I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Italy. We visited Sorento and the Amalfi coast and then motored our way north to the region of Tuscany. Most of us on the trip took in the sights and attractions, but I focused on the food and wine.
We interspersed multi-course meals in Michelin star restaurants with neighborhood trattoria’s (many of which offered menus featuring pages of pizza and pasta choices). I came away with three favorite dishes.
At the Don Alfonso 1890 Ristorante in Sorrento you can choose from several pre-set menus, starting with three courses and adding up to an astounding seven! My favorite course was dessert, a large platter filled with bite size pastries from truffles to cookies to nut-coated cake sticks, all set atop a smoke filled background. It was something! I’m posting a video to my social media on this one!
Just a quick nine minute helicopter ride from Sorrento you are transported to cliff side gardens and vast views of the Amalfi coast in the quaint city of Ravello. The Belmond restaurant in the Hotel Caruso sits at the top of the village and offers an outstanding dining experience. The menu features fresh Mediterranean cuisine, starring seafood from the coastal waters.
My favorite dish was an elegantly presented tuna tartar infused with fresh peaches. It was almost too gorgeous to eat, but I took one for our team and devoured every bite.
My final meal was a delicious lunch at Osteria di Passigno in Tuscany. The restaurant sits next to an ancient abbey house where a few monks still reside. The fields are filled with grape vines. A few varieties of wine are grown here, but the pride and joy is the Chianti Classico, a designation of wine that is solely made in this area.
After a quick tour of the winery and gardens, we were treated to a multi course meal that started with an extra virgin olive oil tasting and finished with pear-filled puff pastry drizzled with locally grown honey.
My favorite dish was a brothy fish stew accented with shaved vegetables that rose like stalagmites from the center of the dish.
I arrived home after a lengthy day (I mean 24 hours) of traveling. After a day of emptying suitcases, petting the parent-deprived dog and checking in with pals, I found myself in the kitchen. Inspired as I was, my first dish was neither pasta nor pizza. Instead, it was the delicious Mediterranean inspired fish dishes that won me over.
It took only a quick trip to the market to come up with the ingredients for one of my favorite dishes from SUNDAY BEST DISHES, Puttanesca Poached Cod. I share it with you, not only because it is a simple, yummy dish, but also, because it might inspire you to make Italy a destination in your travel plans.
Puttanesca Poached Cod
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (7-ounce) tin flat fillets of anchovies packed in oil
1 (14-ounce) can marinated artichoke hearts, about 8 to 10 medium size, sliced
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced, about 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 cup red wine
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
4 (4 to 6-ounce) fillets of cod
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
Place the olive oil and anchovies (with oil) in a skillet over low heat. Cook until the anchovies begin to melt. Increase the heat to medium high. Add the artichoke hearts, olives, garlic and capers. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the wine. Cook until most of the liquid disappears, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the sauce reduces by half, about 10 to 15 minutes. Place the cod into the sauce. Cover the skillet with a lid. Cook until the cod just begins to flake, about 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets.
Season the top of the fillets with salt and pepper, and a sprinkle of lemon juice. Serve the cod surrounded by the sauce and lemon wedges.
Sharlyn Davis-Powery, owner of Cafe Sweets Bakery in West Palm Beach, enjoys a stop on the food tour.
3 to 4 hours of FUN!
If you’re lucky enough to know West Palm – and lots of my subscribers do – then you, my friends, are privy to some remarkable dining experiences. Believe me, I know. I lived in Ft. Lauderdale for most of my life, and now in Jupiter, Florida. My food blog editor, Jen, set off with her family on a five stop restaurant tour that looped around the historic and art-filled districts of Boynton and Delray Beaches.
Lead by Lori Durante, founder of Taste History Culinary Tours, the group was picked up by 11 a.m., and whisked away to venue #1: Hurricane Alley.
Here, they tucked into “Floribbean” flavor, a combo of Florida and the Caribbean in every bite. Tour goers remarked that the chowder had a freshness to it – must’ve been the day’s fresh catch. At this particular establishment, Jen recommends the smoked tuna dip, topped with a fresh jalapeno in the photo below.
Next came a short walk to view the massive sculptures by Albert Paley that decorate the Avenue of the Arts. Since my upcoming cookbook, Canvas & Cuisine is bursting with art, I was happy my food blog editor took the time to appreciate it with her family on this special Saturday.
Soon after, they ducked into the Amanda James Gallery to meet her, view the whimsical things she makes, and see her husband’s paintings that are also on display. It was a nice way to work up an appetite for ice cream.
Food tour stops in the Amanda James Gallery. She is pictured, back row right.
At the Boardwalk, Jen tells me she tried many combinations of custard, gelato and Italian ice, but her absolute favorite was the “Strawberry Banana”. It was the most perfectly balanced ice cream she had ever had. You really do feel like you’re on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in Jersey in this fun ice cream shop.
After that, Driftwood: a fairly new establishment that is owned by a young family who have been chefs as far away as Hong Kong, and know their world cuisine. The presentation of their appetizers was art in and of itself. They made Jen a mixed drink to end all mixed drinks. Here’s a photo.
The tour bus re-boarded soon after, and headed to Delray. The next tasting: Foxworth Fountain, a historic pharmacy that still has art deco era lettering on its outdoor sign. The owners here, direct descendants of the original pharmacy owners, have stayed true to what the venue looked like in the good ol’ days.
Their soda fountain counter and kitchen dispense treats like egg creams, ginger seltzers and chicken salad, using the same recipe handed through the generations: a generous sprinkling of curry and sweet grapes.
After that, the group took a sweep through the historic Colony Hotel that hasn’t changed a bit since the 1920s. This architectural jewel is so close to the ocean, you can smell it – feel its tropical breezes on your skin: a perfect lead up to the last stop.
Bamboo Fire Café represents a lot of different cultures and cuisines, from Jamaican jerk chicken to the roti dishes of Asia. Jen wants the recipe for their homemade Calypso Lemonade, but they thought better of sharing their secrets. Jen thinks she could taste confectioner’s sugar, vanilla bean, and maybe the savory element of tumeric in the super refreshing drink. Curry and jerk meatballs, a spicy chicken in what tasted like a plantain and mac n’ cheese bake, and guava cheesecake rounded out the experience. Everyone vowed to return.
Before they said goodbye to their guide, Lori – who, btw, has won all sorts of commendations and awards for this tour, they visited the industrial arts section of Boynton Beach. They had come full circle, and it was the perfect opportunity to admire warehouse murals with eye popping designs. Lori says she loves the art as much as she loves the food.
Anna Russon, my food blog editor’s daughter, in front of an Industrial art installation; note her tote, compliments of the food tour!
Tell Lori, hi from Jorj.com!
I will send Jen back to report on other tours offered by Taste of History. Heck, I may come along next time. Perhaps I can sweet talk my way into learning some of these family recipes. Highly recommend this tour!
Is it summer yet? With Memorial Day right around the corner, and a heat wave oppressing the south, it sure does feel like it. My very own version of a favorite French salad is easily put together, and works with just about any fresh veggies and tuna/salmon you have on hand. It’s perfect for when you have graduation ceremonies, recitals and tee-ball playoff games to attend, yet need a refreshing entrée salad to whip up and fortify you before going into Mom mode.
This simple yet sophisticated salad is made up of tomatoes, olives, anchovies (my favorite) and hard boiled eggs. In this particular version of Nicoise, I left off the olives, and to my sweet surprise it still tasted like a classic Nicoise. The great thing about this quintessential summer salad is not needing everything you think you do to make it great – everything works! Let your creative license run wild!
On many American menus, you can find a version of a Nicoise salad that includes tuna, crisp-tender haricot verts and par-cooked potatoes.
Mine, of course gives a nod to the original French dish, and whole lotta latitude with this creative adaption. Let me know how you tweaked yours, and I just might show up for dinner!
Jorj’s Nicoise Salad Serves 4 30 minute cuisine
For the salmon:
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
For the vinaigrette
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Juice of a lemon, about two tablespoons
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
For the baby potatoes:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Sea salt and pepper to taste
For the Salad:
1 (2–pound) whole salmon fillet
1 pound seared tuna
1 (7-ounce) tin flat fillets of anchovies, packed in oil
¾ pound green beans, trimmed
1 pound Baby potatoes, boiled and peeled
Juice of a lemon, about two tablespoons
½ pound fresh Brussels sprouts, about 12, trimmed, about 2 cups
5 large eggs, hard-cooked and peeled
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
Boil the baby potatoes until the tines of a fork can penetrate easily, about 10 minutes. Toss the potatoes with olive oil, fresh parsley, salt and pepper. Cool these to room temperature. Blanch the green beans and Brussels sprouts in boiling water, throwing them into an ice-water bath to cool down; then toss in the lemon juice.
Make a salmon rub from brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, onion and garlic powders. Smush the powders onto a whole filet of salmon, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in a 375°oven until still very moist on the inside, about 20 minutes.
Add the seared tuna, anchovies, hardboiled eggs and grape tomatoes.
Make a vinaigrette from chopped shallot, mustard, lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. You can store the dressing in any container that you like, and add to the salad per your own taste. I like to drizzle my salad with vinaigrette right before I eat it.
Lay everything onto a platter and chill for at least an hour (and as long as all day).
When you’re thinking about Holiday Party cocktail appetizers, my recipe for Marinated Shrimp with Ginger-Peanut Dipping Sauce is a keeper!! This simple appy can be prepped hours before the game and finished just in time for kick-off. It yields six servings, so I don’t think anyone will go home disappointed. You may also have left over sauce to use as an aioli on the Sunday Best burgers I have in mind later this weekend, wink, wink…
Feel free to mess with the ingredients in both the marinade and the sauce until you find your perfect combination of flavors. By this point, Santa knows if you’re naughty or nice, so what’s the big deal about lots of extra peanut butter, right? And to add insult to injury, I gotta say that dirty martinis are amazing with this appy!
For more foodie naughtiness, order Sunday Best Dishes TODAY for the food’ophile on your Christmas list! For Jorj.com subscribers get your FREE autographed bookplate to insert into the book! Send an email TODAY to Jorj.com that includes your mailing address and the name you want me to personalize!!
Marinated Shrimp with Ginger Peanut Dipping Sauce
MAKES 6 SERVINGS
4 to 5 green onions, thinly sliced, about ½ cup
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, tender white parts only (substitute with 2 tablespoons lemongrass paste)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated, about 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground curry
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon all natural sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt (or kosher salt)
½ lb. fresh extra large shrimp, about 10 to 14
Place the green onions, garlic, lemongrass pieces and ginger into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to create a thick, yellow paste. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the vegetable paste and cook until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the spices, sugar and salt and stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Cool this spice mixture to room temperature. Coat the shrimp with the spice mixture. Place into a re-sealable plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 3 hours.
Heat a grill pan, coated with vegetable oil spray, over medium high heat. Grill the shrimp for about 2 minutes, turn and cook until just opaque about 2 minutes more. The shrimp will be golden and moist on the inside.
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
½ cup all natural peanut butter
Juice of 1 large lime, about 2 tablespoons
½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated, about 2 teaspoons
Whisk together coconut milk, peanut butter, lime juice, and ginger in a small pan over medium-low heat until smooth. Reduce the temperature to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve warm or at room temperature.
Serve the shrimp on a platter with a bowlful of ginger peanut sauce alongside.
close-up view of wide variety of Tapas in restaurant at spain
One of the coolest outings we arranged was on a family trip to Madrid; it was a tapas crawl! Our guide met us at our hotel and then took us on a walking tour of the local bars and pubs. We sampled small plates of paella, shellfish, specialty croquettes, and rich tomato soups, both hot and cold. We ended the evening at a coffee shop that served warmed churros directly from the fryer to the middle of your table, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and accompanied by a rich, deep chocolate sauce for dipping. To say the evening was yummy would be one of the biggest underestimates of the century!
For a recent dinner party, I decided to incorporate the tapas theme into the evening. My BIG plan is to think SMALL! Small plates that is. Rather than a soup to the nuts four-course menu, think small plates all the way through the meal.
I started the meal with an antipasti plate that included plums wrapped with prosciutto. The specialty drink was Sangria, which blended a bottle of dry red wine with brandy, triple sec, lemon and orange juices, and ginger ale.
The secret to a successful small plate dinner party, is to have the plates stacked for each item, and the food prepped and ready to go. The rest of the meal went like this: Croquets de Jamon, which is a fried ham and béchamel croquette, served with a dipping sauce of spicy aioli. Chilled gazpacho shooters served in juice glasses came next. A small dish of garlicky shrimp and shishito peppers followed the soup. In place of traditional paella, my Americanized version was made with shredded chili roasted short ribs, peas, and Portobello mushrooms. The final small plate presented warm churros with individual small bowls of chocolate sauce for dipping. Hungry yet?! If any of these tapas ring your bell, let me know. I have the recipes!
I canvassed my guests, and by far the favorite dish of the evening was the shrimp. It’s not only terrific as a small plate, but it’s also an easy, one-pan meal that is perfect for a busy weeknight dinner. Shishito peppers are only in season for a short time, so feel free to substitute with slices of poblano peppers, snow pea pods, green beans or asparagus. They all work well, with the garlicky olive oil and shrimp.
Garlicky Shrimp and Shishito Peppers
Serves 4 as main 6 to 8 as appy
30 Minute Cuisine
Slow cooking garlic in olive oil does double duty. The oil becomes fragrant, while the garlic becomes soft and sweet. Add the bite of whole shishito peppers and delicate shrimp, and you have a simple one-pan meal that come together in minutes!
1 whole head garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced, about ½ cup
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon paprika
10 to 12 shishito peppers
1 bunch green onions, tops removed, halved, and cut into 3-inch pieces
1 pound fresh extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined, about 26 to 30
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Heat the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and paprika and cook until soft, and just beginning to turn golden on the edges. Be careful not to burn the garlic! Add peppers, green onions, and shrimp to the pan. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Toss the veggies and shrimp in the garlicky oil, until the shrimp turn pink and are cooked for about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Delicate strands of spaghetti squash soak up the spiced, lemony sauce in this dish. Scoop the squash onto a serving platter and ladle the shrimp and sauce over top… or take the squash boats to the table and invite everyone to dig in!
40 Minute Cuisine
Preheat the oven to 375°
1 whole spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1-pound jumbo (21 to 25 count) frozen shrimp, peeled, deveined with tail on, thawed
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
½ cup butter, 4 tablespoons
½ cup olive oil
½ cup chili sauce
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 2 large lemons, about ¼ cup
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Pierce the squash with the tines of a fork. Microwave the squash on high for 2 to 3 minutes to soften (this will make it easier to cut). Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds and pulp. Place onto a baking sheet, skin side down. Sprinkle the flesh of the squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Flip the squash and bake flesh side down until soft, 30 to 40 minutes.
Toss the shrimp with Cajun seasoning and place in the refrigerator to chill for 20 to 30 minutes.
Melt the butter, olive oil, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and oregano in a pot over medium low heat. Simmer on low for 10 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper.
Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and place into the butter sauce. Cook on medium heat until the shrimp are pink, about five minutes. Remove the squash from the oven and flip over, flesh side up. Use a fork to pull spaghetti strands from the squash. Divide the shrimp into the squash boat. Pour the sauce over the top. Garnish with additional fresh parsley.