Ciao'd while watching the robins


High, low. Up, down. Black, white. And for the purpose of this post, left coast (rain), east coast (snow). 

We seem to be living in a world of opposites lately. Points of view about politics, immigration, the stock market, and global warming are, more often than not, polarizing (pun intended). But when it comes to the weather, Mother Nature rules. 

While yet another snowstorm (say it ain't snow) is poised to blanket the east, in my neck of the woods we are celebrating spring. Literally. Those April showers that bring May flowers are about to deluge us, thanks to the pineapple express, a wash of warm rain that originates in the tropics. 

This weekend will be a beat down weatherwise but I proffer a sunny outlook in the kitchen. This salad showcases spinach, a green that deliciously straddles winter and spring. It's a "meaty" green with a toothsome texture and forward flavor. That's why it pairs so well with smoky, salty pancetta. Pine nuts offer a creamy crunch. 

The salad is a lovely side dish for 'most anything, cold weather or warm weather.  I savor it on its own, too, with crunchy, country bread - and a double dose of pancetta.

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This salad takes the Italian route with the addition of pancetta, pine nuts, and balsamic vinegar.

Serves 6

3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 pound pancetta, cut into bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 cups spinach leaves

Preheat to the oven to 350 degrees. 

Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and toast until lightly browned,
3 to 5 minutes. Watch them carefully, as they will burn in an instant!

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, cook the pancetta until crisp; drain on paper towels. 

In a large salad bowl, whisk together the vinegars and salt and pepper. Whisk in the oil in a steady stream. Taste for seasoning. Add the spinach and toss to coat with the dressing. 

Divide among 6 plates, sprinkle with the pancetta and pine nuts and serve immediately.

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Ciao'd while watching finches at the feeders.


After the excess, the abstinence. Whether you're enduring dry January, swearing off sweets, or embracing Paleo, this is the month that's buttressed by food resolutions (yes, I used BUTTress intentionally). Thankfully, resolving to eat healthfully doesn't mean jettisoning flavor. To wit, this winter salad with Gorgonzola and pears. Its crisp textures and full flavors are at once satisfying and refreshing. Yes, I know the salad includes cheese. Leave it out if you must but you'll miss the lovely creaminess that counterbalances the crunch of the other ingredients. Since you're eating so healthfully EVERY SINGLE DAY, a little bit of Gorgonzola won't harm you. 

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This robust salad is terrific with roast meats and poultry. Store the walnut oil in the refrigerator after it's opened. 

Serves 8 as a side dish

1/2 cup walnuts
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and black pepper
3/4 cup walnut oil
1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
Leaves from 2 small heads romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces (about 8 cups)
3 ripe but firm small pears, such as Red Crimson or Bosc, halved, cored and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast until the nuts are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool and then coarsely chop the nuts. 

In the bottom of a large salad bowl, stir the red wine vinegar, mustard, a generous dash of salt, and a sprinkle of pepper together. Gradually whisk in the olive oil and taste for seasoning, adjusting as necessary. Add the cheese and stir to combine. 

Add the lettuce, pears, and red onion to the bowl. Toss gently to coat the salad with the dressing. Sprinkle with the nuts and serve.

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Ciao'd with a tomato sandwich on squishy white bread

September has always been my touchstone for what's to come, what I hope will come, during the next year. Some people start the journey with New Year's resolutions, others with a budget for the new fiscal year.

The onset of the school year signaled the potential for reinvention, growth, and conquering what would be new and different. It was exciting. I loved the first day, the smell of chalk in the schoolroom and disinfectant in the halls, the likes of which would become increasingly mellowed as the school year ebbed and the musk of bodies skulking the halls, wet mittens, pencil shavings and molding lockers burgeoned. I loved, loved, loved college where I found myself and had a hell of a lot of fun. I don't care what people say; those years are the best years.

Later, photos of my son (names have been omitted to protect the not-so-innocent) on his first day of school ticked the passing years. They chronicle nursery school and the take-off to grammar school when I had the power to dress him as I pleased, his long blonde curls brushing the collar of his polo shirt. The brand of sneakers I preferred embraced his little feet. Except for a momentary pivot to brightly-colored soccer jerseys emblazoned with European team logos, Real Madrid and Manchester United among his favorites, he opted for khaki shorts, surf t-shirts (white) and Vans, a preference he wears to this day. As my son got older, I had to wrangle him for a first-day photo. These last few years he has downright refused me so I mentally snap the photos and file them in my memory.

This year, my son will be a senior. Five feet-eight inches tall, lanky and lean. He insists on wearing white Vans. They assume a boggy hue when he kicks ashes at beach bonfires, toes his skateboard, hikes to his posse's secret lair on Mt. Tam (I can only imagine the shenanigans), and skin boards on sports fields in the rain. He stands for God knows how long at the mirror finessing his hair and the John F. Kennedy waves therein. I am inordinately proud of this. JFK rocked the hair.

As each year passes, especially in high school, my son morphs more distinctly into a dimensional human being. His sense of humor sends me into hiccupping laughter, sometimes accompanied by tears. He has a knack for casting this spell on me even when I am cross with him. I suppose this will help diffuse marital spats later in life. His athleticism has blossomed and I am mesmerized by his litheness and acumen on the lacrosse field. I love his friends, their kinetic energy inciting a cyclone in my house fueled by silliness, vigorous opinions about sports, music, politics and girls, ravenous appetites, and sometimes, requests for my opinion. I try to be cool in the not-so-cool way of parents but I can never reach the high coolness of teenagers. Notes to those embarking on this wild ride: Do NOT comment on their music unless you write/perform/produce it. Stay AWAY from admitting that you smoke pot/weed/marijuana until they catch you in the act. They will. 

This year flags the race (and it is surely a race as time will fly at the speed of light) to next September when my son leaves for college and the commencement of life on his own. It will be a stressful year as he fills out college applications and anticipates acceptances and endures rejections. It will be an exhilarating year, too. As each month passes, he will experience a sense of freedom (and a day or five of playing hooky). Graduation will be a moment of happiness and relief for him. It will be a day of pride, tears, and an impending sense of loss for me.

I read a draft of his college essay the other day. The values my husband and I strived to instill in him yet didn't know he harbored so deeply floated to the fore. "So I have to ask: is making tons of money all there is to life? Can we have a good life without loving what we do for a living? Can a person have both a job he loves and make enough money to live a good life at the same time? Can we be true to our authentic selves?" and "I think there's a morality to not taking the same path as everyone else and instead, really searching to find the thing I love doing. I believe you can learn more from experiences and connecting with others; you can benefit from learning what goes on around you as much as from what happens in the pages of a book."

Clearly, I am not as evolved as my 17-year-old. I ask myself the same questions to this day. If my son is aware enough to pose these questions now, I am confident he will remain open to the wisdom of the universe and find his true purpose. If at some point he can answer this question posed by David Brooks, "Am I living for my resume or my eulogy?" and choose the latter option, I will know that he is on track for a happy, satisfying life. If we parents were to shelve the bright and shiny yet evanescent lure of 4.0+ grades, D1 sports commitments, Ivy League (and UC for that matter) acceptances and full rides to college (though that would be nice), isn't this the triumph, the masterpiece, the grand slam, the BLESSING that we all want for our kids?



The end of summer may be bitter but the tomatoes are still sweet. Were you to enjoy this light and refreshing summer salad in Puglia, it would include chunks of friselle, a round, very hard bread made from semolina flour. The friselle is soaked in water and then added to the tomatoes, a humble version of Tuscany’s panzanella. It’s difficult to find friselle stateside. Substitute stale, hard country bread for it. There are many versions of cialledda. This is the version I enjoyed with my father.

Find it here.


Ciao'd after a day at the races.


Gratinato is the Italian word for gratin, a French dish baked in a shallow pan and topped with something that browns to gratifying crunchiness, such as breadcrumbs or cheese. In this recipe, I used both. Classically, potatoes cook to creamy lusciousness under the topping, but truth be told, any vegetable or pasta (think macaroni and cheese) can play the starring role. In this rendition, I topped zucchini with panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) for an extra dose of crispy and tossed them with fresh (semi-soft) Asiago cheese and a kiss of Parmesan. The gratinato makes a fresh yet earthy side dish for grilled or roasted meats and poultry. I eat it on its own for lunch, too.

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 2 1/2 pounds medium zucchini (4 to 5), sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup thinly sliced green onions (about 5), white and green parts
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup hot whole milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 cup panko
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup grated fresh Asiago cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Grease a 2-quart shallow baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are just translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost tender, 4 to 6 minutes. 

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the flour. Add the hot milk, basil, and mint and cook until the liquid thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Combine the panko, Asiago, and the remaining Parmesan. Sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture Dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits, and bake until bubbly and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. If the topping browns too quickly, cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Remove the a minute or two before taking the dish out of the oven.


Ciao'd after packing for a trip back East to visit la famiglia. Cue the mortadella. 



Today I picked our first "crop" of Swiss chard. The leaves were not only tender they were a lovely, almost translucent green, too. I prefer chard with white stalks and these did not disappoint. They were crunchy and juicy, a harmonious textural counterpoint to the gentle leaves. Marcella Hazan joins me in the Swiss chard love fest. She, like me, celebrates that chard leaves, simply cooked, make a lovely side dish. Marcella calls the dish a salad (not sure why but, okay). Here's her super-duper simple recipe that tastes super, too. Cuz yeah, Marcella.

Serves 4 to 6

2 bunches young Swiss chard or the leaves of 3 large bunches of mature Swiss chard
Kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 or more tablespoons fresh lemon juice

If you are using young chard, detach the stems. If you are using mature chard, pull the leaves from the stalks, discarding any wilted or discolored leaves. Wash well and drain. 

Put the chard in a pan with whatever water clings to the leaves. Add 1 teaspoon salt, cover, and cook over medium heat until tender, about 15 to 18 minutes from the time the liquid starts to bubble. 

Drain in a colander and gently press some of the water out the chard with the back of a fork. Place in a salad bowl. 

Serve cool (not refrigerated) or lukewarm, seasoning with salt, oil, and lemon just before ready to serve.  Recipe gently adapted from Marcella Hazan, The Classic Italian Cookbook, Ballantine Books, 1973


Ciao'd after (organically) spraying my greens garden because somebody (pointing to you, squirrel) is enjoying the kale and chard a bit too much. 

Gorgonzola and walnuts play beautifully in this classic salad that pairs deliciously with a main course of beef. The salad also serves admirably as a light lunch. In either case, don't forgot the crusty bread. Marcella Hazan's touch manifests itself in the perfectly balanced vinaigrette that dresses the salad. 

Serves 6 to 8

1  to 2 heads butter lettuce, about 1 pound
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil*
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound Gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnut
2 tablespoons whole fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves

In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, shallot, salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Add half the Gorgonzola, and mash it well with a fork. 

Add half the walnuts, all the lettuce, and toss thoroughly. Taste and correct the seasoning. 

Transfer to a bowl. Top with the remaining half of the Gorgonzola, cut into small pieces, and the rest of the chopped walnuts. Garnish with the parsley.  Recipe adapted from More Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan, Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.

*Because the Gorgonzola adds a robust richness, you would do well to use a grassy, green olive oil. I am partial to Lucero Taggiasca olive oil.  It's bold but green (think a bit of spice with artichoke aroma) so it can hold its own with the cheese. Note: this special olive oil does not have broad distribution so chances are you will need to order it online. It's worth the effort for its taste and affordability.