Despite how many poets, philosophers, writers, songsters, fortunetellers and dramatists have tried, no one has been able to define love. Everyone knows when it happens to them. Sometimes one falls in love with another person. Sometimes a pet or a place. For me it was Italy. I was lost the minute we crossed the border from Austria forty odd years ago. I have been delighted to stay lost in that incredible place, its history, art, food, music and way of looking at and indulging in life itself.
The Slow Food Movement is an Italian born organization built in the late 1980s on a public outcry against the opening of a McDonald’s at the foot of Rome’s Spanish Steps. Slow Food’s mission Is to reawaken the world to the value and pleasure of local food, locally prepared, and eaten with satisfaction, preferably at a table of family and friends. At least a decade earlier, America’s own Alice Waters began in California with small community gardens and using frequently simple preparations, developed a world-class cuisine. Those efforts and others spawned many more. More importantly they created a better awareness of food, taste and pleasure. As one saying has it, “A good idea has many fathers.”
I have been sufficiently fortunate to wander the Italian peninsula many times, un-disappointed. As I sat recently enjoying lunch in a Bologna piazza, I wondered why everything in Italy tastes so good. I think it may be because they don’t feel the need to do anything other than use fresh ingredients and handle them with a deceptively simple, light hand. A lifetime’s habit of discerning taste is more important than any recipe. A drizzle of honey on a ripe fig needs no other embellishment.
October is a wonderful time to visit Italy. The summer crowds are gone. Restaurants are literally having a field day. It is porcini, chestnut, pumpkin and truffle season. In Bologna, the farmers are still bringing their produce to the open-air markets in dozens of piazzas about every third day. Tortellini and ravioli are being stuffed with mashed pumpkin. Late blooming zucchini flowers are being stuffed with sweet fresh ricotta and lightly baked. Young artichokes are layered into lasagnas instead of meats. Everyone is trying to consume as much of the new harvest while it is possible.
You’ve probably seen in some of our recipes the term “good green olive oil”. Whatever the labels claim, I prefer the extra virgin (I would really love someone to explain this self-defeating term to me) that is green, the same color as the olives that made it. When the oil is green, you can still taste the fruit in it. Ever wonder why some bottlers put their oil in green glass bottles?
The lunch I mentioned earlier is one I can’t wait to try and reproduce when I get home. It was thick slices of pumpkin roasted in a bit of olive oil and sprigs of rosemary. Then it was served with a small ball of Burrata, an extra creamy mozzarella that makes a sack of itself to hold the creamiest part. Try it yourself and let us know your results.
Homer was early to declare his admiration of the pear in his poem, Alcinous’ Garden. Naturally, the Romans followed suit a couple of centuries later. The flower, fragrance and sweetness of pears had been prized in the east by the Chinese, who long cultivated the fruit to enhance its flavor and hardiness. Partridges notoriously prefer the pear tree to those of other fruits. The scent of a blooming pear orchard is so intoxicating that the bees must stagger in the air currents drunkenly seeking the source.
Human consumption of pears left its evidence in the prehistoric pile dwellings of Switzerland, identifying a distinctly European variety. The Asia varieties continued to expand with the care of natural botanists. As things happen, east met west in North America and a new pear was developed by a 17th C, Pennsylvania farmer named Seckel. This Seckel pear has thicker skin, is grey-green in color and quite small. It is also the sweetest of pears, deservedly called by some either the Sugar Pear or the Candy Pear. Winter hardy, it thrives in the northeast.
Oddly, pears ripen from the inside outward. When choosing a pear, one should test the flesh from the area surrounding the stem. If that part is tender, the pear is ripe. Due to the thickness of the Seckel pear’s skin, it can be stored for extended periods in a cool dry place. Nice to think of all that decadent sweetness once the land has tucked itself away for an annual winter nap.
We have previously published many recipes displaying the pear’s talents, including: Anise and Port Braised Pears, Pork Tenderloin with Pear Sauce, Cranberry Pear Tart and Grilled Peppered Pears. Today our offered recipe is Pears Roasted with Wine, Vanilla, Thyme and Mascarpone.
The Litchfield Hills have had their first tiny bit of frost here and there. The deck coleus is withered with the exception of those tucked into the warmest corner. The dahlias are still producing, though a 400-year-old maple has shed most of its leaves. The mounds of peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, summer squash, corn and shallots may be reduced, but they are still there tickling tasty thoughts of dinners yet to come. Autumn’s fruits and vegetables are beginning to appear, though we may enjoy another week or two of summer’s bounty.
Now bounty is a word with many tentacles of meaning and nuance. Of course it means a generous yield, usually Mother Earth’s. Surprisingly (to me) its first definition is goodness; kindness; virtue; worth; and that which is given liberally. On the other hand, a Lady Bountiful is a slightly derogatory term for a woman who gives charitably primarily to enhance her own image. Bounty is also the name of a ship that hosted an infamous mutiny; a ghost town in Saskatchewan; a group of South Pacific islands and a reward for the capture or death of a criminal. At its best it is a laden table surrounded by people we like - lucky us.
Before we start freezing or canning what we’ve got left in our baskets, let’s see what we can do to stretch out their use. What better way than to find a recipe that has the wizardry to concoct a delicious, wholesome dish from several vegetables in one swell swoop. Our website has many such recipes and ideas to offer including: Eggplant Involtini, Tomato Jam, Panzanella Salad, Pepperonata, Sausage Stuffed Tomatoes, Fettuccini with Butternut Squash, Roasted Green Bean and Tomato Pasta, Poppy Seeds and Pignoli Nuts, Creamy Mushroom Pasta and Pork and Mushroom Stuffed Peppers. Take a leisurely cruise around the website for other recipes and ideas. For today we are offering Eggplant Stuffed with Pancetta, Peppers, Tomatoes and Leeks.