A word about flour :: dispatch from Italy

Italian Flour

An essential like flour is something we might take for granted in everyday life.

Even in the age of gluten-free, our daily bread is something most folks partake in.

It occurred to me while shopping for staples when I arrived in Italy last week, that the flour in the everyday grocery here is abundant in choices. I will say that in the US, I really don’t eat that much gluten. But when I am here in Italy for some magical reason, I have no reaction to baked goods: no inflammation, no sluggishness, no reaction whatsoever, so baking here is something I do regularly.

I did stop in my tracks when I saw this amazing flour display and decided to share it on my blog today. In Italy, we bake with many types of flour, and if you’re gluten free, then chestnut flour is the answer for you. In our region, Lunigiana, there’s a basic bread recipe that has been baked for many centuries.

Chestnuts

Today I’m sharing my Focaccia recipe from my upcoming book Cocktail Italiano. This book will not only be filled with wonderful cocktails, but the nibbles that accompany the cocktails served all over Italy.

focaccia

Focaccia
Serves 4

You will need:
– 3 cups double zero flour or bread flour (super fine flour)
– 1 package dry yeast
– 1/3 cup warm water
– 1 cup water
– ½ cup extra virgin olive oil + 1 teaspoon for the cookie sheet + 3 tablespoons for finishing before baking, 1 tablespoon to finish after baking
– 2 tablespoons coarse salt + 1 teaspoon for finishing

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Place the yeast in a small bowl with 1/3 cups water and let proof in a large bowl, once proofed add flour and oil and salt and water, combine until it forms a sticky dough, it should be very sticky. Flour your surface and turn the dough onto floured surface. knead gently for a minute until dough forms a soft dough.
2. On an oiled 10”x14” cookie sheet with a lip, spread the dough out to fit the cookie sheet. With your index fingers poke dimples into the top of the dough .* note you can use parchment paper to line the cookie sheet but I like to oil the paper.
3. Let rest for 30 minutes, then repeat by poking dimples into the risen dough, and let rest for 30 minutes.
4. Before placing in the oven, drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt.
5. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil cool and eat warm or at room temperature. The key is to let the oil soak in as the focaccia cools. Can be stored sealed for up to 3 days.

Serving suggestions: I love to use focaccia as an appetizer with olive spread, Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, and a summer crisp rose wine. This makes the perfect start to a perfect evening.

Since I am raving about Italian flour, I wanted to give you a great resource for flour in the US.

Carolina Ground Flour

Recently my friend sent me a sampling of this incredible artisan flour Carolina Ground. It’s the closest I have found to the flour I use here in Italy.

Happy baking xx

 

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Strawberry Crostata with Balsamic Roasted Strawberries and savory Mascarpone Ice cream

Corstata One of the things I love about Italian desserts is that they are not too sweet. In fact, Italians often have cake or sweet breads and crostata for breakfast.

This recipe for strawberry crostata is a variation of a recipe in my upcoming book, Cocktail Italiano. The recipe in the book is savory mascarpone ice cream with balsamic roasted grapes. It is a savory version of ice cream, and it works great with a sweet fruit topping for dessert or for aperitivo.

I had leftover strawberries from the book photo-shoot and thought roasting them with balsamic vinegar would be terrific. I decided that the mascarpone ice cream would be the perfect complement, and I baked a crostata with some homemade strawberry jam I found in the pantry.

Here’s the recipe; its a great dessert even without the addition of the Strawberry Crostata.

Strawberry Crostata
Serves 8

You will need:
– 1 1/2 cups pastry flour
– 1/4 cup sugar
– 1 1/2 cups cold butter cut into slices
– 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup strawberry jam

To prepare: 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

In the bowl of a standing mixer, place flour and butter combine on low speed until crumbs form.

Add sugar, salt, and eggs. When combined about 3 minutes, place in plastic wrap and into the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Cut the dough in 1/2, roll 1/2 the dough out on a floured surface into a round disk. Place disk into the bottom of a fluted 11″ tart pan.  Roll the other half and with a pinked pie cutter cut 1″ strips.

Spread the strawberry jam on top of the crust, then lay the 1 ” strips in a lattice pattern on top of the jam.

Place in the oven for 30 minutes. Until golden brown. Cool and serve at room temperature.

Balsamic Roasted Strawberries

Balsamic Roasted Strawberries
Serves 8

You will need:
– 4 cups cleaned strawberries
– 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
– 1/4 cup sugar

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

In a bowl toss strawberries, vinegar and sugar. On a parchment lined lipped cookie sheet, place balsamic soaked strawberries. Roast for 30 minutes, then place in a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. This can be served warm over the ice cream.

Mascarpone Ice Cream

Savory Mascarpone Ice Cream
Serves 8

You will need:
– 2 cups whole milk
– 1 tsp. unflavored powdered gelatin
– 2 cups mascarpone
– Finely grated zest of 1 orange
– ½ teaspoon salt

*note if you wish to make this a sweet ice cream add 1/4 cup of sugar to the milk

To prepare:

In a small saucepan, whisk the milk and gelatin and let stand for 5 minutes. Warm the milk over medium heat, whisking until gelatin dissolves. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the mascarpone and orange zest until smooth. Pour the ice cream base into a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Pour the base into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Scrape the ice cream into a container and freeze.

Serve a slice of the crostata with a scoop of ice cream and warmed strawberries.

Enjoy xx

Top photo credit : Bill Addison

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My Life in Photos, April

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Can you believe that April is almost over? It’s been a busy month, but I’ve loved every second of it. April has been full of wrapping-up phase one of our Italian renovation, whipping-up spring recipes using veggies from my garden, and putting the finishing touches on book two.

I’m both exhausted and excited thinking about it all.

As most of you know, I adore Instagram. It’s truly a place where I can share all of my goings on with you. However, I know some of you like to visit the blog instead, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite photos from April with you here. There’s so much color, beauty, and of course, memories in these photos. Enjoy!

xx Annette

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Our master bath door waiting to be installed at our renovation.

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Many people ask me how long it takes to put a book together. When I hand in the final manuscript plus all the photos, it will be 3 years.

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How cute was Vivi as a puppy? We brought her home 5 years ago.

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This torta pasqualina was featured on City Sage a few weeks ago.

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Props, props, and more props for Cocktail Italiano.

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That’s a wrap on photographing book 2! Love this mash-up of the wrap party for Picture Perfect Parties 5 years ago.

 

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Tomato Basil Soup Recipe: An Easy Winter Meal

Chilly winter months are the perfect time to whip-up a batch of tomato basil soup. This tomato basil soup pairs well with a grilled cheese, too.

At last weekend’s L.A. style+photo workshop, I whipped up a quick batch of this cream of tomato basil soup for our attendees. They were able to capture the cooking process and style their bowls, too. After all, the best part of a food photoshoot is actually eating the food.

This tomato basil soup pairs wonderfully with a grilled cheese. At the workshop we made grilled cheeses with fig and prosciutto, but any sort of grilled cheese would be perfect. Use whatever is in your fridge and embrace an opportunity to be creative with it! There’s no such thing as a bad grilled cheese.

I love soup during chilly months, and since according to the groundhog, there is still a lot of winter ahead of us, store this recipe in your arsenal to pull out when you need a quick and easy lunch or dinner.

Cream of Tomato Basil Soup
Serves 8
You will need:
– 1/2 medium onion sliced thin
– 3 tablespoons butter
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 teaspoon salt
 – 1/2 teaspoon pepper
– 2  28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
– 4 cups vegetable stock
– 1 cup heavy cream
– 1 cup fresh basil chopped
To prepare:
In a large stock pot, heat butter and oil, add onions, salt and pepper.
Sauté until onions are lightly caramelized. Add tomatoes, vegetable stock, cream and basil. Simmer for 45 minutes. Garnish with basil. Serve warm.
Note: The soup may be made creamy by placing it in a blender or using a hand blender if desired. I personally like it a little chunky.
Enjoy!
xx, Annette
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10 things I love about Italy…

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Many people ask me why I love Italy so much. The truth is if I ask myself this question, there’s no one answer, really.

So here’s a list of 10 things I love about Italy. Some of these may surprise you, and of course, some are very obvious.

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1. Espresso with a brioche, from the right bar is the best way to start the day. Lucky for me in our little village, 3 sisters own the best bar in town complete with homemade pastries. The crowds throwing down espresso and scarfing down pastries in the early morning at the bar gives me such joy. It’s like watching some strange and other worldly ritual.

2. Small cars. I love the idea that my Fiat 500 is not considered a tiny car in Italy.

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3. Pop-up markets. All over Italy, markets in the square are a common thing featuring everything from winter coats and antiques to porchetta sandwiches.

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4. Nonni (grandmas and grandpas) sitting in the square. One thing about Italy is that they love their elders.

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5. Church candles, always lit inside. I love stepping into a church anytime of day.

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6.Everything opens early. I love that everything is open in the morning and the bustle of daily chores.

7. The Butcher. One thing I miss when I am back in Atlanta is a proper butcher shop.

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8. The train. The train to anywhere in Italy is exciting. I love the discussions and the polite behavior in a first class cabin. So old world.

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9. Toast at the Autogrill, my guilty pleasure. Whenever I can, I have a grilled sandwich at the Autogrill.

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10. Aperitivo, the cocktail ritual that is the best time of the day. It’s so fun. In fact, my next book is based on the subject.

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xx, Annette

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