I know a month seems like a long time, but in Italy it goes by very quickly. It was a challenge to get everything I selected back with me, but I did it!
Well, mostly. Some will arrive in July.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, some of the most interesting things I found this trip were in the Maremma area of Tuscany.
If you haven’t visited this area of Tuscany, take the time to do it on your next trip. It’s very special. From it’s historical Etrurian roots and it’s fertile soil, to the still producing olives trees that are over 2,000 years old, it’s fishing ports and beaches, it is a non-touristy, beautiful area full of warm people and really unique ‘prodotti tipici’ (regional products).
I visited Orbetello, Montiano, Talemone, Capalbio and Albinia. I brought back some of that liquid gold, Colatura, which is the essence of anchovy, impossible to find even in other areas of Italy. I also brought Bottarga di muggine; some farro pasta; and some antique legume con ‘occhio. And another rare product: fennel pollen. Fennel pollen is a spice mostly used in Tuscan cooking, not widely known elsewhere. It is really that type of magical ingredient that can add a layer of flavor that takes a dish from good to great. Fennel pollen has notes of licorice, citrus and a feeling of soft subtlety. You can use the pollen to season meat with a dry rub of salt, or sprinkle on just before serving. Light summery soups, gain headiness and depth with a light sprinkle at the table. In colder months, roasted vegetables are enhanced by a sprinkling of fennel pollen while they are roasting. The real trick with fennel pollen is not to overuse it. A little really does go a long way, and even a pinch may be too much. Go slowly, adding just a dash with care, and use it mostly towards the very end of cooking so as to preserve its delicate flavor. The fennel pollen I brought back is fine and pure, and there is also hand packed one is even more rare with absolutely no grit, just powdery flavor.
There are also some condiments made especially for Tuscan style cooking, that rustic, simple but hearty real food they do so well. I have ‘conserva di buttero’ (Buttero is the Tuscan cowboy who herds the cattle in the area). It’s beautiful in color, rich in flavor and a perfect complement to meats or served along with cheese (especially Pecorino or Parmigiano). It’s got peaches, peppers, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, apple vinegar and a little sugar in it. Really tasty and a little piquant.
While I got some great preserved black truffles in Umbria, I found some thinly sliced summer black truffles preseved in oil in Capalbio that would be fabulous with eggs, or over meat or just on toast, or with almost anything.
One of the true secrets of Italian cooking is that you don’t need to use great quantities of the flavors. They are most effective when used in balance. A touch of an herb, or a dash of a condiment is all that is necessary. Subtle but dramatic taste additions make memorable dishes.
If you want any of these items or have any questions about these or any of the typical products of this area, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to add you to our mailing list for our offerings or shop for you on my next trip for products you may already know.
While we still have months to wait for new harvest olive oils, I do have olive oil from Montiano and Tivoli now. Both are fresh, and fabulous tasting. These are really special and if you’re not familiar with pure, fresh extra virgin olive oil, these are really so noticeably different than grocery store olive oils, you’ll never go back. But be aware, these are not for everyday cooking, or making common salad dressings, they are to be prized. They are perfect for the splash of olive oil to brighten all the flavors in a dish just before serving. Or to dress a salad with just a little lemon juice and the olive oil. Treat yourself. You deserve the best and these truly are.
And, lastly, there is agrodolce available. Agrodolce is a sweet sour sauce used in many Italian dishes. While it usually is traced back to first being used in Sicilian cooking, each region has developed its own take on this gastrique type sauce. Agrodolce can be used as a finishing sauce for a variety of dishes. Often it is used as a glaze or dipping sauce with antipasti. It is also a great addition to the cheese board for both mild and strong cheeses. And, of course, it’s great as a sauce on all kinds of meats. I have raspberry agrodolce as well as blackberry. Both are fantastic.