Soul Food Recipe Exchange Vol. 1

Having grown up in a multi-cultural city like Miami, my “love affair” with soul food initiated at a young age. But it wouldn’t become solidified until I moved to Denton, Texas where I attend the University of North Texas to work on my bachelor’s degree in music. It was there that I was exposed to soul food of another dimension and it became an instant source of comfort food.

And so when Enrica asked me to put some recipes together for her next blog post featuring recipes from foreigners in Italy, I thought that soul food cuisine would be the perfect match. Soul food is nowhere to be found here in Turin; that is, unless you happen to be a guest in our home! After Enrica and I finished our cooking set, some friends were invited over to partake in my culinary adventure. Soul food can tend to be a bit on the heavy side for those not used to it but Piedmont’s cuisine is also quite heavy in comparison with other regions in Italy.

The first stop on my soul food voyage brought me to buttermilk-fried chicken. There are lots of traditional recipes out there, but this one (http://norecipes.com/blog/best-buttermilk-fried-chicken-recipe/) appealed to me the most. One needs to plan ahead when preparing this dish.

Tips:

  • If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, not to worry. For every cup of buttermilk needed, measure one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and place into a measuring cup. Add enough milk to equal one cup and let sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. When the milk has curdled, it’s ready to use for the marinade.
  • The chicken should be marinated in a non-reactive container, such as glass, overnight.
  • I adapted the recipe to suit my taste and because some ingredients simply aren’t available here. Meaning, I didn’t use any celery seed or onion powder and used fresh rosemary rather than dried.
  • For frying, I used an iron-skillet (cast-iron is difficult to find here in Turin) because it evenly maintains heat. For those who haven’t worked with an iron-skillet before, here’s a word of caution: the handle also conducts heat very well so resist the temptation to touch it with your bare hands.
  • To fry the chicken, I used a mixture of peanut and grape seed oils and brought the temperature up to 350°F before placing the chicken in the skillet, skin side down.
  • Cook the chicken until done and one can finish the cooking process in the oven if the pieces are on the thick side.
  • To serve the chicken, add a drizzle of honey on top!

If you are interested in brushing up on your Italian, here is Enrica’s Italian version. All photos are courtesy of Enrica Crivello.

The marinade

Prepping the Flour

Prepping the flour

Double-coated and resting...

Into the iron skillet they go...

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Posted in An American in Turin, Rachel a Torino, Rachel in Turin, Rachel Steckler, Recipe Exchange | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

A Day Trip to Florence

The last time I was in Florence was almost two years ago. I went there, only for the day, to assist as a translator for my dear friend Yolanda who wanted to meet her Italian-side of the family for the very first time. Since it was such a short trip, I always knew that someday I would visit the beautiful Tuscan city again; to bask in its architecture, cuisine and history.

And so, a few days before Valentine’s Day, Denis surprised me with a fabulous idea: a day trip to Florence! Tren Italia was offering  a special: 2 tickets for the price of 1 on their high speed train.  This meant it would only take three hours to arrive in Florence from Turin. How could we possibly pass this up?

It was a gloriously crisp, winter day in Florence and unlike Turin, snow was nowhere to be found! Our first stop was The Duomo  and then it was Uffizi, which is one of the most famous museums in all of Italy. While we walked along the outer corridor of the museum Denis posed to take a picture with Niccolò Macchiavelli and I took one with Amerigo Vespucci, whom the Americas were named after.

At Uffizi with Amerigo Vespucci

One can walk practically all of Florence and so by this time we were ready for lunch. When Denis asked me to pick a place for lunch I knew right away where I wanted to go. Years ago, a former neighbor/chef  recommended Sasso di Dante. It’s a small restaurant so making a reservation is a must. Sasso means stone in Italian and it lies just next to The Duomo in the Piazza delle Pallottole. It is said that the great poet Dante used to go there to relax and watch the construction of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or the Cathedral of Saint Mary’s Flower.

Sasso di Dante is the perfect non-touristy restaurant in Florence and then some! The food is outstanding, seasonal in typical Florentine fare and the price is exceptional for the value. I ordered their tagliata di maiale di cinta senese con cavolo nero e mela. Cinta senese is a special breed of pork that comes from Siena in the southern part of Tuscany. This particular type of meat makes for some good eats. The pork was cooked to perfection: crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside. It came with due contorni or two sides; sauteed kale and apples.

Tagliata di maiale di Cinta Senese

Denis ordered the maltagliati alla chiantigiana. Maltagliati (mal-tahl-YAH-ti) in Italian refers to the shape of the pasta, almost like a free- form pasta which consists of thick strands that are cut in a random fashion. Braised slices of beef were cooked in a delectable red wine (chianti) sauce and the combination was simply devine!

Maltagliati alla Chiantigiana

Sasso di Dante, Piazza della Pallottole, 6r,             telephone: 055 282133

Posted in An American in Turin, Italia, Rachel Steckler, Restaurants in Tuscany | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

An Inside Look at Cascina Fontanacervo

An Inside Look at Cascina Fontanacervo.

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An Inside Look at Cascina Fontanacervo

When I first met Enrica from Cervelli fuori little did I know that I would be meeting a young woman whose family has been raising dairy cows since the 1600s in Italy. Her family owns and operates Cascina Fontanacervo, a high-quality, small dairy just a 30 minute drive outside of Turin in the town of Villastellone. Having recently co-authored a dairy article for the International Women’s Club of Torino, I thought why not see if it would be possible to interview Enrica’s father and get right down to the source. He graciously invited me to come visit the farm and in the process, I met some of the most gentlest and curious of dairy cows.

Jersey calf from Fontanacervo. Photo courtesy of Enrica Crivello

Friesian cattle at Fontanacervo, courtesy of Enrica Crivello

Fontanacervo has two breeds of cattle: Jersey which originate from Normandy, France and Friesian which originate from Denmark. The combination of these produce a rich and high-quality milk. I was immediately taken with amount of curiosity the cows demonstrated, even by the youngest of them. Enrica’s father explained to us that one can see a part of the well-being of a cow by looking into its eyes. They seemed very contented and were quite social with us. In fact, one of them (number 863 to be exact!) seemed particularly interested in Denis. She kept nudging him with her nose.

One can see the amount of care that is given to these wonderful animals to insure a tranquil life style. Any sudden or fast movements can scare the animals and for this reason the farm dogs aren’t allowed anywhere near the stalls.

Some breeds are highly susceptible to warm weather and fare better in colder climates. In January, their winter coats are nice and thick, whereas during the summer months their coats will become more compact and shiny. The cows are milked in a separate area to maintain quality control and are well-rested in between milkings; this is one of the many differences between industrial dairies and small dairy producers.

Fontanacervo not only produces artisan milk but also butter, a variety of cheeses, fresh cream, desserts and yogurt without any additives, artificial coloring or preservatives. I am a huge fan of all of their products including the gianduja cream, (made from chocolate, Piedmont hazelnuts and local honey) ricotta, (so delicately light and sweet) and the stracchino which is a semi-soft cheese made from whole cow milk.

So where can you find these quality products in Turin? Their products are sold at Eataly, M**Bun, (menu features Fontanacervo products; then you can pick up a liter of milk after your meal) and in various dairy shops around town. Or, you can buy them directly from their farm shop open Monday through Saturday, 3:30 pm to 7:30 pm.

Cascina Fontanacervo

Via Poirino 7, Villastellone (TO).

Telephone: 011 9619295

Email: info@fontanacervo.it

Courtesy of Enrica Crivello

Villastellone with Monviso in the distance…

Posted in An American in Turin, Piedmont, Rachel a Torino, Rachel in Turin | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Comfort Food Recipe Exchange

When I was contacted by Enrica of the blog Cervelli Fuori to contribute a recipe to their column, from the point of view of a foreigner living in Turin, I was immediately taken with the idea. Most Italians are not aware that there are recipes from the United States that all filled with soul and taste. So, I wanted to choose a recipe that immediately makes me think of Miami: banana bread. When I was a kid, we had a section of our backyard specially dedicated to banana trees. Now that I am pregnant, this puts another twist on things. I crave so many dishes and ingredients from home that I can’t find here in Turin. What am I talking about? Pure and simple, comfort food.

But before I divulge the recipe, I want to share the fact that when Enrica arrived at our place, we had a carton of milk on the table from Cascina Fontanacervo, a small dairy producer in Villastellone. Denis, my husband, had turned me on to the milk during one of our market trips to Eataly many months ago. Enrica immediately took notice and informed us that her family produces this very same milk! I was amazed and kindly asked if it would be possible to visit their dairy. A week later, we graciously accepted the opportunity to visit their farm for a chat and to meet the most curious and gentlest of dairy cows. The article will follow shortly.

Thank you to Enrica for giving me the opportunity to share one of my favorite recipes that has a personal twist.

If you would like to read Enrica’s post regarding my recipe, in Italian,  or if you are an expat in Turin and would like to participate in Enrica’s column please click here:  Cervelli fuori.

My suggestion is to take the time to roast the bananas in their skins. The roasting process heightens their flavor.

BANANA BREAD

Ingredients:

2 cups A/P flour, preferably unbleached

1 ½ teaspoon Baking soda

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

1 cup Raw cane sugar

4 Overripe bananas, roasted and cooled

¾ cup Unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 Large eggs

1 Vanilla bean, seeded

1 teaspoon Fresh espresso, cooled or coffee liquor

½ cup Pecans, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Cocoa powder

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C and line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine and whisk flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Remove banana pulp from their stalks and place in a medium-size bowl. Blend together with a whisk and then add sugar. Whisk until mixture becomes light and creamy-like. Add the melted butter, eggs, vanilla bean seeds and espresso. Whisk well and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gently fold in the dry ingredients. Place the chopped pecans in a small bowl and add the cocoa powder. Stir to evenly distribute the cocoa powder over the pecans and then fold them into the banana bread mixture. Pour the batter into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Smooth the surface and then rap against the counter to remove any air bubbles.

Bake for about an hour or until just done. To ensure even browning, rotate the pan halfway through baking. When finished baking, remove the bread from the oven and cool for approximately 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Hint: left-over banana bread makes a wonderful base for French toast!

Photo courtesy of Enrica Crivello

Photo courtesy of Enrica Crivello

Posted in An American in Turin, Rachel a Torino, Rachel in Turin, Rachel Steckler, Recipe Exchange | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Comfort Food in Turin

These days, I miss more and more the food I was raised on. There are many dishes and desserts that come to mind, but I think it’s more about food memory: remembering what it was like to be in the kitchen while my mom and/or grandmother were cooking for the family.

With that said, I’ve been on a hunt for comfort food in Turin and I think I’ve found it: pizza al padellino! This particular kind of pizza made its way to Turin some years ago all the way from Tuscany. Padella (pah-DELL-ah) in Italian means baking pan and padellino means little baking pan. What makes this pizza different is that it is like what we would refer to in the States as a “personal pizza,” because it’s just the right portion for one person. It’s baked in a round baking pan which allows for the edges and the bottom of the pizza to become ever-so nice and crispy.

Pizza al padellino con cipolla at Pizzeria RIO

Another favorite comfort food of mine is farinata, (fah-ree-NAH-tah). Farinata originates from Liguria, the region just to the south of Piedmont and is made with chickpea flour, olive oil, water and salt. It’s basically a flat bread and is naturally gluten free. The trick to making farinata is to use a copper pan and it must be baked at a very high temperature. Farinata is served with freshly ground black pepper. For my taste, farinata must have a crispy crust on top and around the edges and you can find one like this at Pizzeria RIO.

Almost gone farinata from Pizzeria RIO

So, where can you go to try some of the best pizza al padellino in Turin? Truth is I have five recommendations.

Pizzeria RIO,Via G. Dina 28, telephone: 011 3175331. This is an old-style family restaurant that has been around Turin since 1954!! They only serve pizza al padellino and la farinata.

Pizzeria RIO

Pizzeria da Michi, Via San Donato 38, telephone: 011 4732408. This is a family style full-service restaurant.

Charile “Bird,” Via Gioberti 1, in the San Secondo area of Turin. Cozy environment filled with jazz photo memorabilia and wonderful jazz music, sometimes live! This is a full-service restaurant and bar.

Il Padellino, Corso Vinzaglio 21, telephone: 011 533730. A full-service restaurant that is very trendy!

Pizzeria da Gino, Via Monginevro 46/bis, telephone: 011/3854335. Thanks to Linda for this recommendation!

Posted in An American in Turin, Restaurants in Piedmont, Restaurants in Torino, Restaurants in Turin, Torino | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Giving Thanks…

I come from a family of immigrants.  My mother and her parents were Polish prisoners of war in Manila, the Philippines for 3 years during WWII. After the Americans rescued them, my Grandpa Jack decided that the USA would become his new home for he and my grandmother had lost practically all of their family in Poland. Months after they recovered their health, the three of them boarded a boat in Manila bound for Galveston, Texas. They sought to become naturalized American citizens and 9 years later, their wish was granted in 1955.

Lublin, Poland 1934: My Great Grandmother Bajla, Grandpa Jack and Grandma Paula

My Mom and her father, my Grandpa Jack, Manila, the Philippines 1945, 8 months after liberation

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Lublin, Poland with cousin Piotr

 

When I first moved to Italy, I came here on a leap of faith. I didn’t have a job offer. I only knew that I wanted to learn the Italian language and its culture. I’ve done all of the immigration work myself, without a lawyer. The immigration process here is complicated to say the least. If you come from a non-European country you are referred to as an expat or expatriate. When I first heard this word, I became a little offended, as if I was considered by other Italians to have abandoned my country. But it’s also important to remember that Italy has been in a state of crisis for many years. To make a long story short, in my humble opinion, it takes more than the euro currency to unite all of the countries in the European Union.

Being a foreigner and not having graduated from an Italian university has made it that much harder to find work here. I have friends from all sorts of backgrounds and those that have graduated from an Italian university fair far better than those who haven’t, at least this has been my experience in Turin.

On another note, there aren’t too many Americans living in Turin in comparison with Rome or Milan. And when I meet other Italians and they discover that I used to live in Miami they are in complete shock! Why would someone pick Turin over Miami? Many Italians love Miami. But Turin is a beautiful city. It’s beautiful to me in ways that Miami could never be and vice versa.

Turin has served as a base for me in terms of family research. Christmas 2009 was spent in Lublin, Poland the birthplace of my maternal grandparents. I met my mom’s cousins Elizabeth and Andrew and their families. I had a wonderful time and shared many tears of joy with them. We are a family of survivors.

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Kutia…Polish Christmas Dessert

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Lublin, Poland with my mom’s cousin Elizabeth.

 

The day after Christmas dinner with Ania, cousin Piotr’s wife, cousin Ania and cousin Andrew 2009, Lublin, Poland.

 

And so I am very curious as to see what the future will be with Italy’s new Prime Minister Mario Monti. Truth be told I am VERY happy that Berlusconi is gone. Having Berlusconi as prime minister was a complete conflict of interest. To make a

comparison, imagine Rupert Murdock being the primer minister of England! Enough said?

Having a techno government has made it possible for Italy’s President Napolitano to present the argument why the children of immigrants born in Italy are not considered to be Italian.  This is the first time I have even heard the concept mentioned. I hope it is a sign that the new government is seriously considering how Italy can begin a new growth phase and release the tensions of fear that are ever-so-present.

Posted in An American in Turin, Family History, Rachel a Torino, Rachel in Turin, Rachel Steckler | Tagged , | 3 Comments