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Mauro Berardi

Artistry in Olive Wood

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As often happens a client is the catalyst for new discoveries.  This time a client requested olive wood utensils.  Having seen many I assumed it would be a quick easy request.  As usual, it became something much more.  While there are obviously thousands upon thousands of olive trees in Italy, there are not so many available to make olive wood good from.  And, while there are commercially made spoons, cutting boards and rolling pins, there are not so many crafted bowls, boards and utensils (that are actually made in Italy).

With the internet it seems easy to find online anything you want.  However, like many products, there is often a large difference between the lovely photos and catalogs you find and the quality of the finished pieces.   And, the location of manufacturing can be far from where olive trees are grown.

Olives have been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean throughout history.  The Romans cultivated olives throughout Italy and olive oil became so valuable they even used it as collected taxes.   Ancient olive wood is beautiful and a real sustainable source.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, olives produce for  hundreds of years, but eventually they stop producing and are classed as ancient.  Usually it is this wood that is gathered and used for crafting the larger pieces of olive wood you see.  The large cutting or carving boards, the table tops or large salad bowls.   Every tree has its own unique pattern in the grain.  You will never see two pieces created of olive wood that look exactly the same.

Olive wood is very hard, strong, durable and has natural anti-bacterial properties which make it ideal for production of items used for food.  If cared for properly, olive wood items will last hundreds of years.  So an ancient piece of wood becomes an antique long after it is harvested.  Olive wood bowls, and utensils of the highest craftsmanship are not as ubiquitous  as you might think given how many trees there are here.

Because the olives are a most important crop healthy trees are never felled for use of the wood.   The limited availability is part of the reason for the high cost of quality olive wood articles.  Although there are artisans in almost every region with high olive oil production, there are not as many craftsmen who work with olive wood.  In Tuscany, I understand there are only a handful of artisans who work with olive wood. And, they tend to specialize in the types of pieces they like to make.  There is one craftsman in a small town near Sienna that makes only small to large pots with lids, another near Florence that works only bowls.  It seems that each artisan has their specialty.  That is why I tried to find someone who has worked with these artists and could inform me how to determine the best pieces.

Luckily I found Ricardo Amoruso.  He is from Tuscany and has resources throughout the region for artisans in a number of categories (his wife is a ceramicist) including the few who specialize in olive wood.  Ricardo explained to me that there is always a shortage of olive wood.  If the spring weather is below normal for too many days I believe he said 15) in a row the tree can be damaged and not just lose the crop of olives, the tree can be damaged beyond survival, but the wood also can be unusable from the stress of the cold.   He explained that there are numerous makers of kitchen utensils because those do not require the whole tree to be used.  In spring when they must prune the branches, they are collected and many are thick enough to be able to form spoons, spatulas and rolling pins.    They are the most affordable of pieces in olive wood.

Once I saw some of the fine works he handles I knew that this quality was superiorto most of the other pieces I have seen.  The prices will always be high so it is important to get the best quality wood that is formed by the best artisans.

 

His advice on how to  make             20180413_190744                                                                                             your wood pieces last forever… Do not soak them, or put in a dishwasher.  Use only water to clean them.  About once every month or so, brush or wipe on a light oil like coconut or sunflower oil and let it sit on some newsapers several hours or overnight.  Afterward wipe any left oil with a paper towel.It is important to keep the wood from over drying.  This prevents cracking or warping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are some really spectacular pieces that I am now sure I must have.  The bowl below is from the works I purchased for another client.

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This totally unique flat salad bowl is so stunning I start to drool every time I look at it.

Every trip to Italy introduces me to new places, people and products.  It seems a never-ending journey.  I have introduced my Sardinia honey source to olio nuovo from Farfa, I have been able to learn about the different grades of cashmere from my scarf vendor in Florence (who uses only Italian materials and workers and produces all she sells right outside of Florence).  There are so many fine olive oils available from every region but my clients are spoiled by the consistently fabulous taste of Il Saporito’s olive oil from Farfa.

It is always a challenge to get everything done in the short time I have in Italy (a month is hardly enough time to get your breathing slowed down).   And, I always end the trip with my stop at Campo dei Fiori to fill up on the “Spezie Famose nel Mondo” and meet up with Mauro Berardi for his amazing spice mixes that have people all over the world addicted.

If you are not already on my mailing list, just send your email to:  expresslyitalian@aol.com and I will add you to my product availability lists.

There is never enough time here, never enough space to bring all I would like and always too much weight.   But I love it and hope to continue to introduce products and people from Italy to as many as I can.

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Fascinating Olive Oil Pt. 2

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I realize it has taken far too long to return to finish the Part 2 information on olive oil, but there have been good reasons.  Mostly my traveling back from Italy (bringing along  Mauro Berardi’s spices, porcini and all that wonderful Olio Nuovo from Farfa).  Then the holidays seem to move in more quickly every year.  Or, perhaps it is that I am slowing down somewhat?  Nope, that cannot be.
Looking back, it seems unbelievable that I am renewing my EU passport already.  While my husband and I managed to spend time in Italy (He mentored young film technicians for Technicolor Rome years ago) before we decided to move there for a couple years on his retirement.  After our return it was just too painful to think about not being able to frequently return to Italy (and especially visiting all our friends there), so Expressly Italian was born.  While I regret not beginning Expressly Italian’s journey much earlier,  my life as an art dealer/ consultant was fulfilling and good preparation for Expressly Italian.

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Our View in Belevedere di Riaino
 While in Italy we were living outside Rome (about 9 miles north of the center) in the country and made great efforts to see as much of the country as we could.  We traveled mostly throughout Tuscany and Umbria and I asked questions always.  I shopped every street market in every village because I was fascinated to find how different each was in personality as well as goods.   I learned to ask lots of questions even when you think you understand what you are being told.  There is not an Italian who is not very happy to have a conversation about food at any time, and if you express any interest they will tell you how their mother prepared their favorite dish, which week is the best to buy whatever product is in season and who is best vendor to buy from.
Living in Lazio I had the chance to watch the seasons change with pruning, cleaning, harvesting and of course, tasting.  Tasting is an art.   To properly taste olive oil (which many of the frantoio insist you do); first you put a little in the bottom of the glass (the glass is blue so you don’t get swayed by the color the oil, which doesn’t really indicate quality, but more about the variety of olives used).   You hold the glass in your palm (to warm it a little and bring out the flavor more), while covering it with the other hand.  Hold it and swirl it for a moment or two.  This traps the aroma in the glass.  The aroma is a very important part of the oil.  Now take a good whiff.  Do you smell grass, artichokes, berries, cinnamon or olives?  The word “fruity” in the context of olive oil can refer to vegetable notes, like green olive fruit, as well as ripe fruit notes. So think of artichokes, grass and herbs as “fruit” when you taste olive oil.  I still haven’t found those little blueglasses they officially use in the tastings, but one day I will.   images
Now, take a sip of the oil (a decent size sip).  You want enough to swirl around your mouth.  Think of the way they taste wine.  It’s the same. Suck air through the oil to coax more aromas out of it, and then—this is important—close your mouth and breathe out through your nose. This “retronasal” perception will give you a whole bunch of other flavor notes. Retronasal perception is possible because your mouth connects to your nose in the back.  Now swallow some, or all of the oil.  Think about the after-taste, the pungency of the oil as it goes down your throat.  This peppery sensation is what gives great olive oil it’s little after-kick.  It’s a pretty addictive impact that can be quite quiet or enough to make you cough.  Everyone has their own preferences.
After you’ve done all this, then you should taste the oil with food.  Usually just a piece of bread is enough to tell you if this oil is for you.  Or potatoes, some mild food that will complement the oil, but still allow you to experience it.    So, now you know the ins and outs of tasting and can taste oil with any aficionado with confidence.

Taste

The Sabine hills are about 50 minutes from Rome, and have been producing olive oil for more than 2,500 years.  In fact, in Fara Sabina there is a tree called Ulivone Canneto which has been carbon dated to more than 2,000 years old that still produces enough olives to make about 150 kilo of olive oil a year today!  This tree made olive oil for the Romans, to Byzantines and modern-day Italians.
An archaeological discovery of the small flask of Poggio Sommavilla traced back to the seventh century BC is preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and is the oldest example of writings from pre-Roman times. It is a testimony of the olive culture of this area because in it are the remains of olive oil.
Claudius Galen (129 AD – 216 AD), the father of modern pharmacopoeia, called oil of Sabina “the world’s best known.”   And, although Sabina oil is not as universally known today, it is revered by those who have tasted it and experienced its quality.
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Sabina is slightly cooler than Tuscany and the hills make it ideal for cultivation of olives. The trees here are some of the largest in Europe and the distinct delicate flavor may be created by the warm winds whipping in directly from the south. There are various strains including Carboncella, Pendolfino, Moraiolo and Rosciola.  All are a golden yellow/green and harvested just before turning brown.
Sabina has a consortium of small growers and cooperatives, but my personal preference and practice is to purchase the oil directly from the frantoio of the grower.  Rosario presses his own olives from his own groves.   He also contributes to the consortium, but I love knowing exactly what I am getting and feeling like I can watch the olives be delivered and watch them be pressed and put into the lattine (tins).  It is really exciting and moves really quickly.  Sabina DOP  is available in many places, but I love knowing exactly how and when the oil is processed and how it is handled.  The drive to Farfa is beautiful and serene, although I have to admit I always seem to get lost in the hills on the way there.   I am confident that what I offer is as fresh, and high in antioxidants and flavor as possible.

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Some of the characteristics of Sabina DOP oil are:     Color:  yellow gold with nuances of green, Perfume:  fruity, notes of fresh herbs and artichoke;  Flavor: velvety, aromatic, peppery finish.

Olives of Italy

This map is from Eataly.
Each region, even village has different types of olives grown, so the oils are different.  In Italy there are 350 different cultivars of olives grown.   When you travel in Italy try to taste as many types as you can to give you an idea of which varieties you prefer which may give you an idea of what oils you might like.  And, taste oils as often as possible.  During harvest times there are often tastings available as well as sagre (festivals) for olive oils which are wonderful opportunities to try different oils.
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The Abbazia at Farfa
I hope this explains a little more of my fascination with Italian olive oils, and Sabina olive oil in particular.  It is so full of antioxidants, great taste and bright flavor, add a little zip to your life by drizzling it on everything you can.

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.

Porcini Season – Tripping to Vetralla

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Vetralla

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

Sutri

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

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

 Botte

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

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

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

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

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

PREPARATION

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

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

Campo Dei Fiori and Famous Spices of the World

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Famose spezie nel mondo
Spezie Famose nel Mondo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fall is here and I head to Italy soon.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Il Cavallino olive oil
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Stefania and Paola at Folle Casseruola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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Mauro Berardi – Spezie famose nel Mundo

 

Kathie mid-Oct 064

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

 

 

 

Summer in Rome

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

 

 

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

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

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

Lupa at CapSat walk 3

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

Trajan Market

Visiting Mauro Berardi and Campo dei Fiori in May

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

Campo Dei Fiori
Spring markets

 

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

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

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

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

Spring Time in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Summer Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Roddy

Publish

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

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

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

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

Fish with a breadcrumb and almond crust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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