Berry Semifreddo

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This simple and delicious recipe will make your heated summer day. With no effort, a fresh, light and sophisticated bite. Semifreddo is a traditional Italian summer dessert, easy to make at home with no need of a gelato maker. You can use 100% cream if you want, this specific recipe uses yogurt to make for a lighter option. You can also play around with different flavors: chocolate, coffee, meringue, other fruits, spices…

Watch video here

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INGREDIENTS
Seasonal mixed berries, 1 pound
Full-fat yogurt, 1 pound
Double cream, ½ pound
Powdered sugar, ½ pound
Lemon, 1

METHOD
Whip the cream with half the sugar and the zest of one lemon. Once stiff fold in the yogurt.
Wash the berries and mix with the remaining sugar and the juice of half a lemon.
Line a casserole with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Pour half of the yogurt cream in the casserole, cover with a layer of berries, then pour the remaining cream and cover all barriers. Freeze for at least 4 hours, overnight works great.
Serve in slices with some berries and their juice.

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Buon Appetito!

Balsamic? What’s all the fuss about?

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When talking balsamic it’s important to understand there are very different degrees of quality for this unique condiment. The original version, the so called Traditional Balsamic vinegar, is what gave worldwide fame to this regional delicacy. Not to be mistaken with balsamic condiments, or IGP certified, produced in much larger quantities not even nearly as sophisticated. Compared to its industrial rivals Traditional Balsamic vinegar has a very small production. It is the representation of traditional knowledge passed down for generations throughout centuries. The only ingredient is cooked must, which is then “aged” for at least 12 years – a concentration of deep complex flavour.

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Here is how it goes: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is the most controlled and regulated food product of Italy. It is made using a series of barrels of decreasing size, called a battery. The battery is exposed to cold temperatures in winter and high temperatures in summer, which reduces the content of each barrel by approximately 15%. The product is ready when it has aged one year in each barrel, beginning from the largest one. When it reaches the smallest one it is ready for extraction. The result is a continuous blend of different vintages and is characterised by rejuvenation. Each year the finished product from the smallest barrel is removed and bottled while the contents of each barrel are transferred to the next, with the first barrel being filled with new must. This long and caring process provides the vinegar with a concentration of taste and a viscous texture. All imitation, non-regulated products add sugar to create density. A small bottle of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is obtained from 70 – 90 pounds of grapes, and the process takes at least 12 years. It’s something very special, to be used occasionally and on very specific foods.

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Pairings:
Being such a precious and fine food, cooking with it is a waste as heat would destroy it’s essence, and it would be wasted over a salad. Best with:

  • Vanilla gelato and strawberries
  • Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Panna cotta
  • Steak
  • Meat ravioli

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Interesting facts: A good traditional balsamic vinegar uses barrels of at least 4 different types of wood in its battery. A small bottle of this kind of vinegar is obtained from 30 to 40 kg of grapes (66-88 pounds).

Tips on how to recognise the REAL product:

  • The name must contain the word TRADIZIONALE and the certification DOP
  • The texture must be viscous
  • No ingredients apart from must
  • No vintage statement

Red Pesto alla Trapanese

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A traditional summer recipe from Trapani in the western part of Sicily. It was the sailors from Genoa, stopping in the ports of Sicily, who introduced the island to their cherished pesto recipe. Sicilians embraced it and made it their own, by adding fresh tomatoes and using almonds instead of pine nuts, basically using more of what was available in their region. Mainly used as a pasta sauce, it’s also delicious as a dip or a spread in a sandwich. Perfect on a summer day after a refreshing swim in the sea.

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Recipe for 4
Ripe tomatoes, 1 pound
Garlic, 1 clove
Basil, 1/2 bunch
Almonds, 1/4 pound
Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino cheese, 1/2 pound
EVOO, 1/2 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
Conchiglie (sell) dry pasta, 1 pound

Method:
Bring to boil a large pot of water. Place the almonds on an oven tray and bake for five minutes at 400°F. Blanche the tomatoes in the salted boiling water for two minutes (keep the same water to cook your pasta) , then peel off the skins. Place tomatoes, garlic, almonds, half of the cheese, basil, half of the EVOO, a pinch of salt and a little pepper in a blender. Mix until smooth and creamy. Cook the pasta in the boiling water, once cooked, drain place in a bowl and fold in the pesto. Drizzle with raw EVOO and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Buon appetito!

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Take a trip to Apulia

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Summer has kicked in, the warm breeze from the south is blowing, the sea water is crystal clear and the tomatoes are ripe and juicy. Apulia (Puglia) is at it’s best, located in the heart of the Mediterranean, the western-most tip of Italy’s peninsula. There is something just charming about this place. The warm colours of a landscape burnt from the summer sun, the astonishing architecture, the light yellow stone baroque buildings of Lecce (known as the Florence of the south), the white homes and the Romanic churches.

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Apulia has been the granary of Italy since Roman times, still leading the country in the production of prime wheat. It’s a rich land giving some of the best extra virgin olive oils, stretched cheeses, dried pastas as well as fruits and vegetables converting the richness of the sun rays into unbelievably concentrated flavors. The food is just out of this world, something that is really hard to put in words. It’s simple, it talks about the land and the season, it’s what you would expect to eat at nonna’s (grandma’s)  place. Orecchiette pasta with rapini and anchovies, baked rice with mussles and potatoes, eggplant parmigiana, mashed fava beans and chicory, pasta and chick peas, raw sea urchins, octopus salad, or the meat bombette (“little bombs”, the name says it all): caciocavallo cheese wrapped in veal and pancetta and barbecued on an open fire. The list keeps going, you will just have to pay your own visit to taste them all.

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Best beaches:
Beaches in this region are made of the stuff of dreams, a few of them really do stand out: Grotta della Poesia – Roca Vecchia, Porto Selvaggio and Maldive del Salento. In peak season they can get pretty crowded, but it’s still worth it and it’s one of the best places for people watching. Nothing beats an Italian family on holiday, on the beach with umbrellas, deck chairs, tables, trays of eggplant parmigiana, pasta salad and polpette (meatballs)… a must.

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Where to stay:
There are plentiful different options for accommodation but try renting your own trullo, the traditional stone conic buildings once used by farmers and herders. Today they have become the symbol of Apulia and many have been converted in stunning residences and boutique hotels. There are also a number of stunning masserie – old farm house complexes – to choose from as well.  Affordable beauty, often slightly inland, but the region is surrounded by the sea so it’s never more than a 20 minute drive to the first beach. Check out Borgo San Marco with its beautiful built in spa.  If you are looking for a unique and exclusive experience you can go for the Italian location of Francis Ford Coppola’s Resorts, Palazzo Margherita. 

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Where to eat:
Go to Ceglie Messapica, it’s a beautiful town and you can either eat at Cibus – make sure to dig into their cheese selection – or at Fornello da Ricci (1 Michelin star). If you visit Lecce do not miss out a meal at Le Zie, its terribly authentic, like eating at someone’s home. And a stop in Cisternino to savor their grill culture and the unmissable bombette at Il Vecchio Fornello  is a must.

Buon viaggio!

Wild cherry and rose petal jam

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If you are lucky enough to have some wild cherry trees near you, hurry up and make the most of their short season! Wild cherries are smaller and lighter in color than classical ones, and have a more acidic flavor. This great acidity works perfectly with sweetness, giving a tart note to recipes like pies, crumbles, pancakes or strudels. Here is a recipe for a delicate jam, great to pair with pancakes, toast and fresh goat’s milk cheeses.

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Recipe:
2 pounds wild cherries
1 pound sugar
1 teaspoon dried rose petals
1 apple peel

Method:
Wash and pit the cherries. Add to a pot with all other ingredients and cook for about 40 minutes. The apple peel is essential to get a nice dense texture as it’s rich in pectine. Rose petals will give a delicate touch, you could use vanilla or mint instead. Sterilise your jars and pour in the jam whilst still boiling hot. If the process is done correctly, the jam will last for 6 months at least. This recipe can be applied to other fruit as well, lowering a little the sugar content. Wild cherries are tart and need an extra push of sweetness, but say you were using ripe sweet peaches, you wouldn’t need as much.

Wrap your jars nicely, store & enjoy during the months when wild cherries are not in season or give away as presents.

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Pecorino Love

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Pecorino in Italian translates to “of sheep” indicating the milk used to produce the cheese. It’s a staple across Italy, particularly on the islands and in southern regions. It used to be one of ancient Rome’s most praised foods, it’s consumption recommended to fight tiredness.

Compared to cow and goat, sheep’s milk is far richer in fat and protein – nearly double the quantities – which gives the cheese its creaminess and density. A favorite in Sicily is sheep’s milk ricotta, essential in many traditional dishes such as Cannoli and Cassata.

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When it comes to hard cheeses, the most popular ones are Pecorino Toscano, Pecorino Romano and Pecorino Sardo. If aged under 40 days they are classified as fresh pecorino. In Sardinia, the DOP version is aged for only 2 months while for Pecorino Toscano the ageing period raises to 4 months and to 5 for Romano. All three cheeses have their own set of production rules in order to be classified as the DOP hard cheese we are all familiar with. Try using pecorino as part of a cheese board, served with raw fresh fava beans or peas. It is a custom to use grated Pecorino Romano on pasta instead of Parmigiano Reggiano, and on very popular dishes such as Cacio e Pepe, Amatriciana and Carbonara.

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In recent years a unique native grape variety has come back to life after risking extinction: Pecorino! Yes, there’s a wine bearing the same name of the cheese. Popular in the central regions of Abruzzo Marche, Umbria and Lazio, many think the name comes from the fact the wine has similar flavors to the cheese though the origin is probably another. Apparently sheep would pass by this  varietal’s vineyards on their way to the mountains during the summer “transumanza”, and would love snacking on the fresh fruit from the vines.

So why not plan for a pecorino themed night? Pecorino cheese and pecorino wine!

 

Grissini

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Most Italian restaurant tables always feature grissini (breadsticks), a very traditional crunchy bite to munch on whilst going through the menu. Originally from the Piedmont region, they were invented in the 17th century as a remedy to Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoia’s digestion problems. Struggling to come up with solutions, his doctor asked the court’s bread maker to come up with a crunchy and very light bread variety. The baker took a piece of the bread dough commonly used for “ghersa”,  a typical bread from Turin, shaping into thin crispy strips thus eliminating the soft inside part which was the hardest one to digest. For the first time the Duke could comfortably eat bread, and the legend goes that thanks to this recipe he recovered his health entirely, becoming the first King of the Savoia dynasty just a few years later. Some say the ghost of the Duke still roams the halls of his castle wielding a grissino.

Since then they boomed in popularity, even becoming a favorite of Napoleon who established a dedicated postal service to have them delivered to France. They come in all shapes and flavors, and are quite easy to make at home. So dive into the following recipe of this Piedmontese classic:

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Grissini alle nocciole
Breadsticks with hazelnuts
 
Ingredients
Yeast, 1 ounce (2 tablespoons)
“00” flour, 2 pounds (1 kg)
Luke warm water, 2 ½ cups
Sea salt, 2 tablespoons
Sugar, 1 tablespoon
Extra virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoon
Hazelnuts, 1 pound

Method
Place the yeast, sugar and a splash of warm water in a bowl. Let it sit for a few minutes and let it do its thing. Add all ingredients in the bowl and mix (electric mixer) or kneed until smooth  and  uniform.  Cover  the  bowl  with  a  damp  clean  tea  towel  and  let sit  for  about  2 hours, or until the dough has roughly doubled in size. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1” thick rectangle. With a knife cut it into 1” thick strips. Place on an oven tray with greaseproof paper.
Bake at 375°F for about 15 minutes or until light brown.
Try serving wrapped with prosciutto crudo.

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Buon appetito!