The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients.
Provence is a geographical region and historical province of southeastern France, which extends from the lower Rhône River on the west to the Italian border in the east, and is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the south.The area also includes the Côte d’Azur, often known in English as the French Riviera.
The food of Provence resembles more closely the cuisine of Italy, Greece and Spain than typical Parisian fare. Emphasis is on locally grown vegetables, seafood, fresh herbs and olive oil, Provence is the birthplace of three well-known dishes: salade Nicoise, bouillabaisse and ratatouille.
There are many common traits between the French diet and the other Mediterranean countries, not only with regards to food choices, but also in the organization and structure of meals during the day. For example, there is no snacking in France, they eat three meals a-day, each with three courses, they eat together, portion control is common and they avoid “junk food”.
While the French embrace a wide range of foods, they keep things simple and like to use cheese, eggs, potatoes, butter, yogurt, as well as pasta and bread in their meal preparation. France is renowned for some of the world’s best wines and cheeses, and wine and food pairing is taken seriously in France even at informal dinner parties.
Beyond French wine and cheese is a mixture of traditional French dishes, many which come with long histories, regional variations and modern adaptations. The French cuisine is to a great degree a culinary art. Traditional French cuisine relies on basic combinations and together with butter are the basic ingredients for the creation of their well-known sauces, appetizers and entrees. Full fat dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, in combination with small quantities of meat or poultry are the main ingredients in French recipes. Garlic, tomatoes, olive oil and Mediterranean herbs are used to enhance those ingredients. Such recipes often include:
Appetizer Course: Provençal tomatoes, Scallops Provencal, Tapenade
Soup Course: Bouillabaisse, French Onion Soup, Saffron Mussel Bisque
Main Course: Coq au Vin, Lobster Thermidor, Ratatouille, Poulet de Provençal
Dessert Course: Orange Creme Brulee, Plum Clafouti, Poached Pears
Traditional French Recipes
Madame Saucourt’s Ratatouille
Hotel Mas des Serres in Saint Paul de Vence.
Source: Mediterranean Grains and Greens by Paula Wolfert
Ratatouille, from the southeastern French region of Provence, is a stewed vegetable recipe that can be served as a side dish, meal or stuffing for other dishes, such as crepes and omelettes. The vegetables are generally first cooked in a shallow pan on high heat and then oven-baked in a dish. French chefs debate the correct way to cook ratatouille: some do not agree with sauteing all vegetables together, such as Julia Child, and argue the vegetables should be cooked separately and layered into the baking dish. The ingredients usually consist of tomatoes, garlic, onions, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, bell peppers, basil, marjoram, thyme and herbs.
5 pounds eggplant
5 pounds zucchini
5 pounds sweet onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 quart extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mixed herbs: rosemary, savory, peppermint, thyme, and celery
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups dry yet fruity white wine
2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, cored and seeded
5 pounds red bell peppers
A few drops of red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs for garnish: basil, parsley, thyme
Stem and peel the eggplant. Cut the flesh into 1″ cubes and place them in a deep kettle filled with very salty water. Keep submerged with a non-corrodible plate for at least 1 hour
Stem and peel the zucchini. Cut the flesh into 1″ cubes and place in a deep colander. Toss the zucchini with salt and let stand 1/2 hour.
In a very large heavy skillet or heavy-bottomed roasting pan cook the chopped onions in 1/2 cup water and 1 cup olive oil until the onions are soft and golden, about 30 minutes. Add the garlic, chopped herbs, bay leaf, sugar, salt, pepper, and 1 cup of the wine. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes.
Coarsely chop the tomatoes with their skins in the work bowl of a food processor. Add to the skillet and continue cooking at a simmer for 11/2 hours. Whenever the onion-tomato mixture starts to stick or burn, “deglaze” with a few tablespoons of water and scrape with a wooden spoon.
Grill the peppers; when cool, peel, stem, seed and cut into small pieces. Set aside.
Rinse and drain the eggplant and zucchini and lightly press dry with toweling.
Slowly heat the remaining 3 cups of olive oil in a wide pan or fryer until medium-hot. Add the zucchini in batches, and fry until golden on all sides. Transfer the zucchini with a slotted spoon to a colander set over a bowl to catch any excess oil. When all the zucchini has been fried, fry the eggplant in the same manner. From time to time return the drained oil in the bowl to the pan.
Spread the zucchini, eggplant, and peppers over the simmering onion-tomato mixture and pour in the remaining wine. Cover and cook at a simmer for 11/2 hours. From time to time remove the cover to help evaporate some of the liquid.
Place a colander over a large bowl and pour the contents of the skillet into it to drain. Stir carefully to avoid crushing the vegetables while trying to encourage any trapped oil and juices to drain. Quickly cool down the captured juices in order to remove as much oil as possible. If there is a lot of juice, boil it down until thick. Reserve all the frying oil and oil from the vegetables for another use. Pour the juices over the vegetables, taste for seasoning, add vinegar, and carefully stir to combine. Serve hot or cold. Sprinkle with fresh herbs.
“Although coquilles St-Jacques simply means “scallops” in French, in the idiom of American cooks, the term is synonymous with the old French dish of scallops poached in white wine, placed atop a purée of mushrooms in a scallop shell, covered with a sauce made of the scallop poaching liquid, and gratinéed under a broiler. This rich, classic recipe was a signature dish of most of the small French restaurants in New York when I came here in the late 1950s. While working at Le Pavillon back then, I must have made it thousands of times. These days, most chefs, myself included, have moved away somewhat from that dish, favoring lighter preparations. But I’ll tell you one thing: last time I made coquilles St-Jacques, it was for students at Boston University. I prepared two dishes for them: scallops cooked in a modern way, served with a green herb salad, and also the classic, gratinéed version. Now, these were not chefs-in-training; they didn’t know what they were supposed to like. And there wasn’t one student who didn’t choose the old way over the new. It just goes to show: Truly good food never really goes out of style.” —Jacques Pepin, chef, cookbook author, and PBS-TV cooking series host
8 oz. button mushrooms, minced
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 small shallots, minced
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 tablespoons minced tarragon, plus 6 whole leaves, to garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup dry vermouth
1 bay leaf
6 large sea scallops
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup grated Gruyère
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Heat mushrooms, 4 tablespoons butter, and 2⁄3 of the shallots in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat; cook until the mixture forms a loose paste, about 25 minutes. Stir the parsley and minced tarragon into the mushroom mixture; season with salt and pepper.
Divide mixture among 6 cleaned scallop shells or shallow gratin dishes. Bring remaining shallots, vermouth, bay leaf, salt, and 3⁄4 cup water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add scallops; cook until barely tender, about 2 minutes.
Remove scallops; place each over mushrooms in shells. Continue boiling cooking liquid until reduced to 1⁄2 cup, about 10 minutes; strain.
Heat broiler to high. Heat remaining butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add flour; cook until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add reduced cooking liquid and cream; cook until thickened, about 8 minutes. Add cheese, juice, salt, and pepper; divide the sauce over scallops.
Broil until browned on top, about 3 minutes; garnish each with a tarragon leaf.
This hearty dish from southwestern France, known as a cassoulet, is a one-pot meal. A slow-simmered mix of beans, pork sausages, pork shoulder, pancetta and duck topped with a bread crumb crust , takes its name from the earthenware casserole in which it was traditionally made.
1 lb. dried great northern beans
10 tablespoons duck fat or olive oil
16 cloves garlic, smashed
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 large ham hocks
1 lb. pork shoulder, cut into 1″cubes
1⁄2 lb. pancetta, cubed
4 sprigs oregano
4 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
1 cup whole peeled canned tomatoes
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken broth
4 duck legs
1 lb. pork sausages
2 cups bread crumbs
Soak the beans in a 4-qt. bowl in 7 1⁄2 cups water overnight.
Heat 2 tablespoons of duck fat in a 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat. Add half the garlic, onions, and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add ham hocks along with beans and their water and boil. Reduce heat and simmer beans until tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours.
Transfer ham hocks to a plate; let cool. Pull off meat; discard skin, bone, and gristle. Chop meat; add to beans. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons duck fat in a 5-qt. dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork and brown for 8 minutes. Add pancetta; cook for 5 minutes. Add remaining garlic, onions, and carrots; cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Tie together oregano, thyme, and bay leaves with twine; add to pan with tomatoes; cook until liquid thickens, 8–10 minutes. Add wine; reduce by half. Add broth; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, uncovered, until liquid has thickened, about 1 hour. Discard herbs; set dutch oven aside.
Sear the duck legs in 2 tablespoons duck fat in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat for 8 minutes; transfer to a plate. Brown the sausages in the fat, about 8 minutes. Cut sausages into 1⁄2″ slices. Pull duck meat off bones. Discard fat and bones. Stir duck and sausages into pork stew.
Heat the oven to 300˚F. Mix beans and pork stew in a 4-qt. earthenware casserole. Cover with bread crumbs; drizzle with remaining duck fat.
Bake, uncovered, for 3 hours. Raise oven temperature to 500˚; cook the cassoulet until the crust is golden, about 5 minutes.
Credit for inventing Crêpes Suzette is claimed by French restaurateur Henri Charpentier, who in 1894, at age 14, while an assistant waiter, accidentally set the sauce aflame when serving this dessert to the Prince of Wales. Once the fire subsided, the sauce was so delicious that the prince asked that the dish be named for a young girl in his entourage, Suzette.
For the Crêpes
6 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Unsalted butter, as needed
For the Sauce
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
10 tablespoons sugar
7 tablespoons Cointreau
1 tablespoons Kirsch
1 teaspoon orange flower water
5 tablespoons cognac
Make the crêpe batter:
Whisk together flour and eggs in a medium bowl. Add milk and cream, and whisk until smooth. Pour through a fine strainer into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
Prepare the sauce:
Use a vegetable peeler to remove rind from 2 of the oranges, avoiding pith; mince rind and set aside. Juice all the oranges and set juice aside. In a medium bowl, beat butter and 1⁄2 cup sugar on high-speed of a hand mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add rind to butter and beat for 1 minute. Gradually drizzle in juice, 2 tbsp. of the Cointreau, Kirsch and orange flower water, beating constantly until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes more.
Make the crêpes:
Heat a seasoned crêpe pan or small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Grease pan with a little butter, then pour in 1⁄4 cup batter. Working quickly, swirl batter to just coat pan, and cook until edges brown, about 1 minute. Turn with a spatula and brown other side for about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining batter, greasing pan only as needed.
Melt orange butter sauce in a 12″ skillet over medium heat until bubbling. Dip both sides of one crêpe in sauce, then, with best side facing down, fold in half, then in half again. Repeat process with remaining crêpes, arranging and overlapping them around the perimeter of the pan. Sprinkle with remaining sugar. Remove pan from heat, pour remaining Cointreau and the cognac over crêpes, and carefully ignite with a match. Spoon sauce over crêpes until flame dies out, and then serve immediately.
Ring in the New Year in Style
Pan-Seared Salmon with Linguine
Makes 4 servings
- Four 5 ounce pieces of fresh or frozen skinless salmon fillets, thawed and dried
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- ½ cup oil-packed dried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped
- ½ cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
- ¼ cup finely chopped, pitted green olives
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Pepperoncini peppers
- Cooked Linguine
Sprinkle salmon with salt. In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add salmon. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of fish or until fish just flakes when tested with a fork, turning once. Transfer to a serving platter. Cover; keep warm.
For the pesto:
Add remaining oil to the skillet. Add onion and dried tomatoes; cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender. Stir in cherry tomatoes, olives, basil, and crushed red pepper. Stir to heat through. Season to taste with salt.
Spoon tomato mixture over salmon. Top with additional fresh basil and serve with cooked pasta and pepperoncini peppers.
Roast Duck with Blackberry Sauce
Makes: 4 servings
- 4 pound domestic duck
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 small orange, quartered
- 1 stalk celery, cut up
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tablespoon finely shredded orange peel
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup packed brown sugar
- ¼ cup orange liqueur
- ¼ cup mild-flavor molasses
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 2 cups blackberries
Adjust oven rack to lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Rinse duck body cavity; pat dry. Rub cavity with the 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Place orange, celery, onion, and thyme in cavity. Skewer neck skin to back; tie legs to tail. Twist wing tips under back. Brush duck with the 2 tablespoons orange liqueur.
Place duck, breast side down, on rack in a shallow roasting pan. Add the hot water to the roasting pan. Place in lower third of oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Roast, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
Carefully remove roasting pan from oven; drain fat.* Turn duck, breast side up. Roast for 45 to 60 minutes more or until drumsticks move easily in their sockets (165 degrees F). Juices may still appear pink.
Meanwhile, for sauce, in a small saucepan whisk together orange peel, orange juice, brown sugar, the 1/4 cup orange liqueur, the molasses, ginger, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 12 minutes or until thickened and syrupy. Stir in 2 cups blackberries. Use a potato masher or fork to coarsely mash berries. Cover and set aside.
Transfer duck to a cutting board; let stand for 15 minutes. Discard stuffing mixture. Using kitchen shears, cut duck in half lengthwise. Cut each half between the breast and the thigh into 2 pieces. Drain fat from roasting pan. Arrange duck quarters in pan. Pour blackberry sauce over the duck. Return to oven. Roast in the 350 degrees F oven for 30 minutes.
Transfer duck pieces to a serving platter. Pour any juices in the roasting pan over the duck pieces.
Makes: 6 servings
- 3 medium skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, halved horizontally (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Garlic-herb cheese, see recipe below
- 1 ounce baby arugula or baby spinach (about 1 cup packed)
- ¾ cup jarred roasted red sweet peppers, drained well and chopped
- 1 green onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup purchased or homemade pesto
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place chicken breast halves between pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, pound each to 1/4-inch thickness.
Season one side of each chicken breast with salt and pepper. Spread each breast with the herb cheese to the edges. Top with arugula, peppers, and green onion.
Press down on toppings, then roll up tightly, starting from a short end; secure with toothpicks. Brush pesto over rolls. Transfer to an oiled 2-quart rectangular baking dish.
Bake, uncovered, 25 to 30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in the center (170 degrees F). Let stand 5 minutes. Remove toothpicks and slice crosswise to serve.
GARLIC HERB CHEESE
Stir 1 clove garlic, minced; 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed and 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed, into 3 ounces of cream cheese.
Lobster Tails with Garlic Butter
Makes: 4 servings
- Four 8 ounce fresh or frozen lobster tails
- 1 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¼ cup butter, plus extra for serving
Thaw lobster tails, if frozen. Preheat broiler. Butterfly the lobster tails by cutting through the center of the hard top shells and meat. Spread the halves of tails apart. Place lobster tails, meat side up, on the unheated rack of a broiler pan.
In a small skillet cook garlic, orange peel, and chili powder in butter over medium heat about 30 seconds or until garlic is tender. Brush mixture over lobster meat.
Broil 4 inches from heat for 12 to 14 minutes or until lobster meat is opaque. Serve with extra melted butter.
Pan Seared Tenderloin Steak
Makes: 4 servings
- 4 beef tenderloin steaks (filet mignon), cut about 3/4 inch thick
- 10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup dry red wine
- ½ cup reduced-sodium beef broth
- 4 tablespoons finely shallots
- 2 tablespoons whipping cream (no substitutes for this dish)
- Salt and Pepper
Heat a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter; reduce heat to medium. Cook steaks about 3 minutes per side or until medium rare (145 degrees F). Transfer steaks to a platter. Cover with foil; let stand for 5 minutes while preparing sauce.
Add wine, beef broth and shallots to the hot skillet. Using a whisk, stir and scrape up any browned bits in the bottom of the skillet. Cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until liquid is reduced.. Lower heat to medium low.
Stir in cream; stir in the remaining tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking until butter is melted and sauce has thickened slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the evenly sauce over steaks and serve immediately.
Cherries are in season and you can use them to create sweet or savory recipes. There’s no need to limit cherries just to desserts. Use them in muffins, coffee cakes or pancakes for breakfast or add them to salads, salsas, sauces and shakes.
Traverse City, Michigan and Vignola, Italy, both claim to be the cherry capital of the world. Traverse City grows more cherries but Vignola’s been growing them longer. It’s the Pacific Northwest, however, that accounts for 70 percent of the sweet cherry production, while Michigan produces about three-quarters of the tart variety.
Nutritionally, cherries are very much like most fruit in that they contain fiber and antioxidants, such as vitamin C and beta carotene.
Rain is the industry’s biggest problem. Ripe berries will split open if they get wet at the wrong time, making the crop sometimes unpredictable. The most popular Northwest sweet cherry is the Bing. These large cherries will be a dark burgundy color when fully ripened. The smaller, heart-shaped Lambert cherry is similar in taste to the Bing. A yellowish colored cherry is an extra-sweet hybrid called the Rainier.
In the Midwest, the Schmidt is a variety similar to the Bing. Other sweet cherry varieties of that region are the Emperor Francis and the Rainier. Tart cherries can sometimes be found at local farm stands for use in pies and jams. When picking out fresh cherries, make sure they’re firm (but not hard) and without soft spots or bruises. The stems should be green and not darkened with age.
Wash the cherries and pat dry and then store them in a plastic container for up to two weeks. Cherries deteriorate rapidly if they’re not kept refrigerated.
If you want to take advantage of the in season prices, you can freeze cherries. The only equipment you’ll need beforehand is a cherry pitter and surgical gloves (unless you want red hands for days). A cherry pitter works very well.
To freeze, lay the washed cherries, pitted, on a jelly roll pan in a single layer and place in the freezer. When they’re solid, place them in labeled Zip-Lock freezer bags and they should keep for up to a year. Never defrost cherries, however, before using in your cooking or baking because they become mushy.
You can also make dried cherries that are great for baking or for use in granola and salads. This is a great way to use up overripe or crushed fruit. Arrange cherries skin side down on foil-covered cookie sheets or jelly roll pans. Place in a 200 degrees F oven for four to five hours or until the cherries are shriveled. They should be leathery and slightly sticky, but not hard.
Cool, then store in Zip-Lock bags or plastic containers. It is best to store homemade dried fruit in the refrigerator or freezer because the moisture that is still present in the fruit may cause some bacterial growth. Dried fruit will also taste fresher longer, if kept in a cool place.
Tomato Bruschetta with Sweet Cherries
- 1/2 loaf good, crusty Italian bread
- 1 1/2 cup tomatoes, diced to 1/4″ chunks
- 1 cup bing cherries
- 1/4 cup parsley, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced, plus one whole clove for the bread
- 2 tablespoons yellow onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for bread
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
Place the diced tomatoes in a colander, sprinkle with the 1/2 teaspoon salt, and set aside to drain for 20 minutes. Pit and quarter the cherries. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, cherries, parsley, minced garlic and onion. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar into the olive oil.
Meanwhile, cut the bread into 1/2″ thick slices, rub with the whole clove of garlic and brush with olive oil. Toast the slices of bread in a toaster oven or under the broiler until golden and crisp. Drizzle each slice with a 1/2 teaspoon of the olive oil/vinegar mixture and then carefully spoon on the bruschetta. Garnish with a few parsley leaves and serve.
Grilled Chicken Salad with Cherry Vinaigrette
Next time you are grilling, add a few extra chicken breasts for a summer salad the following day.
- 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut in half to make four pieces (about 1/4 pound each)
- Olive oil, salt, freshly ground pepper
- Fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary, chopped fine
- 8 cups assorted garden lettuce or greens, such as baby romaine, leaf, red oak, endive, arugula, spinach (about 1/2 pound)
- 1 medium red onion, halved and sliced thin
- 10-15 radishes, sliced thin
- Toasted pecans, optional
- 1 cup fresh cherries, pitted
- 2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
- 1/2 cup cherry juice
- 2 teaspoons grated ginger root (peeled first),
- Dash salt, cayenne pepper and/or freshly ground pepper
In a blender, combine the ingredients for the vinaigrette.
Chill in a covered container until ready to use. (The dressing can be strained for a smoother appearance.)
Brush the chicken with oil and sprinkle with salt, ground black pepper and the chopped fresh herbs.
Grill the chicken and refrigerate until needed.
Wash and dry the salad greens. Toss with the onions, pecans, if using, and radishes. Slice the chicken diagonally into thin strips.
Just before serving, toss the lettuce mixture with the vinaigrette. Lay the salad on the plates and top with the sliced chicken. Garnish with additional chopped fresh herbs.
Maple Cherry Sauce
Makes 1 cup.
This sauce can be used hot or cold as a topping for grilled meats, yogurt, ice cream or cheesecake. Tart cherries may be used, but you’ll need to adjust the amount of sweetener.
- 1/4 cup cherry juice or juice blend
- 2 teaspoons arrowroot flour or cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
- 2 cups pitted fresh or frozen sweet cherries, halved
In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the juice and flour or cornstarch.
In a medium saucepan, pour in the juice mixture and the maple syrup. Stir over medium heat until the sauce starts to thicken.
Add the cherries and simmer until they soften, crushing them a bit. Don’t overcook.
Cool or serve hot. The sauce will thicken a little as it cools.
Option: add 1 teaspoon grated orange rind or 1 tablespoon brandy.
Cherry Cheesecake Bars
These healthy bars are an easy dessert to take to a family barbecue.
2 cups Maple Cherry Sauce (double the recipe above)
- 2 cups crushed graham crackers (for gluten-free, use almond flour)
- 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1-1/2 cups vanilla Greek yogurt. (Brands that contain modified food starch and/or gelatin won’t work in this recipe.)
- 2 eight-ounce packages 1/3 less fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
- 1/2 cup real maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Have a 9-by-13-inch baking pan ready.
Place the crackers in the processor and process until fine crumbs form. mix in the oil and sugar. Pour into the baking pan and press onto the bottom of the pan.
In the processor or using a mixer, beat the yogurt and cream cheese together. Beat in the maple syrup and vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Pour the mixture over the crumb crust in the baking pan.
Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the center has puffed up. (It will fall somewhat when cooled.) Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least three hours.
Just before serving, spread with the cherry sauce and cut into bars.
Italian Old Fashioned Cherry Cake or Dolce Di Ciliegie
This historical family recipe has been published by the famous Italian cook, Artusi, in his book, “L’arte la scienza in cucina e l’ arte di mangiar bene” in 1891.
Frozen cherries are too juicy to use in this recipe.
1/2 lb fresh cherries, pitted
For the Baking Pan
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 2 ounces almonds ( ground)
- 1 tablespoon plain breadcrumbs (finely grated)
For the Filling
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 4 ounces powdered sugar, plus extra for the top of the cake
- 2 ounces plain bread crumbs, finely grated
- 2 tablespoons liqueur (Amaretto or Maraschino cherry juice)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter a 10 inch pie pan or baking pan. Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200°C).
Distribute the almonds and the one tablespoon bread crumbs to completely coat the bottom of thebaking pan.
Blend the egg yolks with the powdered sugar until creamy and soft. Incorporate the bread crumbs, liqueur or juice and vanilla.
Beat egg whites separately in another bowl until soft peaks form and gently fold into the egg yolk mixture. Pour into the baking pan.
Drop the cherries on top.
Bake for about 30 minutes or untilthe top is brown and the cake is cooked through.
Dust the top with powdered sugar.
Serve hot or cold.
Duck With Cherries In Chianti
This dish was developed for a banquet to be served at the Castello di Gabbiano, south of Florence. Italian cherries were in season and the cherries were cooked in Castello’s Chianti.
The sauce was served with locally caught duck. Culinary instructor and cookbook author, Katie Caldesi, The Italian Cookery Course, is the creator of this recipe.
- 4 duck breasts, skin on
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 1/2 ounces cherries, halved, pits removed
- 2/3 cups orange juice
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 cups red wine, such as Gabbiano Chianti
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
To make the sauce,
Put the cherries in a ovenproof dish, pour in the orange juice, then sprinkle with half the sugar. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the cherries have softened and browned a little. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, pour the wine into a saucepan with the remaining sugar and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes to allow it to reduce to about a third of its volume (you want about 2/3 cup).
Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper. Heat a nonstick frying pan and, when hot, fry the breasts, skin-side down, for about 6 minutes, then turn them over and fry for another 4 minutes.
This will give you medium-rare meat. If you prefer it well cooked, transfer the duck breasts to a baking pan and roast in the oven for about 10–15 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour the cherries and the wine into a large frying pan and bring to a boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
Slice the duck breasts and arrange them on warmed serving dishes. Pour the cherry wine sauce over and serve with plenty of creamy polenta.
- Damon Lee Fowler updating cookbook full of Savannah, Southern delights (savannahnow.com)
Benvenuto Cellini was a Florentine sculptor, goldsmith, soldier and writer. He was born in 1500 in Florence, Italy and his parents were Giovanni Cellini and Maria Lisabetta Granacci. They were married for eighteen years before the birth of their first child. Benvenuto was the second child of the family. The son of a musician and builder of musical instruments, Cellini was pushed towards music,but when he was fifteen his father reluctantly agreed to apprentice him to the goldsmith, Antonio di Sandro. However, at the age of sixteen, Benvenuto attracted attention in Florence by taking part in an altercation with his companions. He was banished for six months by the magistrates and went to live in Siena, where he worked for a goldsmith named Fracastoro. From Siena he moved to Bologna, where he became a more accomplished flute player and made progress as a goldsmith. After a visit to Pisa and a period of studying sculpture in Florence, he moved to Rome.
His first artistic works were a silver casket, silver candlesticks and a vase for the bishop of Salamanca, which won him the approval of Pope Clement VII. Another celebrated work from his time in Rome is the gold medallion, “Leda and the Swan”, created for Gonfaloniere Gabbriello Cesarino that is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence. He also took up the flute again and was appointed one of the pope’s court musicians.
In the attack on Rome by Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, Cellini gained fame as a soldier. According to his own accounts, he shot and injured Philibert of Châlon, Prince of Orange. His bravery led to a reconciliation with the Florentine magistrates and he soon returned to his hometown of Florence. Here, he devoted himself to crafting medals in gold, the most famous of which are “Hercules and the Nemean Lion” and “Atlas Supporting the Sphere”, the latter eventually falling into the possession of Francis I of France.
He returned to Rome and this time he was employed in the craft of making jewelery and in casting dies for medals and the papal mint. In 1529 his brother, Cecchino, killed a Corporal of the Roman Watch and, in turn, was wounded. He later died. Soon afterward Benvenuto killed his brother’s killer – an act of blood revenge, but not justice, as Cellini admits that his brother’s killer had acted in self-defense. Cellini fled to Naples to escape the consequences. Through the influence of several cardinals, he later obtained a pardon. Cellini next went to Venice, where he was restored with greater honor than before.
At the age of 37, after returning from a visit to the French court, he was imprisoned on a charge (apparently false) of having embezzled the gems of the pope’s tiara during the war. He was confined to the Castel Sant’Angelo, escaped, was recaptured and treated severely. The intercession Cardinal d’Este of Ferrara, eventually secured Cellini’s release, in gratitude for which he crafted d’Este a gold cup.
Besides his works in gold and silver, Cellini created sculptures of a grander scale. One of the main projects of his French period is probably the “Golden Gate” for the Château de Fontainebleau. Only the bronze tympanum of this unfinished work, which represents the Nymph of Fontainebleau (Paris, Louvre), still exists, but the complete spectrum of his work can be known through archives,his preparatory drawings and reproduced casts. His most distinguished sculpture, the bronze group of “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” now in the Loggia dei Lanzi at Florence, was his attempt to surpass Michelangelo’s, “David” and Donatello’s, “Judith and Holofernes”. The casting of this work caused Cellini much trouble and anxiety, but it was called a masterpiece as soon as it was completed. By 1996, centuries of environmental pollution exposure had damaged the statue. In December 1996 it was removed from the Loggia and transferred to the Uffizi for cleaning and restoration. It was a slow, years-long process and the restored statue was returned to its home in June 2000.
The autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini was started when he was 58 and ended just before his last trip to Pisa around the year 1563, when Cellini was approximately 63 years old. The memoirs give a detailed account of his career, as well as his loves, hatreds, passions and enjoyments, that is written in an energetic, direct and racy style. They show a great self-regard and self-assertion, sometimes running into extravagances which are impossible to credit. Despite its exaggerations and its often boastful tone, it is a document of surprising frankness and incomparable authenticity and, thanks to it Cellini’s character, is more intimately known than that of any other figure of his time.
He died in Florence in 1571 at the age of 71 leaving behind a magnificent legacy of work. For all his exploits, Benvenuto Cellini remains a hero of Florence, in the Piazzale Degli Uffizi, outside the famous Uffizi Gallery, a life-size sculptor of him stands alongside the great masters of renaissance art, Da Vinci, Raphael and, of course, Michelangelo.
Still in the news today, Cellini’s gold and enamel masterpiece the “Saltcellar of Francis I” executed in 1540 for the King of France and valued today at $60,000,000, was recovered recently after being stolen from a museum in Vienna. Being chosen as a member of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno shows the respect he commanded: not just as an artist but as a patron of Florence.
Some Florentine Specialties
Much of the simplicity of Tuscan cuisine was born out of necessity. Wild herbs and greens were used in simple soups. Every part of the animal was used–cibreo is a popular Florentine chicken stew that features cockscombs. Tuscan bread, a rustic sourdough baked in a wood-fired oven, traditionally was made without expensive salt. That meant it quickly went stale and so ribollita was born, a vegetable soup thickened with bread. Panzanella is a summer salad made from stale bread cubes, fresh tomatoes, basil and Tuscany’s famed olive oil. Wheat flour was another expensive ingredient and so Tuscans created dishes like castagnaccio, a cake made with chestnut flour, raisins, pine nuts, orange zest and olive oil.
Dishes here have hearty, rustic flavors, well-matched to the area’s famous wines, and Florentines enjoy eating their regional cuisine in friendly, warm, informal settings.
Typically, Florentine people never start a meal from the main course but always have a starter first. Whether eating in a restaurant or at home with friends, you will always find liver crostini (thin sliced toasted bread with liver patè) on the table. Alongside liver crostini the usual antipasto also offers different types of sliced salamis and hams.
Pappardelle (similar to spaghetti, but a thicker pasta made with egg) with boar or hare sauce. It can be seasoned with other classic ingredients: porcini mushrooms, meat sauces, artichokes and sausages, etc. Other first course dishes are the soups: pappa al pomodoro, ribollita, carabaccia and black cabbage. These are all variations of a single base made from vegetables, bread and tomato.
The hills around Florence abound with game, including wild boar which is used in locally made salamis and air-dried hams. Duck and rabbit appear on the table grilled. Fish from the region’s lakes and seafood from the coastal areas appear on the table. Porcini, wild mushrooms, are another favorite served in the fall after foragers have combed the woods around the city.
Bistecca alla fiorentina (a T-bone steak) is served rare with a drizzle of Tuscan olive oil and often accompanied by white beans, roasted potatoes or a green salad. Porchetta is a suckling pig, stuffed with garlic and herbs and brushed with a rosemary branch while its roasts. Trippa alla fiorentina, tripe cooked with wine, tomatoes and herbs, is another signature dish.
Florentine desserts: cantucci (small almond biscuits) to eat at the end of a meal dipped in Vinsanto or in the colder seasons the castagnaccio, that takes its name from the nearby mountains , is a thin cake made of chestnut flour and pine nuts. During Carnival or after the Epiphany, you can find schiacciata alla fiorentina, a soft sweet, sponge cake which can be filled with cream or chocolate and covered with powdered sugar.
Sometimes Florentines like eating a sandwich in the street for lunch. In addition to steak, Florence offers other meat specialties such as tripe and lampredotto. These are foods that are eaten in kiosks on the street, even in winter.They can be seasoned with green sauce and enriched with other vegetables, such as leeks.
Chicken Liver Crostini
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 pound chicken livers, rinsed
- 1 cup Marsala wine
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- Salt, pepper and red chili flakes to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
- Baguette, sliced thinly and toasted
- Sea salt, optional
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions, capers and garlic and sauté just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, Marsala, anchovies and chicken livers. Season with salt, pepper and chili and cook until the chicken livers are just cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and discard the thyme. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a food processor. Add the butter and purée until smooth.
To serve, spread the chicken liver on toasted baguette slices and garnish with sea salt, if desired.
Pappa al Pomodoro
Many Florentine recipes make use of leftover ingredients. Pappa al Pomodoro, a thick, hearty soup made with dry bread, is one of the city’s classic dishes.
- 4–8 cloves of garlic, according to taste
- 1 14-ounce can of plum tomatoes
- 1 pound of dry, stale (preferably unsalted Tuscan) bread, broken into small pieces
- 4–6 cups of water or warmed vegetable broth
- 1 bunch (20 leaves) of basil, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Half teaspoon of crushed and dried chili pepper
- 1 leek (white flesh only), finely chopped
Place the bread in a bowl and add water or broth. Cover and put aside for at least an hour.
Sauté the garlic and leek in oil. Add dried chili pepper, the tomatoes, half the basil and a dash of salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Squeeze excess broth from the soaked bread and add to the oil and tomatoes. Cook for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot with remaining basil and a swirl of olive oil.
Ribollita means “reboiled,” because to make this rich, thick vegetable soup correctly, it must be cooked and recooked. Ribollita appears with many variations, but the key ingredient is cavolo nero ( winter black cabbage), though kale, chard, or green and Savoy cabbage can also be used. Add zucchini, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables according to taste.
- 1 chopped onion
- 2 cloves chopped garlic
- 1 leek (white flesh) finely chopped
- 3 chopped carrots
- 3 fresh or canned peeled plum tomatoes
- 2 cups canned white cannellini beans
- 1 quarter cavolo nero or equivalent
- 1 bunch Swiss chard and/or spinach
- 1 finely chopped celery stalk and leaves
- 4 chopped zucchini
- 2 peeled and cubed potatoes
- 1 pound stale Italian bread
- 4 tablespoons of tomato paste
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Oregano, rosemary and hot chili pepper as desired
Sauté the onion, leek, and garlic in a Dutch Oven in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add carrots, celery, chili pepper and cook for ten minutes. Add tomatoes, cabbage, beans, herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes.
Add tomato paste, zucchini, potatoes or other vegetables of choice and water to cover the ingredients. Cook gently for 90 minutes, adding water as necessary,
Chill the soup overnight. The next day purée half the mixture, return to the pot. Bring to a boil and reheat.
Ladling the soup over a thick slice of toasted dry bread and add a swirl of olive oil to each serving.
Pappardelle with Duck
- 1/2 pound duck breast, skin removed
- Zest of 2 oranges
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 bay leaf, broken into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
- Fresh rosemary
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 pound dried pappardelle pasta
Rub the meat with the orange zest, lemon zest, rosemary and bay leaf. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove the duck breast from the herbs and dice the meat.
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion, carrot and celery until soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
Add the diced duck meat. Cook until the meat has changed color, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the red wine; cook until the alcohol has reduced and evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the sauce is rich and thick.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain pasta and mix with the sauce to serve.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Traditionally, a T-bone from local Chianina beef cattle is preferred, but an ordinary T-bone (or porterhouse) can also be used.
Serves at least four
- 2-pound T-bone steak, three fingers thick
- Sea salt (coarse)
Florentines grill the meat over a very hot wood or coal, but it can also be cooked on a hot skillet or griddle.
Grill the steak, without seasoning, for three to five minutes. Florentines often grill the steak standing up on the bone for a few minutes at the end to cook around the T-bone.
The meat should be seared and crispy on the outside and red, almost raw at its heart. Allow to rest for ten minutes then cut the meat off the bone into large chunks.
Season with coarse sea salt and serve.
Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina
Serves: 12 servings
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup warm whole milk
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Powdered sugar, for topping
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and orange zest in a mixing bowl.
In another bowl mix orange juice, eggs, milk and oil and pour into bowl with flour.
Beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly mixed together, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Pour the batter to the greased pan and bake for about 25 minutes.
Test the cake with a toothpick inserted into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.
Let cool for about 30 minutes on the counter, then turn the cake out of the baking pan. Slice and serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.
- Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini – a renowned scultor (autobiographiestoread.wordpress.com)