an enjoyable experience in that cooking at the table with friends evolves in a pleasant conversation.

Just like in the Middle Age, in trendy restaurants of today food is brought to the table on a hot stone  with another plate to eat off of it, but today there is an array of flatware, glassware and tablecloths to help us being more comfortable or civilized at the dining table.

These stones are available at gourmet shops and they are affordable.

I shall be here to answer any question you might have on the “mise en place”, staging a table, or staging a dinner party. Ciao,
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. Robert Taitano, a friend and business associate says:
“Valentina – an International Professional Interior Designer is now giving you an opportunity to redesign your palate”.

She is the author of two Italian regional cuisine books available on this site in the Books section, on Amazon and through the publisher:
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen


I Like Them Bitter | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

“Eat bitter vegetables, they will purify the liver!” This was my grandmother’s admonishment every time she prepared vegetables, which was everyday.

As kids my two brothers always turned their noses up at this statement, it sounded an awful punishment, but not for me. I was an experimenter, I liked to eat since a very young age and taste, taste, taste everything.

 

 

In the spring time, Cardoni, Cardoon in English, a very long hard stalk vegetable is available in any market, at least in those markets which caters to their ethnic clientele. The  younger shoots also called  Cardoncelli, not to confuse them with cardoncelli mushrooms, are very tender and less bitter. In any case, young or well-grown, Cardoni is not a well-known vegetable.
It looks like celery, it is very bitter, fibrous, medium green color and the short leaves have a powdery feel to the touch. They are delicious in every cooking solutions, but most people not knowing what it is, get discouraged and leave it on the shelves of the supermarket.

The reason some vegetables taste bitter is due to the presence of phytonutrients that act as powerful antioxidants including some flavonoids and polyphenols. Most of these antioxidant nutrients are bitter. Be prepared,  Cardoni are very bitter.

In my Italian culture, bitterness in vegetables is embraced wells for the variety of flavors components and for the perceived medicinal properties. In fact many of the Italian digestive and after dinner drinks are made from artichokes and/or many bitter herbs and vegetables, but please don’t tell me these particular drinks taste like cough drops, it is not true. To retain and enhance the bitterness of some vegetable, we Italians often use the sautéing method in garlic and oil, versus boiling or steaming them.

One way to cook Cardoni is with eggs:
Peel them with a potato peeler to eliminate the stringy fibers, cut them in small pieces, parboil in salted water for 7-8 minutes. Beat a few eggs, season with salt, pepper and Parmigiano cheese, set aside. Sauté Cardoni in garlic and olive oil until translucent, add the beaten eggs. Stir until the eggs become scrambled and well mixed with Cardoni. Adjust season to you liking. A robust glass of red wine is very appropriate.

Baked au gratin is another way to prepare them. Peel, chop and parboil in salted water like in the previous method. Butter a baking dish, arrange the Cardoni parboiled, add beaten eggs, season to your liking. On top add a lot of Parmigiano cheese, breadcrumbs and a few dollops of butter. Bake under the oven grill until the top is brown and the eggs are coagulated.
(Photo Cardoons at farmers market. Credit: blowbackphoto / iStockphoto.com)

Of course Cardoni in soups with potatoes, or baked with hot sausages, or lamb are equally a delight to eat . They are fresh and light, too bad they only come out in the Spring.

The tongue has receptors, especially in the back side. Keep the taste buds active by exercising all 50.000 of them with sweet, salty, sour and bitter food.
Don’t try to overcook vegetables to take out the bitterness, Cardoni are supposed to do a good job for you, cleanse the liver and keep you young.
My grandmother was always right. Ciao,
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

 

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe.
She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos.

She is the author of two published Italian regional cuisine books, available in this site on the Books page, Amazon and in various locations:
©Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity –  http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
©Sins Of A Queen – http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen

Pass The Salt, Please | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

PortaSale ©Valentina Cirasola

Photo ©Valentina Cirasola

Among all the small treasures my mother left me, there is a quaint salt container that stole my heart. It is a hand-made Capodimonte ceramic with a brass base and a silver spoon.
(Photo left Capodimonte Salt Cellar property of ©Valentina Cirasola)

My mother put it out during the “feste terribili” meaning those important occasions when lot of guests came and the table was spectacularly made up. This small vessel contained salt as a courtesy to the guests and it was intended to pass around when needed. However, it was rarely used, if food is properly balanced with seasons and flavors, there is no need for additional salt.
Adding salt to food served at the table is kind of offense for the chef or cook.

Before refrigeration was invented, salt and many different spices were so important for the conservation of meat and fish. In the haute cuisine of the Middle Ages spices were abundantly used for a couple of reasons, one was to prove a higher status symbol. Rich people could afford the high price of all the spices and thus consumed about 2 lb a day, but in more modest households the common spices used were the most affordable: vinegar, mustard, onion, garlic and of course salt. The second reason for using salt and spices was to cover up at times the dull taste of meat gone bad and unpleasant fish smell.

Salt consumption in the 13th century was in such a high demand for preservation of food that it was necessary to create beds of sea salt drawn from Oceans and Seas. It was course and dark with all the impurities of the sea, but better for curing meat than refined salt. The white variety of salt was used for cooking, thus it was more expensive.

Did the people in the Middle Ages used salt shakers at the table as we do today?  No, but hear this.

In the British Museum I saw the Nef, a stunning elegant salt vessel used in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. This extravagant 15th century table piece was made in the shape of a ship with the most elaborate head masts, sails and even crew.
The particularity was that the Nef was placed in front of the most important person at table as a respect to their high status. After the VIP used it, the Nef was rolled from one end of the table to the other.  The examples made with wheels were the most elegant, but most had legs or pedestals. The German style Nef had clock, music and figurines animated by a small engine.
(Photo Burghley Nef : https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O73113/the-burghley-nef-salt-cellar-unknown)

A Nef was usually made of silver, silver-gilt or gold, often further embellished with enamel and jewels. I would have wanted to own and cherish such an exquisite piece, just like my mother’s piece!

The dinner table of Middle Ages and Renaissance always fascinated me. No silverware only knives, no napkins, no refined glassware, but they had spices in abundance and during the grand feasts they even had the grandest effects with gold and silver leaf gilding the beaks and feet of roasted birds, pheasants, swans and peacocks.

It amazes me to think how so many sophisticated effects were achieved in dark kitchens, full of smoke, unhygienic, no automation, heat, long hours of preparation and cooking handling heavy pots.
This proves what I have always thought: if you know how to orchestrate a meal, you can do it anywhere, “small kitchens are for geniuses”.

Remembering my mom, I often put out her Capodimonte ceramic salt vessel on my table, right along with a less pretentious container made from Himalayan salt intended for salt.

I am here to help you finding any historical object, any gadget for kitchens, or any extravagant piece for your home in furnishing or art, just leave your name in the box below. Ciao,
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eC2LVXANG5U&ab_channel=affluentliving

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe.  She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos. She is the author of two published Italian regional cuisine books, available here in this site on the Books page and in various locations:
Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity – http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
Sins Of A Queen – http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen


Custom and Traditions Of An Italian Christmas Dinner | Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

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In Italy, in the province of Pavia, Christmas Eve dinner starts with a soup of lasagna mixed with mushrooms sauté in oil and garlic. In old times in Italy newborn babies were wrapped in bands of white cloth to keep their tender legs very straight and prevent them from growing bowed. In the fantasy of the local people this dish represents those bands, it is made in honor of baby Jesus being born on Christmas Eve.

Many specialties follow this first dish: marinated eel, salted stockfish and escargot. The small horns of the escargot allude to discord and disagreement between people, therefore they need to be hidden in the stomach of the guests to properly prepare themselves to a peaceful Christmas, as the legend says.
Other fundamental specialties are risotto cooked in any style, roasted turkey, boiled capon dressed with mustard. In the same province of Pavia, going more toward the inland towns and villages, included in the typical menu of the holidays, after a risotto plate, one finds stuffed onions with meat and focaccia bread.

A must have dessert for the end of the dinner is the Sbrisolona Torte, a typical dessert of that area. It is a crisp and friable torte, which accompanies Torrone, Panettone and Pâte Brisee’ all hand-made specialties found in each home. The Sbrisolona Torte doesn’t really mark the end of the dinner, there are still all the fruits of the season parading on the table: citrus, grapes and dry nuts. Apples, even though are fruits of Christmas season, they are not eaten because they represent the fruit with which Adam and Eve committed the original sin.

(photo Sbrisolona Torte: http://cucina.corriere.it/ricette/lombardia/62/torta-sbrisolona_d5e0be70-1afb-11df-af4a-00144f02aabe.shtml)

Women bake hand-made breads for Christmas holidays. The portion to use for every meal is cut and reserved, then all Christmas breads are placed on the center of the table and everyone in turn must take a piece every day from Christmas Eve until the 31st of December. It is a belief that Christmas breads do not go bad, do not grow mold and therefore they are good to cure bellyache.

Every region in Italy has different customs and traditions. In the South, the main item on everybody’s table is fish, cooked any way possible, in addition to the delicacy of raw fish and shell-fish and it doesn’t matter how much its price sky-rockets in this time of the year, it is a must have! Christmas dinners last many hours, they could go on for 5 or 6 hours. Italians people spend a lot of money for a Christmas dinner and cook for days to make it ready, but the only important thing is the togetherness of the family, the love for one another and that in itself is priceless. Ciao.
Valentina
http://www.valentinadesigns.com

Watch the trailer of my second book: ©Sins Of A Queen, due to be released in a few days.

********

Copyright © 2010 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

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Valentina Cirasola has been in business as an interior designer since 1990. Her life is a continuous evolvement of colorful events. She will not only design your home, build it and decorate it, but she will also design your palate with her new productions of Italian regional cookbooks. She is the author of: ©Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity and ©Sins Of A Queen.  Both books are available on
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

 

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