Monthly Archive for April, 2010

Just Let Me Lie Down

Have I stumped you yet? What on earth could I be talking about now? It all starts with an invitation to lunch at an adorable restaurant in Palo Alto called Vino Locale. The proprietor is the seventh son of a seventh son and had quite a personality. While the restaurant is typically closed on Monday, this colorful gentleman played host to a group of ladies serving his finest savory and sweet nibbles. The event was the then upcoming release of Just Let Me Lie Down – the necessary terms for the half-insane working mom – written by Kristin van Ogtrop, the editor of Real Simple.

The food-side chat not only gave great insight into her book, which is wonderfully witty and ironically realistic, she was kind enough to want to learn more about my first book and help me plan the next one! She had some great professional insight and ideas into the marketplace and now has me laser focused on book #2. Speaking of food, (go figure right? how unlike me- not!) one of my favorite excerpts from Kristin’s book Just Let Me Lie Down is a recipe…

Recipe for disaster: Things you believe you can accomplish in the kitchen during those deluded moments when you think devoting an entire day to cooking actually works with your schedule and lifestyle. Including, but not limited to, osso bucco, cassoulet, and pavlova. (She is a woman/mother after my own heart.)

And Kristin even manages to encapsulate my mobile dependency when she writes about Technical bipolarism: When you wake up in the morning and can’t imagine how you would get through life without your BlackBerry, but by bedtime, you want to strap a bomb to it and blow it to smithereens. (Heck yeah!)

I’ve selected this recipe from my treasure trove just might fit the bill- easy to make and allows time for the cook to ‘just lie down’ and take a nap. It makes a nice side dish or light stand alone meal. It is one of my favorite summer recipes taught to me by my Zia Maria Rosa when we spent some time one summer in La Maremma, Italy. The weather there is so hot in the summer that the dinner meal is typically prepared at breakfast when it is still cool enough to turn on the oven. This recipe can easily be modified to include most anything yummy in your fridge or pantry — the possibilities are endless, have fun with it and know that in some way this reflection of my time spent in Italy ties back to my chance meeting with Kristin to celebrate her new book and our discussion of my upcoming cook book – it’s really all just ‘Real Simple’.

Maremma Rice Salad


2 cups cooked rice
1 cup dry mozzarella, cubed
1/2 cup peas, cooked
1/2 cup pearl onions, cooked
6-10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
3 TBS red wine vinegar
2 TBS mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste


Cook rice according to package directions. Set aside to cool. Slightly under cook peas and onions and drain and set aside. In large size bowl, mix all prepared ingredients together. Then add Parmesan cheese olive oil, vinegar and mayonnaise.

Special thanks to my good friend Stacy Libby for all of her photos from the luncheon. For a great blog-time check her out on Laptop TV Mom at And thanks to the Silicon Valley Moms Blog for the wonderful opportunity to meet Kristin. You can order Kristin’s book on Amazon.

Gina von Esmarch, Kristin van Ogtrop & Stacy Libby

En Vogue Produce & Earth Day Hullabaloo

As a food blogger I have pondered how to celebrate Earth Day in way that makes sense to me and brings together the two things I am most passionate about – food and family. This time of year it is easy to notice that certain foods look good but may be lacking their in-season succulent flavor. The foods on the “no go list’ from a flavor perspective are tomatoes, cantaloupes, and asparagus. Foods to gravitate towards include English peas, artichokes, morels, and fava beans. How does this help the earth? Well, aside from the obvious benefit to the person eating these items – ergo in season produce tastes better and is more nutritious – your food will not have traveled thousands of miles to reach your table, which saves on fuel and gives the environment a break…and your wallet too since these good eats are often less expensive. Take away (no, I did not say Take Out! 😉 ). Eating “in season” is a noble way to celebrate the earth – and April 22, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

While I could tout that the best place to find the freshest produce is at your local farmer’s market, I must tell you that I am not 100% on that band wagon. I think there are some farmer’s markets that are hiring people to take their unrefrigerated produce out on the local circuit as it has become much more en vogue to purchase one’s produce in this fashion- the problem, is that when it is not freshly grown and picked by the “local” farmer, it is again traveling around long distances, remaining unrefrigerated and really worse for you than if you had purchased it in a super market. I know. I know, this is difficult to hear (or read). We all want to know our local grocers and while you can’t throw one bad apple out with the lot, you do have to be a bit of an investigative consumer. I jest you not, this has turned into a big business! Enough of my rant on what how to be a savvy earth-friendly food shopper. Let’s get to the grits of this post or at least the fava bean. I came across this recipe from @CityMama and instantly LOVED it. It quickly became a hit around my house and the bright green hue of these beans seem like just the right color to kick-off my Earth Day Tribute!

Be sure to read the entire recipe as there are two sets of ingredients and two sets of directions – all very easy and quick to put together!

Fava Bean Crostini with Shaved Pecorino Romano

Fava Bean Crostini Ingredients

3-4 lbs of fava beans, shelled and boiled as described below, then skinned
1 clove of garlic
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
pecorino romano, shaved with a potato peeler
thinly sliced toasted bread or toasted pita wedges

Notes: Approximately 3-4 pounds of fava beans in their pods to yield about a cup of pureed favas. They go so well with garlic and your best, fruitiest olive oil, and if you have a food processor you can make these pre-dinner treats in just a few minutes. You can use any assertive, flavorful hard cheese like parmesan, caciota di boschi, aged goat gouda etc.

Fava Bean Crostini Directions

Favas do require a little work but the reward is so worth it. You have to shell the beans and then remove the skin that covers each individual bean. Look for pods with small-to-medium-sized beans. They are sweeter, and when the beans are small you don’t necessarily need to remove the skin that covers the bean. The larger the beans are, the tougher the skin on the bean. Place the shelled but unskinned beans into boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes, then drain them and shock them in an ice bath. The skins will soften and shrivel and you can pop them right off.

Place favas in bowl of food processor with garlic. Turn on motor and through food tube, slowly drizzle olive into bowl in a thin stream until favas as creamy and almost smooth, about the consistency of hummus. Taste for salt and remove the puree to a bowl.

Crostini Ingredients

1 loaf crusty bread, sliced into 1/2-inch slices (better if it is a day+ old)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crostini Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

On a baking sheet, arrange the bread slices in a single layer Bake until bread is golden brown and crisp, approximately 9-12 minutes. Put a generous teaspoon of fava bean puree atop a slice of toasted bread and shave pecorino romano over it. Grind pepper over and serve. Refrigerate any leftover puree.

Serves approximately 20 pieces.

Squeezing out some fun

I recently had the opportunity to see Chef Michael Chiarello. I had been to Tra Vigne frequented his store Napa Style and am setting my plan for a special visit to Bottega this summer. He has captivated me on TV and is no less charming in person- what I did discover is that he is a wonderful story teller and that he too has his roots in Southern Italy.

Leading the charge to unearth some really wonderful insights into the life and times of Michael was Table Hopper’s Marcia Gagliardi (yes, another Pisan you can follow on Twitter @tablehopper). And to finish off the evening was a recipe for one of Michael’s ‘bites’ and then a tasting of the recipe paired with some wine from his private vineyard.

There are three videos to this post two which show Chef Chiarello making the artichoke crostini bites and the other from his interview with Marcia when he speaks of how he learned to tenderize an octopus while cooking for the King of Thailand. I encourage you to watch all three as they could quickly become party stories amongst the foodies.

Artichoke Crostini Bites
Note: There are two ingredients lists and two sets of directions.

Chef Chiarello’s Tips/Tricks:
1) Select artichokes that are tightly closed heads and be sure to trim away any dark green spots. These will be bitter.
2) He likes to call this one of his master recipes as it is truly versatile. It can be used as an appetizer, as this recipe depicts, or as a sauce for fish, as a pesto for pasta or even as a soup by adding a few new nuances.
3) To make this into a pesto: add 1/2 cup tightly packed (cleaned) basil when blending. As a fish sauce, add a bit of tarragon, for a soup add in some extra broth and cream.

Artichoke Puree Ingredients

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed
3 large cloves garlic, quartered lengthwise
1 tsp thyme leaves, finely chopped fresh
1 bay leaf
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
6 medium size or 4 large artichokes (or 1 12oz-package frozen artichokes, thawed)*
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
1 tsp lemon zest
Burrata cheese-optional for topping

Note: If you are using frozen artichokes you will want to peel off a few leaves to deep fry as decoration. If you are using fresh artichokes you may want to use a mandolin and thinly slice 1/2 of an artichoke as decoration.


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Working with one artichoke at a time, bend the tough outter leaves backwards until they break (the video shows exactly how to do this). Continue to remove the leaves in the manner until reaching the more tender interior leaves that are at a yellowish green color. Taking a serrated knife, cut across the leaves at the point where the color changes from yellowish to dark green. Trim the stem of its outer layer, then trim the base to 1-2 inches removing any dark green spots. Quarter the artichokes lengthwise and scoop out the purple colored choke. Place the quarter artichokes in a large size bowl, add in the the lemon juice, salt and pepper turning to coat.

In a deep ovenproof pan, combine 1/2 cup olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Add the artichokes and mix to coat. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Cover with pan with aluminum foil, transfer to the oven, and cook until the artichokes are slightly browned and tender when pierced, approximately 35 minutes. Remove from oven, set aside and cool in the liquid. Remove the bay leaf.

When the artichokes are cooled, place along with the liquid into a food processor, add beans, cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Pulse until the mixture is chunky. With the machine running, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and process until smooth.

Remove Burrata cheese from the refrigerator.

Serves 8 – 10 (makes approximately 2 cups)

Crostini Ingredients

1 loaf crusty bread, sliced into 1/2-inch slices (better if it is a day+ old)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crostini Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the bread in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

On a baking sheet, arrange the bread slices in a single layer. Using a pastry brush, brush the bread with 1/4 cup of the oil. (If you don’t have a pastry bush, just drizzle olive oil over the bread.) Bake until golden brown and crisp, approximately 9-12 minutes.

Bake until bread is golden brown and crisp, about 8 to 9 minutes. Spoon the artichoke mixture onto the crostini. Place a piece of Burrata cheese on top (or sprinkle Parmesan cheese), add decorate with fried artichoke hearts. Drizzle with oil and serve.

To follow Chef Michael Chiarello on Twitter @ChefChiarello
Let me know if you loved his method for squeezing lemons as much as I did. I tried it but found it was a bit painful. My aunt’s secret to getting all of the lemon juice out of the lemon is to first roll the lemons on a firm surface to soften them. She then places them one at a time in the microwave for 35 seconds, cuts them open and squeezes the juice out.

An Easter Tradition

Meeting someone’s entire family for the first time can be a bit nerve racking, especially when it is around a family holiday like Easter and you are only 18 years old. But there is nothing to set someone more at ease than the charming gap-toothed (think Lauren Hutton), twinkling-eyed (akin to Paul Newman) smile of the family legend, known as “Papa”, handing you a ‘virgin’ version of his signature holiday drink. (Or maybe it wasn’t sans-alcohol but it’s now too many years later to make a fuss- the tradition behind the cocktail was in itself something that set smiles across the room -or at least I thought it was the tradition, it may have just been the buzz of the alcohol.)

A special drink, about a special family that welcomed me into their home more than half a lifetime ago. And today I welcome you, as member of my cyber-family, to share this recipe, the first I’ve published on my blog taken directly from my cook book ‘Taste This’.

Cin Cin.

Vodka Fizz


1 oz vodka
1 oz triple sec or Contreau
1 cup frozen peaches
1/2 cup ice cubes or crushed ice
1/2 cup 7-Up
2 cups half-and-half
1 TBS sugar
1 egg
nutmeg, dash


Put all of the ingredients in a blender and mix until frothy.

Pour into a clear glass and top with a dash of nutmeg.

Serves 4-6