Monday, 21 April 2014

Green Tea Grilled Chicken Salad

  Green Tea is added to both the chicken and the salad dressing. Just rip open a tea bag of good quality green tea and fire up the grill tonight.
You will need:
  • 2 chicken breasts - sliced into strips
  • 1 tsp green tea (just rip open a tea bag - I used more in the salad dressing so save some)
  • 2 cloves garlic - crushed or grated
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger (I store mine in the freezer and grate it frozen)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil - I used Amelia oil from Umbria in Italy
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper (1/4 tsp of each)

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil - I used Mandranova Nocellara (fruity and green!)
  • 1/2 tsp green tea (from a tea bag)
  • 3 tbsp white balsamic vinegar - I used a Pineapple Balsamic from Lucero oil in California
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • greens - I used a zen mix of tender leaves and bitter greens
  • 1/2 small fennel bulb - grated thinly on a mandolin
  • 4-5 mushrooms - sliced
  • 2 green/spring onions
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts

Step 1: start with two chicken breasts sliced into large strips. Add to a bowl with one heaped tsp of green tea from a tea bag. Add garlic, ginger, extra virgin olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Let marinate for a few hours if possible.

Step 2: make salad dressing. In a measuring cup or small jar add extra virgin olive oil, green tea from the same tea bag, white balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Shake/mix and adjust seasoning if necessary. Set aside.

Step 3: grill chicken until cooked. This will take a few minutes on each sides on a hot grill.

Step 4: add greens to a large bowl

Step 5: finely slice fennel on a mandolin, slice mushrooms, spring onions and tomatoes. Add a few fennel fronds as well.

Just before serving toss dressing over tender greens and add warm chicken to salad and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Marino's Magnificent Pesto

Pesto, Pesto, do your very besto!! 

In the 1958 movie Houseboat starring Sofia Loren and Cary Grant she sings "Presto, Presto" but, I always replace it with Pesto.

I have made pesto lots of times however, when I was recently in Imperia, Italy. Marino a Master known for his pesto (and that is saying something in Liguria where pesto is from!) taught me and my class of Olive Oil lovers his secret formula for making the BEST you have ever had!! 

Try it once and you will be ruined for life!
 I dream about this pesto

You will need:

  • a mortar and pestle
  • 1 large clove of garlic (yes! you heard me only 1 large one. I promise it is all you will need)
  • 1 heaped tsp of Maldon flaked sea salt
  • 4 bunches (21 gram containers) of tender young basil leaves - just use the tender small ones
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup fresh pine nuts
  • 1 cup (a bit more if you like) finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesano Reggiano - only fresh
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil - I used Mandranova Nocellara from Sicily

This is Marino. He is a chemist and the Vice President at ONAOO which is National Assoication of Olive Oil Tasters in Imperia. One evening we were all at a beautiful dinner and Marino shared his secrets to making truly the best pesto I have ever had in my life!

First, let me tell you he is very particular about every component and the order in which you must add these parts to make the perfect pesto. This is his mortar and pestle which he has had for over 50 years. The stone mortar is over 1000 years old and the pestle is make from boxwood. What you can't really see in the photo is the small bunches of tender, small basil leaves have a DOP designation around each bunch to certify they are grown in the area. This is the kind of designation that certifies extra virgin olive oils and wine. Seriously!

He makes his mix in the mortar in a specific order which I will show you. Once he has completed the pesto up to the last stage he removes every trace of the mix into a bowl and then only will he add the olive oil. He explained that he doesn't want the oil to soak into the stone and he doesn't want the oil on his pestle which is wood and could penetrate and ultimately go rancid after time.

This is my mortar and pestle. Not as pretty as his but, it will have to do.

Now, I understand that this is the wrong time of year to be making pesto but, like I said I was dreaming about how good it was and I was lucky enough to find these living basil plants in my grocery store (not DOP!) and they were pretty close to the size of bunches he had when he was making his pesto so I thought why not. These packages are 21grams each and I used 4 to make this recipe.

Step 1: add the 1 large clove of garlic to the mortar along with the flaked sea salt. Crush and make circular motions to get the garlic to almost dissolve and form a paste.

Step 2: carefully remove only the leaves from the plants and start to crush and blend in circular motions to completely pulverize the basil. This will probably take 3-4 minutes eahc time. You want it as smooth as possible before you add the next package.

Step 3: add each bunch and mix until very fine and smooth. In the end you will think you don't have much pesto at all. It will be maybe 1/2 cup total. Take your time on this stage, you must make it smooth and creamy.

Step 4: add your pine nuts. You can add up to 1/3 of a cup if you like. I used a big heaping 1/4 cup. Crush and move pestle in circular motions until you have a smooth paste. At this stage it will turn a light green and the room will be gloriously scented with pesto!

Step 5: add your beautiful cheese and mix again until smooth and perfectly combined.

Step 6: scrape every bit out of the mortar and into a small bowl. It will not seem like much. It is approximately 1 cup of paste.

Step 7: add your oil a bit at a time until you get it to the consistency you like. I added just over 1/4 cup of Mandranova Nocellara. Now taste it and be prepared to be amazed!

Go on! taste it....perfect!

Toss it on your favorite pasta. Serve with a bit more grated cheese and a drizzle of oil. I think I wiped every bowl clean so I didn't waste a drop! You can also just lather it on a piece of bread and you should, to taste that super concentrated flavour. I think I hear angels singing!

If you have any left you can freeze it in cubes then save in a Ziploc bag for another day.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Florence and Villa Campestri in the hills of Tuscany

What can I possibly say about Florence that a million other
people haven't said before me.
You must come to experience this most beautiful and iconic city. Do all the touristy things like climb to the top of the Duomo and experience the spectacular views, go see the treasures held in the Uffici and then drive out to the hills of Tuscany to experience the contrast. We loved the chaos and magic of the city each day and then drove 45 minutes out of town each evening to stay in the hills of Mugello at the Villa Campestri Olive Oil Resort. If you don't know by now I am passionately in love with exceptional extra virgin olive oil and I had wanted to visit Villa Campestri for the last year.
 It truly was the best of both worlds.

Set in the hills of Mugello just outside of Florence The Villa Campestri Olive Oil Resort is a beautiful villa built around an 800 year old fort. It is peacefully set among the olive groves with beautiful vistas in every direction.

We went to see the Palazzo Vecchio which is the town hall in the Piazza della Signoria. The walls have magnificent frescos that depict the battles and victories of Florence over Siena and Pisa.

I took this picture through a gun turret on the tower.

It is worth the climb up to the top of the tower to see the view of the city including the Duomo.

Set on the Arno River the Ponte Vecchio (which means Old Bridge) is now mostly jewelry stores.

Time for an espresso and a tiny cannoli near the Ponte Vecchio at The O Cafe.

The Duomo is free to go into the chapel however, you need tickets to climb to the top and also to visit the Baptistry across the road. The best thing you can do is to buy a Firenze card online before you come to Florence. It is a card that lets you into all museums and buildings, plus gives you free transit for 3 days. You will go straight to the front of the HUGE lines!! These lines typically have hundreds of people waiting so do yourself a favour and buy that card! My neice Stephanie gave me that good advice!

The Baptistry across the road from the Duomo.

Make a point to have gelato. I had one everyday! If you climb all the places with all those steps you won't gain weight either! Find places that make their own Artisanal/homemade gelato like this pretty shop called La Strega Nocciola. They made beautiful gelato I had Tangerine and Strawberry....YUMMY!!!

This is one of several Enoteca Salumeria Lombardi locations. Wow what a store! Prosciutto, cheeses and everything else a girl like me would want!

This is their selection of balsamic vinegars...some of them are hundreds of Euros for a tiny bottle.

Olive oil.

Migone sellls beautiful Florentine desserts.

Gilli was the perfect place for a glorious afternoon of people watching and eating. 

Look how pretty that lasagna bolognese is!

Always time for a macchiato and a cantucci cookie

I love all the Pinocchios.

Just a pretty display in front of a clothing shop on this fine Spring day.

This is my friend Anicio's kind of store. A store full of espresso makers.

It is worth the grulling, claustrophobic climb to the top of the Duomo for the sensational view of the city.

Each day after walking in the bustling, crazy, busy city of Florence I was so happy to return to this pretty hotel. The Pasquali family runs it with passion and warmth and they make you feel so welcome.

Even the walk from the parking lot is divine!

I felt like Elizabeth Bennet when I opened my window each morning (of course I would be Elizabeth Bennet she gets Mr. Darcy!!)

Coffee and homemade cantucci cookies and breakfast were so nice on the back patio.

They sell some really beautiful items in their lobby.

Look at my breakfast including their own olive oil.

Giant pots of lemons and oranges in the main courtyard.

This is their frantoia (Olive mill) where they press and blend their beautiful Cosimo extra virgin olive oil. If you can't get to the resort they do ship worldwide.

This is the building we stayed in.

A pool with a killer view of the Mugello Valley

Tins of their Villa Campestri Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It is buttery and gorgeous.

They make their own honey too.

Everything is developed to help people try and experience olive oil, their own and two others. This is a case of their tasting trays and spoons.

The restaurant has two olive oil focused menus the help people see how to balance and pair food with the exceptional olive oils.

Such a nice dining room and the staff are so nice and very helpful.

This was a magnificent cheese plate paired with glorious combinations of cheeses, oils and TRUFFLES!! I was truly in heaven. (I LOVE truffles!!)

Pinzimonio is a great thing to try at home with some different super premium oils. You really can taste the different oils and see which ones you like with which vegetables.

A tiny perfect mouthful of Robiola cheese and a drizzle of gorgeous olive oil.

Bolognese is super concentrated sauce with very little tomato and very strong meaty flavour. So delicious!

Warm chocolate lava cakes with olive would be amazed!

Paolo Pasquali is passionate about his farm, his commitment to producing exceptional extra virgin olive oil and helping get others to see how glorious these good products are.

Paolo has created his OliveToLive system for storing three different olive oils at the perfect temperature, sealed from light and oxygen to keep them at their optimum freshness. He has partnered with many Michelin star restaurateurs providing these machines to restaurants that want the very best for their customers.

When you try the three oils their beauty is clearly displayed in his tasting glasses. You hold the glass in the palm of your hand and swirl it around to warm it with your body heat, breathe the aromas, then taste the differences. You will absolutely taste the differences!

They also make a great house wine. We tasted a few bottles just to make sure.

My friend Wesley who was in my class at Olive Oil school in Imperia allowed me to join his cooking class where we made typical Tuscan sauces/toppings. We made 2 kinds of pesto, bolognese sauce, a sausage and porcini sauce, a Tuscan pate and a fresh bruschetta. We were so full that evening we thought we would explode.

The Spanish Piqual oil was the perfect oil to pair with my carpaccio.

The buttery Villa Campestri Oil was perfect with the peppermint pesto and the buttery pine nuts (crazy! I would never have thought of making pesto with peppermint! but it was so good.) 

A potato stuffed ravioli with bolognese.

A slow braised beef stew with polenta triangles and potatoes.

Just a perfect mouthful of olive oil infused chantilly cream and a single chocolate dipped corn flake. WOW!! I honestly never had a bad meal at Villa Campestri.
You know you wan to come here.

Climbing the steps to the Belvedere...just working off my fantastic dinner from last night.

What a view...what a city! I will be back!!