Curious Appetite

First Courses

{recipe} Pasta with Shrimp & Zucchini Blossoms (fiori di zucca)

love love love sant’ambrogio market

It’s official- my favorite summer vegetable are zucchini and especially their flowers. In Florence they seem to be around most of the year as I see them in the fall and in the spring. I wonder if there are some greenhouses responsible for year-round zucchini (or courgette) but the natural summer ones generously blossomed by blistering heat are the ones I tend to fawn over. Before any Italian puts a bounty on my head, zucchini are “zucchine” in Italian but since I speak American English I’ll still refer to them as “zucchini.”

I lead market food tours in Florence and one of the first things I point out to people is to take note of the zucchini flowers in the markets, and the visible quality of the produce in general. Continue Reading

Simple Tuscan Kale and Chickpea Winter Soup

Just add grated cheese!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe and have been reluctant to do so amidst all the chef-quality blogs and professional food photographers out there! But I thought hey! why not? There is no end-all, be-all food blog, right? There’s space even for humble soups!

I used to hate soups and hate making them, until I learned some secrets and tips that one of my dear chef friends (Melissa Miranda, who used to cook at Vivanda in Florence and now does fascinating Fillippino/Italian fusion pop-ups via Il Vizietto) and Florentine cooks taught me. Mostly, I learned to bundle aromatic herbs and throw into stock pot and/or Parmesan rinds (Heather of Merry Feast recently wrote a great post about not wasting Parmesan rinds), not tossing kale stalks, using sale grosso (chunkier, kitchen salt) to help make a soffritto sweat out flavor, and if adding dry cannellini beans, to not cook them at a roaring boil otherwise they’ll blister/wrinkle. Also, another trick I love to making a better textured soup is to use an immersion blender to blend a corner of the soup, not all of it but just enough to give a puree’ base.

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Elk Ragu’ Tagliatelle and Wine Pairing

This big ol’ blob of red mush is one of my favorite things to make in the winter: ragu’. When serving ragu’, you “should” toss the sauce with all the pasta before plating. I on the other hand like mixing it all in the serving plate, I guess its that kid in me that enjoys playing with food. Instead of beef and/or pork, I used Elk sausage I found at Uli’s in Pike Place Market in Seattle (since I’m visiting for the winter). Why Elk? Out of curiosity, of course! I’ve been happy with wild boar in the past and wanted to experiment. If you are in Italy, you can try deer or cervo for a similar game-y effect.

Oh! And did you know that there is a deeper meaning to the term: ragu’? According to The Gourmet Wino, “the word ragu is a derivative of the french verb ragouter which means “to stimulate appetite.” In Italy, “Ragu” it is a staple tomato based meat sauce cooked/simmered for hours with celery, onions, carrots, wine and garlic and is traditional to the north of Italy, but also in the central region of Tuscany.”

Regions have variations on ragu’, like in Bologna they are known to add a cinnamon stick to the pot’ o meat and in Tuscany, there are historical variations such as “ragu bianco” which was common during Medieval and Renaissance times, made without tomatoes since tomatoes did not become strongly apart of the Italian food repertoire until later. Continue Reading

Zucchini flower recipe: Frittata-style (fiori di zucca)

zucchini flower frittata (fiori di zucca)

My love affair started with Italy 10 years ago. My love for food started as soon as I could say spoon. For those of you new to my blog, it is called “curious appetite” because I wanted to write about all the things I was curious about: food, places, drinks, cultures and such. If something is unique, I want to order it. If I see something new and/or seasonal in the market, I want to cook it. Like finding fiori di zucca/zucchini flowers. I’ll try anything at least once. Seize the day- there are millions of flavors out there in the world waiting to be loved and loathed! One of the intentions of my blog too was to write about restaurants I was curious about. I wanted to write about places that did something different and with grit. And to give my humble opinion about eateries that were on everyone’s lips and yelping finger tips. So here it is- a mix of experimenting in the kitchen and at eateries around the world, mostly the US and in Europe. Continue Reading

Tuscan Recipe- Panzanella Bread Salad

Bread salad? Yes.

I wonder if people coming to Florence or other destinations in Tuscany realize what Tuscan cuisine is and what it isn’t.

Tuscan cuisine is a complex yet simple beast. Frankly put, it is not pizza and pasta. There are flatbread pizzas (schiacciata) and ancient recipes for some pastas (maccheroni alla cacciagione). But pizza is native to Naples and pasta is home in the Emilia Romagna.

If I had to sum up Tuscan cuisine, it would be the art of not wasting anything- down to the last stale bread crumb and 4th cow’s stomach, drizzled with local fresh olive oil. Continue Reading

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