COMFORT ME WITH BUCATINI

Tomato Butter Sauce with Bucatini | for the love of the south

Cooking in advance makes me feel secure, relaxed. As we know, life does not arrange itself according to our schedules. Yes, sometimes takeout is the answer, but I rest easy as my trusty sauce of solace is there for me, like the most loyal of friends. There’s comfort in knowing all that’s left to dinner is to boil pasta, reheat this sauce from either the fridge or the freezer and a deep dish of pleasurable pasta awaits. 

This recipe is by the Grande Dame of Italian cooking herself, Marcella Hazan. If you love Italian cooking, you must have her cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Her Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter is one of the simplest pasta sauces, but what holds true in the kitchen holds true in life: the simplest things are the greatest. This recipe only has four ingredients, and the rule of thumb in cooking; the shorter the ingredient list, the higher quality of all the characters involved. Buy the best canned tomatoes and most wonderful butter you can get your hands on. I do have a habit of puréeing the tomatoes, but you can roughly chop or hand crush if you like. Add the tomatoes along with the butter, onion halves and salt to a pot. Simply place the saucepan on the stove and let it simmer away for 45 minutes or so. This sauce looks after itself, but you can give it a stir every so often to feel like you’re being a good guardian. You will know when the sauce is ready when the fat from the butter begins to pool at the top of the surface. The natural sweetness of the onion mellows the sharp acidity of the tomatoes. Butter adds a richness to the sauce and a wonderful stick-to-me-goodness when tossed with the pasta. It’s what I like to call a healthy relationship.

Simply adjust the salt to your taste, remove the onion, boil some pasta and dinner is just moments away. If you are making this sauce a day or two ahead, just stash it in the fridge, leaving the onion in the sauce and remove before reheating and tossing with pasta. I often make large batches of this sauce, portion into freezer bags, label and freeze so I can have a divine meal whenever I’m too tired or don’t have time to cook during the week but still desire to be comforted by a warm bowl of pasta with tomato sauce, which is often.

Swathed in the simplest velvety smooth tomato sauce and generously showered with Parmesan cheese, this pasta is best enjoyed with a loved one curled up in the deepest corner of the couch.

Comforting Tomato Butter Sauce with Bucatini

Serves 2 | Makes about 2½ cups tomato sauce 

The integrity of Marcella Hazan’s recipe is still very much intact. The original recipe allows for this sauce to coat 1 pound of pasta, but I find it’s perfect for 8 ounces of dried pasta served between two greedy individuals who love tomato sauce. Also, I’m using bucatini, but you can use your favorite pasta shape: angel hair, spaghetti, penne, rigatoni. In the words of Cole Porter, anything goes!

1, 28-ounce canned tomatoes, puréed or hand crushed

4 tablespoons unsalted butter 

1 medium yellow onion, peeled, halved 

Kosher salt 

8 ounces dried bucatini 

Parmesan cheese, for serving 

Simply toss the tomatoes, butter and onion in a saucepan over medium low heat. Season with salt and bring to a steady simmer. Allow the sauce to simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure to scrape the sides of the pot. Adjust the seasoning and remove the onion.  

Boil the pasta according to the package instructions, drain and toss the pasta into the hot sauce. Keep tossing until every strand is well coated. Serve among two warm bowls and scatter with Parmesan cheese. 

Backyard Gazpacho

During these sweltering months, I take pure pleasure in light, casually elegant and effortless meals. This is one of those recipes I keep at hand when I’m desperate for a dish celebrating the season and all of its offerings without making one feel weighed down. Gazpacho reminds me of summer evenings spent in our small backyard garden in Louisiana gathering Creole tomatoes and emerald cucumbers to be sliced and humbly seasoned with a generous sprinkling of salt and a splash of vinegar. These simply dressed vegetables graced our table every evening, and for me, gazpacho delightfully embodies the essence of summertime and the grassy sharpness of the beloved backyard garden.  

Our short story begins with tomatoes and cucumbers chopped into laidback chunks, tossing into a colander and scattering with a lavish sprinkling of salt. The salt will draw water from the vegetables, leaving you with a wonderfully intensified flavored gazpacho achieved effortlessly. Pile the rest of the ingredients into a deep bowl and using an immersion blender leisurely whirl everything together until you are left with a smooth, cool puddle of lusciousness. To make the gazpacho even more velvety smooth, pass through a food mill or a fine sieve. All that’s left is to make the soup as piquant as you desire. Keep in mind, when served cold, the flavors are subtly muted. This is the time to be bold, darlings. 

This gazpacho is an elegant starter at a summertime feast, but it’s balanced enough to stand on its own as a light lunch when served with resoundingly crunchy and beautifully bronzed garlic toast to dip into the cool shallow pool of rhapsodically coral gazpacho. Within a matter of moments, summertime is served without ever breaking a sweat. 

Backyard Gazpacho

Serves 2

Gazpacho can be made in a few days in advance and stashed away in the fridge until ready to serve. PS The addition of bread adds both ballast and a silky creaminess to the dish. 

4 medium sized tomatoes, cored, roughly chopped 

1 small cucumber, peeled, roughly chopped 

Sea salt 

1 cup stale bread, roughly chopped

1 small green bell pepper or large banana pepper, deseeded, roughly chopped 

1 garlic clove, peeled

¼ cup olive oil, plus more for serving 

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 

10 or so dashes Louisiana hot sauce 

Black pepper, for serving 

Garlic Sea Salt Toast, recipe below 

Toss the tomatoes and cucumber in a colander with a good pinch of sea salt and toss everything together. Let sit in the sink for 10 minutes, shaking the colander every once in a while. This step will help draw out excess water in the tomatoes and the cucumber leaving you with a more intensely flavored gazpacho.  

Toss everything together with the exception of black pepper in a bowl and whirl together with a blender or an immersion blender, adding more sea salt and blend until smooth. Adjust the salt, vinegar and hot sauce at this point. Strain the soup through a food mill or a sieve for a silky texture. Serve with a little black pepper sprinkled on top, a few puddles of olive oil and Garlic Sea Salt Toast. 

Garlic Sea Salt Toast

Serves 2

Olive oil 

2 slices sourdough bread, halved crosswise 

1 small garlic clove, peeled

Sea salt  

In a skillet over medium heat, add enough oil just to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the bread and fry until golden brown. Flip and fry the other side, adding more oil if needed. Place the toast on a plate and rub the entire surface of each piece with fresh garlic. Season with a sprinkle of sea salt. Serve hot! 

DELICIOUS DOUGHNUTS

 

Bacon Bourbon Doughnuts | amber wilson

Growing up, we had a ritual every Saturday morning in our house. My older sister and I piled into the family car: nightgown, tennis shoes, pink foam curlers, and all. Our destination: Delicious Donuts & Bakery on Nelson Road in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The bakery is a standalone shop across from a cemetery. It’s white with gray shutters and a matching gray metal roof, which made the most beautiful rap, tap, tap, tap sound on rainy mornings. There was a large ice chest in the front of the shop—I imagine fishermen would grab a few bags of ice for their catches of the day along with their morning doughnuts and coffee. We pulled up to the “drive-through”—the side window of the small house where we were greeted by the most heavenly scent of sweet dough. The sugar-coated stuffed doughnuts filled with berries and lemon curd were the ones my sister and I begged for. My parents ordered savory doughnuts called kalotchies, which were stuffed with boudin or crawfish tails. By the time we got home, my sister and I had faces covered in sugar and smiles.

Bacon Bourbon Doughnuts | for the love of the south

Now that I’m older, I need my doughnuts to be sweet but balanced with a touch of saltiness. My Bourbon Bacon Doughnuts are what I’m craving on the weekends. Tucked away in the pockets of these cloudlike, lemon kissed brioche doughnuts are pieces of smoky, crispy bourbon scented bacon. They are generously filled with billowy, just-sweet-enough cream and topped with more irresistibly sweet and savory candied bourbon bacon. The aromatic oaky headiness of the bourbon and caramelly brown sugar beautifully compliments the smoky saltiness of the bacon. After the bacon cools, you are left with dazzling, irresistibly sweet, smoky slices, both ready to accompany the heavenly cream and adorn the doughnuts. There’s only one word to describe these, delicious.

 

*This post is sponsored by Jones Dairy Farm. 

Bacon Bourbon Doughnuts | amber wilson

Bacon Bourbon Doughnuts

Makes 12 doughnuts

Jones Dairy Farm Dry Aged Cherrywood Smoked Bacon is the crowning glory to these doughnuts, and  is a beautifully balanced bacon for this recipe. The center cut is perfect as it crisps up wonderfully, and it is slightly sweet, creating a lovely balance to the saltiness. Visit the Jones Dairy Farm site to find their Dry Aged Cherrywood Smoked Bacon near you!

PS If you can’t find superfine sugar, simply whiz up granulated sugar in a food processor for 30 seconds or so until superfine!

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1½ teaspoons rapid rise (fast-acting) yeast

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Sunflower oil, for greasing bowl

Peanut oil, for frying

Superfine sugar, for coating

Whipped Cream Filling, recipe below

Candied Bourbon Bacon, recipe below

In a stand mixer fitted with a flat beater attachment, combine the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, eggs, lemon zest, and water. Beat on low speed until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl and form a ball, about 1-2 minutes.

Continue mixing on low speed and slowly add the butter, about 1 teaspoon at a time. Once the butter is incorporated, mix on medium low speed until the dough is glossy, smooth, and elastic, about 8 minutes, scraping the dough down halfway.

Lightly grease a medium bowl with sunflower oil. Scoop the dough into the bowl, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in size, 1 to 11⁄2 hours. Quickly knead the dough in the bowl to let the air out and tightly recover. Chill overnight or up to 24 hours.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with flour. Lightly flour a work surface and cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a tight ball, either by rolling the dough between your palms or on the work surface. Place on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle more flour on the tops of the dough. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in size, 2 to 3 hours.

In a heavy-bottomed medium pot, heat 2 to 3 inches of peanut oil over medium heat to 360°F. Line a plate with paper towels. Once the oil preheats, gently pick up a ball of dough and carefully slide the dough into the oil. Place 2 more balls of dough into the oil and set a timer for 2 minutes. Gently flip the doughnuts and fry on the other side for an additional 2 minutes. Drain on the prepared plate for a minute or so. Toss the hot fried doughnuts into a shallow dish with the superfine sugar.

Repeat to fry the remaining dough in batches of three. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the thermometer, making sure the temperature of the oil stays at 360°F. Adjust the heat as needed as you are frying the doughnuts.

Once the doughnuts have cooled slightly, pierce down the “seam” of the doughnut with a paring knife stopping about ¾ of the way down, creating a pocket for the filling. Place a piece or two of the Candied Bourbon Bacon inside the pocket, and then generously fill with the Whipped Cream Filling and top with yet another piece of Candied Bourbon Bacon.

Whipped Cream Filling

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the cream begins to thicken. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue whisking until the cream is softly whipped, holding its shape but still silky and smooth.

Candied Bourbon Bacon

6 slices Jones Dairy Farm Dry Aged Cherrywood Smoked Bacon

1 tablespoon bourbon

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350oF.

Stir bourbon and brown sugar together in a small bowl.

Place the bacon slices onto a rimmed baking sheet fitted with parchment paper. Brush bourbon sugar onto both sides of the bacon slices. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 min or until beautifully brown.

Lift the bacon off of the parchment, letting the fat drip off and place it on a plate lined with parchment paper. Do not use a paper towel. The candied bacon will stick to it! The bacon will have a beautiful lacquered look and will harden as it cools.

ODE TO CAST IRON

Cast Iron Chicken Pot Pie | for the love of the south

As I glide my fingertips across the slick surface, I can’t help but think of the never-ending tales of home cooked meals over the years preserved away in the glossy depths of the cast iron skillet. As the seasons change, I need my cast iron stories to tell of heartwarming, comforting meals. Chilly autumn afternoons are instantly uplifted by hearty soups and stews blipping away on the back burner. Lazy weekend mornings are filled with warm spices as pumpkin pie spice Dutch babies bake in the oven, revealing their duvet like ruffled edges and melted puddles of butter. Impossibility crisp roast chicken heady with the aroma of rosemary and garlic reclines in a skillet along with baby potatoes basking in a pool of gloriously golden chicken renderings. Effortless yet elegant pot pies with the flakiest edges of puff pastry grace the dining table. All of these dishes give thanks to the humble yet precious cast iron skillet. These are the kind of meals that comfort, making one feel whole again.

Fall Pumpkins | for the love of the south

My love of cast iron is inherited. Growing up, our heirlooms came in the form of glossy smooth cast iron skillets. These gleaming black skillets were permanent fixtures on the stovetops of the kitchens I grew up in. The most precious cast iron in my family belonged to my great great grandmother. I remember the moment I first laid eyes on its glasslike surface, and I thought about the decades of fried doughnuts, cornbread, roux and yeast rolls made in this skillet. The memory of each meal sealed away in its depths, adding layers to its history. When I held the treasured skillet, I felt in a way it had the power to bond me with the great women Southern before me -making me feel part of its legacy.

Cast Iron | for the love of the south

As a young girl, I was taught to value and respect the skillet. It sears beautifully, it’s essentially nonstick (just make sure you preheat the skillet first), and once the skillet is hot it stays hot. You get the loveliest crust when baking pies and breads in cast iron. It deepens flavors of dishes as it caramelizes or chars whatever is in the skillet beautifully. Because of its ability to withstand blistering hot temperatures, it’s perfect to use on the grill. Also, cast iron can go from the stove to the oven to the table, which means it saves me from washing any extra dishes.

Here are a few tips to keep your cast iron performing beautifully: A well-seasoned skillet—one that is essentially nonstick and has a shiny surface slick from use—can handle acidic foods, but if your skillet is new, acid will strip the seasoning. So, steer clear of anything acidic like vinegars, lemon juice, and tomatoes while you build up your seasoning.

After you are finished cooking in your cast iron, allow it to cool slightly and rinse it under hot water. Scrub with a pan brush until clean. Dry the skillet immediately and place it on the stovetop over medium-low heat. While the skillet is heating up, pour a nickel-size drop of flavorless oil, such as sunflower oil, into the skillet. You don’t need much! Turn the heat off and rub the oil into the surface of the skillet with a paper towel. Let the skillet cool and dry completely before putting it away.

Chicken Pot Pie Filling | for the love of the south

If you have stubborn residue caked onto your skillet, here’s what you do: Place the skillet on medium heat and add water to fill it one-quarter of the way up the side. Once the water begins to boil you will notice the residue releasing from the surface of your skillet. You can use a wooden spatula or spoon to help scrape the bits off the bottom of the skillet. Rinse out the pan. If there is still grime at the bottom, repeat until clean. If necessary, you can use a mild detergent. Just remember to season it afterward.

If you ever do discover a rust spot, don’t fear. Just use a stiff brush dipped in vinegar to scrub it off, let it dry and then rub it with a drop of oil. If you have a skillet that’s been neglected in the deepest darkest part of your cupboards, and it has become gray in color or has a light coating of rust at the bottom, all you have to do is wash the skillet with hot, soapy water, rinse and dry completely. Apply a neutral oil on a paper towel and rub the inside and outside of the skillet with oil. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any drips and place the skillet upside down on the top rack of the oven. Bake for one hour, turn the oven off and let the skillet cool completely in the oven before storing.

The best advice I can give to keep your cast iron skillet looking and performing beautifully is to use it constantly. This is the perfect time to make strings and strings of heartwarming meals leaving you and your loved ones feeling taken care of, readied to face a lovely season of change.

Cast Iron Chicken Pot Pie | for the love of the south

Here is the link to my Cast Iron Chicken Pot Pie recipe I created for Whole Foods Market this fall!

This post is written in partnership with Whole Foods Market, but all opinions are my own.

AROUND THE TABLE

Tomato & Bacon Sandwich with Chipotle Mayonnaise | for the love of the south

Tracing the lines down the slats of my kitchen table, sketching over the saw marks with my fingertips. This table gives life in a way, serving as a place to feed family, friends and myself; it’s a safe haven. It’s where we are restored and fortified, empowering us to face the world again.

I’m not a professional chef, but I am a professional eater, a home cook. The story of a home cook is rooted in where we come from, the lives we’ve lived, and the mouths we feed. My favorite cookbooks are written by home cooks. They are the ones that weave stories together; stories strung along about the lives of recipes, succession of meals, characters revealed around the table. My book is a story of the culture I hold dear, but more importantly, it’s a collection of what I eat every day.

Around the Table | for the love of the south

If you’ve had a marvelous tomato sandwich, then you will understand why I’m sharing this recipe from my book. Honestly, a tomato sandwich done right can be one of the most wonderful things in life. It’s simple yet deeply satisfying. Also, this is one of the handful of recipes that helped sustain me while spending countless hours writing and editing my cookbook. It never failed me, and no matter how busy I was, I knew in my kitchen I had the basics; bread, mayonnaise, Tabasco, bacon in my freezer and tomatoes on my countertop. There is such security in knowing I have everything I need to make a juicy and crispy tomato bacon sandwich.

I spent the first two years in my new house without a kitchen table. I couldn’t quite find the right one until I spotted this beautiful reclaimed wood table from Arhaus. It is elegant, sturdy, and full of character. I love how it had a life before it graced our dining room. The kitchen table is something precious to me. It’s one of those things like my skillets, silver, pearls and china I will pass on. This table will see many years of candlelit dinners ending in nights of empty bourbon glasses and caramel wrappers, brunches with antique vases spread about the table filled with blushing blooms, vanilla scented doughnuts, blackberries, chicory café au lait, and late lunches spent over bowls of chicken and sausage gumbo and spicy skillet fried okra. All the while, I’ll be engraving my own stories around the table, the heart of my home.

Tomato Bacon Sandwich from Cookbook | for the love of the south

Tomato & Bacon Sandwich with Chipotle Mayonnaise

Serves 1

This recipe is a grown-up version of my childhood go-to sandwich. If done correctly, a tomato sandwich can be one of the greatest pleasures in life. Since this recipe is simple and requires few ingredients, quality is key, so try to buy the best bread, tomatoes, and bacon that you can.

2 slices thick-cut bacon

2 slices of your favorite bread (I love sourdough or a crusty baguette.)

Chipotle Mayonnaise (recipe follows)

2 slices tomato (1/2 to 3⁄4 inch thick)

In a medium skillet, fry the bacon over medium-low heat until crispy. Drain the bacon on a plate lined with a paper towel. Place the skillet back on the heat and toast up both sides of the bread in the bacon renderings until golden brown.

Spread a layer of the chipotle mayonnaise over one side of each piece of toast. Lay the slices of bacon on top of the mayonnaise. Lightly press down on the bacon, helping it adhere to the mayonnaise. Lay the tomato slices on top of the bacon. Crown the sandwich with the remaining piece of mayonnaise-slathered toast. Press down on the sandwich and cut on the diagonal. This sandwich is best enjoyed standing over the kitchen sink.

CHIPOTLE MAYONNAISE

Makes 1⁄4 cup

1⁄4 cup mayonnaise

Several dashes of Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce

In a measuring cup, combine the mayonnaise and chipotle pepper sauce. Any leftover mayonnaise can be stored in the refrigerator for another use.

 

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VERONA, THE MARBLE CITY: PART II

Verona, The Marble City | for the love of the south

When we got back to the hotel late that afternoon, we bundled up for one final stroll around the marble streets of Verona. We walked under the Porta Borsari, which is at the end of the elegant Corso Porta Borsari. The ancient Roman gate to the city is constructed of local white limestone. It has two arches framed by pillars with Corinthian capitals. We made our way to the Basilica di Sant’Anastasia, which drips with Gothic influence. The colors of red, black and white echo from the floor to its crossed vaulted ceiling. Reverently, we walked around the church, attempting to take in all its beauty. Finally, we made it to the Piazza Bra, which is the largest square in Verona.

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We walked over the liston, which refers to the long marble slabs used for paving the west side of the piazza. We passed café after café filled with tourists and locals enjoying the brisk evening air and the bustle of the holiday festivities. The last stop was the Arena di Verona, the amphitheater located in the heart of the Piazza Bra. I imagined all the gladiator fights, jousts and tournaments that took place just on the other side of these stone walls. We walked all the way around the pink and white stone amphitheater. By this point, Michael and I felt quite confident we knew our way back to the hotel without directions, and we were about to be served a very large slice of humble pie.

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We were supposed to turn left at the arena. We thought we turned left. At first, it was romantic strolling arm in arm under the icicle lights strung along piazza after piazza. After ten minutes or so, we both realized we were absolutely lost. Shockingly neither of our phones were working so looking up directions to our hotel was out of the question. After about an hour or so (or for what felt like an hour), we dove deeper and deeper into the city. In which direction, I couldn’t tell you.  Miraculously, of course, we made our way back to the hotel. In a matter of moments all was well with the world, but we will never forget about our time getting lost head over heels in the Marble City of Verona.

Arrabbiata | for the love of the south

Arrabbiata

Generously Serves 2

Note: We traveled to Verona to visit with Giovanni Rana, which is a family owned pasta company in Verona. Having their pastas stocked in my refrigerator is a lovely way to remember the trip! I use fresh Giovanni Rana Tagliatelle for this recipe, but you can use any pasta shape you love!

 Arrabbiata literally means “angry” in Italian. The dishes namesake refers to the spiciness of this pasta dish. If you are sensitive to spice, reduce the amount of red pepper flakes to 1/4-1/2 teaspoon. I love using whole, green Castelvetrano olives for this recipe. To easily pit the olive, crush with the blade of a knife like you would smash a clove of garlic and fish out the pit. But, of course, you can use pitted olives if you like!

¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

1 garlic clove

1 small shallot

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 slice bacon, chopped

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, hand crushed

1 tablespoon tomato paste

6 ounces Giovanni Rana Tagliatelle

10 green olives, pitted, roughly chopped

Small handful basil leaves, hand torn

Kosher salt

Extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing

 

Finely chop red pepper flakes, oregano, garlic and shallot together. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add oil and bacon. Once the bacon is crisp and lovely and golden in color, toss in the red pepper flakes, oregano, garlic, shallot, and black pepper.

Once the shallots and garlic begin to color around the edges, about a minute. Slowly add the tomatoes and tomato paste to the skillet. Season with salt, and allow the tomatoes to gently come to a bubble. Lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve about ¼ cup of the starchy pasta water and drain the pasta in a colander.

Toss the olives and basil leaves into the sauce at the last minute. Add a little reserved pasta water and pasta to the sauce and toss. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve.

Arrabbiata | for the love of the south

This post was sponsored by Giovanni Rana, but all the experiences and opinions are my own!

VERONA, THE MARBLE CITY: PART I

Verona, The Marble City | for the love of the south

I fell in love with Verona the moment my right foot graced its pink marble streets. We began walking down the Ponte della Vittoria where we were greeted by a pair of equestrian statues on both sides of the bridge, welcoming us into the city. The deep blue Adige River sweetly swept under us as we walked across the bridge. Staring at the blushing marble paths and amber buildings with their ancient balconies, I understood why this city was the setting for one of the greatest love stories of all time.

After checking into our room at the Palazzo Victoria, Michael and I quickly dropped off our bags and walked hand in hand through the streets of Verona to the House of Capulet. We walked through the long entryway to the courtyard. The lengthy entrance opens to an ivy-covered brick façade decorated with elegant gothic windows on either side of the legendary balcony. All the way at the end of the courtyard is a lovely bronze statue of Juliet Capulet. I sat there for a moment and listened to the words penned by Shakespeare almost haunting the walls as they echoed around me. We made our way past the crowd and back through the long archway, which is covered in graffiti were couples have written their names on the wall, believing that doing so means their love will be eternal. On the way back to the hotel, we just had to pass by Romeo’s medieval house. We almost missed the building until we spotted this inscription on the exterior wall, “Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Verona, The Marble City | for the love of the south

Our room was on the top floor of the hotel. Floor to ceiling windows faced the center of a honey-colored courtyard below. Despite freezing temperatures, I opened the windows and played Noël Coward’s “A Room with a View” while looking out onto the courtyard in my pajamas with an espresso in hand.

Verona, The Marble City | for the love of the south

On the second day, we traveled east to the small hamlet of Soave. We pulled up to the city’s ancient walls to Borgo Rocca Sveva, which is home to the most beautiful wines in the region. We toured the winery and completely fell in love with both the silky, ruby red Amarone della Valpolicella and with the floral and fruity Soave Classico. After our wine tasting, Michael and I decided to venture inside the walls of Soave. Perched at the top of the hill, the majestic Castello di Soave overlooks the town. The sky was overcast, and it left a golden glow over the city. It was as if I was looking through a glass filled with white wine from the region or perhaps we drank too much at our tasting. Either way whether it was the weather or the wine, it was a lovely trip indeed.

Verona, The Marble City | for the love of the south

Grilled Radicchio & Balsamic Pasta | for the love of the south

Grilled Radicchio & Balsamic Pasta

Serves 2

Note: We traveled to Verona to visit with Giovanni Rana, which is a family owned pasta company in Verona. This dish is inspired by the lovely radicchio I found in the markets in Italy. I love the way the bitter radicchio is slicked by the smoky bacon and the whole dish is lifted by beautiful balsamic vinegar. I am using Giovanni Rana Fettucine for this dish, which is great for a quick weeknight meal. 

 

6 ounces Giovanni Rana Fettuccine (or any other long, thin shaped pasta)

½ small head radicchio, core removed, leaves separated

1 slice bacon, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon rosemary leaves, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Pinch red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Shaved Parmesan, for serving

Extra virgin olive oil, for serving

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve about ½ cup of the starchy pasta water and drain the pasta in a colander.

In a large skillet over medium heat, grill the radicchio leaves for a few seconds until charred in a few spots. Remove the radicchio from the skillet and set aside. Toss the bacon into the skillet. Once the bacon is lovely and crispy, take the skillet off the heat and add the grilled radicchio, tearing the leaves into long strips as you add them to the skillet. Toss in the rosemary, garlic, red pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar, butter and reserved pasta water. Place the pan back on the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Add the fettuccine and toss, toss, toss. Divide between two bowls and shower with shaved Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Radicchio | for the love of the south

This post was sponsored by Giovanni Rana, but all the experiences and opinions are my own!

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A VENETIAN WONDERLAND

A Venetian Wonderland | for the love of the south

We stepped off the platform at the Venice train station and strolled through the sliding glass doors. As the doors slid open, it was as if we were transported through the looking glass and into a wonderland teeming with life and infinite color. Venice greeted us with the San Simeone Piccolo with its pale green dome and white columns, cinnamon rose-hued palazzi, and jade-colored canals.

A Venetian Wonderland | for the love of the south

As Michael and I strolled deeper into the heart of the city, I was shocked by the narrowness of the alleyways. Walking through the confined passageways, it was almost haunting how the city walls towered above me. All I could hear were the echoes of the voices beyond the walls and the sound of my luggage wheels skimming across the icy streets. Colorful Murano glass and carnival masks gleam like jewels against the dark facades in the alley.

A Venetian Wonderland | for the love of the south

Spicy Salami Pan Pizza | for the love of the south

As soon as we made it to our hotel, we quickly dropped off our bags. First things first, I needed to eat, and I was desperately craving pizza. We spotted a small bakery/pizza shop a few steps away from our hotel. Strings of pizza and focaccia were displayed on pale wooden cutting boards. The dough was cloudlike and fluffy. My eyes fixed on the spicy salami pizza. I ordered a few slices along with a piece of tomato focaccia. Lastly, I ordered an Aperol spritz, which was jewel-toned, slightly bitter and simply adorned with an orange slice. The pizza was soft in the center yet crisp at the edges; each slice elegantly dressed with mozzarella, fresh tomato sauce, and spicy salami. We were in heaven.

With our stomachs full and pizza cravings slaked, we were able to focus on discovering the city. We followed arrows directing us to the Piazza San Marco. We rode the elevator to the top of the Campanile di San Marco for the best view of the city. We strolled past rows of deep blue gondolas bobbing side to side in the water and statues with such detail they looked as if they were about to come to life. As we made our way to the Basilica San Marco, snow began to fall. At that moment, I felt like we were in a kind of snow globe as we stood in the center of the piazza.

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A Venetian Wonderland | for the love of the south

Perched in a stone building along a canal just off the Piazza San Marco is Harry’s Bar. As I opened the heavy, wooden door, I was immediately greeted by a kind waiter in a crisp white jacket. He pointed to the corner table and asked what we’d like to drink. Without skipping a beat, I said, “Bellini, please.” It was only natural as Harry’s is the birthplace of one of my favorite cocktails.

A Venetian Wonderland | for the love of the south

In 1948, the bartender, Giuseppe Cipriani, created a cocktail by combining thick, white peach puree with prosecco. He named the drink after the 15th century Venetian painter, Giovanni Bellini. As the summer sun set on his favorite Bellini painting, the colors reminded Cipriani of his beloved peach cocktail. My drink appeared seconds after we sat down at the lacquered wooden table. The Bellini was served in a small glass tumbler along with a little glass bowl filled with green, Ligurian olives. Specks of peach skin floated in the frothy, pale golden pink cocktail. Needless to say, this was the best peach Bellini I’ve ever had. It was a much needed little glass of summertime on a cold winter’s day.

A Venetian Wonderland | for the love of the south

Early the next morning, we walked from our hotel to the Rialto Bridge vaporetto. It was still dark, and a wintery mix of ice and rain drizzled in the air. We boarded the water ferry and said silent goodbyes to the city of Venice. I exhaled deeply as if waking up from the most wonderful dream as we walked through the sliding doors of the train station to the other side of the looking glass and back to reality.

Spicy Salami Pan Pizza | for the love of the south

Spicy Salami Pan Pizza

Makes 2, 13 x 9” pizzas

Note: The dough is inspired by Roberta’s fabulous pizza dough recipe. Of course, you can mix this dough by hand if you don’t have a stand mixer. Because this recipe calls for instant dry yeast, it does not need time to proof. If you are using regular dry yeast, allow it time to bloom in warm water for 5-10 minutes. The assembly portion of this recipe is for one pizza intentionally. Since the dough is split between two separate baking sheets, you can bake one off and save the other dough for the next day, or you can get creative with your own toppings for the second pizza. It’s a blank slate!

 

For the Pizza Dough:

612g (4 cups) all-purpose unbleached flour

16g (5 teaspoons) sea salt

2 cups warm water

4g (2 teaspoons) dry instant yeast

8g (2 teaspoons) olive oil

 

In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, mix flour and salt together for a few seconds.

In a measuring cup, stir together water, yeast and oil. Pour the liquid in the center of the flour and salt. Mix on a medium low speed for 3 minutes, or until the dough wraps around the hook and the sides of the bowl are clean.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and allow to rest for 25 minutes.

Cut the dough in half and form 2 equal balls. Place each ball of dough on a 13×9″ rimmed baking sheet fitted with lightly floured parchment paper. Top the dough with a little more flour. Tightly wrap with plastic wrap and stash away in the fridge for 8 hours or up to 48 hours. (If you don’t have space in your fridge for 2, 13×9″ baking sheets, place each ball of dough on a parchment-lined dinner plate instead. I always proof the dough on the baking sheet I will use to bake the pizza in so I am one step ahead of myself the next day, and I am saving myself from cleaning extra dishes. Win-win!)

 

For the Tomato Sauce:

2 cups whole peeled canned tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

Small handful basil leaves, hand torn

Sea salt

Toss all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and hand crush the tomatoes in with the oil, basil and garlic. Adjust the salt to your taste. (If you like a thinner sauce, you can purée the sauce or push it through a sieve, discarding the solids.) Set aside. If you want to make this sauce ahead of time, just stash it away in the fridge up to a week.

 

Assembly for 1, 13 x 9” Pizza:

1 portion of Pizza Dough, recipe above

Scant 2 tablespoons olive oil

6 tablespoons Tomato Sauce, recipe above

4 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into 1″ pieces

5 slices spicy salami, cut in half

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, for serving

 

Preheat the oven to 550oF.

Take the dough out of the fridge and lift the parchment with the dough still on top and place on the countertop. Rub the rimmed baking sheet with the olive oil, making sure to cover the bottom and sides of the pan with oil.

On a lightly floured surface, press and stretch the dough so it’s roughly the size of your sheet pan. Place the dough back in the oiled pan, loosely cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise next to the preheating oven for 30 minutes. (If you notice the dough is not completely covering the corners of the pan, take this time to gently lift the dough up, stretch the dough and firmly press into the corners of the pan. Any exposed space on the bottom of the baking sheet is a potential burn zone/oil-spattering station!)

Remove the plastic wrap and spoon the tomato sauce onto the dough, spreading the sauce close to the edges. Evenly scatter the mozzarella, salami and red pepper flakes over the sauce. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown, cheese has beautifully melted and salami is crisp. Shower with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve! (After I grate the Parmesan cheese over the pizza, I slide the whole pizza onto a large cutting board, slice it up and slide it back on the hot baking sheet to serve!)

Spicy Salami Pan Pizza | for the love of the south

 

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PRETTY IN PINK

Strawberry Shortcake Meringues | for the love of the south

February, the month of seemingly perpetual grey skies. When winter seems to drag on for all eternity and spring is nowhere in sight, in rambles Valentine’s Day in all its kitschy glory. This time of year, the world is in desperate need of a little color, a little life, and my answer to the call comes in the form of shockingly pink, cloudlike strawberry shortcake meringues worth swooning over. Usually I’m not one for kitsch, but on Valentine’s Day, I dive in head first.

These meringues are cartoonlike crunchy on the outside yet marshmallowy in the center. The crushed vanilla wafers remind me of slightly salty and buttery shortbread. Strawberries add a lovely tartness; meringues desperately need sharpness to balance out its sweetness. The flavor combination reminds me of those strawberry shortcake ice cream pops I loved when I was a little girl.

Yes, these meringues are over the top, but they are also a breeze to make. On Valentine’s Day, I would not have you chained all day to your oven or even think of asking you to reach for a candy thermometer. I want you to gracefully and confidently whip these up, feel like a domestic goddess and be treated accordingly. These beauties can be put together in less than thirty minutes. If you are like me, you will be watching An Affair to Remember while sipping on pink champagne as the meringues bake away in the oven. Once they come out of the oven, shower them with a final flourish of rose-hued strawberry dust. These meringues are prettier in pink, as all things are prettier in pink on Valentine’s Day.

Strawberry Shortcake Meringues | for the love of the south

Strawberry Shortcake Meringues

Makes 6 Large Meringues

Note: These meringues are adapted from Ottoleghi’s marvelous meringue recipe. He is the king of meringues. What I love most about this recipe is there are no candy thermometers or double boilers involved. I’ve included weights and measurements for the egg whites and sugar just in case you don’t have a scale. 

 

½ cup vanilla wafers

Pinch of sea salt

½ cup freeze-dried strawberries

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

300g granulated sugar (scant 1½ cups)

150g egg whites, from about 5 large eggs, room temperature

 

Preheat oven to 375oF.

Using a food processor, mortar and pestle or even a rolling pin and a heavy-duty plastic bag, pulverize the vanilla wafers. Add the sea salt to the crumbs and set aside in a shallow dish.

Pulverize the freeze-dried strawberries into a powder. Mix 1 tablespoon strawberry powder and vanilla extract together in a small dish, creating a paste. (Save the rest of the strawberry powder for dusting the meringues after they bake!)

Tip the granulated sugar onto a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet and cook the sugar for 7 minutes. Keep in mind the sugar is just getting hot at this point. You aren’t caramelizing it. This step ensures the meringue will be stable without having to heat the egg whites and sugar over a double boiler.

While the sugar is heating up, separate and weigh your egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set the bowl in the base of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. (Don’t start whipping the whites yet!)

Take the sugar out of the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 275oF. Slide the sugar into a bowl and set the baking sheet aside to cool.

Start whipping the egg whites on high speed. Once they become foamy, add the hot sugar 1 tablespoon at a time while the mixer is running. Whip on a high speed for 7-8 minutes or until the egg whites form stiff peaks. The meringue should hold its shape if you flip the whisk attachment upside down. Fold the strawberry paste gently into the meringue.

Using two large spoons, scoop a meringue mound into the vanilla wafer crumbs, tipping the meringue to one side so the crumbs cover the bottom and half of the meringue. Pick the meringue up with both spoons and place on the cooled baking sheet. Keep in mind the meringues will expand in the oven, so give them space between each other on the baking sheet. Repeat this process until you have 6 large meringue mounds.

Place the meringues in the preheated oven and bake for 2 hours.

While the meringues are still on the baking sheet, place the reserved strawberry powder in a small sieve and dust the tops of the meringues until perfectly pink! Once the meringues have completely cooled, store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

CITRUS BONDS

Satsumas | for the love of the south

Lacy railings adorn balconies as we stroll along Royal St. The combination of the faint scent of decay and the citrus growing in ancient pots into the center of courtyards spills out into the French Quarter. Jazz echoes through Pirate Alley as we pass St. Louis Cathedral.

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Naturally, we dined like kings in New Orleans. The po’boys from Parkway on Hagan Ave. are served on the softest French bread and then slathered with a thin layer of mayonnaise, thinly sliced tomatoes, cold shredded lettuce and are generously piled with the crispiest oysters you’ve ever had. All you need is a bottle of hot sauce and a pile of napkins as thick as a dictionary, and you are all set. In the heart of the French Quarter, we sat under the green and white awning at Café du Monde with a plate of beignets piled with a mountain of powdered sugar and washed them down with café au laits and hot chocolates. In the Caribbean Room at the historic Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District, we split the Mile High Pie, which is a wedge of ice cream pie with layers of chocolate, vanilla and pink-tinted mint ice cream, crowned with toasted marshmallow and drizzled with melted chocolate. Impossibly crusty bread, decadent turtle soup drizzled tableside with sherry and dark, rich seafood gumbos littered our table at Commander’s Palace.

Satsuma Peels & Coffee | for the love of the south

But all the while, I had a secret. Safely stashed away in a clear cellophane wrapped bag nestled in my purse were sweet and sour satsuma candied peels. I found these to be the perfect travel companions. Anytime I needed a hiatus from heavy dishes, I popped one of these sunny beauties in my mouth and instantly my palate was refreshed. We piled into the car and drove three and a half hours west to Lake Charles. The fresh citrus peeling reminded me of nibbling on a few contraband kumquats in the center of one of the courtyards in the French Quarter.

Satsuma Tree | for the love of the south

I woke up in my grandparent’s house the next morning. Immediately, I made a steaming cup of café au lait and walked all the way to the left of the yard to the great satsuma tree, which gave off the scent of sweet honeysuckles after an afternoon rain. I gently twisted the fruit off the tree and peeled back the thin, supple peeling. The cold juice from the swollen segments dribbled down my chin. I quietly sipped on my coffee and finished off half a dozen of freshly picked satsumas on an old ladder next to the tree.

On our way back to Nashville, we made our way past sugarcane fields being cleared, and I couldn’t resist reaching into my bag and pulling out one of these satsuma peels. During this time of year, I have a deep connection with these little fruits. They remind me of home, and that’s a very strong bond indeed.

Sweet & Sour Satsuma Candied Peels | for the love of the south

Sweet & Sour Satsuma Candied Peels

Makes about 2 cups

Adapted from Rebekah Turshen of City House in Nashville, TN

Note: Satsumas are my favorite citrus to use since the skin is thin and peels away with ease, leaving the rest of the fruit intact. This makes for a perfect snack for later!

P.S. You can find citric acid at spice shops or online!

 

6 medium organic Satsumas

2½ cups granulated sugar, divided

1 tablespoon citric acid

½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

 

Scrub the satsumas, and carefully peel the satsuma in one long piece if you can, trying not to break the peel so you can easily cut the peeling in long, thin strips. Cut in ¼-inch thick strips. You should end up with about 2 cups of sliced peelings. (Save the segments for snacking!)

Bring peels and 4 cups water in a small saucepan to boil for 5 minutes.

Drain and repeat process twice, using fresh water each time.

Return peels to pan and add 2 cups granulated sugar and 2 cups water. Bring to a soft boil and cook until peels are soft and translucent, about 30 minutes.

Drain and transfer peels in a single layer onto a rimmed baking sheet fitted with a wire rack. Chill for 20 minutes.

Mix citric acid, remaining ½ cup sugar and vanilla seeds in a medium bowl with your fingertips. Toss the chilled peelings to coat. Return to rack and let sit at room temperature for 4-12 hours. You want the peels to be completely dry before storing in an airtight container.

Stays good for 1 month!