Rome

This is the year to visit Milan

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I was lucky to have the chance to visit Milan and see Expo Milan during the first week.  After all the articles about graft, missed deadlines, poor signage and all the other negatives, I really was not certain I would be impressed.  Do not let the complainers sway you.  This is a once-in a-lifetime event.  I visited about 3 days after the opening.  It is true, there is 20 per cent unfinished, some of the directional signs are not perfect and some of the exhitions did not work perfectly.  BUT…. It is an amazing accomplishment to put together and pull off something of this scale.  And by week three all the bumps will be fixed.  Go!

I arrived by Metro.  Very easy.  I had no idea how long the walk to the entrance was.  Next time I think I would take a bus.  Not as convenient, but it gets you much closer.

Entering Expo from the Metro

This is one of the many long walkways. Eventually you walk into a huge,very well organized area with colored separations For different kinds of tickets. I had a prepaid ticket with an open date and went through a yellow aisle. There were many people to answer questions and direct yoU, speaking many languages. You go through security similar to the airport. All this took about half an hour from when I left the Metro.

They even scanned my watch!
They even scanned my watch!

Then you start.  Basically it is a very long wide promenade with side streets.  Lots of food, lots of interesting exhibits.

Just to warn visitors.  Bring sunblock and a hat.  It will be very hot soon.  They have many places to stop or sit but many are in the sun.

And, allow two days to dio it justice.  I spent 7 hours with a number of rest stops and I saw most of the pavilions and exhibits but I want to spend more time in a few places.

One not finished, but gorgeous
The Japan Pavilion
A Japanese Wood Carver
A Japanese Wood Carver

Expo

Expo

There is so much to see. Great concepts, great amounts of plantings and it is well covered by helpful volunteers to direct you or answer questions.

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Sustainable food

I took almost 200 photos.
I took almost 200 photos.

My advice; find your way to Milan this year.  Not only for Expo Milan, but the city has many events throughout the year.  I saw the DaVinci exhibit at Plazzo Reale as  well  as the exhibits at the Triennale di Milan, a fabulous building and museum that has an “Arts and Food” show now.

My main reason for being in Milan though was to get honey from Sardinia.  I have all the types and prices in my newsletter.  Well, it will be as soon as my computer cooperates.  This shopping trip has been a great success.  If you are not on my mailing list and want to be, email me at ‘ExpresslyItalian@aol.com’ and I will add your name.

Great pure honey with all the health benefits you can use.
Great pure honey with all the health benefits you can use.  And this is only a sampler of the available types.

This trip I am bringing not only honey but spices from Mauro Berardi in Rome at Campo dei Fiori, olive oil from Tuscany and sun dried tomatoes from Sicily. Do not wait if you want something, quantities as always are very limited.  I am shopping to introduce everyone to the tastes and foods of Italy that never reach outside Italy.

Expo

China Pavilion       Entry Gate Milan ExpoSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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The newly opened canal in Milan – there are several with restaurants and galleries alongside.

A newly opened canal in Milan.
Did you know Milan has canals?

Shopping Italy in the Spring

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I have been in Italy a week or so.  It’s not like traveling anymore. It is more like visiting my home.  While I live in Los Angeles, my heart and mind often wanders to Italy.   There are just so many beautiful an interesting places to visit throughout the country there seems never enough time.

This shopping trip is a little less hectic than the fall trip.  I will make my visits to Mauro Berardi in Campo dei Fiori.  It seems his self proclaimed Famous Spices of the World is a true statement.  Almost every week I get an email request for information on how to acquire his spice mixes.  They are amazing.  He sells seemingly vast quantities of spices, but they are all still mixed by hand in his offices nearby the campo.  Lately there are a couple of other vendors using “Campo dei Fiori Spice Mix” on their spices blends, but they are nothing like his mix.  So, he is now referring to his mix as Maruro Berardi’s Pasta Mix.   I am not certain this is a great change since many people will think that is all the spices are good for is pasta.  His mix is universal not only in appeal, but in the ways it can be used.  I rarely make eggs without a dash of this mix, or soups, stews, marinades or dry rubs, even in salads.   In fact, I use it constantly since it can be cooked or used as is. So, if you are looking for Mauro, he is in the same place as always, but the mix name has changed.

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Now that we are straight on that, I can tell you how exciting this trip really is.  It is wonderful to be buying items for my clients and know that they are not paying 30% more than the price seems.  I love that the dollar has been staying around $1.10 to a euro.   I hope it keeps there for awhile (as I am sure all my clients do as well).

I have been busy shopping and have purchased some pre-ordered products for clients, including the spices.  Also some of the amazing flavorful preserves that have so much more flavor than the U.S. varieties seem to. Maybe it is they use so much less sugar that you can taste the fruit?

I am off to Milan early next week. I look forward to meeting up with Stefano to pick up honey.  I learn something new every time I meet with him.   He has been worried I would not arrive soon enough since the current harvest product is almost gone and it will be awhile until the next harvest.  Sardegna has one of the only totally pollution free environments left in the world.  No insecticides, no soil additives, no smog.  It is not wonder that Sardegna produces honey with thhe highest levels of antioxidants.   He sells much of his honey for the health benefits, but I love the taste of almost all of them.  And, my clients love all his products, the propolis, his beauty cream (which has only bee pollen, bees wax, olive oil and lemon oils) and his “Bomba” and “Rispero” for well being and breathing problems.

Sardinian botarga.
Sardinian bottarga.

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In addition to the honey from Sardegna this trip I am bringing bottarga as well.  I have been bringing Tuscan bottarga from the Maremma, but thought I’d try the Sardinian bottarga which is supposed to be fabulous.  It should be — it is quite expensive.  I think I will buy a whole piece and divide it for my clients so it will only be pricey.

I cannot wait to see the scarves for spring and summer that I buy there as well.  I do not bring many back, but I seem to have requests for them every trip.

If you are not on my mailing list, please get on it!   Send me your name and address in an email to:  ExpresslyItalian@gmail.com.  I’ll make sure you are kept informed about my offerings.

I have another dinner with friends tonight,   It is reassuring to know you cannot have a bad meal in Italy,  Well, I guess you can, if you frequent tourist restaurants.  So, do not do that.

If you are planning trip to Italy and would like to connect with some  cooking classes or garden tours, I have some suggestions for the Rome area and I would be happy to help.  And do not forget Expo Milan –  from May 2 through October.

 Milan Canal

Expo Milano 2015 is close – Make a trip to see a World’s Fair

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This is an exciting time –  spring is bound to be hitting the whole country soon, Easter is almost here and the 2015 Expo Milano is almost ready to open!   This Universal Exposition which takes place every five years, each time in a different country.  This year, from  May 1  to  October 31, the 272 acres the Expo is on will be available for the world to enjoy.

Expo 2015 is themed “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” with a focus on sustainability and innovation. All 140 participating countries will showcase their unique cultural and culinary traditions, within self-built lots, to the 20 million expected visitors from around the globe.   Whew!  That’s a lot of people, but it is a great amount of space to cover. And that’s without considering that there is also all of Milan to see.  And, the Milanese have so many planned events in the city to entertain all the visitors it is a cannot miss trip.

expo map Milan

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The layout of the Expo grounds are inspired by a Roman city of ancient times.  The city has allocated over 60 pavilions in this ‘village’ to participating countries which will line either side of the long central division. Italy’s exhibition area intersects to form a global meeting place called Piazza Italia. The space has also provisioned for event areas like the open-air theatre, Lake Arena and children’s park, as well as clusters for other official industry participants.

 

There is even a Google interactive map you can watch what is happening in real time. Check it out. Google Earth – Expo 2015 the EU pavillion – interactive map http://europa.eu/expo2015/node/115

I did not see that the U.S. Pavilion has a google map dedicated to it, but it is moving along quickly to completion.  The US Pavilion – Designed by award-winning architect, James Biber, the USA Pavilion pays homage to our rich agricultural history with an open design delimited by a large vertical farm that will be harvested daily. An homage to the barn is reflected in the design of the pavilion.

Located in central Milan for the duration of the Expo, the James Beard American Restaurant will showcase American cuisine, ingredients, and beverages with a rotating roster of American culinary talent. Thanksgiving dinner will be served every Thursday and Jazz or Gospel brunch every Sunday.

Leading up to Expo Milano and throughout the six months of the fair, the USA Pavilion will be programming daily activities, on the topics encompassed by our theme American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet. From conferences on global food security to cooking demonstrations, panels on technological innovation in the food system to conversations with top farmers and chefs, we’ll explore various aspects of food, food culture, and the future of our food system. Topics will cover a broad and diverse spectrum, including how to manage water resources, the importance of food labeling, healthy school lunch, traditional American cooking, and how can we create a burger that’s better for our health and better for our environment.

If you are planning on travel in Europe this year, be sure to put this on your itinerary.  It’s really a unique experience that cannot be repeated.  Being Milan, the city has really gone all out to provide an Expo experience throughout the entire city while the fair is happening.  There are art events, fashion events, tours, and so much has been already completed to make the entire city ready for the spotlight.

Among the most important events already on schedule, Milan will feature the biggest exhibition ever organized in Italy of Leonardo da Vinci with works of the Renaissance icon borrowed from Italian and international museums.

Another exhibition will be dedicated to Giotto, the Florentine painter who revolutionized the depiction of figure in the 1300s, with three of his masterpieces on loan.

International artists from avant-garde to today will represent the theme of motherhood that most of all embodies the idea of nutrition, central theme of Expo Milano 2015, in an exhibition, “The Great Mother,” gathering over 80 works of the 20th century.

Music will be central, Del Corno added, with extraordinary programs at Teatro alla Scala, that for the first time will stay open in August with a total of 140 spectacles during the six-month expo, and Piccolo Teatro, which will perform in many languages including English, Chinese and Greek.

“Milan will be a stage open to everybody,” the assessor went on saying. Duomo Square, in the heart of Milan, will host classic and pop concerts free of charge, while public spaces in the city from parks to trams will be animated by countless music performances, book fairs, street markets and thematic events including many dedicated to water.

The architecture of the fair is wildly impressive.   Here’s a photo of the entry gate proposal, I saw in Milan a couple years ago.   This is the only structure that will remain after the fair.  It’s by Nemesi & Partners and is a smog eating, almost zero energy building.  It is exciting and I cannot wait to see this in person.


Entry Gate Milan Expo
Nemesi entry Italy

 

 

If I sound excited, I am.  I have already purchased tickets for my upcoming trip in April (they have a ‘soft’ opening starting this month), but also for my fall trip, in September.

I’m leaving on my spring buying trip in late March! In addition to touring the Expo Milan, I’ll be shopping for all kinds of goodies to bring my shoppers.

Fresh Sardinian honey and propolis as well as some of his propolis soap and beauty cream is high on my list.    Honey from Sardinia is extra special since it is harvesting from one of the few pollutant free environs in the world.  No wonder it tastes so good.   Stefano has honey from a variety of locations on the island, since there are over 200 species of nectar producing plants, I get everything from Acacia and Ailanto to Malata and even Corbezzolo.  From the Maremma I will bring  some of their unique items like Colatura di alici da Cetara, and the purest fennel pollen available anywhere and some of the products from the organic small growers in the area like La Parrina and Terra Etrusco in Capalbio and near Il Poderino in Montiano.

And, of course, the important stop at Campo dei Fiori for spices from Mauro Berardi’s Spezie famose nel mondo (world famous spices).  Anyone who has visited that market seems to have purchased some of his spice mixes.  And, they are not available anywhere else.  He does not ship outside of Italy, but he is happy to supply me to bring them home and make them available to everyone.   The most popular are the Campo dei Fiori Mix and Mauro’s Pasta Mix.  Both of these have the same ingredients, except Mauro’s mix has no salt or pepper.  This mix enhances everything it touches.  Whether cooked or fresh, it adds a depth of flavor well beyond the ingredients listed.  I use it in almost anything I cook from salads (where I sprinkle a small bit on the lettuces) to soups, meat marinades, and any pasta.  If you’ve tried it, you are a fan, no doubt.

Every trip brings special requests and new finds.  If you are already on my newsletter mailing list, you’ll be kept up-to-date on my trip.  If you are not receiving the newsletter, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to add you to the list.

Don’t forget this is a great year to travel to Europe.  The euro exchange rate is lower than in many years, currently about 1.10 euro to a dollar.  And, Expo Milan is a unique experience never to be repeated.

 

CARNEVALE – NOT JUST FOR VENICE

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If you’ve ever been in Italy before Easter, you know the joys of Carnevale.  Although Venice is world renowned for it’s amazing Carnevale parties, costumes and celebrations, but other areas of Italy are also in the spirit of full on celebrating before the deprivations of Lent. The kick off for Carnevale is February 17th, this year.  Venice is an exceptional exprience at this time of year, but celebrations are held all over Italy from Venice and Milan down to the villages and towns of Sicily. The celebration of Carnevale is the Italian version of Mardi Gras. of beads.

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Originally, Carnevale used the costumes and  masks to allow the people to mingle, the rich were not recognized and the poor could parade as if they were equal and no one would know.  And, there were plenty of women who chose to dress as men, and vice versa.   Today the costumes and masks continue to captivate young and old.    And, each area of the country has their own way to celebrate.

In the past few years, Ivrea, which has been celebrating this way since the 1600’s has been getting more attention because part of their celebrations is to throw 400 tons of oranges.  Yep, 400 TONS.  This is the celebration of the town uprising against the regime in power.  It’s very much like our Boston Tea Party, although much messier.  Like most Italian events it is accompanied by a parade, a palio (competition) and then a huge feast, and of course,  fireworks displays.

 

 

ITALY-CARNIVAL-IVREAThere are many cities throughout the country that have equally unique Carnevale celebrations.  In Viterbo, which is just north of Rome., the commune of  Ronciglione has become quite well  known for their celebration.   They  have been celebrating for more than a century so there is a well established program.  They have a “King of Carnevale” who takes over the town from the mayor and begins the parties. He’s followed by riderless horses running through town.  There are days of horse races, parades with floats, parties and confetti thrown.  And, of course, lots of food.

Carnevale Ronciglione riderless horses

Then there is Rome.   Since about 2010, Rome has re-invented their Carnevale. And,  the celebration seems to be growing very quickly. Carnevale is very much for the kids and family in Rome.  For them, it is a combination Halloween and Christmas and they love being in costume.    There are many events to entertain the children from the Zoo having special programs, to horse shows and competitions and some racing.

Rome’s Carnevale, it has always been about the horses.  The most well-known of Rome’s annual carnival events is the horse-drawn parade taking place along Via del Corso at 16.00 on 17 February. Involving more than 100 horses and carriages, the parade evokes the Berber horse race that was historically the most important event of the Roman Carnival until 1874 when it was abolished by King Victor Emmanuel II due to the death of a spectator.   The finale is a really spectacular fireworks display in Piazza del Popolo.

There is always a full program of musical performances when there is a celebration in Rome and certainly there are many of all types of music available this month.  Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona are both centers filled with children and families watching the street performers, puppet shows and throwing confetti on everyone.  It’s great fun.

This year Rome Carnevale celebrates Queen Christina of Sweden on the 360th anniversary of her arrival in Rome, with a number of initiatives organised by the city in collaboration with the Swedish embassy and the Swedish Institute of Classical Studies in Rome.   So you can expect many art exibitions and musical programs for this tribute.

Carnevale Rome - Carabinere

Ahhhhh.  And the food.  Never forget the food.  Like most things in Italy, although the sweets may be similar, each region has their own name for them.  In Rome, the most popular  sweet, and only available during this time is the frappe. Frappe are flat, crisp sweets often covered with powdered sugar.  They are also called Frappole, Sfrappole, Flappe in central Italy, Cenci (“tatters”) orDonzelli (“young ladies”) in Tuscany, Crostoli (“crusts”) or Galani in Veneto,Lattughe (“lettuce”) in Romagna, Nastri delle Suore (“ribbons of the nuns”) in Emilia, Bugie (“lies”) in Piemonte, and Gigi in Sicily.  I am drooling just thinking about those sweet crunchy treats.   But, don’t forget to try the bigne, which  are filled with cream, usually yellow, but sometimes you can find a cream of a different flavour; and castagnole are fried balls of dough about the size of a chestnut covered in sugar.

I have a great recipe for castagnole.  They are a little like a cake doughnut.  You just pop them in your mouth and it is amazing how many you can consume before you even realize it.  The sugared balls are very popular, but there are also the gorgeous ones that are done by first dipping them in Alchermes, the blood-red Florentine liqueur, before the sugar coating: the ‘bath’ in the liqueur gives them a look of tiny peaches.

Here’s a recipe so you can try them yourself.castagnole-all-alchermes-612x266

200g flour, preferably ‘00’, about  7/8ths of a cup
40g butter, about 3 Tablespoons
2 eggs
40g sugar,  1/3 cup
8 g baking powder, 2 teaspoons
Grated zest of one lemon
Oil for frying
Granulated sugar
Alchermes (optional)
Directions:

Place the flour, sugar and baking powder together in a large bowl. Create a well and add the butter and eggs and lemon zest. Begin beating the ingredients from the center and slowly incorporate the flour.  (This is the same mixing process you use to make pasta!)   Mix  until all the flour is absorbed and a thick dough is created.

Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.  Divide into four parts and roll each part out into a long cord. Cut each cord into chestnut-sized pieces.
Heat the oil for frying. Deep fry the dough until golden. Remove from the oil and place on a tray with paper towels. Let drain for 1 minute.

Quickly place in a bowl with the Alchermes (if using) and roll to lightly soak the balls. Remove from the Alchermes and place in a small paper bag with 1 cup of granulated sugar and shake to cover lightly with sugar.   If you do not use the Alchermes, just put them directly into a paper bag with the sugar and coat.
They are best eaten warm, but can also be served at room temperature.   I do not know how long they keep, I have never had any left over.

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.

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.

 

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
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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

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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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