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Living in Italy

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.

 

Italian Logic and the Government – A Short Story

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I know the timing is bad since there were more earthquakes this week in the middle of Italy, but this is not about earthquakes, although it is about the earth moving.  In Rome, north of the centre city is Ponte Milvio.  This happens to be Rome’s oldest bridge, built in 200 BC.  It is also the beginning of Rome becoming Christian since  the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 300 AD between Constantine and Emperor Maxetius.  Constantine after winning the battle spread Christianity throughout his new empire.

The bridge area today has a lot of young nightlife and a great market on the first and second Sunday of every month.  Of course, none of this really as anything to do with my story.

This area, abutting the Tiber River has a very high water table.  Because of this the city decided they needed a water main to run from the street Via della Farnesina to the river.  Being Italy, they ran short of money and stopped completion of the pipe about one quarter mile from the river.  I am not sure how long ago this happened, probably years though.

Where the construction was stopped, the water flowed from the open ended pipe onto the soil and naturally, the buildings above were compromised.   Picture a pipe funneling water under your house.  Yep.  That’s the picture.

One day the residents of the apartment building above this pipe woke to find their building was making strange noises.  Fortunately they immediately contacted the fire brigade who evacuated everyone.  Shortly after the entire building collapsed.  The building next to it is no longer standing straight.  It tilted about 18 degrees.  Somewhat like that leaning tower further north.

38bcec3d00000578-3805443-image-a-178_1474726471861They blocked off the street access to the area and posted a couple vigilie trucks and a few guards to keep people out.  This was the end of September of this year.  The photos below are from last week, the end of October.  This building will have to be demolished (as you can see).  The government has had an offer by a contractor.  He offered to demolish the building and rebuild it if he could add two floors that he would own to either sell or live in.  He even offered to house the 100 or so people now homeless while the rebuilding was going on.

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This is the part that is soooo Italian government.  Because of this really good offer, they are suspicious of this contractor.  It has been under “advisement” for some time and I suspect that unless another earthquake collapses the building it will remain as is for many many more months.

In the meantime, there are all the people who cannot even go back into their home to get anything.  There are the vigilie guarding the area, along with the blocked road which restricts traffic.  Interesting logic.

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This could be why the Roman shrug was developed.

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We can check back next year to see the status.

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.

 

Real Italian Cooking

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Stefania Barzini is a widely known and respected food journalist, blogger, cook book author (she’s written seven!) and teacher.  She has wonderful classes she teaches (in English) outside Rome where she lives.  Her warmth and generous spirit are energizing for any cook, and her knowledge of Italian food from all regions of the country is truly impressive.fo at her fingertips.  And varied information it is.  Stefania lived in Los Angeles for a few years and gave cooking classes there.  She was integral to the beginnings of Gambero Rosso, the cooking channel in Italy as well as writing for their magazine.  In addition, Stefania has authored at least seven books:

I was fortunately able not only to meet Stefania on my last trip, but to take a class with Stefania.  She is not a restaurant chef; she does not care about perfect presentation; she cares about the ingredients, the taste and preparing it with love.   Her objectives are to use the highest quality ingredients, sharing her love of food and cooking, and sharing her knowledge with others.  She particularly enjoys teaching english speaking students which is even better for me.

Please check out her wonderful website http://www.follecasseruola.com.   This fantastic site is not just great looking,  it also has so much information you will have a difficult time deciding on which course to take.  I was interested in meeting her and did not care what class was available.   She not only teaches cooking for many regions of Italy, but also teaches some American cooking –  she’s got a class on barbeque and one on Louisiana (with Jambalaya and Cajun shrimp)and even a class on American breakfast!

Casa Barzini -  Cooking in the country
Casa Barzini – Cooking in the country

Stefania has so much knowledge at her fingertips.  And varied information it is.  Stefania lived in Los Angeles for a few years and gave cooking classes there.  She was integral to the beginnings of Gambero Rosa (the cooking channel in Italy) as well as writing for their magazine, among many others.   In addition, Stefania has authored at least seven books: A Housewife in Hollywood, the Splendors and miseries of American eating;  Dining with the GodsaditionsAnd, last year, she had published, “ One Hundred Fifty Years of our Country’s History told by Great and Small , Memories and recipes from the Aeolian IslandsSo we ate, Fifty years of Italian history between the table and custom and TraditionsAnd, last year, she had published, “ One Hundred Fifty Years of our Country’s History told by Great and Small Cooks”.  

Stefania has stories of  famous chefs of Italy and all about the regional cooking of Italy. It is truly an honor to have the chance just to chat with her.  She’s charming, kind, a great cook and a wonderful writer.

Stefania Aphel Barzini in her kitchen
Stefania Aphel Barzini in her kitchen

We are very fortunate that next year she plans on a teaching tour of the United States. I don’t know exact dates yet, or even the full itinerary, but New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles are definite. I’ve invited her to teach here and she is very happy to do that. I already have a number of people interested in signing up for the class. If you are interested, drop me an email and I’ll add your name to the list.

Normally her classes do not have more than eight people. I think we can get enough people for her to teach at least three or four classes, in the spring of next year.

The only class I could attend was a class on pasta.  You can never have enough practice with pasta making, so I was quite happy to be able to attend this class “Le Mani in Pasta” (hands on Pasta).   We cooked a Lasagna with Zucchini and cheese, Tagliatelle with Pine Nuts, anchovies and raisins and Gnocchi ala Romana (which is nothing like the traditional gnocchi.

It was especially exciting for me since the others in the class were an English woman and her parents.  Rachel eats is a blog I’ve followed a long time.  I never really thought about how she would sound in person.  In my head she had no accent, but in person . . .  I had to pay close attention to her speaking to understand her.  She’s also an amazing writer.  She’s lived in Rome for more than ten years and traveled writing about places and food, cooking and recipes.   Her just published book is titled “Five Quarters; Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome”.   I adore her writing and her blog got her enough attention to have a publisher approach her about writing a cookbook.  Check out her blog at https://racheleats.wordpress.com/

Stefania’s class was so interesting, I learned new techniques; more reasons to keep cooking Italian and how to enjoy the process from beginning to end.  Eating all that wonderful food is exciting as well as filling.

She uses all parts of the zucchini - blossoms and stems included.
She uses all parts of the zucchini – blossoms and stems included.
Lasagna with Stracchino cheese.  Another cheese I miss.
Lasagna with Stracchino
cheese. Another cheese I miss.

I cannot wait for Stefania to visit Los Angeles to join classes here.

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Gnocchi alla Romana is a semolina pasta that gets baked.  Really good!

Taking a class while traveling can be a disaster or an amazing experience. Please do try to check out the person giving the class, the class sizes and costs. Some are ridiculously expensive.   Stefania teaches and generously sprinkles the instructions with stories of her travels, the origin of the recipes and regional specialties.  And, hers are some of the most reasonably priced classes I’ve taken anywhere.  Please check out Stefania’s  website:  http://www.follecasseruola.com. It is both in Italian and English.  If you plan on being in Italy, check out her schedule and  take a class.  It is a memorable experience.

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Eating the prepared food is half the fun

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I love Gnocchi alla Romana and it is easy to make.
I love Gnocchi alla Romana and it is easy to make.

SUMMER 2014 MAY BE ENDING BUT HERE COMES EXCITING FALL!

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e girasole 1

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.