Blood has been a traditional ingredient in global cultural cooking since ancient times. Homer’s Odyssey refers to goat stomachs filled with blood and fat and roasted over a fire. Sounds like black pudding to me. Canadian and Californian chefs seem to favor blood as an ingredient. Star Chef Chris Cosentino at Incanto, in San Francisco, does a chocolate blood pudding garnished with Bing cherries. Restaurant DNA in Old Montreal serves panna cotta made from cream, cocoa, black pepper, lemon peel and pig’s blood and the Italian restaurant, Buca, off of King Street in Toronto, serves a Calabrian blood tart made with fresh figs steeped in grappa and espresso with a buffalo-milk crème anglaise and a custard made from dark chocolate and slow-tempered blood.
Like Casper the friendly ghost, my paranormal candelabra by British designer John Russel seems to bring a spirit of lightness wherever it is found. I bought it several years ago at the Design Supermarket in La Rinascente, Milan’s venerable 150 year-old department store within the shadow of the Duomo. A floor of shop-in-shops dedicated to design, the “supermarket” showcases Italian design institutions like Alessi and Nespresso but also includes up and coming designers from around the world.
Here you’ll find lighting, technological gadgets, office accessories, kitchen and tableware starting with objects that are surprisingly reasonable in price, making the store the perfect place for a little souvenir to bring Italy home. Russel’s ethereal candelabra made of flat fluorescent acrylic panels etched with a classic candelabra form seems to float in thin air making it perfect for my Halloween table.
One of the world’s most influential gourmands Jean-Anthelme Brillant-Savarin (witness his iconic quote on Food Network’s Iron Chef – “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”-) wrote in his 1825 treatise on the Physiology of Taste that coffee has provided our palates with unknown sensations.
An analysis of coffee’s elemental compounds shows that there are a multitude of chemical constituents making coffee more complex than wine. Scientists cite more than 1,000 volatile compounds in coffee that contribute to coffee’s aroma and taste. For some the sense appeal of coffee brings to mind flowers, fruit, honey, chocolate, caramel and toasted bread. Others speak of roses, Darjeeling tea, chocolate, vanilla, violets and truffles. All this even before a single flavor shot.
Tom Hanks’ admonition to the riders of the Polar Express to “Never ever let it cool!” is something you would never have to tell Italians when it comes to drinking hot chocolate. For most Italians Cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) is the next best thing to gelato when there’s a chill in the air.
Now I’m not taking about the insipid, watery hot chocolate with a marshmallow on top most of us grew up with. I’m talking about cocoa with forza, strength. So much so that you need a spoon to drink or should I say eat it. It’s easy to forge an emotional attachment to drinking chocolate, as it’s called in Europe. My love affair with Italian drinking chocolate began in Citta’di Castello on a piazza near the Hotel Tifferno (one of my favorite places to stay when I’m traveling in Umbria). It was deep, dark, thick and creamy and unforgettable, with a head of cream (con panna) that rivaled a fine Guinness. A pefect drink to see and savor Italy when the weather turns cool.
Read more about authentic Italian Drinking Chocolate.
One of Italy’s most popular and versatile vegetables has made its way to the catwalks of Milan alla Dolce and Gabbana. D & G must have had a bumper crop of zucchini this summer that inspired them to raise la verdura to haute couture. “Zucchini chic” is what the Wall Street Journal and behind the scenes fashionistas are calling the vegetable prints found in D & G’s 2012 Spring Summer Collection. Paired with pasta earrings and market basket purses their delicious designs gave new meaning to la tua mamma’s admonition to eat more vegetables or in this case to wear iconic Italian fashions that look good enough to eat. Red pepper, zucchini, onion, eggplant and tomato prints were paired with chiffon, lace and macramé to create a riot of color reminiscent of an Italian street festival. The finale included a bejeweled collection of colorful crystal embellished swimsuits that lit up the runway like a show of fireworks. A perfect ending to an Italian sagra where the twinkling lights of an evening on the piazza light up the colors and flavors of the food.