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!

 

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!

Take a trip to LIGURIA

liguria5A boomerang shaped region, facing the Mediterranean sea, filled with some of Italy’s most stunning beaches, unique cuisines and host to a diversity if rare landscapes and architectures.

You might have heard about Liguria thanks to the famous and gorgeous national park Cinque Terre. With no doubt a must see destination when in Italy, magical landscapes and dramatic views overlooking the deep blue sea. A Unesco world heritage, made up of five fishermen villages with ancient colorful buildings clinging on the side of steep cliffs. This paradize is no best kept secret, so beware it’s a very popular destination, it’s good to visit out of high season. To help preserve the landscape and the naturally peacefull scenario, cars were banned a few years ago, and the small towns can be reached hiking, by ferry or with a 19th century railway line.

Cinque Terre aside, this region has so much to offer, many hidden spots off the beaten track, where most tourists don’t make it. Don’t miss out on the intriguing town Genova, once one of the largest maritime republics of the Mediterranean. The region’s coast is divided into Levante (south east) “of the rising sun” where Cinque Terre and the luxurious town of Portofino are located and Ponente (north west) “of the setting sun”, towards the border with France.

Ponente is a destination for Italians on holiday, mainly flowing from Milan and the Piedmont region, where they have been coming year after year. It’s the real deal, where you can explore the simplicity of Italian style summers: lying on the beach under colorful umbrellas, eating gelato and waiting for the fishermen to come back from sea with the daily catch.

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After a few weeks of travelling around Italy, you may feel like all you have been eating is charcuterie, cheese, pasta, pizza and meats. Although that’s not how Italians eat in their everyday lives, it represents traditional and festivity foods and it’s what you ought to get into as a visitor. Liguria will give you a break from all of that thanks to its veggie centric cuisine. It’s all about seafood, legumes, vegetables and EVOO. It’s the land of pesto, one of Italy’s staple dishes, a pasta sauce highlighting the freshness of summer basil with the addition of few other essential ingredients (check out our previous post for the original recipe https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/42191836/posts/1101598313).

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Get into torte salate savoury vegetable quiches and farinata flatbreads made with chickpeas. Don’t miss out on focaccia genovese – fluffy flat bread topped with EVOO or focaccia di Recco thin crust dough filled with creamy fresh cheese, believe me this dish will get you hooked for ever, so simple and so satisfying. Taggiasca olives and pure EVOO will be flowing from all sides, enjoy it while you have it! Being a coastal region, you will sure find some of the freshest seafood ever. Accompany these beautiful light foods with the freshest mineral wines, growing overlooking the sea in incredibly heroic conditions. Ancient terraced vines are very hard to work on, everything must by carried out by hand, with no help of machinery and tractors.

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Where to stay?

Liguria is filled with wonderful hotels and private homes. Here are a few picks: If luxury is what you’re after why not rent a castle? https://www.icastelli.net/it/theme-stay/soggiorni-in-castello/italia/liguria, or opt for breathtaking views from this gorgeous B&B http://laterrazzadicasebastei.it/, or be in the centre of it all at  http://www.hotelpasquale.it/it/.

Buon viaggio!

 

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.

 

 

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!

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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