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Spices

I Hope You Become as Fascinated As I With Oil pt 1

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I realize that I’ve written about olive oil before, but as I spend more time in Italy and have more opportunity to talk with producers, growers and cooks as well as tasting  more oils, the more fascinated I become with all the details about olive oil. The history, the benefits and the lies, as well as the rationale and need for DOPs.

The DOP is the designation the Italian national government has taken to ensure that all traditional products are held to a strict standard for quality, excellence and originality)   D.O.P – Denominazione di Origine Protetta.  In particular this applies to Extra Virgin Olive Oil and signifies that the oil has passed all the government tests for quality and acidity levels (extra virgin olive oils must be no more than 0.8% in free acidity and be cold pressed.  The lower the acidity, the better since it provides better health benefits, among the many reasons.

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These days we find that it is difficult to trust much of anything we hear or read about our food.  We are “sold” on health foods on the internet without much documentation, we are in farmer’s markets buying food that has been brought by people who have never been to a farm and have no idea what has been put on the food they are selling.  It is difficult to buy almost anything with much confidence that the label is truthful, the information accurate and the pricing fair.  That is one of the reasons I have spent so much energy and time asking questions, talking to growers and finding people and resources that I can confidently believe and relay what they say to you.  These are small purveyors not exporting, not supplying distributors, just growers or consortiums.  People I trust.

If you get bored or find this information too tedious I understand.   Skim, or just look at the photos.  It will be too much information for many, but it is here for those, like me, who want all the details.  Now, for a little more on olive oil.  Actually there will be a lot more.  This is just part 1.

The olive harvest starts with the Raccolta. — the harvest of olives from the trees.  They use  a giant-size plastic comb, or more often a mechanical mop top broom that kind of whirls around.   You grab the branch, pull down and comb. The olives fall out like knots from your hair and the leaves remain.

The nets lie around the trees on the ground to catch and hold the olives that are combed from the branches.  Once finished, the olives are carefully collected from the nets and poured into the cestini (baskets).  As the baskets are filled they are taken to the frantoio (olive press).   Each region has it’s own rules for their DOP registration.  But in general, the olives must be taken from tree to the frantoio witin 48 hours.  With olio nuovo in Sabina, it is usually more direct.  From tree to pressing within ten hours.  No storing.  Often the lesser quality olives can be stored up to three weeks before being pressed which means much of the nutrients and antioxidants and lots of freshness and flavor have already evaporated before they are pressed.

Here is the process for pressing the olives:

Step 1 WASHING

Water jets on conveyor belts remove large particles of earth and foreign bodies, followed by the removal of olive leaves and small un-ripened fruit.

 

Step 2  FRANGITURA

The olives get pressed to produce a pulpy, usually violet-coloured substance, with no addition of heat or water. Though it is now done by mechanical means, it was traditionally done by grinding one stone around and around inside another larger stone, often pulled by a donkey or a horse, differing from region to region. I have friends my age from Sardinia who remember growing up with their olive oil being made like this.

 

Step 3  GRAMOLAZIONE

This is the important step of adding a recipe of movement, heat and time together to separate the pulp into diverse particles, therefore helping the microscopic oil drops unite into larger oil drops: normally 27°C for 15-20 minutes to get a high quality and low extraction. Normally, for top-quality extra-virgin olive oils, it is good to get 15kg of finished product for every 100kg of olives picked, this can change for each harvest.

 

Step 4  CENTRIFUGATION AND EXTRACTION

This machine separates the different particles produced by the gramolazione into: oil, vegetal water, and the remaining sansa or pomace, which is what the pulp is called.

 

Step 5 SEPARATION

This final step takes the oil, adds fresh pure water, mixes them together and filters the water away which in turn removes further impurities from the oil.

 

The oil is then taken and filtered through cotton, and bottled.

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PART 2  is a little more about the history and my reasons for staying firmly in Sabina for the oil I bring back.  Hint:  I love the flavor.  Oh, and as you can see above, the Sabine hills are pretty spectacular.

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Porcini Season – Tripping to Vetralla

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Vetralla

I am on my fall shopping trip to Italy and now that I have collected the olio nuovo from the frantoio in Farfa, and am a week away from collecting spice mixes from Mauro Berardi in Campo dei Fiori I have the opportunity to wander the countryside to visit some of my favorite places outside Rome.

Sutri

Vetralla is about an hour drive north on the Cassia through the lovely countryside of the Veii (through some Etruscan ruins). I take Cassia Bis since it is a more direct route and I love the caves of Sutri and often stop off at Ronciglione. Both are medieval cities with amazing history and buildings as well as fun festvals during the year. Ronciglione has one of the oldest Carnevale in central Italy. To open the festivities, the mayor gives the key to the city to the Carnival King, who rings in the week of madness that includes costume parties in the piazza, allegorical parades and a strange tradition of throwing pasta at passersby. The main event is a Palio competition initiated in 1465 by Pope Paul III Farnese, but unlike other Palio theirs features a riderless horse.

But, this week, my mission is porcini secchi. I cannot take fresh porcini back to the U.S. but my clients have come to realize the stiff dark cardboard sold there as dried porcini are nothing like real porcini. And the best I have found are from a small farm outside Vetralla where the family grows, harvests and dries them by themselves. I have never been disappointed and neither have my clients. They are worth every penny and my efforts to shelter them to get them home.

 Botte

The shopping I do for my clients is very personal. I spend lots time resourcing to find the best quality, most reliable people and ask lots of questions so I can answer lots of questions from clients. Every trip brings new people and resources because friends in Italy want to share their finds with me. Tourists would never have the opportunities to locate the places and people I do, so I love sharing my finds.

If you the chance do travel around more than the big cities of Italy. There is so much to see and explore. Every village has festivals and products that are unique. The more time I spend and areas I travel, the more in love I am with the whole country and realize there will never be enough time to explore all of it.

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Here’s an easy recipe for a porcini cream sauce using dried porcini to try.  It can be used on pasta or any meat dish or almost anything.

Porcini Cream Sauce       Makes more than 1-1/2 cups

  • 1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup beef stock or canned beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour

PREPARATION

  1. Combine porcini mushrooms and 1 cup warm water in small bowl. Let stand until mushrooms soften, about 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms from liquid, squeezing excess liquid from mushrooms back into bowl; reserve liquid. Place mushrooms in another small bowl.
  2. Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until onion browns, about 15 minutes. Add Marsala and white wine. Increase heat; boil until most liquid evaporates, about 7 minutes. Add rosemary, mushrooms and both stocks. Pour in reserved mushroom liquid, leaving any sediment behind. Boil until liquid mixture is reduced to 2 cups, about 15 minutes.
  3. Mix butter and flour in small bowl to blend; whisk into mushroom mixture. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

If you are not on my newsletter mailing list, you can be added by requesting to be put on it by emailing me at expresslyitalian@aol.com or clicking inquiries above. If you have any questions I am always happy to try to help.

Campo Dei Fiori and Famous Spices of the World

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Famose spezie nel mondo
Spezie Famose nel Mondo

If you have ever been to Rome’s famous Campo dei Fiori market you will recognize this spice vendor.  Mauro Berardi is a third generation vendor in the market.

His son Marco already has his own bancarella (booth) selling porchetta and meats as well as some  condiments and sauces.

If you want some of Mauro’s spice mixes, here’s a list of most of them.

Mauro’s Pasta Mix (his most popular – similar to Campo dei Fiori, but no salt)

Campo dei Fiori,  Bruschetta,  Pesto,   Carbonara,  Ciociara,  Matricina,  Arrabbiata,

Puttanesca,  Carne Mix or Pesce Mix,  Boscaiola,  Bolognese,  Pizza Erotica,  Pizzaiola

Pizza Napoli,  Carciofi,  Filetto,  Aglio e Olio and Soffritto

If you have any questions about how to use any of these or want the exact ingredients in one of them, just email me and I’ll be happy to let you know.  All are the same high quality Mauro always has.  In addition to the mixes, I usually also bring back some spices like cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric and sometimes cumin.

Over the years I have found all Mauro’s mixes so much better than any others I’ve tried, while it is impressive the amount of spices he sells, all are still mixed by hand.  All the spices are the highest quality available and much of them are freeze dried, which allows the potency to remain the same for at least one year or more if kept well.   I have never had a complaint about his mixes, although admittedly, much of what I sell is to people who have already tried them after buying them from him in the market in Rome.  Since he will not sell outside Italy, it is quite happy that I can help his clients while they cannot visit him in Rome.

I am returning to Italy in late October for three weeks.   And, while I will be on the hunt for olio nuovo and the first harvests of olive oil, I will definitely be stopping at the market in Campo dei Fiori before returning home.

If you want any additional information or want me to bring you anything from Italy,or just have any have a question please email me at:  expresslyitalian@aol.com.

 

Fall is here and I head to Italy soon.

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As September is fast closing, I am eagerly looking forward to my returning to Italy for fall.  I have been hoping the weather there cooperates for great olive harvests throughout the country, but it does not look  like the weather there has been helpful there any more than inmuch of the rest of the world.  The droughts throughout much of Europe this year will have some impact on the harvests of olives and there is expected to be a slight lowering of expectations in the harvest from last year.  The quality of the oils may not be quite as good as last year, but we won’t be sure until October.  Some parts of Italy also saw some Mediterranean fruit fly infestations too.  Fortunately, where I get most of the oil I bring back, Lazio and Tuscany, were not much bothered.  However, I must also mention that the dollar is not doing all that well against the euro.  It has been holding steadily at $1.22 to 1 euro for quite some time and I do not expect it to change much for awhile.  So be prepared for everything to be a little more expensive.

I have not yet heard much about the honey harvests for the fall.  Last year when I went to purchase some of the fantastic honeys that I get from Sardina there were none.  The production was so sparse that there were none to buy.  I am hopeful that this year we will find a better crop and I can stock up on Stefano’s fabulous honey and olive oil soap too.

I love  fall in Italy and this year I have much to look forward to. I love each return trip to to my home away from home, visiting all my friends there.  So many dinners to re-connect,  introductions to new people, new products and new places to visit.  It is always exciting.  Always an adventure.

 

 

 

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Il Cavallino olive oil
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Stefania and Paola at Folle Casseruola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Visiting the many markets and connecting with all my vendor friends again is so much fun.

My regular clients will be putting together their wish lists of what they want me to bring back for them –  spices from Campo dei Fiori, scarves from Florence or Milan,   It is fun for them to know they will have porcini or black rice coming for them and trust that it is the highest quality possible.  I love being able to bring them their sun dried tomatoes or porcini knowing they cannot get anything comparable here.  And, of course there is Mauro Berardi’s spice mixes from Campo dei Fiori.  Known world wide, he is a master at mixing spices together for the most memorable spice mixes.   I have most of his most popular mixes available all year (and can always bring anything you order on my twice a year trips).  Send me emailSpezie Famosean email if you want to order any of his mixes by the ounce.

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Mauro Berardi – Spezie famose nel Mundo

 

Kathie mid-Oct 064

Drop me an email if you want added onto my mailing list for the newsletter to purchase items I bring back on my journey: expresslyitalian@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Summer in Rome

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Here I am in Los Angeles, having returned from Italy only a few weeks ago and already thinking about returning to Italy in the fall.  I am missing one of my favorite times in Rome.  Summer.  August in Rome is a really special time.  Any knowledgeable tourist knows if possible to avoid August in Rome.  It is really hot and humid.  There are still many places that close for some portion of the month (although less than in years past).  Anyone who lives in Italy knows that most people who can, leave the city for cooler, less humid climes.   But there are many of us who have lived there who love the month for the benefits of August in a city that seems so empty you can always find a parking place, a city that reminds you of less populated ages.  It is quite special.  There is a slowing of everything that allows you to savor the city even more than usual.

 

 

Then there is Ferragosto, the middle of August holiday, August 15th.  It is the celebration of the Assumption of Mary as well as the earlier Roman holiday of Emperor Augustus.  Since Roman times it was the official start of summer holidays and it still means most families take the holiday off for a trip to the country for a cooler day with a picnic to enjoy together.

If you are in Rome, the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto with live music and dancing in the piazze is not to be missed.    Many of the cultural locations, museums, tourist attractions, etc. do stay open even though they normally would close on this type of holiday.

There are still tourists around, although less than you might think since most are either just passing through Rome on a quick tour stop on cruises or a one or two day stay, so there are really much less than many other months.  It is an easy walking month for sure.  Just remember to keep an empty water bottle to fill at the many fountains as you walk through town, a good head covering and lots of sun screen.

Lupa at CapSat walk 3

Be sure to stop by Campo dei Fiori Market and say hi to Mauro Berardi for me and see how his bancarella has expanded.  He has Marco, his son, now with a booth handling sandwiches and meats like porchetta and other meats, as well as condiments.  But, as always, his spice mixes are his crowning achievements.  I always have them available here in the United States if you run low.  Just drop me an email and I will happily send you information on replacing them for you.  Expressly Italian is your source for unique Italian specialties that are not found in the U.S.  that I bring directly from the producers to you here.  Send an email to expresslyitalian@gmail.com for more information,

Trajan Market

Visiting Mauro Berardi and Campo dei Fiori in May

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It’s time to make a springtime visit to Rome again.  I love visiting Mauro and wandering through the market early in the day looking at all the spring vegetables.  I love  those lovely little roman artichokes, watching them being cleaned and dropped into the acidified water.  The women cleaning the puntarelle spend all day cleaning and dropping the puntarelle into buckets of water

Campo Dei Fiori
Spring markets

 

But of course, the main treat for me is meeting with Mauro, Marco and Maurizio at Spezie Famose nel Mondo the most famous and largest seller of spices in the market.  I am contacted by people from all over the world looking to replace the spice mixes they purchase from Mauro.  Fortunately I almost always have a good supply of the most popular mixes available.  Contact me to find out if I have the ones you are looking for.

I am off to Rome for the month of May so if you are looking for anything in particular don’t wait, send me a request by email to be sure I bring back what you are looking for.

In addition to shopping for spices with Mauro, I will be locating Olive oil.  I know there is oil available in Vetralla and hopefully I can acquire some additional oil from Farfa, where I brought back the fabulous olio nuovo in November last year.  I won’t know until I get there what there might be available.  I have read the articles about the weather problems, but since I deal directly with growers sometimes it can be misleading and my sources availability is quite different.  I also will have to wait until I arrive to find out if there is any honey from Sardinia left.  I know those harvests were also short this year.  I continue to bring back what is available –  sometimes it is mostly Girasole (sunflower) and millefiore (wildflower) but if you have a particular type you want, please let me know, since sometimes Stefano can locate it for me in his hidden places.

Do not hesitate to email me with any special requests.  I will be checking emails often.  I will shop Milan, Tuscany (Orbetello, Florence and a few small villages)  scarves from a few sources that are reliable with their italian fabrics and italian employees that are still priced affordably.  And, if there are any new items that are interesting.  It looks like the exchange rate will hover around $1.09 to $1.00 while I am there.  If you are not on my mailing list please drop me an email and I will be happy to add you to my newsletter so you know what it available.  Enjoy shopping Italy from home.

Spring Time in Italy

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It has been a long time since I’ve posted  but there have been some traumatic times in the world, especially in Italy so I have been distracted.  Their world has been shaken much more than the rest of ours.  The results of all those earthquakes through the middle of the country has been so costly in not just lives and resources but so much more.  The 23 billion euro that the earthquakes are estimated to have cost in loss of lives, buildings and homes and businesses does not  include the losses of personal history and the restoration of some of the history of these areas.   It makes me so sad to even think of all the years ahead of recovery.  After the first series of quakes last summer some of the surrounding areas told me that every village in the area had cancellations for the entire year for reservations.  The loss of upcoming business will close many agroturismi that had no earthquake damages.

I have been plugging along with Expressly Italian trying to bring as much awareness as possible to all the wonderful products that Italians enjoy that we have such limited exposure to.  Especially olive oil, which we find are so often deceitfully labeled and poorly handled here.  It is why I started to bring oils that I know (because I get them directly from the frantoio, where I can watch them being processed and know them to be fresh).  It is only fair to warn you that olive oils are going to be soon be taking a large jump upward in price.  Erratic weather in Spain, Italy and Greece, where the bulk of the world’s olive oil is produced, has had decimated crops.    Experts say global production is set to fall about 8 percent due to horrible weather throughout Europe with global weather changes.

These shortages come as demand for the product has skyrocketed around the world. China has recently become enamored with olive oil, consuming nearly $200 million worth of olive each year. The country’s nouveau riche see the product as a healthier alternative to other fatty oils.  I have read a few articles saying they have begun planting olive trees in climates that are appropriate for their growth, (like the vineyards they are also planting) but it will be years before they will be able to harvest for oil.  They import nearly 99 percent of what they use right now.

The Guardian article I read last week stated that since October, the cost of extra-virgin olive oil has jumped 30 percent in Italy, to $6.15 a kg. In Spain, the cost is up about 10 percent, near a seven-year high, according to the International Olive Council in Madrid. In Greece, it’s 17 percent. And forecasters say the worst is yet to come.  So far, the only area where the costs have not risen much is California and  after the effects of the rains of the last couple of weeks that price stability remains to be seen.

I return to Italy in May and I will know more then about prices.    I will be bringing back spices from Campo dei Fiori from Mauro Berardi; honey from Sardinia as well as handmade scarves from La Monticiana in Rome and Florence, Olive oil from Sabina and Tuscany and as always, acting as personal shopper for any items special ordered by clients.   If there is anything you want, please get in touch with me.    My email:  expresslyitalian@aol.com

 

 

 

Summer Thoughts

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I have been more than a little lax in keeping up with posts this summer.  I only wish it were because I was in Italy, but no such good fortune.  But, as August progresses, I am already thinking of my next trip, which is for the month of October.    I am putting shopping lists together already.    Do not forget to email me if you want me to shop for you.

In the interim, I wanted to share with you the recent posting of one of my favorite food writers, Rachel Roddy.  Rachel lives in Italy (a British export) and has written a lovely cookbook, “My Kitchen In Rome”.  Her style is simple, home cooking.

Often in American cooking we forget the importance of even the most simple of ingredients.  An Italian cook would never waste leftover bread and breadcrumbs are an important part of many Italian recipes.  Of course, their bread does not have any chemicals in it and always breaks my heart to see anyone waste even a really stale piece of it.

Here’s a recent column of Rachel’s.   I hope you’ll try her suggestions.

A simple Sicilian-style mix of breadcrumbs and almonds complements a wide array of recipes, but I find it’s best incarnation is as a crust for a fresh fillet of fish – serve with a tomato, caper and onion salad for a light summer supper

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Fish in breadcrumbs with a tomato salad. Photograph: Rachel Roddy for the Guardian

Swordfish with breadcrumbs and almonds was one of the first meals I ate during my first visit to Sicily 12 years ago. I was in Catania, at one of the trattoria that seem to appear from nowhere once the fish market closes down for the day and scrubs up well for the night. The appearance of that slice of swordfish, seeming slightly suffocated by its topping, surprised me – especially after the wild excitement of the theatrical fish market that morning. It was like meeting up with your grandma after a night out with friends. But it was delicious pleasing – I still remember the flavour. Lots more breadcrumbs and almonds followed – not always together – on that trip, and those that came after I hooked up with a Sicilian. Sicilians use breadcrumbs all the time; a resourceful habit born of necessity and the idea that you never, ever throw away bread, which is now part of the fabric of their cooking. I have picked up the habit; I always have a big bag of fine, dry breadcrumbs in the kitchen. They’re almost irritatingly good at everything: stuffing, puffing, coating, topping and a tool to stop things sticSo, the place I borrowed the idea from was a restaurant in a town calledScoglitti, which is 30 miles along the coast from us here in Gela. The owners’ daughter, who is part French, is absolutely fabulous, with her red lips, denim hotpants and ankle boots. There is not much room for manoeuvre; she tells us in a deep voice that rolls from her lips: “I know what you want.” And you don’t doubt it. The antipasti start arriving, little dish after little dish: an oyster each; peeled, blood-red prawns that are some of the most plump and pure I have ever eaten; slices of raw tuna and swordfish; cubes of octopus and butterflies of anchovy; enormous, yellow mussels stretching like acrobats across their shells; tiny clams called telline,tasting like a liquor made from sea water; sardines rolled up so they look like little fat birds; and spatola with almonds and breadcrumbs served with sweet onions. Spatola is a long, flat fish as silver and shiny as a newly minted coin. At markets and in shops spatola are often coiled, making them look a bit like a neat drawful of glittery belts. Ours were served as long fillets cut into short lengths, topped with breadcrumbs and almonds, then baked until the fish had fallen into delicate, but firm flakes, the crumbs a comfy crust. It was were one of the least showy dishes, but one we appreciated a lot, homely and good. My son stashed clamshells to take home in his pocket; I put the idea in mine.

Rachel Roddy’s fish with an almond and breadcrumb crust recipe

A simple Sicilian-style mix of breadcrumbs and almonds complements a wide array of recipes, but I find it’s best incarnation is as a crust for a fresh fillet of fish – serve with a tomato, caper and onion salad for a light summer supper

Rachel Roddy

Publish

In the hope that this column is beginning to feel like a series, rather than string of unrelated episodes, I am starting where I left off last week, with breadcrumbs. More specifically, breadcrumbs with almonds, which makes them sound a bit fussy, though they aren’t. Quite the opposite in fact – a handful of crumbs, some chopped almonds and pinch of salt are easy and accommodating. Last week, I suggested toasting crumbs in olive oil, then putting them on pasta with slowly cooked courgettes, or their oversized Sicilian cousins, cucuzze. This week, I am going to return the idea to the place I borrowed it from, and suggest you put them on fish, which you then bake.

Swordfish with breadcrumbs and almonds was one of the first meals I ate during my first visit to Sicily 12 years ago. I was in Catania, at one of the trattoria that seem to appear from nowhere once the fish market closes down for the day and scrubs up well for the night. The appearance of that slice of swordfish, seeming slightly suffocated by its topping, surprised me – especially after the wild excitement of the theatrical fish market that morning. It was like meeting up with your grandma after a night out with friends. But it was delicious pleasing – I still remember the flavour. Lots more breadcrumbs and almonds followed – not always together – on that trip, and those that came after I hooked up with a Sicilian. Sicilians use breadcrumbs all the time; a resourceful habit born of necessity and the idea that you never, ever throw away bread, which is now part of the fabric of their cooking. I have picked up the habit; I always have a big bag of fine, dry breadcrumbs in the kitchen. They’re almost irritatingly good at everything: stuffing, puffing, coating, topping and a tool to stop things sticking.

So, the place I borrowed the idea from was a restaurant in a town calledScoglitti, which is 30 miles along the coast from us here in Gela. The owners’ daughter, who is part French, is absolutely fabulous, with her red lips, denim hotpants and ankle boots. There is not much room for manoeuvre; she tells us in a deep voice that rolls from her lips: “I know what you want.” And you don’t doubt it. The antipasti start arriving, little dish after little dish: an oyster each; peeled, blood-red prawns that are some of the most plump and pure I have ever eaten; slices of raw tuna and swordfish; cubes of octopus and butterflies of anchovy; enormous, yellow mussels stretching like acrobats across their shells; tiny clams called telline,tasting like a liquor made from sea water; sardines rolled up so they look like little fat birds; and spatola with almonds and breadcrumbs served with sweet onions. Spatola is a long, flat fish as silver and shiny as a newly minted coin. At markets and in shops spatola are often coiled, making them look a bit like a neat drawful of glittery belts. Ours were served as long fillets cut into short lengths, topped with breadcrumbs and almonds, then baked until the fish had fallen into delicate, but firm flakes, the crumbs a comfy crust. It was were one of the least showy dishes, but one we appreciated a lot, homely and good. My son stashed clamshells to take home in his pocket; I put the idea in mine.

I like it when a new idea, flung into the kitchen like a rubber ball, bounces around enthusiastically seeing where it fits, or doesn’t. First, there was pasta, then I used breadcrumbs and almonds to stuff aubergines and tomatoes, then came the fish: spatola, bream and mackerel. All three fish worked, but the mackerel was best: its thick, milky flesh is a good, sturdy match for the coarse, nutty crust. Fish and breadcrumbs need a foil, something to offer contrast: sweet, sour, salty, pungent. A salad of tomatoes, red onion and capers is a brilliant and typically Sicilian combination. If you wanted – or three more people turned up – you could bulk out the salad with bread too, or top it with some salted ricotta. Whatever fish you use, it all comes together quickly, but provides slow, good-flavoured food that satisfies but doesn’t sink you, which is what I ask for on these long, and fiercely hot, summer days.

Fish with a breadcrumb and almond crust

Serves 4
60g blanched almonds, chopped
1 unwaxed lemon
150g dry breadcrumbs
Salt and black pepper
A pinch of oregano (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
4-8 fillets of fish (mackerel, bream, spatola, bass)

To serve
1 large red onion or several shallots
Vinegar
4 large ripe tomatoes
A handful of capers
Olive oil

1 Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper or foil and preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

2 Peel and slice the onion into half moons, then soak for 20 minutes in water acidulated with 3 tbsp vinegar.

3 Mix the almonds, lemon zest and breadcrumbs with a pinch of salt, some pepper and the oregano, if using.

4 Brush the fillets with oil, then press the fillet side into the breadcrumb mix, so it is well coated. Lay the fillets skin-side down on the baking tray. Zig-zag with olive oil. Bake until cooked through and the crumbs are golden – which will take 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets. – yYou need to keep an eye on them, and taste.

5 Chop the tomatoes over a plate to catch the juices. Drain the onion and capers, then mix with the tomatoes. Dress with olive oil and a pinch of salt, add a dash of vinegar if you like.

6 Serve the fish with the tomato salad and wedges of lemon.

  • Rachel Roddy is a food blogger based in Rome and the author of Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Saltyard, 2015) and winner of the 2015 André Simon food book award.  You can find her column in “The Guardian” or at Rachel Eats on wordpress.

If you are running low on spices from Campo dei Fiori, I still have some available.  Email me at expresslyitalian@aol.com and tell me what you want.

 

Home Cooking Italian Style

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It is always a pleasure to have Italian casareccio (homemade food).    It is even more exciting to enjoy it here in the U.S. and made by a well known Italian cook.  Stefania Aphel Barzini has been in the United States giving cooking classes and having events for about a month.  She finally reached Los Angeles last week.  If you are not familiar with Stefania, take a side trip to her website:  www.follecasseroula.com.  She does cooking classes in Rome as well as special events and week long events in a few regions outside Rome.  And, if you’re planning on a trip to Rome, put her on your list of things not to be missed.   Her experience as a food writer, cookbook author and cooking show presenter shine through no matter what she does.

The first event in Los Angeles was sponsored by ArtBites.net.  Maite Gomez-Rejón’s company pairs art, history and cooking in tours and classes around the southland.  The cooking portion was to be a Tuscan lunch so Maite started at the Los Angeles County Museum talking of Florentine art and artists from the dark ages to the Renaissance. She is very knowledgeable about art history and food.  We then moved on to Surfas (a cafe/kitchen store in Culver City).  It’s a wonderful kitchen for classes and Stefania along with her assistant Paola made a magical afternoon that ended with a fantastic lunch.  They are all so experienced about foods, especially regional products throughout Italy I am always happy to join a class since there is always some new tidbit of information I have never before heard.

 

 

The lunch was a Tuscan luncheon and included a fabulous artichoke and potato soup, a panzanella salad and a couple kinds of bruschetta.  The meatballs in tomato sauce were unbelievably tasty and the peach upside down cake was a finishing treat.

When you travel finding a cooking class is  a great experience and wonderful way to connect to local cuisine and you will remember the experience a long time.

One of the best dishes Stefania prepared was Zolfini bean bruschetta.  Unfortunately, you cannot get these terrific beans here in the U.S.  They  are grown only in a limited area of Tuscany, and not exported.  But you can substitute northern navy beans.  Try this healthy, high protein antipasto.

Zolfini Bean Bruschetta

Toasted Bread (Italian)
2-1/4 cups zolfini or navy beans
a small rosemary branch
2 cloves of garlic
1 shallot. chopped
really good quality extra virgin olive oil
Sea Salt and Pepper
Sautè 1 garlic clove with the shallot and rosemary in a pan.  Turn into a crock pot, add the beans, cover them with water and let cook covered over low heat until beans are softened.  Depending on the age and size of the beans –  from 2 to 4 hours.  Purèe the mixture in a blender or use a stick blender.  Rub the bread with a garlic clove, then spread some beans over the top, add a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper.  Serve immediately.  So simple, so good and so good-for-you.

 

Having access to the wonderful foods of Italy that are not readily available in the U.S. is my mission.  Expressly Italian is your personal shopper from Italy to you.  I want everyone, whether you travel or not, to experience real Italian tastes.  Much of the year I have some of the finest extra virgin olive oils (including olio nuovo till it’s gone) and honey from Sardinia (one of the only places on earth with no polution.  I want everyone to share the excitement of the wonderful spice mixes from Mauro Berardi’s Campo dei Fiori market stall.  I am contacted by people from all over the world asking how to acquire  Mauro’s mixes outside of Italy.   I have  his most popular mixes available all the time.    If you are interested in knowing all the items I bring back from Italy twice a year or want me to bring something (duty free) back for you, please drop me an email at:  expresslyitalian@aol.com and I will happily add you to my mailing list.

My love of Italy, the people, the food fuels my life.  I hope you share my joy in the Italian way of eating.

 

 

Now it is Cheese!

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It has been awhile since I’ve posted and partially it has been because it seems like I am on a constant rant about the quality and integrity of the extra virgin olive oil that is available in the U.S.  Unfortunately, our food sources have many more items that need  considerably more monitoring.  With the articles last week about the fillers used in bagged pre-shredded Parmiggiano I felt I could not ignore yet another attack on our food quality and our intelligence.

As a cook, I rarely buy pre-shredded cheese of any type, but it happens.  I know that buying pre-shredded cheese means the cheese starts out a little stale and I know it is easy for suppliers to use lesser quality grades of cheese to shred.  However, last weeks report of how big a percentage of wood pulp is in those pre-packed bags is more than a little disconcerting.  I understand they are trying to keep the cheese from clumping, as well as lower their costs.   However, the best method is adding wood pulp?  That is difficult to believe.  It really seems an economic rather than an rational decision.

It is worth noting that the lower priced brands (especially Walmart and Osco) have higher amounts of wood pulp — in one case, up to 8%.  But, Kraft, which labels their grated Parmesan as 100% cheese has almost 4 percent wood pulp.  How can this be acceptable?  It is apparently not enough to read labels, now we must devine what 100% natural means.

shredded Parm

I do not believe there is inherent danger in consuming wood pulp, in fact, it would seem wood pulp would be  much better for you than many of the chemicals they add to increase looks, anti clumping, and so many other supposedly necessary visual aids.   I do think we need to insist that the information be available on the package, not have to rout around the internet to find out accurate information about what we are putting in our families bodies.   There can only be concern on the manufacturers side about adding the information deterring us from buying their product.

Convenience is great, but if we are taking that convenience to the extreme of long term harm to ourselves and our families we need to reconsider.  And, we are paying a top price for that convenience and should that not include our safety?

In general it is of utmost importance to concentrate on supplying our tables with foods as close to fresh as possible.  Eating locally is always less expensive as is fresh.  Knowing your sources is  paramount.

Expressly Italian was started on the premise that we are offered products less than ideal at the grocery store level as well as the imported products.  By personally selecting and bringing the products directly from Italy I know the suppliers.  None are large manufacturers.  None export product to the United States.  I have only olive oils that I know come directly from the source.  I still have some of this season’s extra virgin olive oil available. And, truthfully, the olive oils, the honey and even the spices I offer are actually the same or less costly than what is available here.

I often bring Parmigiano Reggiano back with me as well.  There is a huge taste difference between what is available here.  Not sure why that is, but the flavor is just not as rich.  The spices from Campo dei Fiori enable a quick meal at any time with no fillers and lots of flavor.   And of the myriad of spice mixes now available I find the spice mixes from Mauro Berardi stay potent much, much longer than anything else.  And, they are hand mixed.  I do not believe there is dirt, substituted ingredients or any old sticks to be found in any of his spices.  Something few other spice providers can claim.  If you haven’t tried them, you should.  If you are interested in more information, please contact me at expresslyitalian@gmail.com.

If you are willing to take a few extra minutes to consider the quality of foods you are using, it is quite easy to have the healthiest of meals all the time and for a reasonable cost.  Plus knowing you are getting the full benefits of the vitamins, minerals and amino acids and fats you are consuming is satisfying in so many ways.

My advice: Take the time to read labels, search out good sources and stay with them.  Be skeptical.  Pay a little more for the best available.  I think you’ll find that the flavors are more intense, richer and fresher tasting.

Next time:   Famous cook, Stefania Apfel Barzini is doing some touring in the United States and doing some private dinners, some cooking exhibitions and cooking classes.  I hope to have a schedule soon.

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Stefania Barzini in her kitchen