Inspiration comes in all forms, and my eyes, nose and tastebuds are always on alert. I’m certain that in a culinary sense, travelling anywhere in the world would offer more ideas for creativity in the kitchen than could be used in a lifetime. Thus far, my travels have taken me primarily to European countries, so the meals emanating from my kitchen are largely influenced by the colors, scents and flavors favored in this part of the world.
As an avid reader, film goer, and lover of richly woven textiles, I often find myself craving cuisines from the cultures represented, and have tried my hand at many, including those from Latin and Asian countries, and the Caribbean.
But as you know, I am currently in Italy, so naturally, my mind is reeling with snapshots of the ingredients and dishes native to this land. Strolling through the many local farmers’ markets in Rome, Florence and tiny villages in Tuscany is similar to the experience many of us have in our own local outdoor markets. Is there anything more stimulating than wandering aimlessly in the early morning, when vendors’ stalls are overflowing with fresh meats and produce, considering what looks best and deciding upon the evening’s menu?
I for one, am always thinking about sharing this abundance with friends and family, so I look to gather large quantities of a multitude of ingredients. I often return to the tried and true, especially with seasonal herbs and vegetables, but what really delights me is the prospect of trying something new, thereby introducing new experiences for our inquisitive palates.
At times, this can be a daunting task. Imagine the culinary delights possible with a bounty such as the one we discovered at “Perini” (at right), where an overwhelming cornucopia of specialty hams, salamis and so much more is offered by a welcoming duo, intent on stuffing us with food samples and wine, while laughingly taunting us with their prized Boston Celtics souvenir pencil acquired at a game attended years before. Along with several types of meats and a hunk of parmesan cheese the size of a child’s head, we purchased a delicious sweet and spicy “salsa” mixed with boiled chunks of pork resembling short ribs. The purveyers explained it can be used to top crostini or alongside a piece of roasted turkey, pork and even a roast beef. All I know is when I return to my own kitchen, I intend to try my best to replicate it, using it again and again throughout the year. (www.periniitalia.it)
Finally, our lunch at Cantinetta dei Verrazzano , known for it’s wonderful assortment of crostini and sandwiches made with foccaccia bread, offered some excellent examples of the endless variety of flavor combinations that can be achieved with just a couple of ingredients, each yielding remarkably different results.
Here is a picture of just one of the assortments we tried. Take a close look and imagine what you could accomplish using this plate as your inspiration! I almost can't wait to get back in my kitchen and start experimenting...I hope our friends are hungry.