Spring is Happening – at least in Italy

Posted on Updated on

Finally the rain has stopped and the temperature is warming some.  There’s not much more than 20 degrees difference between the high and low temperatures the last couple of weeks and hopefully that will continue.

In Italy, Spring means vegetables.  Primizie –  first of the season.    Around Lazio there are so many spring vegetables, many of them, most Americans have never experienced.    The Italian way is to eat as much as you can of the produce as it comes into season and then it’s gone.   Prepared as simply as possible, often with nothing more than olive oil and a few spices.

Most Italians, at least those over the age of 25, are foragers.  No matter where you drive in the springtime you’ll see cars parked alongside the roads and there will be people hunting  for the delicacies found in the fields everywhere.   Whether it’s for wild asparagus, punarelli or another chicory or other wild greens, like biete  or insalata campagnolo.

Artichokes (Carciofi)

March and April still have carciofi (artichokes) available.  They are smaller and much tastier than our globe artichokes.  Outside of Rome, Ladispoli has it’s carciofi festival.    Usually the second weekend in April, they

Ladispoli artichoke-festival

There are 50 different varieties of artichoke grown in Italy, but the romanesco variety is the most popular and has gained the EU designation of origin for produce, IGP.

Ladispoli is close enough to Rome that it draws tons of people and there are all manner of

presentation of artichokes.   I plan on getting there this year on my next trip.

Ladispoli floatArtichokes Romana  photo by G. Parisi Artichokes Romana                 photo by G. Parisi

Fava Beans

Ah and the fava beans.  May 1st is a traditional day to have fava beans and they are at all the open air markets and along side the roads in trucks.  Mostly they are bought and put on the table in bowls with a dish of Pecorino alongside.  You sit around the table and split the long beans open and pop the beans out, eating them with the Pecforino.  I believe the first time I had them like this  was at our Italian family’s home on a Sunday.  They must have been 12 inches long, bright green and quite plump.  She plopped  the hunk of Pecorino down and said “Mangia”.  And we did!

Puntarelle

I’d never seen or heard of puntarelle before moving to Italy.  May brings these cute little green curls into the markets.  Usually they are in a bucket of ice water.  They are tender and usually served fresh with just a little lemon juice and olive oil or an anchovy vinaigrette.  Fragile, fresh and delightful.

The perfect recipe for spring is vignarola.  There are versions from almost every region, but I like the Roman Vignarola.  Try this recipe.

2 halved lemons        5 large artichokes (about 12 oz. each)        1-1/2 bCups shelled fresh or frozen fava beans       1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed         1 large thinly sliced onion        1 sprig oregano       2 oz. guanciale (hard to find here) or pancetta (I use Trader Joe’s)     Salt        2 cups shelled fresh (or frozen) peas       1/4 cup parsley      2 Tablespoons chopped mint leaves      a teaspoon or more lemon juice to taste     Pepper

Prepare the artichokes:

Fill a large bowl halfway with cold water.  Squeeze the lemons into the water and add the rinds to the bowl.  Using a serrated knife, cut off the top third of an artichoke.  Pull back and snap off the dark green, leafy blades, one by one, until only the pale yellow leaves remain.   Using a paring knife, trim the artichoke bottom and stem to the pale green flesh, then cut it in half lengthwise.

Drop into the water (that keeps them from turning brown) and repeat with the remaining artichokes.  Using a spoon, scoop out the prickly leaves and hairy choke.  Cut each half into 4 wedges and return to the water until ready to use.

If using fresh fava beans, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Fill a large bowl two-thirds full with ice water.  When the water comes to a boil, add the beans and cook for 1 minute, tjen drain and immediately submerge the beans in the ice water.  Peel the beans by gently tearing the pale skins and pinching at one end (it’s really easy).  Discard the skins, reserving the dark green interior bean.

To cook the ragout:  Heat a 12 inch non reactive pan over medium heat.  Add 1/4 cup olive oil and when hot, add the onion, oregano and guanciale (or pancetta).  Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion and pancetta are translucent, about 10 minutes.  Drain artichokes and add to the pan, along with 2 cups water and 1-1/4 teaspoons salt.  Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until artichokes are just tender, about 25 minutes.  If using frozen favas, add them and cook for 2 minutes.  If using fresh favas or frozen edamame, add them, along with the peas and cook until warm and tender, about 5 minutes more.  Remove the oregano sprig.  Sprinkle in parsley and mint.  Season with lemon juice, fresh ground black pepper and if desired, additional salt.  Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve.  It’s really wonderful and makes you feel like life is starting over all fresh and new.

My next trip is approaching.  I will be in Italy most of the month of April.  Shopping for requested items as well as bringing back some really lovely little items for all of you.  If you want anything specific, let me know by email.  I’m excited to be in Italy again.  This trip will take me to Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio.  A presto e avere una fame da lupo (I’ll be back soon, stay hungry as a wolf).

Italian Winters – Sparkling, Exciting and Full of Great Food

Posted on Updated on

Image

Pizzoccheri is the perfect solution to cold and hungry after skiing or any winter day.

Pizzoccheri is a flat wide noodle (similar in size to tagliatelle) made with buckwheat.  Buckwheat
is used in the north of Italy more because you cannot grow much wheat in mountainous regions.  At least that’s my thoughts on why buckwheat is so prevalent.    Pizzoccheri is a dish of the Alps – around Piemonte it’s always made with cabbage and Fontina cheese. While it’s not easy to find the Pizzoccheri noodles in the U.S. it is sometimes in the Italian deli’s at this time of year. Here’s a great recipe to try. It was originally published: December 29, 2008 in the NY Times by Mark Bittman Time: 30 minutes

pizzoccheri 1 stick butter ( 1/4 pound)
4 fresh sage leaves
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 medium potato, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small head Savoy cabbage, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 pound flat, broad buckwheat noodles (pizzoccheri) or whole wheat noodles
1 cup fontina Val d’Aosta (or other good semisoft) cheese grated
1 cup Parmesan, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups homemade bread crumbs.   * see note

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter with sage and garlic until butter turns nut-brown; be careful not to burn sage leaves. Set aside.  2. Cook potato and cabbage in boiling water until they begin to soften, just 5 minutes or so. Add pasta to same pot and continue to cook until pasta is about 1-1/2 minutes from done.Drain.    3. In a large oven-proof dish, spread a layer of vegetable-pasta combination, then a layer of grated fontina, then a layer of grated Parmesan; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Continue this layering until all ingredients are used, ending with a layer of Parmesan; ideally you will have four layers of each. Cover dish with bread crumbs and drizzle with melted butter and sage (discard garlic). Bake for about 15 minutes, or until top is golden-brown and cheese has melted. Serve hot or warm.  Yield: 3 to 4 servings.

* this is one of the items I always bring back from Italy.  They have a way of toasting and making the finest, driest and most tasty bread crumbs.  I have not found anything locally that is as fine, toasty-colored and tasty.

A Turino Specialty to dream about:   Bicerin

For all us chocolate lovers, Torino is the place to go.  I know Perugia is a really well known for Perugina chocolates but the real history of Italian chocolate starts in Piemonte.   Torino is the chocolate capital of Italy.The International Chocolate Fair is in November, but the chocolate flows all year in Torino. Although Christopher Columbus first brought Cocoa beans back from Mexico to Spain, they hoped to keep them all for themselves and did formany years.  It wasn’t until 1606 that an Italian traveler, Antonio Carletti, brought the cocoa home to Italy. And he created the first chocolate mania.  It spread throughout Europe continuing to move from medicinal to the treat it is today, although most of us still believe chocolate is medicinal.

Bicerin is a winter drink invented in Torino in the 18th century.  It is still made only there. The word bicerin means little glass — and if you like it you’ll be joining august company: Alexandre Dumas, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso were all Bicerin fans. The caffè in Torino all keep their recipes secret, but I’ve found one close to the heavenly drink they make there.

Try this one:
1/3 cup high quality cocoa powder (like Venchi’s Cacao Due Vecchi cocoa), or
dark chocolate shavings
Sugar to taste
2/3 cup chilled heavy cream
Enough espresso for 2 long shots, about 2/3 cup

1. At least 15 minutes ahead, put a jar or shaker in the freezer. Fill 2 water goblets or Irish Coffee mugs with hot tap water. 2. In a small saucepan combine chocolate with about 2/3 cup water, and set over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until chocolate coats the spoon, about 10 min. Add sugar to taste. (They make it really sweet). Shut off heat. 3. Empty glasses and wipe dry. Remove jar from freezer, add cream and shake vigorously 1 minute. Make the espresso. To each glass or mug add a shot of espresso and 1/3 cup chocolate and carefully spoon 1/3 cup cream over top. Do NOT stir. Serve immediately.

If you’ve ever had hot chocolate in Rome you know about the thick, really hot, sweet almost pudding-like drink they serve as hot chocolate. It’s another item I always bring home – Ciobar is a great mix that uses milk and can even be made in the microwave. So good. It certainly seems medicinal to me.

 

Current Selections – Products and Prices

Image Posted on Updated on

You will come to think of me as your Personal Shopper in Italy. I can show you many things about the experiences of living, eating and shopping in Italy, all in the comfort of your home. At this time of year, the markets are filled with asparagus, artichokes and winter vegetables. Some of the finest of the late season foods are dried for use all year.

There are dried porcini — the most magnificent mushrooms you’ll ever taste Their fragrance is almost overpowering in their dried form. It is earthy and reminds you of fields and warm fires.

PORCINI – Dried Mushrooms   (Boletus Edulis)
Italy delivered Dec 013 Porcini Prices
50 grams (about 1 cup) $30
70 grams $42
100 grams $60   (100 grams is about 3.5 oz)

3 oz. re-hydrates to about 1 pound of mushrooms

Heavenly in risotto, or any soup, stew or pasta dish
Heavenly in risotto, or any soup, stew or pasta dish

POMODORI SECCHI – SUNDRIED TOMATOES
These most beautiful, bright sun dried tomatoes you’ll ever see.
From Campagna, they are richly flavored and can be used dried or re-hydrated. Don’t forget to use any of the liquid used to hydrate – it’s very flavorful and can add a depth of flavor and richness to any dish.

3 oz.  Price: $ 17.00                         8 oz. $ 35.00       Their flavor is so intense, a little goes a long way.

Here’s a great recipe for a dried tomato vinaigrette. Lots of flavor and fresh taste for any kind of greens.

Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon minced shallots
½ teaspoon chopped fresh herbs (any mix of basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, mint)
2 tablespoons chopped dried tomatoes, rehydrated in tepid water for 10 min.
1 small clove minced garlic
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Place all ingredients except oil in food processor and puree about 4-5 minutes. While processor is running, slowly drizzle oil into other ingredients. Yield is about 1 cup.

Campagna Sundried Tomatoes

I am so happy to be able to bring you spices from the world famous fresh market in Campo dei Fiori, Rome. This market has been in existence since the 13th century. While “Spezie Famose nel Mondo” (Famous spices of the world) has been there at least three generations, the Berardi brothers have increased the scale and size of their booth. Mauro has developed a way of flash freeze drying the spices so they retain their flavor a full two years if kept in the plastic bags they sell them in. Marco works in the booth, but I’m not sure he speaks any English, he’s the quiet brother. Marco, on the other hand is Mr. Personality and  is quick to pull out his notebook of press clippings from all over the world. While he promised for about ten years to create a website, I’m pretty certain it will never happen. BUT.. He has agreed to permit me to finally bring his spices to the US.

Spezie Famose nel Mondo
Spezie Famose nel Mondo

Right now, I have a number of the mixes:
The most popular is Campo dei Fiori Mix – it’s a combination of garlic, parsley, oregano, pepper, red pepper flakes and more.

Campo dei Fiori Mix –  2 oz.   $7.50,     4 oz. $14.00,   –    8 oz. $27.00

Puttanesca Mix    –  2 oz.   $7.50,    4 oz. $14.00,          –   8 oz. $27.00

Mauro’s Mix – This is without garlic and can be used with or without heat.     2 oz. $ 7.50,    4 oz.    $14.00   –    8 oz. $27.00

Red Pepper Flakes from Naples – Peperoncini
2 oz.  $ 7.00,    4 oz. $14.00     –    8 oz. $27.00

Cacio & Pepe – (This is really a extra fine ground pepper)
2 oz.  4.65,     4 oz. $ 9.50,       8 oz.   $18.80

L’Aquila Saffron threads .5 gram jar $20.00

I’ve still got some really flavorful, fruity extra virgin olive oil – it’s from the Tivoli area just outside Rome, made in a small commune that takes the olives from the tree to the frantoio (press) within 4 hours. It’s fresh, fruity and mostly to be used as that last drizzle on a dish before it’s served. The last little touch that makes anything outstandingly fresh and really fine tasting. I have a few 8 oz. bottles which are $20.

Olio Nuovo from Tivoli
Olio Nuovo from Tivoli

Please note our prices are based on current availability and exchange rates. Email your order requests and we’ll reply immediately with what we can deliver immediately. Contact me for information on how to order.

In April I will have Tuscan and Umbrian honeys, olive oils and jars of mostarda from the north. Mostarda is a delicious sweet-spicy condiment used on everything from cheese to meat dishes.
I’ll be in Tuscany (Florence, Orvieto, Siena) Umbria (Rieti, Spello, and probably Perugia) and Abruzzo (L’Aquila) and possibly Bari and Palermo. If you have any special requests please let me know and I’ll be happy to accommodate you.

Contact us for orders, questions or requests.

email:  expresslyitalian@aol.com

Ph:  310-337-1391 or  0039-339-674-0879

Please follow our blog so you are updated on our selections.

Buon Natale – Christmas in Italy

Image Posted on Updated on

Christmas In Italy is a magical experience everyone should enjoy at least once.

In Italy it’s always about the food, so naturally, Italians revel in the holiday season. There are many special dishes served only at this time of year. There are regional baked goods that are unique to each area, although now more are available throughout Italy and even in the United States.  Panettone seems pretty easy to find these days, although, the ones shipped here for US consumption are not nearly as tasty or varied as those available in Italy.

I especially love the holiday markets which are throughout Italy. Although some of the biggest are in the northern part of the country like Trentino-Alto Adige and Emilia Romagna. Florence, Rome and Naples are also filled with the holiday spirit. The most famous market in Rome is in Piazza Navona. There are fewer crafts people and more mass-produced items in the market than in years past, but the spirit is still contagious.  Christmas Market, Piazza Navona

There’s lots of music, singing and families enjoying the season wandering from booth to booth around the fountains. It’s magical at night to see the fountains lit and flowing amidst the crowds.

Rome’s holiday season stretches much longer than ours. Christmas eve is the traditional feast of the 7 fishes (in some parts of Italy it’s 5, 9 or more or just ‘feast of the fishes’). Many families still hold strongly to this tradition, whether it’s actually 7 dishes or less. Usually there will be some fish antipasto, then a seafood pasta and definitely baccalà and anguilla (eel) if you are in Lazio. Christmas Day is less prescribed. It’s just enjoying family and as many dishes as you can imagine. Our most enjoyable Christmas in Rome was spent with our Italian family. I think we were 24 or 25 people in all. We managed to fill the room with a few tables and everyone moved around to talk with everyone else, while more and more food was served. And, then, Santo Stefano Day, which is the 26th of December. It’s a national holiday and often families will tour the nativity scenes (presepe) in town. In the town of Putignano in the region of Apulia they celebrate with a big Carnival, which, incidentally, is the oldest in the world and has been held for 616 years.

Generally, Italians celebrate the holiday season until January 6th, the feast of the epiphany. It is also the day La Befana arrives. And, the story of La Befana is one of my favorites. Gifts arrive with La Befana (the witch) who preceded Santa Claus and possibly even Christianity in much of Italy. Especially around Rome the tradition of La Befana is still very strong. The tale of La Befana, who was an old crone who was famous for cleaning her house and working in her kitchen is this. On the first Christmas, the Magi stopped by her house, asking directions to Bethlehem. She made them dinner and they told her, “We’re going to see the Christ child, want to come along?” “Impossible,” she replied. “There’s all these dishes to wash and the kitchen to sweep!” So the kings went on their way. Then, as the old woman was sweeping, it hit her: Did I make a terrible mistake? Could they really be going to see Jesus? She ran out the door to try to catch them holding onto her broom. She kept running, until her broom lifted her off the ground and she was flying.

La Befana
La Befana
And, she’s been flying the night sky on the Eve of the Epiphany ever since. She delivers goodies to children, hoping one of them is the Christ child. She knows no child has been perfect all year, so she fills their stockings with a mix of treats – coal (actually a really delicious black rock candy) and all types of sweets. I’ve brought back flying Le Befane for many of my friends who love this tradition as much as I do.

Have a wonderful holiday season. Felice Anno Nuovo (Happy New Year)