This week (Sunday) is Filippo Inzaghi's 36th birthday. I am celebrating.
His fans call him Pippo and, SuperPippo. He is a forward for my beloved AC Milan football club, where he's played since 2001. Before that he was with my other beloved club, Juventus, for four seasons. (Shhh, don't tell anyone I love both clubs, it's not allowed!)
Pippo has been on my radar in 2006 when I had designs on staying at Coverciano in Florence, where Italy's national team stays and trains for matches. I told my friends it would really rock my world to breathe the same air as Pippo Inzaghi. I'm really not sure why I said that but, never mind. It didn't happen.
Between then and now, I continue to be enamored with him ... maybe because he's a little older than other players, and he's just a very colorful character on and off the field. He seems to have only two faces besides his charming model-sort-of look (see photo). There is his smirky-almost-scowl and, his ballistic-celebratory-wide-yelling-kind-of-smile when he scores a goal.
Many admire him because he is relatively famous for coming through and scoring just when his squad needs him the most. By now his SuperPippo stardom equals having scored the most 'hat tricks' (3 goals in one match; he has 10) of any Serie A (Italian league) player in the last 25 years.
He scored both goals in May 2007 for Milan to win the Champions League (European Club Cup) Final, something he said he'd dreamed of since he was a child. It immortalized my passion for him. I was in Sicily at that hour and even still have the historic newspaper clippings tucked in my journal.
His handsome brother Simone also plays professional soccer in Italy, for Lazio. It is my understanding that Pippo is the proud and adoring uncle of Simone's young son, and it was reported at one time on a fan site that he really longed for true love and to have a family of his own.
By now he has fallen truly in love, with a stunning model, and they are truly beautiful together.
Having said that, I did have an amusing conversation with two Italian friends over dinner one night.
"I'm too late!" I laughed with them. "I hate when that happens!"
They said he found someone else because he never met me. Entirely possible (laugh!) but I think more so, it's because, my food's never been set in front of him!
If I were his Chef, what I'd serve is obvious.
In her fabulous book Romancing the Ordinary, Sarah Ban Breathnach shares a sensational July recipe called Breakfast Bliss. I'm borrowing a bit, from her red wine-sauced summer fruit pleasure, and adding something unexpected to compliment those sweet and sensuous flavors.
Mine is a sweet red wine sauce that adds more succulence to dark cherries, and makes elegant white nectarine slices blush. Made the day or night before, it is served cold and topped with a little yogurt or creme fraiche, toasted almonds since they are a legendary symbol of romance, and a tiny bit of freshly-grated nutmeg for a touch of spice.
Since he's Italian, I've taken my pizza dough and substituted butter for the olive oil proportion. The dough is made in advance, refrigerated, and baked fresh in the morning. It makes for a fluffy focaccia, and it's brushed with butter and cinnamon sugar right out of the oven.
This combination of flavors and textures is ... definitely blissful. Even though Italians don't typically eat much for breakfast other than espresso and maybe some bread, it won't matter.
If I had it my way, I wouldn't be serving breakfast until around noon anyway.
Happy Birthday Breakfast, for Pippo Inzaghi
Make focaccia dough, in advance:
1 envelope dry yeast or, 2 tsp fresh cake yeast
2/3 cup very warm water
2 cups flour
2 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp melted butter
Vegetable or olive oil, for greasing bowl
Dissolve yeast in warm water, set aside for 5-10 minutes. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt. Make a well in center. Add melted butter to yeast mixture, and pour liquid into center of well. With clean hands, combine all ingredients until mixture forms a soft ball. Place in a clean bowl which is generously oiled, cover with plastic wrap or towel. Set in warm, draft-free place for 1-2 hours for dough to rise. Gently punch dough down, and place in zipper bag. Refrigerate.
Make wine-fruit sauce:
1/2 cup red wine (I love Zinfandel for this)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 lb. pitted fresh cherries
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large white nectarine, pitted, sliced
Finely grated zest of one orange or tangerine
Combine wine and sugar in saucepan over low-medium heat. Cook until sugar dissolves then add cherries, cook for about 5 minutes. Increase heat slightly and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and add remaining ingredients. Stir to combine well, and cook for about 5 more minutes.
Transfer to container, cover tightly when completely cooled. Refrigerate overnight.
Prepared focaccia dough
Butter and cinnamon-sugar
Prepared wine-fruit sauce
Plain or vanilla Greek-style yogurt
Toasted almonds, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and oil a baking dish or pan for baking bread. Form small rounds about 1/2" thick and place on prepared pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until just firm and lightly browned. Remove from oven and melt butter on tops of rounds, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Top bowl or bowls of wine-fruit sauce with spoonful of yogurt, almonds, and a dash of spice. To enjoy, break pieces of warm bread and dip in sauce. Have napkins handy, or not.
Yields 2 servings with leftovers.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
Sometimes - fortunately not that often - I have a day or go through a passage, where being in the kitchen brings the inner peace I am so in need of. This week, a day like that happened after the Peace Cup final.
England's Aston-Villa side had triumphed over my Juventus (Italy) heartthrobs, but that didn't bother me. I just loved that I had the perfect muse for this week's story and recipe, and that "peace" was in the equation.
Conceived by a Korean organizing committee after the 2002 World Cup, the Peace Cup tournament started in 2003 and is held every odd year. 12 clubs are invited to participate. This summer's 2009 event was the first time it moved from Korea, to Spain. Included in the rounds were world-class clubs Real Madrid, Juventus, and Olympic Lyonnaise (France) - all for whom the matches equalled "pre-season" practice.
The grand intention of the Cup is to "build bridges across cultural differences through sports." One avenue is this biennial world competition which provides funds and resources for grassroots projects, especially for children in neighborhood communities.
I am especially in love with its trophy. It reminds me of Botticelli's "3 Graces" dancing around a golden ball. Its bronze, silver, and golden parts respectively, symbolize the 3 steps through which humans grow and mature:
"... overcomes pain through water (bronze), goes to the Universe symbolized by air (silver). Finally a peaceful world is created, through love (gold). Water, air, and love - the conjunction of world harmony."
In Sunday's final match at Sevilla, England's fairly-novice Aston-Villa side held their own against the relatively-veteran Juventus squad, until the 2nd-round penalty kicks shootout ended the match in their favor.
The young players were ecstatic. Their up-and-coming stars included 19-year-old Marc Albrighton and 3 other brave rookies. Their 'understudy' goalkeeper Brad Guzan is American, and even Juve's Gigi Buffon, 2006 World Champion goalkeeper, tipped his hat to the rising star.
Back on the note of my own desire for peace, I found the comfort I craved Monday afternoon in my kitchen. I thought about the beautiful young Aston-Villa players and decided to celebrate them with a new signature. Aston-Villa's jerseys are claret red shirts with sky-blue sleeves. Fine, this ought to be easy.
Just like I don't have anything to do with the world's most beautiful game being played by some of the world's most beautiful men, I am not personally responsible for the apparent truth that homemade cookies are always joyfully devoured by children of all ages. Even those who live in adult bodies. It just never fails.
Best to take one of my best recipes ever and twist it up with some new tricks for this occasion, I decided. Up until now, this said cookie dough requires refrigeration for several hours, is formed into balls, and baked into individual crispy, chewy perfections, studded with Euro chocolate chunks.
I needed peace and pleasure sooner than that. I kept the oatmeal cookie base, and added a tiny dose of cinnamon and nutmeg because nutmeg especially, makes people happy.
The claret and blue came into play when I stirred in chocolate-coated cranberries and yogurt-coated blueberries. The batter spread easily and perfectly into an 8-inch glass pan so now we'd have new cookie bars (which make wonderful gifts)! I imagined the coating of the berries would dissolve splendidly into the batter to create a brand-new flavor.
Voila! Ecco! In about 30 minutes, a fantastic giant square cookie (!) or, in fact for me, one tiny corner sample ... was just what the good cosmic doctor ordered - a whole new, incredibly delicious prescription for joy, pleasure and, peace.
I hope it offers the same for you and yours.
Peace Cup Oatmeal Cookie Bars, for Aston-Villa
1 cube unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup yogurt-coated blueberries
1/2 cup chocolate-covered cranberries or cherries
(any 1 cup combination of chips, raisins, or other dried fruit pieces may be substituted)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat 8" square glass baking dish with cooking spray.
In large bowl, cream butter with sugars, egg, and vanilla. In separate bowl, combine flour, soda, salt, spices. Blend well with butter mixture. Add oats and combine thoroughly. Stir in 1 cup coated berries or choice of chips, chocolate pieces, dried fruit pieces, etc.
Spread dough evenly in prepared baking dish (easiest done with clean hands). Bake for 25-30 minutes, until browned on edges and slightly firm in center (it will continue to set once it cools). Set pan on wire rack to cool completely.
Cut into 16-20 bars to serve, or store in airtight container for up to one week.