spices Mauro Berardi
I am currently beginning to pack to return to California. Besides having to find creative ways to get as much back with me as possible without triggering the dreaded third suitcase cost of $240, I have been watching a little local tv.
I have never written about Italian tv because it really is something you need to see for yourself. It is a little hard to explain in any language. I have just been watching Stasera Tutto è Possibile (tonight everything is possible). Now I am the first to admit my Italian leaves much to be desired, especially with long conversations or talk shows, where it is normal for at least three people to be talking at the same time. And over the years I have watched many of these competition type shows, usually with a confused look on my face and my Italian dictionary in hand. There is one where if you lose you are dropped through the floor if you lose (caduta libera – free fall ; one where they spend hours imitating famous singers and are made to look as much like them as possible.
I am not kidding about hours, that program is three hours long. I have seen Elvis, Amy Winehouse, David Bowie and numerous famous Italian singers I am totally unfamiliar with. And listened to the panel critique the contestants ability to mimic not just sound, but looks, style and mannerisms of more famous folk.
Introductions to these varied people
On Stasera Tutto è Possibile, I have no idea what the point is, but they take this motley group and have them sing along with familiar music, like Abba or The Village People. Then they take the away the recorded music and you hear what they actually sound like, which is pretty awful since they don’t know the words or have much in the way of voices. Then by twos they pair off for segui le labiale (sort of read my lips) where one has headphones and tries to figure out what the other is saying. Following this they have sketch games with angled stages and weird(er) costumes. Did I mention you really have to experience it yourself. It is unlike anything on American tv. Although Stasera is 2 hours long I admit by the time they got to the sack races I gave up. It is not the first time either. It is fascinating but I have my limits.
I highly recommend on your next trip to Italy forget whether you completely understand the language and tune in to the uniquely Italian spectacle of game shows.
If you’ve ever traveled to Rome you’ve probably made the stop in Campo dei Fiori to see the market there. It’s not the biggest and there’s discussion as to whether’s it’s the oldest and it’s used more by tourists than locals, but it is a special market and well worth the visit. The restaurants around it are good, especially the famous Forno Campo de’ Fiori and Antico Forno Roscioli. The flowers and vegetables are very fresh. And, the spice market booth continues to grow. It seems every visit Mauro and Marco Berardi have spread out a little more. Last month, they have about 25 per cent of the whole market. They have added olive oils, pastas, and even a meat stand, cutting porchetta and mortadella for sandwiches on the spot.
While much of their goods are geared toward the tourist, the spices are pretty much as their business is named “Spezie Famose nel Mondo” – Famous spices of the world. And, famous they are. The Berardi’s have been selling in this market for more than three generations and they are confident and Mauro has made some of the best spice mixes in the world.
Spice mixes are quite popular throughout Europe right now (as well as here in the U.S. However, you need to be pretty aware of what questions to ask, how to tell if they are worth what they cost and how thrilled you are likely to be with them.
You can usually tell if the mixes are fresh by the color of the components. If they are dull and dark, their flavor will be old and stale. If they are packed by a manufacturer, there is little guarantee of what exactly is in the mix. I love Mauro Berardi’s spice mixes because not only does he sell in quantities that pretty much guarantee their freshness, his mixes are freeze dried, cut into quite small components and, most importantly, they are hand mixed. No machines, no gigantic quantities being beat together by a machine which might have been used for almost any product before the mixes are put into their vats. Mauro claims his mixes will stay flavorful for at least two years if kept in the plastic bags he packs them. And, from my personal experience, they do retain full freshness for at least those two years.
People all over the world have looked for Mauro Beardi’s mixes and now they are available through Expressly Italian. Check out our Facebook page or send us an email and we’ll be happy to send you the mixes you’ve been looking for. Much less trouble or cost than flying to Rome to buy them. I agree though, that the trip to Rome is always exciting.
While Expressly Italian does not have all the mixes he offers, I do have the most popular ones. The Campo dei Fiori Mix, which is composed of basil, oregano, parsley, green onions, salt, red pepper flakes, and lots of black pepper. It can be cooked or used as is. This is a great go-to mix to use in almost anything. I often throw it into eggs if I’m cooking them for breakfast. It’s a fabulous addition to a salad; either mixed in the dressing or just a sprinkle over the salad greens before putting on olive oil. And, this mix is fabulous as a pasta sauce. All you need do is warm a little olive oil, a teaspoon or so (you’ll have to try a few times to learn how much spice you like) of the spice mix and heat only a minute or so, add cooked pasta, toss and add grated cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino) and serve. Or, just mix a tablespoon of spice mix into a cup of olive oil and keep it for dipping bread, drizzling on pizza or vegetables. It is really a mix you’ll use on almost everything. All the spice mixes are $4.50 an ounce.
There is Puttanesca Mix, Arrabiatta Mix, Mauro’s Mix (which he says is similar to Campo dei Fiori Mix, but without salt or black pepper); There is also his meat mix, you can use as a rub on almost any meat before grilling or roasting. The Fish Mix is composed of rosemary, sage, pepper and green onions. There is also a “Caccio e Pepe” mix, but it really is simply the finest, freshest, tastiest black pepper you’ll ever find. If you want to make Caccio e Pepe pasta. Cook spaghetti and when it’s nearly finished, heat some olive oil in a saute’ pan. Add a couple teaspoons of the black pepper, a little pasta water. Add the cooked spaghetti stir and quickly add grated pecorino cheese to make a sauce. If it’s a little too tight, add a little additional pasta water till it’s a creamy sauce. Serve it immediately. This is one of Rome’s premiere sauces and for good reason. You can make it any time without any planning or thought.
Need quantities to feel comfortable? Here’s a full recipe that is slightly different – it makes the pasta sauce directly into the serving bowl:
1 pound spaghetti, black pepper and 1 cup (100 grams or so) grated Pecorino cheese.
Bring a tall pot of water to a boil, then add a generous tablespoon of salt to it.
2.Throw the spaghetti pasta in, stir and gently push it under the water. stir the pasta occasionally and maintain a live boil in the water.
3.Cook the pasta about 1 minute less than the package time suggests.
4.Drain the spaghetti, reserving a little of the cooking water, toss immediately in a warm serving bowl and sprinkle the freshly ground black pepper and the grated Pecorino cheese. Mix quickly while adding a few spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water, just enough to moisten and melt the cheese, which will become slightly creamy. Drizzle fresh extra virgin olive oil sparingly over the top and serve.
The wonderful part of learning to cook simple Italian is that the ingredients are the most important part. If you’ve got great spices and a little confidence, you’re more than halfway there. Let the Famous Mauro Berardi’s spice mixes help begin your adventure in cooking with more excitement.
I hope everyone will be as excited as I am about the wonders I’ve found to bring home. Please recognize Expressly Italian is still a work in progress. I need to know the things people are most interested in, what the costs are and how to fit enough into suitcases! Any feedback is really appreciated. And, I will investigate any special requests to the fullest. Every trip I find new sources and undiscovered “prodotti tipici” (typical products) from every region. All that said, there are some exciting and unique products for you to try right now.
The Italian honey bee is a gentler bee. A little smaller than the western version, it is a good producer of ripened honey. All this explains why Italian honey is so famous and treasured. Stefano, a Sardinian bee keeper says his honeys are the best in the world and he has broods that are collecting from flowers, trees and even some from the macchia (the Sardinian scrub that covers much of the island). Stefano assures me that not only do they produce the purest honey and most flavorful you can find. I know that his Girasole (sunflower) honey will be on my morning toast for sure. But, of course the bee keepers from Florence make the same claims as do the bee keepers in Umbria. Truthfully, they are all so rich in flavor it is hard to choose. I do know they are all harvested from the wild and they are pure and so much more flavorful than mass produced, over filtered honey. You owe it to yourself to taste as many as you can to find your personal favorite. I also acquired a few propolis (bee pollen) products from Sardinia.
I have some olive oils from Umbria and Tuscany and Tivoli. Only the freshest, purest virgin oils, of course. There’s white truffle oil too.
Black truffles! I found some wonderful preserved black truffle. These special little goodies are preserved in olive oil and have good till dates that guarantee they will last into next year. So think about a special dish and it will only improve with a bit of shaved truffle on it. And, I also found a thinly sliced white truffle preserved in oil as well.
Then there are the condomenti (which really translates as flavors). There is everything from the wine jellies, to preserves from frutti di bosco, and some special cherry marmellata that will make wonderful tarts. And mostarda, the sweet spicy condiment which is great on meats, or cheese or almost anything. These condiments add some interesting tastes to many dishes and that extra layering of flavor that separates a good meal from a great dish.
Then there’s some fantastic agrodolce – with either raspberries or figs. The agrodolce can be used like a hot sauce, just a little makes a big flavor difference.
From the Maremma (southern Tuscany) there is bottarga (the fish roe that is sprinkled onto pasta for a unique taste) as well as Colatura, the anchovy essence that is made only in a few places; it is impossible to find even in most of Italy. I’m getting these products directly from the farms and families that produce them so you know the quality and flavor is unmatched.
This time I am also bringing some Tuscan beans, including cicerchia, which is the oldest cultivated legume. I’ve been told that the traveling Roman army survived on cicerchia and grain (mostly corn and wheat). The cicerchia provided the protein, the grains the carbohydrates. Cicerchia is an extremely healthy food gaining in popularity here in Italy High in protein, phosphorus, , B1 and B2 and, of course, lots of fiber it’s very healthy. Usually it is used in soups, or in pasta dishes (Italians often use beans with pasta — garbanzo beans, or savona or other cannellini types). The Cicerchia that I’m bringing is split, so the cooking time is much less and doesn’t require soaking. I’ve also got lentils, some tiny white Tuscan beans that are like a small version of a cannellini bean (they also do not require soaking). And, there’s the occhiali bean, which looks a little like (but isn’t) our black eyed pea. Any or all of the type beans make excellent Ribollita or vegetable soup,
Or, you can try a very Tuscan way to eat the beans. Cook them till they are creamy, mash them a little, add salt and pepper to taste, put onto a toasted piece of bread and drizzle with a high quality olive oil. Really yummy. You too can become a “bean eater” as the Tuscans are called.
Chocolate was one of the most requested items and I brought a number of artisanal chocolates made in Perugia as well as a few other small towns in Umbria. There is a lot of chocolate and hopefully in October, when we return, we’ll be going to the international Chocolate festival in Torino and I can really overdose. In the meantime I’ve got plenty of choices for all tastes. Including packages of Ciobar, the hot chocolate that seems more like a pudding to me.
I’ll be sending out a newsletter with all the products available and their prices shortly. Remember, the quantities are limited, so don’t hesitate to order if you want something. And, you can place your request for the fall shipment at any time. If you are not already on my mailing list, please send a note to ExpresslyItalian@aol.com and I’ll be sure you receive updates and product listings.
The dried porcini are incredibly fragrant and so are the sun dried tomatoes. Both are unlike anything I’ve found in the U.S. They have so much flavor you use less of them, so they are quite reasonably priced. And, I have a great new selection of herbs and spices from Mauro Berardi, from Campo dei Fiori in Rome.
Come share the journey as I explore all that Italy has to offer.