An Italian Sunday | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

In Italy not all Sundays are created equally. People dedicate Sundays to family lunches and the rest of the day is for leisure and social activities.
Meals are women’s best show on Sundays, they get up early in the morning, before everybody else to cook for the family and make sure everyone is treated properly from appetizers to desserts, from the smallest kid to the oldest person.

This past Sunday was a different celebration.
I am in Italy now, participating to my niece’s First Communion event. This is truly a treat, a day to remember and the first important mile stone in a Catholic person’s life. It happens every year in May. Boys and girls in elementary school will go through a couple of years of religious school to learn how to become good Christians and get prepared for the big event of the First Communion. Some churches go as far as organizing spiritual retreats for the kids.
A wide range of businesses related to the First Communion affair are busy for the entire month of May preparing every details from cakes and sweets, to party favors. Restaurants, photographers, hair dressers, tailors and seamstresses work together to assure the event is successful,  parents and guests are happy and have something to remember. Jewelry stores are also very happy in the month of May, as the gold gifts for the First Communion are a must.

My niece was prepared as a bride for the altar. The day before,  all the women of the house including the First Communion girl got electrified with trying on dresses, shoes and jewelry, hairdresser appointments and making sure all the party favors were ready to go.  At night, nobody wanted to go to sleep, we didn’t really know where to put our heads made up so beautifully to keep them preserved  until the next day. And the next day was really special for the kids and the adults! Confetti and photographs greeted the little girl coming down from the stairs of her home, my niece, a 10 years old was dressed in white from head to toes. Her father was the only person allowed to accompany her to the church as her escort, the rest of us followed  later. The church isle was also made up with white flowers to celebrate all the 10 years old kids entering the Catholic World as faithful Christians while cheerful music filled the air.

What really intrigued me was the elegance of the Italian people dressed to honor their kids first mile stone of life. I am Italian and I should be used to see well-dressed people, but somehow I still manage to get surprised  when I see Italians young and old attending some functions. There was nothing out-of-place in their dressing up, not even a hair. Colors and proportions are always well-balanced. Of course, everything was “all’ultimo grido” of the latest fashion.

The manners of Italian people at some formal affair are so affected and polite, but not disgustingly stuffed. I love to observe some youngsters giving up their seats to older people and helping them in getting up and down to follow the religious function. Certain things in my culture are still well-planted and are excellent foundations for generation to come.

The church of Maria Maddalena built in 1969 is an extravagant architecture considered very avant-guard for that era. A cement pagoda style, almost resembling a Japanese house was not well-accepted by the followers and much criticized by the public and the press. That church so many years later has seen a few funerals, weddings, births and joyous events in my family and in my friends’ families. To see Don Filippo again, the priest manager of that church, grey and older and remembering him young, with dark hair and just out of college, made me realize how much time has passed by and how deep my roots are in this land of Italy.

Ciao,
Valentina
http://www.Valentinadesigns.com

Dots2Copyright © 2012 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an author and a designer, writing about and observing Italian culture and style. Check out her books available on this site in the Books section and on
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

Easter Breads | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

©Scarcella

Two more days to Easter Sunday and in Puglia, my land in Southern Italy everyone will eat “Scarcella”, typical Easter bread. Scarcella is a slightly sweet bread type, just enough to give a sweet taste but not enough to make anybody fat. Usually in Puglia, we make it in a round shape, as we all know the round shape is the most harmonious of all the shapes and in most cultures is regarded as the shape of fortune. Many shapes and designs also characterize the Scarcella to please the eyes of the receiver. If it is made for kids, the shape might be a small doll, a purse, a car, or an animal shape, just to be playful.

Scarcella goes back to a very remote past, in fact, it originated in the Roman Empire, enclosing in itself all the pagan and Christian symbols of Easter.

The raw eggs on top of the bread dough symbolize rebirth and the return to life. The eggs might fill the dough up to 21. Odd numbers are considered propitiatory, thus it’s important to place the eggs in an odd number. Bake the bread full of colorful confetti on top and lemon zest mixed in with the dough to aromatize it. Powdered sugar will cover the Scarcella after the baking to give it a veil of sweetness.

The tradition says that any daughter-in-law will give one Scarcella as a gift to the mother-in-law. The more eggs the Scarcella has on it, the more are the things the daughter-in-law is asking to be forgiven for. Well, that was in the old days, I am not even sure the new generations of Italians even know what Scarcella is, or if they care to ask for forgiveness through food symbolism. If anybody out there wants to try it here is the recipe, and it is also in my second published book:
©Sins Of A Queen – Italian Appetizers and Desserts

 

Scarcella
Mix with 10.5 oz. 00 flour (super-soft flour used for pizza dough) 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 3.5 oz. of sugar, a little milk (use a little at a time to make the dough pliable).
Add a pinch of salt and grated lemon peel while working on the dough.
Spread the dough thus prepared to ½ inch in height.
Cut out the shapes you want, keeping the scraps of dough.
On one end of the Scarcella place 1 egg raw with the shell on, or you can spread an odd number of eggs around on the dough.
Cut the scraps of dough into strips and place them in a cross fashion over each egg to help them staying on the dough during baking.
Sprinkle the colored confetti and bake on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake it until golden brown.
If you like, add powder sugar after the bread has cooled down.

This Easter specialty is in my book Sins Of A Queen, on Amazon: http://goo.gl/JA4WMO
Another fun Easter bread and typical in the South of Italy made for this occasion is the “Casatiello”. The procedure of making this bread is the same as any other bread, the only difference is the stuffing.
Mixed in the raw dough there are chopped hard-boiled eggs, various chopped cold cuts meats and cheeses of many types. The quantities for the stuffing are up to your taste.
The taste will improve accordingly, I make mine very happy.

A Pink Moon will characterize this Easter. I just learned about it this morning when I read this article.

http://news.yahoo.com/moon-affects-date-easter-131202555.html

I am here to help you with your kitchen design and all the challenges that come with it, but I am here also to design your palate.
Remember that designing a table with colorful food is necessary for the soul and for the eyes just as much as a beautifully designed kitchen.
My next book on the subject of colors: RED-A Voyage Into Colors is in the printing and will be out on the market very soon. Stay tuned for the launch.

If you celebrate it, have fun and rejuvenating Easter.  Ciao,
Valentina
http://www.valentinadesigns.com

 

Copyright © 2012 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

 

 

Dots2Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking.
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.
Check out her books on this site on the BOOKS page  and on
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

Evolving Taste | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

I thought I would have never said this but Italian taste for food is changing.

It has been over a decade that new emigrants are flocking to Italy as if it was the new land of opportunities bringing with them their culinary background and their culture.
Italians are now eating pizza with pineapple and cheese, or fried rice in place of risotto. Well, not everyone, fortunately food is one thing Italians are keeping away from corruption, but younger people, traveling to foreign countries more than the past generations are willing to try new food ideas.

I just could not help noticing the change in some of the original and traditional recipes. Cheese and fish cooked together was an absurd combination, it was viewed with skepticism and those people who attempted to do it were always criticized as not having a refined palate.


This is exactly what I observed in a restaurant on the Amalfi coast in Italy, a plate of fried anchovies sandwiched together stuffed with cheese and prosciutto in the middle. The waiter disregarding my dislike of anchovies paired with cheese went on and on trying to convince me that it was a good food and I had to try. I was up for the challenge. The food arrived piping hot and smelled really appetizing.

I must admit fried anchovies stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto was good and new.

However, I still believe if you want the taste the sea in the seafood, keep it simple and do not mix it with other food. Dairy products have a strong taste, no matter how light the product is, milk is milk. To me, milk fights with the delicate fish taste and leaves an after taste. The recipe of fried anchovies stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto is really easy, it’s up to you to try it and decide to like it or not.

Long live the blue fish, which is affordable and low in price, rich in calcium and omega 3 fatty acids.

To make stuffed fried anchovies all you need is:
10.5 oz of flour seasoned with thyme
10.5 breadcrumbs seasoned with thyme
3 whole eggs beaten
1 mozzarella chopped small
a few slices of Italian prosciutto
salt, black pepper to your liking
lemon juice
vegetable oil to fry

Keep each ingredients separate in various bowls. Add fresh thyme in the flour and breadcrumbs for an extra flavor.
Remove the interiors from the anchovies, wash and clean thoroughly.
Once the anchovies are butterflies (see my photo) place on the belly of each anchovy one thin piece of mozzarella and prosciutto and then close it with another anchovy belly down. Repeat until all the anchovies are paired up.
Pass the anchovy sandwiches in flour, than in the egg and finally in the breadcrumbs.
Fry in the hot vegetable oil. Season the anchovies with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Otherwise, the simplest way to fry anchovies is to butterfly them, pass in the flour, then in the beaten eggs and finally in the breadcrumbs. I eat fried food every 4-5 months and I use a good vegetable oil that I discard afterwards.
Once in a blue moon is good, the metabolism needs a good slap every so often.

My two books are filled with easy fish recipes along with other Mediterranean diet recipes.
They are a super source if you want to stay off the mortal diets and want to eat healthy while you are enjoying food.
Please check them out in this site on my Books section.
They are also available on

Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0

Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

Yes, I do design kitchens, wine cellars and other rooms, but I also design your palate. Love to hear from you. 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.
She is a speaker and a book author. Her new book on the subject of colors: ©RED – A Voyage Into Colors  is in production at this time and will be released very soon.
Stay tuned for the launch.

I Am In The Mood For Raw Fish |Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

I was thinking of all the raw fish I ate in one night alone in Japan at a restaurant and cherishing that nice memory in the company of good long time friends. (Click on each photo to view it larger).
http://www.ginpei.com/html/shop/do_tonbori.html

honten
A question came to my mind. Who first adopted the practice of eating raw fish, the Japanese or the Italians from Puglia?
Yes, not the entire Italy is accustomed to eat raw fish, but in the Southern region of Puglia, where my roots are, the ritual of eating raw fish happens once a week at least every Sunday and it is not called sushi.
No family Sunday meal will be left without it, raw fish is the king of every tables, always served before dinner allowing the palate to taste the sea and the freshness of its fruits.
A variety of raw octopus, mussels, hairy mussels (cozze pelose), other shellfish, sea truffles, sea urchins and allievi (cattle fish) is served in symbiosis with a few glasses of bubbles, then the real dinner can start.

The difference between the Japanese raw fish (sushi) and the Puglia style raw fish is that in Japan raw fish is served almost always on white rice and it is dry only wet with soy sauce.
In the Puglia style, raw fish is served wet with the sea water dripping, occasionally wet with a few drops of lemons, especially on mussels, otherwise there is no other condiment, just the sea flavor.
Fish over there does not need added condiment in that the Adriatic Sea is shallow and concentrated with salt. Nature does it all for us.

This old Puglia gastronomy tradition goes back to the 1500’s, when selling raw octopus was regulated by the local government and had to be sold in rolls of 890 gr. each (31.4 oz.). Imagine how important it was to eat raw fish that the government had to regulate it.

 

It is a common appetizer to find in restaurants, served every day of the week if the weather has been good and the catch of the day comes in regularly.
The restaurant owners usually are the only one responsible to guarantee  100% freshness of the fish.
Often black mussels will be paired with the sharp caciocavallo cheese, similar in taste to the aged Southern Italian Provolone cheese, with a hard edible rind.
The octopi must be properly curled, the allievi (cattle fish) thoroughly cleaned of the interiors and the mouth, tuna, mullets and cod finely sliced for carpaccio and the fresh delicate anchovies carefully cleaned of any bones ready for a marinade of oil, lemon juice salt, pepper and parsley finely chopped.

Bear in mind that in Italy we believe the months with the R are not good to eat mussels (Jan-Feb-Mar-Apr-Sept-Oct-Nov-Dec) and the months without the R are not good to eat oysters because they are full of eggs and fattier (May-June-July-Aug).
Here in the Unites States we eat them all the time, this rule is really not observed and I am always wondering if I am doing the right thing.

Sea Urchin

 

Another scene worth filming is the eating of the raw fish in the streets near the port area of any city in Puglia, where the fisherman bring the catch of the day and where they also mend the fish nets when they are not out at sea. The scene is colorful, playful and joyous. Some fisherman scream to get the customers’ attention and some sing. They show off a large display of fresh fish inside of baskets made of olive wood and set on rough tabletops. There, they propose a taste of sea urchins, at time accompanied with a piece of fresh bread and ice-cold beer and other times just as the offering of the sea is, fresh and natural.

Skilled fishermen never poke their hands while opening the sea urchins in half. They make a perfect cut to expose the reddish-orange meat inside; a small piece of bread will scoop out all the goodness from inside of the black shell.
Restaurateurs who have lived abroad for a while brought back to Puglia the knowledge they have acquired in foreign countries. Many sushi bars have sprung up in Puglia, as all over Italy, but when the Puglia people want to do a serious eating, they will always go to what is familiar.
They will always prefer the traditional specialties of their land and sea to the fashionable or trendy food of other parts of the world. They will stay faithful to what has been familiar to them for centuries.

It takes no ability to eat raw fish, just clean, wash and eat it, but it takes ability to prepare the simplest food, poor of ingredients and make it taste like royal food.
 (above: Alici Arraganate)

One of the many simple fish dish in Puglia is Baked Anchovies or Alici Arraganate as we call it.
Take the center bone from inside of the anchovies, wash and pat dry. Align anchovies in a crock-pot.
Add breadcrumbs, chopped garlic, mint, capers, oregano.
Drizzle oil and sprinkle a few drops of plain vinegar. Bake in the oven for only 12-15 minutes uncovered.
It’s so simple that is almost a non-recipe.

Another simple dish is Octopus Casserole or Casseruola Di Polipetti as we call it in Italian.
Place the octopus in a casserole with chopped onion, dry white wine, fresh tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and parsley.
Bake until the octopi are fork tender. The sauce is good to eat with bread or to top a plate of pasta.
Bon appétit.

Find many of these simple recipes in my two published books on Italian regional cuisine from Puglia available on:

Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0

Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w
and in this site on the Books’ page.

Now, my friends from Japan need to go over to Puglia with me to experience raw fish my way.
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.

Her third book ©RED-A Voyage Into Colors on the subject of colors is in production and will be released by end of April 2012.

The Art Of Dainties | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

This year for Christmas Eve I will have adults only at my table celebrating the passage into the new light, it will be one of the few times in my life I will not make a sit down dinner. I will prepare an array of fanciful small dainties to be served in various area of my great room.

Putting dainties together will be just like choosing colors and textures for dressing up. It is important to find the right balance of colors and flavors. Need not to have too much salty food, nor too much food of the same kind of textures, protein, vegetable, starches and sweets must be equally distributed and in between palate cleansers are a real treat to put all the taste buds back in place.

 

Caviar with a variety of crackers and breads will be the opening, accompanied by smoked salmon with capers and sparkling wines.
A large size tray of endive, raw celery and fennel will be a good match with cheeses and will be good to help digesting dairy products.
The highlight of my cheese tray will be the Tête de Moine and the Dubliner, which I recently discovered from one of my dearest friend.
Last summer I made sun-dried tomatoes in my garden, preserved in olive oil, capers, garlic and fennel seed. I will put them next to the cheeses, olives and Italian prosciutto, they are so good on crostini with one of my spreadable cheeses. (Photo Tête de Moine from: Wikimedia)

Tête de Moine

My Italian tradition calls for fried salted cod for Christmas Eve. It is one type of food that never makes it to the table, fried cod is absolutely good piping hot right out of the fryer.
As we say in Italian “cotto e mangiato” cooked and eaten at once; scorching of the palate and fingers are allowed. I own an Italian made fryer equipped with a charcoal filter and a turning tumble canister that makes fried food so light, clean and no fried food smell in the kitchen. I don’t eat fry food during the year, but  when I have people over is so fun to eat something different and allow myself to go out of my own strict rules. Besides, my friend will polish everything, I am lucky if I get to taste one or two pieces of fried cod.

Savarin MoldI will cook the rice with wild mushrooms in small individual Savarin molds (photo on the right), perfect to create the effect of a large ring when they are turned over in the plate. I will decorate the center hole with some arugula leaves. (From: https://www.fantes.com)

Mussels cooked in garlic, fennel and wine will be in a large bowl for a grand effect. Some of my friends have never eaten mussels this way, they will have a good opportunity to try some brassiere food.

 

 

I fancy stuffed grilled eggplants rolled in small packages hiding a surprise mixture of meat, spinach, beaten egg and a small spoon of Parmigiano as a binder. I am thinking, since I have the grill going, I will put on some asparagus and colored peppers too, my friends will not mind.

Stuffed and Grilled Eggplants ©Valentina Cirasola

I will make the zabaione cream myself and my friend will watch. It seems as if many of them tonight will be in a cooking class involuntarily, but it will be much fun to cook together than preparing it all by myself.
I will conclude my food spread  with dried nuts, fresh fruit, panettone an Italian Christmas cake and more sparkling wines.

 

It will be simple home cooking and it will take the whole night.
Many of these recipes are in my books, some of my friends will have a taste for the first time, but many of them  are so happy to share my Puglia food with me again.
I am going to start the preparation and welcome everyone with a glass of prosecco.

The night is young and we need to reach midnight doing something fun, laughing, making jokes, telling stories and playing with food.  Some of my friends are not into cooking, they will have easy tasks, as I don’t want to risk a food mistake just tonight on Christmas Eve and some will pour all night.

I hope you are having fun too.

We will welcome the new light in the world and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Merry Christmas, peace in the world. Ciao,
Valentina

www.Valentinadesigns.com  

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

QueenValentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She especially loves to design all those rooms with a “make me feel good” tag attached, such as kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. She is a public speaker and a mentor. She is also the author of two Italian regional cuisine books, available here in this site on the Books page and on:
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w

 

Why Kids Eat Food For Kids? | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

Poor kids, they get to choose their food from the kids’ menu and eat junk stuff while the adults indulge in every possible delicacy of the world!

My girlfriend was complaining that schools serve junk food to the kids for lunch. They are so used to eat “useless” food that when they return home from daily school, don’t even want to hear about the “real food” their mom, my girlfriend prepares.
She was telling me that her girlfriend in Italy commented that when her kids are in school (Italian schools that is) eat as adults do and the school menu looks the same as a restaurant menu, but I think it has to do a lot with our culture.

Mercato

Bari, Puglia – Italy Street market. Photo ©Valentina Cirasola

In Italy food is an integral part of our daily life, we get up in the morning and already think of what to eat for dinner. That gives us plenty time for planning the daily meals, go to the market and buy the food needed for the day.
Yes, we go to the market every day as Italians eat fresh food daily and not from the freezer, or pre-made, processed food prepared a year ago and sold in styrofoam packages, with a plastic film on top.

In America, au contraire of Italians, I have observed a huge disconnection from food. American “real food” is good, tasty, nutritional, colorful, which says a lot when people eat food in all the colors, yet Americans have opted for fast food and for days empty of cooking, as if cooking is beneath them (sorry, but I had to say this).

In my circle of friends and clients, I know many people who don’t cook and don’t even know how to boil water.
I also know many people who take the time to get up at 4:00 am to go to the gym until 6:30-7:00 am before tackling their day.
They do find the time to exercise, but have no time for cooking and eating well. I see no point of working the muscles to a statuesque perfection when the stomach is full of junk food.
The first death happens in the stomach! Just so you know.

I am including a link to an interested article I read about the artificial preservatives and color dyes in many junk food.
http://blog.sfgate.com/sfmoms/2010/09/10/whats-in-a-twinkie-kids-favorite-food-deconstructed/

OK, enough of that!

Kids should be educated at home first. I don’t think it is a good practice to give in to any kids’ requests. Kids will try anything to bend the parents to a nice sculpture and most of the time they will succeed. Parents are their kids’ managers, but often it is the other way around in America.

In my Italian family, when I was in the age I had no say so about anything, as in many of my friends’ families, there was no choice of food. We ate all that our moms prepared and if we didn’t like it, too bad, we went hungry. There was no alternative, no other choice and no junk food either. Our parents did that for our good, not to be abusive. Food in Italy is perceived as our friend and not our enemy that makes us loses time. It is not just perceived, it is respected, it is loved, appreciated and not wasted. That’s why kids in Italy will never eat from a kids’ menu, not in restaurants, not in the family, not in the school.
I have young nieces and nephews, they are a different generation, but their mom, my sister, taught them the same as our parents taught us about food. Equally, I can say about the young cousins in my family, when we sit at the table, we all eat the same food.
Bare in mind, this is not only the Italian people’s prerogative; I have seen the same attitude towards food in many cultures too, except in America. Here people have embraced a fast culture and don’t have time for food and cooking, the most important fuel for our brain. My question is:  what do they have time for?

(Hot Dog Photo http://greatestamericanhotdogs.com/food/item/chicago-dog-2)

Unfortunately,  in America, due to this mentality of everything fast, kids are treated as a non-important class, when it comes to food.
Why do they have to be fed so badly with junk food in the growing stage, the most important time of their life?
Kids will be the future managers of our society, we have a responsibility not to grow sick flowers!

Schools are expensive. For the money parents pay to send their kids to school, they should be able to get at least one healthy meal a day in return, but they don’t.
Parents should be able to count on schools not only to educate on academics, but to educated their kids on nutrition and cooking to provide them with the knowledge that will contribute to their life time good health. Sport, cooking and nutrition should be obligatory subjects to take, no excuse and while we are in this subject, teach kids also how to get closer to earth and grow natural food.
In the future and I strongly believe this, people who know how to grow food from seeds, who know how to make breads, pasta and know how to eat with vegetables, people who know how to preserve food will be the  survivors.

Please, parents make your own battle against bad food in schools, let your voice be heard and if schools don’t have the right person with the right knowledge of food, find that person.
Remember when your kids get sick due to bad nutrition, you are the only one to pay for, not the school.

I am an advocate of good eating, please don’t mistreat our kids, they are our future heritage.  As a food author, I am available to be hired for speaking engagements, or any seminars in any schools. 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 especially loves to design all those rooms with a “make me feel good” tag attached, such as kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. She is a public speaker and a mentor. She is also the author of two Italian regional cuisine books, available here in this site on the Books page and in various locations:
Come Mia Nonna–A Return to Simplicity
Sins Of A Queen – Italian Appetizers and Desserts
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen

Robert Taitano, a friend and business associate says: “Valentina - an International Professional Interior Designer is now giving you an opportunity to redesign your palate”.  

 

The Plate In The Middle | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

A few years ago, I was in Kyoto, Japan sitting in a restaurant with my friends and their friends to whom I got introduced in that moment. One of these new friends, a tall Japanese guy, wanted to welcome me, a blonde, blue eyes western woman visiting his country by showing me his appreciation with a special gesture. After a while we were sitting together enjoying each other company, the tall Japanese guy started to eat from my bowl of soup, truly surprising the rest of the company with this gesture.

Perhaps his behavior was too exuberant for being Japanese, or perhaps he really meant it. Later, my friends told me that his gesture was a sign of wanting to consolidate a new friendship, a creation of a tight bond that would last through the years.
(Above photo: One of my plates hand-painted in Italy – artist unknown).

Eating in someone’s plate in Japan means loyalty, trust, respect and it is an honor. That was his way of showing these feelings to me.
I really liked that very much. Never thought I was going to receive such a friendly treatment.

That moment brought me back in time when in Italy, my native country, people used to eat all together from a plate placed in the middle of the table. In every corner of the world, people do the same things, just like home, I thought.

Again, a few days ago, I was in a restaurant on American soil and a large plate of spaghetti was propped in the middle of the table to share with everyone in my party. These days, when I sit at a restaurant, sharing my dishes with the person I brought along is not always possible. Often, I go out with people I conduct business and it doesn’t seem right to share food in a friendly matter.
I am wondering though if this custom of sharing dishes is happening because so many cultures are living together, and we want to try everybody’s food, or because we feel the need to get closer to people.

As I said earlier this is not a new costume to me at all. I remember the painted large dish at the center of the table in my grandmother’s house and in all the families in the town of Italy where she lived. The plate was a simple hand-painted, huge size for hosting a large quantity of food for the entire family, mom, dad, all the kids, and the grandparents. Back then seniors lived in the family until their time on this earth expired.

The table setting was quite interesting. The hand-painted dish always took the middle of the table and it was filled with lunch or dinner food.
Each person had a fork, a wine glass, bread was sliced as needed and knives were placed loosely on the table for whoever needed them.
Everybody sat around the table and waited for the head of the family to sit as well. For the respect of that person, generally was the oldest person in the family, nobody would start eating until the person started first.

After the head of the family sat and dug the fork to get the first bite from the plate in the middle of the table, everybody dug in and ate from the same plate.
The last bite was reserved for the head of the family as well. Incredible, you might say and yet, I have lived in such an ancient society, even though I am not that old!

This seems unreal, almost a scene from a Medieval Shakespearean comedy, but less than 50 years ago this was a common scene in the South of Italy where I grew up. Everyday people, perhaps to brighten their days, ate in hand-painted, colorful dishware they bought at the street market. Nobles and wealthy people ate off of “chic white porcelain plates”.

Today modern Italians do not use hand-painted ceramic plates anymore for everyday use, nor for holidays either. They might hang them on kitchen walls for decorations, or they might place one small dish on a coffee table.
Italians just are not in love with such a beautiful antique art anymore. They love modern style, sleek, straight lines, no curlicues, and no fussy designs. The reason behind this is that Italians live and breathe antiquity every day.
In some cases, they live just across from famous buildings, statues, famous fountains, stairs, or Cathedrals and Corinthian capitals. All of that beauty is part of their everyday landscape, it is part of their lives. It’s just routine!

There are still many factories making hand-painted ceramics, but they are sold mostly to tourists. Tourists bring back to their countries the beauty of Italy. They find very chic eating off hand-painted Italian plates from Tuscany, Umbria, Puglia, and other regions.

Although Italians are very social people, convivial and relaxed around food, they also have distanced themselves from the custom of sharing food from the same plate. Here in America, very surprisingly, I am finding this costume back into my life and I do not know how to take it, I don’t know if I like it or not.

(Photo: https://www.pinterest.com/italianceramics/tile-murals-hand-painted-from-vietri)

I am thinking this is history repeating itself.

I am treasuring my hand-painted ceramics, as a matter of fact, every time I return from Italy, I hand carry in the plane a few hand-painted ceramic pieces.
I want a cheerful table whether I have a company or not, I want to surround myself with the beauty of my country and enjoy the colors of my heritage.

If you need help in locating a special hand-painted tabletop, or a custom-made backsplash for the kitchen, some specific plates patterns, I am here prompt and ready to help you with any of your needs, whether it will be decorating, designing, or remodeling. 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 regional Italian cuisine books, available here in this site on the Books page and in various other locations:
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen

Flavors and Colors Of An Italian Summer | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

The annual summer Italian Family Festa in San Jose, CA is almost ready, we are at the last few details of preparation and the celebrations will begin soon.
For two days Aug.27th-28th all the Italian descendants, Italian born and Italian lovers will celebrate our culture with music, food, craft, art, books and entertainment. (Click on each photo to view it larger).

The Italian Family Festa in San Jose, CA started 31 years ago by Italian emigrants with the goal of keeping our roots and traditions alive. The character of this festa is more like a country fair called “sagra” in Italian, reminding me of the autumn celebration of the earth’s bounties I have seen in Italy when I was growing up.

Sagra (sagre plural) happen in every Italian small towns and Medieval villages through August and September. The larger sagra has music bands and some sort of competition, along with food ready to purchase on the street.


The smaller sagre are mainly organized to present local food grown and cooked by passionate people, a way to share a communal table and to spend a happy day in the country. Both vendors and visitors are innamorate of their culture and history, love to show off the food they produce and often give away ancient secrets on how to cook this and that food specialties. Of course we are Italians, we love to tell people how to eat good!

Sagre in Italy used were an escape from rural life during the harvest time that preceded the long winters and for a couple of days country people and farmers had an opportunity to be social with the rest of the world. Today, sagre are a way to preserve our gastronomic traditions of the past and to bring tourists to small country towns.

(Photo truffle found on: https://www.yahoo.com/news/worlds-largest-truffle-worth-thousands-024053846.html)

In many sagre Italians celebrate food fit for a royal, like the truffle sagra in Ferrara. Truffle is a rare underground mushroom forever considered a mysterious delicacy in the culinary world and super expensive (over $1,000 per gr.). People can delight themselves with the pleasure of tasting many food prepared with truffle: Cheeses Entrée with honey and truffle, truffle antipasti fantasy, meat rolls with prosciutto and truffle, fowl meat with truffle, lasagna with truffle and so much more. I say: Eat truffle in small amounts, but eat it often!

The sagra’s themes vary from town to town.

We celebrate the harvest of watermelon, chestnuts, San Marzano tomatoes and many products from the earth. Sagra for the prepared food as grilled meat, prosciutto, salami and sausages, rice arancini and potato croquettes, pizza rustica, polenta and birds, mushrooms and much more, not only emanate mouth watery aromas miles away, but they give an opportunity to get familiar with very traditional home cooking not otherwise prepared in restaurants.

Modern Italy goes on vacation during August and September, but farmers are at work to bring us the pleasure of food from the earth that is going to sustain us during the winter. Therefore we celebrate their harvest, their hard work and the abundance of Italy.
Italian Family Festa in San Jose, CA in the way will turn into a sagra due to so much food available, but mainly is about being Italian in a foreign country and to remind ourselves of the contributions we have made in the world with our culture, art, history, architecture, philanthropy, inventions and of course food appreciated by the entire world. Being Italian is an art not taught in any school!

I have been invited to speak at our Italian Family Festa about my Puglia native land  and my books on Puglia cuisine. I will be on the stage Sat. Aug. 27th at 2:30 pm.

Please come to the Italian Family Festa at Guadalupe River Park downtown San Jose between Julian and Santa Clara Street. Guadalupe River Park is conveniently located two blocks from San Jose Diridon Station. Hope to see you there. 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.
She is a published author of two Italian regional cuisine books, available here in the Books page and in various locations, including Amazon:
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen

Flavoured Olives | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

In my last blog, I wrote that olives picked directly from the tree must be cured first, otherwise they are totally not eatable.  Curing and flavoring olives is an ancient culinary art, which we are rediscovering as today we are more in tune with the earth and healthy living.

I can think of five or six methods of flavoring olives, mostly from the memories of my grandmother’s kitchen. I use these methods for my enjoyment and for holiday gifts I prepare from my kitchen. My friends’ faces lit up like Christmas tree when they receive such a gift.
To make it fun, I will list only some of the easiest procedures, but you can always contact me, if you like to know more.

Baked Black Olives
Get black olives freshly picked and not cured. Place the olives in a glass bowl, cover them with cooking salt over night. The next day clean the salt away with a cloth, place them on a baking sheet and bake for about an hour at 248°-230°F. until crinkled and dried. Cool down, add a few garlic cloves finely sliced, orange or tangerine peel finely sliced and a hand full of fennel seeds. Mix well, fill a glass jar with the baked olives and after 4-5 days of marinating in the spices the olives are ready to eat.

White Olives In Olive Oil
The large and fleshy green olives are also called white olives due to the bright color they pick up if they have been curing, but no need to cure them for this flavoring method. Take the pit out, wash under current water and leave them in a clean water for a couple of days. Change water every so often until the bitter taste is gone. Dry them with a cloth. Place the olives in a glass jars, add salt, oregano, chili pepper to your liking and cover with extra-virgin olive oil, cap the jar tight. After a couple of months they are ready to eat.

Black Olives Under Salt
Use freshly picked black olives, clean them with a cloth. Place all the olives in a large glass bowl, add a good amount of coarse salt to coat well, orange peels without the white flesh, wild fennel fronds and a few garlic cloves mashed up.  Keep them like that for about three days, but turn them over every so often. The olives will exude some water, drain it a couple of times a day, otherwise if the olives rest in that water, will not lose the bitter taste. After three days and after the water doesn’t come out anymore, place olives in a cloth and dry well. Eliminate orange peels, fennel fronds and garlic. Put the olives in a glass jars, fill with extra-virgin olive oil and close tight with a lid. They are ready to eat after one week and will keep for three months.

Time to harvest olives goes from late August to November, there is plenty time to cure or flavor them, or both and enjoy all that bounty for the holidays with aperitif and appetizers.
Tonight on my table there will be celery stalks filled with creamy Gorgonzola cheese, charred green peppers, red wine, a small piece of focaccia and an abundance of olives.

I shall be here to answer any questions you might have. 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 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 a published  author of two Italian regional cuisine books, available here on the Books Page and
©Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity
©Sins Of A Queen
Amazon: http://goo.gl/xUZfk0
Barnes&Nobles: http://goo.gl/q7dQ3w



What Else Can We Grill? | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

Summer is so perfect for grilling and outdoor BBQ. Nature is so abundant this time of the year. Besides grilling vegetables, I have experimented with many food combinations mixing savory and sweet, fruit and cheese, meat, and fruit and I must say all the combinations I have tried so far are delicious. I want you to try them too, share your thoughts and your taste with me.

Wikimedia-Author Keith Weller

 

Grilled Pears – Use either a European Forelle pear, sweet, small, elongated, and green with some red spot or the American Bartlett, round, yellow and sweet.
Slice the pears, season with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Grill until there are some nice grill marks.
Slice a French baguette, place a smooth, creamy blue cheese, gorgonzola, or brie on each bread slice and then place a slice of grilled pear on top.
Arrange them in a baking sheet. Place under the broiler in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese is melted.

 

Grilled Peaches – Preheat the grill to medium heat and brush the grates with oil.
Wash the peaches, then cut them in half. With a spoon remove the pit from each peach.
Brush the cut side of the peaches with olive oil. Place the peaches on the grill cut side down.
Grill for 3-5 minutes or until the peaches start to soften and show nice grill marks. Serve each peach with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of honey.

©RoastedChickenPineapple
(Above original drawing by Valentina Cirasola in the book: ©Sins Of A Queen-Italian Appetizers and Desserts)

Grilled Pineapple with Chicken – Prepare the marinade for the chicken first.
Jalapeño peppers, cilantro or parsley, 3 or 4 garlic cloves, juice of ½ lemon, 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt to your taste.
Transfer the marinade to a bowl, place the chicken pieces in and let them marinate for about 30 minutes.
Then either grill the chicken or bake it at 400° F. until golden brown.
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the pineapple.
Peel the outer shell of a pineapple. Cut a pineapple in four halves and then slice it thick. Brush olive oil, season with salt & pepper.
Grill until nice grill marks have formed.
Mix chicken and pineapple together and serve with a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.

Find some of these recipes and more in my books ©Sins Of A Queen-Italian Appetizers and Desserts.

Enjoy your outdoor cooking, think healthy, save money by cooking vegetables and fruit from your vegetable patch, be in the sun at least one hour a day to absorb its beneficial vitamin D, relax with a glass of red wine and never eat alone. 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. 

She is a published author of two regional Italian cuisine books available on Amazon and Barnes&Noble

 

 

 

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