Summer in Rome

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

 

 

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

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

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

Lupa at CapSat walk 3

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

Trajan Market

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Visiting Mauro Berardi and Campo dei Fiori in May

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

Campo Dei Fiori
Spring markets

 

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

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

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

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

Spring Time in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Italian Logic and the Government – A Short Story

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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.

38bcec3d00000578-3805443-image-a-178_1474726471861They 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.

studio_20161027_065040

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.

ponte-milvio

20161027_135008

This could be why the Roman shrug was developed.

20161016_090943

We can check back next year to see the status.

Terremoto – Amatrice area’s Earthquake

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Tents

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 :
https://www.ammado.com/fundraiser/italy-eq/donate

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.

6 days later cat   So far this little guy is the last survivor –  pulled from the rubble on August 29th.

August+30,+2016.

Funerals started on August 29th.  There have already been many group burials and services.August30This was taken August 30th.  As you can see, the work has barely begun.

Aftermath of deadly Italy earthquake
A volunteer in a tent camp in Amatrice hit by earthquake on August 30, 2016 in Amatrice, Italy. Italy has declared a state of emergency in the regions worst hit by Wednesday’s earthquake as hopes diminish of finding more survivors. At least 290 people are now know to have died and around 400 injured with teams continuing to search the rubble of collapsed buildings. (Photo by Manuel Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

 

 

Summer Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Roddy

Publish

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

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

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

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

Fish with a breadcrumb and almond crust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Home Cooking Italian Style

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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:  expresslyitalian@aol.com 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.

 

 

Ahhh Spring in Italy

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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.  Circo Massimo

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.Tiber _ Triumphs and Laments

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
4 eggs
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.

BIANCOMANGIARE

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.

Now it is Cheese!

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It has been awhile since I’ve posted and partially it has been because it seems like I am on a constant rant about the quality and integrity of the extra virgin olive oil that is available in the U.S.  Unfortunately, our food sources have many more items that need  considerably more monitoring.  With the articles last week about the fillers used in bagged pre-shredded Parmiggiano I felt I could not ignore yet another attack on our food quality and our intelligence.

As a cook, I rarely buy pre-shredded cheese of any type, but it happens.  I know that buying pre-shredded cheese means the cheese starts out a little stale and I know it is easy for suppliers to use lesser quality grades of cheese to shred.  However, last weeks report of how big a percentage of wood pulp is in those pre-packed bags is more than a little disconcerting.  I understand they are trying to keep the cheese from clumping, as well as lower their costs.   However, the best method is adding wood pulp?  That is difficult to believe.  It really seems an economic rather than an rational decision.

It is worth noting that the lower priced brands (especially Walmart and Osco) have higher amounts of wood pulp — in one case, up to 8%.  But, Kraft, which labels their grated Parmesan as 100% cheese has almost 4 percent wood pulp.  How can this be acceptable?  It is apparently not enough to read labels, now we must devine what 100% natural means.

shredded Parm

I do not believe there is inherent danger in consuming wood pulp, in fact, it would seem wood pulp would be  much better for you than many of the chemicals they add to increase looks, anti clumping, and so many other supposedly necessary visual aids.   I do think we need to insist that the information be available on the package, not have to rout around the internet to find out accurate information about what we are putting in our families bodies.   There can only be concern on the manufacturers side about adding the information deterring us from buying their product.

Convenience is great, but if we are taking that convenience to the extreme of long term harm to ourselves and our families we need to reconsider.  And, we are paying a top price for that convenience and should that not include our safety?

In general it is of utmost importance to concentrate on supplying our tables with foods as close to fresh as possible.  Eating locally is always less expensive as is fresh.  Knowing your sources is  paramount.

Expressly Italian was started on the premise that we are offered products less than ideal at the grocery store level as well as the imported products.  By personally selecting and bringing the products directly from Italy I know the suppliers.  None are large manufacturers.  None export product to the United States.  I have only olive oils that I know come directly from the source.  I still have some of this season’s extra virgin olive oil available. And, truthfully, the olive oils, the honey and even the spices I offer are actually the same or less costly than what is available here.

I often bring Parmigiano Reggiano back with me as well.  There is a huge taste difference between what is available here.  Not sure why that is, but the flavor is just not as rich.  The spices from Campo dei Fiori enable a quick meal at any time with no fillers and lots of flavor.   And of the myriad of spice mixes now available I find the spice mixes from Mauro Berardi stay potent much, much longer than anything else.  And, they are hand mixed.  I do not believe there is dirt, substituted ingredients or any old sticks to be found in any of his spices.  Something few other spice providers can claim.  If you haven’t tried them, you should.  If you are interested in more information, please contact me at expresslyitalian@gmail.com.

If you are willing to take a few extra minutes to consider the quality of foods you are using, it is quite easy to have the healthiest of meals all the time and for a reasonable cost.  Plus knowing you are getting the full benefits of the vitamins, minerals and amino acids and fats you are consuming is satisfying in so many ways.

My advice: Take the time to read labels, search out good sources and stay with them.  Be skeptical.  Pay a little more for the best available.  I think you’ll find that the flavors are more intense, richer and fresher tasting.

Next time:   Famous cook, Stefania Apfel Barzini is doing some touring in the United States and doing some private dinners, some cooking exhibitions and cooking classes.  I hope to have a schedule soon.

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Stefania Barzini in her kitchen

 

Eating well without being in Italy

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All the New Year’s resolutions are in place.  Now to implement them.  There is a world of difference between intent and accomplishment isn’t there?   Oñe of my personal goals is to become an even more aware eater this year.  That means not just thinking before stuffing a biscotti in my mouth, but to question ingredients even more.

Frankly, it is pretty disheartening to realize how compromised our food system is.   Price is no guarantee of quality.  Reputable stores do not assure you products are really as advertised.    It has become a major job and time eater just to grocery shop.  And it is not all that much better in Italy these days.  So what do we do?

pizzoccheri
Pizzoccheri – made with buckwheat noodles

Keeping it simple helps a little.  Eat mostly fresh foods,  the closer I can stay to traditional Italian cooking, especially cucina povera, (cooking of the poor) the better.  It is not difficult to find good pasta in the U.S.  Look for good quality, especially bronze cut pastas.  Always check the dates.  It should be about year ahead for dried pasta.  I find that Berilla is one of the best selling dried pastas in Italy.  Good enough for me.  The artisanal pastas are great ( I often see them at TJ Maxx or World Market), and the different shapes are always fun, but I do not find them necessary for normal cooking.  (And, again, check dates.  Sometimes those are the oldest pastas).

With a well stocked pantry (in an upcoming post I will give a serious list to help) you can always cook a great, healthy dinner in less than 30 minutes.  Winter weather always makes me feel like Ribollita – the Tuscan bread soup.  It makes a huge pot that tastes better every day.   And, it makes me feel healthy.

Here’s a recipe I adapted to use Campo dei Fiori Spice Mix, and you can use Mauro’s Mix as well.

Ribollita  – Tuscan Bread Soup

This is a traditional Tuscan soup that stays good till you finish it. Days or even a week and it holds up perfectly. Supposedly it should be thick enough for a spoon to stand straight if you put it in the pot. I adjusted the recipe to use Campo dei Fiori Spice Mix or Mauro’s Mix  to ‘kick’ up the flavor a little more.   

1 onion finely chopped
1 leek sliced
2 quarts chicken broth
1 head kale or nappa cabbage or regular cabbage
2 stalks celery sliced
1/2 cup parsley leaves chopped
2 carrots sliced
2 zucchini sliced
1 small bunch basil leaves torn
1 10-ounce can cannellini beans or kidney or borlotti
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tsp Campo dei Fiori Spice Mix (to taste – you might start out with only 1 tsp and adjust)
1 teaspoon salt preferably sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil extra virgin
1/2 pound stale Italian bread
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Sautè onion and leek in 1/4 cup olive oil several minutes until translucent.
Add a cup of chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the kale, other vegetables, and basil to the onions and broth.
Cook for 20 min., covered. Add the beans and the rest of the broth. Add tomato paste, oregano and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cook for 90 minutes. At this point it should not be thick. It is best to let the soup rest a day in the refrigerator. It does deepen the flavor a lot.
Put the soup in a pot and layer the soup with thin slices of day old bread. It doesn’t make any difference how stale, or whether it’s torn or sliced, or what kind (although a good Italian or French is best). Heat while stirring until the bread breaks up and thickens the soup. You can add more broth or water if needed (but I haven’t ever needed any).

When the soup is done, turn off the heat and stir in 1/4 cup olive oil. Taste for salt. Serve with fresh grated cheese on top. It just gets better and better. This is the typical cucina povera of Italy.  

Ribollita

It is unfortunate that we have to spend so much energy to decide what is good for us, but it is worth the time to protect your health.

I hate to continue to nag about olive oil, but it seems every week there is more evidence that so much of what is available is either mislabeled, overpriced or not even real olive oil.   If you did not see the expose on “CBS 60 Minutes” recently, look for the video online.  I know that much of the oils imported are not good, but I really didn’t think about the extent of mafia involvement.  I do know they send containers of oil to the U.S. which is then bottled here.  It can have sat waiting for customs in the heat for a month, which destroys most of the value of the extra virgin oil, but they still label and sell it as premium oil.   I used to hear that Europeans did not send their best oils because Americans did not know the difference.  Unfortunately, most Americans have still not tasted good olive oil.

A friend forwarded a newsletter from Brenda Watson, an author and expert on digestive health care.   She had lists of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ olives oil.    This was apparently originally from a Consumer Reports study.  I won’t drag on about the ‘good’ list.  The bottom line is always, read the label.  It should have the per cent of acid in the oil, the date of harvest and best use by.  And, it is important to know exactly where it comes from.  In Italy, the city is always on the label, usually the type of olives and to qualify as extra virgin the acidity level must be below  0.8%.  Don’t pay for any extra virgin not labeled as such.

The bad oils are a real disappointment.  Those are most of the best known oils available in our stores.  Do not think you are getting the health benefits of olive oil if you are using these:

Bertolli, Carapelli, Colavita, Star, Pompeian, Filippo Berio, Mazzola, Mezzetta, Newman’s Own, Safeway and some of the Whole Foods oils (other than their 365).

I bring back only olive oil that I can find at the frantoio (olive mill), where they follow the very stringent laws of Italy to produce their extra virgin oil.  As often as possible I bring the olio nuovo (which is the first pressing of the beginning of the harvest).  It is rarely sold in stores.  And, the on-line sales run into the same problems of temperature variations and delays.  And, their prices are higher than mine.   I still have this season’s harvest oils so if you want to experience the true liquid gold of Italian Olive oil, get in touch with me at expresslyitalian@aol.com, or leave a note here.

In addition to olive oil, I still have honey from Sardinia and dried Porcini from my last trip.  I am constantly searching out the finest, freshest products.  My last stop on every trip is Campo dei Fiori in Rome to meet with Mauro Berardi.  Mauro is generous with his time and they always pack me the freshest spice mixes.   If you are out, get in touch.  I usually have on hand his primary mixes.  I can always shop for you when I am there for some of the more unusual products from him, just let me know what you want and I’ll get it for you.

I know that having to spend so much energy reading labels is a drag.  I am finding that it makes such a difference in the flavor of what you cook though, it is well worth the extra time.  Be healthy!   Eat Italian.