Wanted:  A large Italian terrace graced with copious amounts of flowers and a breathtaking view. The terrace should feature an enormous table with seating for all my blogger friends. An open bar stocked with chilled Prosecco and San Pellegrino is a must. Please contact Cream Puff if you are in possession of such a terrace and are willing to sell. Cream Puff will pay any price!

An Italian terrace of my very own … now there’s a dream I’d love to see come true! While it may be awhile yet before I actually have a real Italian terrace of my own, it is possible to imagine that I have one right now, and you too, with Valentina Harris’ Recipes From an Italian Terrace.

Before I bought this cookbook, I was unfamiliar with Valentina Harris. It turns out she’s a noted cookbook author (she’s authored more than 30 cookbooks!) and she runs her own cooking school in Tuscany. So you can drop everything and run right over there to enjoy Valentina’s expertise in the area of Italian food and wine. Her school is called Villa Valentina, but I warn you now, visiting her website will make you cry with longing for the hills of Tuscany. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

So what type of cookbook is Recipes From an Italian Terrace? Well, it’s the kind of cookbook that makes you happy it’s August. It’s the kind of cookbook that makes you look at the simple, fresh ingredients around you and dream of all the wonderful possibilities. It’s the kind of cookbook that inspires and makes you hungry. It’s the kind of cookbook that makes you want to call a contractor and start plans on building a terrace. It’s that kind of cookbook.

Artichoke Pâté, Yellow Bell Pepper Boats, Frittata with Mozzarella, Rice-Filled Baked Tomatoes, Warm Seafood Salad, Stuffed Swordfish Rolls, Florentine Steak, Profiteroles with Ice Cream, Raspberry Semifreddo … I could go on and on and on. This cookbook takes all of the glorious summer foods and offers ideas on how to prepare them simply in order to maximize their flavour.

I’ve never made anything from this book so I knew that it would be a great choice for the Cream Puffs in Venice Flavour of the Month for August 2006. And now that July has passed, hopefully the steamy weather will go with it. Toronto reached a high of 36 degrees Celsius today, but it actually felt more like 48 degrees Celsius!In this kind of weather, the oven becomes the enemy.

But this is exactly where Valentina Harris steps in with her recipe for Mozzarella Farcita (Stuffed Mozzarella). Her recipe uses the most beautiful buffalo mozzarella as a starting point. While buffalo mozzarella was once nearly impossible to find, it is now widely available. Any reputable cheese counter should offer it so search it out and ask for it. Buffalo mozzarella comes in balls and is usually packaged in liquid. It is soft and delicate with an incredible milky sweet flavour. This cheese should be consumed quickly, while it’s fresh.

Harris’ recipe involves splitting the mozzarella into layers and then topping each layer with a filling of celery and smoked fish. As delightful as that sounds, I opted for something a bit different. I combined the first fresh tomatoes from our garden, shallot and basil leaves, along with Italian sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. I topped each layer with whole basil leaves and then piled on some of the tomato filling. A drizzle of olive oil, some more sea salt, a few cherry tomatoes and some Mediterranean olives to finish.

It couldn’t have been simpler, more refreshing or more delicious! So please join me all this month as we explore the glorious summer food of Recipes From an Italian Terrace.

And if you know of any abandoned Italian terraces requiring occupants to fill and enjoy it … I am most definitely interested!


Mozzarella Farcita (Stuffed Mozzarella)

Adapted from Recipes From an Italian Terrace by Valentina Harris.

  • 4 buffalo mozzarella (weighing 8 or 9 ounces each), drained of any liquid and sliced into three layers
  • 2 large or 4 small, ripe tomatoes
  • 12 whole basil leaves
  • 1 shallot, sliced finely
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • cherry tomatoes and black olives to garnish
  1. Roughly chop your tomatoes so that you have small chunks of ripe tomato. Keep the tomato juices and put both the tomatoes and juice in a bowl. Add the shallot and drizzle with 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt and a 1/4 teaspoon of cracked black pepper. Mix well and set aside for 30 minutes for the flavours to develop.
  2. On a serving plate, place the first layer of each ball of mozzarella.
  3. Top with a basil leaf and then sprinkle on some salt and pepper.
  4. Put a spoonful or two of the tomato mixture on the basil leaf and top with the second layer of mozzarella.
  5. Top each mozzarella layer with another basil leaf and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  6. Put a spoonful or two of the tomato mixture on each basil leaf and top with the final layer.
  7. Top each mozzarella with a basil leave as garnish. Drizzle with olive oil and with any reserved tomato juices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and garnish the plate with cherry tomatoes and olives.
  8. Serve immediately.
  9. Enjoy!

Note:  This recipe serves 4. If you cannot find buffalo mozzarella, you can use whole milk mozzarella in its place.

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