Italian food

A New Year – Moving towards Spring

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Well the New Year has started and it has taken me till mid-January to get my feet beneath me to settle in to this new year.  It has been a very busy time and I am looking forward to a very dull and boring February to allow myself some breathing space and the chance to feel like I am really here.   Of course, I could be in Italy.

One of my English speaking blogs from Rome just sent a newsletter saying that Rome’s politicos are at it again.  They often bring a smile along with the news, even when the news is bad.  Rome’s tourists could be hit with new tax hike. Visitors to Rome may soon have to rethink their budget, if plans to increase hotel tourist tax go ahead.  Under these recent proposals, tourists could see up to €10 a night added to their bill, Italian media reported on Thursday.

The planned changes come just four months after city hall hiked the “accomodation tax” to between €3 and €7 a night depending on the type of hotel, while those pitching a tent have had to pay €2 for the privilege since September 1st.  I’m not sure where you can even pitch a tent in Rome.

The new €10 a night rate would apply to five-star hotels in the Italian capital, for a maximum of ten consecutive nights, a city hall spokesman said.  The measure needs to be discussed and voted on before it can implemented.  Tourist tax rates for lower-grade hotels will stay the same.  You have to laugh when the rest of the article states that “Rome is reeling from revelations of widespread corruption at city hall, allegedly led by a one-eyed former terrorist whose mafia group for years siphoned off vital funds for services.   You have to love the way the Italian government works.   The best news is that is will unlikely happen and if it does it will not be implemented effectively.   As it is the earlier raise to 3 euro a night disappeared into the city coffers and no one can tell where it went and certainly not whether it benefitted tourism in any way.

When I talked of catching my breath, I was referring to my return from my fall trip to Italy.  I returned to LA just in time for Thanksgiving.  Yes, it has taken me that long to get back to a normal schedule.  I arrived just in time to unpack all my goodies and begin packing gift basket orders before breaking briefly for Thanksgiving dinner (which I did not cook this year).  Then, back to work, for days doing the complicated calculations of converting weights, euros and ingredients from Italian to English.   While a dear friend had a end of season event for Cabi clothes at my home  we did a bit of an Expressly Italian tasting of the new products.  Then it was back to basket construction right up to Christmas week.  I did manage to factor in a little Christmas shopping before Christmas.   But, the baskets were delivered and received with great enthusiasm.  Every basket was unique and tailored to the receiver as much as possible, from the basket for the man who does not cook at all, to the cook who is so experienced she is impossible to impress.  Everyone seemed to be excited to try all their surprises.  And, it made me realize that baskets should not be just for Christmas, but are just as exciting to receive for Easter, or birthdays or anniversaries or any time gifts.  Keep that in mind.

It’s been pretty breakneck speed since Christmas as well.  Our family Christmas was after Christmas in Petaluma with about 75 of us, yes, 75.  Then back to work organizing the products and meeting my invaluable friend Carole who was nice enough to show up at LAX with the two suitcases of goods that were waaaaay over my maximum limit to return with when I came back in November.  So, fully loaded, I have been working on the latest newsletter / price list ever since, with only short breaks for a couple of birthdays.

The  newsletter just went out. Lots of Mauro Berardi’s World Famous Spices from Campo dei Fiori mixes are available. It always impresses me how far Mauro has reached with his spices. I’ve had contacts from all over the world looking to replace the spices bought from him in Rome. It is a great  to know that I can  bring them to people who can not make it back to Italy to get them in person. Mauro may sell spices to visitors from all over the world but he refuses to even use email.  And, he has enough difficulty shipping within Italy and will never attempt to ship outside the country.  I get contacted from people from Austria to Australia looking for His spice mixes. Often while the costs for shipping (and customs restrictions) make it impossible, I am able to work with ever Increasing numbers of people who revere his mixes. It is lucky for all the US and Canadian customers for sure.

I’m excited to get the honey, spices, and condiments that I have on hand sold so I can make another trip back in the spring. And, for the first time in a decade the exchange rate is not so bad.  I just checked my exchange rate for transferring funds and it is currently $1.19 through the foreign exchange.  which is fabulous.  It’s most often been closer to $1.40.  It’s exciting not to feel like you are paying a penalty for anything bought in Europe.

They put a banner at the Trevi fountain this week to commorate the passing of Anita Ekberg, the wonderful actress who waded into the Trevi Fountain in the movie “La Dolce Vita” this last week.      Ironically, the fountain she waded in is currently without water.  There is restoration work being done on the Trevi for the next year or so.  It’s quite a shock to see that huge fountain drained and shrouded while they work on it.   They have managed to make it interesting by putting a transparent walkway all the way at the back of the fountain allowing visitors to walk around the back of the fountain.  Strange, but interesting.  Oh, and they left a little opening at the very front so you can still toss a coin into a little water dish.

Anita Ekberg at the FountainTrevi-Fountain_4

If you have visited Rome and the Trevi fountain in the past seeing it now is a shock.  Having been at that spot so many times it is just such an odd feeling looking at that structure so unrecognizable.  With so many monuments and fountains in Rome there are always major projects going on to restore something and usually it takes a couple years to do the work  so even if a major monument is not fully visible, there are numerous others that are.  This month, they finish Quattro fountane –  the four fountains at the corner of XX Settembre and via delle Quattro Fontane.   Four beautiful late Renaissance fountains grace the corners of the intersection.  They were so filthy I was hoping they would get to them before they started falling apart. They are due to be finished by late February.  I understand the city refused to allow the new Bond movie to film a nightime car chase through that intersection fearing damage to the newly restored fountains and am relieved they decided to encourage them to use CGI.  I am excited to see those fountains cleaned and restored on my next trip.  I’ve always loved them.
In case you are not familiar with Expressly Italian’s mission; I act as a personal shopper for you in Italy.  I can bring back duty free products you’ve purchased and want again or suggest products I have found in my travels throughout the country. Even those that travel often have found that having me bring back items for them saves them much aggravation and weight in carrying luggage back with them.  I have established relationships with small sources that are helping me bring you the finest products available. Often these are not easily found even by residents and expats who live there, so it’s been a great treat to show up with things that even locals have not found.  It  has been thrilling to find every trip brings new friends who introduce me to different products and sources and experiences.  It has been an exciting learning experience and I’ve been so happy to have you along for the journey.  I hope you will continue to join me.
...  Italian Pavilion detail
This spring brings with it the Milan Expo 2015, which sounds so exciting and I am looking forward to visiting.  There are numerous feste and sagre that I will have to choose between including the South Tyrol Festival.  If you have not visited Bolzano, you should make the effort on your next trip to get to Bolzano and Brixton Bressanone.  So beautiful and the food is fabulous.  And, the history of the area is fascinating.
As the ‘Slow Food Movement’ makes faster progress, Italy becomes ever more important in teaching us how to eat and how to grow our foods.  And, hopefully, how to slow down and enjoy eating them for a more healthful and enjoyable life.
I know that is a goal for me this year.  Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments or suggestions.   Follow along with me and we’ll explore together.
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A Word (or two) about Olive Oils This Year.

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Having recently, about two days ago, returned from an extensive trip in Italy, I’ve been reluctant to discuss olive oil production in Italy this year.  It was a little depressing, so I put it off.  Many of my blog and newsletter followers were eagerly awaiting my return for their olio nuovo and I hated to disappoint them.

But, here I am, back in California, and without their olio nuovo.  The sad fact is, there is little to no olio nuovo in Italy this year.  What little there is in most regions is being hoarded by families there.  Maybe Liguria has some, or Campania, (which is never mentioned without the comment “that’s a whole different thing”), but wherever I asked I was told with a sad shake of the head, ‘none this year’.  In fact, in Lazio, around Sabina, where I often get most of the oil I bring, they didn’t bother to harvest at all.  Neither did most of Umbria, nor much of Tuscany.  Everywhere I asked it was the same response.  The terrible rains that were all over Italy this year ruined their crops, which were likely to have had a light crop anyway due to a really heavy crop last year, but no one suspected this.

The rains caused immense damage, so the olives were tiny, malformed and became infested with a fruit fly.  According to an a news article I read just before leaving in Sabina a group of growers is trying to assess the amount of damages to ask for assistance from the government for their losses.

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The price of olive oil is set to soar after a widespread failure of the annual harvest in large parts of Italy.  A wet summer in combination with a fruit fly blight has led to some producers not harvesting at all this year. Production fell by up to 80 per cent in some areas of Italy, a farmers’ cooperative said.

Bad crop: The olive fly lays its egg in a hollow in the olive and when hatched the larvae tunnels its way out gnawing at the flesh destroying the fruit   Many farmers felt it was not worth the money or time to harvest at all.   The newspapers in England have projected increases in olive oil topping an additional 2 pounds per bottle before summer.

Paolo Calosi owner of a farm in in Sesto Fiorentino, Tuscany, where 1000 trees were hit by the fly, said: ‘Unfortunately this year we will not produce extra virgin oil because the fly has damaged all the trees.

This will produce a very acidic oil which cannot be sold as extra virgin.  ‘It will in any case have a nasty aftertaste with a marked woody flavour.’     This is truly a disaster.20131116_161648

So, what I bought was year old very good extra virgin oil that still has a life span of another year that it will retain it’s flavor.  But it was much more expensive that it would have been last year.  And, I know in my heart that by next summer, the oils will be 4 to 8 euro more per bottle than now.  There will be no more olive oil until next harvest in the fall of 2015.  And, I also have little faith in those importers being honest about the value and taste of what they’ll be delivering to the U.S. as extra virgin oil from Italy.  BEWARE!

Be prepared to pay more.  The oil I have is almost double what it was last year.  If it is not expensive, ask lots of questions.  If it is not due to expire in 2015, ask when it was harvested and where.  The only good harvests I found were in Livorno.  They had a bumper crop this year.  I’ve learned so much about the varieties and tastes of olive oils and I still have so much more to learn.   It is an elixer of health and should be used as a fresh drizzle on almost any dish.  Use the less expensive oil for frying, save the cold pressed, and olio nuovo type delicate oils for that fresh, fruity or peppery taste as you serve your food.  It’s worth whatever the money, just know what you are getting.

Extra virgin olive oil does not age well
Check the date on the bottle and make sure you are getting oil produced during the last harvest. Buy only the quantity you might need for the year to make sure you are not stuck with old olive oil when the new fresh one is out on the shelves.  The very best of the extra virgin olive oils retain their full flavor for only two years.  They are still usable for another year, just not as good.  In America, we are often using rancid oil without any idea it is too old.

Green colour does not automatically means top quality.  The most emphasized organoleptic characteristics of extra virgin olive oil is often the colour that should range between green and yellow. However, a deep green colour does not automatically indicates a better quality oil.  Professional olive oil tasters use blue or green coloured tasting glasses not to let the colour of the oil influence their final judgment. Focus on taste and acidity levels rather than colour when buying extra virgin olive oil.    And, remember, to each his own.  Everyone has their own taste preference.  Try several until you find just the type of olives you prefer.   When you think about it, it’s a very inexpensive way to improve your health, add flavor to your foods and experience new tastes.

Come Along on A Shopping Day

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I thought it might be fun for you to experience a day of shopping with me.  Well, sort of with me, you’ll be where you are, I’ll be doing the actual running and driving here in Italy.  Yesterday, I spent the day running about the Maremma, one of my favorite shopping jaunts.  It’s the sea coast area of southern Tuscany.  An ancient area of rough and tumble cowboys and Etruscans,  about a two hour drive from Rome.

Ok, here we go.  Let’s hit the road.

 

heading towards via Aurelia
heading towards via Aurelia

It was a rainy day, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits.  Off to Civitivecchia

You really have to watch your speed.  In addition to timing

your travel from one set of cameras to another a set distance so theyy can calculate how long it took you to reach the second set to see if you went over the speed limit, there are also a few other cameras set just in case they miss whe you speed up suddenly.

 

Our first stop was Orbetello.    By then it was really raining.  But Covitto was ready for us.

 

Going into Covitto's
Going into Covitto

 

And, yes, I had to ask what Femminelle was –   it is not just female but  a type of fish.

 

 

 

They are a very special fish shop, having been there for a very long time, bringing the catch from the boat in the morning to the store to sell.  Really gorgeous fish indigenous to this area only.  I bought some of their bottarga, some fish broth mix, and of course, the colatura, available only here and the Amalfi Coast, where the tradition of this elixer still exists.  This liquid gold is the culmination of salted anchovies laid in chestnut baskets and the liquid allowed to slowly seep through a small hole in the bottom.  A long, process, but the smooth taste is worth the wait, and renowned world wide.  Since they use only the best of the fished anchovies (caught between March and July) you can understand why few outside this area have had the honor of even tasting it.  You need only a few drops to make a unique dish.

Here’s a recipe for Spaghetti alla Colatura —  it serves 2 for a main dish

200g durum wheat spaghetti

2 tsp colatura di alici (try less the first time to be sure it’s not too ‘fishy’ for you

6 tblspn extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic

Fresh parsley

2 small chili peppers

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Toss in the pasta. As pasta reaches around three-quarter’s of the way through its cooking time, in a large pan, mix the olive oil, colatura, finely sliced garlic, finely chopped parsley. Heat just very slightly over low fire. Using pasta tongs, pick the spaghetti straight from the pot, into the pan, and finish its cooking in the colatura mix, adding salted water you cooked the pasta in, if necessary. Toss well over low heat until pasta is cooked al dente. Serve immediately, garnishing with a chili pepper.   That is it.  Simple, fast and people will always want  to know what it is that is in the special sauce.

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La Parrina

After Orbetello, we headed to Albinia.  Although flooded horribly last year, they are rebounding as Maremmans are known historically to do.  Albinia is home to La Parrina, which I had not visited before this trip.  It seems each trip brings new people and places into my life.

La Parrina is a real find.  It is a wonderful Agriturismo, a farm, a vineyard, and a produce grower with an Antica Fattoria that has the most fabulous foods, available.   I’m only bringing a small sampling.   They make a bitter orange marmelade that will be fabulous on cheese, or bread or almost anything.  I’m already addicted.  A Kumquat jam, some fig mixtures, and they also have some really interesting mixtures of vegetable jams.

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Also in Albinia, I visited a very special Alimentary, with Francesco and Maura and got some La Salva products (no time to go to La Salva) as well as some of their other local specialties like agrodolce I’ve had before.

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Then it was back in the card off to Roma again.  A long, but productive day.  The real difficulties lie in trying to decide what I can manage to fit with all the limitations of weight and sizes I have.  Terribly difficult decisions have to be made.  The pre-orders are obviously first and they are going to be very, very happy.  I hope that as time goes on there will be enough people trying all these really special regional products that are not available anywhere else.  They are from small producers who will never be able to compete with the giants who aree able to put stabilizers and chemicals into their products so they stay fresh on shelves for years.  These are products from real food for real people.  And, boy,can you taste the difference.  You may not  be able to visit the Maremma this year, but hopefully you’ll let me show you a little of their flavors.  If you are not signed up for my newsletter, please send me an email and I’ll sign you up.  Write expresslyitalian@gmail.com


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FOOD HOPPING AROUND ITALIA

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It’s finally beginning to look like fall here in Italy.  This trip started, as always in Rome.  Then off to Perugia for some chocolate,  a great beginning for any shopping trip.

Perugia home of EuroChocolate festival.   Surrounded by all that chocolate is a great way to spend the day.  The EuroChocolate card (which was only 5 euro) got you a few free tastes of chocolate and a tazza (cup) of hot Ciobar chocolate!   I found some really delicious hand made chocolates from Piemonte region that are well worth the cost.  They are so heavenly you don’t care about cost or calories.  The good news is that it takes so much less to satisfy a chocolate craving.   And, the flavors . . . .  beyond the peperoncino, the pistachio and the frutta di boschi, there are rosse arancio,  some with hazelnuts,  caffe and all are so good!   I just put them all in a pile to consider what to eat first.  Then I remembered those waiting for some great Italian chocolate and used great restraint.  Mostly.

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OLIVE OILS MAY BE IN SHORT SUPPLY THIS YEAR.  

The impact of all the winter, spring and summer rains in Italy is being felt by the olive growers here.  The olive oils I love (mostly olio nuovo) are almost non-existant this year.   There was so much rain that the olives did not grow well, many too small to harvest and when that happens they get some kind of flies that make them unusable.  I’ve worked really hard to come up with some great oils to bring back with me.  There are some from Livorno, where they had a superb harvest this year.  Umbria has only a few small providers with oil, but I managed to get a few of several types (moraiolo, and leccino).  I’m off to the Maremma this week to see what is available there.  Sabina, one of my favorite places for oil, apparently had no harvest from most of the trees this year.  A disastro!  Many of us will be using year old oil this year (which is fine since olive oil is best at less than two years old), but still, I’ll miss that brightness of flavor of the olio nuovo (as well as the higher levels of antioxidants).

 

 

 

UMBRIA SHOPPING IS ALWAYS EXCITING.

I love shopping in Umbria. So many wonderful food products in addition to some great olive wood utensils and fine linens.

In Spello, I shopped with Luca Antonini again and was wooed with farro pastas, some of his famous condimenti.  The pasticcio of Fichi Umbriachi  (drunken figs) is to die for.  They take figs stuff them with hazel nuts and almonds, coat them in chocolate and age them in Sambuca.  For the pasticcio they mix it all together into a kind of paste that will change your life, if you serve it with cheese, or over ice cream, or mixed into ricotta cheese.  It’s so special, you need to try it to really appreciate it.  And, as with all his condimenti and preserves, it’s biological (organic), using only fruit, no water, so a little goes a very long way.  He’s always warning me to tell Americans you don’t need a large amount if the quality and purity is there.  A small amount will satisfy you and give you hours of energy

 

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Tomorrow, we’re off to Farfa.   I’ve been surprised that even some Romans don’t seem familiar withFarfa and it’s only an hour or so from Rome.  The Abbazia (abbey) supposedly has some nuns making an outrageous marmelate (jams) and then I’ll be off  to the Maremma for all those coastal specialties.

 

If you are not already on my newsletter list, please  send me a request to add your name to the list.    I’ll send you a listing of what’s available and keep you up-to-date on upcoming offers. Email me at ExpresslyItalian@aol.com.

 

SUMMER 2014 MAY BE ENDING BUT HERE COMES EXCITING FALL!

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Well, as August ends, Italians are returning to work from their vacations (vacanze). Most Italians do not travel outside the borders of their country. It may seem that has been happening more often with the poor economy, but honestly, it’s always been that way for most Italians. They love their country. Within it’s borders are almost any type of environment you could want for vacations; mountains, lakes, two seas to explore the beaches of, as well as more art, monuments and historical locations than almost anywhere else in the world.  Why would they leave?   

I recall my husband talking to a co-worker shortly after our arrival in Rome. He told the guy we were going to Venice and he was very excited. The older man shrugged his shoulders (it takes a couple of years to develop the Roman shrug) and said have a good time. Mike asked if there was anyplace special that we should make an effort to see. The man responded “how would I know, I’ve never been there”. When Mike asked why in 70 years he’d never visited there. His response was “Why?” Everything I want is here in Rome. And, there are quite a few Italians who never venture beyond their province or commune. For us American’s it is hard to fathom that thinking. We love to go whether it’s in the US or abroad. We’re adventurers.

Which brings me to something I’ve been waiting to share with you. Some of the names have been changed to protect this man’s identity. I admit when I first received this accounting I was rolling on the floor laughing. Not only is this entirely possible wherever you travel, but can be expected in some variation on any trip to Italy.

This man, a Californian, decided to take his adult daughters on a trip to Rome. He’d only been there many, many years ago for a short trip and one of them had never been there. The last I saw of him was on the via Veneto where outside his lovely hotel I was giving directions to the next stop on his trip – Tuscany. He’d rented a car, it had GPS, he was confident.

His travel agent had worked out the full itinerary with directions. And, he said he followed the directions exactly. When they arrived it was getting dark, but it appeared the location was not at all as promised. It had all the amenities as promised, BUT. The pool was covered, filled with leaves and had grown green water. The chairs around the pool and tables were plastic and overturned on the lawns. All of them.  He was a little concerned  that it had an entirely empty parking lot that would hold 60 cars. They found the restaurant was closed and there was not much activity anywhere nearby. His daughters were the ones who realized they were in a hotel with the same name as their reservations, but hours driving time away from where they were that evening. . This after lugging overweight luggage up several flights of stairs (no elevators). Nothing could be done until the next day anyway, but it was not a happy evening.

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The next mornng they drove to the correct hotel, which was gorgeous. By then, things were a little tense between them since they had lost a whole day of our precious vacation.  He said they did spend lots of time investigating Montepulciano, which has become one of his favorite places.  A salvaged vacation after all the previous difficulties (yes they also had arrival problems in Rome, tour guide problems there, and more). Then came the last day of the trip.

One of his daughters became quite ill and had to go to the hospital in Florence. The other daughter returned to her home in New York on her scheduled flight. It turned out the hospital was quite helpful and kind. She was only really dehydrated and needed an IV for hours but was fine afterwards.

Of course, they missed their flight back to California though.  They were booked on Alitalia, on their   last day of their direct service to LA. There were no more direct flight from Rome to LA. (For the record I remain confounded that there is no direct flight from Los Angeles to Rome from late October until March !)   They had to leave the hotel in Florence with three overweight bags between the two of them. They still have no idea how they managed it, but they got the train, along with their luggage from Florence to Rome (near the airport for easier access). There were no available flights and he felt Alitalia was unhelpful.  It does seem like they could have arranged something with their partner airlines (Delta, Air France, or KLM).

They got rooms at the Best Western near the airport (where few other than travelers speak English) and it’s truly in a barren industrial area. He called on his cell phone every airline he could find (his cell bill was $1,800). His local Vodafone SIM had been used up and where he was there was no Vodafone place and he could not understand the texts he kept receiving from them instructing him what to do.

Alitalia told him he would have to change his reservations through his travel agent because that’s how he made them. (Of course, by this time he’d fired the agent.)  The agent was not returning his phone calls.

Finally, he truly panicked and just wanted to get home. There was literally no way to get out for days, unless they would take Air Nigeria to Turkey, then three stops in Germany, an overnight at Amsterdam, then New York and then LA.  Even panicked he knew he could not do that. So, like any good American, he “bought” his way out. He spent over $6,000 on airfare to take British Air to London and London to LA.  And, of course, that was not for first class flights. But, he had waited several days already and enough is enough. He missed four days of work and the vacation costs were much higher after his vacation was to have ended that it was for the rest of the trip.

Sometimes, it’s just that bad with traveling. Thank goodness it’s not often. And, much funnier when it happens to someone else. He said “Italy was beautiful but he was not ready to laugh about it yet”. Hopefully, enough time has gone by that when he reads this he’ll appreciate the experience a little more.Fall 2014 view

Being prepared is good. Knowing things will go wrong is even more important.

I’m readying for my fall trip –  think olio nuovo, fresh olive oil.  Honey, and new found products.  If you want to receive the newsletter on available products, please email me at:  expresslyitalian@aol.com.  

If you have any questions about how to use any products or suggestions about what I should try to find, let me know.    For sure I will be stopping at Campo dei Fiori for spices from Mauro Berardi and his”famous spices of the world” as well as Umbria and Tuscany for first pressing olive oils, the Maremma for Botarga and a few other specialties.    And I’ll also visit Torino for a chocolate festival and stopping to pick up some of that fabulous Sardinian honey and who knows what else.  I’m open to any suggestions.   Just let me know if you have any special requests.   I’ll be happy to do what I can to help.

Estate in Italia 2 – Late Summer and Early Fall Places to Visit

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Summer is flying by so this is a little broader information than just the next two months.

Italy is a country of islands. In addition to the nearly 450 islands off the coasts of Italy, there are many many more in the lakes, streams and rivers inside the country. So if you are looking for new experiences, there are opportunities to plan a trip just visiting the islands of Italy.

Just this week Giglio finally lost its major tourism attraction for the last few years – The Costa Concordia was finally uprighted and able to float off the reef it’s been sitting on since January 2012. Now life can return to the slower, more normal pace on this car free, pollution free island. It’s a paradise for swimming, snorkeling, or fishing. The beaches are amazing and not crowded.
There are surviving remnants of the original Roman gate into the town to visit And there is Giglio Castle, one of the best Italian medieval “borgo”(village). It’s a really interesting village whose towering walls still stand and it is possible to walk where the ancient soldiers did. There are amazing overlooks and vista to enjoy and photograph to make all your friends envious.
And, all the restaurants, bars and shops stay open late into the night. And you are within sight of mainland of the coast of Tuscany and peninsula of the Monte Argentario and Orbetello. It’s really a lovely area.

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Don’t forget to try Panficato, a medieval sweet still made only in Giglio. Figs and grapes are dried on granite surfaces and underneath the Mediterranean sun. It will remind true lovers of tuscan cuisine of panforte, since they have a common history. In 1544, the Medici family forced many people from Siena to move to the island and repopulate it. They began to make a new version of their panforte using the ingredients present on the Island of Giglio. Another reminder that all Italian cuisine is about using the locally available ingredients.

Here’s a recipe for Panficato del Giglio:

Panficato Gigliesepanficato del Giglio

1-3/5 cup (200 g) flour
1/2 cup (100 g) regular sugar or vanilla sugar
3-1/2 ounces (300 g.) dried figs
2 cups (200 g). almonds
3 cups (300 g). chopped walnuts
1/4 cup (50 g) pine nuts
2-1/2 Teaspoons (30 g) orange peel or candied orange
1-1/3 cup (300 g) apples and pears into small pieces soaked in liqueur
150 g. dark chocolate
2 Tablespoons (50 g) cocoa
3/4 cup (200 g) of raisins
1 Tablespoons (15 g) cinnamon
Grape jam (or other jam) to moisten the fruit

Soak the dried figs in water for 2 days. Chop the figs and add the chopped walnuts, orange peel, apples and pears, pine nuts, dark chocolate. (Every thing is chopped), the unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, jam and a few dried grapes ( raisins). Mix all the ingredients, shape like round loaves and place in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.

There are so many music festivals, art exhibitions and food festivals throughout Italy at this time of year, there’s just too many to list. If anyone is interested in a particular area during a specific month I’ll be happy to send you a listing for wherever your interests lie. Either leave me a note here, or email me directly at ExpresslyItalian@aol.com.

As fall enters, there are a number of steam train tours for foods in Tuscany. There is a mushroom tour, a chestnut tour and a train that travels around the Siena area for food markets. Of course some of the biggest events are olive harvests. There are sagre, tastings and tours of pressing (frantoio) locations.

Summer Events and Places to Visit Siena

Teatro del Silenzio” was born from the creative mind of Alberto Bartalini and a group of people who have come together with the aim of creating a place where you can convey ideas, emotions, art, music, dance. “Teatro del Silenzio” is a natural amphitheater carved from the beautiful surrounding hills of Lajatico; a small jewel in the inland landscape of Volterra.

The biggest supporter of the project, and Honorary President, is the Tenor Andrea Bocelli. Born in this land, he wanted to create a place where the intense feelings and emotions experienced in a living space with Bocelli and his singer friends.. A really beautiful environment to enjoy music or theater.castgelmponas bocelli concert siena

From now until November 3, there is an exhibition in the halls of Santa Maria Della Scala in
Siena, the first exhibition “retrospective” by Sergio Staino. Staino is a contemporary artist known for his satire. Tstaino-siena-2014  exhibitionhere are watercolors and digital works over 300 works in all.

Since 2000, the artist was forced to abandon his traditional drawing tools of pencils and pens as problems with his sight worsened. So, he has learnt and mastered new techniques of drawing by hand on a touchscreen, and today says “it was a sad passage, but in reality I discovered a marvelous part of the world with opportunities to meet, compare and change my work”

 

At this time of year Liguria is another must see region. Cinque Terre (five lands) which are five small villages right on the water built into steep, craggy hills. Each is so distinct and beautiful I cannot imagine ever being unwilling to travel there. There are trains from Genoa and buses between the villages, or you can take a boat from one village to the next, a trip that is only minutes.

Portovenere and our boat
Portovenere
Mike's 112
Cinque Terre

 

Genoa has often been overlooked as a tourist destination. I think because it is the largest port city in Italy and it was kind of uncared for near the port area many years ago. They have done much to improve the tourist experience, including a biosphere that sits in the harbor, and well as an huge and important aquarium. There is also Via Garibaldi. In the 15th century it held only palaces of royalty and the richest and most famous families. Now many are museums and it is still one of the most beautiful streets in all of Europe.

Genoa Harbor

Genoa Harbor
Genoa Harbor

 

 

 

 

 

 

You have to taste Pesto in Genoa to know what real pesto tastes like. They have a completely different variety of basil than I’ve seen growing anywhere else. Tiny little leaves that are tender and so flavorful. And, of course, the seafood anywhere along the coast is spectacular. A grilled misto (mixed) fish plate will never be a wrong choice.Camporotondo 007

Piemonte has numerous festivals between summer (Estate) and fall (Autunno).
There are sagre (food festivals) in Asti, Biella, Novara, Torino, Vercelli celebrating various kinds of pastas and chestnuts. Torino has numerous feste for stuffed fish (No, I’m certain exactly what this is).

Just a reminder, don’t fail to check the larger cities for Civic Arts or Tourism Cards. Most often they cover the most important events and sights and they will save you lots of time and money. They sometimes help avoid wait lines and give you discounts in stores. Check online before you make your trip or stop at the local tourism office (usually located somewhere in the center of town).

Spanish Steps

There is no ‘bad’ time of year to visit Rome. There are pleasures to be had any time of year. Different events, different foods, different experiences. Italy is simply a country of such variety and beauty, I will never see enough of it. I hope this motivates some of you to make the reservations for your next trip. I’ve found few places in Italy I do not want to return to see more. And, there is always more.

Buon Viaggio

If you’d like to be kept up to date on all our sales please email expresslyitalian@aol.com to be added to the mailing list. You can also find us on Facebook to keep up-to-date with all our latest news.

 

 

ROME’S CAMPO DEI FIORI SPICE MAN – MAURO BERARDI

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If you’ve ever traveled to Rome you’ve probably made the stop in Campo dei Fiori to see the market there.  It’s not the biggest and there’s discussion as to whether’s it’s the oldest and it’s used more by tourists than locals, but it is a special market and well worth the visit.  The restaurants around it are good, especially the famous Forno Campo de’ Fiori and Antico Forno Roscioli.    The flowers and vegetables are very fresh.  And, the spice market booth continues to grow.  It seems every visit Mauro and Marco Berardi have spread out a little more.  Last month, they have about 25 per cent of the whole market.  They have added olive oils, pastas, and even a meat stand, cutting porchetta and mortadella for sandwiches on the spot.  

While much of their goods are geared toward the tourist, the spices are pretty much as their business is named “Spezie Famose nel Mondo” – Famous spices of the world.  And, famous they are.  The Berardi’s have been selling in this market for more than three generations and they are confident and Mauro has made some of the best spice mixes in the world.

Spice mixes are quite popular throughout Europe right now (as well as here in the U.S.  However, you need to be pretty aware of what questions to ask, how to tell if they are worth what they cost and how thrilled you are likely to be with them.

You can usually tell if the mixes are fresh by the color of the components.  If they are dull and dark, their flavor will be old and stale.  If they are packed by a manufacturer, there is little guarantee of what exactly is in the mix.  I love Mauro Berardi’s spice mixes because not only does he sell in quantities that pretty much guarantee their freshness, his mixes are freeze dried, cut into quite small components and, most importantly, they are hand mixed.  No machines, no gigantic quantities being beat together by a machine which might have been used for almost any product before the mixes are put into their vats.  Mauro claims his mixes will stay flavorful for at least two years if kept in the plastic bags he packs them.  And, from my personal experience, they do retain full freshness for at least those two years.

People all over the world have looked for Mauro Beardi’s mixes and now they are available through Expressly Italian.  Check out our Facebook page or send us an email and we’ll be happy to send you the mixes you’ve been looking for.  Much less trouble or cost than flying to Rome to buy them.  I agree though, that the trip to Rome is always exciting.

Spice Market

While Expressly Italian does not have all the mixes he offers, I do have the most popular ones.  The Campo dei Fiori Mix, which is composed of basil, oregano, parsley, green onions,  salt, red pepper flakes, and lots of black pepper.  It can be cooked or used as is.  This is a great go-to mix to use in almost anything.  I often throw it into eggs if I’m cooking them for breakfast.  It’s a fabulous addition to a salad; either mixed in the dressing or just a sprinkle over the salad greens before putting on olive oil.  And, this mix is fabulous as a pasta sauce.  All you need do is warm a little olive oil, a teaspoon or so (you’ll have to try a few times to learn how much spice you like) of the spice mix and heat only a minute or so, add cooked pasta, toss and add grated cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino) and serve.   Or, just mix a tablespoon of spice mix into a cup of olive oil and keep it for dipping bread, drizzling on pizza or vegetables.  It is really a mix you’ll use on almost everything.  All the spice mixes are $4.50 an ounce.

There is Puttanesca Mix, Arrabiatta Mix, Mauro’s Mix (which he says is similar to Campo dei Fiori Mix, but without salt or black pepper);  There is also his meat mix, you can use as a rub on almost any meat before grilling or roasting.  The Fish Mix is composed of rosemary, sage, pepper and green onions.  There is also a “Caccio e Pepe” mix, but it really is simply the finest, freshest, tastiest black pepper you’ll ever find.  If you want to make Caccio e Pepe pasta.  Cook spaghetti and when it’s nearly finished, heat some olive oil in a saute’ pan.  Add a couple teaspoons of the black pepper, a little pasta water.  Add the cooked spaghetti stir and quickly add grated pecorino cheese to make a sauce.  If it’s a little too tight, add a little additional pasta water till it’s a creamy sauce.  Serve it immediately.  This is one of Rome’s premiere sauces and for good reason.  You can make it any time without any planning or thought.

Need quantities to feel comfortable?  Here’s a full recipe that is slightly different –  it makes the pasta sauce directly into the serving bowl:

1 pound spaghetti, black pepper and 1 cup (100 grams or so) grated Pecorino cheese.

Bring a tall pot of water to a boil, then add a generous tablespoon of salt to it.

2.Throw the spaghetti pasta in, stir and gently push it under the water. stir the pasta occasionally and maintain a live boil in the water.

3.Cook the pasta about 1 minute less than the package time suggests.
4.Drain the spaghetti, reserving a little of the cooking water, toss immediately in a warm serving bowl and sprinkle the freshly ground black pepper and the grated Pecorino cheese. Mix quickly while adding a few spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water, just enough to moisten and melt the cheese, which will become slightly creamy.  Drizzle fresh extra virgin olive oil sparingly over the top and serve.

The wonderful part of learning to cook simple Italian is that the ingredients are the most important part.  If you’ve got great spices and a little confidence, you’re more than halfway there.   Let the Famous Mauro Berardi’s spice mixes help begin your adventure  in cooking with more excitement.

A Month of Shopping and Guess What You Got?

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I hope everyone will be as excited as I am about the wonders I’ve found to bring home.  Please recognize Expressly Italian  is still a work in progress.    I  need to know the things people are  most interested in, what the costs are and how to fit enough into suitcases!    Any feedback is really appreciated.  And, I will investigate any special requests to the fullest.    Every trip I find new sources and undiscovered “prodotti tipici” (typical products) from every region.   All  that said, there are some exciting and unique products for you to try right now.

The Italian honey bee is a gentler bee.  A little smaller than the western version, it is a good producer of ripened honey. All this explains why Italian honey is so famous and treasured.  Stefano, a Sardinian bee keeper says his honeys are the best in the world and he has broods that are collecting from flowers, trees and even some from the macchia (the Sardinian scrub that covers much of the island).   Stefano assures me that not only do they produce the purest honey and most flavorful you can find.  I know that his Girasole (sunflower) honey will be on my morning toast for sure.   But,  of course the bee keepers from Florence make the same claims as do the bee keepers in Umbria.  Truthfully, they are all so rich in flavor it is hard to choose.   I do know they are all harvested from the wild and they are pure and so much more flavorful than mass produced, over filtered honey.   You owe it to yourself  to taste as many as you can to find your personal favorite.  I also acquired a few propolis (bee pollen) products from Sardinia.

I have some olive oils from Umbria and Tuscany and Tivoli.  Only the freshest, purest virgin oils, of course.  There’s white truffle oil too.

Black truffles!  I found some wonderful preserved black truffle.  These special little goodies are preserved in olive oil and have good till dates that guarantee they will last into next year.  So think about a special dish and it will only improve with a bit of shaved truffle on it.  And, I also found a thinly sliced white truffle preserved in oil as well.

Then there are the condomenti (which really translates as flavors).  There is everything from the wine jellies, to preserves from frutti di bosco, and some special cherry marmellata that will make wonderful tarts.  And mostarda, the sweet spicy condiment which is great on meats, or cheese or almost anything.    These condiments  add some interesting tastes to many dishes and that extra layering of flavor that separates a good meal from a great dish.Image

Then there’s some fantastic agrodolce – with either raspberries or figs.    The agrodolce can be used like a hot sauce, just a little makes a big flavor difference.

From the Maremma (southern Tuscany) there is bottarga (the fish roe that is sprinkled onto pasta for a unique taste) as well as Colatura, the anchovy essence that is made only in a few places; it is impossible to find even in most of Italy.   I’m getting these products directly from the farms and families that produce them so you know the quality and flavor is unmatched.

This time I am also bringing some Tuscan beans, including cicerchia, which is the oldest cultivated legume.  I’ve been told that the traveling Roman army survived on cicerchia and grain (mostly corn and wheat).  The cicerchia provided the protein, the grains the carbohydrates.   Cicerchia is an extremely healthy food gaining in popularity here in Italy    High in protein, phosphorus, , B1 and B2 and, of course, lots of fiber it’s very healthy.  Usually it is used in soups, or in pasta dishes (Italians often use beans with pasta — garbanzo beans, or savona or other cannellini types).  The Cicerchia that I’m bringing is split, so the cooking time is much less and doesn’t require soaking.  I’ve also got lentils, some tiny white Tuscan beans that are like a small version of a cannellini bean (they also do not require soaking).  And, there’s the occhiali bean, which looks a little like (but isn’t) our black eyed pea.  Any or all of the type beans make excellent Ribollita or vegetable soup,

ImageSThese are some of the 
dried beans and
 herbs used in Tuscan bean soup.

Or, you can try a very Tuscan way to eat the beans.  Cook them till they are creamy, mash them a little, add salt and pepper to taste,  put onto a toasted piece of bread and drizzle with a high quality olive oil.  Really yummy.   You too can become a “bean eater” as the Tuscans are called.

Chocolate was one of the most requested items and I  brought a number of artisanal chocolates made in Perugia as well as a few other small towns in Umbria.  There is a lot of chocolate and hopefully in October, when we return, we’ll be going to the international Chocolate festival in Torino and I can really overdose.   In the meantime I’ve got plenty of choices for all tastes.  Including packages of Ciobar, the hot chocolate that seems more like a pudding to me.

I’ll be sending out a newsletter with all the products available and their prices shortly.     Remember, the quantities are limited, so don’t hesitate to order if you want something. And, you can place your request for the fall shipment at any time.    If you are not already on my mailing list, please send a note to ExpresslyItalian@aol.com and I’ll be sure you receive updates and product listings.

The dried porcini are incredibly fragrant and so are the sun dried tomatoes.  Both are unlike anything I’ve found in the U.S.  They have so much flavor you use less of them, so they are quite reasonably priced.     And, I have a great new selection of herbs and spices from Mauro Berardi, from Campo dei Fiori in Rome.

Come share the journey as I explore all that Italy has to offer.

 

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The Tuscan Maremma in Spring

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I love the Maremma.  So many people visit Tuscany and think they’ve seen it all after Sienna, Florence, Orvieto and maybe a few hill towns.  Nope.  The western part of Tuscany by the sea is so special, it deserves much more attention than it receives.  On the other hand, it’s nice not to be over run with tourists.     While the whole of the Maremma covers a large area, I know the area near Grosseto and south best.

The Maremma area has almost timeless roots.  The Etuscans long before the Romans lived in this area.  They built cities and developed agriculture in the midst of beautiful landscapes.   Many of the people still living in this area are descendants of the Etuscans, a people who lived in this part of Italy long before the Romans.  While much is unknown about their civilization, the Etruscan people were known to be intelligent, gentle people with many advances in their culture and few wars.  They were easily made extinct by the Romans.    There are many both Etruscan and Roman ruins in this area to be explored.  

Pitigliano, Manciano and Montiano are only a few of the spectacular hill towns.   But it’s the sea and the towns of Porto Santo Stefano, Orbetello, Albinia and Capalbio  that keep my heart in the Maremma.    Orbetello is on a thin strip of land  that crosses in the middle of a coastal lagoon.   The isthmus joins the Argentario to the Tuscan mainland. Although Orbetello is surrounded by lagoons it is also connected to the Mediterranean.

There has been a settlement in Orbetello since the 8th century BC!   Being on the sea means fishing has always been important to it’s livelihood and culture.  

Lagoon Orbetello 2
Lagoon at the edge of Orbetello
Orbetello lagoon
Orbetello and the lagoon surrounding it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orbetello is one of the few areas in Italy still producing bottarga, which is flaked and served simply with olive oil on warm bread or grated over vegetables and salads. It is finely grated and served over spaghetti to make their most famous dish ‘spaghetti alla bottarga’. 

Covitto

Covitto fish market has been in Orbetello since 1940.  Domenico moved from the Amalfi Coast to Orbetello and brought his idea and process for making bottarga.  His was the first Botarga made in this part of Italy.  It is still made the same way.  Bottarga di Muggine is famously used in Sicilian dishes.   Buying the whole roe sack is quite expensive, but this grated bottarga is much easier to use and less expensive.  It is wonderful over salads and vegetables, but the best known use is in Spaghetti alla Bottarga.  You simply add a little olive oil to a pan, heat it and add a little red pepper flakes and add cooked pasta.  Take it off the heat and sprinkle the Bottarga over the pasta and a good handful of fresh chopped parsley.  So simple and yet so special.  It takes only a little for very rich flavor.  The 40 gram jar I have will last well past the end of this year if kept in the refrigerator.   Bottarga is very rich in protein and Omega 3’s with a delicate and wonderful flavor.

Colatura 1
Colatura di Alici
Botarga from Orbetello
Bottarga from Covitto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domenico also brought with him from Cetara,  the process to make Colatura di alici.  Anchovy Sauce.  It’s definitely part of the slow food movement.

His  famous amber condiment is delicate and available only in Italy.   While they use it for pastas, it is a wonderful flavor for anything that needs a little depth of flavor.   This amber magic is made by taking fresh caught anchovies with salt and laying them in a wooden container called a “terzigni”.  After four or five months the liquid that comes out of the bottom hole in the container is harvested.  It’s quite different than the Asian fish sauces.  Delicate and uniquely flavored, it adds that indefinable extra to many dishes.

For an easy Pasta dish, use a simple pasta and cook it as directed on the package.  When it’s about done, heat about 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add a clove of garlic, being sure not to brown it, along with some red pepper flakes to taste, and  about 3 Tablesppons of  COLATURA DI ALICI  with a little pasta water.  Add the drained pasta and sprinkle fresh chopped parsley over and serve.  Keep the COLATURA DI ALICI handy to add additional over the top of your pasta to taste.    This should generously serve 4 people.

Covitto Catch
Colvitto’s fresh catch.  This fish market has been ‘the’ place buy your fish in the area  since WWII.

This area of  Tuscany  is full of regional typical products not generally seen outside the area.  The Maremma is a mixture of farm lands, cattle ranches and seaside fishing villages.  It’s well worth spending some time in this area and exploring the beaches as well as the ancient ruins all around you.

From Albinia I brought back Conserve to be used with cheese or bruschetta.  One I love is called Conserva del Buttero.  The Tuscan cowboys, horses and the Maremma sheepdog are all parts of this interesting area.  The Conserva del Buttero’s ingredients include:  peppers, peaches, apples, pepperoncino, apple vinegar, lemon juice and sugar. Wow is it great.  It would be fabulous with meat as well as served with pears or apples.  So many uses for these conserve.  I hope you’ll try some of these magnificent specialties.

 

Please feel free to email me at ExpresslyItalian@aol.com if you have any questions or want any additional information.   I do hope you have the chance to explore this part of Italy.  I ended my week with a fabulous dinner made by a long time resident of Montiano who fixed a fantastic cinghiale, with juniper berries and raspberry  agrodolce sauce.    Thanks Penelope, it was better than any I’ve ever had.

Cinghiale
Penelope cooked a very special cinghiale – her own recipe.

I have so much more to tell you about this special area, I’ll have to make another blog entry sometime in the near future to tell you about Albinia, the fantastic Alimentari un Mare di Sapori and explain some of the other local products.

 

Italian Winters – Sparkling, Exciting and Full of Great Food

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Pizzoccheri is the perfect solution to cold and hungry after skiing or any winter day.

Pizzoccheri is a flat wide noodle (similar in size to tagliatelle) made with buckwheat.  Buckwheat
is used in the north of Italy more because you cannot grow much wheat in mountainous regions.  At least that’s my thoughts on why buckwheat is so prevalent.    Pizzoccheri is a dish of the Alps – around Piemonte it’s always made with cabbage and Fontina cheese. While it’s not easy to find the Pizzoccheri noodles in the U.S. it is sometimes in the Italian deli’s at this time of year. Here’s a great recipe to try. It was originally published: December 29, 2008 in the NY Times by Mark Bittman Time: 30 minutes

pizzoccheri 1 stick butter ( 1/4 pound)
4 fresh sage leaves
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 medium potato, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small head Savoy cabbage, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 pound flat, broad buckwheat noodles (pizzoccheri) or whole wheat noodles
1 cup fontina Val d’Aosta (or other good semisoft) cheese grated
1 cup Parmesan, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups homemade bread crumbs.   * see note

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter with sage and garlic until butter turns nut-brown; be careful not to burn sage leaves. Set aside.  2. Cook potato and cabbage in boiling water until they begin to soften, just 5 minutes or so. Add pasta to same pot and continue to cook until pasta is about 1-1/2 minutes from done.Drain.    3. In a large oven-proof dish, spread a layer of vegetable-pasta combination, then a layer of grated fontina, then a layer of grated Parmesan; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Continue this layering until all ingredients are used, ending with a layer of Parmesan; ideally you will have four layers of each. Cover dish with bread crumbs and drizzle with melted butter and sage (discard garlic). Bake for about 15 minutes, or until top is golden-brown and cheese has melted. Serve hot or warm.  Yield: 3 to 4 servings.

* this is one of the items I always bring back from Italy.  They have a way of toasting and making the finest, driest and most tasty bread crumbs.  I have not found anything locally that is as fine, toasty-colored and tasty.

A Turino Specialty to dream about:   Bicerin

For all us chocolate lovers, Torino is the place to go.  I know Perugia is a really well known for Perugina chocolates but the real history of Italian chocolate starts in Piemonte.   Torino is the chocolate capital of Italy.The International Chocolate Fair is in November, but the chocolate flows all year in Torino. Although Christopher Columbus first brought Cocoa beans back from Mexico to Spain, they hoped to keep them all for themselves and did formany years.  It wasn’t until 1606 that an Italian traveler, Antonio Carletti, brought the cocoa home to Italy. And he created the first chocolate mania.  It spread throughout Europe continuing to move from medicinal to the treat it is today, although most of us still believe chocolate is medicinal.

Bicerin is a winter drink invented in Torino in the 18th century.  It is still made only there. The word bicerin means little glass — and if you like it you’ll be joining august company: Alexandre Dumas, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso were all Bicerin fans. The caffè in Torino all keep their recipes secret, but I’ve found one close to the heavenly drink they make there.

Try this one:
1/3 cup high quality cocoa powder (like Venchi’s Cacao Due Vecchi cocoa), or
dark chocolate shavings
Sugar to taste
2/3 cup chilled heavy cream
Enough espresso for 2 long shots, about 2/3 cup

1. At least 15 minutes ahead, put a jar or shaker in the freezer. Fill 2 water goblets or Irish Coffee mugs with hot tap water. 2. In a small saucepan combine chocolate with about 2/3 cup water, and set over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until chocolate coats the spoon, about 10 min. Add sugar to taste. (They make it really sweet). Shut off heat. 3. Empty glasses and wipe dry. Remove jar from freezer, add cream and shake vigorously 1 minute. Make the espresso. To each glass or mug add a shot of espresso and 1/3 cup chocolate and carefully spoon 1/3 cup cream over top. Do NOT stir. Serve immediately.

If you’ve ever had hot chocolate in Rome you know about the thick, really hot, sweet almost pudding-like drink they serve as hot chocolate. It’s another item I always bring home – Ciobar is a great mix that uses milk and can even be made in the microwave. So good. It certainly seems medicinal to me.