Copyright Piacere - Food & Travel without rules! 2018 - Theme by ThemeinProgress
You ask, what could be more decadent, and I say absolutely nothing. Cartellate are traditionally made during Christmas. They are traditional Pulgiese fried pastries filled with roasted almonds, honey, spices and chocolate.
Apuglia is a peninsula that forms the heel of the “boot” of Italy and has had many conquerors. The Greeks, Romans, Goths, Lombards, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevins, Argonese, Spanish, the German emperors, Burbons, Turks, Venetians and more. Referred to as a melting pot – each left their mark on the region. You can see the influences in the clusters of white stucco flat roofed dwellings. But the influences of these cultures are also evident in the food and none more then Cartellate.
I have eaten many Cartellate in Puglia. I can honestly say my aunt’s recipe is the best. She came from Peschici, Foggia and called them “Cluster”. Cartellate is dough mixed with wine, formed into a wagon wheel shape and fried. The pockets in the wheel are the receptacles for honey or mosto cotto (a syrup made from fruits or grape skins), spices, nuts and chocolate.
The Cluster I have had in Puglia are delicious and the syrup is mostly made with honey or mosto cotto mixed with lemon zest and walnuts. Some have no nuts and might have a sent of cinnamon. My aunt Rafaela filled hers with roasted almonds, chocolate, spices both cinnamon and clove melted in honey. The combination is positively addicting.
In earlier times my family only made them at Christmas, but as time passed and the love of cartellate overtook us, we began to make them the star of our Thanksgiving desserts. They were never included in the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” trays for weddings as they are usually dripping with honey, but today we also make a separate tray of cartellate for weddings.
These cookies are a labor of love and not easy to make, but the good news is that you can place the shells in a brown paper bag and keep some for Christmas. I make the filling and store it in a glass container so that they are ready to fill and take center stage with the rest of our Christmas biscotti. The only problem is that having them around until Christmas challenges your will power.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 5 minutes each
Yield: 30 Cookies
2 1/2 lbs. flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
1 jigger of Sherry or Marsala
Tepid water to mix
1 quart Canola or peanut oil
48 oz. honey
1 lb. roasted almonds, cut in half
12 lb. dark chocolate chips, good quality
1 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cloves, or to taste
Put all the dry ingredients together in a bowl or on a board, and make a well in the middle. Put in the shortening, eggs, Sherry or Marsala and, if needed a little warm water. Mix until you are able to form a ball. Knead until the dough is smooth and place it in the refrigerator for about 1 hour covered with plastic wrap. You can also mix the dough in a food processor but add the almonds in by hand.
If you have a pasta machine, you can roll out the dough to its second to the last level, or you may roll out a piece with a rolling pin as thinly as possible. Using a pastry cutter with a fluted edge, cut strips out about 2” wide and 8” long. Holding the dough at one end, begin to pinch the dough about 3/4 inch apart, creating small pockets along the strip. Bring the dough around from one end crimping the dough together pinching it along the strip to form a circle. These pockets will hold the filling. The cookie looks like a cartwheel, which is the definition of “Cartellate” The cluster cookie should be about 4” round; however they can be made whatever size you want them to be.
Secure the ends with a toothpick so that they will not unravel during frying. You can keep them overnight and fry them the next day. This is important because you don’t want them to puff up too much closing the pockets during frying. Otherwise they will need at least 4 hours drying time.
Fry a few at a time in hot oil. Remove when they turn a deep golden color. Allow the shells to drain on paper towels or on a rack. Remove the toothpicks and fill them or place them in a paper bag or box until you are ready to fill them.
To make the filling, melt all of the ingredients together in a saucepan, taste for seasoning and place in the refrigerator. The filling will get hard, but will stay in the shells better if somewhat cool.
Start by placing a tablespoon of filling in each cluster cookie. When this step has been completed, go back and keep filling each cookie until you have used all the filling.
The filled cookies will stay a week or more. If you want to make the cookies in advance, place them in a paper bag and they will stay for several days to a month. Never store them in a sealed container or wrap them with plastic wrap.
In Italy there are many alcoholic drinks that are favorites as a digestive. To name a few are Grappa, Moscato, Vino Santo and Prosecco for example. But Limoncello has become one of the world’s favorites in recent years. Although it was well know in Italy, the world has gotten to know the deep yellow after-dinner drink of Limoncello recently. Prior to that it was produced in small productions and mainly drunk in Italy.
Although many areas of Italy produce Limoncello today, it originated in Sorrento. The “oval” Sorrentino – the denomination of geographic Indication (IGP) was granted in November of 2000 and can be found on the bottles from the Sorrento region. This IGP of the Sorrento lemons opened up a whole new commercial opportunity for the area. The lemons grown in this area originally were exported, but today about 40% are sold for fresh consumption and 60% are used to make Limoncello. The Sorrento lemons are medium-large, with a thick, rough, light-yellow skin, an intense aroma and are rich in essential oils. They have a pleasant flavor with a low number of seeds. The key for Limoncello is the oil in the skin and the color of the skin, as it is just the rind that flavors and gives the rich yellow color to the liquor. The maceration of the peel with alcohol and sugar slowly develops the aroma and color.
The unique fresh taste and the aroma of Limoncello is an excellent digestive served cold. Especially after a meal with strong flavors, Limoncello refreshes the palate. The bottles are stored in the freezer and I also put the glasses in the freezer for about 10 minutes or so before serving.
Many Italians make Limoncello themselves. Along the Almalfi coast there is hardly a house that doesn’t have lemons growing in their garden.
Limoncello is used to flavor gelati and cakes, poured over fruit and can be used with shrimp or other fish dishes.
I make Limoncello once a year and store it in our wine cellar – keeping one bottle in the freezer ready for a digestive. I have prepared bottles as gifts to give friends who come to visit or for Christmas gifts. Very small bottles can be made as favors for a wedding or parties. One recipe goes a long way. It is a different idea that makes people really happy.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: N/A
Yield: 1 1/2 quarts
9 large lemons
4/5th bottle Vodka
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
Wash the lemons and using a vegetable peeler remove the skins making sure that you do not remove the white part of the lemon.
In a large jar, place the skins and the vodka and seal tightly. Place the bottle in a cool location for 3 weeks or more.
Remove the lemon skins, strain the liquid and add the sugar and water. Allow the mixture to stand outside the refrigerator for about 2 days or until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the Limoncello into bottles and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
When serving Limoncello put the glasses in the freezer for about 10 minutes and pour the Limoncello into the ice cold glass.
I make Limoncello to give to my very best friends and family for Christmas gifts. Create your own label – they will appreciate that you took the time to make such a special gift.
For those who would like to read the history and legends of Lemoncello, view the following web site.
Some time ago just after I completed an Italian language program in Bologna, I took a cooking class from a master chef in Puglia Italy. It was a wonderful personal experience to learn some of the recipes of the region and to use my newfound knowledge of Italian. Chef Marco also knew that I was writing a cookbook about my family recipes who came from the region. He gave me about 30 recipes from chefs throughout Gargano and told me that I could publish them. One of these recipes was his family recipe for Calzone con Cipolla. I have been making it ever since and it is an impressive and delicious luncheon for friends.
Chef Marco had a staff of 4 chefs who taught my husband and I a number of local dishes and to my surprise some were my family recipes that hadn’t changed at all after 3 generations living in the US. My family has been in the food and restaurant business and I expected that some of these recipes would have been Americanized. There were also many that I had never had before and have now brought them back into our family collection of recipes.
Calzone con Cipolla
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes @ 425ºF
Yield: 4 servings
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons water
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk, a little water
Beat eggs, oil and water. Sift the flour, and baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the egg mixture. Stir with a folk until blended (the dough can be made in a food processor). Turn the dough onto a lightly floured pastry board. Mix well and knead until the dough is shinny. Cover the dough for 10 minutes.
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. onions, sliced
4 anchovies, chopped
8 green olives, sliced
1 teaspoon capers, drained and rinsed
Nutmeg, a few grinds
Salt to taste, because there are anchovies in the recipe, taste the onions and determine if the recipe needs more salt before adding it.
Clean and cut the onions in large pieces and cook them well-set aside to cool. Rinse the capers under cold water to remove the brine. Slice the olives.
Roll out the dough, which can be done in 4 calzone, or in 2 large rounds or even several smaller ones. Layer the onions onto the dough. Sprinkle the anchovies, capers, olives and a few grinds of nutmeg on top of the onions. Fold the dough over the top forming an envelope. Crimp the dough on all sides. Brush the top with the egg wash.
Cook in a very hot oven for 20 minutes or more. It is best to cook the calzone on a pizza stone; it will come out very crispy. Check the bottom of the calzone; if it is brown and the top is golden it is done. It is possible that it can take longer then 20 minutes.
For me there just isn’t any other pasta that is as good as old fashion ricotta ravioli. My grandmother was the expert in our family and thank goodness she loved to teach us all how to cook. I often wonder when I read stories by chefs or others who write blogs about food how it is that everyone mentions their grandmother as being their inspiration. Whatever happened to their mothers? My mother was a great cook also and we loved making cookies and ravioli with her. It was a family affair in the kitchen as we only made them for holidays. Today I make them very often and with different filling. I love when my children and grandchildren join in and I can continue the roll of the grandmother who inspires them to cook. I have put all these recipes on a CD for them to carry on the traditions and heritage that I treasure.
We always have some Italian dishes during our holidays. Whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or Easter there is always ravioli on our table as a first dish. We set up an assembly line with all of us pitching in to make hundreds of them before Thanksgiving so that we could have them for Christmas also. They freeze very well, but don’t ever defrost them before cooking them. Put them into a large amount of salted boiling water directly from the freezer.
My grandmother made them very big, not like the little ones you find today in many restaurants. These are “the old country” ravioli and I love them. She had a small white sideboard with a roll top and made all of her cookies and pasta on this little pull out counter.
Use whatever tomato sauce recipe you like the best. Hers was always a meat-based recipe cooked for hours.
Prep Time: Dough 10 minutes, filling 20 minutes, 40 minutes forming the ravioli’s
Cook Time: 10-15 minutes and test them
Yield: 35 Ravioli
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Warm water to mix
2 lb. whole milk ricotta
1 teaspoon or more of salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste (slightly over salt)
Add finely chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese and the eggs to the ricotta, taste before adding salt. Slightly over salt the filling. Set the filling aside.
Place the flour on a board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and salt with a little water as needed. Use a fork and beat into the well the flour a little at a time. Form the dough into a ball and knead until it is smooth and shiny. Let it stand for at least 15 minutes to rest. If you are using a pasta machine to roll out the dough, keep the dough dry by adding less water. When using a pasta machine, roll the dough in the different slots until you come to the second to the last slot. This consistency is the desired thickness. As you roll the dough through the different slots, it will also knead the dough. If you are using a rolling pin, roll the dough out so that it is thin enough but not so thin that it would break. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, (large enough to fold over the filling) in an envelope style.
Place a tablespoon of filling along the middle of the dough. Fold the dough over the filling forming the envelope. Press down on the edges and also along the sections forming the squares. Be sure to cup the filling with your hands so that you remove as much of the air inside the envelope. Cut into squares (whatever size you wish). Prick the edges with a folk to keep them from opening while cooking.
The ravioli can be frozen at this point on a platter, and then removed when completely frozen to freezer bags. They can be cooked fresh in the same way as stated below.
Take them directly out of the freezer and place them in boiling salted water. When the water comes to a boil again, turn the heat down and let them cook at a light boil. They will float to the top when they are done. Test one to be sure they are done before removing them from the water. Remove them very carefully so that they don’t break. It is best to let them stand for a few minutes to let the water drain out completely.
Note: Other fillings such as spinach, squash, meat, or fish such as lobster or crab fillings can be used with the basic dough recipe.
Note: They can be served with a tomato sauce or butter and sage.
Note: If serving for a first dish, serve 3 ravioli. If serving for a main dish about 5 to 8 is a good size serving.
One of my friends on Foodbuzz was looking for ideas on how to use Ficoco, which is fig jam with cocoa. Sugar was expensive so many desserts were made with jams or mosto cotto (grape syrup) to sweeten cakes, cookies etc. Itlians have many jam or fruit filled cookies that ficoco would be perfect for, in fact figs were also used to make mosto cotto.
I have several stuffed cookie recipes that we make and one is “Ravioli Dolci”. This cookie is a recipe from Apuglia. Ravioli Dolci is a fried cookie that does not have a long shelf life, in fact this is best eaten the day they are made.
Ravioli Dolci di Puglia
Prep Time: 1 1/4 hours
Cook Time: 1 second per batch, about 3 at a time
Yield: 26 Dozen
8 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup shortening
1 shot glass of Marsala wine
Warm water, as needed
Canola or peanut oil for frying
8 oz. size bottle of honey or mosto cotto
1 lb. roasted almonds, finely chopped
1/2 lb. chocolate or chocolate chips, chopped
Ground cinnamon, to taste
Ground cloves, to taste
A teaspoon of any variety of jam or Ficoco.
In a pan on medium heat, melt all of the ingredients together, taste for seasoning and place it in the refrigerator.
Put all the dry ingredients together in a bowl or on a board and make a well in the middle. Put in the shortening, wine and if needed a little warm water. Mix until you can form the dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and place in the refrigerator for about 1 hour. You can also mix the dough in a food processor.
If you have a pasta machine, you can roll out the dough to the second to the last level. Or you may roll a thin layer of dough with a rolling pin. With a round cookie cutter, cut circles about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place a small amount of jam or of the roasted almond honey mixture with the tip of a teaspoon in the center of each circle. Fold over like a half moon and crimp the edges with a fork.
In a deep pan filled with oil, fry about 3 at a time until they are golden brown. They turn brown very quickly; only about a second per batch.
Allow them to cool and sprinkle confectionary sugar over the top.
A traditional sweet bread made at Christmas time, panettone was created in the Lombardy region of Italy and is the undisputable holiday favorite. Scholars have traced panettone back to the middle ages. The dome shaped sweet bread is traditionally made with candied fruits, zest and flavored with liquors. Today you can find it with chocolate chips and other ingredients. It is less like a cake then light fluffy sweet bread. The use of natural yeast results in a dough that rises slowly. The rising time can be as long as 48 hours. The long leavening contributes to the long shelf life, which can be as long as 6 months. Italian bakers take pride in the age of their leavening and some are maintained over many years.
It is eaten in Italy with a glass of white wine and in earlier time generally served as a dessert. Panettone is recognized in Italy as a very special greeting gesture of the Christmas season. Restaurants and shops offer panettone to their customers as a Christmas greeting and they can be found in all bakeries and markets in all sizes. At Christmas time you can be overwhelmed with gifts of panettone and I often use them to make panettone bread pudding or French toast for my overnight guests and I also freeze it. Panettone has become so popular that you can find it year round not just in Italy but all over the world.
They are baked in greased paper molds, which is removed like a cupcake. The greased paper molds help to maintain their freshness. The molds are available on Internet sites as well as metal panettone pans. The disposable molds are traditional and I prefer them to the pans. Usually packaged in brightly decorated boxes or colored decorated foils in blue and red – they are stacked high in markets.
We make panettone in smaller paper molds similar to cupcake cups but larger, and individually wrap them in cello wrap. We sell them as wedding favors, for parties and business conference breaks. Make them yourself and give them as Christmas gifts to special friends and family.
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: Yield: 375ºF for 35-45 minutes
Yield: 12 Panettone cups
2 1/4 teaspoons. active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 pinch of sugar
4 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 cups raisins, soaked in dry Marsala, rum or brandy for 30 minutes
3/4 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
6 oz. unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup candied fruit, mix with a tablespoon of flour
1 orange zest
1 lemon zest
1 teaspoon flour, to mix with the zest
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 tablespoons water
Combine the yeast, pinch of sugar and water and mix well to dissolve the yeast. Let it stand for about 10 minutes in a warm place such as the oven to activate. When foam appears on the top of the water, the yeast has been activated.
Put the flour, sugar, salt, butter and eggs in the large bowl of an electric mixer or food processor. Mix the dough with the dough hook at low speed. Add the yeast mixture slowly. When all the ingredients are incorporated, increase to medium speed or until the dough forms a ball.
Spread a little flour in a large bowl and place the dough in it. Cover it with plastic wrap and place in a draft-free place to rise for 4 hours. It should double in volume. Remove the dough and knead it for 5 minutes and return it to the bowl. Cover and let it rise again until it has doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
Strain the raisins and press down on them to remove the liquid. Lightly flour the work surface. Punch down the dough and make a large circle with your hands. Sprinkle the raisins, candied fruit, orange peel and lemon peel over the dough. Fold the dough over the mixture and knead it lightly until all of the ingredients have been incorporated. If you are adding the citron and/or zest, mix with the flour and add it to the dough.
Divide the dough into 12 round equally sized balls, approximately 4 1/2 ounces each. Butter each of the panettone cups lightly and place a ball in each cup. Cut a cross into the top with a knife. If using scissors make a small cut in both directions on the top or each ball of dough. Brush the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle some almond slices over the top. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place for another 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until it has doubled in volume again.
Preheat the oven to 375º F. Bake the panettoni for 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Allow them to cool on a wire rack. In this case we don’t have cups and we are cooking several cups.
Note: The Panettone can be made in one or two molds to make a larger cake. They are wonderful gifts as they have a long life and can be beautifully packaged.
As I look out my window in the middle of October the view is of white snow cover mountains and the ski slopes have turned from green to glimmering white. The ski resorts are busy getting ready for their winter guests and anticipating an active winter ski season. Graubunden has numerous ski resorts and attracts winter sports enthusiasts from all over the world. The atmosphere has a buzz and energy as soon as the first snowfall blankets the area. The villages wake up and go into action. This is their time of the year!
Graubünden has its own unique character. It is the largest Canton in Switzerland with Chur as its capital. Austria and Liechtenstein are on its North and Italy to the south. Like all regions in Switzerland, the architecture, language and cuisine are influenced by the French, Italian and German cultures. Swiss German, Romanish (its roots are from Latin) and Italian are spoken and alpine life embraces a wide variety of sports.
Artichokes are served in Italy in antipasti preserved in olive oil. The baby artichokes are most often used and are much easier to prepare. However, even though they are grown in California they don’t seem to be found in the markets in large quantities and are only available in small pre-packed packages. In Italy they are available in markets in large quantities and some markets are selling them already cleaned. Preserving them is a great way to have them on hand for a variety of cooking uses. I tossed them with pasta, as a vegetable side dish, in antispasti, as a topping on pizza, with fresh bread dipped in the oil and served with a few artichokes or sautéed, sliced over meat or fish. You can flavor them with your favorite herbs and make them your own special recipe.
A little about Artichokes
The edible portion of the artichoke is basically a flower bud with tough, petal-shaped leaves, and an inedible, flower center. When selecting artichokes, be sure they are tightly packed and are not dried out. It is best if you can buy them with the stems still intact as often found in Italy, but markets in the US tend to cut them off.
There are many varieties of artichokes but the ones most often found in markets are as follows:
Baby anzio is a relative of the romanesco artichoke of the Lazio region of Italy – purple and can be eaten whole
Big heart– green, three to five inches in diameter, are excellent for stuffing
Classic green globe, three to five inches in diameter, similar in shape and flavor to the French camus de bretagne, a summer artichoke grown in Brittany.
Siena, oblong shaped and red in color, four inches in diameter, central Italy, tender and can be eaten raw
The petite mercury, red-violet hue, rounded top, is sweeter than many other artichokes, about three and a half inches in diameter. Similar to baby anzio, comes from the Italian romanesco.
Omaha, dense and rotund artichoke, up to six inches wide, sharply tapered red-and-green leaves and less bitter than many artichoke varieties.
Fissile, two-inch-wide, fruity flavor, deep wine color, Bred from the violetta de provence, native to southern France, tender stalk that can be quickly steamed and eaten.
Chianti, a classically shaped, four-inch-wide, green with a touch of maroon on the leaves, comes from the Italian romanesco.
King, blocky and vividly colored has distinctive green spots at the tips of its leaves, four inches in diameter, bred from romanesco varieties mixed with other Italian artichoke strains.
Carciofi o carciofini sott’ olio
Preserved artichokes in olive oil
The small artichokes or baby artichokes (carciofini) are best for carciofi sott’olio. If they can’t be found then use globe artichokes and cut them into quarters.
Baby or medium size artichokes
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Lemon plus juice, cut in half or quarters, depending on the number of artichokes
2 sprigs fresh basil
1-2 tablespoons honey, optional
Fresh or flaked peperoncini to taste, optional
2 whole cloves garlic, optional
2 tablespoons flour
Other things needed
1 large glass-canning jar
Trim away the small bottom and tough outer leaves. Cut the tops of the artichokes about 1/4” down or to the tender part. Remove all the leaves down to the white leaves, keeping about 2 inches of stems. Cut the artichokes in half or quarters. Clean out the hay in the middle. Drop them into a bowl of water with lemon juice and the lemon halves. This will keep them from discoloring.
In a large pan, bring water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of flour in a separate bowl with water until it is liquid paste. Put this mixture in the boiling water. This will prevent discoloring and keep the artichokes a nice light green color.
Put the cleaned artichokes into the boiling water and cook until they just start to get slightly soft about 5-7 minutes depending on the size. Prick them with a knife – they should still be slightly hard. Remove them and place them on paper towels to drain.
When they have cooled, place them in a large glass-canning container. Add the basil, honey, pepperoncini and/or any other herbs, or garlic). Fill the container with extra virgin olive oil. If stored in a cool place they will last for about 2 months.
They can be served in an antipasti, or as side vegetable dish. Toss them in a salad, pasta or on a pizza. Slice them over grilled meat or fish. If you plan to use them in food preparation, don’t add the honey. The ingredients above are an example of what can be added, but don’t exclude herbs you like.
We often shop in 2 markets in Como, Italy; one is the main market in the center of Como and the other is the Ipera in Grandate. Very near to this market is a little local restaurant called Ristorante Arcade. There isn’t much about the curb view of this restaurant that would make you look twice and stop for a meal. However, this restaurant has some different dishes specializing in snails not often seen in Italy. On one of our shopping trips, it was lunch time, and we were very hungry with not too many restaurants around, we noticed Ristorante Arcade. Having had many wonderful meals in small local restaurants, we stopped in for lunch. I had Funghi lumache e salsiccia con polenta taragna. It was not like any dish I had eaten in Italy and I not only loved it but asked the chef for the recipe. He was good enough to give me the recipe and a bag of Teglio-Valtellina polenta. I have featured this dish on Foodbuzz.
Vieste Foggia is located in Puglia in the southeast of Italy. The old medieval town stands on the eastern coastline of the Gargano; a peninsula protruding towards Dalmatia, surrounded by the Adriatic Sea and separated from the Apennines by the Tavoliere plateau with a unique landscape of naturalistic beauty. It is a melting pot of foreign populations with influences of Greek, Arab, Norman and Pisan reflected in its architecture making it distinctly different from other Italian villages. There are the sea caves and grottos and long white sand beaches. Ride bikes along the hilly coastline visiting many small villages or the National Park. The region is famous for olives and olive oil light in color and flavor perfect for the typical seafood cuisine.
The old village is not reachable by car. Stone steps bring you back in time to a village with glorious views of the Adria. It is situated atop a cliff capped with white stucco flat roofed houses. Doorways framed with pepperoncini (red hot peppers), pomodori (cherry tomatoes), pepperoni (peppers) and aglio (garlic) line the old cobblestone streets. I remember once when I took my brother there for his first visit, as we were meandering through the village in the late afternoon saying all this needs to complete this picture is a mother calling out “Angeloooooo!”. To our absolute amazement that is exactly what happened as the words left out mouths.
Colorful and friendly proprietors welcome you into the small Enoteca and restaurants offering beautiful fresh grilled fish, troccoli chitarra, pastas with ripe tomatoes grown locally and zuppa di peche (fish soup).
Puglia is one of the largest wine-growing regions in Italy and you will be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wines. Deep in color and aroma, they compliment the flavors of the products grown in the region. Many can be bought in wine shops in the US and Europe. The following wines are some of the more popular available:
Aleatico di Puglia, Alezio, Brindisi, Cacc’è Mmitte di Lucera, Castel del Monte,Copertino, Galatina, Gioia del Colle, Gravina, Leverano, Lizzano, Locorotondo, Martina o Martina Franca, Matino, Moscato di Trani. Nardò, Ortanova, Ostuni, Primitivo di Manduria, Rosso di Barletta, Rosso di Canosa, Rosso di Cerignola, Salice Salentino, San Severo, Squinzano.
In the early nineteen hundreds many Italians emigrated from this region of Italy to America. They brought with them rich traditions, culture and wonderful recipes. Living in Europe for many years, I have traveled to Vieste often and took a cooking course to learn the local dishes of my heritage. My grandparents immigrated to the US between 1894-1912. The name was originally “Tura”, but as happened to many immigrants their name was misspelled at Ellis Island and the name became “Turo”. Also like many immigrants, they worked at what they knew and opened “Turo’s Market”, (originally a fish market) in Worcester Massachusetts. Later the family went into the restaurant business.
Orecciette con cimi di rape is a specialty in Apulia. As you sit down to eat your homemade oreccietti con cimi di rapa (shown below), given to me by a chef at the “Palace Hotel Pizzomunno”, you will feel as if you are experiencing a meal in a little restaurant situated on a cobble stone street overlooking the Adria in Vieste (Foggia) Italy.
4 cups flour (all purpose, or half all purpose and half semolina flour)
4 medium eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt
Water (tepid) as required
Place the flour mixture on a pastry board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs, olive oil, salt and a small amount of water (you can always add more water if the dough is too dry). Begin to stir the flour from the outside part of the well into the wet ingredients. Continue this process until the dough holds together in a ball. The dough should seem as if it is too dry continue kneading for at least 10-15 minutes, and allow it to stand covered with a clean kitchen towel at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
Roll out a cylinder about 1/2” wide and 10” long. Cut into 1/2” pieces. Taking one piece at a time, turn the piece of dough with the cut side up. Press your thumb down on the dough and pull it slightly toward you. Turn the piece of dough inside out to form a little cap. The edges will be a little thicker so that is looks like a rim.
1 lb. Cime di rape (mustard greens)
4 small tomatoes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
1 pepperoicnno (small dried hot pepper)
Salt to taste
Put the olive oil, chopped garlic, pepperoicnno and anchovies into a pan and cook for a few minutes. The anchovies will begin to break up and dissolve. Do not burn the garlic or the sauce will taste bitter. Add in the tomatoes that have been cut into cubes and deseeded.
Remove the leaves and flowerets from the mustard greens. The stems are fibrous and discarded. Cut the leaves roughly.
In a large pan of boiling salted water, put in the orecchiette and the rabe. Cook until the rabe and pasta are done. If the orrecchiette is fresh this will only take 3-5 minutes; if boxed follow the cooking direction on the box and put the rabe in for the last 5-6 minutes. Place the orecchiette and rabe into the sauce and grate the pecorino on the top.
The story of coffee began in the East, in about 400 B.C. The first coffee traders were the inhabitants of Ethiopia. The trade then moved to the southernmost part of the Arabian Peninsula. Later, Yemen became the nerve center for the coffee trade. There are many legends telling of the origins of coffee, historic, religious, popular, each of them with varying degrees of popularity.
In the West, coffee first became popular in Venice. It is believed that the first coffee shop opened in 1640. It was an instant success and both the coffee “Bar” and the beverage spread to every Italian city.
Drinking expresso is a phenomenon marked by a ritual in Italy.
The Italian name for a bartender is “barista”. A bartender is considered a profession in Italy and is the professional operator of an expresso machine. A pre-warmed demitasse is a small cup used for espresso. The foam floating on the top of the coffee is called “crema”.
The Italian Bar is the center of social life in Italy. It is where Italians have their breakfast that mostly consists of a cappuccino with a sweet roll usually filled with jam. The bars also serve freshly squeezed orange juice, pastries, small sandwiches, liquors and sometimes gelati. Italians drop in several times a day for an expresso and meet for a glass of wine after work. The atmosphere is warm and inviting and filled with the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans. The Italian Bar is a way of life; it is everyone’s living room or office where friends meet and business is conducted. You are never alone in Italy because there is always a bar close by. If the tables are occupied, and you see a free seat, you simply ask if it is free and join the others at the table. One always pays for their order first at the “Cassa”. You can sit all day in a bar if you wish without ever being asked to order anything else. Scurrying waiters deliver “expressi” from local bar’s balancing trays in one hand to offices in the surrounding area. The activity is constant and the common link is the “espresso”.
On a recent visit to Modena, although it was a cool day, people wrapped in coats and scarves sat outside sipping their espresso. Weather does not interrupt the coffee “pausa”. It almost seems as if drinking expresso is an addiction, but it is a lifestyle. I remember when I took my brother on his first visit to Italy; this tradition was astonishing to him. The Bars on every corner filled with Italians drinking what he called their ” teaspoon of coffee” was an attraction in itself. To walk by a Bar and not go in is totally impossible to do. The aroma lures you in and you find yourself sipping an expresso without even thinking about it.
It is said that four “Ms“ are key to a good espresso: miscela (blend), macinazione (grind), macchina (machine), and mano (hand).
The term “espresso” was translated from the Italian “esprimere” meaning “pressed out” or “express”. In Italy it is simply called caffé.
An espresso machine forces water at 90 °C (195 °F) and 15 bar of pressure through a puck of finely ground coffee. This produces a rich, beverage by extracting and emulsifying the oils in the ground coffee. An espresso machine also has a steam element, which is used to steam and froth milk for cappuccino and latte.
The flowing list the different types of coffee prepared in a typical Italian Bar.
Caffè or espresso
Decafinato – a decafnated espresso
Ristretto – the espresso amount of coffee with half the water it is very concentrated
Doppio – (“Double”) Double shot of espresso.
Caffè lungo – a long coffee, more water is added and the coffee is weaker
Cappuccino – espresso with steamed milk and foam. Italians drink cappuccino only at breakfast
Macchiato – espresso with just a bit of steamed milk on top
Corretto – espresso with a little liquor, usually Grappa or Sambuca
Latte – short espresso with hot milk
Caffè con zucchero – espresso with sugar. Usually you add your own.
When I first visited Apuglia, I was taken by the beauty of the shoreline. I was on a search to discover the place of my heritage, to understand a little more about my grandparents as I thought I would also discover a little about myself.
Since my family has been in the food business from the time my grandfather immigrated from Vieste (FG) Italy, food was where I jumped in first. The traditions and approach to food can be a starting point for anyone searching for answers about their heritage as so many traditions are wrapped around how people eat and go about it. I wondered if any of the recipes my family made would be exactly like those in Vieste or if they had been changed to satisfy the taste of the now American family. I write often about these recipes, but one that I found when writing up my family’s recipes was taralli and the important roll they play in Italian cuisine.
When I went through the soiled and hand written recipes of my aunts and grandmothers, I found many taralli recipes. Taralli with fennel and anise seed, black or red pepper flakes, made with egg or baking powder, wine or beer. They were boiled then baked, or just baked. This amazed me because although my family are experts at making Italian biscotti, they never made taralli, with the exception of wine taralli and egg taralli at Easter.
Taraill should be named the national biscotti. They are served with an aperitif, in a breadbasket, as a dessert, by hungry children as a snack and dunked in wine over a conversation or for breakfast. Taralli are eaten any time of the day by everyone young and old. They can be found in every market and bakery and in most homes. It became my quest to learn how to make taralli at home.
The Pugliese have a saying “Tutto finisce con taralli e vino”, no matter what the argument it can always be solved with a glass of wine and a handful of taralli.
Black Pepper & Fennel Taralli
Prep Time: 1 hr. 15 min.
Cook Time: 20 minutes at 375º F
Yield: 7 Dozen
8 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 ounce dry yeast (1 package is 1/4 ounce or 7g)
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper, crushed by hand
3 tablespoons fennel seed, whole
3/4 cup warm water
1 cup oil
12 oz. can beer
2 tablespoons water
In a small bowl add the warm water and dry yeast. Let it rest in a warm place for 15 minutes until it foams. In a separate large bowl, add all the dry ingredients. Make a well in the middle and add the egg. Gradually add oil, the yeast mixture and beer alternating with the flour mixture until the dough is formed. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead the dough until it is smooth and workable. Cover the dough with a towel and let it rest on the counter for at least one hour.
Form the dough into a cylinder about 1/2″ thick, and cut them into pieces about 6″ long. Take each 6” long piece of dough and bring the ends together to form an oval shape. Press the ends together with your thumb. Brush the taralli with the egg wash and place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
Bake for 20 minutes at 375º F. They should be lightly brown on the top.
NOTE: They will last about 1 month stored in a paper bag or a metal container. Do not put them in a humid place.
Known as the Bündner Herrschaft, and the Five Villages (Fünf Dörfer) Zizers, Malans, Jenins, Maienfeld, and Fläsch, are located in the district of Landquart and the Chur Rhein valley in the Canton of Graubünden.
Maienfeld is dominated by the Schloss Brandis built from 1270-1275. Narrow streets curve through the small village like a ribbon wrapped around a perfect gift. The beautifully frescoed Rathaus (town hall) stands proudly in the center of the village. Scholss Brandis – now a restaurant has a small garden where you can enjoy the beauty of this village with a glass of local fresh light Pinot Blanc.
The wine route (Weinbergweg) runs from Chur to Fläsch through the five villages. The main variety of grape grown is Pinot Noir. Riesling-Sylvaner (Müller–Thurgau) and Chardonnay, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) are now also being grown. The route is best visited by walking or biking and taking in the beauty of the vineyards decorated with roses and artist ateliers scattered about the villages displaying works of art. You can catch a bus or train back to your starting point if you don’t want to walk back. Wineries are open for wine tasting and little hotels and restaurants with terraced gardens interrupt your walk as you just can’t resist going in and sitting down to a glass of wine and a Bünderteller (air dried meats and cheeses). Some of the restaurants have jazz evenings serving local specialties while people patiently wait for the vendange. The lively music seems to stimulate the sugars in the grapes. Cows graze lazily, and friends enjoy horse and carriages rides as they spend a day together laughing and waving to people as they pass-by.
“Städtlifest” celebrates the harvest and is held on the last weekend of September or the first in October. This year it will be in Maienfeld from Friday, October 2 until Sunday, October 5. The quite villages and typical Bündner chalets are decorated with huge sunflowers covering the doorways and fountains filled with roses and fall flowers. Locals, dressed in traditional costumes are entertained by small musical groups and Alpenhorn billowing music over the vineyards. A typical Swiss fest full of tradition and color has people waiting in line to get a portion of Racelette in huge wheels melting and scraped onto hot boiled potatoes. Grills are placed throughout the village with huge wood skewers of goat (zigerspitz) grilled in flashes of fire as seasoned oil is scooped over them in what looks like a flamethrower performing amazing tricks. We watch munching on our zigerspitz; the bratwurst grilling, wine being poured into cups while people and children scurry around visiting friends and making this one of the most colorful local fests in the region. This is Switzerland at its best.
As early as 1291 according to documents from monasteries, Wilhelm Tell called the cheese “Bratchäs” and Raclette cheese was born. Raclette is a Swiss cheese specialty that is made by melting Raclette cheese. It is believed that it originated in the Valais Canton of Switzerland.
Old tradition has it that farmers took the cheese up into the mountains when they tended to their herds. They placed the cheese over heated stones, the cheese melted and was scraped onto cooked potatoes. Of course as legend goes, it is also believed that they put the cheese too close to a fire and it melted. Whatever the story, it is one of the most popular Swiss dishes.
Raclette is a pungent mountain cheese that is creamy, powerful, full-fat, semi-hard cheese made from whole milk. The maturity period is about 4 – 5 months. It can be bought in a wheel or a square. The original cheese is made in Switzerland but you also get cheeses from Italy and France. The Italians also use Fontina.
The key is to get the cheese when it is perfect and this is the challenge. If it is too young, it is to mild and doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Too mature and it tends to be oily and very strong and the rind is sticky. Still I lean towards the more mature. The cheese should have a dark beige rind with no cracks or reddening. The texture should be creamy and it should have a pungent aroma. Raclette stores very well in the refrigerator. Cut it when it is cold and bring it to room temperature before serving.
Today most Swiss prepare Raclette with electric machines. They can be bought from 1 to 8 servings and come with wooden scrapers and small non-stick palettes. The cheese is cut into squares the size of the palette and placed in the Racelette oven. The cheese melts and is scraped off onto a waiting hot plate. The biggest advantage to this method is that everyone can eat at his or her own pace and no one is slave to the preparation. A metal grill or granite piece covers the grill and keeps the plates warm. If the machine has a grill, meats or vegetables can be grilled at the same time. However, traditionally this was not part of the original dish.
Another version of the machine holds a half wheel of Raclette cheese. The cheese is secured onto a holding tray. The heating element is placed over the cheese and when the cheese melts it is scraped off with a knife onto a hot plate.
We have both machines and I prefer the half wheel machine, as the cheese tends to get slightly crispy on top giving it a smoky flavor. The disadvantage is that this machine is not inexpensive and is hard to find. The person preparing the cheese has to be dedicated to the preparation eliminating him/her from joining in the party. This type of machine is used in the mountains for large groups and during festivals and adds a lot of atmosphere to a party.
Boiled potatoes (Charlotte) and cornichons (French pickles) always accompany the cheese. A twist of a pepper mill is ground over the top. Small pickled onions and small pepperoncini peppers can also be served. I love the pepperoncini, which adds a little Italian twist to the dish. Covered cloth bags or baskets are specially made for holding and keep the potatoes warm. Dry white Swiss wines such as a Fendant or Lavaux (Epesses, St. Saphorin) is an excellent compliment to the cheese.
Most people tend to have this dish in the winter. It is perfect for an après ski dinner and we have had many evenings sitting around the table with a fire blazing after a day of skiing enjoying a Racelette dinner. But we have found it is a wonderful summer meal as well sitting out on the balcony enjoying the view of the mountains.
I always look forward to enjoying a dinner of Raclette. But be prepared to air out the room. When you’re enjoying this meal and savoring a glass of wine and good conversation, you don’t notice the aroma. Once the meal is over the smell of the cheese is overwhelming. Never-the- less, there is a block of Raclette in my refrigerator at all times during the winter.
The Lavaux is a region is in the canton of Vaud. It was developed mostly by monks about 800 years ago, the vineyards of Lavaux can be traced back to the 11th century. The villages are strung together by miles of stonewalls along steep hills with magnificent views of Lake Geneva. The small ancient villages and the terraced vineyards are reminiscent of another time. The stonewalls create a micro-climate storing the warmth of the sun during the day, radiating warm throughout the vineyards during the night hours. In the Dézaley the surface area of the vertical stonewalls is larger then the land area. Lavaux is mainly known for its white wines. The main wine grape variety grown here is the Chasselas. It is a full, dry and fruity white wine. The villages of Chexbres, Cully, Epesses, Forel, Grandvaux, Lutry, Puidoux, Riex, Rivaz, Saint-Saphorin, Savigny, Treytorrens and Villette makeup the “Route du Vin”. Stone houses grouped along the route, with panoramic views of the lake quietly stand watch over their precious vineyards. Under cantonal law, the vineyards of the Lavaux are protected from development. In July 2007, the Lavaux was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“Le Caveau des Vignerons” are open on various days of the week for the convenience of guests and wine connoisseurs. Here in the ambiance of a Caveau you can taste the wines of the Lavaux accompanied with local dried meats and cheeses. Visitors can walk from village to village along service roads, stopping to enjoy an apéro at one of the many restaurants and café’s along the route.
Having lived in Cully for several years, I enjoyed a daily walk through the vineyards and made it my duty to watch over the growth of the grapes. The peace that blankets the vineyards as the grapes mature was always amazing to me. It is as though they are being attended to by angles whispering encouragement and gentle nurturing. However living in this wine growing region, I know the effort that goes into the vineyards. As we sat in the afternoons at the “Au Major Duval” restaurant” where many of the locals meet, we listened to endless discussions about how the weather is effecting the maturing of the grapes, what the Oechsli degree (sugar content) is or might be, and when the harvesting should start. The tedious job of pruning and testing, harvesting and finally making the wine is what a vinter’s life is about.
The harvest starts late September to the beginning of October. The atmosphere is animated as many pickers arrive to work the vendange. The grapes are carried down steep hills on temporary rails set up to carry carts full of grapes down to small trucks. Crushing machines are setup outside of the wineries and the grapes are dumped and crushed with the juices filling large stainless steel vats for the first stages of the fermentation within hours. When this difficult work is completed the pickers set off fireworks and jump into Lake Geneva to celebrate.
Every year approximately 40,000 music lovers enjoy the Cully Jazz Festival held at the end of March for 9 days. Professional and armature artists from all over perform in an environment with a unique ambiance. Sessions are held in the Caveaus are free. Buy a bottle of the festival selected wine and enjoy the best of jazz throughout the village visiting each caveau. Events in a festival tent installed in the park, at the Salle Davel and in the Church require tickets.
There are a number of local restaurants and hotels in the area. I have only listed a few of the more well know establishments.
Au Major Davel, Place d’armes 8,1096 Cully. Tel: +41-21 799 94 94: Fax: +41-21 799 37 82. www.hotelaumajordavel.ch
Bernadette and Rolf Messmer own “Au Major Davel”. The small hotel and restaurant offers its guests superb views of the lake and the hills of the Savoie on the French side of Lake Geneva from every room. The 12 rooms were renovated a few years ago and the restaurant opens onto the park along the lake. In the summer the Messmers offer Jazz one evening a week in the open air in front of the restaurant.
As you enjoy your meal you watch the steamboats slowly float to the dock to drop off or pick up visitors traveling among the villages around the lake. We spent many evenings after being away on business enjoying dinner and wine of the region at Au Major Davel. As we looked out at the lights blinking on hills around the lake, the sky full of stars we were happy to be back in paradise.
At the “Raisin” Chef Hasler and his team are well respected in the world of gastronomy. The hotel is a member of the Relais & Chateaux and has hosted many famous guests. It was built in the 14th and 15th century and is equipped with all the comforts and a beautiful decor. The wine list, including the wines of the Dézaley, selection of spirits and a Cigars list await their guests. Located in the center of the village, it is within a short walking distance to the lake. Log on to their web page for more information.
Hunting season has arrived and hunters head for the mountains in search for deer, elk and mountain goat. The hunting season is only about 3 weeks or the time that is needed to meet the culling goals of the herds. Hunters deliver their game to the local butchers who prepare them and sell the meat. Hirsch, Reh (venison and elk) are prepared into steaks, racks, sausage, Hirsch Peffer (marinated venison in wine) and Hirsch Bündner Fleisch (air dried meat a Graubünden speciality. The meat is rubbed with a mixture of pepper, juniper berries, herbs and salt and hung to dry in small barns in the mountains about 5,500 ft. for several month. During this time the meat loses about 50% of the water content. The Bündner Fleisch is then sliced into razor thin slices and served with cornichons (sour pickles), rye bread, small pickled onions and tomatoes. It is a Bündner specialty, although it is also made in the Ticino (Italian part of Switzerland). Veltliner wine is often consumed with Bündner Fleisch. Veltliner is a blend of Ciavennasca, Pinot Noir and Merlot grapes, produced in Graubünden and Lombardy, Italy. Veltliner is mostly sold in Switzerland and Northern Italy.
Today some factories reduce the drying process using air blowers. The product made internationally does not compare to the one made in Switzerland. In Graubünden it is offered in every restaurant and served on rustic wooden pallets.
We put our order in for Reh and Hirsch medallions, racks and steaks with our local butcher and have it frozen so that we can have local venison during the winter months. Grilling it over an open wood fire adds a slightly smoky rustic flavor. Traditionally Spätzli (a dumpling made by making a batter and scraping small pieces off into boiling water), wine poached pears with cranberry sauce and glazed chestnuts are served with venison. But I have created a chestnut fettuccine that I think compliments grilled venison.
Cervo alla Griglia
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2-3 minutes on each size depending on the weight
Yield: 2 servings
2-6 oz. venison medallions
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Bring the venison to room temperature. Rub each one with olive oil, salt and pepper on both sides.
Allow the fire to burn down to red coals, but it should be just a little smokey. Place the medallions on the grill and cook them on the wood fire until the meat slightly springs back to your touch. If it is resistant it is over done. This usually takes a few minutes on each side. The venison should be a deep rose color in the middle.
Venison can be grilled on an electric or coal grill, but the woody, smoky flavor when grilled over a wood fire gives the venison a wonderful rustic flavor.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 7 minutes for the sauce and 3 minutes for the fettuccine
Yield: 4 Servings
1 1/2 cups flour 00, (if you can’t find 00 use all purpose flour)
1/2 cup chestnut flour
Pinch of salt
2 medium sized eggs
2 tablespoons tepid water
In a food processor, place all the dry ingredients except for the water. Add the eggs. Start the mixer allowing the ingredients to blend for 30 seconds, then add the water. As soon as it starts to look like it is a heavy corn meal, stop the processor and feel the dough. It should be very dry, but when pinched between your fingers, it should stick together. Don’t add additional water unless the dough is not sticking together. Remove the mixture and knead for 10-15 minutes by hand. The amount of water may be needed.
If you are making the dough by hand, place the flour on a board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs in the well and mix the wet ingredients into the flour with a fork. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, cover it with a clean kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out.
Using a pasta machine, roll a piece of the dough through each level. Once you have rolled it through the last level the dough will be ready to roll through the noodle cutter of the pasta machine. Rolling the dough through these levels also kneads it. Using the noodle cutter, roll a piece of dough through and take half the noodles and roll them around your hand to form a little nest. Put them on a kitchen towel and let them dry. If you have a pasta hanger, don’t make nests, but hang them to dry. You can also roll the dough into a cylinder and cut it with a knife about 1/4″. Toss with a little flour.
Drop the fettuccine in a large amount of lightly boiling salted water and test after a few minutes. They should take only about 3 minutes to cook.
Note:. Chestnut flour may be found in specialty stores
Sage & Pine Nut Sauce
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 6-7 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
1 lb pasta
12 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup pine nuts
Several leaves of fresh sage
Salt to taste
In a deep pan, boil salted water and cook the fettuccini. If the pasta is boxed, cook according to directions. If the pasta is fresh, it will take less than 3 minutes to cook.
While the water is heating up, prepare the sauce. In a saucepan, melt the butter and the oil. Cut the sage leaves lengthwise and place them in the saucepan along with the pine nuts. Sauté it in the butter and oil, watch the pine nuts very carefully as they will brown very quickly. Remove from the stove as soon as they start to turn golden brown and allow them to finish browning in the hot butter. If the sauce needs more liquid, add a little boiling water from the pasta.
A battle is on about the use of natural corks in wine. Wineries that are turning to synthetic stoppers say it is because a small percentage of the natural corks leak, crumble or leave wine with a musty taste. This is true, there is always that risk if the wine isn’t stored properly. The wineries that I have visited all do technical testing of corks but it is not a guarantee.
Some wineries are moving from corks to metal closures. The reason for this shift is that an increased amount of wine being contaminated by cork taint, leaving the wine tasting musty and dull. The culprit for this unpleasant phenomenon, which can spoil up to one in 10 bottles, is trichloroanisole (TCA), a compound formed when chlorine used for bleaching reacts with mould already growing in the cork. Humans are incredibly sensitive to the compound and can detect it even at weak dilutions of six parts per trillion. TCA can flourish in several areas of a bottling facility, such as drains and barrels, but corks pose the biggest problem. “AZo Journal of Materials Online”.
Many types of grape wines are bottled using a cork sealed with a metal cap. The metal cap traditionally used on the better wines is made primarily of lead. Any lead product used in connection with foods or consumable liquids should be examined carefully to evaluate the danger of lead contamination. An earlier report by PERRE and JAUL~S (1948) showed that lead caps on wine bottles lead to an increased level of lead in wine. Lead Caps on Wine Bottles and Their Potential Problems by C. M. Wai, C. R. Knowles, and J. F. Keely- Department of Chemistry, University of Idaho. Today led is forbidden in many countries and metal caps are usually made of aluminum.
Scientists have shown that the long-term use of plastic corks in wine bottles leads to organic chemicals leaking into the wine, causing potential health risks. A report by the Leatherhead Food Research Association, a centre funded by the food and drink industry, shows that plastic corks can taint wine, causing an “off-taste” if it is stored for more than 18 months.
Plastic corks are cheaper than top-grade natural corks. The Mediterranean Region is the largest supplier of cork oak and they will be economically affected by this change. It’s not so much about economics to the wine connoisseurs as it the tradition and ritual that is at stake. They say that most people wouldn’t even know the difference. Plastic stoppers may be more acceptable to wine lovers then metal caps. Most wine lovers are clearly enthralled with the tradition of opening a bottle of wine with a corkscrew, listening to the pop when pulling it out and sniffing the cork. The process of a sommelier opening the wine at the table and popping the bottle is not going to be easily given up. A lot has gone into the romanticism of this process-it goes hand and hand with drinking wine.
Is the glass closure the answer since it seems to allow some oxygen into the bottle and the loved process of opening the bottle at the table with pomp and circumstances isn’t threatened?
According to Alcoa’s Closure Systems International new glass and acrylic closures provide attractive alternatives to corks and synthetic stoppers.
The elegant new closure looks like a decorative decanter stopper, and it is recyclable. Made with flexible o-rings, the stopper provides a sterile seal, preventing contamination or oxidation. An aluminum overcap and traditional neck sleeve will ensure mechanical protection and tamper evidence. Whitehall Lane owner Thomas Leonardini says “The glass stopper makes perfect sense. It is attractive, functional and eliminates the problems associated with natural cork.”However, the greatest benefit is that the possibility of cork taint ruining the bottle aged with a Vino-Seal closure system is zero,” said Leonardini. “And, the bottle can also be safely aged standing up.” Vino-Seal is also easy to open – no corkscrew needed. There also comes a second advantage: It is resealable. The contents of already opened bottles can now be sealed easily over and over again. In addition, the decorative stopper appeals to the aesthetic demands of connoisseurs.
George M. Taber says “I am interested in the new glass closures, for a red wine to age properly I believe it needs to be exposed to minute levels of oxygen over a long period of time, and cork seems to be the only closure capable of achieving this. However, when a closure is invented that keeps my wine safe from oxidation, allows it to properly age and eliminates TCA contamination from cork I’ll gladly retire my corkscrew”. GM Taber’s book, “Cork or Not to Cork”.
We are finding many more wines being served with metal caps, but mainly for white wines that are drunk within the first 2 years. I have to admit, I’m not excited about this and don’t like being served a bottle of wine with a metal cap. I have less of a problem with a plastic or glass stopper. There are about 350 wineries in Europe now using the glass stopper. I have yet to be served wine in a restaurant with a glass stopper, but I’m sure it is only a matter of time.
We store wine for a long period of time, especially when buying futures. The incident of a wine having a cork is small, but it is not a happy occasion when this happens. Ultimately the glass stopper may be an elegant solution that preserves the long time traditions of the wine industry and wine storage. The jury seems to be still out on this issue and it will be interesting to see which one wins, the old or the new.
We started our trip in Treviso and stayed at “Col Delle Rane” in Caetano, S. Marco (Treviso) Italy. Cajeran was the old name of the town and it means “Hole of Frogs” There once were two small ponds in front of the villa where frogs made their home. After World War II one of the ponds was filled with war debris and covered. The frogs moved on to the second pond. “Col Delle Rane” means hill of frogs in remembrance of the pond and the frogs that lived there.
The original house was built 300 years ago with the original villa in the center. It was originally for the workers of this hill (vineyards). The farmhouse was reconstructed between 1988-1989 and the Agriturismo originally opened with 6 rooms. It was the first Agriturismo in the Treviso Province with rooms. The swimming pool constructed of stone was built 3 years ago in remembrance of the pond and its frog inhabitants. Today the hotel has 14 rooms and 4 apartments. In Treviso, Agriturismi are only allowed to have facilities for 30 people. The law may change in September and the hotel, which has another building, can be expanded and add additional rooms and a restaurant. Today there is a beautiful building with large windows overlooking the vineyards and the pool where breakfast is served. The farm has vineyards and orchards where they grow apricots, kiwi and the vineyard production is about 60% Procescco grapes. The breakfast included fruits and apple juice produced at the farm, homemade jams, homemade pound cake, meats, cheeses, breads and honey. The Agriturismo had bikes and in the evening we rode through the vineyards where we met many locals walking, riding horses or jogging.
We stopped at a market and purchased “Sopressa Vincentia” (an aged salami produced in the region), Asiago cheese, melon with Prosciutto (Berico-Euganeo) and being that is was cherry season, we feasted on fresh picked cherries for both breakfast and dessert. The hotel had several tables outdoors where we enjoyed our local specialties. The entire Gallina family were perfect hosts and took a great deal of time to help each guest plan their day and gave me this story about the farm.
We choose “Col Delle Rane” because the areas we wanted to visit were easily reachable from Treviso in about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Padova (UNESCO site), Bassano del Grappa, Asolo, Marostica (famous for cherries) Treviso (famous for Radicchio rosso di Treviso), Asiago (famous for Asiago cheese) and Venice. Also the “Strada del Prosecco” and the wine regions of Soave, Bardolino and Valpolicella were on our itinerary. Other wines of this region are: Recioto, Amarone, Torcolate, Tocai Rosso, Garganega, Verduzzo, Raboso, Moscato, Cabernet Franc, Pino Nero, Pino Grigio and Merlot. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the style of Champagne. It is a light dry wine mainly served as aperitif, but partners well with fish and light first dishes. The region is also famous for its grappa production. We made it a point to do a little grappa tasting in Bassano del Grappa at the Poli Distillery where we tasted chocolate, coffee and strawberry grappa. I found them a little sweet and preferred the Mascato, Cabernet and Merlot Grappa. There is a museum with the history of distillation of Grappa.
Other areas close by are Lake Garda (a very popular summer resort), Vicenza (UNESCO site) and Verona (UNESCO site). Castles and aristocratic houses dot the countryside and villages with thermal spas attract visitors who enjoy these wellness spas in an environment of past times. The climate is suited to viniculture and orchards are grown along side the vineyards producing peaches, kiwi, plums, apples, cherries and aprocots. The villages we visited were very small and at least 3 can be visited with a good travel plan in a day. There is a canal that runs through Traviso and some shopping, but the small village of Asolo is considered the “Pearl of the Province”.
The guests at the hotel were very friendly and some either had once lived in the area at one time or had visited the hotel many times in the past. One guest recommended the Locanda Sandi vineyard and restaurant in Valdobbladene. The Locanda Sandi is one of the largest vineyards with Prosecco being about 80% of the grapes produced. They have a lovely wine tasting building with chairs outdoors overlooking the vineyards. Late in the evening we sat outdoors in the terrace lit with soft lights surrounded with flowers and ate snails in an herb sauce and veal with porcini mushrooms. A large table was arranged with many different vegetables such as roasted eggplant, zucchini, roasted red peppers, rosemary potatoes and a variety of salads. Porcini mushrooms are picked in woods around Asaigo and are an important part of the local cuisine. A basket full of blankets rolled up and tied with ribbons were available so that if you got cold in the evening you could put one over your shoulders. It did get a little chilly and we took advantage of the blankets.
In Asiago we enjoyed pasta prepared with a white asparagus (grown in the area of Bassano) made with Asiago cheese and a sauce of Asiago cheese with Speck and one with zucchini flowers were specialties and surprising light.
One evening we had dinner at a small Agritursimo next door to the Col Delle Rane. The restaurant is opened only on the weekends and we feasted on roast duck, homemade pasta and of course Prosecco as we ate among the chickens, goats and families enjoying an evening out.
A music and beer festival was being held in Montebelluna and we ate at a recommended pizzeria and listened to jazz being played in the Piazza. Several groups were stationed throughout the town and café’s were crowded with locals enjoying beer and Prosecco. We watched demonstrations of karate, fencing and local dancing and felt like we were part of the local crowd. A guest recommended the pizzeria but said that since it was also a restaurant so they didn’t have as many varieties as another located just at the entrance of town. There must have been 50 selections of pizza on the menu and the pizzeria we didn’t go to had a very long line waiting to get in. I can’t even imagine how many were on the menu as we were told that they had a much larger selection. The crust was thin and crispy and very light but very large.
The region is considered one of the biggest producers of sports equipment, sports clothes and shoes in Italy and the world (www.factoryoutletsitaly.com/regions.htm). There are many factory outlets through out the region. Geox, Nordica, Diadora, Benneton, Asolo, Prince, Kastle, Rollerblade, Killer Loop and Tecnica for example are just a few and prices are about 35% less. This hotel is in a great location for business people who are on buying trips to these factories and many of them came and went during the week of our stay.
The train station in Montebelluna was easy to get to and taking the train is the easiest way of getting to Venice. It took about 1 hour and 10 minutes with one change in Traviso. As usual there were many people in Venice but it is still such a beautiful place and like no other in the world.
While living in Cully, (Lavaux) Switzerland, I shopped at the farmers market in Vevey. There I noticed bottles of dark syrup for sale. A vendor explained that this deep brown/purple syrup was made from grapes and is used in the preparation of fruit tarts. This is a wine-growing region with many small vintners. During the vendange (harvest) I would see mounds of grape skins stacked along the side of the wineries. I thought they were to be discarded. Not so, with such an important product every last part of the grape is made into wonderful surprises, such as Grappa or Raisinée au Vincuit. The mystery of this syrup is of course dependant on the type of grapes used. You will find a different flavor in each wine-growing region, so it is worth it to buy a bottle wherever you find it. The syrup can be sprinkled over cakes or ice cream, or mix it with fruit to be baked in tarts and glazes for meats or fish.
In the French part of Switzerland it is called Raisinée au Vincuit.
It is also made from very ripe fruits when the sugar is most concentrated. It is a reduction of fruit juices and pulp or skins until the liquid becomes thick and syrupy, the consistency of honey. It can also be made from pears or apples or as in Italy figs and raisins.
In Italy it is called mosto cotto or vino cotto, and it is also called sabe. Sugar was so expensive and grapes grow all over Italy, that they made the syrup and used it to replace sugar. It is used in the preparation of desserts, or whenever a sweetener is needed. As in Switzerland, it is sprinkled over cheese, breads and cakes or ricotta, yogurt or cookies. Mosto cotto not only adds sweetness but an exotic flavor.
You will not find grape syrup on your grocery store shelves, but if you happen to find it on a visit to a vineyard region, buy a bottle and keep it in a cool place. A supplier in the US of Vino Cotto is http://www.vinocotto.us/
I have experimented with Raisinée au Vincuit in fruit tarts and love it especially mixed with plums in the tart recipe below. Serve it with a little sweetened ricotta or crème fraîche.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 410ºF oven for 30 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
2 cups all purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1/4 cup ice cold water or less
2 pounds plums cut in half, stones removed
1/4 cup Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
1 1/2 cup Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1 tablespoon Grappa
Prepare the piecrust by mixing the butter, flour and salt in a food processor. Add in the egg yolk and a tablespoon of Raisinée au Vincuit. Add about 1/4th cup or less of ice water and form a ball. Cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Remove it from the refrigerator and roll out the piecrust and put it into a false bottom tart pan or tart-baking dish.
Wash the plums and cut them in half removing the stones. Prepare the filling mixture in a bowl. Place the plumbs in the filling mixture and toss them gently. Layer the plumbs overlapping them in the baked tart shell.
Place it in a pre-heated oven at 410ºF for 20 – 30 minutes.
Remove the tart from the oven and brush the plums with the glaze while it is hot.
Allow the tart to cool and serve it with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream or Crème fraîche on the side.
NOTE: The dough can be made a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator.
NOTE: Fruit tarts should be eaten the day they are made, as they don’t store well.
NOTE: You can substitute Raisinée au Vincuit with Current Jelly.
When visiting a restaurant this time of the year in Italy, I always know exactly what I will order as an antipasto because zucca fritti is on the menu. The editable flowers of squash are stuffed with various ingredients such as mozzarella, anchovy or ricotta. They are fried in very hot oil and usually eaten as appetizers, although in my family it isn’t unusual to have them for a main course. Large platters of golden, crisp batter coated flowers are served and eaten with your hands. Accompanied with a glass of Prosecco or cold white wine, this dish is a delicacy. My grandparents grew zucchini in their garden and my grandmother made these all through the summer.
The US is a large producer of pumpkins (any type of squash flowers can be used), however it is difficult to find flowers for sale anywhere. I once approached a pumpkin grower and asked if I could buy the flowers and he looked at me very confused. Needless to say, he didn’t sell me the flowers. Since the female bloom produces the squash, the male bloom is sold for cooking in Italy. They are also used in stuffing for ravioli, and made into a delicious sauce for pasta.
Squash are grown all over the world and the flowers can also be purchased off-season, but are very expensive. Prices are lowest in season. If you are lucky enough to find them, choose only large fresh good quality flowers with stems. The flower is very delicate and must be handled with great care not to break the petals. You must first gently spread the petals and remove stamina. Gently place the stuffing into the middle and roll the petals at the top. Rolling the tops closes the opening and holds the stuffing inside.
The flowers must be completely dry before dipping them into the batter. I like to drip off some of the batter making sure that they are not to heavily coated. The oil must be very hot and dip only a few at a time.
The recipe below was given to me by a chef in Vieste, Foggia (Puglia, Italy).
Fried Zucchini Flowers
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 3-4 minutes each
Yield: 14 flowers
14 large zucchini flowers with stems, cleaned
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white wine, beer or water with gas, cold
Pinch of paprika
Pinch of salt
14 cubes mozzarella, small
Sea salt for sprinkling over the fried flowers
Mix the flour, paprika and salt. Pour in the cold beer or carbonated water and blend until the batter is the consistency of pancake batter.
Remove the stamina in each flower and set it aside. Open the flower very gently and put a piece of mozzarella in each flower and twist the top closed.
Heat the oil until it is very hot. Dip a few flowers into the batter. Let the batter drip off the flour a little. You don’t want the flower to be to have a thick coating. Drop the flower a few at a time into the hot oil and let it fry turning it several times until it is golden and crisp. Remove them to a rack or paper towels and lightly sprinkle salt over them. Continue a few at a time until you have fried all the flowers.
Serve them warm as part of an antipasti (appetizer).
NOTE: A small piece of anchovy can be substituted or added. Other fillings such as ricotta can be used.
Putting confiscated Mafia property to good use, the Italian government is re-allocating property once owned by the Mafia in Palermo Italy into use by producing pasta, olive oil, wine, honey and other products, which are sold at the Coop supermarkets. The country villa of a the once feared “Riina” is turned into a an agriturisom and apartments are turned into a police headquarters. Making something that was drawing the breath out of the public into productive and civic service is being done by the Impastato Association. Italy has been trying to tackle and eliminate the crime group and is having some success.
RIINA VILLA TO GO TO IMPASTATO ASSOCIATION
(ANSA) – Palermo, May 7 –
“A Palermo villa that once belonged to Italy’s bloodiest Mafia boss is to be re-assigned to a group carrying on the fight of an anti-Mafia hero. The villa in downtown Palermo, believed to be Toto’ ‘the Beast’ Riina’s last hide-out, will be turned over to the Peppino Impastato Association, named after a young DJ and anti-Mob campaigner murdered in 1978. The property is among 150 properties seized from the Mob that are set to be handed over to associations, police and other state bodies. Since the start of 2008, more than 1,000 pieces of former Mafia real estate in Palermo have been put to civic use. Italian authorities have for years been re-allocating property once owned by Riina, who was arrested in 1993 and convicted of the 1992 murders of anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
They have also started re-assigning property confiscated from Riina’s co-boss and successor Bernardo Provenzano, arrested in 2006 after 43 years on the run. Youth cooperatives have moved into the rural crime triangle between the fiefs of Corleone, Monreale and San Giuseppe Jato and have started making pasta, olive oil, wine, honey and other produce on the ex-Mafia lands.
Thanks to an agreement with the Coop supermarket chain, the products are now sold all over Italy. Many of the products are made by the cooperative Placido Rizzotto – Libera Terra, named after the first land reform campaigner murdered by the Mafia, in 1948. Last year one of Riina’s old country villas reopened as an agriturismo near Corleone. Corleone, a big-screen byword for the Mafia, was Riina’s power base in the hills near Palermo where he bred a fierce new breed of Mafioso in the ’70s and ’80s. Italian authorities have made a point of putting confiscated Mafia property to good use, preferably something involving public institutions, so as to symbolise the return of the State’s control. A set of luxury apartments in Corleone belonging to Riina, for example, has been turned into the local headquarters of the tax police. Another town near Palermo, Cinisi, was the home of Impastato, a left-wing activist and radio DJ murdered on May 9, 1978 – the same day that the Red Brigades assassinated Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro in Rome. Impastato had spent years campaigning against the Mafia and lampooning local boss Tano Badalamenti. Impastato’s story was told in the critically acclaimed 2000 film I Cento Passi (The Hundred Steps) by Italian director Marco Tullio Giordana. The movie’s title referred to the distance between Impastato’s house and that of Badalamenti.”
Zuccotto is light as a feather yet full of fruit and soaked with rum. Fill it with fresh fruit such as, strawberries, raspberries or peaches. You can prepare it as shown here in this recipe or serve it in a pretty bowl, maybe one with a pedestal, top it off with the whipped cream and scoop it out.
Pane di Spagna is a light sponge cake found in most markets in Italy. It is often layered with mascarpone, pastry cream and fruit. Biscotti are also crushed and layered in the same manner. These are common everyday desserts in Italy and are very easy to prepare. There are no rules, just use the fruits that are in season.
Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: Follow a recipe for pastry cream
Yield: 1-10”x5” Cake, 12 servings
3- 9” x 2” plain sponge cakes or cut in half 2 Pane di Spagna
6 large, fresh peaches or 1 large container fresh strawberries
2 pastry cream recipes
1/2 cup dark Rum
2 cups Confectionary sugar
1 cup water
1 16 oz. container whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 pound almond slices, toasted
OTHER THINGS NEEDED
Bowl 10” x 5”
PANE di SPAGNA
Chef Franco, Pasticceria Monte S. Angelo, (Foggia) Italia
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes @ 375ºF
Yield: 1 10” sponge cake
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup confectionary sugar
6 large egg yolks, beaten
6 large egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks
2 teaspoons lemon or vanilla extract
OTHER THINGS NEEDED
10” round layer cake pan
Separate the egg yolks and egg whites. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
Beat the egg yolks, add the confectionary sugar and extract and blend well until the batter is smooth. Add in the sifted flour a little at a time and blend well. The batter will be a little thick at this point. Fold 1/4th of the egg whites into the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites gently.
Pour it into a greased baking pan. Bake for about 30 minutes. Prick it with a cake tester until it come out dry.
If you are using fresh peaches, peel them and cut them into slices. Put 2 cups of granulated sugar and 1 cup of water in a pan and dissolve the sugar until you have syrup. Place the peaches in the syrup and cook them until they are soft, but still have a slight stiffness. Remove them and allow them to cool, and reduce the syrup to about 1 cup. You can add a little peach brandy or rum to the syrup. Sprinkle the syrup over the cake instead of the rum as you would if you were using fresh strawberries. You can also use canned peaches. If using strawberries they should be washed, shucked and sliced.
Make the pastry cream according to the recipe directions and let it cool.
Cover a 10” x 5” bowl or form with plastic wrap so that it completely covers the bowl. It should come down the outside of the bowl enough to fold over the cake at the end.
Cut the cakes in half and cover the bottom and sides of the bowl with the cake. Sprinkle a little rum or syrup over the entire cake. Spread a layer of pastry cream over the bottom of the cake. Place another layer of cake over the cream and sprinkle it with a little rum or sryup. Slice the strawberries or peaches and place them over the cake. Cover the fruit with another layer of cake again sprinkling the syrup or rum. Put another layer of fruit over the cake and another layer of pastry cream and cover the cream with the last layer of cake. This should take you to the top of your bowl. Bring the plastic wrap over the top of the bowl covering the entire top of the cake. Place a plate on the top with a weight, such as a can of tomatoes and put it in the refrigerator overnight.
Place almonds on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown. Watch them carefully as they will brown quickly.
Whip the cream in a cold bowl until the cream starts to stiffen. Add the vanilla and confectionary sugar and beat until the cream forms stiff peaks.
Cover the entire cake with the whipped cream and pat the toasted almonds over the cake. Return it to the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
Planning starts early for an Italian wedding with grandparents, aunts, cousins all allocated different jobs, including the preparation of the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze”. This is by far one of the most important jobs of all. Italian weddings tend to be large and huge amounts of biscotti are made by all the members of the future bride’s family. Imagine what the kitchen looks like with everyone having a specific task to perform and making dozens of biscotti for weeks before the wedding!
The bride takes the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” and offers them to the wedding guests who fill their napkins and handbags. Everyone including each child gets their share of biscotti to take home. Then of course the critique begins as to which biscotti are the best. OURS are always the best as our family truly are experts in the preparation of this most enjoyable and important tradition.
“Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” is a biscotti wedding cake. It is layers of different biscotti arranged in a pyramid decorated with icing covered almonds called “Confetti” and ribbons. It takes center stage at Italian weddings. Members of the family bring the biscotti together the day before the wedding and arranged and wrape the torta with great fan fair, this is an event in itself. Of course, it is hard not to taste them as you are constructing the torta.
The layers can be placed such as described below, or you can randomly place them making sure that the bottom layers are sturdy cookies that can take the weight of the ones placed on top.
Placing doilies in between the layers helps to stabilize the cookies. If making larger trays another way of doing this is to dip the bottom of each biscotto into confectionary sugar frosting and attach it to your torta construction. This will keep the biscotti from moving or falling. In this case you would not use the doilies except to cover the bottom of the tray.
“Confetti”; candy covered almonds in colors symbolic of life’s events are randomly placed throughout the torta. Confetti arrangements placed on top of the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” are saved as mementoes. The nuns of Santa Chiara in the region of Abruzzi are famous for their confetti confections. The colors are traditional and represent the following:
Pink or blue-Children, girl or boy
Silver and Gold-Wedding and Anniversaries.
Bottom layer: 2 varieties of firm biscotti such as a sliced biscotti and sesame seed cookie.
Middle layer: 1 variety placed on a dolly
Top layer: 1 variety of lighter weight biscotti
And so on.
Biscotti can be frozen for up to 2 months. The cookies are prepared in advance; frosted and assembled the day before the wedding. Once the biscotti are baked and completely cooled they are placed in freezer bags or plastic containers and frozen. When you are ready to use them you must completely defrosted them before applying the frosting. Place the cookies in boxes in order to transport to the location where the torta will be constructed.
The tray is then placed on large sheets of cello wrap. It is important to place the cello wrap in both directions so that the cookies are completely covered with the wrap. The cello wrap is then brought up over the biscotti and tied with colorful ribbons.
Bomboniera or small decorative boxes or packets are often filled with the “Confetti” and given as gifts at Italian weddings. Today we often prepare Bomboniere filled with biscotti rather then passing them out.
The local markets are the center of life in Italian towns and villages. Usually the markets are located in the heart of the centre of the village.
A multi-sensorial experience that you cannot miss as it offers the opportunity to enjoy the local taste and the exclusive food specialties of the cuisine of the area. The most fascinating atmosphere with vendors yelling out their daily produce, “carciofi, melanzane, pomodori” and locals closely inspecting every fruit, vegetable and herb stacked perfectly on the stands. The peppers, eggplants, melons and flowers create a patchwork of color and spark your senses to want to partake in all the activity. It is where the real people are and the specific tastes and gastronomic traditions can be found.
While studying Italian in Bologna I spent everyday visiting the market and little local restaurants located within the market district. Most markets have a coffee bar where you can just sit and enjoy an espresso and people watch. Having rented an apartment, I found myself in the midst of what seems to be a lot of confusion and activity. The hustle of Italians and vendors can be intimidating and I could never seem to purchase the right thing. But one day having an espresso at a bar in the district, I met a woman who told me that the key is to let the vendor advise you on what is the best product for the dish you plan to prepare. They are proud to help you to select just the right tomato for a sauce or tell you how to prepare a vegetable or fish. I tried this and Surprise! Surprise! I never bought the wrong thing again. I have since gotten recipes and advise on restaurants from market vendors who are more then happy to help. In fact you probably will have several vendors all giving you their view and recipes at the same time.
One market that I go to about every 4 weeks is in Como.The city is famous for its charismatic street cafes and wine bars that serve antipasti, snacks and aperitifs. The lake promenade and views are what attract most visitors to Como. But I go to the market. Here I find the most beautiful artichokes, Porcini mushrooms, huge red peppers and produce from all over Italy. Here is where you will see the real people of Como. You can purchase and sample prepared foods, select fish from a large array fish from Italy and other parts of Europe. Vegetable, fruit, herbs, nuts, cheese and meats are stacked in perfectly arranged stands in 3 different halls. A large area of flowers and plants fill another hall with color and scents.
Next time you visit an Italian town, don’t miss the experience of the local atmosphere. Visit the local “Mercato”.
My father’s family came from the town of Vieste, Foggia Italy. The Region is Puglia (Apulia, Apulien) in the southeast of Italy. It is located on the tip or spur of the boot-shaped peninsula called Gargano.
It is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, a unique landscape of naturalistic beauty and known as a melting pot of foreign populations. The characteristic Apulian architecture of the 11th–13th centuries reflects Greek, Arab, Norman, and Pisan influences.
Olives, olive oil and both mountain and sea typical food products are mainly produced in this region. As you can imagine fish is an important part of their diet and a large variety of recipes using fish, vegetables and also cheese can be enjoyed in many of the small restaurants throughout the region. The myth that cheese and fish are never prepared together is exactly that, a myth. Italy produces cheese such as ricotta, mascarpone and mozzarella di bufala, which are very light in flavor and are easily combined with fish.
I have visited Vieste many times learning a little about my heritage and the recipe below was given to me by a chef in Vieste at a private cooking program we took on one of our visits. I have translated it and hope you enjoy it.
Ricotta, Zucchini, Eggplant & Scampi
Ricotta, zucchini, melanzane & salsa di scampi
Chef Marco, Vieste (Foggia), Italy
Prep Time: 20 (part of which is done during the cooking of the pasta)
Cook Time: About 15 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of a pan)
2 cloves sliced garlic
1 small zucchini, deseeded
1 small eggplant, deseeded
4 oz. arugula
9 leaves of sage
1 jigger of brandy
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups of cream
8 oz. ricotta
20 medium shrimp, cleaned (the original recipe calls for scampi, which have harder shells, but are difficult to find in the US).
Salt to taste
1 lb. pasta fresh or store bought, such as rigatoni
Remove the shells and vein of the shrimp and set them aside.
Cube the unpeeled zucchini and eggplant and sauté them until they are just cooked but not too soft, about 4-6 minutes.
In a saucepan sauté the oil and garlic for a minute. Add the shrimp, sage and cook for a minute, then add the brandy and flambé it until all the alcohol has evaporated. The flames will burn out when that happens. Be sure to remove the bottle away from the stove when you are doing this step. Add in the arugula, wine and sage at this point and allow the arugula to cook for a few minutes until it is limp. Put in the ricotta until it is well mixed into the sauce and add in the cream. Taste for salt.
If the sauce seems to be too thick, add in some of the pasta water and mix. You may have to do this again, if the sauce is ready before the pasta is cooked.
Boil salted water and cook the pasta until it is al dente. Add the sautéed zucchini and eggplant to the sauce. Drain and mix the pasta into the sauce, allowing it to finish cooking. Toss it thoroughly coating each piece of pasta.
La Chitarra (pronounced key-tahr-rah) is a pasta maker believed to have been invented in Chieti, Abruzzi Italy around the 1800’s. No one seems to know who invented it and until recently pasta made with the chitarra was mainly found in the Apulia and Abruzzi regions.
Since I’ve never been able to find a story behind this unique simple pasta maker, I made up one.
A long time ago, a young boy by the name of Michele, watched his mother making pasta every day, toiling over kneading the dough, rolling out it out into huge thin sheets and cutting it with a knife into thin stands. This is how Michele’s mother earned a living. Michele loved music and often sat on the steps of his simple stone home located along a narrow street of the village playing his beloved chitarra. He played for his mother while she worked – it seemed to make her life a little easier. As he was playing, he had an inspiration that the musical strings of his instrument would be perfect for cutting the dough. He removed the strings and placed them over a simple oblong box – he was going to miss his chitarra. He brought it to his mother and together they cut the pasta on his invention. To their amazement, as they rolled the dough over the musical strings, the pasta fell below the box in perfectly cut strands. The musical strings not only worked perfectly for cutting the pasta, but the beautiful sounds of the chitarra filled the small kitchen as they ran their fingers across the strings. From this point on they called her pasta “pasta chitarra”. Well of course this is my story, but every time I use my chitarra, I think of Michele and his mother.
There are two sides of the chitarra; one side cuts thin strands the size of spaghetti and the other Taglatelle and Fettuccini. The dough should be rolled out a little thicker to make troccoli, which is famous in Apulia. There are screws at one end, which are tightened to make them taut when rolling the spaghetti and loosened when it is not being used. Roll the dough the width and length of the chitarra and place the dough on the strings. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough over the strings. Run you fingers along the metal strings to loosen the cut strands and the cut pasta will fall into the box below.
During a trip to Vieste, Foggia, I visited a little restaurant in the old village called “Enotecca di Vieste”. Here I met the owner who brought me into the kitchen to show me how to make her mothers recipe for troccoli with chickpeas, eggplants and zucchini. After we enjoyed this hearty pasta dish with these lovely people, she handed me a bag filled with all the ingredients to make the dish at home myself. In Vieste restaurants have large balls of dough on a table covered with a kitchen towel. When you order troccoli, they cut off a piece of the pasta dough and roll it over the chitarra. You can’t get pasta any fresher then this.
La Chitarra is possible to find in some specialty kitchen supply stores.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 3 minutes
Yield: 4 servings as a main course, 8 as accompaniment
4 cups all purpose flour
2 pinches salt
4 medium eggs
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Tepid water (if necessary)
Place the flour mixture on a pastry board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs, olive oil, salt and a small amount of water (you can always add more water if the dough is too dry). Begin to stir the flour from the outside part of the well into the wet ingredients. Continue this process until the dough holds together in a ball. The dough should seem as if it is too dry, but once it is rolled out in a pasta machine it will hold together. If the dough is too wet, rub a little flour on it, as it will be difficult to handle and too sticky to roll through the pasta machine.
Knead the dough for at least 10-15 minutes, and allow it to stand covered with a clean kitchen towel at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
ROLLING THE PASTA DOUGH
Start with a wider slot when rolling it out on your pasta machine. Roll it out a few times on each level until you have reached the second thinnest level. You will have to develop a feel of the thickness of the dough.
Once the dough is rolled out, cut it the length and with of the Chitarra. The dough should be a little thicker then if you were cutting it for fettuccini or spaghetti.
Pressing down with a rolling pin, roll the pin over dough. Run you fingers across the exposed strings at the end of the Chitarra and the pasta will fall to the bottom of the box.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
10 sprigs fresh basil
3 ripe large tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1/2 cup dry chick peas (soaked overnight)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cube beef bouillon, dissolved in water (1 cup per cube)
1 small eggplant, cut into 1” chunks
1 small zucchini, cut into 1” chunks
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
10 sprigs Italian parsley, chopped
1 pepperoncino, soaked in olive oil
1 green pepper, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
If you are using dried beans, place 1/2 cup beans in water overnight, they will double in size. Put them into the sauce for the last 15 minutes of cooking. If you are using canned beans, add them at the end only for a few minutes.
Place the olive oil in a pan and sauté the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent. Add the chopped pepper, zucchini, pepperoncino and eggplant and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, basil, and bouillon in the pan and cook for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked. You can add a little wine, more bullion or a little pasta water if required. In separate pan cook the troccoli in salted water for 3 to 5 minutes until al dente.
Mix the sauce with the troccoli and sprinkle parsley over the top of the pasta before serving. Put a nice piece of Parmesan cheese on the table for people to grate over the dish.
There are many articles written about the health benefits of almonds. Low in saturated fat and containing calcium and magnesium, vitamin E and compounds called phytochemicals, which may help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Jordan almonds are considered the best and are sweet almonds coming from Malaga. Bitter almonds are grown in the south of France, Sicily and North Africa. See the web sites at the end of this article for more information on the benefits of almonds and their origins.
Almond oil is extracted from both bitter and sweet almonds but the seed of the bitter almonds are used to make almond oil and almond flavoring are used in confections. Pure almond extract can be purchased at any market, but the intense flavor of almond oil makes a very big difference in baked goods. When using oil vs. extracts, you use just a few drops. Most Italian markets sell these oils and a little goes a long way.
In Italy desserts are often flavored with honey, chestnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The biscotti originated in the Tuscany and it is thought that they were flavored with almonds from Prato. The cookies are known as “cantucci” and they can be found in every pasticceria in the Tuscany. Cantucci are mostly eaten with a glass of “Vin Santo” a sweet wine. Many restaurants serve small almond biscotti with coffee and some will have a bowl of them on the table at all times. It is probably the most well-known and popular biscotti. Almonds are used in many different varieties of biscotti and also mixed with fruits and chocolate.
Other desserts made with almonds in Italy are a rich bread or flat cake known as “panforte”. A cookie called “Cartellate” is made in Apuglia. It is fried dough in the shape of a cartwheel (cartellate means cartwheel in Italian) and filled with toasted almonds, honey, chocolate and spices. Amaretto is a liqueur with an almond flavor. The base of the liqueur is primarily made from apricot pits. Apricot and peach pits have similar oils and taste like almonds. The original version of Amaretto was made in Saronno, Italy and is also used to flavor many Italian desserts and coffee. Marzipan, which is a mixture of sugar and almonds is used in confections. One of my favorites is a candy called “Brocante con mandorle”, (Italian almond brittle). It is very hard and you must to be careful of your teeth when you eat it. Unlike most brittle, this is thick and hard made with toasted almonds, sugar, honey, corn syrup and almond oil or almond flavoring. Colorful sugar candied almonds known as “confetti” are arranged in exquisite decorations for wedding cakes and mixed with trays of biscotti.
Cantucci are use in all of our biscotti trays, they are one of our most asked for biscotti. Cantucci are hard so they make a good base for our “Torta Festiva” or “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze”.
Make a full recipe and stored in a metal container, they will last a few weeks. They can be frozen up to two months – they defrost very quickly. You will always have biscotti to serve with coffee when friends drop by.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes @ 350ºF
Yield: 2 1/2 Dozen
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 cups roasted almonds, cut in half
1/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup oil
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
ROASTING THE NUTS
Place the almonds on a cookie sheet and place in a 400ºF oven for 15 minutes. Shake the pan several times to turn the nuts so they cook evenly. Let the almonds cool. Cut the almonds in half.
In large mixing bowl, place the dry ingredients and toasted almonds. Make a well in the center and combine the remaining wet ingredients (water, oil and eggs). Oil your hands to mix the dough. Place the dough onto a floured board and work until completely combined. The dough will be sticky to work with. Refrigerate for one hour.
Make loaves about 14” long and 2” wide, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and place them in a 350ºF oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and slice on a diagonal 1” apart.
To freeze, do not slice but wrap the whole logs tightly in plastic wrap. Slice the logs when you are ready to serve them. They can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Note: Cantucci can be double backed a few minutes on each side for a drier harder result.
Riding a motorcycle over amazing roads and scenery is a rush. The famous Swiss mountain passes that make up the “Pässe Karussell” Furka, Grimsel, Oberalp, Susten, Gotthard and Nufenen in the central part of Switzerland will not disappoint the biker.
With their superb sweeping curves and vistas makes driving through Interlaken, Grindelwald, Engadin and the Ticino passing sparkling clear green mountain lakes and rivers unforgettable. Lake Geneva, Lake Neuchâtel, Lake Zug, Lake Maggiore, Lake Lugano, Lake Constance and Lake Lucerne offer magnaficant places to rest up and take in some of the clubs and restaurants.
View snow capped glaciers as you ride over hairpin curves of the Spluegen, Klausen and San Bernardino passes. Sweep around hair-raising hairpin curves above the tree line and down into the valleys; it is a motorcyclists dream.
Ride through ancient villages with alpine vistas, rushing green mountain rivers, cows grazing on alpine pastures and village chalets with windowsills and gardens filled with flowers.
The regions have their own distinctive character and closely reflect the culture, language, cuisine and architecture of the French, Italian, German and Romanish styles.
It is so peaceful that you can hear the sounds of the steeple bells chiming, the wind blowing and rivers flowing.
Whether you rent motorcycles or bring your own bike, the Alps offers glorious mountainous terrains rolling from one valley over mountain passes to another.
Do some sightseeing in lovely villages and even take some short hikes. Small hotels can be found all over the mountain villages offering excellent clean and comfortable accommodations for very reasonable prices during the summer months.
“My Switzerland” presents suggestions for the motorcyclist who wants to go it alone, but there are many groups and clubs that offer group trips.
Most freight is transported by rail but a big investment has also been made in transporting cars through mountain tunnels by rail. This is referred to as the “rolling highway” and reduces the amount of transport traffic on Swiss roads and pollution leaving the roads in the mountains almost free of truck traffic. Tour buses are allowed and sometimes have a difficult time navigating the curves.
The Swiss are very serious about road rules and speed limits with 120 km/h on motorways, 80 km/h on normal roads and inside tunnels are strictly enforced. A special sticker, known as the “Autobahn Vignette” is required and can be bought at customs offices or at the borders, service stations, garages and post offices. Buy it online at the Swiss Travel Office web site (there are rules about where it should be placed on motorcycles). The Swiss are known to have some of the best and most expensive roads in the world and motorcyclists begin to show up as soon as the weather begins to improve and until the snow starts to fall. Celebrities discovered the beauty of motorcycling in Switzerland a long time ago. There are 650 thousand motorcycles in Switzerland not including biking tourists. One in twelve people in Switzerland owns a motorcycle making it more bikes per capita then anywhere else in Europe.
One word of warning, the roads are crowded in the summer especially at the borders and on weekends – so plan carefully! Be sure to check all the rules for motorcycling before you come. I’ve listed a few web sites where you can get more information on motorcycling in Switzerland.
Rome has seen less of an economic effect from tourism then other cities in Europe. The drop in tourism has only been 5%. Tourists still flock to this city of so many wonders even in difficult times. If you are looking for a way to visit Rome but need to cut back on some expenses don’t cut back on seeing the sites, but maybe try some of the less expensive but great meals offered in Rome. Pizza is as famous as Rome itself. Some recommendations of great pizzas around Rome -most offer many other dishes at good prices are listed in the article attached. It is fast if you are on the run to get as many sites in as possible, and yet you can experience the flavors of Italy. Some have pizza with wild mushrooms, or asparagus, maybe one with pesto or eggplant. They are a whole meal and a great alternative to some of the more touristy restaurants found around Rome. Many Pizzerias offer other meals like risotto balls, fried mozzarella, fried baccala (salted cod). The ultimate fast food!
Pizza to go Slice and easy
By Alessandro Mirra march 2009
“One of the best things that Rome has to offer visitors in search of a quick and satisfying snack is takeaway pizza or pizza al taglio. You just go in and choose the amount of pizza you want by weight or by price. There are an almost infinite variety of toppings to suit all tastes and most places will offer a wide range of other hot foodstuffs such as suppli (balls of risotto with tomato sauce bound together by eggs around a piece of mozzarella, the whole surrounded by breadcrumbs and then fried) filletti di baccalà (salt cod in batter) or potato crocchette.
The city is packed with takeaway pizza stores that provide office workers, students and tourists a cheap, quick alternative to traditional restaurants or imported fast food outlets. One of the most famous is Lo Zozzone, tucked away down the Via del Teatro Pace behind piazza Navona. Zozzone’s pizza is so go good you can often find members of the Senate from the nearby Palazzo Madama who have deserted the luxury parliamentary restaurants for a quick and tasty snack. Another popular place among pizza afficionados is Pizzarium in Via della Meloria (Metro Cipro). This gourmet takeaway outlet not far from the Vatican Museums is run by celebrated pizza chef Gabriele Bonci, who combines slow-rise dough made from special flours with fresh, seasonal toppings like wild asparagus, or pesto and aubergine. You’ll also find super suppli and a wide range of imported beers to wash down your lunch. Antico Forno Roscioli in Via dei Chiavari 34 (Campo dei Fiori) is one of the oldest pizza bakeries in Rome. The choice of toppings is perhaps not as vast as in other places but the quality of the ingredients is unparalleled and the pizza itself is second to none. Near Piazza San Silvestro is Pecora Pazza (Via della Mercede 18). Despite fierce competition from the mass-market “Spizzico” pizza joint in Via del Corso, this place is always packed.
To finish on a sweet note, Laboratorio Pasticceria Lambiase, better-known as “Il Sorchettaro”, is a superb bakery store at Via Cernaia 49/a (not far from Porta Pia) famous for its deadly luscious pastries. Pride of place goes to the Sorchetta doppio schizo a freshly-baked croissant covered with whipped cream and melted chocolate. But they also sell a vast array of pizza fresh from the oven. Open until late, it’s the perfect spot for a tasty treat after a night on the town.”
The Burgundy is well known for its gastronomy, history and excellent wines. It is old France – a land of culture with historic castles, Roman roads and magnificent Romanesque churches. As you slowly cruise along the prettiest canals in France you pass peaceful hamlets, pastures with the famous white Charolais cattle grazing, and herders caring for their ducks. Thousands of acres of perfectly maintained vineyards are seen along the way-Canal de Bourgogne is very picturesque indeed.
Construction of the canals began in 1727 and was completed in 1832 as a means to transport goods. The trading routes and crossroads provided economic importance for the region. The canal provides North to South access through France via the Yonne and Seine to the Saône and Rhône (Burgundy, Centre and Niverais). In Burgundy alone there are more than 1000 kilometers of navigable waterways on the three major canals with 209 canal locks.
Houseboats and barges are available for rent with limited engine sizes so that no “pilot’s” license is required. A short explanation of how to operate the boat is given and you’re on your way. You often come upon people fishing along the canal and it takes some care to keep from coming in contact with fishing lines as we found out very early in our trip. However, with a little practice we managed to keep from taking out fishing poles. The locks can sometimes be a little tricky until you get the hang of tying up the bow and stern of the boat. Some locks have attendants but the smaller ones do not and here it is up to you to open and close them. At first this is an interesting experience as one person has to jump out and tie up the boat, open the lock, untie the boat and again once the boat has passed through, close the lock and jump back on board. It is important to follow the operating procedures exactly as a boat in front of us neglected to loosen the line as the water went down in a large lock. As we began to descend, their boat swung around and caught onto the lip of the lock wall so that both the front and the back was suspended in mid air. We were speechless as we were looking up at the hull of their boat and watching this dramatic event helplessly as the people screamed for help. The attendant immediately flooded the canal and the boat detached as the water floated it again. Cleaning the filter each morning is about the only other thing to do except stirring the boat.
This is a slow easy vacation. Stopping whenever you want to nap or read a book. Mooring at small medieval villages, viewing vineyards surrounded by miles of stonewalls and enjoying the ambiance of the towns is the part I loved. You can rent bikes with your boat and bike through some of the most famous vineyards in the world tasting and buying wine for the evening’s dinner. Mooring along the canal covered with weeping willows, enjoying a bottle of wine with the cheese you bought at the local market and maybe a long evening walk alone the canal ends a beautiful day. In the morning we visit the local boulangerie filled with the aroma of fresh bread and buy a baguette and croissants for breakfast.
The Burgundy is known for its fine restaurants and the Michelin guide has awarded stars to 27 restaurants. Culinary arts are considered the best in the world and we were not about to miss enjoying at least a few of these restaurants along the way. Lameloise in Chagny is quite easy to visit as it is next to the canal. Trois Gros, in Roanne on the southern boarder of the Burgundy, (we took a taxi) were food experiences we will not forget. Reservations are usually required long in advance but we found that in August we were able to just call ahead and we took our chances. There are many small wonderful charming restaurants in every village and sampling some of the specialties of the Burgundy such as Escargots à la Bourgogne, Boeuf Bourguignon, and Coq au Vin should be part of your meal plan. There are many varieties of mushrooms, such as chanterelles, and cèpes and many others can be purchased at the markets and are very easy to prepare just by sautéing them in butter and tossing them with some fresh herbs from the region. Try stuffing morels with goat cheese and sautéing with butter-so easy to prepare on a boat, wonderful!
One cannot talk about France without mentioning cheese. What would France be like without cheese? Well of course there is wine and desserts, but the cheese – no other country can boast the variety and range of cheese.
Epoisses is one of my favorites and I am a lover of goat cheeses. The variety is awesome and it is difficult to choose especially after having a meal. They can be bought at cheese shops in every village and are so easy to prepare on a boat. France has such wonderful desserts enjoy them at the restaurants and choose cheese for meals on the board. There are also many prepared foods in the markets that can be easy meals on a boat trip and also gives you the opportunity to experience the local food specialties.
Cruising down the canals of France is a wonderful experience and can be fun for kids as well. Handling the boat is so easy that children can join in safely. They might find the slow pace a little difficult, but taking some games and books along can solve this. It is a great trip for a group of friends to enjoy together or maybe you have a gourmet club to experience a trip down the Canal de Bourgogne.
When we think of Venice the first thing that comes to mind is St. Marco’s Square and the Grand Canal. It is hard to imagine that people actually live and work there. The photo’s I’ve uploaded here are of the back streets of Venice where people live and work.
What is Agriturismo? It is an Italian term for a farm holiday or agricultural tourism, but mainly it’s a concept. The idea is to better apprehend farmers’ life and rural traditions. It is taking in the culture, art, food and the countryside of Italy. It is not about working on a farm or even necessarily staying at a farm.
Many agriturismi (the plural of agriturismo) offer guests cooking and/or painting classes, horseback and bike riding, language lessons, guided tours or wine tasting – none of which you are required to do. Some farms do have programs where you can participate in various tasks. Italy does a fantastic job of educating and promoting their products and they do it with passion because they believe they have the very best.
The advantage of agriturismo is to experience a tranquil vacation and come in contact with the local population and nature. Enjoy biking for example through olive groves, or hiking in a National Park. Some areas have thermal baths and most have cathedrals and architecture rich in history and art. You can enjoy local food grown either on the farm or from the local area. Meals are often served family style by people from the farm or village. One small castle we visited in the Assisi area was located down a long dirt road surrounded by olive groves. There were only 6 rooms, all occupied by people of different nationalities. We ate at a long table in the dinning room served family style by local women from the village. Large dishes of pasta and roasted chicken held by one woman and served by another filled our dishes as we tried to discover what languages we all could communicate in. The conversation was translated into French, German, English and Italian and we managed to have a lively and fun discussion. All of the ingredients were farmed in the local area and the olive oil was made from olives grown in the surrounding orchards.