I am on my fall shopping trip to Italy and now that I have collected the olio nuovo from the frantoio in Farfa, and am a week away from collecting spice mixes from Mauro Berardi in Campo dei Fiori I have the opportunity to wander the countryside to visit some of my favorite places outside Rome.
Vetralla is about an hour drive north on the Cassia through the lovely countryside of the Veii (through some Etruscan ruins). I take Cassia Bis since it is a more direct route and I love the caves of Sutri and often stop off at Ronciglione. Both are medieval cities with amazing history and buildings as well as fun festvals during the year. Ronciglione has one of the oldest Carnevale in central Italy. To open the festivities, the mayor gives the key to the city to the Carnival King, who rings in the week of madness that includes costume parties in the piazza, allegorical parades and a strange tradition of throwing pasta at passersby. The main event is a Palio competition initiated in 1465 by Pope Paul III Farnese, but unlike other Palio theirs features a riderless horse.
But, this week, my mission is porcini secchi. I cannot take fresh porcini back to the U.S. but my clients have come to realize the stiff dark cardboard sold there as dried porcini are nothing like real porcini. And the best I have found are from a small farm outside Vetralla where the family grows, harvests and dries them by themselves. I have never been disappointed and neither have my clients. They are worth every penny and my efforts to shelter them to get them home.
The shopping I do for my clients is very personal. I spend lots time resourcing to find the best quality, most reliable people and ask lots of questions so I can answer lots of questions from clients. Every trip brings new people and resources because friends in Italy want to share their finds with me. Tourists would never have the opportunities to locate the places and people I do, so I love sharing my finds.
If you the chance do travel around more than the big cities of Italy. There is so much to see and explore. Every village has festivals and products that are unique. The more time I spend and areas I travel, the more in love I am with the whole country and realize there will never be enough time to explore all of it.
Here’s an easy recipe for a porcini cream sauce using dried porcini to try. It can be used on pasta or any meat dish or almost anything.
Porcini Cream Sauce Makes more than 1-1/2 cups
- 1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup dry Marsala
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1 cup chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
- 1 cup beef stock or canned beef broth
- 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
- Combine porcini mushrooms and 1 cup warm water in small bowl. Let stand until mushrooms soften, about 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms from liquid, squeezing excess liquid from mushrooms back into bowl; reserve liquid. Place mushrooms in another small bowl.
- Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until onion browns, about 15 minutes. Add Marsala and white wine. Increase heat; boil until most liquid evaporates, about 7 minutes. Add rosemary, mushrooms and both stocks. Pour in reserved mushroom liquid, leaving any sediment behind. Boil until liquid mixture is reduced to 2 cups, about 15 minutes.
- Mix butter and flour in small bowl to blend; whisk into mushroom mixture. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
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If you have ever been to Rome’s famous Campo dei Fiori market you will recognize this spice vendor. Mauro Berardi is a third generation vendor in the market.
His son Marco already has his own bancarella (booth) selling porchetta and meats as well as some condiments and sauces.
If you want some of Mauro’s spice mixes, here’s a list of most of them.
Mauro’s Pasta Mix (his most popular – similar to Campo dei Fiori, but no salt)
Campo dei Fiori, Bruschetta, Pesto, Carbonara, Ciociara, Matricina, Arrabbiata,
Puttanesca, Carne Mix or Pesce Mix, Boscaiola, Bolognese, Pizza Erotica, Pizzaiola
Pizza Napoli, Carciofi, Filetto, Aglio e Olio and Soffritto
If you have any questions about how to use any of these or want the exact ingredients in one of them, just email me and I’ll be happy to let you know. All are the same high quality Mauro always has. In addition to the mixes, I usually also bring back some spices like cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric and sometimes cumin.
Over the years I have found all Mauro’s mixes so much better than any others I’ve tried, while it is impressive the amount of spices he sells, all are still mixed by hand. All the spices are the highest quality available and much of them are freeze dried, which allows the potency to remain the same for at least one year or more if kept well. I have never had a complaint about his mixes, although admittedly, much of what I sell is to people who have already tried them after buying them from him in the market in Rome. Since he will not sell outside Italy, it is quite happy that I can help his clients while they cannot visit him in Rome.
I am returning to Italy in late October for three weeks. And, while I will be on the hunt for olio nuovo and the first harvests of olive oil, I will definitely be stopping at the market in Campo dei Fiori before returning home.
If you want any additional information or want me to bring you anything from Italy,or just have any have a question please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As September is fast closing, I am eagerly looking forward to my returning to Italy for fall. I have been hoping the weather there cooperates for great olive harvests throughout the country, but it does not look like the weather there has been helpful there any more than inmuch of the rest of the world. The droughts throughout much of Europe this year will have some impact on the harvests of olives and there is expected to be a slight lowering of expectations in the harvest from last year. The quality of the oils may not be quite as good as last year, but we won’t be sure until October. Some parts of Italy also saw some Mediterranean fruit fly infestations too. Fortunately, where I get most of the oil I bring back, Lazio and Tuscany, were not much bothered. However, I must also mention that the dollar is not doing all that well against the euro. It has been holding steadily at $1.22 to 1 euro for quite some time and I do not expect it to change much for awhile. So be prepared for everything to be a little more expensive.
I have not yet heard much about the honey harvests for the fall. Last year when I went to purchase some of the fantastic honeys that I get from Sardina there were none. The production was so sparse that there were none to buy. I am hopeful that this year we will find a better crop and I can stock up on Stefano’s fabulous honey and olive oil soap too.
I love fall in Italy and this year I have much to look forward to. I love each return trip to to my home away from home, visiting all my friends there. So many dinners to re-connect, introductions to new people, new products and new places to visit. It is always exciting. Always an adventure.
My regular clients will be putting together their wish lists of what they want me to bring back for them – spices from Campo dei Fiori, scarves from Florence or Milan, It is fun for them to know they will have porcini or black rice coming for them and trust that it is the highest quality possible. I love being able to bring them their sun dried tomatoes or porcini knowing they cannot get anything comparable here. And, of course there is Mauro Berardi’s spice mixes from Campo dei Fiori. Known world wide, he is a master at mixing spices together for the most memorable spice mixes. I have most of his most popular mixes available all year (and can always bring anything you order on my twice a year trips). Send me an email if you want to order any of his mixes by the ounce.
Mauro Berardi – Spezie famose nel Mundo
Drop me an email if you want added onto my mailing list for the newsletter to purchase items I bring back on my journey: email@example.com.
Here I am in Los Angeles, having returned from Italy only a few weeks ago and already thinking about returning to Italy in the fall. I am missing one of my favorite times in Rome. Summer. August in Rome is a really special time. Any knowledgeable tourist knows if possible to avoid August in Rome. It is really hot and humid. There are still many places that close for some portion of the month (although less than in years past). Anyone who lives in Italy knows that most people who can, leave the city for cooler, less humid climes. But there are many of us who have lived there who love the month for the benefits of August in a city that seems so empty you can always find a parking place, a city that reminds you of less populated ages. It is quite special. There is a slowing of everything that allows you to savor the city even more than usual.
Then there is Ferragosto, the middle of August holiday, August 15th. It is the celebration of the Assumption of Mary as well as the earlier Roman holiday of Emperor Augustus. Since Roman times it was the official start of summer holidays and it still means most families take the holiday off for a trip to the country for a cooler day with a picnic to enjoy together.
If you are in Rome, the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto with live music and dancing in the piazze is not to be missed. Many of the cultural locations, museums, tourist attractions, etc. do stay open even though they normally would close on this type of holiday.
There are still tourists around, although less than you might think since most are either just passing through Rome on a quick tour stop on cruises or a one or two day stay, so there are really much less than many other months. It is an easy walking month for sure. Just remember to keep an empty water bottle to fill at the many fountains as you walk through town, a good head covering and lots of sun screen.
Be sure to stop by Campo dei Fiori Market and say hi to Mauro Berardi for me and see how his bancarella has expanded. He has Marco, his son, now with a booth handling sandwiches and meats like porchetta and other meats, as well as condiments. But, as always, his spice mixes are his crowning achievements. I always have them available here in the United States if you run low. Just drop me an email and I will happily send you information on replacing them for you. Expressly Italian is your source for unique Italian specialties that are not found in the U.S. that I bring directly from the producers to you here. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information,
It has been a long time since I’ve posted but there have been some traumatic times in the world, especially in Italy so I have been distracted. Their world has been shaken much more than the rest of ours. The results of all those earthquakes through the middle of the country has been so costly in not just lives and resources but so much more. The 23 billion euro that the earthquakes are estimated to have cost in loss of lives, buildings and homes and businesses does not include the losses of personal history and the restoration of some of the history of these areas. It makes me so sad to even think of all the years ahead of recovery. After the first series of quakes last summer some of the surrounding areas told me that every village in the area had cancellations for the entire year for reservations. The loss of upcoming business will close many agroturismi that had no earthquake damages.
I have been plugging along with Expressly Italian trying to bring as much awareness as possible to all the wonderful products that Italians enjoy that we have such limited exposure to. Especially olive oil, which we find are so often deceitfully labeled and poorly handled here. It is why I started to bring oils that I know (because I get them directly from the frantoio, where I can watch them being processed and know them to be fresh). It is only fair to warn you that olive oils are going to be soon be taking a large jump upward in price. Erratic weather in Spain, Italy and Greece, where the bulk of the world’s olive oil is produced, has had decimated crops. Experts say global production is set to fall about 8 percent due to horrible weather throughout Europe with global weather changes.
These shortages come as demand for the product has skyrocketed around the world. China has recently become enamored with olive oil, consuming nearly $200 million worth of olive each year. The country’s nouveau riche see the product as a healthier alternative to other fatty oils. I have read a few articles saying they have begun planting olive trees in climates that are appropriate for their growth, (like the vineyards they are also planting) but it will be years before they will be able to harvest for oil. They import nearly 99 percent of what they use right now.
The Guardian article I read last week stated that since October, the cost of extra-virgin olive oil has jumped 30 percent in Italy, to $6.15 a kg. In Spain, the cost is up about 10 percent, near a seven-year high, according to the International Olive Council in Madrid. In Greece, it’s 17 percent. And forecasters say the worst is yet to come. So far, the only area where the costs have not risen much is California and after the effects of the rains of the last couple of weeks that price stability remains to be seen.
I return to Italy in May and I will know more then about prices. I will be bringing back spices from Campo dei Fiori from Mauro Berardi; honey from Sardinia as well as handmade scarves from La Monticiana in Rome and Florence, Olive oil from Sabina and Tuscany and as always, acting as personal shopper for any items special ordered by clients. If there is anything you want, please get in touch with me. My email: email@example.com
I know the timing is bad since there were more earthquakes this week in the middle of Italy, but this is not about earthquakes, although it is about the earth moving. In Rome, north of the centre city is Ponte Milvio. This happens to be Rome’s oldest bridge, built in 200 BC. It is also the beginning of Rome becoming Christian since the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 300 AD between Constantine and Emperor Maxetius. Constantine after winning the battle spread Christianity throughout his new empire.
The bridge area today has a lot of young nightlife and a great market on the first and second Sunday of every month. Of course, none of this really as anything to do with my story.
This area, abutting the Tiber River has a very high water table. Because of this the city decided they needed a water main to run from the street Via della Farnesina to the river. Being Italy, they ran short of money and stopped completion of the pipe about one quarter mile from the river. I am not sure how long ago this happened, probably years though.
Where the construction was stopped, the water flowed from the open ended pipe onto the soil and naturally, the buildings above were compromised. Picture a pipe funneling water under your house. Yep. That’s the picture.
One day the residents of the apartment building above this pipe woke to find their building was making strange noises. Fortunately they immediately contacted the fire brigade who evacuated everyone. Shortly after the entire building collapsed. The building next to it is no longer standing straight. It tilted about 18 degrees. Somewhat like that leaning tower further north.
They blocked off the street access to the area and posted a couple vigilie trucks and a few guards to keep people out. This was the end of September of this year. The photos below are from last week, the end of October. This building will have to be demolished (as you can see). The government has had an offer by a contractor. He offered to demolish the building and rebuild it if he could add two floors that he would own to either sell or live in. He even offered to house the 100 or so people now homeless while the rebuilding was going on.
This is the part that is soooo Italian government. Because of this really good offer, they are suspicious of this contractor. It has been under “advisement” for some time and I suspect that unless another earthquake collapses the building it will remain as is for many many more months.
In the meantime, there are all the people who cannot even go back into their home to get anything. There are the vigilie guarding the area, along with the blocked road which restricts traffic. Interesting logic.
This could be why the Roman shrug was developed.
We can check back next year to see the status.
Direct Earthquake Relief Personally Delivered
The devastation is worrisome. There is so much these people need. The altitude in Amatrice is over 3,000 feet. The average temperatures in September will soo be in the 50’s, with nighttime temps in the low 40’s. It is imperative to get these people out of tents in the next month. The Croce Rossa Italiana is a great organization and will move quickly to assist, but there needs more.
With investigation, and many discussions with friends in the area in Italy, it seems the best way to maximize the benefit of our donations is to get them directly to the affected residents. Any donations collected by me will be given directly to the Italian Protezione Civile in Amatrice. They are equivalent to our National Guard. They are the boots on the ground digging out the survivors and assisting in housing, etc/ for those affected by the earthquake. The money donated to the Protezione Civile goes directly to help with supplying clothing, shoes and household items as well as food and water. The Red Cross and the government will help with housing and the medical aid as well as food so I thought getting things directly into the hands of the most affected would do the most good.
I am asking that people consider contributing any amount they wish and I will be hand carrying the funds to Italy in early October to disburse directly. You will know that the funds are getting directly to those most in need. And, I have been told you will receive a written thank you from the Protezione civile.
You can make your donations at: paypal.me/expresslyitalian. I am keeping those funds separate from my business so there is no confusion for me and you can be assured it the donations dedicated to this cause are not co-mingled.
If you have any questions, please contact me at: Kathleen@expresslyitalian.com
Thanks again for your generosity. As I stated before, if you prefer you can make direct donations to the International Red Cross in Italy for the earthquake survivors at :
As a Californian I can imagine how traumatic this level of damage is and how long the recovery will take. Help all you can. It will be gratefully accepted I know.
So far this little guy is the last survivor – pulled from the rubble on August 29th.
Funerals started on August 29th. There have already been many group burials and services.This was taken August 30th. As you can see, the work has barely begun.
I have been more than a little lax in keeping up with posts this summer. I only wish it were because I was in Italy, but no such good fortune. But, as August progresses, I am already thinking of my next trip, which is for the month of October. I am putting shopping lists together already. Do not forget to email me if you want me to shop for you.
In the interim, I wanted to share with you the recent posting of one of my favorite food writers, Rachel Roddy. Rachel lives in Italy (a British export) and has written a lovely cookbook, “My Kitchen In Rome”. Her style is simple, home cooking.
Often in American cooking we forget the importance of even the most simple of ingredients. An Italian cook would never waste leftover bread and breadcrumbs are an important part of many Italian recipes. Of course, their bread does not have any chemicals in it and always breaks my heart to see anyone waste even a really stale piece of it.
Here’s a recent column of Rachel’s. I hope you’ll try her suggestions.
Rachel Roddy’s fish with an almond and breadcrumb crust recipe
It is always a pleasure to have Italian casareccio (homemade food). It is even more exciting to enjoy it here in the U.S. and made by a well known Italian cook. Stefania Aphel Barzini has been in the United States giving cooking classes and having events for about a month. She finally reached Los Angeles last week. If you are not familiar with Stefania, take a side trip to her website: www.follecasseroula.com. She does cooking classes in Rome as well as special events and week long events in a few regions outside Rome. And, if you’re planning on a trip to Rome, put her on your list of things not to be missed. Her experience as a food writer, cookbook author and cooking show presenter shine through no matter what she does.
The first event in Los Angeles was sponsored by ArtBites.net. Maite Gomez-Rejón’s company pairs art, history and cooking in tours and classes around the southland. The cooking portion was to be a Tuscan lunch so Maite started at the Los Angeles County Museum talking of Florentine art and artists from the dark ages to the Renaissance. She is very knowledgeable about art history and food. We then moved on to Surfas (a cafe/kitchen store in Culver City). It’s a wonderful kitchen for classes and Stefania along with her assistant Paola made a magical afternoon that ended with a fantastic lunch. They are all so experienced about foods, especially regional products throughout Italy I am always happy to join a class since there is always some new tidbit of information I have never before heard.
The lunch was a Tuscan luncheon and included a fabulous artichoke and potato soup, a panzanella salad and a couple kinds of bruschetta. The meatballs in tomato sauce were unbelievably tasty and the peach upside down cake was a finishing treat.
When you travel finding a cooking class is a great experience and wonderful way to connect to local cuisine and you will remember the experience a long time.
One of the best dishes Stefania prepared was Zolfini bean bruschetta. Unfortunately, you cannot get these terrific beans here in the U.S. They are grown only in a limited area of Tuscany, and not exported. But you can substitute northern navy beans. Try this healthy, high protein antipasto.
Zolfini Bean Bruschetta
Toasted Bread (Italian)
2-1/4 cups zolfini or navy beans
a small rosemary branch
2 cloves of garlic
1 shallot. chopped
really good quality extra virgin olive oil
Sea Salt and Pepper
Sautè 1 garlic clove with the shallot and rosemary in a pan. Turn into a crock pot, add the beans, cover them with water and let cook covered over low heat until beans are softened. Depending on the age and size of the beans – from 2 to 4 hours. Purèe the mixture in a blender or use a stick blender. Rub the bread with a garlic clove, then spread some beans over the top, add a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Serve immediately. So simple, so good and so good-for-you.
Having access to the wonderful foods of Italy that are not readily available in the U.S. is my mission. Expressly Italian is your personal shopper from Italy to you. I want everyone, whether you travel or not, to experience real Italian tastes. Much of the year I have some of the finest extra virgin olive oils (including olio nuovo till it’s gone) and honey from Sardinia (one of the only places on earth with no polution. I want everyone to share the excitement of the wonderful spice mixes from Mauro Berardi’s Campo dei Fiori market stall. I am contacted by people from all over the world asking how to acquire Mauro’s mixes outside of Italy. I have his most popular mixes available all the time. If you are interested in knowing all the items I bring back from Italy twice a year or want me to bring something (duty free) back for you, please drop me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will happily add you to my mailing list.
My love of Italy, the people, the food fuels my life. I hope you share my joy in the Italian way of eating.
Although this year Spring is bringing such strange weather both here and in Italy, it is still Spring. It is the time of new beginnings, new growth, and celebrations all over the world. Italy has wonderful events throughout the country, but some of my favorite are in Rome and all around Lazio. If you will be in Italy during this month make sure you check into some of these very special events.
April 21st is the day celebrating the founding of Rome – Rome was founded in the year 753 BC and the city’s birthday falls on the 21st of April. Each year, various special public events, music concerts, live performances and festivals take place in the city.
In Rome, on Sunday, April 24, beginning at 11 am the lighting of the ceremonial fire at the Circo Massimo, followed by a parade of Centurians, vestal virgins and other vestiges of the Eternal City, that winds around the Teatro Marcello, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Coliseum, Piazza Venezia and back to the Circo Massimo. Then there’s a re-enactment of the founding of Rome at the Circo Massimo, and a “great battle” between the Roman legions and the Barbarians from 3-6 pm. Admission is free. If you’ve never been to a festival in Italy it is an experience you will not forget.
World renowned artist William Kentridge celebrates the realization of Triumphs and Laments: A Project for the City of Rome (the dedication is April 21st this year). This frieze is 550 meters long, between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Mazzini.
The celebratory opening will include the premiere of a theatrical program created in collaboration with the internationally acclaimed composer Phillip Miller, and features a live shadow play and two processional brass bands preforming against the backdrop of the frieze. This is the first open-air space for contemporary art in the Eternal city.
The markets are filled with spring vegetables with the riotous colors lined up for the eye as well as the taste. Fava beans, spring artichokes (hurry before the end of the month when they disappear, white asparagus, puntarelle (if you get there, do be sure to taste this wonderful curly green), agretti (a tangled sea-weed looking green is slightly bitter and slightly salty grass that tastes like the spring marshes where it grows. There are many and well worth the trip for the veggies alone.
To really celebrate the food of Italy you can make some spring treats. I have been lucky enough to find a few fabulous cooking classes and meet some amazing chefs.
Luisanna Messeri is from Tuscany, a great teacher and She was on Alice TV with a cooking show that still runs all the time and is now on Rai Uno with a cooking kitchen show as well as writing columns and publishing a number of cook books (unfortunately, none in English).
Here’s a great spring recipe from Luisanna..
Crema alla frutta
1 liter of water – a little more than a quart
5 organic lemons
300 gr. of sugar – 1-1/2 cups
60 g of cornstarch (corn starch) 1/4 cup
mixed fruit to taste
In a saucepan fitted with the eggs and sugar . Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mixwith care the water and corn starch , so that no lumps are formed.
Combine the mixture to the saucepan with the eggs and sugar and mix well. Start to warm over low heat.
Then grate the zest of the lemon and the squeeze the juice into the cream. Then let the mixture cool in a bowl and put it in the refrigerator at least an hour . Cut your favorite fruits into cubes (she suggests berries, kiwi, apples and grapes and mix gently with the creme. Serve in cups or with a shortbread or cookie side. Fresh and tasty and very springlike.
I am also a huge fan of Stefania Apfel Barzini. We are so lucky that she will be teaching in a number of locations in the U.S. next month. You can check her website for more information: www.follecasseroula.com.
Biancomangiare – also called blancmange in France and Turkey, or in the past blanche Mangieri , balmagier , bramagére , derives its name from the white color of its main ingredients: milky / or ground almonds.
The blancmange was a dish already prepared in medieval times. Presumably imported by the Arabs, it spread to Italy mainly in Sicily, in the twelfth century, where it is found in many cookbooks of the time. It is still a very popular dessert in the south. This dish is often included in Stefania’s cooking classes.
Ingredients for 6 to 8 people (depending on the size of the molds):
1 liter of milk (about 4-1/4 cups)
250 gr. of sugar (1 cup)
75 gr. cornstarch (½ cup)
1 vial of almond essence. (This is different from almond extract) I bring it from Italy for clients
pistachio nuts for garnish
Sieve the starch, sugar into a saucepan.
Add the milk and the vial of almond essence, slowly stirring with a whisk so that no lumps are formed. Cook over low heat just until it bubbles quickly. Stir with a whisk until fluffy. Wet ramikins or molds with cold water and pour mixture into each. Let rest in refrigerator for at least three hours.
Stefania inverts the ramekins onto a plate and decorates with the chopped pistachios.
This might be a good time to mention the benefits and ease of using metric measurements when cooking. It is soooooo much easier and more accurate. Once you’ve weighed your flours, sugars, liquids you’ll never want to go back. Most bakers already use the metric system. I know it’s a tough sell, but do try it at least once.