spices

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.

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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.

 

 

 

BEING HERE. IN ROME NOW

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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.

Streets of Rome
Streets of Rome

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.

Catania Sicily

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.

Ushabella

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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.

Shopping Italy in the Spring

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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.

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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.

Sardinian botarga.
Sardinian bottarga.

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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.

 Milan Canal

CARNEVALE – NOT JUST FOR VENICE

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If you’ve ever been in Italy before Easter, you know the joys of Carnevale.  Although Venice is world renowned for it’s amazing Carnevale parties, costumes and celebrations, but other areas of Italy are also in the spirit of full on celebrating before the deprivations of Lent. The kick off for Carnevale is February 17th, this year.  Venice is an exceptional exprience at this time of year, but celebrations are held all over Italy from Venice and Milan down to the villages and towns of Sicily. The celebration of Carnevale is the Italian version of Mardi Gras. of beads.

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Originally, Carnevale used the costumes and  masks to allow the people to mingle, the rich were not recognized and the poor could parade as if they were equal and no one would know.  And, there were plenty of women who chose to dress as men, and vice versa.   Today the costumes and masks continue to captivate young and old.    And, each area of the country has their own way to celebrate.

In the past few years, Ivrea, which has been celebrating this way since the 1600’s has been getting more attention because part of their celebrations is to throw 400 tons of oranges.  Yep, 400 TONS.  This is the celebration of the town uprising against the regime in power.  It’s very much like our Boston Tea Party, although much messier.  Like most Italian events it is accompanied by a parade, a palio (competition) and then a huge feast, and of course,  fireworks displays.

 

 

ITALY-CARNIVAL-IVREAThere are many cities throughout the country that have equally unique Carnevale celebrations.  In Viterbo, which is just north of Rome., the commune of  Ronciglione has become quite well  known for their celebration.   They  have been celebrating for more than a century so there is a well established program.  They have a “King of Carnevale” who takes over the town from the mayor and begins the parties. He’s followed by riderless horses running through town.  There are days of horse races, parades with floats, parties and confetti thrown.  And, of course, lots of food.

Carnevale Ronciglione riderless horses

Then there is Rome.   Since about 2010, Rome has re-invented their Carnevale. And,  the celebration seems to be growing very quickly. Carnevale is very much for the kids and family in Rome.  For them, it is a combination Halloween and Christmas and they love being in costume.    There are many events to entertain the children from the Zoo having special programs, to horse shows and competitions and some racing.

Rome’s Carnevale, it has always been about the horses.  The most well-known of Rome’s annual carnival events is the horse-drawn parade taking place along Via del Corso at 16.00 on 17 February. Involving more than 100 horses and carriages, the parade evokes the Berber horse race that was historically the most important event of the Roman Carnival until 1874 when it was abolished by King Victor Emmanuel II due to the death of a spectator.   The finale is a really spectacular fireworks display in Piazza del Popolo.

There is always a full program of musical performances when there is a celebration in Rome and certainly there are many of all types of music available this month.  Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona are both centers filled with children and families watching the street performers, puppet shows and throwing confetti on everyone.  It’s great fun.

This year Rome Carnevale celebrates Queen Christina of Sweden on the 360th anniversary of her arrival in Rome, with a number of initiatives organised by the city in collaboration with the Swedish embassy and the Swedish Institute of Classical Studies in Rome.   So you can expect many art exibitions and musical programs for this tribute.

Carnevale Rome - Carabinere

Ahhhhh.  And the food.  Never forget the food.  Like most things in Italy, although the sweets may be similar, each region has their own name for them.  In Rome, the most popular  sweet, and only available during this time is the frappe. Frappe are flat, crisp sweets often covered with powdered sugar.  They are also called Frappole, Sfrappole, Flappe in central Italy, Cenci (“tatters”) orDonzelli (“young ladies”) in Tuscany, Crostoli (“crusts”) or Galani in Veneto,Lattughe (“lettuce”) in Romagna, Nastri delle Suore (“ribbons of the nuns”) in Emilia, Bugie (“lies”) in Piemonte, and Gigi in Sicily.  I am drooling just thinking about those sweet crunchy treats.   But, don’t forget to try the bigne, which  are filled with cream, usually yellow, but sometimes you can find a cream of a different flavour; and castagnole are fried balls of dough about the size of a chestnut covered in sugar.

I have a great recipe for castagnole.  They are a little like a cake doughnut.  You just pop them in your mouth and it is amazing how many you can consume before you even realize it.  The sugared balls are very popular, but there are also the gorgeous ones that are done by first dipping them in Alchermes, the blood-red Florentine liqueur, before the sugar coating: the ‘bath’ in the liqueur gives them a look of tiny peaches.

Here’s a recipe so you can try them yourself.castagnole-all-alchermes-612x266

200g flour, preferably ‘00’, about  7/8ths of a cup
40g butter, about 3 Tablespoons
2 eggs
40g sugar,  1/3 cup
8 g baking powder, 2 teaspoons
Grated zest of one lemon
Oil for frying
Granulated sugar
Alchermes (optional)
Directions:

Place the flour, sugar and baking powder together in a large bowl. Create a well and add the butter and eggs and lemon zest. Begin beating the ingredients from the center and slowly incorporate the flour.  (This is the same mixing process you use to make pasta!)   Mix  until all the flour is absorbed and a thick dough is created.

Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.  Divide into four parts and roll each part out into a long cord. Cut each cord into chestnut-sized pieces.
Heat the oil for frying. Deep fry the dough until golden. Remove from the oil and place on a tray with paper towels. Let drain for 1 minute.

Quickly place in a bowl with the Alchermes (if using) and roll to lightly soak the balls. Remove from the Alchermes and place in a small paper bag with 1 cup of granulated sugar and shake to cover lightly with sugar.   If you do not use the Alchermes, just put them directly into a paper bag with the sugar and coat.
They are best eaten warm, but can also be served at room temperature.   I do not know how long they keep, I have never had any left over.

A New Year – Moving towards Spring

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Well the New Year has started and it has taken me till mid-January to get my feet beneath me to settle in to this new year.  It has been a very busy time and I am looking forward to a very dull and boring February to allow myself some breathing space and the chance to feel like I am really here.   Of course, I could be in Italy.

One of my English speaking blogs from Rome just sent a newsletter saying that Rome’s politicos are at it again.  They often bring a smile along with the news, even when the news is bad.  Rome’s tourists could be hit with new tax hike. Visitors to Rome may soon have to rethink their budget, if plans to increase hotel tourist tax go ahead.  Under these recent proposals, tourists could see up to €10 a night added to their bill, Italian media reported on Thursday.

The planned changes come just four months after city hall hiked the “accomodation tax” to between €3 and €7 a night depending on the type of hotel, while those pitching a tent have had to pay €2 for the privilege since September 1st.  I’m not sure where you can even pitch a tent in Rome.

The new €10 a night rate would apply to five-star hotels in the Italian capital, for a maximum of ten consecutive nights, a city hall spokesman said.  The measure needs to be discussed and voted on before it can implemented.  Tourist tax rates for lower-grade hotels will stay the same.  You have to laugh when the rest of the article states that “Rome is reeling from revelations of widespread corruption at city hall, allegedly led by a one-eyed former terrorist whose mafia group for years siphoned off vital funds for services.   You have to love the way the Italian government works.   The best news is that is will unlikely happen and if it does it will not be implemented effectively.   As it is the earlier raise to 3 euro a night disappeared into the city coffers and no one can tell where it went and certainly not whether it benefitted tourism in any way.

When I talked of catching my breath, I was referring to my return from my fall trip to Italy.  I returned to LA just in time for Thanksgiving.  Yes, it has taken me that long to get back to a normal schedule.  I arrived just in time to unpack all my goodies and begin packing gift basket orders before breaking briefly for Thanksgiving dinner (which I did not cook this year).  Then, back to work, for days doing the complicated calculations of converting weights, euros and ingredients from Italian to English.   While a dear friend had a end of season event for Cabi clothes at my home  we did a bit of an Expressly Italian tasting of the new products.  Then it was back to basket construction right up to Christmas week.  I did manage to factor in a little Christmas shopping before Christmas.   But, the baskets were delivered and received with great enthusiasm.  Every basket was unique and tailored to the receiver as much as possible, from the basket for the man who does not cook at all, to the cook who is so experienced she is impossible to impress.  Everyone seemed to be excited to try all their surprises.  And, it made me realize that baskets should not be just for Christmas, but are just as exciting to receive for Easter, or birthdays or anniversaries or any time gifts.  Keep that in mind.

It’s been pretty breakneck speed since Christmas as well.  Our family Christmas was after Christmas in Petaluma with about 75 of us, yes, 75.  Then back to work organizing the products and meeting my invaluable friend Carole who was nice enough to show up at LAX with the two suitcases of goods that were waaaaay over my maximum limit to return with when I came back in November.  So, fully loaded, I have been working on the latest newsletter / price list ever since, with only short breaks for a couple of birthdays.

The  newsletter just went out. Lots of Mauro Berardi’s World Famous Spices from Campo dei Fiori mixes are available. It always impresses me how far Mauro has reached with his spices. I’ve had contacts from all over the world looking to replace the spices bought from him in Rome. It is a great  to know that I can  bring them to people who can not make it back to Italy to get them in person. Mauro may sell spices to visitors from all over the world but he refuses to even use email.  And, he has enough difficulty shipping within Italy and will never attempt to ship outside the country.  I get contacted from people from Austria to Australia looking for His spice mixes. Often while the costs for shipping (and customs restrictions) make it impossible, I am able to work with ever Increasing numbers of people who revere his mixes. It is lucky for all the US and Canadian customers for sure.

I’m excited to get the honey, spices, and condiments that I have on hand sold so I can make another trip back in the spring. And, for the first time in a decade the exchange rate is not so bad.  I just checked my exchange rate for transferring funds and it is currently $1.19 through the foreign exchange.  which is fabulous.  It’s most often been closer to $1.40.  It’s exciting not to feel like you are paying a penalty for anything bought in Europe.

They put a banner at the Trevi fountain this week to commorate the passing of Anita Ekberg, the wonderful actress who waded into the Trevi Fountain in the movie “La Dolce Vita” this last week.      Ironically, the fountain she waded in is currently without water.  There is restoration work being done on the Trevi for the next year or so.  It’s quite a shock to see that huge fountain drained and shrouded while they work on it.   They have managed to make it interesting by putting a transparent walkway all the way at the back of the fountain allowing visitors to walk around the back of the fountain.  Strange, but interesting.  Oh, and they left a little opening at the very front so you can still toss a coin into a little water dish.

Anita Ekberg at the FountainTrevi-Fountain_4

If you have visited Rome and the Trevi fountain in the past seeing it now is a shock.  Having been at that spot so many times it is just such an odd feeling looking at that structure so unrecognizable.  With so many monuments and fountains in Rome there are always major projects going on to restore something and usually it takes a couple years to do the work  so even if a major monument is not fully visible, there are numerous others that are.  This month, they finish Quattro fountane –  the four fountains at the corner of XX Settembre and via delle Quattro Fontane.   Four beautiful late Renaissance fountains grace the corners of the intersection.  They were so filthy I was hoping they would get to them before they started falling apart. They are due to be finished by late February.  I understand the city refused to allow the new Bond movie to film a nightime car chase through that intersection fearing damage to the newly restored fountains and am relieved they decided to encourage them to use CGI.  I am excited to see those fountains cleaned and restored on my next trip.  I’ve always loved them.
In case you are not familiar with Expressly Italian’s mission; I act as a personal shopper for you in Italy.  I can bring back duty free products you’ve purchased and want again or suggest products I have found in my travels throughout the country. Even those that travel often have found that having me bring back items for them saves them much aggravation and weight in carrying luggage back with them.  I have established relationships with small sources that are helping me bring you the finest products available. Often these are not easily found even by residents and expats who live there, so it’s been a great treat to show up with things that even locals have not found.  It  has been thrilling to find every trip brings new friends who introduce me to different products and sources and experiences.  It has been an exciting learning experience and I’ve been so happy to have you along for the journey.  I hope you will continue to join me.
...  Italian Pavilion detail
This spring brings with it the Milan Expo 2015, which sounds so exciting and I am looking forward to visiting.  There are numerous feste and sagre that I will have to choose between including the South Tyrol Festival.  If you have not visited Bolzano, you should make the effort on your next trip to get to Bolzano and Brixton Bressanone.  So beautiful and the food is fabulous.  And, the history of the area is fascinating.
As the ‘Slow Food Movement’ makes faster progress, Italy becomes ever more important in teaching us how to eat and how to grow our foods.  And, hopefully, how to slow down and enjoy eating them for a more healthful and enjoyable life.
I know that is a goal for me this year.  Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments or suggestions.   Follow along with me and we’ll explore together.

Come Along on A Shopping Day

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I thought it might be fun for you to experience a day of shopping with me.  Well, sort of with me, you’ll be where you are, I’ll be doing the actual running and driving here in Italy.  Yesterday, I spent the day running about the Maremma, one of my favorite shopping jaunts.  It’s the sea coast area of southern Tuscany.  An ancient area of rough and tumble cowboys and Etruscans,  about a two hour drive from Rome.

Ok, here we go.  Let’s hit the road.

 

heading towards via Aurelia
heading towards via Aurelia

It was a rainy day, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits.  Off to Civitivecchia

You really have to watch your speed.  In addition to timing

your travel from one set of cameras to another a set distance so theyy can calculate how long it took you to reach the second set to see if you went over the speed limit, there are also a few other cameras set just in case they miss whe you speed up suddenly.

 

Our first stop was Orbetello.    By then it was really raining.  But Covitto was ready for us.

 

Going into Covitto's
Going into Covitto

 

And, yes, I had to ask what Femminelle was –   it is not just female but  a type of fish.

 

 

 

They are a very special fish shop, having been there for a very long time, bringing the catch from the boat in the morning to the store to sell.  Really gorgeous fish indigenous to this area only.  I bought some of their bottarga, some fish broth mix, and of course, the colatura, available only here and the Amalfi Coast, where the tradition of this elixer still exists.  This liquid gold is the culmination of salted anchovies laid in chestnut baskets and the liquid allowed to slowly seep through a small hole in the bottom.  A long, process, but the smooth taste is worth the wait, and renowned world wide.  Since they use only the best of the fished anchovies (caught between March and July) you can understand why few outside this area have had the honor of even tasting it.  You need only a few drops to make a unique dish.

Here’s a recipe for Spaghetti alla Colatura —  it serves 2 for a main dish

200g durum wheat spaghetti

2 tsp colatura di alici (try less the first time to be sure it’s not too ‘fishy’ for you

6 tblspn extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic

Fresh parsley

2 small chili peppers

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Toss in the pasta. As pasta reaches around three-quarter’s of the way through its cooking time, in a large pan, mix the olive oil, colatura, finely sliced garlic, finely chopped parsley. Heat just very slightly over low fire. Using pasta tongs, pick the spaghetti straight from the pot, into the pan, and finish its cooking in the colatura mix, adding salted water you cooked the pasta in, if necessary. Toss well over low heat until pasta is cooked al dente. Serve immediately, garnishing with a chili pepper.   That is it.  Simple, fast and people will always want  to know what it is that is in the special sauce.

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La Parrina

After Orbetello, we headed to Albinia.  Although flooded horribly last year, they are rebounding as Maremmans are known historically to do.  Albinia is home to La Parrina, which I had not visited before this trip.  It seems each trip brings new people and places into my life.

La Parrina is a real find.  It is a wonderful Agriturismo, a farm, a vineyard, and a produce grower with an Antica Fattoria that has the most fabulous foods, available.   I’m only bringing a small sampling.   They make a bitter orange marmelade that will be fabulous on cheese, or bread or almost anything.  I’m already addicted.  A Kumquat jam, some fig mixtures, and they also have some really interesting mixtures of vegetable jams.

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Also in Albinia, I visited a very special Alimentary, with Francesco and Maura and got some La Salva products (no time to go to La Salva) as well as some of their other local specialties like agrodolce I’ve had before.

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Then it was back in the card off to Roma again.  A long, but productive day.  The real difficulties lie in trying to decide what I can manage to fit with all the limitations of weight and sizes I have.  Terribly difficult decisions have to be made.  The pre-orders are obviously first and they are going to be very, very happy.  I hope that as time goes on there will be enough people trying all these really special regional products that are not available anywhere else.  They are from small producers who will never be able to compete with the giants who aree able to put stabilizers and chemicals into their products so they stay fresh on shelves for years.  These are products from real food for real people.  And, boy,can you taste the difference.  You may not  be able to visit the Maremma this year, but hopefully you’ll let me show you a little of their flavors.  If you are not signed up for my newsletter, please send me an email and I’ll sign you up.  Write expresslyitalian@gmail.com


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ROME’S CAMPO DEI FIORI SPICE MAN – MAURO BERARDI

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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.

Spice Market

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.

Back to Los Angeles Again

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I know a month seems like a long time, but in Italy it goes by very quickly.   It was a challenge to get everything I selected back with me, but I did it!

Well, mostly.  Some will arrive in July.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, some of the most interesting things I found this trip were in the Maremma area of Tuscany.

If you haven’t visited this area of Tuscany, take the time to do it on your next trip.  It’s very special.  From it’s historical Etrurian roots and it’s fertile soil, to the still producing olives trees that are over 2,000 years old,  it’s fishing ports and beaches,  it is  a non-touristy, beautiful area  full of warm people and really unique ‘prodotti tipici’ (regional products).

I visited  Orbetello, Montiano, Talemone, Capalbio and Albinia.  I brought back some of  that liquid gold,  Colatura, which is the essence of anchovy, impossible to find even in other areas of Italy.  I also brought  Bottarga di muggine; some farro pasta; and some antique legume con ‘occhio.  And another rare product:  fennel pollen.    Fennel pollen is a spice mostly used in Tuscan cooking, not widely known elsewhere.  It is really that type of magical ingredient that can add a layer of flavor that takes a dish from good to great.  Fennel pollen has notes of licorice, citrus and a feeling of soft subtlety.    You can use the pollen to season meat with a dry rub of salt, or sprinkle on just before serving.  Light summery soups, gain headiness and depth with a light sprinkle at the table. In colder months,  roasted vegetables are enhanced by a sprinkling of fennel pollen while they are roasting.  The real trick with fennel pollen is not to overuse it.  A little really does go a long way, and even a pinch may be too much.   Go slowly, adding just a dash with care, and use it mostly towards the very end of cooking so as to preserve its delicate flavor. The fennel pollen I brought back is fine and pure,  and there is also  hand packed one is even more rare with absolutely no grit, just powdery flavor.

There are also some condiments made especially for Tuscan style cooking,  that rustic, simple but hearty real food they do so well.  I have ‘conserva di buttero’ (Buttero is the Tuscan cowboy who herds the cattle in the area).  It’s beautiful in color, rich in flavor and a perfect complement to meats or served along with cheese (especially Pecorino or Parmigiano).  It’s got peaches, peppers, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, apple vinegar and a little sugar in it.  Really tasty and a little piquant.

While I got some great preserved black truffles in Umbria, I found some thinly sliced summer black truffles preseved in oil in Capalbio that would be fabulous with eggs, or over meat or just on toast, or with almost anything.

These are some of the many specialties available.
These are some of the many specialties available.

                One of the true secrets of Italian cooking is that you don’t need to use                         great quantities of the flavors.  They are most effective when used in                           balance.  A touch of an herb, or a dash of a condiment is all that is                                necessary.  Subtle but dramatic taste additions make memorable dishes.

                 If you want any of these items or have any questions about these or any                  of the  typical products of this area, please email me at                                                      expresslyitalian@aol.com and I’ll be  happy to add you to our mailing                      list for our offerings or shop for you on my next trip for products you                        may already know.

                While we still have months to wait for new harvest olive oils, I do have                     olive oil from Montiano and Tivoli now.  Both are fresh, and fabulous                         tasting.    These are really special and if you’re not familiar with  pure,                       fresh extra  virgin olive oil, these are really so noticeably different than                   grocery store olive oils, you’ll never go back.    But be aware, these are     not for everyday cooking, or making common salad dressings, they are  to be prized.  They are  perfect for the splash of olive oil to brighten all  the flavors in a dish just  before serving. Or to dress a salad with just a  little lemon juice and the olive oil. Treat yourself.  You deserve the best and these truly are.

And, lastly, there is agrodolce available.  Agrodolce is a sweet sour sauce used in many Italian dishes.  While it usually is traced back to first being used in Sicilian cooking,  each region has developed its own take on this gastrique type sauce.   Agrodolce can be used as a finishing sauce for a variety of dishes.  Often it is used as a glaze or dipping sauce with antipasti.  It is also  a great addition to the cheese board  for both mild and strong cheeses.  And, of course, it’s great as a sauce on all kinds of meats.  I have raspberry agrodolce as well as  blackberry.  Both are fantastic.

The true sign of spring - those beautiful red poppies
The true sign of spring – those beautiful red poppies
There are still some of the original vineyards that use the wood supports for the vines
There are still some of the original vineyards that use the wood supports for the vines
Mamma got up, I backed up.
Mamma got up, I backed up.