Alba's Fresh Fig Marmalade

Fresh fig marmalade

30 fresh black mission figs
2 cups sugar
3 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

Place all the figs in a bowl with cold water; gently rinse.

Remove the stems.  Gently remove the figs from the water and gently dry with paper towels.

Cut the figs in half, lengthwise and place in a glass container. Add the sugar; gently fold, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Place the figs in a medium size saucepan. Tuck in the bay leaves, and add black pepper.  Cook on medium-low until it boils.  Reduce to low and cook uncovered for 15 to 18 minutes.  Figs should be soft not breaking apart. Stir occasionally and gently.

Transfer the figs, not the juice to a bowl. Keep the juices in the pan.  Cook the juices over medium-low until it reduces by half, stir often.  Remove the bay leaves.  Return figs to the thick sauce and gently fold. Allow to cool.  Transfer fig marmalade to a glass jar.  Serve warm or refrigerate up to a week.

Marinading figs with sugar overnight

Cooking the figs

Serve with pungent cheese, over a slice of cake, with prosciutto, or eat it right out of the jar!!!!

Honey Dew and Crispy Prosciutto

Honey Dew and Crispy Prosciutto

1 small ripe honeydew melon cut in bite-size cubes
½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
¼ pound paper thin sliced Prosciutto di Parma
3 tablespoons chopped arugula
5 tablespoons Secolari Arbosano extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Secolari Pear or Blueberry balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon plain honey
Secolari fleur de sell
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the prosciutto in a large skillet over medium heat.  Cook until prosciutto is just crispy, turning only once.  Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, add the ingredients for the dressing except the arugula. Whisk well to combine.
Arrange the melon on a platter, add the Gorgonzola and crumble the prosciutto. Sprinkle with a pinch of fleur de sel.  Drizzle the platter with oil, then honey, and balsamic vinegar.  Add the chopped arugula on top. Serve immediately. 


Refreshing, cool, crispy, sweet, savory, fruity... just a few adjectives to describe this recipe. You can certainly use any extra virgin olive oil and balsamic you like, however the products I used was for a cooking class at Secolari.. and can I say, it was quiet in the house while clients savored this dish. If you like to order Secolari products go to
Secolari Artisinal Oils and Vinegars

This is a great dish to serve as an appetizer or side for picnics, a summer BBQ, wedding showers, birthdays, and other special occasions. 

Quenelles Fabiene Style


The quenelle, a semolina dumpling, is a culinary specialty of Lyon, France. The quenelle dough is called “panade”, which is prepared mainly with semolina flour, eggs, milk, and water. The quenelle has a similar texture to the Roman gnocchi; however the quenelle has an elongated shape. The dough is first cooked and then cooled before shaping. They can be served with a tomato, crayfish, or béchamel sauce. Most popular is the Nantua sauce, made with crayfish, carrots, celery and a good cognac.

Grottes Les Balme
I discovered quenelles on my trip to France this spring. I spent two inspiring days at Fabiene, a very gracious lady, who lives in Les Balme Les Grottes, a beautiful town known for its grottes (caves). Fabiene proudly demonstrated how to make the quenelles for me.  For our first evening main course, Fabiene served the quenelles with chicken in a light sauce with morel mushrooms.   This simple dinner paired with a local red wine, made for an absolutely charismatic evening.

Quenelles Fabiene Style
(Serves 2-4)

4 ounces fine semolina
¾ cup whole milk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 ounce grated cheese (optional)
2 ounces unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly cracked pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and butter to a boil over medium heat. Pour in the semolina and quickly stir until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat, slightly cool first, and then add the eggs, salt and pepper.

Add water and salt to a large saucepan over high heat.

Meanwhile, place 3 tablespoons flour onto a plate. Form the dough approximately into 1-inch thick by 3-inches long sausage shaped logs. Roll each quenelle into the flour and set aside of a large plate or platter.

Poach the quenelles in the boiling water until they float. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer onto a serving dish. Top with your favorite sauce.

Grottes Les Balme
I will be making quenelles for a dinner party soon and I think I will make them with a light seafood sauce.  I’m looking forward to experimenting various recipes with Fabiene’s recipe. Thank you Fabiene for two spectacular evening dinners at your lovely home.

Le Lavage in Le Balme Les Grottes

Gnocchi alla Romana

Gnocchi alla Romana

A forgotten classic?

Gnocchi alla Romana (Gnocchi Roman Style) is a dish of la Cucina Povera that originated in Rome. Although these gnocchi are not the typical gnocchi with potato we are familiar with, they are still considered gnocchi.  Gnocchi alla Romana is a rich dish made with semolina flour, butter, and milk, then baked “Au gratin” style. It is a very modest dish made with simple ingredients that are easy to find and very filling.  For my gnocchi recipe, I substitute butter with olive oil. The milk can also be substituted with broth. To serve 4 to 6, you will need:

3 cups whole milk (or low sodium broth)
3/4 cup semolina flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large egg
1 ½ cups finely grated Pecorino cheese

Preheat oven to 425°F. 

Whisk together the cold milk, semolina, salt and pepper in heavy saucepan. Bring everything to a boil over moderate heat. Simmer and stir constantly for 5 to 8 minutes with a wooden spoon, until very thick.  It should be the consistency of very thick mashed potatoes. Remove from heat; stir in 1 tablespoon of oil and 3/4 cup cheese.  Cool for a few minutes. Add a beaten egg and mix well.  

In a small well oiled baking sheet, spread gnocchi mixture evenly to about 1/2 inch in thickness. Cool and room temperature first, then refrigerate uncovered for an hour until very firm.Cut out either 1 inch or 2 inch rounds with the bottom of a glass, a jar, or round cookie cutter. Arrange each round in a buttered baking pan slightly overlapping. Brush gnocchi with remaining oil, sprinkle with pepper, and the remaining cheese. 

Bake until the gnocchi are golden brown on top, 15 to 20 minutes. Or place under broiler for a few minutes until the cheese melts and becomes golden. Allow to stand 5 minutes before serving.

King Arthur Semolina Flour
If you like you can also serve these gnocchi with sautéed cremini mushrooms, baby zucchini, caramelized onions, and even with a little tomato sauce drizzled on top.

How exciting to be part of selecting talented young adults.  Please contact me if you have a talented 9-13 year old.  I would love to recommend someone, especially one of my former teen student.

Meatballs and Sausage Ragu Napolitan Style

Browning Italian Sausage

Serves 4 to 6 persons

Meatballs and sausage
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound (85-15) ground beef
2 tablespoons minced parsley
2 eggs, beaten
5 Italian sausages cut in half
Meatballs and Sausage Ragu

The sauce:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ red onion, finely minced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 slices minced prosciutto
2 (28 ounce each) cans San Marzano crushed tomatoes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large thick bottom pan, add the oil and onion on medium-low heat. Cook until the onion is barely golden.  Add the garlic and prosciutto and cook 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat to medium and add the tomatoes, salt and pepper.  Allow to cook until some of the water from crushed tomatoes has reduced, about 5-8 minutes. Cover and simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes.  At this point the meats can be added.

Making the meatballs:
In the food processor add the garlic, onion, breadcrumbs, cheese, salt, pepper, and parsley; pulse a few times until fine.

Place the ground beef in a large bowl.  Add the breadcrumb mixture and beaten eggs. Mix gently  until the ingredients are well blended. Squeezing the meat mixture too much can result in tough meatballs, so be gentle.

Make a small meatball and test the seasoning and texture by adding a tablespoon of oil in a skillet and cooking it until browned.

Once the test is done, make seasoning adjustments if needed. Use a scooper or tablespoon to create meatballs either 2 inches in diameter or smaller. Whatever the size you choose, be sure to make them all the same size. When all of the meatballs are made, place them in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in preheated 400F oven until browned. Be sure to turn them once or twice. Or, you can fry them in a large skillet with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. I prefer the skillet. Once all of the meatballs are browned, transfer them to the cooking sauce with the oil. If you prefer a leaner sauce, do not add the oil. The difference by leaving the oil from meatballs is not only that it's traditional, but tastier. 

In a large skillet, cook the sausage on medium heat; add a tablespoon or two of olive oil in skillet if the pan is too dry. Cook until the sausages are browned evenly. When the sausages are browned, transfer then to the sauce with the oil. Stir gently, cover and cook another 25-30 minutes covered.  Wait until the oil rises to the top of the pan. This is an indication that the sauce is ready. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. you can skim the oil from the sauce, or not based on how lean you prefer the sauce.

Cook 1 pound of pasta according to package direction.  Drain well, add a little sauce to the drained pasta; mix well so that the pasta will not stick.  Add some pasta to each serving bowl, top with more sauce, 2 meatballs, a sausage, additional grated cheese and freshly chopped basil.  
San Marzano Tomatoes

This recipe can be served as one course or two. Serve the pasta topped with sauce, meats, cheese and basil as one course. Or as two split courses by serving the pasta with sauce, cheese and basil as one course, and serving the meats in a warmed bowl as the second course. Whatever way you choose to serve it, it will be eagerly eaten and enjoyed.   Growing up, we served it as two courses so we could stretch out the pleasure of eating it, and also we didn’t have to create  another course.  Served this with a salad or cooked vegetables and you have a delicious three course meal. If you have any leftovers, you can make meatball and sausage sandwiches the next day. Top it with shredded mozzarella and bake it in the oven until the cheese melts. My mouth is watering.. got to go make it again!

Arancini Alla Leftover Risotto


When I make risotto, I always make extra so that I can refrigerate it and use it to make Arancini the next day. I save some time on making the Arancini (Small oranges) because the rice is ready to go.

Arancini aren't difficult to make if you have all your ingredients ready to go. You basically need to have two bowls ready to go. The first bowl with beaten eggs, salt and pepper, and second bowl with 2 parts Italian breadcrumbs and 1 part grated Parmesan cheese. Next, have a large skillet ready with a light hot oil. 

Scoop a couple of tablespoons of risotto in the palm of your hand, while your hand is cupped.
Add some filling of choice such as tomato sauce and chunks of cheese, of tomato sauce with meat and peas, cooked ground sausage and sauce, etc. Add a little more risotto on top and form a ball. Make sure that the filling is completely covered.
Add caption

Roll each ball into the beaten egg, and next into breadcrumb mixture. Be sure to shake off any excess breadcrumbs before placing int the hot oil. Cook on medium heat until the entire ball is golden. Remove from skillet and place on paper towel. Continue cooking all of the Arancini. Cool slightly before eating.

My family enjoys the risotto and the Arancini. It is so much easier to make it with leftover risotto. The rest is just a process. I find that making the Arancini with the risotto is much more flavorful than plain rice.  It adds a whole new dimension to the recipe. This could be viewed as gourmet Arancini, however, growing up, we made lots of things with leftovers, because we didn't have the funds to do otherwise.  We had to be creative with our leftover ingredients.  I have the funds today to do otherwise, but it is something inside of me that continues to cherish the old fashion way of cooking.  It allows me to be creative, so I continue to do it, and I love it!

Liguria and Tuscany Culinary Expedition May 2015


If  you sign up in the next 48 hours, by January 25, 2015, you will receive a $200 discount. Deposit is also required by January 25, 2015. :!tuscany-2015/c215e

Dear Friends,

Travel changes us. It's a journey that enriches us and enables us to better understand people in the way they live, the way they think, and the way they eat. If the travel is meaningful, we're never the same again, and the place we've traveled to will have something of us left behind. The bonds and the good will are there forever.
We strive to provide our expeditioners the understanding of the 'back-story' of the place they visit. We travel in small groups and stay out of the tourist mainstream, learning the history, art, and gastronomy of the places. We support the idea of the basic, true, and traditional cuisine of a place, and believe that cooking should be a simple affair with the best ingredients grown locally. And food, after all, is the common language we all speak, with a good glass of wine to enhance communication.
So, get your comfortable walking shoes, 'set sail from the safe harbor', and join us in 2015 for a dazzling expedition to Tuscany and Liguria, Italy. Those of you who have mentioned you would like to join us, please don't delay in booking, the groups are small. Here are just a few of the highlights with links:
 Tuscany and Liguria, 7 nights, May 2 - 9, 2015
Includes a cooking class with a chef, and a walk through the seaside mountain paths that connect the ancient seaside towns of Cinque Terre.
·        A visit to the walled cities of San Gimignano and Siena
·        A walk through historic Lucca
·        A drive through the Chianti countryside
·        A visit to Florence
·        A tour of a famous local Renaissance Villa Torrigiani and the Villa Gardoni gardens
Date: May 2 – 9
Price: $3,500 plus $300 single supplement
Lodging: Casale de Pasquinelli: