It’s Aperitivo time!

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Aperitivo is a wonderful custom, enjoyed and practiced all across Italy. It’s the perfect way to leave behind a long day and relax having a glass of wine or a light cocktail in good company. The word  defines the act as well as the actual drink – cocktails such as Negroni and Spritz, thought to entice your appetite. Aperitivo is often accompanied by snacks ranging from cheese and charcuterie to more elaborated finger food, such as tartine (similar to bruschetta), polpette (meatballs), fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies or seafood tartare. Just a few examples of the colorful range of delicacies you can enjoy.

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It’s origin is linked to the city Torino, where the first Vermouths (fortified wines) were prodcuced, think Carpani, Martini, Cinzano. Today aperitivo rhymes with Milano – the town flows with different kinds of bar concepts for all tastes.

The choice can be overwhelming –  here are a few tips on places to visit on a short trip:
If wine is what you are looking for, hands down this hidden cellar is a must http://www.alcortile.com/. Getting to it is an adventure  – you need to ring the bell, enter a gate, walk through a private alley and down the stairs to this ancient cellar, don’t get it mixed up with the upstairs restaurant and cooking school.
The most incredible and eclectic cocktail bar of all must be Nottingham Forest http://www.nottingham-forest.com/ , where you can sip your libations out of an All Star shoe cup, or order an extravagant cocktail containing pure gold and real pearls or experiment new frontiers of texture and aesthetics with molecular mixology.
In the fancy area of Brera you can savour an fine Japanese style aperitivo at Sushi B http://www.sushi-b.it/ and Lacerba’s http://www.lacerba.it/  charming and futuristic decor makes for a  memorable experience.

Cin cin!

Sicilian Orange and Fennel Salad

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Fennel peak season calls for a one-of-a-kind Mediterranean recipe.  Healthy, fresh, crunchy, delicious and very simple to prepare. It makes for a great light lunch or the perfect side to a roast chicken or fish.

Italians love fennel and use it in a variety of dishes, making the best of all its parts, from the bulb to the flowers and seeds. And it isn’t just a matter of taste. Think of Finocchiona, the traditional Tuscan salami: the fennel seeds help preserve it while adding their characteristic flavour.  Its is rich in vitamin C, fibers and several essential nutrients for our diet. It also has unusual phytonutrients that give it ample antioxidant and immune-boosting capabilities.

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Ingredients:
3 large fennels (try and find them with the green tips)
3 oranges
2 spring onions
2 tbsp Capers in salt
2 tbsp pitted taggiasca olives
2 tbsp EVOO
1 tsp ground pepper

Method:
Finely chop the fennel, fennel tips and spring onion and place in a bowl. Peel the oranges using a knife, trying not to waste the fruit but taking away the white bitter outer layer. Slice the oranges, keep the juice and add to the bowl. Add capers with salt, olives, Evoo and pepper and mix well. The salad can keep for up to one day, but is best when just made.

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Buon Appetito!

Chocolate.. to the source

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It’s hard to imagine a better way to finish a meal than with chocolate. With incredibly unique characteristics it’s one of the most loved and consumed foods worldwide. At room temperature the consistency is hard and dry but it melts as soon as it touches our tongue meeting our body temperature. It can be moulded into any kind of shape and can be made to shine as a mirror. Not many foods offer such a sensorial experience, capable of creating strong desire, comparable to addiction, particularly in women (this is probably due to theobromine, caffeine and a tiny percentage of cannabinoids). It is said to improve cardiovascular health thanks to the presence of flavonoids and has become a symbol of romance, thought to be a great aphrodisiac… There is no doubt – eating chocolate is indeed a pleasure linked to senses.

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The cocoa tree, that grows more or less between the 10° north parallel and the 10° south parallel, evolved in Southern America’s equatorial valleys. The Aztecs and the Mayas were possibly the first to try it, consuming it as a bitter drink with the addition of spices. It was the Spaniards that first paired it with sugar and eliminated most of the spices, bringing this exotic new food back to Europe in the 16th century. It remained a luxurious and uncommon drink until the 1800, when a series of innovations (mostly Swiss) contributed to the creation of chocolate as we know it today – produced industrially and accessible for all.

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Nowadays cocoa is produced in West Africa and Asia as well as in Central and South America. Farmers are mostly small – less then 3 hectare properties – but transformers are huge; main players are in Holland, Germany and the US. Most of the cocoa produced worldwide is treated as a commodity and bought by the biggest industrial brands.

img_3866Nonetheless lately specialty chocolatiers that buy the cocoa directly from producers have grown in numbers, buying either the dried beans or the final product. In some cases the farmers are also the transformers. Basically when the beans are mature you extract the seed, ferment it, dry it and finally roast it. These must then be ground, conched and tempered before being moulded into bars, a long process that requires expertise and attention to detail to guarantee a top quality final product.

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More and more, small chocolate processers around the world are starting to treat cocoa just like you would wine, searching for specific varietals, appreciating the origin as well as the steps of production. Nothing is added except for cocoa and sugar. This gave birth to a completely new way of tasting and consuming chocolate, for example paired with wine and distilled liquors or used for cooking, to appreciate all its flavors and aromas.

We have two great bean to bar chocolate makers in Atlanta, Cacao Atlanta www.cacaoatlanta.com and XOCOLATL www.xocolatlchocolate.com. Check them out and indulge in pure ethically sourced chocolate this Valentine’s day!

 

 

Sausage and Kale Calamarata

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Cavolo nero also known as lacinato kale is originally from Tuscany. Usually recognized for being the main ingredient in the popular Ribollita soup, it pairs beautifully with fresh sausage in this pasta dish. You can switch the cavolo nero with any kind of kale or rupini, and use any shape of short pasta. Calamarata is a shorter variant of paccheri, the name recalls the similarity in shape to fried calamari… but has nothing to do with seafood!

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Watch the recipe video: https://youtu.be/aQU8zxvSNCU

Recipe for 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 500g pack Calamarata dried pasta
Sea salt, 2 tablespoons
For the sauce
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), 3 tablespoons
Garlic clove, 2
Chili flakes, 1 teaspoon
Yellow onion, 1 large
Splash of white wine
Sausages, 2
Cavolo nero (lacinato kale), ¾ lb
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, 4 tablespoons
Salt to taste

Utensils needed
Large pot
Pan
Pasta Strainer

Method
Fill the pot with 1.5 gallons of water and bring to a boil. In the meanwhile start making the sauce: peel the garlic and dice the onion. Heat the pan and add a tablespoon of EVOO, chili flakes and 2 garlic cloves. When it starts to sizzle add the onions, once they starts browning add the wine and let evaporate. Slice the sausage links in half lengthwise and peel off the casing, add to the pan, mix and cook for about 10 minutes. Chop the kale into strips and add to the sauce, stir it in, slightly lower the flame and cook for another 10 minutes. If in need of moisture add a few tablespoons of hot water from the large pot.
At this point while the sauce cooks through the water should be boiling. Add 2 tablespoons of sea salt and pour the pasta in, keep stirring so that it doesn’t stick. Cook for the suggested time on pack, but our suggestion is to always try one noodle before draining, you want to cook it ‘al dente’. Dente means “tooth” in Italian, it suggests that the texture must be firm and have a bite to it. After you cook pasta regularly, you will just know when it is ready.
Once pasta is ready, drain but keep about 3 tablespoons of cooking water. Add pasta and cooking water to the sauce and stir at high flame for a few minutes.
Drizzle with the remaining EVOO and garnish with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

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Buon apettito! 

All the colors of Pasta

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Next time you make your own fresh pasta at home why not experiment with different natural colorants? Seasons have so many ingredients to pick from and eating seasonal is the best excuse to get creative and cook with what’s available. Right now during winter you can get plenty of vitamins, fibres and antioxidants from veggies such as beetroot, which will turn your pasta pink or purple, and fresh spinach if you want it to turn green. In summer try with tomatoes or basil! Squid ink – which can be sourced year-round – will turn your dough charcoal black, cocoa powder a nice earthy brown, while turmeric and saffron bright yellow. It’s fun, gets kids excited about a healthy meal and can be the next trick to impress your guests at a dinner party. Start out with your classic fresh pasta recipe and add the following proportions:

  • Beetroot, spinach, tomato: ½ ounce every 100g flour (For the vegetables boil until soft, squeeze out the extra water, blend and weigh)
  • Cocoa, turmeric: 0,2 ounce every 100g flour
  • Squid ink: if fresh, one bladder is more than enough every 200g of flour. You can also find it dehydrated in powder (use same proportions as cocoa)
  • Saffron: A pinch of pistils diluted in a few drops of warm water every 100g flour

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Need a refresh to our fresh pasta recipe?
Yield: 6 people

Ingredients
Unbleached, unenriched semolina flour, 200 g (approx. 7 ounces)
Unbleached, unenriched white wheat flour (cake flour), 0 type, 200 g (approx. 7 ounces)
Large pasture raised eggs (280 g) 4

Method
On a clean surface, make a pile out of flour and form a deep well in center. Break the eggs into the well and add colorant. Whisk eggs very gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well. When mixture becomes too thick to mix with a fork, begin kneading using your hands. If flour does not fully incorporate into the dough add one or two tablespoons of water. (Be careful not to add too much!) In the case of beetroot, spinach and tomato the opposite may occur, you can add a little semolina flour if the dough is too sticky.

Dough is very sticky at the beginning and becomes more elastic and smooth after around 4 minutes of kneading. Once the dough is formed, continue kneading for 3 more minutes to allow the dough to reach its maximum elasticity and firmness. Long kneading is important in order to develop the gluten in the flour and to prevent dough from tearing apart later on. Dust work surface with flour if needed to keep dough from becoming sticky. Roll dough into a ball shape and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for 20-30 minutes.

The traditional way of rolling out the pasta is by using a simple wood rolling pin, so even if you don’t have a pasta machine don’t be intimidated to make fresh pasta at home. Dust working surface with flour and start rolling dough one piece at a time. After every roll, make a quarter turn and repeat the same movement until you have achieved the desired thickness. (Approximately the thickness of a playing card). After achieving the desired thickness of the dough, start cutting the pasta into desired shape. Make sure to dust dough on both sides so it doesn’t stick to itself.

Buon appetito!

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Take a trip to Sicily

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An island in the heart of the Mediterranean with breathtaking landscapes ranging from crystal clear beaches to steep vineyards on rumbling volcano Etna. Walking down a street you can see a Greek temple next to an elegant Roman villa, facing a Norman-Arabic cathedral behind a Baroque sumptuous palace.

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Sicily is such a crossroad of many diverse cultures, that left their mark over time developing a magical kaleidoscopic region filled with contrasting beauty. A diversity deeply reflected in Sicily’s picturesque cuisine, a foodie mecca of bizarre traditions, colorful markets and mouthwatering delicacies. Probably the most evolved street food culture in the whole of Italy; make sure you try “arancini” (rice balls stuffed with ragù, peas and mozzarella), or fresh artichokes charred on a steaming barbecue. And don’t forget “scaccia” (stuffed pastry with eggplant, tomato, onion, ricotta and sausage), “stigghiola” (grilled lamb tripe), “pane e panelle” (fried chickpea dough), “pane ca meuza” (small soft buns filled with stewed spleen and lung…we recommend them at Antica Focacceria San Francesco (Via Alessandro Paternostro 58, Palermo).

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To accompany this outstanding plethora of foods there’s some of the best wines in Italy, ranging from big round reds to fresh mineral whites grown on Etna’s black soil. A rich and comforting sweets heritage roots back to the Arabic populations which used to live here. “Cannoli” (fried pastry filled with fresh ricotta) are to die for and be careful not to get addicted to the hand crafted marzipan from Erice: having them at Maria Grammatico (Via Vittorio Emanuele 14, Erice, Trapani) is the real deal. Another cornerstone is the “Cassata”, a baroque and rich colorful masterpiece made with sponge cake, candied fruit, ricotta and royal icing. And it’s really worth pushing yourself to the south-eastern tip of the island to try the unique craft chocolate with crystallised sugar from Modica. The best place is Antica Dolceria Bonajuto  (Corso Umberto I, 159 Modica, Ragusa).

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For the most unique traditional foods check out this great list by Slow Food, which is working on an incredible project to preserve these jewels (http://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/regioni-italiane-presidi/sicily/). If you would like to dive into this cuisine and learn how to make some of their local dishes book a cooking class at Anna Tasca Lanza’s school (http://www.annatascalanza.com/index.php/it/). Anyone with a passion for food should take a visit to the folkloristic markets in Palermo: la Vucciria, il Capo, il Borgo Vecchio…and the oldest one of all, Ballarò.

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It’s hard to imagine another place on the globe with such eclectic and fascinating elements. It must be the reason why travellers keep coming back!

Heat up with a cup of Vin Brûlé

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Italy is snowed in! Smokey, hot and spicy wine – the perfect solution to chilly weather.
Vin Brûlé (mulled wine) is a tradition in most mountainous areas of Europe. Red wine is infused with spices and citrus and served boiling hot! It’s an extremely fun and easy preparation for your next winter party.

Watch the recipe video: https://vimeo.com/199480956

Recipe for 4
Ingredients:
Red wine, 1 bottle
Orange peel, 1 orange
Brown sugar, 3 Tbsp.
Cloves, 1 Tbsp.
Star anise, 4 whole
Cinnamon, 2 sticks

Method:
In a pot add all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes. Strain and ladle into individual cups or glasses. Serve hot and garnish with orange peel and whole star anise.

Cheers!

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