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
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.
Rome is my favorite city in the world. I love being here. Although sometimes the graffiti and dirt dismay me, and admittedly my stomach often reaches my throat when I see how close cars come to one another or worse to the buses, While I am far too old to consider driving a motorino in this city, or maybe I never had that kind of courage, I do admire all those lovely women on their way to work looking worldly and chic. And I wish I had found myself in Rome much sooner.
I remind myself often that I am not a tourist on vacation. My schedules are full but have nothing to do with tour groups or monuments. My friendships in Rome run very deep and anchor me solidly to this country. I am welcomed into the home of a dear friend no matter the duration of my stay or how frequently I “visit”. I have parts of myself stuck in Florence, Milan and a few other cities as well. But, Rome . . . . Being here is more about reconnecting to the people and places so dear to my heart than just visiting. I am in Rome, but not of Rome. Too many people have passed over her streets and vicoli for me to ever really be a part of all this history. Sometimes I regret not having found myself in Rome earlier in life, but I do not really believe it would be different. I have not given up on speaking Italian well, but I have been re-thinking my aspirations of fluency. Yet each conversational attempt is met with affection and patient correction. from strangers as well as my friends. My days are crushed with the same things anyone returning home has; setting up meetings, making phone calls to friends planning lunches and dinners, and for me shopping. And, getting here is the beginning I need arrangements for travel to shop in Milan, Florence, and on this trip Bari. Expressly Italian was born to help cover the costs of my travel. No plans for expansions, or growth, only my desire to continue striving to afford my need to be in Italy.
It is exciting since every trip brings new people into my life, new products to share with Americans. Today, I was introduced to a lovely woman living south of Rome. She has lived in Italy fifty years, although she was born in India. She is intelligent, well spoken and thoughtful. And her name is Ushabella. Is that not a lovely name? She had worked many years for an airline when she was laid off. Then she began to think of ways to utilize her talents and connections. She is currently representing a cable and wiring company from Delhi. She also has pashmina from India nicer than I have seen in years to sell.
They are luscious colors and really fine quality. Unfortunately for both of us, Expressly Italian specializes in only Italian products produced by Italians. But I will certainly see if I find anyone to connect her with. There is synergy wherever you look and more understanding of how much different and the same we all are if you are interested.
I am grateful that Expressly Italian is offering me the challenge of getting real Italian tastes into mouths outside of Italy. Each trip I seem to find new beauty unseen by me before. I know that will never end. At heart, Italy is really all about beauty; in words, art, mountains or sea coasts.
I hope if you have been here or not visited recently that you will see for yourself how life changing Italy can be for you. In the meantime you can allow Expressly Italian to introduce you to the many items never sent outside Italy. You can try some of the special olive oils produced in small batches, some of the famous Mauro Berardi spic3 mixes from Campo dei Fiori or some of Sardinia’s purest, healthiest honeys Stefano cultivates and soooo much more. Email or comment but do send your questions or requests.
This is one of the few times I am happy to be near the Pacific Ocean rather than the seas around Italy. The current heat wave in Italy has been devastating in so many ways. It is unbelievable to hear of tornadoes in Venice, or people dying at the beach from the heat, or just this week, 140 people in Piemonte dying from the heat, but that’s been the news for the last few weeks in Italy. Well, of course, that and continuing chaos that the fire in May at Fiumicino has created. No, the airport is still operating at only 60 percent of normal and no finish date for the repairs from fire damage in sight.
So, what’s the good news about summer? If you are traveling to Italy in the next month or two, put L’Aquila on your itinerary. It’s in Abruzzo, and the altitude means less heat and less humidity. While it is still recovering from the tragic earthquake years ago, it is a beautiful, peaceful town. To the north west there is also Aosta in Piemonte,in the east, Bolzano and Cortina D’Ampezzo. In other words, if you are in Italy, enjoy the mountains. No snow, but much cooler weather than the southern parts of the country.
All kinds of records are being set this year besides the heat.
Highlighting the significance of the project a Lego spokesperson told La Repubblica, “Each small brick was important in reaching the record, in the same way that all our daily actions are important in building a better future.” I think that’s a pretty uplifting analogy for plastic blocks.
And, I understand, that even with Milan’s heat, that the Expo Milano 2015 is having staggering crowds. Some of the pavilions are experiencing wait lines of up to two hours. I am certainly glad I went in May. I still believe the opportunity to see this event is worth the many hassles.
And, whether you are here, there or anyplace in the world, it is a time to be thinking of light, fresh and easy to prepare food. Especially those dishes that do not require heating up your home. So salads are great, grilling is second nature to California and the combination of the two is heavenly.
The best summer salad? Panzanella is the perfect salad for summer. There are so many recipes you can put almost anything in as long as you use stale bread and the best ripe tomatoes you can find. The recipe below is one I have used a number of times, it is simple and really great.
Panzanella Toscana Serves 6
about 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks or small wedges; about 3/4 pound bread (at least 1 day old), that you cut into cubes; about 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and a dozen basil leaves, roughly torn and about 1 cup or so of arugula. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, bread, arugula, basil, and onions.
In a small bowl, vigorously whisk together 1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar and 2 cloves of finely minced garlic drizzle dressing over salad. Season generously with salt and pepper, toss to combine, and let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. (This allows the flavors to blend and the juices of the tomatoes to soften the bread).
It always amazes me how truly fantastic tasting this simple combination is and how everyone seems to love it.Give yourself a summer cooking break and try it yourself.
Enjoy the rest of your summer.
I have been in Italy a week or so. It’s not like traveling anymore. It is more like visiting my home. While I live in Los Angeles, my heart and mind often wanders to Italy. There are just so many beautiful an interesting places to visit throughout the country there seems never enough time.
This shopping trip is a little less hectic than the fall trip. I will make my visits to Mauro Berardi in Campo dei Fiori. It seems his self proclaimed Famous Spices of the World is a true statement. Almost every week I get an email request for information on how to acquire his spice mixes. They are amazing. He sells seemingly vast quantities of spices, but they are all still mixed by hand in his offices nearby the campo. Lately there are a couple of other vendors using “Campo dei Fiori Spice Mix” on their spices blends, but they are nothing like his mix. So, he is now referring to his mix as Maruro Berardi’s Pasta Mix. I am not certain this is a great change since many people will think that is all the spices are good for is pasta. His mix is universal not only in appeal, but in the ways it can be used. I rarely make eggs without a dash of this mix, or soups, stews, marinades or dry rubs, even in salads. In fact, I use it constantly since it can be cooked or used as is. So, if you are looking for Mauro, he is in the same place as always, but the mix name has changed.
Now that we are straight on that, I can tell you how exciting this trip really is. It is wonderful to be buying items for my clients and know that they are not paying 30% more than the price seems. I love that the dollar has been staying around $1.10 to a euro. I hope it keeps there for awhile (as I am sure all my clients do as well).
I have been busy shopping and have purchased some pre-ordered products for clients, including the spices. Also some of the amazing flavorful preserves that have so much more flavor than the U.S. varieties seem to. Maybe it is they use so much less sugar that you can taste the fruit?
I am off to Milan early next week. I look forward to meeting up with Stefano to pick up honey. I learn something new every time I meet with him. He has been worried I would not arrive soon enough since the current harvest product is almost gone and it will be awhile until the next harvest. Sardegna has one of the only totally pollution free environments left in the world. No insecticides, no soil additives, no smog. It is not wonder that Sardegna produces honey with thhe highest levels of antioxidants. He sells much of his honey for the health benefits, but I love the taste of almost all of them. And, my clients love all his products, the propolis, his beauty cream (which has only bee pollen, bees wax, olive oil and lemon oils) and his “Bomba” and “Rispero” for well being and breathing problems.
In addition to the honey from Sardegna this trip I am bringing bottarga as well. I have been bringing Tuscan bottarga from the Maremma, but thought I’d try the Sardinian bottarga which is supposed to be fabulous. It should be — it is quite expensive. I think I will buy a whole piece and divide it for my clients so it will only be pricey.
I cannot wait to see the scarves for spring and summer that I buy there as well. I do not bring many back, but I seem to have requests for them every trip.
If you are not on my mailing list, please get on it! Send me your name and address in an email to: ExpresslyItalian@gmail.com. I’ll make sure you are kept informed about my offerings.
I have another dinner with friends tonight, It is reassuring to know you cannot have a bad meal in Italy, Well, I guess you can, if you frequent tourist restaurants. So, do not do that.
If you are planning trip to Italy and would like to connect with some cooking classes or garden tours, I have some suggestions for the Rome area and I would be happy to help. And do not forget Expo Milan – from May 2 through October.
Having recently, about two days ago, returned from an extensive trip in Italy, I’ve been reluctant to discuss olive oil production in Italy this year. It was a little depressing, so I put it off. Many of my blog and newsletter followers were eagerly awaiting my return for their olio nuovo and I hated to disappoint them.
But, here I am, back in California, and without their olio nuovo. The sad fact is, there is little to no olio nuovo in Italy this year. What little there is in most regions is being hoarded by families there. Maybe Liguria has some, or Campania, (which is never mentioned without the comment “that’s a whole different thing”), but wherever I asked I was told with a sad shake of the head, ‘none this year’. In fact, in Lazio, around Sabina, where I often get most of the oil I bring, they didn’t bother to harvest at all. Neither did most of Umbria, nor much of Tuscany. Everywhere I asked it was the same response. The terrible rains that were all over Italy this year ruined their crops, which were likely to have had a light crop anyway due to a really heavy crop last year, but no one suspected this.
The rains caused immense damage, so the olives were tiny, malformed and became infested with a fruit fly. According to an a news article I read just before leaving in Sabina a group of growers is trying to assess the amount of damages to ask for assistance from the government for their losses.
The price of olive oil is set to soar after a widespread failure of the annual harvest in large parts of Italy. A wet summer in combination with a fruit fly blight has led to some producers not harvesting at all this year. Production fell by up to 80 per cent in some areas of Italy, a farmers’ cooperative said.
Many farmers felt it was not worth the money or time to harvest at all. The newspapers in England have projected increases in olive oil topping an additional 2 pounds per bottle before summer.
Paolo Calosi owner of a farm in in Sesto Fiorentino, Tuscany, where 1000 trees were hit by the fly, said: ‘Unfortunately this year we will not produce extra virgin oil because the fly has damaged all the trees.
So, what I bought was year old very good extra virgin oil that still has a life span of another year that it will retain it’s flavor. But it was much more expensive that it would have been last year. And, I know in my heart that by next summer, the oils will be 4 to 8 euro more per bottle than now. There will be no more olive oil until next harvest in the fall of 2015. And, I also have little faith in those importers being honest about the value and taste of what they’ll be delivering to the U.S. as extra virgin oil from Italy. BEWARE!
Be prepared to pay more. The oil I have is almost double what it was last year. If it is not expensive, ask lots of questions. If it is not due to expire in 2015, ask when it was harvested and where. The only good harvests I found were in Livorno. They had a bumper crop this year. I’ve learned so much about the varieties and tastes of olive oils and I still have so much more to learn. It is an elixer of health and should be used as a fresh drizzle on almost any dish. Use the less expensive oil for frying, save the cold pressed, and olio nuovo type delicate oils for that fresh, fruity or peppery taste as you serve your food. It’s worth whatever the money, just know what you are getting.
Extra virgin olive oil does not age well
Check the date on the bottle and make sure you are getting oil produced during the last harvest. Buy only the quantity you might need for the year to make sure you are not stuck with old olive oil when the new fresh one is out on the shelves. The very best of the extra virgin olive oils retain their full flavor for only two years. They are still usable for another year, just not as good. In America, we are often using rancid oil without any idea it is too old.
Green colour does not automatically means top quality. The most emphasized organoleptic characteristics of extra virgin olive oil is often the colour that should range between green and yellow. However, a deep green colour does not automatically indicates a better quality oil. Professional olive oil tasters use blue or green coloured tasting glasses not to let the colour of the oil influence their final judgment. Focus on taste and acidity levels rather than colour when buying extra virgin olive oil. And, remember, to each his own. Everyone has their own taste preference. Try several until you find just the type of olives you prefer. When you think about it, it’s a very inexpensive way to improve your health, add flavor to your foods and experience new tastes.