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 cup of hot cocoa.

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Holidays drift upon memories and traditions. We hang baubles on the tree and a holly wreath on the door. We collect pine cones and make pomanders. We sing carols and stuff stockings. Well, maybe "we" don't but you may. Amongst the flurry of holiday activities, I am willing to bet that one tradition reigns supreme: baking cookies. If you are a holiday cookie baker, chances are you harbor a favorite, must-have, it's-not-Christmas-without cookie recipe. I know I do.

My Italian aunts called them simply Chocolate Christmas Cookies. In reality, they are sweet, rich bites of Puglia, the Italian region from which my family hails. The cookies are spiced with cinnamon, cloves and allspice, studded with toasted walnuts, chocolate morsels, and raisins, and spiked with a healthy dose of bourbon that knits the ingredients into rich and complex goodness. You can't help but swoon.

I published this recipe last December but I have had so many people request it again that I'm sharing it once more. For the recipe as well as more about my aunts who bestowed this holiday ritual upon me, simply click here

Buon Natale. May you have a happy and delicious holiday.  

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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.