Maize, mais, corn…

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The domestication of corn begins in Mexico some 7,000 years ago. Since then it has travelled the world to become a staple food for a vast number of populations, the third human food crop after wheat and rice. It is the essential nourishment for millions of people in Latin America, Asia and Africa and is appreciated for its specific flavor and texture in USA and Europe. Being such a large commodity crop its use is not restricted to feeding humans only. Widely used for animal feed it is also one of the main ingredients in processed foods (as corn syrup) as well as bio-ethanol fuels. It’s on top of the list of GMO crops with USA planting 65% of its available acres with GMO corn.

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Maize was introduced to Europe after Columbus’s voyages around the 17th century. It’s popularity was immediate thanks to its high production yields. What the conquistadores failed to take back from the Americas was the technique with which corn was processes, the so called nixtamalization, where the kernels are soaked in a solution of lye water to help make nutrients such as niacin bioavailable when consumed. Europeans missed this detail and suffered greatly from the devastating nutrient-deficient disease ‘pellagra’.

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In Italy today corn is mainly associated with the dish Polenta, a kind of thick corn porridge similar to southern grits.  The main differences are the varieties of stone ground corn used, and the number of times the corn is milled. The end result differs in texture: grits have more of a “mushy” texture, polenta has a more course and toothsome bite. In Italy Polenta is traditional in the northern regions, mainly Lombardia and Veneto. It can be made with white or yellow corn and served as a main dish with meat stews, vegetables, cheese or even just butter. In the Veneto region it is very traditional to serve white polenta together with squid in a delicious red sauce.

We love to celebrate biodiversity and heirloom varieties of plants. With all the standardized GMO corn crops worldwide, opting for different varieties is a great approach. In the South Anson Mills is an amazing ancient mill focused just on that, a great resource for grains and flours http://www.ansonmills.com/.

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Making polenta
It’s a very easy and rustic recipe. Ideally you need a nice copper pot, but a heavy based pot will do just fine. Making it the traditional way takes a little time, but it’s definitely worth it, no comparison with the instant ones.

Ingredients:
Polenta flour, 2 cups
Water, 8 cups
Salt, 1 tbsp
EVOO, 2 tbsp

Method:
Bring the water to boil and add salt and EVOO. Pour the polenta in the water and mix well. Keep stirring every few minutes until cooked. Process takes about 40 to 50 minutes.
Once ready, tip onto a large wooden board, let cool and then serve with desired condiment. If the corn flour you chose is top quality and stone ground, the flavor will be so deep and delicious that you can easily eat it by itself, adding just a little butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. If you have any leftover, slice it up and the next day grill it and melt cheese over it.

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Buon appetito!

Nomadic beekeeping and monofloral honeys

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Bees deserve to be defined as one of the most interesting, intelligent and important insects on our planet. Often only known for their delicious nectar, it’s their societal harmony and organization that never ceases to amaze scientists, as well as their incredibly fine-tuned work procedures, which turn out to be vital for our entire ecosystem. Bees are like chemists, using their own delicate but complicated technology to produce honey. They are also far older than humanity: according to fossil record they have been around for some 50 million years.

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Though most honeys are the result of a mixture of nectars, some 300 different single flower (or “mono-floral”) honeys are produced around the world. To obtain them beekeepers adopt a “Nomad Beekeping” system. Nomad Beekeping moves the hives from place to place according to the position & season of plants in bloom. Bees are naturally attracted to specific flowers, particularly when these are in bloom. It’s as if you had a table filled with boring foods such as plain rice or a steamed potato…and then out comes a delicious looking cake. What would you go for?

A mono-floral honey is so defined when at least 40% derives from a single flower variety. It has very unique, distinctive notes and color as well as texture can vary significantly. The time of year and area in which the honey is harvested also have an effect on taste and appearance. Just like olive oil and wine, honey is linked to it’s terroir.

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Honey can be used in the preparation of a wide variety of dishes, particularly cakes. It pairs perfectly with yogurt, fruit and certain vegetables such as carrots. But the perfect match is undoubtedly cheese, and playing around with pairings can turn into a fascinating gastronomy journey. Here are some suggestions:

Acacia Honey: blue cheese
Eucalyptus Honey: Parmigiano Reggiano
Lavanda Honey: Pecorino
Chestnut Honey: aged goat’s milk cheese
Citrus honey: Caciocavallo
Thyme honey: spicy and aged cheeses

It’s a custom in Italy to start a meal with a beautiful board of assorted antipasti. Try pairing your favorite craft cheeses and fine meats with honey and jams. Garnish with olives, fresh fruit and nuts, playing with different combinations of crostini (a smaller version of bruschetta).

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As far as recipes go, here’s a very original idea for an appetizer which will surely tickle the palate of your guests: Ricotta, walnut and honey crostini.

Ingredients
4 crackers or toasted bread
½ cup ricotta cheese
4 walnut halves
2 tablespoons rosemary honey
Salt, pepper

Method
Top the crackers with ricotta, garnish each slice with a walnut and a drizzle of honey

Buon appetito!

Spring Spritz

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Colored, fresh, not excessively high in alcohol, Spritz is the king of Italian aperitivo. Making  it more and more on bar menus across the globe. It’s origin goes back to the late 700’s when the Austro-Hungarian Empire took over northern Italy – Austiran soldiers were not accustomed to drinking wine, found it too strong and started diluting it with water. The name in fact derives from the German word ‘spritzen’ meaning spray or splash. If you travel to the far north east to the region Friuli Venezia Giulia, this is what you will get when ordering a Spritz – white wine and sparkling water. Simple and light, the perfect summer refreshing fix.

Spritz as we know it today with the addition of a bitter component originated later on in the Veneto region, with many variations. All across north east Italy many areas claim their own recipe to be the original. In the city of Padova it’s made with the addition of Aperol and in Venice with a bitter called Select. The Campari version came later.

Padova recipe:
6 cl prosecco
4 cl Aperol
a splash of soda water

Venice recipe:
1/3 white sparkling wine
1/3 bitter (Select)
1/3 sparkling water

Spring spritz
This recipe takes inspiration from original simplicity of this drink, celebrating spring by adding a touch of color from the garden.
Recipe
½ white wine
½ sparkling water or soda water
Mint and wisteria ice cubes

For the ice cubes, place mint and wisteria (any herb and edible flower work), in the ice cube moulds, cover with water and place in the freezer for a few hours or until hard. Fill a wine glass with the ice cubes, pour the wine and finish with a splash of sparkling water. So simple yet so special!

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Cin cin!

Farro pasta and fresh peas

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Finally fresh peas are in season, and we are celebrating them with this delicious spring recipe. They perfectly pair with sheep’s cheese (pecorino), and with the earthiness of farro pasta. Farro was probably the second wheat to be ever cultivated and the most popular in most European regions until early Roman times when it was replaced by durum and bread wheats. The Italian people have dined on it for centuries. This rustic grain is rich in cyanogenic glucosides that stimulate the immune system, regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. It is one of the wheat varieties with the highest content of protein (17%). A great alternative to regular pasta, brings diversity to your table and your diet!

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Recipe for 2
watch the video: https://vimeo.com/211758344

Ingredients:
Farro ditalini pasta, ½ lb
Fresh peas (with shell), 1 lb
Red spring onion, 1 medium
Pecorino Romano cheese, ¼ lb
EVOO, 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste

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Method:
Put a pot of water (2 quarts approx.) to boil. Shell the peas (and eat a few, they are so delicious and fresh!). Chop the onion and sizzle in 1 tbsp of EVOO, cook through at medium heat for about three minutes, then add the peas.

Once water is boiling add 1 tablespoons of salt and pour pasta in boiling water. Stir occasionally so that it doesn’t stick. Cook for the suggested time on pack, but our tip is to always try one before draining, you want to cook it ‘ al dente’ – dente means “tooth” in Italian, referring to the texture that must be firm and have a bite to it. When ready drain, add to the pan and stir into sauce. Add some pepper, raw EVOO and grated Pecorino.

Buon appetito!

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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!

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!

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!