Take a trip to Istria

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You probably wouldn’t associate fresh pasta, prosciutto, truffles and seafood carpaccio with Croatia. Particularly in Istria, a point shaped peninsula in the north Adriatic Sea, there’s endless resemblances with Italian food culture, in its own unique way.

History has played an important role in the creation of Istria’s eclectic culture. Romans left their mark with beautiful buildings such as the perfectly preserved Arena in Pula inspired by the Colosseum. Venetians strongly influenced the architecture, dialects and food of the whole region with the stunning town of Rovinj standing as a scale version of Venice with its Sant’Eufemia church bell tower. The whole area was under the Asburgic Empire for centuries until Italians took over after WWI, only to loose it after WWII when the Socialist Yugoslavia adventure of Tito began. It was only recently in 1991 that Croatia was declared independent.

Today this strong cultural diversity and richness is being translated into amazing restaurants and top quality foods – making Istria an exciting gourmet destination. Perhaps because you get the best of both worlds, Mediterranean dishes like fresh pasta with scampi and tomato, or continental recipes such as potato gnocchi with goulash.

In addition, its Mediterranean climate makes it an agriculture heaven. Until very recently one wouldn’t have this area on their radar when thinking of extra virgin olive oils. Some of the world’s top quality EVOOs are produced here and many producers are receiving important recognitions and prizes. You can for instance check out the unbeatable Chiavalon http://www.chiavalon.hr/ or Mate http://www.mateoliveoil.com/.

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Really amazing wines are hitting the market as well, make sure to try Giorgio Clai’s creations (http://www.clai.hr/), honest wines containing just grapes and nothing else, an incredible representation of Istria’s terroir.

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And it keeps coming. Together with Italy and France, Istria is possibly the only other place on the planet where white truffles of the Tuber Magnatum Pico variety can be found: enough to make it your destination for the end of October.

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And shall we talk about cheeses? The goat being the symbol of this region, it’s no wonder we discovered the best goat’s cheese producer ever. Ales’s fresh and aged cheeses are praised by chefs worldwide. Year round his herd of 250 rustic goats – a maximum he does not want to exceed – grazes freely on 250 hectars of land. Any bigger herd would make the process of milking more industrialised, and that’s not where Ales wants to go. You need to pay a visit to his beautiful farm (http://www.kumparicka.com/ ) to purchase his unique hard to get cheeses.

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And don’t miss out on the flourishing restaurant scene. Chef David Skoko in Batelina (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Batelina/202005836507281) comes from a fishermen family and serves his daily catch from boat to plate. He is also experimenting with local algae and sea plants, a soon to come addition to his menu. Stari Podrum instead (http://www.staripodrum.info/it/momjan.html) is where we suggest you go for a more continental feel, it’s great for meats and vegetables and the perfect spot for truffles when in season.  If you’re looking for the fine dining experience check out the first Michelin star restaurant in Croatia, Il Monte (http://www.monte.hr/) in Rovigno.

Think of Istria next time you plan a foodie trip to Europe, you will get a lot out of this region of the beaten track.

 

 

Risotto Mari e Monti

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“Mari e monti” translates to “seas and mountains” and is used in Italian cuisine when seafood and vegetables are paired together in a recipe. Key tips for the perfect risotto? Having enough broth, keeping the rice moist throughout the cooking time and always keeping an eye on it, stirring frequently. Toasting the rice is also an essential step!

View recipe video at: https://vimeo.com/208956704

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Recipe

Yield: serves 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

INGREDIENTES
EVOO 6 tablespoons
Chili Flakes, ½ teaspoon
Yellow Onion, 1 diced
Carnaroli or Arborio Rice, 1 ½ cups
White Wine, ½ cup
Asparagus, ½ pound
Clams (Vongole), 1 pound
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, ¼ pound
Lemon Zest, 1 tablespoon

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METHOD
Place the asparagus white tips and onion trims (parts you would normally discard) into a pot, cover with about 1 liter of water. Bring to boil and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Set aside, this will be your broth for the risotto. In another pot place the clams, add about 1 cup of water, cover with a lid and place on a high flame. Cook for about 4 minutes, clams will steam and open, set aside.
Dice the onion, and chop the asparagus into 1/2-inch slices, set aside.
Place 2 tablespoons EVOO in a pot at a medium-high heat (copper is the ideal material to cook risotto in). Add the chili flakes and the diced onion. Keep stirring and after a minute add the rice – toast it being sure not to burn it, stir continuously. After about a minute add the wine and stir frequently. Add asparagus broth ½ cup at a time: once absorbed, add more broth, and keep stirring. This is the secret to a good risotto, don’t leave it unattended! Always stir and keep it moist by adding liquid. After about 10 minutes cooking, add asparagus to risotto. After about 20 minutes cooking add the clams. Add any water from the clam pot, but make sure there’s no sand from the clams in it. Once your last ½ cup of broth is absorbed, turn the flame off and add 2 tablespoons EVOO and parmigiano cheese, cover and set aside for a few minutes before serving (this is called the “mantecca”). Serve hot and drizzle remaining raw EVOO and lemon zest.

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Buon appetito!

Get those Meatballs rollin’

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Did you celebrate national meatball day this year? Read on to discover how Italians love their meatballs and get your fix with a simple recipe!

In Italy we call them polpette, a staple dish across the peninsula, cooked in different variations depending where you are. The two main categories are fritte (deep fried) or in umido (braised). Fritte are very common in the north, and are eaten as a fun finger food, tapas style during aperitivo. They are bite size delicacies hard to resist, perfect with a glass of bubbly. In umido are braised, either in a white wine sauce or in tomato salsa. This dish is served as a secondo, the course that comes after primo (usually pasta) and before dolce (dessert).

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Spaghetti meatballs as we know them in the US, are actually not that common in Italy. In the southern regions there are some pasta dishes with polpettine – very small meatballs and tomato sauce, but it is definitely not something Italians consider a staple dish. Its invention can be attributed to the fascinating cultural exchange that occurred between 1881 and 1901 when more than 2.400.000 Italians migrated to the USA. You have to imagine that in those days Italy was a very poor country; people were used to eating from the land and would barely have access to meat. Italian migrants in the new world found plentiful land and an abundance of meat. They basically re-invented their cuisine recalling that of festivities and celebrations – adding more meat, cheese and sauce to dishes. This is how we believe the iconic dish Spaghetti Meatballs was invented. A great example of how cultural exchange and immigrant communities can give birth to beautiful and delicious things 🙂

Polpette fritte recipe:
Ingredients
¼ pound ground beef
¼ pound ground pork
1 egg
2 slices stale bread
½ cup milk
1 bunch mixed fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, marjoram, basil, sage, chives…)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup all purpose flour
1 bottle frying oil (peanut is the best)
coarse sea salt to taste

Method
Tear the bread and soak it in the milk. Once all milk is absorbed add all other ingredients except the flour, oil and coarse salt. Mix well to get a uniform mixture. Place the flour into a flat plate. Shape a tablespoon worth of mixture into a ball shape, roll into the flour and set aside. Repeat for all. Heat the oil, test it with a piece of meatball and make sure it sizzles, don’t let it smoke. Gently fry all meatballs, once ready place them onto an absorbent sheet of paper to drain any excess oil. Sprinkle with some coarse sea salt and serve.

Buon appetito!

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Good morning, its coffee time

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Did you know coffee is the second most consumed drink after water? More than 2 billion cups per day are enjoyed in every corner of the world – served and brewed according to different cultures and traditions.

Italians love their coffee in two specific ways: espresso and moka. When out in bars and restaurants, the espresso machine rules – it is very uncommon to find filter coffee in Italy! Often espresso is ordered standing at the bar and drunk very fast similarly to a shot. The variations of this drink are endless: caffè nero, caffè lungo, caffè macchiato, cappuccino, caffelatte, caffè ristretto, marocchino, caffè corretto (with grappa!), goccia, caffè shakerato, americano, caffè schiumato, caffè doppio, caffè chiaro… the list keeps going, there are about 50 kinds – being a barista in Italy definitely requires some skills!

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The moka is the home version of an espresso, this simple percolator gives a concentrated dark brew somewhat a cross between an espresso and a filter coffee.

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Coffee just like chocolate, bananas or tea are often taken for granted. They have become staples in our everyday lives even though they originate and grow in few specific areas of the world. The coffee trees are native to east Africa, today production extends over the so called coffee belt (Central and South America, Africa and South Asia). And believe it or not, the biggest consumer of coffee is Finland – very far from the tree’s natural habitat.

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Coffee is grown and dried in its origin countries, the green beans are then exported, roasted, ground and brewed. A fascinating and long cycle that requires expertise and skills. Buying fair trade coffee is a great opportunity to ensure every party that has been involved in the production chain got a fair deal. Whilst sipping on your coffee this morning, no matter how it’s brewed, think of the marvellous journey your beans have undertaken to get to your cup.

 

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!