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