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Filtering by Category: The Garden

Time to get back to the garden

Rosetta

My garden is right at what I call the “transition period” this time of the year: we are ending the winter garden, some of the spring vegetables are not quite ready yet for picking and we have yet to start our summer garden planting. The winter vegetables that are still around in my garden are broccoli rapecavolo broccolo (also known as spigariello), cavolo nero (Italian kale) escarole and chicory.

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Back to the blog!

Rosetta

Thank goodness things have calmed down from the book tour. Now I can continue sharing recipes and telling you about the garden. But I would also like to hear from you about what you'd like for me to include in the blog: any particular kinds of recipes? More garden tips? More stories about Calabria? Let me know, and I'll get right on it. Here is a video that was shown last Tuesday on Eye on the Bay, a local tv show on the Bay Area channel, KPIX.  The show featured my book,  my dad’s garden and my mom cooking along with me in my kitchen.

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Today's pick from my "orto" (vegetable garden)

Rosetta

Someone asked me the other day how much food I typically get from my Oakland orto. Of course it varies depending on the time of the year, but during the summer I typically pick enough for family dinner every night. As an example I thought I'd show you what I picked from my garden today, July 22, 2010. I picked enough romano beans to cook and serve as a salad for dinner:

This handful of gorgeous zucchini blossoms I will save for my Saturday cooking class:

Lots of figs, both Adriatic and Black Mission, from my trees:

I also picked two cucumbers, three zucchini and two eggplants, which I will use in a pasta dish tonight.

Oh! I forgot! I even got a basketful of strawberries from our strawberry bushes:

and lots of sweet sweet Italian prunes. Take a look at how many are on just one branch!

There is a lot of satisfaction in growing your own vegetables. I hope that I have convinced some of you to give it a try, even if you have only pots on a terrace. In fact I extend my own garden by planting in pots; all my basil and hot peppers ended up in pots this year. I even put a cherry tomato plant in a pot, and take a look at it. It is the first one to have ripe tomatoes!

I also get eggs every day now. Here are the eggs just from the last three days. The beautiful blue-green ones  were laid by Gelsomina, our Ameraucana chicken.

My family can almost live off our small garden during the summer months, especially now with the addition of those eggs.

Pitticelle di Zucchine (Zucchini Fritters)

Rosetta

July is the month when my eight zucchini plants produces more zucchini that I can keep up with. I pick quite a few of them each day; as you can see below, each plant produces lots of them.

A typical daily pick of zucchini:

My parents never pick zucchini when they are small. That would be wasteful! Why not wait until they are larger, and thereby get a lot more food out of them? Like good Calabrians, my parents have many ways to preserve zucchini for the winter. In fact two of my favorite recipes that preserve zucchini use only large zucchini. One method is to dry the zukes in the sun during the summer; they are then called cose siccati or seccatini. The other is to cook them with vinegar and preserve them with olive oil, garlic, fresh mint and hot peppers, known as zucchine sott’olio. I love them both and a large portion of my zucchini end up preserved both ways. Both of these recipes are included in the preserves section of my upcoming book.

I love zucchini every which way you can think of and I prepare them in many dishes from appetizer to dessert. I will share more of my zucchini recipes that didn’t make it in my book in the coming weeks. I even started doing a cooking class a couple of years ago where the entire menu is based on zucchini. In fact  this class is coming up on July 24, and if you are interested in attending it there are still some spots available.

Today, the first recipe that I will share  is one that my mom would always make for me as a snack,  and it is now my children's favorite summer snack. They are zucchini fritters: pitticelle di zucchine in Calabrese, or frittelle di zucchine in Italian. My mother would fold some zucchini slices into a simple batter and fry each individual fritter. But when she started making these for my kids she noticed that they  would pull out the zucchini slices and eat just the fried dough. So she started chopping the zucchini and fold them into the batter. This did the trick. I will show you both ways and you decide which way you prefer. Eat them as an appetizer or as a snack. The problem is you can’t stop eating them.

How to make pitticelle di zucchine:

Slice the zucchini into ¼ inch rounds, or dice the entire zucchini.

Prepare the batter by  mixing flour with salt, parsley, basil, grated pecorino cheese, egg and water.

Place the zucchini rounds on top of the batter or fold the diced zucchini into the batter.

Fry the fritters until golden on both sides

Here is what they look like when done. The top photo has fritters with sliced zucchini and the bottom photo fritters with diced zucchini.

Pitticelle di Zucchine

Zucchini Fritters

1 large zucchini (about 1/2 pound), in 1/4-inch-thick rounds or diced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the batter:

1 cup  unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon freshly grated pecorino cheese

2 teaspoons minced flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon minced fresh basil

3/4 cup cold water

Extra virgin olive oil, for frying

In a bowl, sprinkle the zucchini with salt and toss to coat. Let stand 10 minutes to draw out some of the water.

Make the batter: Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and make a shallow well in the center. Place the beaten egg, cheese and herbs in the well and mix into the flour with a fork. Add the water and beat well until the mixture resembles thick pancake batter. When you lift some batter with the fork, it should fall in a ribbon. If the batter is too thick, add more water, a teaspoon at a time. If too thin, add a little more flour.

Heat 1/4 inch  of olive oil in a frying pan over moderate heat until it sizzles when you insert the end of a wooden skewer or chopstick (about 365ºF).

Drain the zucchini but do not rinse. Put a half-dozen slices of zucchini on top of the batter and spoon batter over them to coat. Transfer the battered zucchini to the hot oil with the spoon, making sure they are completely coated. Continue adding battered zucchini to the frying pan until it is filled but not crowded. Fry zucchini until golden brown on both sides, turning with a fork halfway through. Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain. Repeat battering and frying zucchini until done. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

If you choose to make the fritters with the zucchini diced, fold them in the batter and using a spoon transfer a spoonful to the hot oil.  Fry the zucchini fritters until golden on both sides, turning with a fork halfway through.   Transfer the fritters to paper towels to drain.  Repeat until all the batter is used.

Makes 2 dozen, to serve 6 to 8

Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

1

My garden at the end of June

Rosetta

Last month I was worrying that my garden wasn't doing as well as last year since the weather had been unsually cold for the Bay Area. But after taking some pictures today and comparing them to last year's, I was amazed at how similar the garden is. After all that cold weather everything seems to have caught up to about where it was last year. But this year we have a new garden member: actual kiwi fruit on the vines!

I planted the vines three years ago and have patiently waited, and this year it finally happened. Last year, having almost given up on them, I went to the nursery where I had purchased the vines and asked whether I really had a male and female plant. The lady behind the counter reassured me: "It takes three to four years before kiwi bear fruit". Well, she was right! The fruit finally showed up this year and lots of them!

I'm happy to see my vegetables in such good shape. I've been tending them all by myself this past month since my parents are vacationing in Calabria. I have just a few more weeks on my own and then I will get lots of help with watering, tying and pruning those tomatoes. Take a look at last year post, so you'll know how to remove the suckers from the tomato plants.

The Romano beans are up to the top of their wood poles, loaded with flowers and tiny beans which I'll soon pick. The zucchini plants have started producing flowers and zucchini.

The tomatoes are up to the same level as last year

and the peppers and eggplants are doing just as well.

I think my parents will be happy with the results!

Bruschetta with Fresh Fava Beans

Rosetta

My garden is a little behind from last May. The weather has been unusual for California this year, with lots of rain and cold. We have planted all the tomatoes, eggplant and romano beans, but have not planted our peppers yet. Fresh peas are still on the vines because they were late coming out this year.

And of course we have been picking lots of fava beans on a daily basis.

Eating fava beans every day prompted me to write about them. We plant the variety of beans that we brought over from Calabria. The bean pods are very long compared to the ones that you find here at the farmers' market. Typically fava bean pods are about six inches long with 5 or 6 beans inside, but our variety is 10 to 12 inches long with 8 to 10 beans inside the pod. Each plant produces lots of pods.

Here are the beans inside the pod.

The beans themselves have an outer skin that most people here in the United States always remove, making for lots more work. Calabrians usually leave them on when making pasta or minestra with fava beans  but I do remove them for certain dishes. The recipe for a fava bean "spread" that I will show you is one of these. You can put it on top of bruschetta or serve it with grilled fish, toss it with pasta, or fold it into a risotto. It is so easy to make that you can just follow the photos below to make it at home.

To make enough for six people you will need about four pounds of fava bean pods. Shuck the beans from the pods,  blanch the beans in boiling water for about a minute, put them in cold water to stop cooking, drain them and then remove the outer skin.  Place them in a skillet with a good amount of olive oil, three cloves of  minced garlic and a sprig of fresh thyme.  Cook until soft for about  20 minutes, adding a little water if dry. Remove the thyme sprig and mash with a potato masher. Add some lemon juice to taste.  If the puree is still dry add some good extra virgin olive oil at the end.

While it is still warm spread it on top of bruschetta and top it with some shavings of ricotta salata or pecorino.

The next time you go to the farmers' market grab the fava beans because their season is short. Look for bright fresh pods. If they are wrinkly or brown don't buy them. And remember to buy lots of pods. Five pounds of pods give you only about 2 pounds of shelled beans.

P.S.  Here is a formal portrait of my chickens. They have finally lost their fear of open spaces and have become proper country chicks. This photo was as hard to take as one of kindergarten children (they just wont stand still). I managed to corral all four of them in one corner of the yard.  They love being outside and eating greens. Can't wait for that first egg!

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Bruschetta con Fave Fresche (Bruschetta topped with fresh fava bean spread)

Ingredients

4 pounds fava beans
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
One small sprig rosemary
One small sprig thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon
Six slices of grilled country-style bread

1. Shell the fava beans and discard the pods.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the shelled fava beans. Cook the beans for about one minute. Drain and place in a bowl of ice-cold water, to cool. Drain them again. Using your thumbnail, break the outer green skin and squeeze the pod between your thumb and forefinger - the bright green bean inside will pop right out. Discard the tough, outer skin.

3. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a medium size skillet. Add the fava beans, garlic, rosemary and thyme sprigs, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of water.

4. Cook over low heat until the fava beans are soft and absorb the flavors of the garlic and herbs, about 20 minutes. Add more water if the beans are drying out. Remove from the heat. Remove the herb sprigs and mash the mixture to a coarse puree or use a food processor and briefly process the mixture, if you prefer a smooth paste. Taste for salt and pepper. Add more olive oil and the lemon juice to taste. If the mixture seems dry, add more olive oil.

5. Spread the bean mixture on the grilled bruschetta. You can finish the bruschetta with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil and topped with some shaved, fresh pecorino cheese or ricotta salata if you like.

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Crema di Limoncello

Rosetta

What do you do when life gives you lemons? I make limoncello with the Meyer lemons from my tree.

Last week I made a batch of limoncello and crema di limoncello, which I learned to make from my cousins. In Calabria people make all types of liqueurs, infusing grain alcohol with different fruit, herbs, flowers, even hot peppers. (The most unusual liqueur I have ever tasted in Calabria was at Villa San Domenico in Morano Calabro where the owner had infused the alcohol with porcini mushrooms.) It is a custom to offer a bicchierino (little glass) of liqueur when someone comes by to visit. Most waiters in Calabria won’t leave you alone until you have a little glass of limoncello or other infused liqueur after dinner.

Limoncello is very easy to make: you just need some lemons that haven't been  sprayed or waxed, a bottle of Everclear and some sugar. Crema di limoncello, the recipe for which I give you below, has one extra ingredient: milk.

Wash your lemons and remove the peel with a very sharp peeler or knife, being careful to remove only the yellow part of the lemon.  You don’t want any of the white pith--this will make the limoncello bitter.

Place the peels with the alcohol in a  jar with a hermetic seal.  I use this jar that is large enough to hold the peels and the alcohol, and has a tight seal.  Leave the peels in the alcohol for a week.

After a week, strain the alcohol and add the cooled sugar syrup, made with either water for plain limoncello, or milk for crema di limoncello.  That is all there is to it. Leave it alone for a week and then enjoy a little glass as an after-dinner drink.

Crema di Limoncello (left) and Limoncello (right)

Crema di Limoncello

(Creamy lemon liqueur)

Ingredients:

Peeled zest of eight lemons

1 bottle of grain alcohol (750ml)  (Everclear 151 Proof)

6 cups of whole milk

4 cups of granulated sugar

1. Remove the peel of the lemons taking care to peel only the yellow part and none of the white.  If any white pith is left on the peel it will make the limoncello bitter.

2. Pour the alcohol in a bottling jar that will hold at least three quarts and add the lemon peels.  Close the jar with a tight fitting lid and leave to infuse for one week in a dark cool place.

3. After this time, place the milk and sugar in a pot over a low flame and heat until the sugar is dissolved.  When the sugar is dissolved, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Make sure that the sugar mixture is completely cooled.  For making regular limoncello this is very important; if the sugar syrup is still a little bit hot the limoncello will turn out cloudy instead of clear. Remove the lemon peels from the alcohol and then add the cold milk syrup to the jar and mix well.

4. Pour the crema di limoncello through a fine sieve lined with clean cheese cloth and decant it into bottles.  Close the bottle with a cork or lid. Leave to rest for at least a week in the freezer before using it.

Crema di Limoncello is always served cold.  I keep it in the freezer once opened.

Limoncello Variation: If you wish to make limoncello, just replace the milk with water.  Boil the water and sugar and let it cool.  Follow the rest of the recipe.  Keep refrigerated or in the freezer once made.

Makes 3 quarts.

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

It's time to start your seeds!

Rosetta

If you are planning to start your vegetable plants from seeds, this is the time to begin, so that they will be ready for planting in 6 to 8 weeks. This last week was when my parents started all the seeds for our vegetable garden. My parents never buy seeds; they always keep seeds from the previous year for planting in the next. In fact, all of our vegetable seeds came over from Calabria with us, in the early 1970s; they are truly heirloom varieties. Once the seedlings are ready for transplanting, they bring them over to my garden and plant them. Since we live in California they can start the seeds outside;  if that is not possible in your climate you can start the seeds indoors and then move them outside once the temperature is warmer. My parents use large pots or recycled containers for the seeds, and the soil they use is a fluffy rich soil.

If you are ready for planting, sprinkle the seeds evenly over your soil and cover it with a thin layer of more soil, about a quarter of an inch. Now for my parents' secret to keeping the seeds moistened evenly: instead of watering the seeds directly, they take a thin piece of cloth, typically a piece of an old t-shirt or thin kitchen towel, dampen it, and keep it over the soil until the seeds germinate. This way when they water the seedsthey stay in place rather than getting washed around. The picture shows you various pots that are covered with the cloth.

Pots - Seeds covered with cloth
Pots - Seeds covered with cloth

They then place the pots in a sunny spot, and once the seeds sprout, which can take up to two weeks, they remove the cloth, exposing the little seedlings to sunshine. If it rains or gets too cold they move the pots in a sheltered area. They treat those little seeds like babies.

I have found an online source for Italian seeds that carry many of the vegetable seeds that we grow.

www.growitalian.com

In the next couple of weeks we will make our annual manure trip to the farm and start preparing the soil.  See last year's post on how to prepare the garden for planting.

A peek at my garden in January

Rosetta

I have been busy reading my upcoming book’s first layout. I can't believe it's almost done! I always feel that not a whole lot happens in my garden in the winter months, as things grow fairly slowly compared to summer, but if you look back to the November post you will see that indeed a lot has happened. The peas are on their way up; in the photo below you can see the peach tree prunings that my father uses as their stakes. The netting is to keep the birds away.

The fennel is doing quite well:

The fava beans are starting to produce flowers, which will soon turn into pods:

Right after I took the picture below of my broccoli rape I picked a bunch of them. One of my favorite ways to cook it is to sauté it with olive oil, garlic and peperoncino.

Here is a picture of the cavolo broccoli; you can see the broccoli starting to come out.

The escarole is thriving in this cool weather.  I will pick these later in the week for my soup class.  One of the minestra (hearty soup/stew) we are making in the class is scarole e fagioli!

The citrus trees are loaded with fruit.  I have oranges, Satsuma mandarins and more Meyer lemons that I can use.  Take a look at the pictures below!  If you are wondering where I was hiding my citrus trees: they fill in the space between my house and my neighbor’s.

Satsuma mandarins:

My Meyer lemon tree:

A close-up of the gorgeous Meyer lemons:

I have some work coming up soon, making candied orange peel and limoncello.