Foraging Category

An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy – Florence

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” – Giuseppe Verdi

Beautiful quote. Beautiful city. Florence!

I had this sense of calm walking the streets of Florence. I’m not sure if it was the beauty of the Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore, the Battistero, or Michaelangelo’s David, which in person seems to slow time down to one’s own heartbeat – a feeling only something truly beautiful can evoke.

My soul felt alive and palpable as it absorbed one magnificent sight after the other.

I was drunk on watercolor and oil and marble by the time lunchtime arrived, so our effervescent guide Sandra tipped us off to a wet market nearby and better yet, a place right next door for lunch that was a favorite of hers and other locals.

Sounded perfect.

Mushrooms were in season this time of year and these beauties seemed to sing to me as I walked by.

I could have spent hours at this patch trying to memorize the funky Italian names for the fungi until I heard an embarrassingly loud “waaooorr!”. I looked over at Jordan. He looked down at my tummy.

Time for lunch!


Papa di pomodoro

Unlike any kind of soup I’ve ever had. Imagine ripe sweet tomatoes thickened with bread, giving the thick soup a a light airy texture. Little soft gnocchi-like dumplings naturally formed in the soup from bread that didn’t dissolve completely. Heavenly.

Ribollita
Sandra absolutely insisted we order this here. And considering how traditional ribollita is to Florence, I thought coming from her it must have been extra special. And it was. Imagine a soup thickened with layers upon layers of fresh garden vegetables, cannellini beans, and love from your Italian grandmother (even if you’re not Italian!). Comfy cozy, robust yet gentle, it was one of the best things I ate in all of Italy!

Pizza del forno a legna
After getting up close and personal with those super fresh funghi, I had to have some on a piping hot pizza from the brick oven. It was even better with a healthy sprinkle of spicy peperoncino on top!

Lasagne
The best lasagne I’ve ever had. No foolin’.

Although I could barely move after our late lunch, I couldn’t have been happier with the day or the meal we just had. I still dream of the papa di pomodoro and ribollita.

I’ll be taking a stab at recreating these dishes at home soon (stay tuned for recipes!), and maybe with each bite, that same calm I experienced in Florence will descend on me and I’ll fall in love all over again.

Next up: Hiking in Cinque Terre and feasting on the fruits of the sea!

An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy – Cooking Class in Tuscany

One of the absolute must-do things I had on my list was to take a cooking class in Tuscany. My agent was able to secure a private day at the Castello di Tornano. From the chef Manuel, we’d learn how to make traditional Tuscan dishes including fresh pasta, biscotti, and pork, and best of all, eat it all for lunch!

It was everything I imagined! Rejuvenating views of lush rolling hills and olive groves, citrus trees along a pebbly trail up to the castle, little kittens purring on the kitchen floor, and a charming chef who’s worked in his simple kitchen for over 20 years.

Getting there was an adventure!

Over 1000 years old, the castle has survived war, bloodshed, and political intrigue. It’s most famous and notorious owner was Warnellottus, lord of Tornano and Campi, who (long story short) shrewdly exploited the strategic position his castle and lands had between the warring city-states of Siena and Florence.

After a warm welcome by the chef, and a customary tsuts (as my mother-in-law would call it) of Prosecco which Chef Manuel insisted was a truly Tuscan tradition, abbiamo cucina (we began cooking)!

Cantuccini – Sweet almond biscuits with Vin Santo
While baking, the kitchen smelled of almonds, sugar and Vin Santo.



Pomodori al forno – Roasted tomatoes with garlic, capers, hipollito, breadcrumbs, parmesan

This simple appetizer was the perfect way to whet our appetites. We used a local wild Italian herb called hipollito (?) for the mixture on top. It looked like oregano but tasted like a cross between thyme and mint.

Ravioli ricotta e spinaci, salvia e burro salsa – Ricotta and spinach ravioli, sage and butter sauce
Making fresh pasta was the highlight of my lesson! Practice makes perfect. We must have made 3 or 4 dozen!

Costolette di maiale salsa Chianti – Pork cutlets with wild rosemary, juniper berries, Chianti Classico
This dish perfectly captured the essence of our Tuscan afternoon at Tornano.

I must say I was feeling mighty fine after our amazing lesson and lunch. We strolled around the castle grounds a bit and enjoyed the sun as the mist slowly drifted away.

Now all that was missing was a long nap.

Those sleepy kitties had the right idea…

Next up: Florence! P.S. recipes for all the above coming soon!

The Gingko Experiment: Let’s do this!

Despite my excursion to Italy (look for my mega post coming soon!), I made it back just in time to harvest those precious stinkers now stinkin’ up my front sidewalk! Since I am a total newbie, I decided to play it safe and experiment with a handful only. But friends, I can now say that I am part of the illustrious group of foragers, harvesters, and cooks of the gingko nut that has spanned generation upon generation…

Well, not really. I’m still pretty much a newb, but it was a lot of fun anyhow! At least maybe these little guys will help me stave off the coming winter flu season.

Gingko Nut Harvesting
Arm yourself with some rubber gloves! Don’t handle the gingko nuts with bare hands as they will cause major skin irritation.
Use a double plastic bag for gathering the nuts.
When ripe, the gingko nuts will be soft on the outside and a beautiful orange persimmon-y color. And of course, they’ll stink to high heaven!

Be mindful of any juicy bits that cling to your bag or your rubber gloves.

Gingko Nut Preparation
Its a good idea to wash your hands with your gloves on so as to control any smearing of the sticky stuff.
Get a clean bowl and get a pot of water boiling on the stove (size of pot will vary depending on how many nuts you have. Use your best judgment. I trust you!)
First squish off the stinky outer layer of the nut. Dispose of the fleshy pile immediately (I took the bag right out to the trash bin outside when I was done cleaning the nuts).

Rinse the nuts thoroughly so they are clean, and dry.

Gently crack open the nut shells (don’t be a knucklehead like me and be too heavy-handed!).

Remove the shells and you’re left with cute little nuts with a paper thin skin.

Pour some boiling water over them and let them soak for ~10 minutes.
Gently peel off the skins to reveal the gorgeous jade green nuts, then put them in a pot of boiling water.

Simmer for ~30 minutes, then drain.

I’m going to eat these beauties lightly pan fried with salt, but there are numerous preparations. You can grill them, roast them, stir fry them, and add them to soups like my friend Mr. Katsu does with his famous matsutake mushroom soup at Katsu in Chicago. Keep in mind, though, that these nuts are loaded with powerful antioxidants and numerous sources say that one should limit herself to eating only 5-10 per day.

Well…that wasn’t too bad I guess? Not so bad at all, in fact!

So if you are feeling adventurous and are fortunate enough for a gingko nut to cross your path, follow your nose and try these gems out! You won’t be disappointed.

This concludes The Gingko Experiment. Fin.

Check out The Gingko Experiment: The Beginning for some background to this fun project!

The Gingko Experiment: The beginning

When we moved into our house here in Chicago nine years ago (did I just say nine?!), my parents came for a housewarming visit in the Fall. It was early September, and I was giving my Dad a tour of the front of the house.

“…and here is the front porch, Dad. Uh, Dad?”

No answer. I turned to face my Dad and sure enough, he was staring up into a couple of trees in front of the house and not listening to me one bit.

“Uh, what are you looking at? Did you see a squirrel or something?” I asked.

“Jeanne, do you know what these are?” he said using his whiny sarcastic voice to poke fun.

“You mean ‘trees’?” I replied, grinning. “Hey, by the way, something stinks. Smells like something died over here.”

He reached down and picked up what looked like a perfectly round jade-green grape.

“This is a gingko nut and these are gingko trees – one male and one female. How lucky you are!”

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If it wasn’t for my Dad and our Korean heritage, I may have spent these nine years not knowing the treasure that grew right in front of my house. Instead, the tree may have just been the source of a putrid stink from pulp staining the sidewalk brownish red as people squashed the nuts under their feet.

Gingko nut trees (also known as Maidenhair trees) are considered “living fossils” as they are biologically the oldest trees in the world. The Chinese especially revere the tree and its nuts as sacred. It is known as the Silver Almond Tree, White Nut Tree, or Ancestor Tree. The nuts are still used in East Asian cooking today, especially in Japan and Korea. In Korea, it’s popular to thread the nuts onto pine needles or skewers, and then grill them. In Japan, one may be lucky enough to find a gingko nut in a chawanmushi or matsutake mushroom soup. The gingko biloba extract is famous for its medicinal properties as well.

Today, I woke up to a refreshingly rainy September morning and thought of my father as the leaves of the gingko tree rippled outside my window. My forager instinct bloomed instantly and I anxiously went outside to reacquaint myself with the smelly gems.

Alas, the nuts still have yet to turn orange and slightly soft. And the stink certainly hasn’t reached its full potency.  I’ll need to wait a bit longer.

No matter. I can wait, my pretties!

Cooking them of course will be the next challenge; this being no easy feat. Preparing gingko nuts isn’t just stinky and messy, it can actually severely irritate the skin. There are days for drying as well before cooking can even begin.

But who doesn’t love a challenge? Stay tuned…