Tag Archives: starters

Grilled Eggplant Rolls With Caper-Basil Cream

involtini di melanzane

involtini di melanzane

To make these grilled eggplant rolls, brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and grill until soft, not crisp. You could also fry them in olive oil if preferred. Transfer them to a paper-towel-covered plate and lightly dust with grated pecorino romano or ricotta salata. Soften a container of cream cheese and blend it well with a handful of roughly chopped salted capers (rinsed) and a small handful of chopped fresh basil. I used two varieties, purple and Greek. When the eggplant has cooled, spread a scoop of the cream on each round and roll them up. Serve with herbs and a bit more grated cheese if you like. These are very good at room temp or even chilled.

A Quest For Perfect Pumpkin Soup

the happy ending

Maybe quest is a slightly romanticized word for what I’ve been doing over the past month—trying to create the perfect pumpkin soup. No matter. A happy outcome is all, achieved today with the discovery of a recipe courtesy of Life’s a Feast . I think what really sets this version of pumpkin soup apart is the addition of paprika and ground nutmeg, and the pinch of brown sugar. Note: I did not make the bread sticks but instead tossed in a handful of croutons. Bread sticks are a better accompaniment, to be sure, so you should make them.

The talent behind Life’s a Feast is Jamie Schler, a France-based American freelance food writer who explores the aspects of food that so intrigue me: traditions, heritage, stories, and so on. Her second blog, Plated Stories, is as gorgeous and gratifying a food blog as one could hope for and (be warned) is a bit addicting. Jamie also writes for Huffington Post. Definitely check out her well-worth-your-time articles. And make this pumpkin soup. Seriously.

Frittelle di Alghe: Nonna Luisa’s Seaweed Fritters

seaweed for breakfast. why not?

seaweed for breakfast. why not?

I tasted seaweed fritters on the first morning I woke on the island of Ponza, at the sweet and cozy Piccolo Hotel Luisa.  I almost missed them entirely. Tucked away on a corner shelf of the terrace where breakfast was served, the fritters caught my eye only as I angled for a photo of the colorful Ponza houses below. At first I thought they must be sweet fritters, but their aroma promised otherwise.  I could not identify the flavor, only that it was subtle, delicate, slightly salty, herby. When hotel founder Signora Luisa Mazzella, the 88-year-old spry and amiable woman known to all as ‘Nonna Luisa, The Rock of Ponza,’ arrived, I decided to ask about them. She was more than happy to oblige my curiosity.

Life on an island can be tough. What we tourists often fail to notice, dazzled as we are by the beauty of places like Ponza, are the challenges and demands island life entails. Resources are limited, and scrupulously managed—fresh water in particular, but also items like poultry and game, corn and wheat, and certain fruits and vegetables can be difficult to obtain on an island. Nonna Luisa explained that seaweed came to be used in the island’s cuisine given its abundance, nutritional qualities, and flavor.  Seaweed can be used fresh or dried (like an herb), and to find it on Ponza one need only head down to the port when fishermen are returning with their catch; or, it can be purchased weighed and packaged at the fish counter. These fritters reflect an astute exploitation of a readily available resource, a common theme of island life.  


This recipe is for a very large batch of fritters. You can reduce this recipe’s ingredients by a third, or enclose any unused dough securely in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for a couple days.

300 grams (about 10.5 ounces) cooked white rice, cooled
300 grams fresh seaweed
3 eggs
zest of 1 lemon
1 kilogram of flour (about 7 cups)
1 tsp salt


Rinse the seaweed and cut into small pieces. Combine the rice, egg, seaweed, and lemon zest and mix well. In a separate bowl mix the flour and salt, then incorporate the dry ingredients into the rice and seaweed mixture until a uniform dough forms. Add water as needed. Shape the dough into balls about the size of a walnut and fry them in good oil until golden and crispy. Transfer to a paper-covered platter and dust with a little salt and pepper while still hot (test the saltiness first).

Nonna Luisa of Ponza

Nonna Luisa of Ponza

Fresh Fig & Blue Cheese Crostini

sweet figs & savory blue

sweet figs & savory blue

Today I was reading about pairing herbs and fruits, which turned into the inspiration for today’s lunch.

Let the cheese warm to room temp. If it’s a very hard and crumbly blue, cream it together with some mascarpone or crème fraîche until it’s spreadable but still a bit chunky. Slice the figs delicately. Grill the bread, spread the blue cheese mixture over each and top with the fruit and fresh thyme.

Zucchini Butter Crostini with Flowers

better than butter. almost.

crunchy, savory, buttery, cheesy crostini

I came across this recipe for zucchini butter today courtesy of Jennie Cook’s column ‘Weeknights with Jenny’ at Food52, a class act food and recipe resource you should definitely know if you don’t already. I modified Cook’s recipe only slightly (and halved it), then served it on grilled bread with a sprinkle of grated parmigiano and zucchini flowers. Viva l’estate!

Ingredients for 4 crostini

4 slices of Tuscan or other firm bread
3 or 4 medium-large zucchini (about 1 pound)
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 zucchini flowers
salt & pepper


Grate the zucchini using the large holes of the grater and place in a colander. Dust with salt and toss to cover all the zucchini and let rest over a bowl for 15 minutes, squeezing periodically with your hands to express the liquid. After 15 minutes wring out the final bit of liquid with a clean towel or paper towels.

Mince the garlic. Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the zucchini and combine well. Cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the veg becomes very soft and like ‘a nice vegetable jam’ (you are basically carmelizing the zucchini). Turn off the heat, correct for salt, grind in some black pepper, stir and let rest.

Grill the bread on a regular grill or in grill pan. Spread a scoop of the zucchini butter on each slice, and top with a fresh zucchini flower and a sprinkle of the cheese. Then transfer the crostini to a very hot oven on the grill setting for a few minutes to melt the cheese and crisp the flowers.

Cream of Tomato with Caprino & Herbs

aka crema di pomodoro

aka crema di pomodoro

Ingredients for 4 servings

(This recipe yields enough cream of tomato for 6 smallish ‘starter’ servings or 4 normal soup servings. It can be easily doubled.)

1 kilo of fresh tomatoes (a little less than 2 pounds)
125 mls heavy cream (about 1/2 cup)
2 or 3 garlic cloves
1 small fresh red chili pepper
fresh basil and chives
olive oil
salt & pepper
175 mls water (about 3/4 cup)
200 grams circa of caprino cheese (about 15-16 ounces)


Take the caprino from the fridge and let warm to room temp.

Score and boil the tomatoes for 5-6 minutes. Drain, cool, peel, and chop the tomato into pieces. Mince the garlic and chili together. Heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan. Cook the garlic and chili for a few minutes then add the chopped tomato pulp and the water. Cook for another five minutes on low heat. Turn off the heat, tear in a few leaves of basil, and salt well. Transfer all of the tomato mixture to a food processor and blend until a uniform liquid forms (about 30 seconds). Add the cream slowly with the blender on low. Test the saltiness again.

Serve the cream of tomato slightly warm, room temp, or even chilled, with a spoonful of caprino on each serving. Dust with fresh ground pepper and garnish with a basil leaf and chives.

Carciofi Ritti: ‘Upright’ Artichokes Stuffed with Pancetta

carciofi at attention

carciofi at attention

If you follow this blog at all regularly, you’ve probably noticed I have a little thing for artichokes. This recipe for carciofi ritti (‘upright’ artichokes, or ‘standing up’ artichokes) comes to us via the exquisite blog by Emiko Davies, who also contributes to Food52 as Regional Italian Food columnist. I will refer you directly to Emiko’s recipe for details and instructions on carciofi ritti, noting only the one deviation of mine: I made too much of the pancetta mixture, so after the artichokes were steamed, I re-stuffed them a bit more before serving. These make a delightful side dish, or, as Emiko points out, a lovely light meal accompanied by some good bread.

Caviar d’Aubergine


the poor man’s caviar

I discovered eggplant caviar in Provence, where it is commonly served as an hors d’oeuvre with crackers or bread. It is sometimes called poor man’s caviar, according to Peter Mayle, ‘because the aubergine seeds, when looked at with an uncritical eye, resemble the eggs of the virgin sturgeon.’


1 large eggplant
3 to 4 cloves of roasted garlic (my addition, optional)
juice of ½ a lemon
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tbls fresh chopped thyme (savory or parsley too, optional)
salt & pepper


You want a bed of glowing super-hot coals in your grill. It is absolutely vital that you prick the eggplant skin all over with a fork before placing it on the grill. Turn the eggplant every few minutes to cook evenly. The skin will soften, and eventually as it blackens the eggplant will start to collapse on itself. It is done when all the skin is blackened (and even blistered) and the veg is very soft and squishy.

At the same time, grill an entire head of garlic: slice off the top ¼ inch to expose the garlic cloves, drizzle with a little oil, sprinkle with salt, wrap in foil and grill until the garlic is very soft when pressed. Let cool.

When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut it open and scoop out the flesh into a strainer. Press out any liquid. Transfer the flesh to a chopping board or food processor along with the roasted garlic. You basically want a mash, so chop by hand or process as you see fit. Transfer to a bowl and add the lemon juice, herbs, oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend well and serve with sliced bread or crackers.

Baked Goat Cheese

chèvre & tomino

chèvre & tomino, breaded & baked

A recipe from David Lebovitz, who says ‘this isn’t a strict recipe, but a technique’ (win!). The basic idea is to marinate rounds of soft goat cheese, dredge them in seasoned, toasted breadcrumbs, and bake. Easy, tasty, elegant on the plate. Have look at Lebovitz’s recipe for specs. He’s always a great read, anyway. I added two rounds of tomino piemontese, following the same technique. Enjoy!

Pico de Gallo

make me!

make me!

This is one of those salsas you don’t need to buy pre-made and should avoid ordering at restaurants (read this if you think I’m paranoid). Seriously, basic pico de gallo is one of the simplest salsas to prepare, and nothing beats its real salsa fresca zing when free of flavor-ruining citric acid and obscenely-high sodium. Blend the ingredients listed here together in a large bowl and serve with tortilla chips, or as a condiment: versatile pico de gallo is great with eggs, alongside beans or rice, grilled veggies or meats. Try it!


3 large round tomatoes, finely cubed and drained of excess liquid
1 small fresh jalapeño or serrano chili pepper, deseeded and minced
1/2 a white onion, peeled and finely chopped
juice of half a lime
1–2 Tbls finely chopped fresh cilantro (to taste)
1/2 tsp salt