I Am Not A Vegetarian And Yet….| Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

Food is part of my color scheme of life. I cannot live without colorful and flavorful food presented well, even if I am eating alone. Eyes want to see beautiful things to send a message of happiness to the brain. It doesn’t take much efforts to do something special for ourselves.  I am not a vegetarian and yet my every day food seem to reflect that style of eating. As soon as I was weaned, my parents taught me to eat everything without distinction and to waste no food. That concept has been good and alive in my life, every where I lived in the world.  I have discovered that in countries different from mine, people eat the same vegetable, often prepared the same way, but, also, I have discovered new vegetables, new flavour and new ways of cooking vegetables. My repertoire of earthy food is getting so big, I don’t have enough days in a year to cook them all. For the moment, enjoy these three simple and so tasty recipes from my kitchen as much as I enjoy them.
(Click on each photo to view it larger).

A sandwich to die for –  Grilled Zucchini and Italian Prosciutto.
Thinly slice zucchini, align them on a parchment paper over a baking sheet.
On each zucchini slice, add finely chopped garlic and ginger, Parmigiano cheese, olive oil, salt, pepper and bread crumbs.
Bake at 400 F. until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.
Brush a small amount of olive oil on each bread slices and grill them (I made my country-style bread).
Assemble the sandwich with Italian prosciutto. I did not add anything else, it is tasty enough as is.

Grilled Zucchini and Italian Prosciutto di Parma Sandwich

What do you say about a plate of oyster mushroom? 
I adore this dish, whether it is made for a healthy lunch, with a piece of bread and a glass of red wine, or as a side dish to go with an entrée of meat or fish.
Brush off impurities from the mushroom, or cut them off (if you wash mushrooms in water, they will exude water in the cooking).
Finely chopped garlic and chili pepper, if you like it, briefly sauté in olive oil, then add mushroom and continue to sauté until soft, about 10 minutes.
Add chopped Italian parsley to finish. It is a real delicacy!

 

Oyster Mushrooms Sautéed in Olive Oil and Garlic

Do you have mozzarella?
In Italy we call this sandwich “Mozzarella In Carrozza” translated is Mozzarella In A Chariot.
Beat some eggs, depending on how many sandwiches you are making. Season the eggs with salt and pepper.
Warm up an iron skillet brushed with some olive oil, or butter.
Slice mozzarella in thin pieces.
Dip each side of the sliced bread in the eggs. Lay on the hot pan, each slice of bread one at a time, then mozzarella slices on top, close the sandwich with the top bread slices also dipped in the eggs. With a spatula push down gently on the sandwich to allow mozzarella to stick to the bread.
Brown one side of the sandwiches until crisp, carefully turned with the spatula, brown and crisp the other side.

Mozzarella In Carrozza

There you have it, three simple lunches, easy, inexpensive, healthy and tasty, that you will want to repeat often. This kind of food is only found in Italian homes, not in restaurants.
During trips to my native region of Puglia, Italy, my guests will taste food with a flavour of simplicity and antiquity, such as these. Ciao,
Valentina
https://valentinaexpressions.com/trips-to-puglia-2

Copyright © 2018 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

 

Valentina Cirasola is the designer who cooks. She has a deep interest in food that led her as an autodidact in the studies of food in history, natural remedies, nutrition, well-being and learning food of the world. She wrote two books on Italian regional cuisine and one book on color theory, in which she included one recipe for each color. Robert Taitano, a friend and business associate of http://www.wine-fi.com says:
“Valentina – an International Professional Interior Designer is now giving you an opportunity to redesign your palate”. Get your copy of Valentina’s books on
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0

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Transformation Of A Flower | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

The more I read about all secret ingredients hiding in food and less I want to get closer to supermarkets. Becoming an urban gardener for me has been more a choice for keeping my good health than a result of having a large yard to turn into something beautiful. I could have added a swimming pool, designed a patio with flowers in pots, or I could have cemented it all to have a clean space for BBQ, outdoor cabana bar, umbrellas and lounge chairs. Instead I opted to work the land, make it fertile, get closer to Mother Earth, which in turn will gift me with a bounty of natural food and a lot of piece in my heart.

During the summer months I harvest zucchini flowers every day, they grow on top of the zucchini stems from which the zucchini will form, but to make zucchini grow healthier it is better to pick the flowers. Early morning is the best time to pick them, as they are wide open and in full beauty; they will stay open for about three days if kept in the refrigerator. Their size is huge, at time I have flowers as wide as 8-9 inches and 7-8 inches tall; they lend themselves well to get stuffed.

 

In Europe, zucchini flowers are a delicacy and sell at the open market for a high price. We use them in our food raw or we stuff them with anything we fancy and then we either bake or eat them stuffed and raw. All the ingredients forming the stuffing need a binder, such as rice, potatoes, or eggs; you can choose to stuff them with meat, fish, tuna, vegetables, or cheese, all finely chopped.

I stuffed the flowers in my photo with the Amaryllis in the background with white rice, tuna, olives, capers, onions, ginger and spinach. I stuffed the flowers in the photo with the green leaf plate with brown rice, ground meat (I buy a piece of beef, pork, or lamb and ground it myself, this way I don’t get the nasty pink slime added to the meat), chicory, cheese and garlic. Other types of stuffing to consider are cheese and eggs, or all vegetables with couscous, grains, or quinoa.

Stuffed_Zucchini_Flowers

I find it is better to sauté the ingredients to allow them to become softer, malleable and easier to handle for the stuffing process, especially if you decide to use fresh meat or fresh fish.

Lightly butter a baking pan, align each stuffed flower tight (tops facing each other), lightly drizzle olive oil all over, sprinkle Parmigiano cheese, or any cheese for grating, add breadcrumbs and bake at 400° F. for about 45-50 minutes. The tops will be crispy, golden and the inside soft and delicious. If you like to freeze stuffed flowers to keep them for the winter like I do, wait they cool down, then box them up and put a label on the lid describing what’s in it. Three months from now, or when you decide to eat them, you will not remember what kind of stuffing is in the flowers.


FioriZucchineRipieni-A

It will take some time to stuff flowers, they are delicate, you can’t rush this process, therefore plan a good hour of your day to create this masterpiece. In my day there is always space for cooking and caring for myself. Find the recipe in full details in my book:
©Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity, on Amazon: http://goo.gl/T0eL36
Ciao,
Valentina

http://www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2012 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.
Author of two regional Italian cuisine books available on this site on the Books page and on
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

This Is What The Convent Passes Today | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

In my Italian family planning a weekly menu was one of the many things to do at the end of a Sunday: preparing books satchel for the next school day, ironing some clothes, polish shoes and basically getting things ready for the week while my parents compiled lunch and dinner menus for each day of the week. In Italy, due to the long lunch break, the majority of people go home to eat and relax for at least two hours in the North and four hours in the South. Planning the weekly menu is a good way to save money on grocery, in that once the menu is set, for our own convenience, we don’t get out of the set path. The food must be fresh and for that reason we go to the local street market everyday with the list of the menu in our hands to buy the necessary food and only if something is not available on that day we change our plans, but generally markets carry just about everything in season we need.

Buying in season is another thing that distinguished Italians. Produce cultivated by local farmers that don’t travel long distance are very good for us, they are not picked before maturing time and they will not go the phase I call “from green to trash”.
Have you ever experienced buying bananas not totally ripe and three days later are rotten already?
I hate it, because I hate throwing food and money away.
Vegetables and fruit in season have more nutrition, taste so much better,
flavors are enhanced naturally by the sun and not induced by machines, colors are vivid.

Preparing the weekly menu is one way to stay healthy and keep the weight stable. In my family we  never bought pre-made food, or take away.
We knew exactly what to prepare.

However, as teenagers, my brothers and I, not always agreed with our parents on food. There were times when we fussed and stomped our feet on the floor  protesting against the food we did not like. The answer from mom was always the same: ‘this is what the convent passes today” and we had the choice to eat it or starve. Guess what? Eating whatever it was planned for that day was always easier than starving. With Italian food one can’t go wrong any way.

Now living in America, I prepare my weekly menu only for dinners, but I make enough for the next day lunch. Not once, since I have been in US, I have gone into any fast food joints. Lucky me! Thanks to the good teaching, I don’t crave those food, I don’t know how they taste, so I cannot miss something I have never tried.

Programming our weekly meal is healthy, keep us on track, we can control the intake of salt, sugar, spices and fat, we know what we are eating and we can save money.  At home the serving portions are never vulgarly enormous. Have you noticed how moderate home eating is versus eating in restaurants?
I like to go out to restaurants and discover new food, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t make an everyday habit.

I wished more parents would say to their children “this is what the convent passes today” instead of opting for children food and give in to their requests.
Just a suggestions.
Leave a comment in the box below, love to hear your opinion. 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 regional Italian cookbooks available in this site at the Books Page: 
Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity.
Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
Sins Of A Queen – Italian Appetizers and Desserts

Also available in various locations:
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen

Into The Vegetable Garden | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

Tenerumi

How many vegetables people throw away because they are no known, or because nobody has ever shown the way to prepare them? This is the case of the tender fronds at the end the of the squash branches.
In Italy we call them ”tenerumi” and they are quite delicious. It is a very simple type food, a peasant food, the stomach doesn’t need complicated food everyday anyway and they can be presented quite elegantly, if you like.

First, when harvesting squashes, separate the large leaves, which are tough to eat from the small tender leaves at the end of the trail. Wash only the tender lease to get rid of soil impurities and cut them in diagonal to make a chiffonade.

Bring to a boil a pot pull of salted water. Salt will seal the green color of the leaves and they will not turn grey. Boil the leaves for about 10 minutes, take them out of the water with a perforated ladle, but do not drain the water.
In the same water, cook a short type of pasta, such as rigatoni, penne, rotini or ditaloni. Keep it “al dente”. The pasta texture and consistency it is very important for us Italians.

In another pan, sauté a couple of shallots or green onions in olive oil, add a couple of chopped tomatoes, or a basket of cherry tomatoes split in half (I like cherry tomatoes better), cook for about 10 minutes, then add the boiled tenerumi leaves to the sauce and let the flavor combine for a few more minutes. If you like a bit of heat, add some chili pepper to the sauce. Tenerumi have a bland flavor, but that is good too, if you like to keep it bland.
Adjust the sauce with salt and pepper to your liking, mix cooked pasta in it and serve warm with a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese.

This is very simple and healthy version. For a richer taste, it is OK to combine sausage cut in small bites, or pancetta (Italian bacon) while sautéing the onions. Potatoes go well with tenerumi (squash leaves) in place of pasta, or Italian rice Arborio to make a risotto as usual. With or without the starch element, squash leaves are delicious vegetables to pair up with a piece of salmon, or a steak and a nice red wine served in a goblet.

Photo ©Valentina Cirasola

Photo ©Valentina Cirasola

Another type of leaves which goes to waste are the carrots leaves. They are delicious in quiches and frittata, or sautéed first and mixed in a meatloaf.
Fennel fronds are also not understood leaves, they are good in soups, in roasted lamb with peas and/or combined with eggs.

In American markets, I have difficulties finding these kind of leaves, they don’t make it to the shelves of the supermarkets. The solution was to grow them myself, otherwise what it the purpose of having my own garden? Flowers are beautiful, but food grown in my orchard are even better for my health and soul.

Simple and peasant food is the reason why in the past peasants were healthy and rich or noble people had gout. If you want to lose weight go for the greens and not for the shakes! Ciao,
Valentina
www.valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian interior designer with a passion for kitchen and cooking. She operates in 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 writes often about food and she is the author of two Italian regional cookbooks available in this site at the books Page:
Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
Sins Of A Queen – Italian Appetizers and Desserts

Also available in various locations:
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen
http://www.amazon.com/Valentina-Cirasola/e/B0031A02H2/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/books/product.aspx?r=1&ISBN=1432762060

I Survived A 13 Courses Dinner | Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

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New Year’s Eve in almost every Italian homes is like history repeating itself. A 13 courses Lucullian dinner awaits to be consumed. Soon after Christmas people start planning their New Year’s Eve, whether it will be in a club, restaurant, or at home with family and friends, the end of the year is an important day of the entire year. It is a common believe that whatever one does on that evening and the first of year, one will do it for the rest of the year, therefore no crying, no paying bills, no arguing, only cooking, eating, laughing and spending a pleasant passage into the new year.

(Click on each photo to view it larger).

The street markets and stores stay open at least until 5:00 pm for those who need the last few ingredients, or to find the last-minute outfit for the evening.
The people who stay at home to celebrate with their loved ones, end up cooking all day long. It sounds like an awful stressful activity to do right at the end of the year, but in reality Italian people love to cook in company of other people and even with their guests. Lot of laughter and camaraderie goes on during the cooking and that is one of the many reasons food in Italy taste so good, we make them with love and pleasure.

It is customary at lunch to have a small snack of vegetables and a fruit, but at night the New Year’s Eve dinner is an act of culinary cleverness and serious professionalism. The dinner table is well set, but not overly decorated with useless stuff, the food will take a center stage on the table of this evening.


Orange Appetizer

The dinner for this special night consist of 13 courses by tradition, one for each month of the year and one more in honor of the new coming year. It seems a whole lot of food to brush off in one night, but starting at 6:00 pm when everybody sits down at the table, until midnight when the champagne bottles pop, there are six hours of nothing but food paced with intervals and slow enjoyment.
It starts with many antipasti of different kind, but a mixture of raw and shell-fish is the king for this night, as it is for all the eves before an important holiday.

The evening continues on the note of fish. Any type of pasta with any fish sauce is served as a first course and grilled, fried or baked fish as a second course.

Olives and savory munchies fill the table to help passing time between those courses which need to be cooked fresh on the spot, to encourage conversation and wine drinking. In some families between the first, the second and third course, it is customary to pass a small portion of lemon or orange sorbet as a palate cleanser. What a delightful and fine dinner practice!

After the most important part of the dinner is served, all the minor plates will be parading such as, fried vegetables, fried puffy dough, food preserved under oil or vinegar, dried fruits and nuts, fresh fruit, typical regional home-made sweets and cookies, along with the store-bought sweets.

One specialty must never be forgotten before midnight strikes and that is cooked lentils with a swirl of olive oil and basil leaves. The popular belief is that each lentil represents money, more lentil a person can eat, more money that person will make. Needless to say we consume a large pot of lentils every end of the year just to wish ourselves a good financial stability.

At midnight the champagne is popped, kisses, hugs and laughter fill the air, accompanied with panettone, a typical Italian sponge cake sometimes filled with chocolate, sometimes with champagne cream, or tiramisu’ as I like, or candied fruit.

The 13 courses dinner is over after midnight, but the night is young and it is the first day of the new year. Outside, people shoot fireworks from their balconies and windows. It is important to welcome the new year and celebrate it any way people can. If people celebrate this first day, they will be celebrating many more times during the year, so the old folks saying goes. Then at 5:00 am in the streets is time to taste freshly made croissants, hot from the baker’s oven with a warm frothy cappuccino to fight the cold temperature of this winter night spent in boisterous festivity.
Buon Anno, Happy New Year to all and peace in the world.

I would love to design your kitchen and show you the way to comfort and good cooking through a functional space. Contact me, I am at your service. Ciao,
Valentina
http://www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

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Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer in business since 1990 with a special 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 also the author of two Italian regional cookbooks available on
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

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