il Laboratorio

{me, cooking in the kitchen, San Casciano- Tuscany, Italy}

The kitchen is my laboratory. It is a place where I can pull out the pots and pans, fire up the flame and create with whatever ingredients inspire me in that moment.

Over twenty years ago, when I attended Tante Marie Cooking School, I fell in love with teacher Joanne Weir's signature class, called " Improvisational Cooking." She would bring in a bag of produce from the market, put out some special pantry staples and we would begin the creative process of putting together an entire meal. It was a delicious round table think tank, fueled by our naive enthusiasm and her infectious energy. We would bat ideas back and forth, outline a menu, then with apron on and knives in hand, get into the kitchen and cook. It was our laboratorio. A place to experiment, try new things and discover how to cook really good food. The best part of the class was that we got to sit down together and share the meal we created together.

Joanne and I became fast friends and soon found ourselves cooking together on weekends. I was no match for this experienced teacher, author {and now PBS rock star chef}, but I was a willing and enthusiastic student. I learned not only about What to eat, but also how to eat. All of our meals were beautiful feasts that we shared with her husband, Paul or with friends in the neighborhood.
Our favorite meals were shared alfresco out of doors, cooking over the brick hearth and Tuscan Grill on the San Raphael limestone patio.

Since I moved away from the Bay area many years ago, I have missed creating and cooking our improvisational meals.
It is still my favorite way to cook. I always think of Joanne when something new and unexpected in the kitchen turns out just right. As Joanne would say, " this is the perfect bite!".

Today, I create all of the products we make at Bella Cucina in my home kitchen. It is the place where I always feel most at home {and can secretly enjoy a glass of wine while I am pretending to do Research & Development!}
It is my "laboratorio".

A typical kind of dish that Joanne and I would make and eat together:

White Bean & Tomato Bruschetta

Bruschetta is a simple tuscan dish traditionally eaten to celebrate the early harvest of olives and the first pressing of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Grilled or toasted thick slices of Italian bread or rubbed with fresh clove of garlic and drizzled with “olio nuovo” (new oil) extra virgin olive oil.Bruschetta is delicious in it’s simple, traditional form, but makes a delicious foundation for a variety of flavorful toppings as an antipasti or simple first course. It’s the perfect way to celebrate the flavors of the seasonal market. It is also delicious with canned tuna over arugula greens for a deliciously light summer salad.

It's even better when the bread is grilled over hardwood on the grill.

1 16oz. Can of Cannellini Beans (about 1 ½ cups)
1 cup diced or halved grape tomatoes
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
2 Tbs. fresh basil, torn or cut into chiffonade strips
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbs. red wine Vinegar
1 Tbs. balsamic Vinegar
2 Tbs. Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
pinch of peperoncini chili flakes* optional
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Drain cannelini beans and discard liquid. Core tomato and chop into coarse dice. In a medium bowl, add beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and basil. In a separate bowl, add vinegar, pesto and peperoncini, if adding. Slowly whisk in olive oil until mixture is emulsified. Pour over bean mixture and toss gently just until mixed. Add salt & pepper, seasoning to taste.

Spoon on toasted Italian bread and serve.

Serves 6 as an antipasti

Buon appetito!
copyright 2009 Alisa Barry

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