Panettone

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At this time of the year grocery shops and bakeries all over Italy are filling with stacks of colorful boxes containing all kinds of Panettone, a rich, fluffy, naturally leavened bread cake filled with candied fruit and raisins. Originally from Milano, today it has become a tradition in the Piemonte region as well, where the classic recipe sees the addition of a hazelnut glaze topping. There is another very similar cake, Pandoro, originally from the town of Verona. It is baked into the shape of a star and is without raisins and fruit.

Panettone is a century old tradition, a delicious treat present on all Italian tables during the Christmas holidays. Apparently, the etymology is related to it being, essentially, a large sweet bread: “pane” in Italian means bread and “panettone” literally translates as “large bread”. But there’s also a legend saying that the inventor was a baker called Toni. The phrase “Pan de Toni” (bread of Toni) triggered the birth of the name.

The secret to any good panettone is the choice of ingredients. Renowned bakers use pure butter, fresh eggs, top quality flours and first choice fruit. The yeast must be rigorously a sour dough (called “madre”, mother) essential because it provides a very slow leavening. Some bakers have kept the same starter for centuries, passing it on from generation to generation.

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We recently visited Galup, a baker in north-western Italy that has been using the same yeast starter since 1922. This special colony of bacteria has survived a war, witnessed the advent of TV, computers and indeed quite a number of generations. Natural yeasts add complex flavors and unique nuances which commercial yeasts would never be able to achieve.

Panettone is delicious on its own, as a dessert or even as a snack, paired with a cup of tea or coffee. It even makes for a pretty incredible extra-decadent French toast! On Christmas Eve Italians serve it with a fortified wine custard called zabaione. Here is a quick and easy recipe:

Panettone e Zabaione
Ingredients
1 Panettone or Pandoro
4 egg yolks
¾ cup white sugar
½ cup fortified wine (Marsala or Port)

Method
Start by making your zabaione cream. Separate egg yolks and mix with sugar. Once combined place your bowl in a pot with boiling water (bain-marie). Add the wine and whisk the cream until it thickens to a creamy texture. Slice the Panettone and serve with the zabaione on the side.

Buon appetito!

Orange is the new white

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Orange is the color of fall, so why not taste a glass of this new particular wine that is on everyone’s lips? It’s not made from oranges and it’s not that modern of a process either: way back in Roman times white grapes were commonly fermented this way. A very old tradition, that has seen a rebirth in the late 80’s with pioneers such as Gravner and Radikon who gave birth to the orange wine movement in north eastern Italy. Basically, it’s about making white wines as if they were red. In conventional white wine making the grapes are pressed and skins immediately separated and discarded. Instead in red wine production the skins are left in contact with the must (soon-to-be wine) during fermentation. This same technique is applied to orange wines: the white wine grapes’ skins are kept in contact with the must throughout fermentation. This helps extract color, flavor and natural antioxidants called tannins that help create a stable wine. This is why orange wines are in most cases associated with natural wines – if made correctly they need no intervention at all to maintain their longevity and stability. It is important to clarify a common misconception: orange wine isn’t equal to natural wine, and vice-versa. Natural wine can be sparkling, white, orange, rosè, red and sweet. Orange wine can also be produced conventionally. So what exactly defines a natural wine?

In recent years the movement has really hit, with dozens of natural wine fairs between Italy, France, London, Vienna and Berlin. This year even New York stepped in. All the most vibrant cities across the globe are sprawling with wine bars that focus on these gems, and important restaurants such as Noma (4 times best restaurant of the world) have wine lists that exclusively propose this approach. The term is used to loosely describe the philosophy of winemakers who grow their grapes with no chemical additions, hand-harvesting the fruit and avoiding the addition of industrially produced yeasts, keeping sulphur additions to a bare minimum, if added at all. The whole focus is on the fruit, the land and the vintage. It could be defined as a “zero intervention” approach. Most people don’t know that winemakers can add dozens of ingredients to their wine and apply just as many processes to correct mistakes and standardize flavors, without being required to list them on the label. Keep in mind that wine is one of the few food industries that is not regulated by labelling laws. Modern conventional cellars look more like chemical labs than the romantic ideal we all have fixated in our minds. Today’s industrial winemaking leaves very little to nature. On the other hand minimal intervention or natural wines use no unnecessary chemicals, processes or treatments, resulting in a product that’s more honest and reflective of its region. These wines really tell unique and diverse stories about where they come from and about the style of the winemaker. Honest wines, that are not afraid of showing who they really are.

Taste orange wines with an open mind. Don’t think about them as whites, enjoy their versatility and depth of flavor. They pair amazingly with food, most food in fact. Some of our favorites are cheese, charcuterie boards and poultry dishes.

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Orange wine during skin contact fermentation, Zidarich cellar, Carso Italy.
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Orange wine tasting at Slow Food’s main international fair,  Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy.
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One of the most iconic orange wines of our times, Ribolla Gialla by Josko Gravner, aged in clay vases called Amphora.

Butternut squash ravioli

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The holidays are approaching faster than ever. It’s that perfect time of the year to take some time to cook something delicious from scratch for your loved ones. Butternut squash ravioli is a traditional recipe from Emilia Romagna in central Italy but is enjoyed across the country as a holiday classic. There is a version of this recipe from the town Mantova that sees the addition of amaretti cookies and fruit preserve. We are proposing the classic one, but  by adding the mentioned ingredients in the filling and you will obtain the Mantova version.
We love this dish! It’s a celebration of squash and winter flavors, simple yet comforty and delicious.

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Recipe for 2

Ingredients:
1 small butternut squash (about 2lb when whole)
2T extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
sea salt
ground black pepper
¾ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
¼tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 garlic clove
2 stalks fresh rosemary
3T butter
1 small bunch sage

Pasta:
2 Eggs
100 grams “00” flour
100 grams semolina flour

Directions:
Cut Squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Cut is smaller chunks (about 1inch thick) and place in a baking dish. Season with 2T EVOO,1 tablespoon of salt and half a tablespoon of pepper. Break the rosemary in half and place in the tray. Peel the garlic clove, cut it in half and also place in tray. Cook in oven at 390°F for about 30 minutes or until very tender. Remove from oven and cool. Once cool peel off the skin with a small knife. In a bowl, mash the squash with a fork, fold in 1/2 a cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, nutmeg and a pinch of salt and pepper to season.

For pasta:
In a mixer combine eggs and flours, mix well until dough comes together. Continue mixing for 3-4 minutes until dough is smooth. Remove from bowl roll into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.

To make the Ravioli roll out the pasta by hand or with a machine into thin sheets. Place a small amount of the filling at intervals onto the pasta. Brush around the filling lightly with a beaten egg or water and then layer another sheet of pasta on top. Removing as much air as possible form each ravioli press down well and then cut into rounds or squares.

To Cook:
Add butter to a sauté pan along with fresh sage leaves. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and add ravioli and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Once the ravioli are cooked add the melted butter sage and toss gently. Plate and sprinkle with fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Check out the recipe video: https://vimeo.com/192320956

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Take a trip to Venice

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Italy offers so much in terms of diversity and destinations. The Mediterranean, the Alps, historical sites, endless heavenly foods… Each region has its unique charm and characteristic traditions. This month we went to Venice for the best foodie finds off the beaten track.

Venice stands out for its history, symbolic architecture, romantic allure, and vibrant modern art scene. Miraculously built on water, it has maintained over centuries a classical grace and unbeatable atmosphere.

A small island always packed with hordes of tourists 365 days a year, this mysterious town still  hides many forgotten campi (squares) and narrow secret calli (streets) that offer memorable surprises. Regardless where you are,  you’re just a few bridges away from a local and authentic discovery. Forget souvenir shops and the restaurants displaying pictures of spaghetti and fried calamari. Get lost in the back alleys, find a traditional bacaro (bar/restaurant) and indulge in authentic treats whilst listening to loud Venetians discuss important matters in dialect. Make sure to enjoy the essence of aperitivo: ombre (glasses of wine) paired with cicchetti (bites, similar to tapas). Our favourite spot in town for this is Estro Vini (http://www.estrovenezia.com) offering a wide selection of natural wines and seasonal delicacies:  polpette (meatballs), baccalà (cod creamy spread), moeche (fried soft shell crab), castraure (violet small artichoke grown on the Sant’Erasmo Island) and the incredible selection of tramezzini (small triangular sandwiches filled with all kinds of delicacies). It’s a feast for the senses, a great way to fix a meal hopping from bacaro to bacaro and immersing into all the traditional exquisite flavors.

If what you are looking for is a sit down meal, you must go and visit Mauro Lorenzon at La Mascareta, possibly the most charismatic host ever, an incredible wine connoisseur and entertaining character (www.ostemaurolorenzon.com). You will be sure to savour the freshest fish and the best selection of wines. A great find is also Alle Testiere (http://osterialletestiere.it/), a seafood classic located in the heart of Venice between San Marco square and Rialto bridge. If you want to experience a real traditional meal, a place where Venetians eat on Sundays with their families, ask a local for directions to Alla vedova – a classic bacaro, so classic that it doesn’t have a website. For an exceptional treat, book a table at Da Fiore (http://www.dafiore.net), tradition brought to the next level. Don’t miss out on a Campari drink at historical Harry’s Bar open since the 1920’s, filled with a charm from another era. (http://www.harrysbarvenezia.com/). Dive into history and have breakfast in the center of San Marco square at Caffè Florian (http://www.caffeflorian.com/) open since the 1720’s, said to be one of the oldest bar establishments in the world. Anyone that loves food must go to the food markets near Rialto bridge, a hustling scene, with loud vendors and local shoppers eager to find the freshest fish and the tastiest vegetables.

Where to sleep

Architecture is one of the highlights of this marvellous destination, so sleeping in a charming place will really make your stay. Agenzia views on Venice rents apartments and luxury homes (http://www.viewsonvenice.com/it) all across the island. Hotels such as Hotel Danieli (http://www.danielihotelvenice.com/it) and Gritti (http://www.thegrittipalace.com/it) are definitely worth the spend.

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Noble Fat, There’s an oil for that!

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It’s olive harvest season! Between October and early December – depending on variety, geographical position and production style – all across Italy the mature fruits are manually picked and taken to the mills. Pressing them as quickly as possible preserves all of their goodness and all the year’s work comes to an end, from tree to bottle. Did you know that 100kg (220 lb) of olives produce just 12.8kg (28 lb) of EVOO? It’s a very expensive extraction, but it’s totally worth the work…

One of the rare cases when something delicious is at the same time extremely good for you. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is one of the most nutritious vegetal oils, an unbeatable condiment, one of the main pillars of the so-praised Mediterranean diet. A noble fat good for flavor and for your health – rich in natural antioxidants as well as vitamins E and K and beneficial fatty acids. When pure and extra virgin, it contains a number of active components that have a protective action towards the cells of our organism, slowing down their ageing process and strengthening their resistance to free radicals (carcinogens).

The olive tree is very unique, it can live for centuries resisting heat and droughts, cold winters and harsh conditions. Naturally, it only grows in specific geographical areas of the globe between the 30° and 45° parallel, basically going from Marocco to France. At the heart of the Mediterranean. Today there are some plantations in other areas in the world with similar climates, such as Australia and South America.

Olives are just like grapes: considering just Italy it counts over 400 different indigenous varieties growing all over the country. Some are more prone to hilly inland conditions, some to steep terraces on the coasts of Liguria and others that reach the furthest northern tip at the feet of the Alps, on lake Garda. We can talk of an actual terroir for EVOO just as we do with wine. There is the right one for every food pairing. For example a delicate seafood dish can’t get overpower by a strong and spicy EVOO from Puglia. One would rather choose a delicate and subtle flavor, like the Taggiasche olives in Liguria. A full bodied and piquant EVOO from Sicily is unbeatably paired with comfort dishes such as brisket or a bean soup.

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Freshly picked Bianchera variety olives

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Olive producer in Sicily, testing the ripeness of the fruit

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The biodiversity of EVOO’s, the perfect fit for each dish

Tips on how to choose your EVOO – make sure to choose Extra Virgin, when it’s just Olive Oil or Virgin it was most probably made using chemical processes, from second choice olives and the natural beneficial properties are just not there! And let’s not get started on aroma and flavor. Also when buying European EVOO’s you can look for DOP certification labels that are an assurance of qualitative standards.

Tips on how to store your EVOO – Being unrefined, it’s a delicate product and some important details must be considered when storing it. The enemies of EVOO are light, air and heat – this is why the bottles of good olive oil are made from dark glass (the darker the better) and why at home, if you are not going through a vast quantity of EVOO, it is better to use small bottles, which minimize the exposure to air. Keeping the bottle close to the stove or in direct sunlight is also not good because of the heat exposure.

Curing is caring

Before the invention and widespread use of refrigeration, people developed a range of methods to help preserve their foods during seasonal scarcity. Drying, salting, curing, smoking and fermenting are all ancient techniques still in use today, giving us some of the most unique and flavorful foods in our diets. Think dried beans, smoked salmon, cured meats, coffee, chocolate, wine, beer, vinegar, yogurt, bread, miso, soy sauce…it’s an endless list. In some cases, these techniques weren’t just sought to preserve, but aimed at making ingredients more delicious or simply edible. If you’ve ever tasted a fresh olive before it being salted and cured you know what I’m on about.

Cured meats are one of the most delicious and fine foods man has come to create. A fresh piece of meat, salted and aged for months, can develop through time incredibly complex umami, savory, sweet and bitter flavors that simply were not there before. What happens? Basically, if the already existing enzymes in the flesh are brought to the right conditions, they begin to break down the meat’s proteins, fats and glycogen. These are transformed into amino acids, fatty acids and sugars. These compounds host all the flavors we love and over time magic happens. There is no cooking technique that can give a piece of meat such depth in flavor.

It is believed that the Celts, a culture that developed around the extraction of rock salt, were the first to experiment with meat curing. Today the tradition is rooted all across Europe. Italy itself hosts hundreds of different regional salumi (Italian for charcuterie). They vary according to climate, regional traditions and family recipes. Starting with smoked speck from the northern mountain areas, to super spicy hot sausages in the Southern regions such as Calabria. Salumi fall into two main categories, those made from a whole muscle such as prosciutto or culatello and those made with ground meat such as salame and finocchiona. To recognize an authentic well made salume there are a few tips you can follow:

  • The aging time is a good indicator, some products just need that time to develop, and cannot be made taking short cuts
  • The origin of the meat: if stated it’s usually a matter of pride, a specific breed, possibly even animals raised free range.
  • No additives
  • Natural casings: when talking of stuffed products, such as salami, the casings must be animal-derived, any synthetic casing does not permit the meat to breathe and age over time

The king of salumi is culatello, the most sought after cured meat made from the large muscle mass in a pig’s rear leg. It can only be made in a specific province in the central region Emilia Romagna, aged in 500 year old cellars for at least 10 month. When visiting this part of Italy make sure to stop by Antica Corte Pallavicina, a gastronomical temple producing what might be the best culatello on the planet, praised and shipped worldwide. They have stylish rooms and a delicious fine dining Michelin starred restaurant. You must of course visit the ageing cellars, which lie underneath the property and are filled with slow aged culatellos, labelled with the names of customers spread all over the world. Including Prince Charles and Alain Ducasse, for example…(http://www.anticacortepallavicinarelais.it/)

The art of curing meat sure is an old world tradition, luckily enough there are some great talents arising around the USA developing their own new styles and using local ingredients. Kevin Ouzts from the Spotter Trotter (http://thespottedtrotter.com/) makes incredibly authentic yet innovative salumi, bringing to Atlanta some real craft flavors. If you haven’t tried it yet make sure to get your hands on their ‘nduja (Calabrese style spreadable spicy sausage), but beware it creates addiction! Their philosophy is to respect the product they make throughout, from the humanely and locally raised pork, to organic spices and locally grown heirloom varieties of chilies! A rare exception of dedication to good food, made respectfully staying true to traditions but not being intimidated by trying new creative combinations.

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Carbonara is one of Italy’s most traditional pasta dishes, that too often, when prepared across the globe, is not executed following the original recipe. The addition of cream or the absence of eggs (the main ingredient of the dish) can really spoil the essence of such a perfect classic.

The recipe is originally from Rome but a staple for Italian homes across the country. It’s origin is unsure, who invented it remains a mystery. Some legends want it inspired by the influence of American soldiers during WW2, that whilst stationed in Italy, came to cook with ingredients most familiar to them – bacon and eggs.

It’s definitely an easy and quick recipe to fix a delicious last minute meal with little effort. The sauce can be made in the same time you need to cook the pasta, a 20 minute job – classic Italian home ‘Fast Food’. And if you think about it, it’s really an Italian version of eggs and bacon.. just pasta instead of a biscuit or bread! Why not try it out for your next home cooked brunch?

If looking for lighter or vegetarian options follow the same instructions but substitute the pork with crunchy roasted veggies. The traditional recipe requires guanciale, spaghetti and pecorino – these are often substituted with linguine, pancetta and Parmigiano Reggiano.

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Check out the recipe video: https://youtu.be/1CpXblcWPos

Recipe for 5

Ingredients
1 pack (500g – about 1 pound) spaghetti or liunguine pasta

For the Carbonara sauce:
5 Eggs
½ pound guanciale (pork jowl) or pancetta, diced
1 tbs Butter (not traditional but gives an extra creaminess to the sauce)
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano and/or Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper

Utensils needed
Large Bowl
Large pot
Pan
Large Strainer

Method
Fill the large pot with water and bring to boil.
In the mean while, dice the guanciale and cook in a pan at medium heat until crispy.
In the bowl lightly beat 3 whole eggs, 2 yolks, butter, half the cheese, salt and pepper.
Cook pasta in salted boiling water, according to recommended cooking time written on the box.
When pasta is Al-Dente cooked, drain and transfer directly into the large bowl, adding the crispy pancetta. Mix well and fast, so that the egg does not scramble, but evenly covers all the pasta with a creamy texture.
Place pasta in individual serving bowls and garnish with the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Buon apettito!