travel

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.

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A Month of Shopping and Guess What You Got?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Tuscan Maremma in Spring

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Covitto

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

Colatura 1
Colatura di Alici
Botarga from Orbetello
Bottarga from Covitto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

ROME TO PERUGIA IN A DAY

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Mamma Mia! Even in Rome there are days best spent in bed under the covers. It was a simple trip from Rome to Perugia. It started off  by taking the bus/metro to Termini to rent a car. I know, any trip through Termini is not likely to be pleasant, but it actually was a lovely morning and easy to walk from Piazza della Republica to the car rental office.  Unfortunately, I found I had my Italian passaporto, my American drivers license and credit card.

While the agent was quite pleasant, she said ‘you have too many names’. You must have the passport that matches the other documents. I know a pointless argument when I see one.   So, after a 40 euro cab ride back to get my passport and return to the rental agency we were off to Perugia.

Even with a delayed start a drive to Perugia is not a big thing. It’s a little over two hours from Centro Rome to Perugia.  I had my GPS just in case.   I have relied on my GPS in Italy since 2004. I would never be in Rome without it. Even though Rome can test any GPS, it will definitely find your way out of whatever mess you find yourself in. , I believed that since it was fully charged and plugged into the lighter, we’d have no problems.  We were fine on the A1 (a main toll road in Italy that is a breeze).

Then  we received a text message from a friend who had arranged a tour of the Perugina factory for us at 3:15. So suddenly, the wandering drive was a little annoying. We had passed all those lovely Autogrills on the A-1 not worrying about lunch assuming we’d be shortly in Perugia.   With a little additional pressure, we started off onto the road to Perugia a winding, wandering road through the beautiful Umbrian countryside.

Shortly we realized we were on a country road that had no restaurants, no towns, nothing but beautiful green scenery and rolling hills. Lovely most of the time, not so much when you are hungry and thirsty and suddenly on a timed schedule. About this time, we realized the  GPS was no longer working.   After a short examination, we realized it had not been charging at all. It was dead. Completely dead.     For some reason the plug was not connecting with the cigarette lighter.  No options to re-power it.  We were on our own.

While I normally confidently know that eventually all roads will lead you to somewhere lovely in Italy, I was not so happy to be wandering around the countryside without water or food.  Feeling a little  like a refugee. I kept looking for signs we were actually approaching Perugia.   Oddly they were far an few between.  When we arrived in Perugia, I discovered that although many signs said Centro ⇒ it was not that easy.  It would lead you up towards the center, then down out of the center.  Finally we arrived at our hotel, La Rosetta,  just in time to check into the hotel, drop our bags and head out to the bus to take us to the Perugina factory tour.

They directed us to the Linea A bus.   “Take the moving sidewalkall the way to the bottom.They didn’t mention you must then go through the tunnel and down a lot of steps to get to the bus terminal.   Yep, about 8 minutes to get there.  Then We found our bus was 20 minutes late. This made us likely to arrive about 2 minutes after our tour was to begin.  With hurried texting  our tour was re-scheduled for 4:15. Whew!

My friend said you  get off the bus and the Perugina factory is directly across the street from the bus stop.   I saw a large Perugina sign on what looked like a large factory and we got off the bus only to discover that there was a much smaller sign saying ferrovia (A train station).   We asked which bus would actually take us to San Sisto where the factory is. (Of course it’s not actually in Perugia, it’s in San Sisto). Ohhhh. We could take Linea A, B, or R. We took the first that came along. The R.  It was supposed to be a 5 km drive from Perugia.  About 15 minutes later I asked the driver where the heck San Sisto was and she said soon. Finally she said here it is, but there was no factory, no buildings, only a residential area and a small town.   When I asked where the Perugina factory was and she said “straight ahead then to the right”.  Well, it was, about ½ mile straight ahead. We finally got to the factory (where there was a bus stop, but on the same side of the street) .  We were anow bout 15 minutes late, tired, a little sweaty and still hungry.

World's Largest Sweet
World’s Largest Sweet

When we tried to check in and see if we could catch up with the tour, The lovely young lady said, “Why are you here? There is no production line working on Fridays in March, April or May. And, the film is only in Italian. If you want, you can look at the museum and watch part of the film, but I don’t think it is worth it”.

 

So after all that  we were faced with the return trip to Perugia. We noticed there was no bus stop across the street. Finally asking someone they suggested that we would have to cross several roads to get to where the bus would pick us up. Linea A. After another hike of about 10 minutes and a 20 minute wait, we saw a bus approaching that said Piazza Italia. Yahoo!  Our hotel was in Piazza Italia.  We jumped on.

So, after a very, very long day, we were too tired for dinner but glad to reach our hotel and ready for a nap. At least I got a few pictures before sunset.   Perugia

 

 

Some days are best spent in bed enjoying the quiet comfort of home.