In my holiday book I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas I have a full fat, rich, dense and yes tasty artichoke perfect for the winter festivities. For this year’s Christmas Eve party being raw and all, I had a craving for that particular dairy filled dish but alas it was not in the cards for me. I decided to develop a vegan, relatively low fat and equally delicious version. All the ingredients save the artichoke hearts are raw. It turns out that even on a raw diet artichokes must be cooked, they are bitter and difficult to digest when raw so in this recipe I used artichoke hearts marinated in olive oil. I am proud to say the dip was a hit just as much if not more than the sour cream, cheese and mayonnaise laden variation. Although the first time I made this I accompanied it with raw vegetables and flax crackers, as I was short on time I chose to serve the dip with kamut grissini (Italian bread) sticks for easy dipping. My guests were blown away I am thrilled to report. This is not too garlicky, a perfect dish to be served at your New Year’s Eve party. Can be made a day ahead.

Almost Raw Artichoke Dip

2 cups soaked mixed nuts (cashews, pine nuts and blanched almonds) or just blanched almonds

2 cups water

2 jars (6.5 oz.) artichoke hearts in oil (drained)

1/4 cup raw Tahini

2 garlic cloves roughly chopped

juice of two lemons

1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

Salt and pepper to taste

In the large bowl of a food processor fitted with the S blade add the nuts and water and process till smooth. Then add the remaining ingredients and process till incorporated and smooth.

Transfer the dip into a bowl and chill for at least an hour. Garnish with drizzled olive oil, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, freshly chopped parsley or dairy-free pesto and raw olives and a sprinkle of paprika.

 

 

When I was at my friend and photographer John Pepper’s photo show in Venice in September he told me about a cleanse called Clean, a 21-day detox program developed by MD, Dr. Alejandro Junger.  The concept being that our environment is toxic (agreed) and that occasionally we must detoxify our bodies from the chemical overload that we are exposed to, (also agreed). I downloaded the book onto my iPad and jumped right in. I have done many a cleanse in my day but what I liked about this one was the concept of the letting the body heal through resting the digestive system at night. For 21 days one is to give the digestion a daily 12 hour break from the end of the day’s last meal to the beginning of the following day’s first meal in order to let the body focus on the detoxifying duties rather than breaking down a meal during sleep. This made a lot of sense to me. The first and last day’s meals are liquids, soups, smoothies, fresh green juices, etc. and the mid-day meal is the substantial meal, which could include animal products such as fish and poultry. This I must say did not make sense to me. I felt that the elimination of all animal products during this time would deepen my own detoxifying process.  To further deepen my process I also decided to include a largely raw diet. The first two weeks were challenging. I was tired a lot, cranky, gassy, experienced bad breathe and body odor and felt a lot of old emotional stuff surface a swell. But I expected this as in other cleanses I had experienced similar side effects. This can be called a healing crisis.

Once that passed I must say I felt amazing. Re-energized, my skin was glowing and soft, my hair shiny and all of a sudden I felt radiant after a sluggish summer of Italian wine, pasta and cheese.

Not to mention my creativity in the kitchen has bloomed with trying the vast arrays of raw techniques and recipes available. Also experimenting with my own. The 21 days passed and I have stayed eating an 85-95% raw and plant based diet. My hair continues to shine and my energy abounds. I may not always remain this raw, I am a foodie but I also recognize that raw foods have a certain vitamin and mineral factor that cooked foods don’t. At this point I am playing it by ear but continue my commitment to this way of eating. We will see what happens but it has gotten to the point where I would like to share some of the recipes I have learned and developed.

One of the staples in my raw kitchen is nut and or seed milk. One soaks the nuts or seeds to deactivate the enzyme inhibitors (they keep the nuts from sprouting or growing at a moments notice in your kitchen or purse), then the nuts are combined with water, vanilla, a raw and natural sweetener such as honey, blended on a high speed blender and then strained through a nut milk bag. This action actually reminds me of milking a cow the way the milk is squeezed out from the pulp in the nut milk bag. I use the milk in my morning tea, smoothies, raw soups, in my morning raw g”raw”nola and as a raw ice cream bases. There are many options.

This is the Brazil Nut varietal. Matthew Kenney has a great version on page 24 in his book Everyday Raw but this is my version. What I love about Brazil Nut milk is that it is so creamy and it is not necessary to soak the nuts, as they do not contain hard to digest enzyme inhibitors. The same goes with Hazelnuts. Brazil Nuts are packed with Selenium, an important mineral. I use this milk in my tea in the morning.

Fresh and Raw Brazil Nut Milk

1 and ½ cups Brazil Nuts

6 cups water

2 tablespoons raw Agave, honey or 3 pitted and chopped Medjool dates

2 teaspoons vanilla extract or the scraped out seeds of 1 vanilla bean

1 tablespoon Lecithin (optional)

1 pinch Celtic or Himalayan salt

Place Brazil nuts and water in a high-speed blender. Blend on low and then increase to high speed and blend for about 20-30 seconds.

Strain the nut mixture through a nut milk bag or cheese clothe into a bowl, compost or set nut pulp aside for another recipe and place unsweetened milk back into blender container. Add the remaining ingredients and blend on high speed for 30 seconds. Using funnel pour milk into glass jars. Can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days. Enjoy. You will never go back to cow’s milk again.

 

I think spiced pumpkin butter makes the perfect Christmas gift. You get the opportunity to use up all those Halloween pumpkins that have been sitting on the back porch… since Halloween or use up all those extra cans of pumpkin puree that are sitting on your pantry shelves waiting to collect dust until… next Halloween. And since Thanks giving is weeks away suddenly the pre-Christmas frenzy will be upon us. Yes, even in the Italian countryside (where I live) one must plan ahead.

A medium-sized (about 4-pound) pumpkin yields about 1 1/2 cups mashed pumpkin (which is just under 15 oz). I used half of a larger pumpkin for the recipe. I first cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces, small enough to put on a baking sheet skin sides facing down. Melted butter and brushed the butter onto the flesh of the pumpkin and baked the pumpkin at 375 degrees for about an hour. I allowed the flesh to cool and then scooped it into a bowl and then into the pot with the rest of the ingredients found in the recipe below. I chose to take these steps because my pumpkin patch was overflowing and I was over pumpkin soup, pie, bread, ravioli…I think you catch my drift.

The recipe below calls for canned pumpkin puree which by and large is easier. Can opener to can…open can and scoop the puree into the pot. Done. But as I mentioned if you do have the pumpkins sitting around don’t let them go to waste. Make jars of pumpkin butter. The butter tastes great on Christmas morning pancakes.

Spiced Pumpkin Butter

Makes 5 to 6 cups

Two 15-ounce cans pumpkin puree

3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1-1/4 cups caster (superfine) sugar

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

  1. Place all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot, stir to combine, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, uncovered
  2. Lower the heat and simmer 40 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Ladle the hot pumpkin mixture into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top of the jar. Remove any air bubbles by gently shaking the jars and wipe the rims of the jars. Cover tightly with the lids.
  4. Submerge the jars in a large pot of water; the water level should reach to 1 inch above the top of the jars. Bring the water to a boil and boil the jars for 10 minutes, to seal them. Remove the jars from the pot using tongs and let cool.
  5. The jars can be stored in a cool, dark cupboard for up to 6 months. Once opened, the pumpkin butter will last in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

 Spiced Pumpkin Butter

It’s officially winter in the Tuscan countryside. The golden leaves have fallen and been burned, the grapes have been collected and gone to press, the olives harvested and the chestnut trees are full of chestnuts. And I might add my 100 feet of rosemary is lush and green from the rains of fall. Castagnaccio (chestnut cake) is a classical Tuscan treat made with chestnut flour (don’t for one second think I milled my own flour, I am not there yet), fresh rosemary sprigs, golden raisins soaked in Vin Santo (sweet dessert wine), pine nuts and or walnuts, olive oil, sea salt and a touch of sugar. It is usually served as a snack rather than a dessert. It is DELICIOUS. It is the perfect blend of salty sweet and tastes fantastic with a cup of tea or a glass of red wine and sitting by a fire doing what else other then roasting chestnuts on the fire. I bought Chestnut Flour
(available at gourmet shops in the USA) last summer and with the expiration near dove into my first try at it. Seeing it was my first time I turned to the trusted The River Café Classic Italian CookbookThe River Cafe a well-known Italian eatery in London begun by the dynamic cooking duo Ruth Rogers and the Rose Gray. I always turn to my River Café cookbooks for simple, no fuss, amazing recipes. I adjusted the recipe just a tad and used raw agave nectar in lieu of the sugar and omitted the milk and instead used water. I’d actually be interested in trying the recipe with rice milk. Next time I may use a tiny bit less salt. It keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week. Enjoy.

Castagnaccio

Makes 2 large pancakes.

500 ml milk or water

500 ml water

400 g chestnut flour I used 600

4 heaped teaspoons caster sugar (I used 2 tablespoons agave nectar)

1 teaspoon sea salt

100 ml olive oil plus for tins

100 g golden raisins soaked in vin santo

50 g pine nuts

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked.

Preheat oven to 220 (about 400 F)

Add water and chestnut flour and mix well to form a thin batter. Add agave, salt and olive oil and let sit for 30 minutes to expand a bit.

Drain raisins (and enjoy vin santo while you prep the rest of ingredients) Grease pan and pour in half the batter. Scatter over pine, nuts, raisins and rosemary leaves with a little sea salt and bake in over 30-40 minutes till golden and crisp at edges and still soft in the center.  Surface will crack a little. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes and then remove. Make second pancake with rest of ingredients. Can make both at same time if you have two pans. Serve warm. Typically eaten as a snack and not as dessert. Nice with a glass of wine or cup of tea.

Never in my life did I ever imagine I would have not one but three fig trees growing in my backyard. In Italy figs are served with prosciutto, baked into cakes and yes of course grace the jars in the form of jam or preserves. My dear friend Elizabeth Shaw of the handmade European luxury shoe line Rickard Shaw inspired me when I noticed she had made fig jam on Facebook, she also lives in Italy. There are over 800 fig varieties, the Dottato most commonly found in Italy is bright green on the outside with a red flesh on the inside is what we have on our property. At the beginning of our fig season which began about a month ago, I was feeling kind of peckish and stood at our first tree that bloomed under the enormous prehistoric looking leaves and ate 20 figs while my 15 month sat and watched me with curiosity. They were so divine. I had never made fig preserves but my friend assured me it would be easy. I chose a fantastically easy recipe from Williams-Sonoma Williams-Sonoma The Art of Preserving by Rick Field and Rebecca Courchesne. I decreased the amount of sugar by one cup, the recipe called for 4 cups and I used 3, I felt the figs were so sweet that less sugar would be fine. I also added two tablespoons of freshly grated ginger (although now I am thinking candied ginger might be fun next time), cinnamon, some lemon juice instead of orange juice as the recipe called for and lemon zest in lieu of orange zest. What I liked about the recipe was that it turned out more like a chutney then a jam as the cooking time of the fig mixture allowed the fig pieces to stay somewhat intact. The preserves are perfect on a piece of toast, or served with goat cheese crostini, on top of plain yogurt or along side a meat or poultry dish.

By the way, there was plenty of fig sugar syrup left at the bottom of the pot so I added half a cup of balsamic vinegar and one cup of wine and reduced the mixture on a medium flame for about 30 minutes stirring every now and again and was left with a delicious syrup that I poured over vanilla ice cream. Can you say YUMMMMM?!

Makes half a pint (8-fl oz/250-ml) jars

3 pounds/1.5 kg fresh figs such as Dotatto, Mission or Brown Turkey.

3 cups sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice

Have ready hot sterilized jars and their lids, if you are not sure how to do this go to ehow.com.

Trim the fig stems, leaving a little of the stem attached to each fig. In a large non-reactive sauce pan, combine the figs, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat and stirring constantly and then lower heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove any foam that may develop during cooking. Add the lemon zest and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon and a canning funnel divide the fig pieces evenly among the jars. Then ladle the syrup into the jars leaving about ¼ inch/ 6 mm of headspace. Seal the jars tightly.

Process the jars for 5-10 minutes  in a boiling water bath.

The preserves can be stored in a cool dark place for up to a year. And once opened in the fridge for up to a month.

Summer has passed and although it is cooling down a bit there are still some warm days where a nice gazpacho using the season’s bounty of tomatoes is welcome. From Heirlooms to Roma’s, the early fall tomatoes are rich from the summer’s intense rays of sun. I’ll be honest, there is nothing quite like the taste of an Italian tomato but whether you grow your own or pick them up at the farmer’s market this soup is packed with flavor. I usually chill my gazpacho for at least an hour but with this version I ate it room temperature straight out of the blender. I served it with home made raw flax crackers (which I may post another time) but you can pick up some at your local health food store. I love the Mexican Harvest crackers by Foods Alive. Gazpacho (originally from Spain) can be chunky but this version is smooth and creamy with a little kick to it thanks to the addition of a fresh Jalapeno pepper. Omit the pepper if you prefer a milder flavor. Typically, bread is included in a traditional gazpacho recipe but I decided to skip it not wanting the extra carbs. Garnish with drizzled olive oil, chopped avocado and spring onions or any other topping to your liking.

2 cups seeded tomatoes, chopped

½ purple onion , diced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 sweet red peppers

1 stalk celery, with leaves, diced

1 cup peeled and seeded cucumber, cubed

handful chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons cilantro

½ jalapeno pepper (optional)

pepper to taste

salt to taste

1 cup water

Place all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.