Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Peasant Food that Satisfies

Ribollita is a traditional Tuscan soup made from beans, vegetables, broth, and stale bread as follows:

yield: Makes 6 servings
active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 1/2 hours
How good does a pot of this soup on the stove on a chilly, fall day after rambling in the woods and fields sound?


  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 4 ounces pancetta or ham, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 15-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 3 15-ounce cans cannellini or great northern beans, drained and rinsed or cook them from dry beans soaking them the day before.
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 bunch kale, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs or chunks of stale bread
  • Grated parmesan
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1 In a large pot over medium heat, sauté the first five ingredients in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil for 5 minutes.
2 Add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the beans, broth, and rosemary. Simmer, covered, until the beans break apart, about an hour.
3 Add the kale and cook for 5 to 7 minutes more. Stir in the bread crumbs and serve, drizzled with the remaining olive oil and sprinkled with the cheese.

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I saw this soup on nearly all the menus in Tuscany and Umbria. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Show Business

There's no business without show business...
The Seacoast Home and Garden Show at UNH last weekend reminded me that a brick oven is every food-lovers dream.
After my recent trip to Italy, where I visited many regional markets and eateries, I realized that a portion of what all vendors do is show business. Yes, that is a pig's head in an Italian market.
My enthusiasm for brick ovens and other people's desire and enthusiasm stems from seeing the real thing.
In the next few months I will be taking my portable brick oven to a number of locations, both public and private. Most public and noticable will be the Northern New England Home, Garden and Flower Show at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds in May.
There I will be able to have a real fire (outdoors) in the oven and offer samples of what these extraordinary appliances can do. Chef Jim Davis of Stonhurst Manor will join me on Sunday for his more-than-famous Bang's Island Mussels dish.

In the meantime, if I spoke with you at the Portland or Durham show, know that I enjoyed the conversations and that you made the effort worthwhile. See you next time.

Friday, March 25, 2011

From Pompeii to the Near Present

Although I found many wood-fired ovens in Campania, Umbria, and Tuscany, Italy, few of them were older than 100 years. Fortunately, the excavation of Pompeii and some good leads, lead me to one 600 year-old oven still in use in the town of Civita di Bagnoreggio, in Umbria.

A fairly old looking door covered the mouth of a second oven in this town but I couldn't find the owner for permission to look inside.
The significant difference between the Pompeii and the 'newer' 600 year-old ovens was the lack of a smoke throat on the outdoor ones in Bagnoreggio.

Most of the old ovens had a flat lintel leading into the oven itself. The decorative arch, associated with more modern designs of brick ovens was predated by a long stone over the mouth.
The brick arches on the Pompeii ovens were in front of the throat and served to guide smoke upwards as well as shelter the products going in and out of the ovens.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fresh from Italy

Photo at left is what I looked like in Italy after two weeks of hill climbing, speaking Italian and hunting for ancient and modern wood-fired (al legna) ovens (forni).
When it came right down to what made the difference between really good food and great food, it was the ingredients first, the setting second, and, not-to-be-forgotten, the people making the food.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Travel and Blogging

Somehow I thought that there would be 'moments' after a day of exploring the rich culture of Italy for sitting down and posting.
Reality here is the day begins twice: once in the morning and again around 7pm. By the time I've downloaded 200 photos it is midnight and that doesn't even count the moonlight walks.
Tomorrow, we head for Roma and a long flight home. The pleasant distraction of choosing the best of the best to post here will make the flight seem short.

In the meantime...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Brick Ovens pre-Vesuvius

Pompeii astounded me. It is a city that came to a deadly standstill when Vesuvius blew in 79AD. The excavated ruins are so extensive that yesterday I could not see nearly all of the city and only about 7 of the 28 bakeries. These are a few shots of the ovens.

The object in the foreground was the flour mill. The volcano is in the distance.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ravello and winter food

From Ravello, Italy on the Amalfi Coast, where terraces fill the hillsides with intensive gardens and lemon groves, food is number one. I'm beginning to realize that all marinara sauces aren't created equal. I've tasted two of the best ever!

The bean soup was amazing too.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hill Towns

A good deal of inspiration for making culturally authentic food comes from traveling afar. I travel with an unstated goal of finding something unexpected. By renting a car and not booking hotels for every day of the journey I allow myself the surprise of discovery.
Still, if we go out into the fall woods looking for mushrooms, we are more likely to observe the ground in greater detail than, let's say, the bird life.
This time in Italy, I expect my head will be turned by bakeries and my Italian vocabulary as it relates to brick ovens will grow.
Joining this with my background in fiction writing and landscape photography should provide me with ample activity.

All photos copyright David Neufeld 2005

Friday, March 4, 2011

From Here to Tuscany
On Monday, March 7, I leave for Italy.
One of these photo is from Italy one from Michigan.
Hard to tell.
I hope to meet a lot of native Italian pizza makers. Maybe eat some regional pizza, bread, pasta, and cheese. Then walk it off.
I also know from my previous trips there that brick ovens can be found in the smallest of towns, in outbuildings, and in most kitchens built prior to the 20th century.
I will be posting to this blog as I go.

On the Cover of the...

I was recently in line at the supermarket and noticed that 'Kitchens and Baths', one of those magazines that entices you to remodel every 14 months had a photo of the latest, great kitchen.
One thing for sure, kitchens have become a far more important part of home life than in the past seventy years. We can now look at our kitchens again as the heart of our home, the place where we even entertain. So as such, they've become larger and more elaborate.
Cooking shows have helped boost that interest and perhaps there is some part of each of us that wants a white (or maybe an unbleached raw linen) chef smock to wear as we experiment with a new and colorful recipe.
Right on the cover, slightly off center, but at the most important focal point in the photo, was a brick oven. All the rest of the a modern kitchen was in the periphery.
Brick ovens can be the heart of the kitchen. They play every part that we would want from a major appliance, but they do it with heart.