October 18, 2009

poor mans truffle

Ate lunch in the countryside, with friends at their place in Terzano. Simple roast chicken and potatoes. We cracked walnuts for dessert to drink with Marsala. They were so sweet and meaty, a late afternoon walk took us down into the campo to pick more of them. There was enough light to give long shadows to the cypress. The leaves are turning and summer is long behind us now. October's chill calls for scarves and socks. Who needs truffles when walnuts fall off the trees with the wind and pigs and dogs are a handful.

October 15, 2009

Teatro del Sale~ Fabio Picchi's spectacular Theatre of the Salt. Florence, Italy



Luciano Casini




Last night was stupendous. Two of my favorite chef's collaborating on 'un cansone d'amore' per il mare. A love song to the sea. Fabio Picchi of Cibreo and Teatro del Sale, invited Luciano Casini, one of his mentor's from the island of Elba off the Tuscan coast, to prepare a seafaring feast.

Fabio's Teatro, is one of the most spectacular culinary and creative stages on earth. Don't miss it!

October 9, 2009

Under the Florentine Big Top

Not a step out the door and the faces I see hold my attention as if to transfix. So diverse, so sad, so lost, as if the mind was capable of twisting and freezing muscles in the face. I pass people in the streets like one of those miniature books that thumb the pages quickly to create movement. It’s an everyday circus.

This morning I saw a man 4 feet tall, body bent forwards, pants up to his chest, with a dandy hat and cane. He walked in front of my bike on Via Pietrasanta right in front of the old fish market of Piazza dei Ciompi. I had to dodge him with a full basket of goods. He didn’t notice. He was lost under the big tent, used to trapeze flyers and tigers that jump through rings of fire. I was a mere fly. Where was he going?

Unlikely couples walk hand in hand, with stars in their eyes. No mouth, no ears, no taste, no tongue.. what are they in love with? A toothpick tall woman, in transparent white skin-tight pants that could find nothing to cling to, stands in a mediocre line, at a mediocre stand, with mediocre people all around. Her dogs were also too skinny; black and white hounds, bound to her through a leash. She wore too much makeup and was rude. She was only nice to her ‘children’ when they were well behaved. She punished them for talking back. What brought her to this fate?

Sauntering through the market, I want to buy a chicken to stuff with lemon and roast with pancetta, sale aromatico, and herbs di Pierre. Lapo, the food and wine critic, is coming to dinner and I want to offer something substantial. Sant’Ambrogio’s Pollaia calls me. Looking for something inspiring, I see only raw cuts of rabbit and fowl. I got an unexpected answer to my question. I asked the butcher, ‘what is the most Florentine recipe?’ He said ‘la bistecca’ naturally’. I probed a little deeper. You are talking about now, I said. I want to know what is considered the most Florentine over time. He said, ‘pollo arrosto sulla griglia’. Again, a simple dish. I wanted to know how, when and why they started stuffing and trussing for the Renaissance banquets. He went on to say, that the housewives,’ le casalinghe’ had created it. I loved this answer. It goes as a tribute to the unseen cooks at home who had to be imaginative with their leftovers and create good food for their families since the Renaissance. It wasn’t a chef. It was the cleverness of the home cook. I’ve seen these cooks through cracks in the door and they wield their knives as strongly as a man, and it’s safe to say, you do not want to get in their way. If what you do is cook and clean all day, then let it be a creative invitation to make the best of it. WE Florentines don’t guild the lily like the French, making more of things that we need to.. but we introduced the fork, and gave them a base to work from. They just changed the name. Anatra al arancia’ became ‘Duck a la’orange’ and the world thought that the French had hung the moon.

Tagine Florentine

Who would have thought that I would be teaching Moroccan cooking to Italians? Last Friday, I was invited to dinner to the aunt of my friend Raffaella. We had spent some beach time near Campiglia Marittima the week before. We talked about cooking all the way in the car, it seemed, and then on the beach, some dish would come to mind. Like a spend the night party as a girl, I withdrew from the conversation and just listened. It went on like a fairy tale, in Italian with all the nuances the language can give, especially when something is delicious.

I went in and out with the sound of the waves, the descriptions of 'zuppa di fagioli con cavolo nero della nonna'..la pappa al pomodoro in estate quando era caldo, caldo al mare' My grandmothers' bean soup with black cabbage, cool tomato bread soup in summer when it was hot'..La nostalgia da mangiare bene, quando si sta bene'..The memories of days past when life was full and everyone, all loved ones, in the family were present.

We talked about every cuisine in the world. Eventually, we came around to Morocco and they nearly squealed in delight for something new and exotic to think about. We got stuck on tagines,
what they are, what kind of tagines can we make and.. preserved lemons? Where can we get them? 'We make them', I said. It became a theme for a cooking class the following week.

Good food gives us something delightful and satisfying to chew on, when it seems that the rest
of life is flying by. It can soothe the soul and be a comforting friend or better yet, be endless entertainment for the bereaved and the brilliant. Not to mention a way that life goes on.

October 5, 2009

Use your imagination (camera on the blink)

I had a remarkable morning engaging with the farmers, appreciating what is still in season and what is not. I came back and made a pie from French green plums. Different, but sweet and juicy.

My 'nest' looks like a still life painting full of heirloom fruit, shiny red onions, glossy cherry tomatoes and fresh porcini.

I may not cook a thing, just look at it all. Painting it might not be a bad idea.

Then I can have my look and eat it too.

October 3, 2009

letter to my friend Robiert

We went for a walk today....

we started from my apartmento on via del Parlascio. We propped the shutters just so to let light in, but not heat.

I felt a little like dressing, knowing how you liked going to the market with Jacqueline, who never left the house without looking glam. The French have so much to teach us. I too, put on some heels, soft, and grabbed my basket and with lipstick fresh, we headed out.

We crossed the Piazza Signoria, glancing at the 'Rape of the Sabines', by Giambologna, as I cannot enter the square without paying my respects and awe with a knowing glance. After all, it's there as it has always been since the 15th century. The rape victim, up in the strong arms of a man that seems totally taken by her, rather than her by him, but nevertheless, she has a look
of ecstasy on her face. (Something to do with transforming suffering, as St. Lorenzo has the same look on his face sitting in flames.) The day is cool and blue and even though a Saturday in October, the crowds are calm.

Piazza della Rupubblica looms with tents of food and wine rather than her usual spaciousness. I was told truffles were here today, fresh from Umbria. I did have a look and found them uninspiring. Their ruddy complexion is attractive to me and their 'profumo' even more so, but today was not the day. You agreed. We went around the square checking out this and that. You were intrigued with the 'cinta cinese', the black and white pork, roasted and ready for a sandwich. Very unusual to see. I preferred the 'Biccio'. A chestnut crepe cooked between two ancient iron rounds over fire. The rosy cheeked woman was dressed in a ruffled and puffed sleeve shirt with a bandana in her hair. She spoke candidly of the chestnuts from the forests near Pistoia. She looked like a woman out of Douglas Gayeton's new book, 'Slow Food in a Tuscan Town.' There was no other flour, egg, sugar, etc in the batter. Just the flour from these small chestnuts and water. You could have the crepe plain or with fresh ricotta. Of course, I chose
to have the fresh ricotta, which they spread generously over the crepe. It was warm and smelled sweet as it should. Chestnut flour is naturally sweet and was quite nourishing in the old days when wheat was scarce. The Pistoiese had brought the ricotta down from a neighboring farm from the mountains. It was so different than what we can usually find. Taking a bite, I was transfixed by the aroma and the taste. It was slightly sweet with the sensation of tasting a bit caramelized, with a note of honey. Yet, it was just what it was. Chestnut flour and water, cooked, with a spread of ricotta. You were jealous as I pretended not to give you a bite.

Piazza Annuzziata was also having their annual ceramic and artisan fair. I go every year, hoping to find the man who prepares the most delicious 'carciofini'; tiny, wild, artichokes that he pares and cleans and puts 'sottolio'. The flavor is a punch of deliciousness and wildness, so packed with iron, that the liver stands up and salutes. I found him but saw no jars of the coveted morsels. I asked about them and wordless, he gave the keys to his wife and she went to the car to pull them out. 'Saved for our best customers', he said. I felt honored. At that point, you looked at Thomas and said, 'I guess we are not the only ones'.

I searched for Pierre Couseau. I knew you would want to meet him. In fact, you lit up to speak French. Pierre is a 'pastore dei aromi.' Shepherd of aromatic herbs. He grows them biologically where they like to grow, dries them in a rustic wooden shelf under a loggia and mixes them
according to his whim. He is Alsatian-French all the way. He brings his sense of smell to the job as if her were a perfumer. He takes his time to create a relationship with the plants, gets to know them, then is inspired to make blends for fish, soups, meat, vegetables, etc, etc. His aromatic salts are addictive. Spiced with 5 types of pepperoncino, his 'le grande sale' is never far from my fingertips in the kitchen. He uses the forgotten Renaissance herbs, such as lavender, hyssop, myrtle, lemon rind, as well as sage, sage flowers, rosemary and thyme. Poetic in his approach, he could talk for hours about them. He did. And we listened.

Meanwhile, a sitarist puts out his blanket and sets off to play. It enlivens the piazza. People gather round. Then, a dancer appears. She proceeds to get very familiar with the ground, the bare street, as if it were a stage, her bed with crisp lenins or a yoga mat. Her dances are mezmerizing, including some traditional Indian dance, as well as yoga, as well as modern interpretive. Graceful and lithe, she became one with the music, the street, the sky, my eyes, in one fluid movement that never stopped form hand stand, to head stand, from rolling, folding, to unfolding with complete control. One was worried about her hands and feet being so dirty. So was every other Italian that watched and cringed. Yet, they clapped and were amazed.

I knew that she was in a world of her own, with the music, the sky, the ground, the other people. The idea of equanimity was her dance. Accept it all. There is no separation between you and I, the dirt, the cleanliness, your language or mine. Just the suchness of the day. We dropped a few coins in the hat and walked away. Thomas was reluctant. She had black curly hair like his and deep soulful eyes. And for a while, a stunning creature like himself, was on all fours in contact with the ground.

With everlasting love,


Peggy Markel
Peggy Markel's Culinary Adventures
Tuscany Sicily Amalfi Morocco
cell Italy: (39)339 2614982
cell US: 303 817 5785
cell Morocco: (212) 71157395

October 1, 2009

Rockin' the Floridian Kasbah at Studio B the Beach

Preserved lemons, caviar d'aubergine, seductive spices, tantalizing Tagines, oranges in orange blossom water, honey and cinnamon and a close-to-the-lips encounter with 'Omar Sharif'..


1 1/2 oz of Kettle One Citron
1 oz of pomegranate liquer
1 oz of pineapple juice
1 squeeze of lemon
2 or 3 shakes of cinnamon
5 or 6 mint leaves

Shaken not stirred...

Collaboration between Peggy Markel, Steve Peters, bartender and Karim Boulet, sommelier
at The Kitchen Cafe', Boulder, Colorado.

Recipes to be printed in 'Coastal Living' Magazine.