Is this why Italians are healthier than Americans?
Just outside of Todi in the Umbrian hills are acres and acres of sunflower fields. Sunflower production is a major industry in Umbria. The farmers harvest the seeds, from which sunflower oil is produced. Sunflower oil is even being used experimentally now in biodiesel in Europe.
Sunflower oil is one of the healthiest vegetable oils for human consumption. Umbrian sunflowers are non-transgenic and the oil is naturally trans fat-free.
Sunflower oil is used frequently in Italian cooking. Not so in America, where sunflower oil is tough to find. America (California, Texas, the midwest) produces sunflower seeds, but ironically, most of the seeds for oil are exported to Europe!
America needs to demand healthy food products like sunflower oil instead of high trans fat products like commercial cakes and cookies, fast food french fries, shortening and margarine...
(OK, that's my plug for a better America right now. For those of you who know my eating and cooking habits, you know I can't pass up an opportunity for this commentary.)
The local cemetery
The house we rented was only a few hundred meters away from the local cemetery just outside Monticello. I stopped by there frequently on my daily walks.
The cemetery was well tended, although it also contained seemingly forgotten graves. The contrast was stark - huge exensive ornate family crypts stood next to simple graves with hardly a lopsided wooden cross marking the grave.
Delicious Umbrian Dishes
"You can try these at home!"
Wild mushroom, onion, arugula and cheese lasagne (totally vegetarian)
Make 4 cups bechamel sauce:
Melt 8 tablespoons butter. When bubbling, stir in 8 tablespoons flour until smooth. Gradually stir in 4 cups milk. Heat until thick and boiling, stirring constantly. Stir in pinch of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1-1/2 pounds assorted wild mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. fresh arugula, finely chopped
1 pound lasagne noodles
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, 180 degrees C. Brush 2 quart baking dish with olive oil. Saute onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms. Saute until mushrooms are tender, about 8-10 min. Remove onion and mushrooms to separate dish.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in same pan and saute arugula until arugula is wilted but still bright green - about 2 min. Remove from pan. Miix onion, mushrooms and arugula in bechamel sauce.
Cook lasagne according to directions. Rinse with cold water.
Spead thin layer of sauce on bottom of baking dish. Line with 4 strips of lasagne. Spread layer of sauce, then mozzarella cheese on top of noodles. Repeat layers until top of dish is reached. End with mozzarella cheese and sprinkle parmesan cheese last. Bake for 30 minutes. Let stand for a couple of minutes before serving.
"Pinoccate (Pine Nut Cake)"
4 eggs separated
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 cube), softened
1 cup all purpose flour
8 oz. pine nuts, toasted and finely ground, but stop short of grinding them into butter
In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with half the sugar. In another bowl, beat the remaining sugar with the butter. Gently stir the two mixtures together. Gradually add this to the flour, mixing in a little at a time to avoid lumps forming. Beat the eggwhites until stiff and gently fold them into the mixture, taking care to retain as much air as possible. Fold the ground nuts into the batter.
Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan and fill it with the batter. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached.
"Homemade Chocolate Gelato"
3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 cups milk (whole, 2% or 1%)
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup half and half
Melt chocolate over low heat and remove from heat. Heat the cream, milk and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot. Place the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk briefly. Still whisking, slowly pour in about 1 cup of the hot liquid. When the mixture is smooth, slowly pour it into the liquid in the saucepan, whisking constantly. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. Alternatively, use a candy thermometer and remove from heat when mixture reaches 205 degrees F (95 degrees C). Be sure not let the mixture boil at any time or will curdle.
Gradually add some of the ice cream base to the chocolate, whisking it frequently to keep the chocolate smooth. Add the remaining ice cream base and stir until the mixture is well blended. Refrigerate. Pour the mixture into the bowl of the machine and freeze.
Makes 1 quart.
1-1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 package yeast
2 tablespoon olive oil
2-1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup oat flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
Mix all ingredients together to make a dough. I use a bread machine, set on the dough setting. I'll take the dough out after it is mixed together in a ball, but before the dough starts rising. Place in oiled bowl. Cover top of bowl with Saran wrap. Let stand in warm place until dough is double in size.
Punch dough down, and knead on floured surface for 10 minutes, adding more bread flour from the work surface if necessary. Cut into two even pieces. Let rest for 10 minutes. Shape into two loaves and place on cookie sheet. Loosely cover with waxed paper. Let rise until double in size.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Heat to boiling a small pot of water. Fill a glass baking dish halfway with water and put on lower rack of oven. The steam will give the bread a nice, crisp crust. Bake for 30 minutes. When bread comes out of the oven, dust with flour.