Wednesday, August 17, 2016


I bought this 4 lb. Corn-fed Chicken for €5. (that's about  $5.60). I have never had a corn-fed chicken. Notice how yellow the skin is!
This bird had very little fat so I decided to make a mixed herb, garlic and olive oil paste to rub under and on the skin, But first wash your bird thoroughly inside and out under cold running water. Use your index finger to scrape along either side of the spine to remove nasty dried blood, etc. Dry the bird inside and out. Next, fold the wing tips under the bird (so ends don't burn). Place bird on a rack or in my case, no rack, so I used 3 carrots to elevate the bird.
Liberally salt and pepper inside and out. For the herbs I used fresh parsley, chives, thyme and a little tarragon, 2 cloves peeled garlic, salt, and about 1 cup olive oil. Parsley was the predominant herb, but use any combo you have on hand. The amount of oil will depend on the amount of herbs you use. Put everything in a blender and blend until smooth. Consistency should be similar to a basil pesto you'd buy in the store. Make more paste than you need; nice to have this readily available in the fridge.
To rub the paste under the skin insert your finger between the skin and flesh at the top of the breast and gently lift and separate the skin from the carcass. Spoon in about 1/2 cup paste to each side. Spread the paste by rubbing the skin gently to get evenly spread under the skin.
Spread a little on the outside of the bird, as well. Insert a bouquet garni (in French literally means garnished bouquet); a small bundle of herbs usually tied with kitchen twine. I tied mine with chives. Truss the legs with kitchen string.

Peel and roughly chop a large onion and 2 cloves garlic. Place in the pan around the chicken. Add salt, pepper and a light drizzle of olive oil.
Because this chicken had so little fat I placed 6 Tbsp. of lovely Irish salted butter on the top of the bird. (Any butter is fine.)
Preheat oven to 400. Roast chicken for 10 minutes, then rotate the roasting pan. If your oven cooks evenly, no need to do this. Turn down heat to 325 and roast for another hour or until legs move easily. Or, to be more precise, until a meat thermometer reads 165 F.
This chicken was moist, delicious and very herby. We didn't notice any difference in flavor or texture due to its corn-fed upbringing, but it sure was good!

One reason I love chicken....


The next night I cut all the chicken off the bone to make an old fashioned, comfort dish...

At home I would make this dish with a thawed puff pastry that you buy in the frozen section of your grocery store. You can also top with flaky biscuit dough. I could not find puff pastry in Spiddal, Ireland so made a rich, very simple pastry crust. I didn't have enough butter in the house; it was pouring with a raging gale and I didn't want to walk to the village, but I did have some beautiful chicken fat (thanks to our bird who keeps on giving!), which made the crust super rich. I used a combo of butter and chicken fat.
Ingredients for Pastry Crust:
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. Salt
3 Tbsp. Chicken fat
2 Tbsp. Butter
2-3 Tbsp. Ice water

Mix flour and salt. Cut in fat/butter (use either a pastry cutter; two knives; or I prefer to use my fingers) until the consistency resembles coarse meal. Add as little ice water as possible; just enough so dough holds together. At this point wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least a half hour. I was already late getting dinner so I rolled right away without a problem. This recipe made enough for 3 large (or 4 small) individual pies. It would work well for one large pie.


3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 tsp. Fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 tsp. Fresh Tarragon, chopped
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup Bechamel or other white sauce  (I made Bechamel the day before for an eggplant souffle so already had it in the fridge.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Saute the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, salt and pepper in olive oil over medium heat until just tender. Add the frozen peas, herbs and white sauce.

To make white sauce melt 4 Tbsp. butter in pan, add 4 Tbsp. flour and cook stirring until smooth (this is called a roux); about 5 minutes. Slowly stir in 2 cups milk or chicken stock and cook, stirring constantly for another 15 minutes. Season with salt/pepper.

Bring the veg mixture to a gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Divide filling between 3-4 bowls; top with pastry. Crimp edges and cut away excess (I made a couple fruit empanadas with left-over pastry.). Cut slots in the pastry to allow steam to escape while they bake.
Bake for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.



Place all the chicken bones, gel and pan drippings from the roast chicken into a large pot. Add enough water to cover the bones. Add 2 chopped carrots,  1 stalk roughly chopped celery, 1 small onion, 1 clove garlic,  Bay leaf, salt/pepper. Bring to a vigorous boil; reduce heat so stock is gently bubbling. Cook for at least 3 hours. Let cool and strain. A 4 pound chicken will give you about 1 qt. of stock. This lasts well for a week in the refrigerator or freeze for future use. I made a Cream of Butternut Squash Soup, garnished with pan roasted pears and fresh sheep's milk yogurt, hint of cinnamon and curry.




This is the view from San Giovanni d'Asso, Toscano.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Tuscan cooking is simple, straightforward and generally involves just a few ingredients: pasta (or bread), olive oil, salt, and herbs...and then there is meat.
Yours truly enjoying a beautiful glass of Brunello.
When my husband and I first arrived in Tuscany a week ago,  I started keeping a wine journal, but quickly abandoned that project and decided to simply enjoy what I was drinking. I am not a wine expert by any means and my descriptions sounded pretentious (hint of leather, subtle tones of cinnamon,  bright berry finish, slightly citrus...) and a little silly. So far I have not had a wine I haven't liked.

Some better than others (like the Brunello di Montalcino, Poggio Castagno that I'm having in above photo; or any other Brunello!), and truly have loved experimenting, sampling and discovering and enjoying each one for their uniqueness.
Montalcino has grand views and is an extremely pleasant small town. It's home of the prized Brunello wine, but the Montalcino Rosso offers a good alternative at a lesser price.

I ordered the Montalcino Rosso while we were in Moltalcino to go with my Chianina Beef Carpacchio. More on that in a minute,  but first the vino.
Our waiter quickly brought my selection of Rosso, but also suggested I try the Brunello to compare.  He graciously offered to bring me a glass 'on the house' (of course all of this is in Italian, very little of which I understood, but I kept smiling and saying 'grazie') so I could do my own "tasting". He obviously wanted to educate me in a very nice way.

The Brunello won hands down! But the Rosso is still very delicious.

Here's my thinly sliced, perfectly chilled raw Chianina Beef topped with parmesan, fennel, cherry tomatoes, and a light drizzle of olive oil. I added chunky sea salt and black pepper. I did not use the lemon, although a little lemon zest might be nice on the raw beef.
As with the wine, I decided early on to just enjoy the food; not a lot of fancy description or note-taking. After all I am on vacation!

Although I love to cook I am not really, in the traditional sense, a food expert or chef. I am not classically or technically trained, but I do both cook and eat a lot, so maybe I am qualified! I haven't enjoyed food more on any trip than I have in Tuscany; especially the small villages we have visited, and I have also loved cooking in our little villa. Here's my Tuscan cucina:

And here's the view from my kitchen window:

The first night we arrived in Italy we stayed in Florence (not a small village ;-@!) and on our first night out to dinner I had to try this special Italian beef I had heard about. I had it Carpacchio style-one of my favorites. The raw beef was served on a huge bed of Rucola (Rocket salad--also one of my favorite bitter greens that you don't see that often in the U. S.). The salad was dressed simply with olive oil, salt and pepper. The Chianina was topped with large very thin slices of pecorino cheese, salt and pepper. I had this with a half bottle of Rosso Montalcino. Great introduction to this very special beef and very special vino...and great first night in Italy!

I first learned about Chianina beef from my friend, rancher Duncan Blair (, who is a passionate producer of organic, humanely raised grass-fed beef; just like these critters. There are no feed lots in Italy! This is considered to be the finest beef. They call it, "The Queen of Beef". These cattle have a long and interesting history dating back to Estruscan times 3000 years ago. The meat is extremely tender, succulent and almost sweet. The cooked version, Bistecca Fiorentino, is very lightly grilled, always served rare, and has a taste and texture unmatched to any beef I've ever eaten.
I know this does not look that pretty, but you have to believe me that pork belly fat melting over a perfectly grilled steak was heaven.
I know most (normal) people would not have ordered their Chianina steak topped with pork fat, but when I saw that on the menu I couldn't say NO (other choices included rosemary or mushroom; I chose the fat.). This is Chianina beef, but because there is no bone-in and it is not 3 inches thick, it is not Bistecca Fiorentino. It' called Tagliatta Steak. The big meat was on the menu, but only at the 4 pound size for 40€, which is not a bad price, but what was I going to do with all that meat? We had just grocery shopped in the morning so I had the next couple nights dinners planned. I went for the boneless Chianina, which was not a disappointment. 

I had this with a Capresse salad, which was also spectacular.
I've always said, good ingredients mean good food. The mozzerella was made right in the restaurant, tomatoes and basil picked just before serving; does not get much fresher. By the end of my salad, because we were having a beautifully warm summer day, the mozzarella had started to melt makinģ it even more flavorful and delicious.
With this feast I had a Cardinali Rosso D'Orcia, which was the wine from the family-owned vineyard of the restaurant we were eating at in San Quirico D'Orcia. All the food was sourced from their farm, as well.
And to conclude the feast, I had a beautiful taste of grappa.

This meal could not have been better! On to another favorite Italian meat...

Pork and wild boar play a greater role in Tuscan cooking than I realized.
We found this meat shop in Pienza. That's one large piece of pork!
Wild boar-Cinghaile, is a combination of the region's native pig-Sus Scrofa, and the wild boar introduced from Eastern Europe. "It is renowned for its quality of meat, strength, and voracity."--quote from the tourist board website. I love it!...especially the 'voracity' part!
This man was very pleased to tell us he shot the boar hanging above him.
Wild boars apparently do not have any predators in this region, except humans. According to the tourist board website: ( "In Tuscany, wild boar hunting is both a tradition and a passion." The site states that wild boar population today is around 150,000!

I ordered Cinghaile al Tegame at a little restaurant in Montepulciano. With it I had a glass of Valdichiana Bianco and a tomato and lettuce salad. Since tegame means "pan fried" or "pan-ful" I am guessing this boar was browned in a pan and then braised, as it was tender and luscious; sauce was rich and herbaceous.

Here are two more pork dishes I want to share with you...

FICCO DI MAILE ALLE ERBE AROMATICHE; literally  translated means Bow Pig with aromatic herbs. I tried, but could not discover what bow (ficco) pork (maile) is, but the pork was beautifully cooked--very moist, tender, and flavorful. It was thinly sliced, doused with a fragrant olive oil and served with a mixture of finely ground herbs made into a pesto (paste) and topped with fresh sage and rosemary, whole peppercorns and black flaked sea salt--one of the best dishes I have had yet!
The herbs were growing all around the restaurant. This was the case at many of the restaurants we ate at and just before serving, the chef would pop out and cut the herbs used for garnish.
With my Bow Pork I had a delightfully refreshing rose.

The other night at the restaurant right beside our villa in Castiglione D'Orcia, I tried Pork Neck.
La Cisterna nel Borgo-The cistern in the village.
Each medieval village we visited had a huge cistern or well in its center with several other smaller wells throughout the town.
Here's the main well in our village.
I have forgotten the name of this dish in Italian, but asked Chef Marta next day how she cooked it. The Pork Neck was marinated in wine with lots of paprika and fennel. She then grilled it and topped with more paprika.  Very flavorful!

My contorni (side dish) was braised cabbage with raisins and pecans. All cooked to perfection and delicious. I chose a luscious Carpineto Chianti Classico to go with that Pork Neck.

I will conclude today's Food and Wine story with some miscellaneous shots of both. Let me say, a day has not gone by that I have not eaten pasta, at least once. Several times that included cooking and eating it at "home". The pasta is all fresh and homemade. Yesterday I made my own pasta in a cooking class my husband and I had with Chef Marta from the restaurant next door.
She is a fabulous cook and warm and wonderful person. I will do a blog on our class soon. One more in a series of dreams coming true in Tuscany!




Panna Cotta with Olives and Reduced Red Wine At Trattoria Il Cassero di Claudio e Maria in Castiglione D'Orcia. 
Ice cold tomato soup with Buffalo Burata at Il Dopolavoro La Foce. Kind of like gazpacho, but better!
Another beautiful Brunello di Montalcino enjoyed in my own backyard.
Rabbitt Terrine-rabbit stuffed with rabbit pate at Osteria Estrusca in Chuisi.
Almond Biscotti and Sweet Wine at the same restaurant in Chuisi. 
Cheese shop in Pienza--home of Pecorino. 
Strawberry Cheesecake in Assisi.