Tuscany

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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Expo Milano 2015 is close – Make a trip to see a World’s Fair

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This is an exciting time –  spring is bound to be hitting the whole country soon, Easter is almost here and the 2015 Expo Milano is almost ready to open!   This Universal Exposition which takes place every five years, each time in a different country.  This year, from  May 1  to  October 31, the 272 acres the Expo is on will be available for the world to enjoy.

Expo 2015 is themed “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” with a focus on sustainability and innovation. All 140 participating countries will showcase their unique cultural and culinary traditions, within self-built lots, to the 20 million expected visitors from around the globe.   Whew!  That’s a lot of people, but it is a great amount of space to cover. And that’s without considering that there is also all of Milan to see.  And, the Milanese have so many planned events in the city to entertain all the visitors it is a cannot miss trip.

expo map Milan

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The layout of the Expo grounds are inspired by a Roman city of ancient times.  The city has allocated over 60 pavilions in this ‘village’ to participating countries which will line either side of the long central division. Italy’s exhibition area intersects to form a global meeting place called Piazza Italia. The space has also provisioned for event areas like the open-air theatre, Lake Arena and children’s park, as well as clusters for other official industry participants.

 

There is even a Google interactive map you can watch what is happening in real time. Check it out. Google Earth – Expo 2015 the EU pavillion – interactive map http://europa.eu/expo2015/node/115

I did not see that the U.S. Pavilion has a google map dedicated to it, but it is moving along quickly to completion.  The US Pavilion – Designed by award-winning architect, James Biber, the USA Pavilion pays homage to our rich agricultural history with an open design delimited by a large vertical farm that will be harvested daily. An homage to the barn is reflected in the design of the pavilion.

Located in central Milan for the duration of the Expo, the James Beard American Restaurant will showcase American cuisine, ingredients, and beverages with a rotating roster of American culinary talent. Thanksgiving dinner will be served every Thursday and Jazz or Gospel brunch every Sunday.

Leading up to Expo Milano and throughout the six months of the fair, the USA Pavilion will be programming daily activities, on the topics encompassed by our theme American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet. From conferences on global food security to cooking demonstrations, panels on technological innovation in the food system to conversations with top farmers and chefs, we’ll explore various aspects of food, food culture, and the future of our food system. Topics will cover a broad and diverse spectrum, including how to manage water resources, the importance of food labeling, healthy school lunch, traditional American cooking, and how can we create a burger that’s better for our health and better for our environment.

If you are planning on travel in Europe this year, be sure to put this on your itinerary.  It’s really a unique experience that cannot be repeated.  Being Milan, the city has really gone all out to provide an Expo experience throughout the entire city while the fair is happening.  There are art events, fashion events, tours, and so much has been already completed to make the entire city ready for the spotlight.

Among the most important events already on schedule, Milan will feature the biggest exhibition ever organized in Italy of Leonardo da Vinci with works of the Renaissance icon borrowed from Italian and international museums.

Another exhibition will be dedicated to Giotto, the Florentine painter who revolutionized the depiction of figure in the 1300s, with three of his masterpieces on loan.

International artists from avant-garde to today will represent the theme of motherhood that most of all embodies the idea of nutrition, central theme of Expo Milano 2015, in an exhibition, “The Great Mother,” gathering over 80 works of the 20th century.

Music will be central, Del Corno added, with extraordinary programs at Teatro alla Scala, that for the first time will stay open in August with a total of 140 spectacles during the six-month expo, and Piccolo Teatro, which will perform in many languages including English, Chinese and Greek.

“Milan will be a stage open to everybody,” the assessor went on saying. Duomo Square, in the heart of Milan, will host classic and pop concerts free of charge, while public spaces in the city from parks to trams will be animated by countless music performances, book fairs, street markets and thematic events including many dedicated to water.

The architecture of the fair is wildly impressive.   Here’s a photo of the entry gate proposal, I saw in Milan a couple years ago.   This is the only structure that will remain after the fair.  It’s by Nemesi & Partners and is a smog eating, almost zero energy building.  It is exciting and I cannot wait to see this in person.


Entry Gate Milan Expo
Nemesi entry Italy

 

 

If I sound excited, I am.  I have already purchased tickets for my upcoming trip in April (they have a ‘soft’ opening starting this month), but also for my fall trip, in September.

I’m leaving on my spring buying trip in late March! In addition to touring the Expo Milan, I’ll be shopping for all kinds of goodies to bring my shoppers.

Fresh Sardinian honey and propolis as well as some of his propolis soap and beauty cream is high on my list.    Honey from Sardinia is extra special since it is harvesting from one of the few pollutant free environs in the world.  No wonder it tastes so good.   Stefano has honey from a variety of locations on the island, since there are over 200 species of nectar producing plants, I get everything from Acacia and Ailanto to Malata and even Corbezzolo.  From the Maremma I will bring  some of their unique items like Colatura di alici da Cetara, and the purest fennel pollen available anywhere and some of the products from the organic small growers in the area like La Parrina and Terra Etrusco in Capalbio and near Il Poderino in Montiano.

And, of course, the important stop at Campo dei Fiori for spices from Mauro Berardi’s Spezie famose nel mondo (world famous spices).  Anyone who has visited that market seems to have purchased some of his spice mixes.  And, they are not available anywhere else.  He does not ship outside of Italy, but he is happy to supply me to bring them home and make them available to everyone.   The most popular are the Campo dei Fiori Mix and Mauro’s Pasta Mix.  Both of these have the same ingredients, except Mauro’s mix has no salt or pepper.  This mix enhances everything it touches.  Whether cooked or fresh, it adds a depth of flavor well beyond the ingredients listed.  I use it in almost anything I cook from salads (where I sprinkle a small bit on the lettuces) to soups, meat marinades, and any pasta.  If you’ve tried it, you are a fan, no doubt.

Every trip brings special requests and new finds.  If you are already on my newsletter mailing list, you’ll be kept up-to-date on my trip.  If you are not receiving the newsletter, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to add you to the list.

Don’t forget this is a great year to travel to Europe.  The euro exchange rate is lower than in many years, currently about 1.10 euro to a dollar.  And, Expo Milan is a unique experience never to be repeated.

 

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.

A Word (or two) about Olive Oils This Year.

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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.

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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.

Bad crop: The olive fly lays its egg in a hollow in the olive and when hatched the larvae tunnels its way out gnawing at the flesh destroying the fruit   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.

This will produce a very acidic oil which cannot be sold as extra virgin.  ‘It will in any case have a nasty aftertaste with a marked woody flavour.’     This is truly a disaster.20131116_161648

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.

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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SUMMER 2014 MAY BE ENDING BUT HERE COMES EXCITING FALL!

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Well, as August ends, Italians are returning to work from their vacations (vacanze). Most Italians do not travel outside the borders of their country. It may seem that has been happening more often with the poor economy, but honestly, it’s always been that way for most Italians. They love their country. Within it’s borders are almost any type of environment you could want for vacations; mountains, lakes, two seas to explore the beaches of, as well as more art, monuments and historical locations than almost anywhere else in the world.  Why would they leave?   

I recall my husband talking to a co-worker shortly after our arrival in Rome. He told the guy we were going to Venice and he was very excited. The older man shrugged his shoulders (it takes a couple of years to develop the Roman shrug) and said have a good time. Mike asked if there was anyplace special that we should make an effort to see. The man responded “how would I know, I’ve never been there”. When Mike asked why in 70 years he’d never visited there. His response was “Why?” Everything I want is here in Rome. And, there are quite a few Italians who never venture beyond their province or commune. For us American’s it is hard to fathom that thinking. We love to go whether it’s in the US or abroad. We’re adventurers.

Which brings me to something I’ve been waiting to share with you. Some of the names have been changed to protect this man’s identity. I admit when I first received this accounting I was rolling on the floor laughing. Not only is this entirely possible wherever you travel, but can be expected in some variation on any trip to Italy.

This man, a Californian, decided to take his adult daughters on a trip to Rome. He’d only been there many, many years ago for a short trip and one of them had never been there. The last I saw of him was on the via Veneto where outside his lovely hotel I was giving directions to the next stop on his trip – Tuscany. He’d rented a car, it had GPS, he was confident.

His travel agent had worked out the full itinerary with directions. And, he said he followed the directions exactly. When they arrived it was getting dark, but it appeared the location was not at all as promised. It had all the amenities as promised, BUT. The pool was covered, filled with leaves and had grown green water. The chairs around the pool and tables were plastic and overturned on the lawns. All of them.  He was a little concerned  that it had an entirely empty parking lot that would hold 60 cars. They found the restaurant was closed and there was not much activity anywhere nearby. His daughters were the ones who realized they were in a hotel with the same name as their reservations, but hours driving time away from where they were that evening. . This after lugging overweight luggage up several flights of stairs (no elevators). Nothing could be done until the next day anyway, but it was not a happy evening.

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The next mornng they drove to the correct hotel, which was gorgeous. By then, things were a little tense between them since they had lost a whole day of our precious vacation.  He said they did spend lots of time investigating Montepulciano, which has become one of his favorite places.  A salvaged vacation after all the previous difficulties (yes they also had arrival problems in Rome, tour guide problems there, and more). Then came the last day of the trip.

One of his daughters became quite ill and had to go to the hospital in Florence. The other daughter returned to her home in New York on her scheduled flight. It turned out the hospital was quite helpful and kind. She was only really dehydrated and needed an IV for hours but was fine afterwards.

Of course, they missed their flight back to California though.  They were booked on Alitalia, on their   last day of their direct service to LA. There were no more direct flight from Rome to LA. (For the record I remain confounded that there is no direct flight from Los Angeles to Rome from late October until March !)   They had to leave the hotel in Florence with three overweight bags between the two of them. They still have no idea how they managed it, but they got the train, along with their luggage from Florence to Rome (near the airport for easier access). There were no available flights and he felt Alitalia was unhelpful.  It does seem like they could have arranged something with their partner airlines (Delta, Air France, or KLM).

They got rooms at the Best Western near the airport (where few other than travelers speak English) and it’s truly in a barren industrial area. He called on his cell phone every airline he could find (his cell bill was $1,800). His local Vodafone SIM had been used up and where he was there was no Vodafone place and he could not understand the texts he kept receiving from them instructing him what to do.

Alitalia told him he would have to change his reservations through his travel agent because that’s how he made them. (Of course, by this time he’d fired the agent.)  The agent was not returning his phone calls.

Finally, he truly panicked and just wanted to get home. There was literally no way to get out for days, unless they would take Air Nigeria to Turkey, then three stops in Germany, an overnight at Amsterdam, then New York and then LA.  Even panicked he knew he could not do that. So, like any good American, he “bought” his way out. He spent over $6,000 on airfare to take British Air to London and London to LA.  And, of course, that was not for first class flights. But, he had waited several days already and enough is enough. He missed four days of work and the vacation costs were much higher after his vacation was to have ended that it was for the rest of the trip.

Sometimes, it’s just that bad with traveling. Thank goodness it’s not often. And, much funnier when it happens to someone else. He said “Italy was beautiful but he was not ready to laugh about it yet”. Hopefully, enough time has gone by that when he reads this he’ll appreciate the experience a little more.Fall 2014 view

Being prepared is good. Knowing things will go wrong is even more important.

I’m readying for my fall trip –  think olio nuovo, fresh olive oil.  Honey, and new found products.  If you want to receive the newsletter on available products, please email me at:  expresslyitalian@aol.com.  

If you have any questions about how to use any products or suggestions about what I should try to find, let me know.    For sure I will be stopping at Campo dei Fiori for spices from Mauro Berardi and his”famous spices of the world” as well as Umbria and Tuscany for first pressing olive oils, the Maremma for Botarga and a few other specialties.    And I’ll also visit Torino for a chocolate festival and stopping to pick up some of that fabulous Sardinian honey and who knows what else.  I’m open to any suggestions.   Just let me know if you have any special requests.   I’ll be happy to do what I can to help.

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.

The Tuscan Maremma in Spring

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I love the Maremma.  So many people visit Tuscany and think they’ve seen it all after Sienna, Florence, Orvieto and maybe a few hill towns.  Nope.  The western part of Tuscany by the sea is so special, it deserves much more attention than it receives.  On the other hand, it’s nice not to be over run with tourists.     While the whole of the Maremma covers a large area, I know the area near Grosseto and south best.

The Maremma area has almost timeless roots.  The Etuscans long before the Romans lived in this area.  They built cities and developed agriculture in the midst of beautiful landscapes.   Many of the people still living in this area are descendants of the Etuscans, a people who lived in this part of Italy long before the Romans.  While much is unknown about their civilization, the Etruscan people were known to be intelligent, gentle people with many advances in their culture and few wars.  They were easily made extinct by the Romans.    There are many both Etruscan and Roman ruins in this area to be explored.  

Pitigliano, Manciano and Montiano are only a few of the spectacular hill towns.   But it’s the sea and the towns of Porto Santo Stefano, Orbetello, Albinia and Capalbio  that keep my heart in the Maremma.    Orbetello is on a thin strip of land  that crosses in the middle of a coastal lagoon.   The isthmus joins the Argentario to the Tuscan mainland. Although Orbetello is surrounded by lagoons it is also connected to the Mediterranean.

There has been a settlement in Orbetello since the 8th century BC!   Being on the sea means fishing has always been important to it’s livelihood and culture.  

Lagoon Orbetello 2
Lagoon at the edge of Orbetello
Orbetello lagoon
Orbetello and the lagoon surrounding it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orbetello is one of the few areas in Italy still producing bottarga, which is flaked and served simply with olive oil on warm bread or grated over vegetables and salads. It is finely grated and served over spaghetti to make their most famous dish ‘spaghetti alla bottarga’. 

Covitto

Covitto fish market has been in Orbetello since 1940.  Domenico moved from the Amalfi Coast to Orbetello and brought his idea and process for making bottarga.  His was the first Botarga made in this part of Italy.  It is still made the same way.  Bottarga di Muggine is famously used in Sicilian dishes.   Buying the whole roe sack is quite expensive, but this grated bottarga is much easier to use and less expensive.  It is wonderful over salads and vegetables, but the best known use is in Spaghetti alla Bottarga.  You simply add a little olive oil to a pan, heat it and add a little red pepper flakes and add cooked pasta.  Take it off the heat and sprinkle the Bottarga over the pasta and a good handful of fresh chopped parsley.  So simple and yet so special.  It takes only a little for very rich flavor.  The 40 gram jar I have will last well past the end of this year if kept in the refrigerator.   Bottarga is very rich in protein and Omega 3’s with a delicate and wonderful flavor.

Colatura 1
Colatura di Alici
Botarga from Orbetello
Bottarga from Covitto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domenico also brought with him from Cetara,  the process to make Colatura di alici.  Anchovy Sauce.  It’s definitely part of the slow food movement.

His  famous amber condiment is delicate and available only in Italy.   While they use it for pastas, it is a wonderful flavor for anything that needs a little depth of flavor.   This amber magic is made by taking fresh caught anchovies with salt and laying them in a wooden container called a “terzigni”.  After four or five months the liquid that comes out of the bottom hole in the container is harvested.  It’s quite different than the Asian fish sauces.  Delicate and uniquely flavored, it adds that indefinable extra to many dishes.

For an easy Pasta dish, use a simple pasta and cook it as directed on the package.  When it’s about done, heat about 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add a clove of garlic, being sure not to brown it, along with some red pepper flakes to taste, and  about 3 Tablesppons of  COLATURA DI ALICI  with a little pasta water.  Add the drained pasta and sprinkle fresh chopped parsley over and serve.  Keep the COLATURA DI ALICI handy to add additional over the top of your pasta to taste.    This should generously serve 4 people.

Covitto Catch
Colvitto’s fresh catch.  This fish market has been ‘the’ place buy your fish in the area  since WWII.

This area of  Tuscany  is full of regional typical products not generally seen outside the area.  The Maremma is a mixture of farm lands, cattle ranches and seaside fishing villages.  It’s well worth spending some time in this area and exploring the beaches as well as the ancient ruins all around you.

From Albinia I brought back Conserve to be used with cheese or bruschetta.  One I love is called Conserva del Buttero.  The Tuscan cowboys, horses and the Maremma sheepdog are all parts of this interesting area.  The Conserva del Buttero’s ingredients include:  peppers, peaches, apples, pepperoncino, apple vinegar, lemon juice and sugar. Wow is it great.  It would be fabulous with meat as well as served with pears or apples.  So many uses for these conserve.  I hope you’ll try some of these magnificent specialties.

 

Please feel free to email me at ExpresslyItalian@aol.com if you have any questions or want any additional information.   I do hope you have the chance to explore this part of Italy.  I ended my week with a fabulous dinner made by a long time resident of Montiano who fixed a fantastic cinghiale, with juniper berries and raspberry  agrodolce sauce.    Thanks Penelope, it was better than any I’ve ever had.

Cinghiale
Penelope cooked a very special cinghiale – her own recipe.

I have so much more to tell you about this special area, I’ll have to make another blog entry sometime in the near future to tell you about Albinia, the fantastic Alimentari un Mare di Sapori and explain some of the other local products.