Posts Tagged ‘italian’

Spaghetti with Sicilian Meatballs

January 13, 2013

IMG_9502When we were in Italy, what struck me most is that there truly isn’t “Italian” food. Rather, their food is identified by the region you are in. Spaghetti and clams in the Italian Riviera. Boar in Tuscany. Pizza in Naples. That is why I was so intrigued when I saw a recipe for Sicilian meatballs in Bon Appetit.

The food of Sicily has a Greek and sometimes African influence, making it have more olives, capers and currants than you would find in the “boot.” So when looking at the meatball recipe, at first glance it seemed very traditional. Sausage meat (which was an interesting twist on the typical beef, veal, pork combo), breadcrumbs in milk, garlic, onion, etc. Yet, then they add pine nuts and currants to make it have a bit of nutty sweetness. They are baked, and then smothered in a traditional Italian red sauce.

This dish has that same warm, comforting result as typical Italian meatballs, but they do have an interesting sweetness to them that makes them have a “hmm, what’s that?” factor. It is a great alternative to a typical bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, and will be making its way to our dinner table as a great Sicilian (not Italian!) dish!

SPAGHETTI WITH SICILIAN MEATBALLS
Serves 4-6

Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Meatballs:
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 large egg
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons dried currants

1 pound spaghetti

For Sauce:
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-low heat. Add onion; sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juices and 2 tablespoons basil; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until sauce thickens, breaking up tomatoes with fork, about 1 hour. Mix in 2 tablespoons basil. Season with salt and pepper. Set sauce aside.

For Meatballs:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil baking sheet. Mix crumbs and milk in medium bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Mix in Parmesan, onion, basil, egg, garlic and pepper. Add sausage, pine nuts and currants; blend well. Using wet hands, form mixture into 1 1/4-inch balls. Place on baking sheet. Bake until meatballs are light brown and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Add to sauce.

Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Mound in dish. Bring sauce and meatballs to simmer. Mix with and spoon over spaghetti.

Tiramisu

September 29, 2012

My favorite dessert is hands down tiramisu. Not because it is an Italian food (although that doesn’t hurt) but because there is something about coffee-soaked ladyfingers, chocolate and cream filling that just makes me happy. And I mean REALLY happy.

But it always seemed such a daunting task to actually make it by hand, and therefore my experience had been limited to restaurants. But, for Valentine’s Day last year, I decided of all desserts to know how to make, this one seemed essential. The only “hard” thing about this dish is planning ahead, since you need to make it the night before consuming. But otherwise, I was pleasantly surprised at the simplicity. Do be careful of soaking the ladyfingers too long, as they will fall apart in your hands. The good news is, after destroying a few, I started getting the hang of it!

Thanks to Gourmet for this recipe which will now be my default when I am craving my favorite sweet treat. Bon Appetit!

TIRAMISU

6 Servings

  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 (8-oz) container mascarpone cheese (1 scant cup)
  • 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 2 cups very strong brewed coffee or brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons sweet Marsala wine
  • 18 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers, 6 oz)
  • 1/4 cup fine-quality bittersweet chocolate shavings (not unsweetened; made with a vegetable peeler) or 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Beat in mascarpone until just combined.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat cream in another bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks. Fold cream into mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in whites.

Stir together coffee and Marsala in a shallow bowl. Dip 1 ladyfinger in coffee mixture, soaking it about 4 seconds on each side, and transfer to an 8-inch glass baking dish (2-quart capacity). Repeat with 8 more ladyfingers and arrange in bottom of dish, trimming as needed to fit snugly. Spread half of mascarpone mixture evenly over ladyfingers. Make another layer in same manner with remaining ladyfingers and mascarpone mixture. Chill tiramisu, covered, at least 6 hours.

Just before serving, sprinkle with chocolate.

Homemade Fresh Pasta

May 22, 2011

There are certain things I just won’t cut corners on. I won’t make cookies from a box, bag or anything that says “break and bake.” I won’t ever buy marinara sauce from a jar. And I certainly wouldn’t dream of buying a pre-made cake.

But, before you think I don’t have a full-time job, multiple hobbies and a life outside the kitchen, let me tell you what I DO cut corners on. I will, every once in a while, buy a pie crust (my grandmother would cringe). I have been known to buy jams from a jar, salsa from a jar and – gasp – dips from a jar. But the one shortcut I did every week, every Thursday, without batting an eyelash, was buy fresh pasta. That is, however, until I went to Italy.

When I experienced a cooking class outside of Varenna with the talented Moreno, I had a new outlook on Italian cooking. Much like the view I have on cooking, Italians enjoy making the food as much as eating it. And, the more steps of the process your hands touch, make or mold, the more love you can put into the dish you will serve your loved ones. Dear Moreno made pasta from scratch. No attachments to mixers. No crank machines. Just his hands, a rolling pin and a few simple ingredients.

I would be fooling myself (and overestimating the size of my kitchen) if I thought I could make pasta with a rolling pin. But it did inspire me to make pasta. After all, I call it a sin to not make your own gravy, so why would I buy fresh pasta?

Step one was a pasta maker, and I was lucky enough to get one from my parents for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to try it. I searched back for Moreno’s recipe which had semolina flour (and I couldn’t find it anywhere) so I looked up a few recipes online for all-purpose flour. I cleared a Sunday afternoon, got out my machine, and went to work.

I would be lying if I told you the first time it was perfect – in fact, it was far from. The dough just didn’t feel right in my hands (sign one) then the crank number the recipe called for made the pasta feel too thin (sign two). But, it gave me enough hope to try again.

Four times, and four recipe alterations later, I finally got it. The perfect pasta noodle. While I am still mastering tagliatelle, I think ravioli might be a natural progression. However, anything more complex, I am buying from the store!

A few tips when you make pasta:
1. Don’t cut short kneading the dough. If you don’t do it for at least 10 minutes, the dough won’t be right. You will be tired, and wonder why, but you feel it in your hands when the dough takes form.
2. Don’t forget to let it rest. It needs this time after being needed for so long. At least for 3o minutes.
3. Don’t be afraid to use flour once the noodles are made in order to separate them.
4. Go into the process knowing you will tweak your recipe many times before finding one that works.
5. Allow yourself at least an hour for the process (if not a little more).
6. It tastes better and is much more fun if you make it while sipping red Italian wine and listening to Italian music.

I would love to give credit to someone this recipe but I used one I found online and changed it so much, I don’t even recognize it anymore. So, I suppose I should credit myself (although there surely are many duplicates out there).

So in Italian fashion, when I make pasta, the whole meal tastes of the love I put into it. I recently revisited my pistachio cream pasta the time I finally nailed my noodle recipe. It was almost like a different dish – a dish entirely made from scratch. No shortcuts. But lots of love.

HOMEMADE FRESH PASTA
Serves 2-3

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs, plus one egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon olive oil
½ Tablespoon warm water

Put flour on a marble, wooden or smooth countertop and create a “volcano” and create a well in the center. In a bowl, mix the eggs, salt and olive oil. Pour the egg mixture into the well and slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs, pulling flour from the area around the well. You might have to add the yolk in multiple phases in order for it to fit in the well without spilling over.

As things begin to get incorporated, keep kneading (even if your well breaks) and add the water if necessary. This will be messy, but keep going! Once you have the mixture in a ball form, begin kneading the dough. Fold it in have and press against the counter. Start a timer and knead for no less than 10 minutes and you will see your dough begin to take shape.

Once your 10 minutes is up, cut your dough in half to form two little balls. Put them in a bowl (or two separate bowls) and cover with plastic wrap. Let them sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour.

If you are using a crank machine, take the first ball and press onto the counter to push into a flat pancake. Make sure your pasta maker is on the widest setting (mine is 7) and crank the dough through. Keep flour on the dough to keep it from getting sticky. Keep changing the setting every time until you get the thickness you want (for mine the perfect thickness is level 3). Then, crank it through the cutting side, keeping it floured and you have fresh pasta! This pasta can also be frozen, I am told, but I have yet to do it.

The flour with the well of egg mixture in the center.

My husband demonstrating how to knead the dough!

The balls of dough after they have been kneaded.

Passing the dough through the pasta press.

Cutting the pasta. The last step!

Dinner!

White Pizza with Tomato and Basil

April 11, 2011

For Christmas this year, my sister-in-law bought me a pizza stone. But not just any pizza stone – one that you can use in the oven as well as on the grill. There is something so utterly Italian about pizza over a fire, so I knew my love of pizza needed to spill into the grilling world.

What started as a gift that I intended as a summer staple, has now turned into a year-round necessity.

The purpose of a pizza stone is to evenly distribute the heat, as well as to extract moisture to give a crispier crust. And, after experiencing various methods, I have to give the win to the pizza stone.

And a pizza stone is a great way to cook this flavorful vegetarian pizza recipe – inside or outside. The pesto adds a great flavor and the cheese and tomatoes are, well, essential to a good pizza. You can use refrigerated pesto (which is what I used to make it an easier weeknight meal) and by doing so you can put this pizza together in 20 minutes. I tend to actually roast the tomatoes, though, to bring out the flavors – but it is your call on whether you want them cold and fresh or warm and sweeter.

Thanks to Gina for opening my eyes to the best way to make a pizza. And thanks to Cooking Light for this great, go-to quick pizza recipe!

WHITE PIZZA WITH TOMATO AND BASIL
4 Servings

1 (10-ounce) Italian cheese-flavored thin pizza crust (you could also make this with refrigerated dough as well, but your cooking times will vary)
1 teaspoon cornmeal
Cooking spray
3 tablespoons refrigerated pesto with basil (such as Buitoni)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded fresh mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup sliced small tomatoes (such as Campari tomatoes)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup small basil leaves
Crushed red pepper (optional)

Preheat broiler to low.

Place a pizza stone in oven; heat for 10 minutes.

While pizza stone heats, place crust on another baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Lightly coat crust with cooking spray. Spread pesto evenly over crust, leaving a 1-inch border; sprinkle mozzarella evenly over pesto. Dollop ricotta, by teaspoonfuls, evenly over mozzarella. Slide crust onto preheated pizza stone, using a spatula as a guide. Broil 5 inches from heat for 5 minutes or until cheese begins to melt. Remove from oven; top evenly with tomatoes, black pepper, and basil. Sprinkle with red pepper, if desired. Cut into 8 slices.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Sugared Walnuts

November 24, 2010

There are certain foods out there that scare me. The thought that I could prepare those ingredients, master that technique or turn out a complicated dish will sometimes prohibit me from even trying. My mantra as of late is “we can always get take out,” so I have been trying to go outside my comfort zone a bit more than usual.

I am actually embarrassed to say I have never made risotto. Me. Italian my marriage. A love of Italian food. A carbaholic. It is remarkable, really, that a rice could scare me so much. Until, that is, I saw Moreno in Perledo, Italy make it (still working on the Lake Como cooking class blog post, I promise!).

He made it look easy. Truly, the main ingredient you need is a bit of patience. He said you want to “mantecare,” which apparently means to “make creamy.” Add broth. Stir. Add broth. Stir. Seemed simple enough, as long as I could hold off waiting to eat it until it reached perfection.

So, in my seasonal cooking spirit, I tried a roasted butternut squash risotto with sugared walnuts from Cooking Light. Now that I have mastered how to butcher a butternut squash (if you need help, go here! It sure helped me! http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_peel_and_cut_a_butternut_squash/), I thought I would try this, and was anxious to taste the soft, rich risotto paired with sweet and crunchy nuts.

Oh. My. Goodness. This recipe alone is a reason to get over my resistance to risotto. Yes, it takes long, well over an hour, but the wait was worth it. It is so rich and creamy, and the nuts cut the richness with a perfect sweet crunch. I almost felt myself transported back to Italy where I truly fell in love with risotto. I could hear Moreno telling us to “mantecare” while we sipped our wine and watched in awe, all the while breathing in the sweet and salty smells of a strawberry balsamic risotto. Nothing could compare to Moreno’s technique and end result, but this risotto came as close as I have ever been since.

So, be brave, carve out some time, eat a snack to tide you over, then stir away. You will be glad you did!

ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO WITH SUGARED WALNUTS
Serves 8

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/4 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1/2 cup chardonnay
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lemon thyme or 1 1/2 tablespoons thyme plus 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 400°.

Arrange nuts in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Bake at 400° for 5 minutes or until toasted, stirring twice. Place nuts in a bowl. Drizzle butter over warm nuts; sprinkle with sugar and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Toss well to coat.

Combine squash and 1 tablespoon oil, tossing to coat. Arrange squash in a single layer on jelly-roll pan. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until squash is just tender. Remove from pan; stir in garlic. Set aside.

Bring broth and 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add pancetta to saucepan; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently. Add onion; cook 3 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add rice; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; cook 1 minute or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next. Continue until the risotto is cooked (hint, you may need more chicken broth like I did!). Stir in squash, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Top with cheese and nuts.

Bucatini alla Gricia (Bucatini with Guanciale)

September 5, 2010

Ever since spending time in Italy, I have found a true love for bucatini. I have written about it in other recipes, and there is a reason – it is a heavier noodle, because of the hole, and if you have a sauce, it gets caught in the middle, giving the dish more flavor. Now, this particular dish could be made with spaghetti, of course, but I just love the bucatini for something different.

I got this recipe from one of my favorite magazines – La Cucina Italiana. It was a “pasta issue” so I am sure you will be seeing some more pastas soon.

I would love to say I made this recipe with guanciale, but it is a tough find here in Cincinnati (if anyone knows where to get it, let me know!) so I substituted the good old standby – pancetta. I will admit, this is a pretty basic recipe, but is a great one if you want something a bit lighter (no heavy sauce) and something full of flavor!

BUCATINI ALLA GRICIA (BUCATINI WITH GUANCIALE)
4-6 Servings

Salt
7 ounces guanciale, cut into 1/8-inch slices (or pancetta)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 whole dried arbol chilies, crumbled, or red pepper flakes to taste
1 pound bucatini or spaghetti
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut guanciale into 3/4-inch pieces.

Line a plate with paper towers. Combine guanciale and oil in a large nonstick skillet; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer guanciale to paper towels to drain.

Add onion and chiles (red pepper flakes) to skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta in the boiling water until al dente.

Return guanciale to skillet and stir to combine; remove from heat. When pasta is al dente, drain pasta and immediately return to pot. Add guanciale mixture, scraping skillet with a rubber spatula to add all of the pan contents to pot with the pasta. Toss to combine. Add cheese and toss once more. Serve immediately.

Bruschetta with Rosemary, Roasted Plum Tomatoes, Ricotta and Prosciutto

August 1, 2010

I have never met a bruschetta I didn’t like – and after traveling to Italy, I have a deeper love for the appetizer. What I love about bruschetta is you can improvise and make it as complex or simple as you want. You can add really whatever you want atop the crusty bread, and it always seems to taste fantastic.

This bruschetta recipe does take a little extra time because you roast the tomatoes, but I find it is worth it for the deep flavor. I love the crispy, light addition of the arugula (not to mention it adds the green in the Italian flag to make it a true red, white and green Italian dish!).

I made this for a dinner party and it went over well – I roasted the tomatoes and baked the bread in advance, then assembled when everyone arrived!

Thanks to Bon Appetit for this great antipasti!

BRUSCHETTA WITH ROSEMARY, ROASTED PLUM TOMATOES, RICOTTA AND PROSCIUTTO
Serves 6

6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 large plum tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), quartered lengthwise
12 1/2-inch-thick diagonally cut baguette slices (each 3 to 4 inches long)
12 tablespoons ricotta cheese, divided
6 thin prosciutto slices, cut in half crosswise
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup microgreens or baby arugula

Preheat oven to 425°F. Stir 6 tablespoons oil, garlic, rosemary, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend. Add tomato quarters and stir to coat. Let stand 5 minutes. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Lift tomatoes from marinade and arrange, cut side down, on prepared baking sheet (reserve marinade for toasts).

Roast tomatoes until skin is browned and blistered and tomatoes are very tender, about 35 minutes. Cool tomatoes on sheet. Maintain oven temperature.

Meanwhile, arrange bread slices on another rimmed baking sheet. Brush top of each with reserved marinade (including garlic and rosemary bits).

Roast bread until top is golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool toasts on sheet.

Spread 1 tablespoon ricotta cheese on each toast; sprinkle with pepper. Fold prosciutto halves over and place on ricotta. Arrange 2 tomato quarters atop prosciutto. Whisk lemon juice and remaining 1 teaspoon oil in medium bowl to blend; season with salt and pepper. Add microgreens and toss to coat. Top bruschetta with microgreens. Arrange on platter and serve.

Spaghettata Picante

July 11, 2010

It isn’t a surprise that when we were in Italy we tried to bring back some food. Some things were difficult like olive oil and balsamic vinegar (and unfortunately wine), but we did run into a plethora of spices when we were in the Cinque Terre. They were so simple – a bag of a unique blend of spices that you cook with olive oil to infuse it, then toss with pasta and top with cheese. It seemed so simple, yet like everything we experienced in Italy, the simple foods were in so many ways the most amazing.

So, we tried this at home with some bucatini and it was amazing. Perfect for summer, too, since it wasn’t too heavy. I know it might seem silly to blog this since the ingredients aren’t readily available here, but I will do two things to help. 1) I will translate the ingredients so you can make a similar spice mixture and 2) I will include the Web site of the company who makes the spies in the Liguri region (and I have an email into them to ask about shipping to the US).

Bon Appetito!

SPAGHETTATA PICANTA
Serves 2

1/2 pound bucatini or pasta of your choice
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons spice mixture
Handful of cheese (parmigiano or whatever you like)

Boil water and cook pasta according to directions. Heat olive oil in skillet until it is hot but not smoking. Add the spices and cook on low-medium heat for a few minutes, until it is infused. Drain pasta and add to spice mixture. Toss to coat and top with cheese.

Antichi Sapori Liguri (spice mixture is called Spaghettata Picante)
http://www.antichisaporiliguri.com

Spice mixture contains a variation of: chili pepper, powdered garlic, dried parsley, salt, chervil

The Cullinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 4 (Umbria & Rome)

July 10, 2010

View from our villa

As we left the wineries and cypress trees of Tuscany behind, we entered the rolling hills, and less traveled area of Umbria. You don’t hear of many people visiting this area, due to its more popular sibling – Tuscany – but I fear it is overlooked based purely on lack of publicity. Our time in Umbria felt more rustic than any place on our trip and we encountered more pure culture and non-English speakers than I ever could have imagined. We called it our “cultural immersion” part of the journey. No Rick Steves guidebooks here.

Although the cuisine is similar to Tuscany, there are a few regional specialties worth noting. Perugia is known for its chocolate, so the delicious sweet treat is easy to come by in these parts. Truffles are also popular and abundant. This area is also supposed to have the best salumi (which we later confirmed).

So our first stop (which we got to via our Fiat Cinquecento and first interesting driving experience) was Orvieto. This small hill town is known for its amazing duomo (the most beautiful I have ever seen) and its wine called, of course, Orvieto Classico. So, not in order of importance, we visited the duomo, then tried the wine with lunch.

Pancetta Panini with a glass of Orvieto Classico

In Cinque Terre the light wine felt right with the seafood and sea views – but here, I will admit, it was a bit odd. The food in this region is very pork, boar, tomato-sauce focused so it felt ripe for red. But, when we found a restaurant on the square with a view of the duomo and ordered a panini, the white, light wine went perfectly.

After our short lunch stop in Orvieto we proceeded (sans GPS, unfortunately) to our villa. We were fortunate enough to have a work friend who knew an old coworker with a cluster of villas just outside of Spoleto (http://www.borgoacquaiura.it/borgoeng.html). We knew it would be off the beaten path and absolutely amazing. We were not disappointed.

The villa was situated on a hill, overlooking nothing but trees, flowers and a few small hill towns. Our villa, La Casetta, was the perfect home base. To add to the ambiance, we were greeted by the caretaker, Nicu, who knew absolutely no English. Remember how we called this our cultural immersion?

I have so many stories to tell about this portion of our trip, but I will try to limit it to our food experiences. Our first night, we didn’t know where we

Antipasti at Palazzo del Papa - not surprisingly lots of salumi and truffle mushrooms

should drive for dinner. We knew how to get to Spoleto, but didn’t know much about what was there. In broken Italian, we asked Nicu who kindly offered to drive us to a restaurant called Palazzo del Papa, which was down some windy roads opposite of Spoleto. To boot, he said when we were finished to tell the wait staff and they would call him to come pick us up.

So our first course was, of course, the antipasti of the house – again, it was interesting to see the difference. Of all the places we had been, this was the most robust and hearty antipasti we had ever eaten. In some ways, it could have been its own meal. But, there was just too much good food to stop there!

Truffle pasta at Palazzo di Papa

For our primi, I got a truffle pasta (although I actually ordered something else – but the language barrier was a blessing since it was amazing!). Rob had a tomato pasta then we both had pork cutlets (his with lemon and mine with truffle – that time ordered on purpose!). The food was to die for, and when we had the restaurant call Nicu, the bartender gave us a gratis after dinner drink while we waited. An amazing night.

The next night was a special one – and I won’t bore you with ALL of the mushy details. My husband and I renewed our vows. No, it wasn’t a monumental anniversary, but we had always wondered what it would be like if we had eloped to Italy, and got married in a chapel – just us. Now, at the end of the day, having our friends and family with us that day was so important to us, we never would have done it. But there was something about a romantic moment, just the two of us, in a foreign place that always tugged at me. So, when the coworker who put me in contact with the villa owner said he renewed his vows there, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity.

Nicu broke out the “popemobile” which in fact WAS the same type of car

The church in Torrecola where we renewed our vows

as the popemobile. He drove us to a church in Torrecola – population 24. Electricity had to be run from a neighboring house, the townspeople came to join us (none of whom we knew) and the entire ceremony was in Italian. But I can honestly say, there was something so surreal about that moment, that I felt not only a romantic and religious connection to my husband, but also to the land of Italy. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Now, the food. So no event like that is complete without a celebration. So after Nicu took out us, his friend Angelica and her husband Francesco out for a “chin

Wine at Il Capanno

chin” nearby, we had dinner reservations at a place we had been hearing about ever since we got there – Il Capanno (http://www.ilcapannoristorante.it/). Now you can’t be fooled by the dirt road that gets you there, and the fact that it isn’t near much of anything (except our villa). We went there the night before – Nicu took us to make sure it was “acceptable” for our celebration. They gave us wine, antipasti and we tried to communicate with the adorable girl Raquella who was there with the family. We knew it was good, and we knew it was a gem that not enough people had discovered.

We tried a regional wine from Montefalco that special night. I can honestly say the only reason we knew it was regional is we had seen a sign for the exit close to the villa. For our antipasti, we of course ordered “of the house” and were not disappointed. Rob got a delicious ravioli for his primi (which we shared). Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing – it all was – but what I remember most about this meal, other than basking in the glow of our vow renewal, was the steak. Oh my goodness, the

Best steak of our lives - salt crusted with rosemary

steak. I feel like in my life I have had some pretty good steaks, all over the country. But this steak had some sort of unique salt crust, and it blew you away. I could never reciprocate it no matter how hard I would try. We both agreed it was hands down the most amazing steak we had ever hand in our lives. For dessert, we got a chocolate mousse with a pistachio creme that was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Needless to say, during our time in Umbria we went back to the delicious Palazzo del Papa for dinner, this time getting a pizza and confirming the legend that Umbria does indeed have the best salumi and cured meats. Hands down, best pizza I have ever put in my mouth.

Spaghetti Carbonara in Assisi

Another memorable meal was in Assisi, where we visited for a day of sightseeing. Those who know me well, know carbonara is my favorite pasta dish. As a child, my father and I would beg my mother to make it as much as she could. The whole trip I knew that certain dishes were only available regionally. And although there were some exceptions (my husband had a mean carbonara in Venice), I knew in Umbria and Rome, we had entered “carbonara country.” So, for lunch in Umbria, I ordered my first plate of this heavenly pasta. It was a drier carbonara – less of that heavy creamy sauce – which was perfect for lunch. The bacon was like none I have ever had. All and all, an amazing dish, and worth the long wait to experience it in its regional birthplace.

Once we left the peaceful lands of the villa and entered clustered, noisy, crowded Rome, I will say we both experienced a bit of a culture shock. It took many different directions (GPS still broken) and near misses with other traffic to make it to the Hertz station to drop off our car. To boot, it was raining. Although, I have to admit, this was the first real rain of the trip (minus about 1 hour in Tuscany) so neither one of us was complaining. Once we got settled at our B&B, we realized it was pouring rain and we were starving. It was time for one of those typical 2 hour Italian lunches, while the rain would hopefully pass through.

We ducked into a little place in an alley by our B&B – looked like it was filled with locals (good sign), looked crowded (also a good sign) and looked very unassuming (the best sign). We sat down, shook out our umbrellas and dug into the menu. For an antipasti, we got baccala (cod fish) that was fried. Despite its popularity in Italy, it was actually the first baccala we had on the trip. It was crispy and delicious.

Bucatini in Rome

For our main meal I got, not surprisingly, carbonara. Rob got a bucatini (the spaghetti like strands with a hole in the center like a long tube), which has now become one of my favorite types of pasta. It was served traditionally, with a tomato sauce. They were both so flavorful, and the pasta was cooked to perfection. It seemed the perfect lunch in a cozy restaurant, while watching people trudge past in the rain. Then, we topped it all off with an espresso, to give us the energy to trudge in the rain ourselves.

Our last evening in Italy, after a visit to the Trevi Fountain, we decided to eat in a popular area with outdoor restaurants, street performers, and amazing food. I will admit, I ate more food than I ever thought possible. But I realized that this time the next day, I would be getting whatever Delta airplane food they put in front of me on a plastic tray, so I had to load up on the good food while I could. We did both primi and segundi and I had a craving for traditional spaghetti with a meat sauce. Yes, it sounds simple for my last meal, but I wanted to have that one, comfort food that I always think of when I think of Italian food. I wanted something traditional, after all of the amazing specialties we had throughout the trip. Rob got a gnocchi and we both got breaded veal for our main dish. We held off on dessert, knowing we could find some good gelato nearby. We were right.

Gelato in Rome

We literally followed the people with cones into what might be the closest thing I have ever seen to a gelato palace. The place was huge, more gelato than I have ever seen in my life, and there was a system. You pay first. Of course, as clueless tourists we waited about 10 minutes before realizing the system, but once we did and got our cones, we knew it was worth the wait. Maybe it was because it was our last night, or maybe it was because I was eating ice cream that tasted like a candy bar, but it was the best gelato I have ever had in my life.

The cuisine of Umbria and Rome was not only memorable because I was able to experience carbonara, but because it was yet two more regions, with their own specialties. Umbria felt raw in its culture, Rome a bit more metropolitan. In Umbria, it was all home grown food prepared in traditional ways, in Rome you could get some pretty good Chinese food, I am sure. They both had their own personalities, and it was necessary to experience both to appreciate the differences. This part of my trip has a sentimental meaning to me. Not only because I renewed my vows with my amazing husband, but because it was my last few days in a country where I know I will be returning.

Below are a few more food photos of our time in Umbria and Rome:

Rob in the butcher shop in nearby Spoleto where we bought our meats and cheeses for the villa

Lunch on our patio at the villa - meats, cheese and bread from the butcher shop in Spoleto

The antipasti at Il Capanno

Ravioli at Il Capanno

Chocolate mousse and pistachio cream at Il Capanno

Wine at Trattoria Al Camino Vecchio in Assisi

Gnocchi in Assisi

Best pizza I have ever had at Palazzo del Papa outside of Spoleto

Fried baccala in Rome

Carbonara in Rome

Spaghetti with meat sauce the last night in Rome

Gnocchi in tomato sauce in Rome

Last meal in Italy

The Culinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 3 (Tuscany)

June 26, 2010

As we left the Mediterranean behind in Cinque Terre, we were lucky enough to have hired a private driver/tour guide to take us from the coast into Siena – stopping within the Chianti region along the way. If it is in your budget, that is one travel recommendation I would have to make. Although we loved the trains (at first) and driving (although we thought we might not make it in one piece), there is something so relaxing about having someone else worry about it for you. And, instead of having a full day of travel from Cinque Terre to Siena, we had a full day of amazing food, wine and scenery.

Cappuccino in Pietrasanta square - the cup had a painted of the duomo in the background

Our first stop along the way was Pietrasanta. No, it isn’t in most tour books. But, it is the town from which my husband’s grandfather is from, and thus it would have been a shame not to see it, being so close. No culinary memories other than a cappuccino on their town square – but the memories were a bit more nostalgic for us. We found the church his grandfather was baptised in, and spent time in the square he surely played in as a young boy.

We then made a quick stop – and by quick I mean 20 minutes – in Pisa to see the tower, get a photo, then get the heck out of there. It was crowded, and quite overrun with tourists (ourselves included, of course). Then we headed south, past Florence (I know, everyone can add the “you are crazy” here), and to the Chianti region. We told our guide, Alessandro, we liked to go off the beaten path, where we could really experience the culture. So, we ended up in the small village of Lamole, just outside of Greve. I give him kudos for this choice, because I have yet to find a person who has been to Lamole. It was a quaint little town, but what I remember most was, of course, lunch.

After learning from Alessandro the history of Chianti Classico, it only felt fitting to get a split. We were seated at a

Lunch in Lamole - Pork and a Boar Ragu

table for two on a patio, overlooking sweeping views of Tuscany. Blue sky was interspersed with ominous clouds, yet we dined outside without a drop of rain. I started the meal with salumi, but unlike the salumi I had in the past, this was a softer kind. It had lots of pepper to give it a kick, and it was amazing. Rob got a pear ravioli that was so soft, sweet and salty, it melted in your mouth. Then for our main coarse, I got the boar pasta. I was told Tuscany is known for its boar, and you shouldn’t go there without trying it. It was slow cooked, braised for many hours, and added to a ragu over freshly made pasta. It tasked like a slow roasted pork (but a little richer, on the edge of tasting like beef). It was to die for. Rob got a pork that was almost too pretty to eat – until the first bite, then it was gone in a hurry. Dessert was something chocolate, filled with chocolate, then drizzled with chocolate. The perfect end to a perfect meal.

Balsamic vinegar casks at Montagliari Winery

Then, it was time for some wine tasting. Alessandro took us to a very small winery – definitely off the beaten path – for a private wine and balsamic vinegar tour. If you are like me, I knew very little about how they make balsamic, and the patient process that goes with it. We arrived at Montagliari Winery, in the heart of Tuscany, with more sweeping views of valleys and an approaching storm. We got the key to the place, then Alessandro took us into the balsamic vinegar aging room. I learned that the vinegar goes into 5 different casks, all of a different type of wood to give it its flavor – all the wine evaporating and condensing in each step. The result is a small, concentrated amount of 35+ aged balsamic. It is not a wonder, now, why Italian balsamic can cost in the hundreds.

Then, the wine – the cellar was massive, and wine dated back….well, let’s just say we were able to find a

Each cubby was one year of wine - there were many rooms, dating back to the 70s and 60s.

bottle of wine from the year I was born. After seeing the process, it was time to taste, so we went into the wooden paneled tasting room, just as we began to hear thunder threatening in the distance. The winemaker himself, David, joined us to participate in the tasting. We started with the balsamic vinegar, which was like nothing I have ever tasted in the US. Then, the wine, which was so earthy and rich. We tried some grappa (I am NOT a fan!) and some vin santo (I am also not a fan, but Rob is). Apparently, the way Tuscans drink vin santo is by dipping biscotti in it (because it is very strong otherwise). The winemaker even pulled down a good bottle of scotch for my husband, when he mentioned his love for it. We were talking about the winery with David, drinking great Chianti, and now listening to the rain falling just outside the open door. It was one of the most memorable experiences.

After Montagliari, we went to the “Crazy Butcher” of Panzano. You may recognize the name from a special on the Food Network about him – he is good friends with Mario Batali. We briefly met him, but what I really remember is the meat hanging in the fridge/freezer (vegetarians beware!). We were greeted with a glass of complementary wine (in true Italian style), and were asked to try some bruschetta with Chiani

The Crazy Butcher shop in Panzano

butter. Now, I may not speak the language, but when I saw the spread I knew that Chianti butter is the famous lard butter (lardo). I must admit, sounds a bit odd, but if you forget what it is and just pop it in your mouth, it is amazing. If you ever go there, you must try it.

After then a short stop at the Pentecoste e Castellina (a regional wine festival), a tasting at Rocca delle Macie Winery and a visit to the walled town of Monteriggioni, we were dropped off at our hotel in Siena – full and tired.

The next day, we had another tour guide, Nathalie, take us south a bit through the Brunello region. If you learn about Brunello di Montalcino, you will have a fond appreciation for it. The wine HAS to be grown in Montalcino and HAS to be 100% Sangiovese grapes. There was a scandal a while back, where a winemaker was adding grapes other than Sangiovese to his Brunello (making it NOT a Brunello). It was called Brunellopoli by the Italian press. You can tell, Italians take this tradition very seriously. So, if you are ever wondering why Brunello di Montalcino is so expensive, it is because it can only be made in this small town south of Siena. Needless to say, you cannot afford land here, unless you are growing grapes and then selling expensive wine.

We spent some time in the city of Montalcino – a beautiful hill town that truly lives for its wine. Then, we went to the outskirts to a winery called Poggio Antico. The winery had more sweeping views of the cyprus trees, and we went inside to get a private tour with another couple from the US. We then tasted the wines, and had a profound appreciation for the tradition of them, and a bit of sticker shock at the price.

We then visited Mont Antimo, a striking abbey in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, and then headed

Lamb stew (front), chickpeas (back left) and a fresh ragu (back) in Pienza

to Pienza for lunch. The restaurant Nathalie took us to once again had sweeping views of Tuscany (hard to avoid these views since almost all of the towns are hill towns). We sat along the hedge, looking into the valley, and had amazing wine and, of course, amazing food. I had a lamb dish – which may have seemed a bit heavy for the spring, but it melted in my mouth. Lamb is another cucina tipica in Tuscany, so I had to have it. Rob had a ragu that was absolutely amazing. Then we toured the town, which was quaint, filled with flowers and had a romantic vibe. Much to his dismay, I told Rob I want to move here someday. It was the perfect little town.

The atmosphere at Anica Osteria da Divo in Siena

Then back to Siena and for the meal I had been waiting for. On this trip there were only two dinner reservations I made. La Vista in Varenna, Lake Como and Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena. I found this restaurant on TripAdvisor as a “must visit” and then did some more digging to find out it truly is a gem in the city. Although the food is to die for, you go for the atmosphere. The restaurant is actually in ancient Estruscan tombs – so you feel as if you are eating in a cave. Surrounded by history, stone and candlelight, the experience is once in a lifetime. Because it was a “special meal “(which seems silly to say on this trip since every meal was memorable), we went all out. Bottle of nice wine,  primi, segundi and dessert.

For our primi, I got a lasagna and Rob a cannelloni. Amazing. We both got the stuffed pork as our segundi. As you may know, Tuscany is known for its pork, so again, we had to try the regional favorite. We were not disappointed. For dessert we got biscotti and vin santo. We left satisfied and full, then walked around the duomo at night, and experienced the beautiful main square in Siena. What a gorgeous city.

Below are some more food photos from our time in Tuscany:

Pear ravioli and salumi at restaurant in Lamole (Chianti Region)

Chianti with a view at the restaurant in Lamole

Dessert at restaurant in Lamole (Chianti Region)

Did I mention we ate a lot of gelato?

Ragu at the restaurant in Pienza

Cannelloni at Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena

Lasagna at Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena

Stuffed pork at Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena

Biscotti and vin santo at Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena

Our time in Tuscany was something I will never forget – we were able to experience the foods and wines that have made it so famous. We experienced the “must dos” like Pisa and Siena, but also went off the beaten path to places like Pietrasanta and Lamole to experience the Italian culture at its purest. Although Lake Como and Cinque Terre leave you awestruck with their beauty, Tuscany has a different kind of beauty – one that is more real, and in a strange way feels like home.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: