SLO Grown Produce: the best of Italy is locally grown in San Luis Obispo, California.

Located off the beautiful Carpenter Canyon Road, are the warm and welcoming smiles of Philip and Nancy Langston. Since 1991, the duo has been perfecting growing techniques on  SLO Grown Produce Farm to insure the best crops that San Luis Obispo County has to offer.

 

 

SLO grown produce sets itself apart by the ability to grow summer crops all year through the green house. When basil, tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers are out of season, many local businesses turn to the local farm in order to have fresh produce in the off season. Unlike most of the Central Coast, Philip and Nancy Langston own one of the very few family owned farms. Therefore, the couple doesn’t just produce the freshest and purest crops, but also delivers passion and heart in everything they do.

Producing three essential Italian ingredients: tomatoes, basil and olive oil, puts the sustainable farm at the heart of Italy. Philip Langston added, “All you need is the fresh mozzarella, and you’ve got a caprese salad!”

The couple provides their produce to multiple restaurants downtown, as well as all over California. At Big Sky Cafe, when customers ask for bread they will bring a bottle of the Lone Oak Olive Oil along with it. I spoke with owner and executive chef, Greg Holt about his experience with the flavorful oil. “I chose Lone Oak Olive Oil because there simply is not a better table top olive oil. It is so fruity, light and beautifully managed that nothing can compare. Meticulous would be a huge understatement. There is so much thought and pride put into this amazing product”, he said.

Advertisements

Gratins; the easy A+ side dish for the family Christmas dinner.

Can you imagine the savory crunchy bits of baked sauce or cheese left around the perimeter of a casserole? Who can stop themselves from scouring over the crispy morsels that are left behind in the dish?

The answer? No one. If you are looking for a universal Christmas dish that everyone is bound to enjoy, then look no further.

The French coined the name for a baked top layer,  which is  “gratin”. Gratins’ consist of breadcrumbs, cheese, sauce, or sugar layered on top of savoring pastas, potatoes or even deserts.

The origin of the word is quite interesting and dates back to the 16th century. The French verb, “gratter” means “to scrape”. Likewise, The term, “le gratin” has been used to refer to the “upper crust” in society. In modern uses, “au gratin” refers to a dish with a crunchy caramelized top layer.

Although the gratin originated in France, small twists and different recipes make it easily adopted in Italian cuisine.

When I was home this weekend, I went to one of my favorite locally-owned family restaurants, called Oregano’s. Upon looking on the menu, I noticed that they served a dish called baked cauliflower gratin. Needless to say, we ordered it as our appetizer.  Absolutely Delicious!

After eating, I spoke to the owner Larry Mancini about the history of the dish and why the dish is a healthy alternative. He started off with,

“Oh…well, it’s the healthy mac and cheese!”

Truly, he is right in this statement. The cauliflower becomes so soft and pasta like that it hardly even tastes like a vegetable. Surrounded by the creamy cheddar base,  it can easily be mistaken for a not so healthy dish.

He went on to tell me that he has had this recipe on the menu for over Twenty years because it was one of his mother’s favorites. Having done his fair share of research and experimentation, he explained that there are multiple gratin dishes. The oldest of these mouthwatering dishes is called, gratin dauphinois; it is just sliced  potatoes in a garlic cream sauce coated in butter and sprinkled with breadcrumbs.

He mentioned that with cauliflower, roasting it will caramelize it, and lead to a sweet and savory taste.

Another reason why gratins are so loved is that they are so easy to make! They can be prepared with anything from cauliflower to asparagus to pasta; and not to neglect, deserts as well! Coating fruit and cream in sugar and popping it in the oven will torch and caramelize the sugar. Can you say heaven? I can!

Attached is a cauliflower gratin recipe that I recently made myself and loved. It adds a goat cheese topping, which further defines it’s salty flavor.

Gratins’ are also easily modified to fit food allergies. There are gluten free options, as well as vegetarian alternatives to fit everyone’s specific needs.

If you need that extra appetizer to add to your eloquent Christmas dinner, simply add a gratin. The result? Delectable crispy and creamy goodness to pass around the table!

Giuseppe Cucina Rustica’s grand opening; a switch from classical to modern dining.

There is no doubt that San Luis Obispo is a quaint little town full of Italian heritage and wonderful Italian food.

If you are looking for fine Italian dining, it is not hard to find what your looking for with the grand opening of Giuseppe’s Cucina Rustica.

Giuseppe’s restaurant moved from the Palazzo in downtown SLO to 949 Monterey street. They also modified the name of the restaurant to better fit the new overarching theme.

I had the opportunity to sit down and speak to the owner’s son, Giuseppe Di Fronzo. I asked him why they chose to switch buildings. “Our old place was nice, but that style isn’t going to be popular forever. We needed a change. We needed to up our game. My father has always dreamed of having this building, and finally he has achieved that dream”, he said.

Giuseppe told me the happy and charming aura that the building has always had historically, is a major attraction. He is extremely proud of the high white ceilings, family portraits, beautiful chandeliers and the cast iron ceilings, which to my surprise turns out to be one of nine cast iron ceilings that are still in place.

img_1748

“It is incredibly open and airy. This is what happens when modern meets classic”, he added.

Due to the switch of buildings, one could inevitably expect a switch in crowd, but Giuseppe told me that they gets a lot of the regular people with a few new ones here and there, but mostly he just notices, ” A crowd. A big one.”

Along with the building change, the menu has changed a bit as well. They have added many new and more traditional items to the menu. Giuseppe’s father also now has his dream of having his own pasta maker in house. He describes the pasta being cooked to perfection by al dente, the perfect firmness. “It is a major change for our menu. It is real authentic Italian noodles.  It has become another major attraction at our new location”, he told me.

The menu is relatively inexpensive and if you are not familiar with Italian cuisine, helpful descriptions and tips are embedded in the menu to help you navigate. Giuseppe’s Cucina Rustica also has numerous vegetarian options and if you have small children, ordering an authentic cheese pizza or butter pasta is always a big hit.

One of the new items is called the, “Mama’s salad”. It consists of arugula, cucumber, tomato, iceberg and endives. “It just looks something my grandma used to fix up at home. Simple and tasteful.” He mentioned. Giuseppe gave me this salad when I left and it was incredibly flavorful and fresh.

Another popular new menu item is on the Antipasti list, called the “Mediterranean Octopus ‘alla Barese'” Giuseppe is rather proud about the popularity of the dish. “I feel like a couple years ago this dish would not have sold, but now people love it and it is extremely popular. It is one of those dishes that really brings me home.”

Giuseppe also stated that since they now have this new location up and running they can now work on fixing the burned down restaurant in Pismo.

If you are in need of having a fine Italian dinner, do not hesitate to check of Giuseppe’s menu and head to their new and improved location downtown.

 

Insight into the healthy ‘kick’ in butternut squash

As the weather starts to cool off and running noses and sore throats become all too common, soups become one of the most appealing foods.

When the squash season starts to come to an end, its the perfect time to incorporate a multitude of wonderful, ripe squash vegetables into your daily whole made soups.

Butternut squash in particular, is raved about for its wholesome, as well as filling characteristics. In addition to a soup base, it can also be used as a ravioli filing or as a squash casserole.

As it pertains to soups, Deborah Mele, Italian cook and author of Italian Food Forever, has really nailed the perfect butternut squash soup recipe. I recently made this soup and I must say the flavor way phenomenal. From the sage to the drizzle of yogurt, the flavors could be tasted in every spoonful.

“This soup is also low in fat as only a little heart-healthy olive oil is used, and the soup gets its thick, creamy texture from the sweet potatoes rather than heavy cream.” adds Deborah.

If you are battling allergies or asthma, butternut squash is also rich in vitamins and minerals to improve immunity through the cold winter months. According to Medical News Today, butternut squash contains an antioxidant known as Beta-Carotene which acts as a protective shield to the body, preventing free-radicals from getting into our systems. What could be better way to kick that stubborn cold?

I had the opportunity to speak with Nathan Tarentino, owner of Italian restaurant and cuisine, Centanove. When I asked him about the popularity of his butternut squash raviolis, he answered in excitement, “There is not an item on the menu that sells at the rate that my butternut squash raviolis do. Once you start eating them, it becomes an addiction almost. You are tasting so many different spices and flavors all at once, engulfed in an authentic Italian pasta…There really is nothing better. He jokes,  “Also, I feel that many people have the mindset that they are eating a vegetable, so it completely voids the fact that you are eating quite a few carbohydrates that come from the pasta.”

Wether you be outside around a fire enjoying the crisp air that transitions into winter, or cuddled up on the couch in a blanket, there really is not a more satisfying taste then that of butternut squash. Before you bundle up to relax for the night, grab yourself a bowl or plate of your favorite squash meal.

Buon Appetito!

 

 

Looking for a rich probiotic to enhance recipes? Greek yogurt is the answer. 

Yogurt can be a creamy addition to enhance most Italian dishes.

However, most traditional yogurt products contain a high concentration of artificial additives and ingredients that can work against the natural digestive process.

What’s worse? High fructose corn syrup, a common sweetener, has a very high glycemic index and aspartame contains methanol, a substance that is toxic even in the smallest amount.

Despite it’s numerous downfalls, yogurt has enhanced many recipes for its creaminess and flavor. Italian dinners, and in particular, Italian sauces, have been greatly intensified with the use of this creamy ingredient.

The search has inevitably been for a higher grade and more nutritious substitute to the fatty cow yogurt.

Greek yogurt, as opposed to regular yogurt, not only provides a thicker, more creamy alternative, but also is loaded with protein and probiotics (the healthy bacteria).

It fits the college student’s budget since it is inexpensive, while also improving digestion, immunity and may even reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance, according to the Journal of Applied Microbiology (2005).

This relatively new superfood is commonly used for yogurt parfaits, tzatziki, smoothies or in nutritious popsicles, but did you know it can also make for a wonderful creamy Italian sauce?

I recently tired Creme de la Crumb‘s Greek yogurt Alfredo sauce and was astonished not only by the supreme flavor, but also the protein it added merely by using Greek yogurt. I can assure you, give this a go and you will never go back to the store bought cans.

Photo adopted from (Nikodem Nijaki,creative commons)

 

The pumpkin is the ticket to seasonal baking and festive family bonding

Near the end of October and beginning of November, the feeling of the Fall season really starts to set in: Halloween, memorable times with family, delicious food and laughter are all in the air.

What better way to give thanks for all the wonders in life than to indulge in a delicious seasonal treat? We have much to celebrate in life, and there is nothing better then a warm whole made pastry.

Since my family is Italian, it is tradition to spend countless hours in the kitchen perfecting long standing family baking recipes, many of which came directly from Italy. A few that spark my tastebuds are: vanilla bean cookies, dark chocolate macaroons, and my favorite, pumpkin spice scones!

When I think of Fall foods, the pumpkin is at the heart of them all. Thanks to the local, Trader Joe’s, the creation of fall treats is right at your finger tips! If you are in college, not to worry, many pumpkin mixes and pulps will fit your budget.

Trader Joe’s offers a multitude of kits and packages that include everything you need to create a tasty and easy pumpkin treat. They offer recipe kits such as: caramel pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin spiced cheesecake, pumpkin pie, pumpkin spiced babka, pumpkin pancake and waffle mix, pumpkin toaster pastries, pumpkin scones, pumpkin spiced whip cream and even pumpkin spiced pumpkin seeds!

Clearly, there is no better place to kick off pumpkin season then Trader Joe’s.

Tradition is essential to celebrate during the holidays and specifically around Thanksgiving. Whatever your origins and cooking traditions may be, it is important to shed extra light on them during this grateful time of year.

I was given the opportunity this weekend to speak to the owner of Grazia Puma Panetteria, a family owned Italian bakery in Willow Glen, California.  Suzette Sorrentino agrees with me about about the importance of baking and family tradition:

Around this time of year, many start noticing the trees turning colors, or for children, many start thinking about Halloween costumes, but for my family the onset of Fall evokes a specific memory and ongoing tradition that we’ve enjoyed year after year. As Fall marks the beginning of our Italian cookie baking season! Based on recipes handed down through many generations, we al share in the enjoyment of our unique, mouth watering, artful cookies.

Essentially, instead of the focus being on Halloween candy, we should all strive to incorporate family bonding into our sweets by baking a home prepared treat this season.

We all need a break to our healthy eating regime; relish in the sweetness. After all, calories don’t count during the holidays!

Looking for a low fat and affordable alternative to breadcrumbs? Quinoa is the answer

img_1235

When I’m thinking about how to best prepare a dish, three essential factors come to mind: the  preparation time, the flavor, and most importantly, the nutritional value.

Many believe that in order to make dinner bakes such as: chicken alfredo, pesto chicken, or eggplant parmesan, you need a really high quality  bread crumb. However, it is completely false.

If you are looking for a high protein, low saturated fat, low carbohydrate and affordable substitute for fatty bread crumb crusts, quinoa is the right answer.

In order to fulfill the flavor of breadcrumb crusts, make sure you cook the quinoa encrusted chicken until it is golden brown or about 25 minutes, this will give it the irresistible crunch that breadcrumbs offer. Then top with marinara, mozzarella and basil.

Quinoa is the heart-healthy superfood of the century. Jessica Penner, a health nutritionist at Smart Nutrition says this about its nutritional value:

Quinoa is a great grain alternative for those following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. The protein in quinoa is complete, meaning that it contains all the essential protein building blocks (called amino acids) that our bodies need. Quinoa is also a good source of iron, zinc, magnesium, and manganese.

Quinoa’s healthy composition and delicious taste beat traditional breadcrumbs by a long run; so next time instead of drenching your chicken filets in flour and oily breadcrumbs, use white or red quinoa as a wholesome alternative.

 

 

 

 

The essential oils

Throughout time, people have been testing a wide variety of oils in their frying, baking and sautéing endeavors; plant, animal and synthetic fats are a few oil options.  However, when it comes to mastering Italian recipes, the quality of the oil is the very basis for success. The search is inevitably for something light and tasty, but also wholesome.

As we move away from animal fats, new scientific evidence from The Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggests cholesterol-free vegetable oil from oilseed crop is the best option. These include:soybean, sunflower, rapeseed, cottonseed, and peanut oils.

Most of these vegetable oils have levels of oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids that significantly exceed that of palmitic acid, and nutritionists now generally recommend that preference is given to such oils in the human diet.

Oleic and linoleic oils are unsaturated, fatty acids that won’t compromise your health, but still have the same satisfaction in the stomach.

In order to maintain a healthy kitchen, steer away from high levels of cholesterol and saturated fatty acids in cooking oils. Partially hydrogenated, Crisco and Canola are just a few that should be avoided due to their contribution to cardiovascular disease.

The next time you wish to whip up an Italian dinner, pay special attention to the use of the oil. Such a small change can dramatically improve the taste as well as your overall health.

Don’t let the produce spoil!

Special tips to take advantage of a fresh fall harvest from, Jovina Cooks Italian: What is in season in October:

When it hits October, the produce market switches to fall mode; pumpkin, squash, and seasonal berries are just a few of the many gifts of a fall harvest.  With all the wonderful autumn produce fully stocked,  it is no surprise that Italian recipes have great potential to turn out delicious.

However, the question always remains, “How can I preserve the produce to keep it fresh until the holidays?”

Through her many years of cooking experience, Jovina answers the question:

  • To keep fruits and veggies fresh, she says, freeze them at their peak of harvest, but first make sure they are thoroughly cleaned.
  • The next step is blanching for two to five minutes

“Blanching — the process of heating vegetables with boiling water or steam for a set amount of time, then immediately plunging them into cold or iced water — stops enzyme activity that causes vegetables to lose nutrients and change texture.”

  • Freeze them in freezer-safe storage containers.

It is surely exciting to know that the local markets are stocked with the finest fall produce, but even more assuring to have found a way to make it last even longer.