Chez Panisse & Alice Waters

21150386_10213972853786577_3641629499783875203_nI just got back from a month and a half in Berkeley, California, working at Chez Panisse, Alice Water’s restaurant. I got the connection through my job last year working in a farm in San Diego (Chino farm), they send out boxes of produce every two weeks up to Chez Panisse and have been friends with Alice for long time. Through them I got her contact, and met her in Turin last year during the slow food fair. Alice is the vice president of Slow Food Usa, and she is known to be founder of the Farm to table movement in the states. Also, she started a big project called the Edible Schoolyard project, and is very involved in social and political food issues around the states and internationally.
She opened Chez Panisse when she was 27 years old, after travelling in France and receiving her Montessori teaching certificate. The initial intention was to keep cooking food for friends and family but just for a bigger crowd, and soon the restaurant became famous, today it serves all organic, seasonal, local and very traditional based food. This year, it celebrated its 46th birthday.  Alice doesn’t cook in the restaurant anymore, but she is still very present and knows what’s going on and what is being served each week. Whenever she isn’t travelling she comes in and “checks” on things, trying the menu foods, giving advice and critiques.

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Alice is a legend and one of those people I “look up” to since I found out about her. I contacted her at the beginning of this year, asking her if I could be of any help to her in any way during my summer break. I didn’t mention anything about working in the kitchen, I was open to do whatever, I even offered to be her personal assistant. I got a reply right away from her and couple hours later also from the head chef.  Within two days an internship in the restaurant was organized. It felt so great and the fact I got an answer so quickly gave me such a positive feeling about it! (Last year, I tried getting an internship in a much less known restaurant and it took me two months and a lot of emails..)

20476326_10213708915428283_1697799566357025597_nChez Panisse is located on the main street of north Berkeley, which is a 30 min subway ride from San Francisco. It is considered the most liberal-minded town in America (more than San Francisco), home to the counterculture hippie movement of the sixties. Still today, Berkeley is full of students going to Cal, and alternative minded people.
Downstairs is the restaurant, which serves about 90 people a night divided into 2 seatings and has always been on a fixed menu (customers have to reserve at least 2 or 3 weeks in advance). While upstairs is the cafe, which is open for both lunch and dinner, there is an open menu, it’s more casual and serves more tables.
I interned the whole time in the downstairs part. The downstairs team is small and composed of only 4 chefs plus the head chef (and the interns, usually 1 or 2). It was an amazing experience and I learned so much. Continue reading


Homemade Raw Chocolate

img_9388Raw chocolate is so easy and fast to make!! Cacao is an incredible super food: it has 40 times the antioxidant quantity than blueberries do, it’s an excellent source of magnesium and iron, it’s full of calcium, a great mood elevator and anti-depressant, and so much more. So eating chocolate is actually Healthy!…BUT this is if you eat dark chocolate, meaning no added sugar to it, which nowadays is pretty hard to find. Cacao is actually a bitter food, that is why so much sugar is added in common supermarket coco products. But making your own chocolate is so satisfying and fun to do, you can add different toppings and make it look pretty, perfect as a homemade gift to give to someone.

I used a silicone mold to make the bite sized chocolates, but you can also spread it on a board lined with parchment paper and it will work fine too.

To find the ingredients go to a health food store and try to go for the high quality ones. Always keep in mind that the outcome of your recipes will depend almost entirely on the quality of the raw ingredients.


  • first of all “cacao” refers to raw and much less processed than cocoa, while “cocoa” is the term used to refer to the heated form of cacao;
  • the cacao fruit tree produces cacao pods which are cracked open to release cacao beans;
  • Cacao butter is the fattiest part of the fruit and is the inside of a single cacao bean; it’s white in color and has a rich buttery texture. the butter is removed and what is left of the bean is used to make other cacao products;
  • Cacao nibs are simply cacao beans that have been chopped into edible pieces;
  • Cacao paste comes from cacao nibs that have been slowly heated and melted into a bark. Because low heat is used in this process, cacao paste retains its natural properties and is naturally about 55% cacao butter (this is why it’s solid at room temperature just like the butter);
  • Cacao powder is made by applying a cold-processing process to the cacao bean, so that most of the butter is removed. This is why when preparing chocolates, you will have to add cacao butter to the powder.

→125 gr cacao butter
→80 gr cacao powder
→2 tbsp maple syrup*
→1/2 tsp vanilla
→1 tsp maca (optional)
→pinch of salt
Toppings: cacao nibs, nuts, nutmeg, etc.
*maple syrup can be replaced by honey but be mindful that honey usually has a more intense/strong flavor changing the final outcome.

Chop the cacao butter, add to a bowl, and melt on top of a pot of simmering water. Stir well and be careful to not overheat the butter. Once melted move bowl away from heat, add the cacao powder, the maple syrup, vanilla, pinch of salt, maca (if using), and stir well until smooth. Pour in silicone molds or on top of a board lined with parchment paper. Add your toppings immediately before it sets. I added some nuts, nutmeg and cacao nibs. But you can also do some cinnamon, ginger powder, goji berries, dried flower petals…
Put in the freezer to fasten the set time (it only takes 5 minutes). Store in the fridge if your house has a warm temperature.


New potatoes, herbs, dijon…

DSC_1696New Potatoes are wonderful, typical of the summer and great steamed, boiled or roasted. You can make great salads with them. This salad has tons of different kinds of herbs and a great mustard dressing, transforming these potatoes into something special.

I used the herbs I had in my garden (chives, mint, coriander, oregano, thyme) but others work great too (basil, parsley etc).  And for the onion choose any kind of fresh summer onion  (green onions, scallions etc).


•INGREDIENTS• (for 4 as a side)
→ about 800 gr new potatoes
→ 1 big bunch of mixed herbs (yields 1/2 cup after chopping)
→ 1 small red onion or other summer variety
for the dressing:
→1 tbls dijon mustard
→juice of 1/2 lemon
→4 tbls extra virgin olive oil
→1 tsp honey
→salt & pepper

Put a pot of water to boil. Wash the potatoes and cut them in 2/3 inch pieces. When water is boiling, add some coarse salt and the potatoes. They should be done after 15 minutes, but test them with a fork or knife (careful not too overcook them, otherwise they will become mushy).
Prepare the dressing in a jar and shake well. Chop the onion super thinly and wash and chop the herbs. Add part of the dressing to the onion and herbs and let it sit/marinate for couple minutes while the potatoes are cooking.
Drain the potatoes, and pass under cold water to cool down. Cut them in slices and add to the herbs and onion mix. Mix well and adjust the dressing if you need more.
I served mine slightly cool. It’s delicious!

Creamy Almond Ricotta

DSC_1668More and more alternatives to dairy products are entering the market. Lots of people are either Lactose intolerant or want to cut on cholesterol so avoid dairy, or others are looking into cutting out dairy from their diet for environmental/ethical issues. Nut and seed cheeses are great plant-based alternatives that provide protein and other high quality nutrients. Unfortunately the ones you find at the supermarket aren’t that nice, at least in my opinion. Apart from the flavor, the ingredients used are often not so healthy, for example soy lecithin or other emulsifiers, preservatives etc. I believe that in the future there will be lots of options out there, but for now the best thing would be to make your own!
When I was doing the Matthew Kenney culinary course in Thailand we were making tons of nut cheeses and letting them ferment to get that wanted umami taste. You can use many nuts and seeds but the best are cashews, macadamia and almonds. Flavor them with herbs, spices, making a “crust” and lots of different variations.
This “ricotta” is made with almonds and I added some lemon zest to give it a twist. you can easily mix in some herbs or anything that pops up in your head. It can be used just like a normal cheese, for example today for lunch we added the ricotta to pasta with tomato sauce, it was perfect together.

I also made a short video tutorial on making this cheese:

→1 1/2 cups almonds (raw, unsalted)
→1/2 cup almond milk (or water)
→3 teaspoons lemon juice
→1 teaspoon lemon zest
→1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
→1/4 teaspoon salt

Soak the almonds overnight or at least 6 hours.
Drain, discard the soaking water and rinse well. Pour boiling water over the almonds, let sit for 2 minutes, then drain.
Peel the almonds (pouring boiling water will help a lot to remove the skins).
Put the almonds and the rest of ingredients into a blender or food processor and start blending. Scrape down the sides every once in a while and blend until smooth (feel the texture with the tip of your fingers, it shouldn’t feel grainy).
Taste and adjust salt and lemon if needed. Refrigerate and use within 4 days.


Summer Gazpacho

DSC_1663It has been so hot and dry here in north of Italy, it hasn’t rained in ages and the heat storm arrived earlier than usual. This time of year calls for a light and fresh diet, the last thing I would want to eat is something overcooked, filling and simmering hot.

Gazpacho is a traditional Spanish cold soup, made of summer vegetables, usually tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, onion, garlic – there are many varieties to it as you can imagine. And it can be eaten cold or room temperature, sometimes served with ice and dry bread to make it more creamy. It is delicious, extremely easy to make and very healthy.
For the tomatoes I used “cuore di bue”, in english it would be the “beefsteak” or “heirloom” variety. As long as they are ripe and tasty, any variety is fine.

•INGREDIENTS• (for 4/5 servings)
→1 yellow onion
→2 garlic cloves
→3 cucumbers
→5 big and ripe tomatoes (cuore di bue or heirloom)
→1 celery stalk
→4 tbls extra virgin olive oil + extra for serving
→red pepper (fresh or dry)
→salt & pepper
→basil for garnish

Wash and chop the vegetables (you can leave the skin on the cucumbers if not too bitter), and blend everything with the olive oil, salt, black and red pepper. It is best if refrigerated before serving. Drizzle olive oil and garnish with basil leaves upon serving.

It is great also the next day! and can be eaten as an appetizer, as a main, served in glasses even!


Molise trip: ancient wheat salad

IMG_8353I recently came back from a study trip in Molise with my university. Now, most people will think where in the heck is that? Molise is a very small region in the center-south of Italy, right above Puglia (the heel of Italy). I went in a group of 15 for one week, we visited many producers, farmers, foragers, bakers, all of them producing food on a small-scale and according (more or less) to slow food philosophy, so most of them were all organic, growing as sustainably as possible, using local and old varieties (no hybrid seeds from Monsanto!), supporting local communities and so on. Molise is a wonderful region, I don’t think I would have gone there by myself because most people in Italy don’t even acknowledge it as part of the Italian territory but it truly has lots to discover from. Their gastronomy is similar to the mediterranean diet of many southern regions, but of course with some differences…lots of bitter greens (they call them “garden greens”), olive oil, fish etc. We discovered many new recipes and like most southern cuisines it also was mainly a “poor” diet, meaning that most recipes call for leftovers, many plant foods, grains etc. Nonetheless, we also visited a cheese producer (specialized in CacioCavallo) and also the fish port in Termoli.
It was a great trip, thanks to the group of people and mainly to the wonderful people we met. It is one thing to study about food on the books and all the issues/challenges we face today, and another thing to actually visit and talk to people really helping our planet growing food in a certain way, without following the “flow” of modern agriculture and going against today’s lobbying interests.

I left with an empty suitcase because I knew I would be bringing back food from the trip (and also to stay light since we were sleeping in a different place every night!). By the end of the week I had gathered 6 liters of extra virgin olive oil, ancient grains (wheat, barley, spelt), corn flour, hemp flour, pastas, tomato cans…

We would visit many farms or family run businesses and part of the learning was also eating their food prepared by them… it’s understandable we all came back weighting a few more kilos than before…but that’s ok, that’s what diets are for. 🙂

So, last weekend I prepared a dish we had on the trip, using this ancient wheat variety I brought back from this farm owned by Modesto Petacciato. To be honest, I had thought of planting it in our garden, but my mom saw the bag in the counter and decided to cook it; it’s ok, I brought plenty back so there’s more to use as seeds 😉
I made a salad with the wheat and fava beans (aka broadbeans, still in season here) and brought it over to friends for dinner.

•INGREDIENTS• (for 4-6 as side)
→200 gr wheat berries (or use farro, barley..), soaked for 4-6 hours or overnight
→200 gr fresh fava beans, shelled
→large bunch of mint
→1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
→1 big spring onion
→juice of 1/2 lemon
→extra virgin olive oil
→salt & pepper

Drain the soaked wheat and cook in a big pot of salted water until done but still crunchy, drain and let cool. In the meantime toast the seeds, chop the onion, shell the fresh fava beans and if necessary (if they’re really big) take also the outer layer off, it’s a time-consuming job but it will be well appreciated.
Mix the wheat berries, favas, chopped onion, chopped toasted seeds, chopped mint. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil (ratio 1:2), salt and pepper.
It will keep in fridge for couple days after too.



Spring-inspired Quinoa Salad

springquinoa7Spring is here! the beautiful flowers and trees blooming, the smells and aromas, the birds singing in the morning….And what I love the most about spring is the abundance of new market produce, when I think of this part of the year my mind goes straight to fresh peas, asparagus, broadbeans, small potatoes, strawberries, herbs, onions…so good.

I recently finished reading two books from my History of Medieval diet Professor and many interesting facts came out of it. For centuries our ancestors have been fighting the seasons and changes of climate, finding new ways to preserve food in case of shortage or for winter seasons. They would plant many different varieties of plants in case one or more wouldn’t be successful so they would have many options to choose from (this is what Biodiversity is). In any case Nature, and it’s sudden “changes of plan”, has always been seen as the enemy. And all the attempts at preserving food the best way wasn’t for pleasure but for Survival, making people see seasons in a negative way, and their idyllic world was one without seasons.  The world we live in now is one where canning tecnquics and other preservation methods have improved exponentially, and also transportation systems make it no problem if in one part of the globe the tomato harvest of the summer went badly. And this is exactly what our ancestors wished for. But yet, in the last decade or so, the food media is all about buying local and seasonal foods, in Italy we say “km zero” (meaning zero miles). There are websites able to calculate food miles and many other things. And the same goes for “regional” /local cuisines. In medieval times, the aspiration was to create a universal way of consumption, while in today’s mass industrial society, after globalization, we are now searching for local cuisines. If you go to a restaurant in Italy for example, the restaurant will likely not just serve Italian food, but Sicilian, from Piedmont, from Florence or Rome and so on.
What is right or wrong is difficult to say, but what is clear is that it seems like mankind is always searching for what he doesn’t have, he is driven by desire of the unreachable.

Anyways, the books my professor Montanari wrote are very interesting and this was only one of the many reflections that made me think while reading his books. (“la fame e l’abbondanza” & “il cibo come cultura”, all translated in several languages.

Back to the recipe! This is a simple easy to make (ahead also) salad perfect for a spring picnic, lunch on the go or dinner with friends (this was my case).

→1 cup quinoa
→1 big bunch of asparagus, 1-inch chopped Continue reading