Food is all about flavor….and presentation

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Tomatoes and ripe banana. I love ripe and over-ripe bananas; they have so much more flavor. I know I’m in the minority here but they’re wonderful this way and great with cereal, in a smoothie and in banana bread.
This banana and the tomatoes look gorgeous within this ceramic bowl; they seem to bring out each other’s best colors, don’t you think?
The point is this: how you choose to serve food, its presentation, is half of how good it tastes. That sounds strange but every sense is involved in eating. There’s the sense of touch, in this case mouth feel and texture. Many people don’t like the chewiness of squid, or the slimy/slippery feel of oysters. We like our potatoe chips and raw veggies crunchy, not mushy.
And then there’s smell. That’s a big one, more important than taste itself. Some people are over the moon about the smell of truffles but for others it’s simply too overpowering.
Now sound is a bit harder to pin down, and is probably less of a factor. We all love the sound of chips crunching in our mouth and popcorn popping, and garlic sizzling in oil.
And then the visual effect. A fabulous dish of pasta is going to have more appeal served on a gorgeous plate than on a pastel paper or plastic plate.
Presentation is an art and something we all need to play with and do some experimenting. A few rules of thumb should govern food presentation.
Less is more: an overloaded plate isn’t as appealing as a moderate portion.
Colors are important. Rich red tones: fire engine red and earth tones like terra di Siena, are great serving platter colors. Let’s face it though, gorgeous handmade ceramic platters and dishes make almost anything look wonderful. Plain white is also a good choice. Think about placemats and tablecloths and napkins and how they work with your food and plates.
I love Le Creuset cookware and find that their deep orange and mustard yellow colors bring out the best in any food I’m preparing. The dark blue does just the opposite. But then again dark blue can be a fabulous color in a serving platter.
Go crazy with ideas when you’re serving food; you’ll come up with some fabulous ideas! Take a look at these; are they appealing…or not…?

Vietri lemon theme platter

Vietri lemon-theme platter

Dessert on glass plate with vase of red roses

Dessert on glass plate with vase of red roses

Soup in dark blue patterned Vietri bowl

Soup in dark blue patterned Vietri bowl

Anchovies on a white plate with an orange slice for a dash of color

Anchovies on a white plate with an orange slice for a dash of color

Rigatoni with Smoked Salmon & Mascarpone

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My husband is retired now which means most of the time he’s home for lunch. I’m usually the food preparer and find myself in a quandary at lunchtime. When I’m on my own its leftovers, salad, something simple. But Maurizio loves his pasta for lunch so that’s what I make. I try to keep it simple and speedy and rigatoni with smoked salmon & mascarpone fits the bill to a “t”.

This recipe is for two people and can be made in the time it takes to cook your pasta!

Ingredients:
Mascarpone, 150 grams
Smoked salmon, cut into bite-sized pieces, 150 grams
Green onions, one medium, minced
Extravirgin olive oil, two tablespoons
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Parsley, two tablespoons minced
Reserved pasta water
Rigatoni, 200 grams

Procedure:
Sauté the green onion in olive oil until tender.
Whisk in the mascarpone.
Add the salmon to the mixture.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the rigatoni in boiling, salted water until al dente.
Drain the pasta but keep some of the pasta water.
Stir the pasta into the mascarpone sauce.
If the sauce is too thick and not creamy enough add reserved pasta water by the tablespoon until it achieves the desired consistency.
Place the pasta in a serving dish, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Olive oil containers

imageIn Italy we buy our oil in large containers of from one liter to five liters, and quite a few containers at a time, just following the olive harvest in December. We estimate that we consume about 30 L and sometimes up to 50 L a year. We use olive oil for everything: to drizzle on our bread and use it for everyday cooking: from making a tomato sauce to deep frying and everything in between. The price for oil in Italy is so reasonable that it makes sense. And it’s also such a healthful oil to use you just can’t go wrong.

In the United States and other non-Mediterranean countries it’s a little bit different. You’re probably buying your olive oil in 1-2 L bottles. Still, you want to store olive oil in the same manner no matter what size contain you are purchasing so you can maintain the quality of the oil over time.
imageThere are so many lovely and charming olive oil containers, usually pint sized, on the market to choose from. It’s nice to have something attractive to have on your countertop for easy reach and usage but it also has to be practical.
Up until about a year ago I was using the metal, and the yellow ceramic, containers pictured above. The metal container has a very long spout with a thin flow of oil. From that standpoint it’s wonderful but I found that each time I used the oil, no matter how I tried to avoid it, there were always some residual drops of oil…and often much more…that drizzled down the side of the container and onto the count countertop, or onto the plate where I’d placed the oil container. Same thing with the lovely yellow container decorated with olives; olive oil continually dripped down the side of the container and onto the countertop leaving a continual mess, and wasting oil. In addition, the spout on the yellow container has a wider opening and doesn’t permit a thin flow of oil.
My favorite color is green. With this in mind my dear friend Thelma, who’s also a passionate culinarian like myself, bought me a lovely green glass olive oil container to keep on my countertop. I don’t know why I’ve never seen a container designed like this one but it’s absolutely ingenious, particularly in its simplicity. It has a removable glass spout, that can easily be washed. The spout inserts into a wide mouth top. So what’s the advantage here? Very simple: the olive oil drips out of the spout but instead of dripping down the sides of the container and onto the countertop it goes back into the widemouth and then back into the olive oil container. Such a simple thing but so sensible: no mess, no waste.
imageNow, of course, it seems I see this container design everywhere I go; I’ve since purchased a second transparent glass container. I love them both but I prefer the green container: it’s dark and probably protects the olive oil from sunlight a bit more, and it’s also wonderful because it gives a green luster to the olive oil which I find particularly appealing. As an aside: olive oil color has nothing to do with its quality: a green olive oil can be wonderful, just as a yellow hued olive oil can be. What’s important with olive oil are other factors such as acidity.
When you buy your olive oil commercially first and foremost take a look carefully at the label. It may say it’s Italian olive oil, but if you read the label closely you may find the olive oil has been bottled in Italy but is a mixture of oils from southern Europe including Greece, Spain, Italy. Additionally, make sure that the olive oil is extra virgin, particularly if you’re using the oil for your salads and bruschetta.
Keep your oil stored in a cool, dry spot away from direct sunlight, and keep the smaller pint sized container on your countertop for daily use. If you don’t find the no-drip design of olive oil container in local culinary shops the best bet is to look online; there’s always something lovely and extremely functional on the web.

Maryland crab cakes at Timbuktu

Maryland crab cakes at Timbuktu

I took Maurizio and Annie to buy take-out crab cakes at this unlikely crab cake venue on Dorsey Road in Hanover, Maryland: an out of the way, side of the highway restaurant and take-out joint. A place, if I were hungry and looking for a place to eat, I would not drive into. The name…

Handcrafted Wine Bottle Stoppers

Hand carved bottle stoppers

Outside of San Francisco’s ferry building I often find more artisanal creations of interest than within. Yesterday, my only day in town on this visit, I ran across some beautiful woodworked items ranging from vases to bowls to cutting boards to wine bottle stoppers. I enjoy taking a bottle of wine to a dinner at…

Carciofi alla Romana

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We’re still fully in the season of Roman, or globe, artichokes. There are so many delicious ways to prepare them, but the best is Carciofi alla Romana. All the ingredients needed you probably have on hand except for the mentuccia (calamint). Good chance you have that too; look in your garden for a very delicate…

Pappardelle with funghi porcini

Pappardelle con Funghi Porcini

Pappardelle with funghi porcini: they lend themselves well to a long, and wider, pasta shape like this. Fettuccine work well too, but also a shorter pasta like rigatoni, penne and my current favorite. Funghi porcini are best fresh but they also freeze well for future use. Pappardelle with funghi porcini (four people): Ingredients: Pasta, 400…

Everything old becomes new…

Recycled bicycle

An old rusty bicycle becomes a perfect prop for baskets of flowers. I saw this at a restaurant in Ponte Milvio, in north Rome and was charmed by it. Often what is old and rusty and no longer of utilitarian value takes on a new function of beauty. Old wheelbarrows, old shutters and doors, and…