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Kitchen Cousins (+ new expat family recipes)

While I was hanging with the family in Tuscany, a kitchen renovation was underway back at the house in Fossacesia. That's where I headed when I parted from the family in Rome.

Above are my "kitchen cousins" Jayna and Pernell, whom I'll get to in a minute. We're not related by blood, but by friendship and a common history of renovating a place in Abruzzo. Below is my demo'd kitchen. I'll do an overview and before/after in an upcoming post. For now, suffice it to say that the whole situation interfered with my visit this go-'round.

I knew I'd be walking into a house where a demolition had just taken place but failed to think through just what that would mean. To wit, that the place would be a disaster area. I understood, of course, that I wouldn’t be able to cook anything. But I thought I could microwave some stuff. I failed to foresee that everything that had been in the kitchen would be piled into the downstairs den and that I wouldn’t be able to find the microwave in that jumble. Moreover, the whole house was robed in a dust jacket and the contractor wagged his finger at the idea of my staying there because of all the dust I might inhale. Finally, the cable had been cut during the demolition so I wasn’t able to watch Italian TV, which I love to do while I’m over there.

I decamped to a small hotel in town that, while perfectly safe and clean, was spartanissimo and a little depressing. I decided to see some friends and head back to Rome early.


As luck would have it, my friends Jayna and Pernell, who'd bought a place about 75 minutes from me in a great little town called Penne, had just finished their own kitchen reno with the property manager/contractor we have in common, Sergio ( Their kitchen came out splendid, on budget and on time. So I'll be pretty excited to see mine in a few months.

J&P had recovered a brick and stone wall hidden behind plaster that, together with the vaulted ceiling, made their kitchen over-the-top fabulous and distinctive. (I hoped to find something similar in my place but have since learned that the brick and stone behind my existing wall is in pitiful shape and therefore unusable. However, Sergio is going to create such a wall for me. (Cha-ching!))

I thought the pops of cherry red amid the earth tones were inspired, and I told my friends so through clenched teeth and a malevolent smile.


Jayna and Pernell are friends from home who only recently bought this vacation place fairly close to me. (How cool is that? Penne is a picturesque, "vertical" town with beautiful views of the countryside. If you've ever considered buying in Italy, you might want to take a look. It attracts an international crowd of English speakers who've formed a vibrant community and it's extremely reasonable. I plan to glom onto this couple's new friends there.)

They'd invited me over not just to see their kitchen in person but to help inaugurate it with a cooking lesson from a local chef named Graziella. (You can find her on facebook: Graziella Altobelli in Cappelle sul Tavo.)

Two of the dishes we prepared with her were vegan. The first was a healthful and tasty pumpkin soup, the second homemade gnocchi in a vegetable sauce --though the gnocchi can wear any sauce you’d like. The third was a chicken dish I’ve converted to veganity. All were simple. 

Pumpkin Soup

(3-4 servings)

Olive oil

1 zucchini, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 leek, chopped

1 small bunch parsley, chopped

600 grams (about 1.3 lbs) pumpkin


Saute' everything together.

Add water, cover and simmer until vegetables are soft.

Puree’ with an immersion blender.

Dress with scallions, vegan parmigiano, croutons*. Top with an edible flower if you’re feeling fancy.

*Note: I made this soup back in New York, but substituted butternut squash for pumpkin and prepped my own croutons by toasting chunks of bread in basil-infused oil.

Gnocchi with Vegetable Sauce

(3-4 servings)

For gnocchi:

2-3 peeled red potatoes, large

100 grams (or 0.8 cup) type 01 flour

Salt (lots)

Boil potatoes in salted water till tender.

On a good-sized work surface, pour flour and salt into a circular shape and create a well in center.

Work ingredients together with fingers, adding flour as needed to make it easier to handle. Use heel of hand as dough becomes thicker.

Cut dough into sections and roll sections into tubes.

Rest gnocchi tubes for 1 hour, then cut on diagonal into penne-like pieces. Sprinkle with flour so pieces don’t stick.

Put gnocchi in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain.


For sauce:

1 cup oil

1 carrot

1 green onion

100 grams asparagus

250 grams mixed mushrooms



Finely chop and simmer the vegetables in oil until they soften. Salt to taste and remove from heat.

Add 16 cherry tomatoes chopped in half. Let them warm in the pan before tossing mixture with gnocchi.


Sauteed Tofu

(2 servings)

Vegan bacon OR olive oil

1 carrot

1 red pepper

1 red onion

1 cup white wine (more if necessary)

Tofu (or “chiken”, aka vegan chicken pieces)

Small bunches of fresh rosemary, marjoram, and thyme


If using vegan bacon, chop it into small pieces and cook in frying pan. Remove pieces from pan.

Chop and saute' carrot, red pepper, and onion in that vegan bacon fat or in olive oil.

Add ½ cup wine.

Add tofu or “chiken” pieces; saute’ 5 minutes, then turn heat to high.

Add herbs.

Add more white wine (lots).

Add salt.

Cover and cook 10 minutes on low heat.

If mixture gets dry, add more wine.

Finish with several chopped cherry tomatoes.

 Please stay tuned for an update on my kitchen reno in September!

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