It was, yet again, another dreary day in Boston today. Though we’re winding down on April, it doesn’t much feel like it around here. I debated staying home to finish a presentation I am giving on Friday, but decided that Friday is still a ways away and that I would have plenty of time to finish. And so, rain and chilly air and all, off I went to a few of my favorite stores around my area. To the mall, you ask? Nope, not at all, I headed to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wilsons Farm in Lexington, MA. I wasn’t really in the need for anything. In fact, I had just done my big grocery shopping for the week. I go to these stores not for “needs” really, but because they are a great way of spending an afternoon, especially a boring one, picking up a few items that the main grocery stores do not carry.
One of those items are frozen artichoke hearts from Trader Joe’s. There aren’t enough words to describe just how much I love this item. They are absolutely amazing! I’ve been buying them for years and last year, they stopped carrying them! Imagine my disappointment, anger even, when this happened! I add them to soups, I coat them in egg, parmiggiano cheese and breadcrumbs and bake them, I stir-fry them with sausages and I make them in frittata. Lucky for me, about six months ago, they reappeared in the freezer isle! I wonder if my calls and emails had anything to do with that! ;-)
I bought six bags today and went home eager to cook one bag. I was debating just how to prepare them today. Perhaps it was the boring weather but I was feeling a little inventive and decided to cook them in diced tomatoes. Truth be told, I’ve never cooked them this way but have been wanting to for a bit. I wasn’t sure what pasta to use then remembered that I had a special kind that I had been saving for a special recipe. The strozzapreti I used are imported from Calabria, my native region and they are a bit hard to find in the store. In fact, these come from the online shop Pasta & Vino. “Strozzapreti” means to choke priests! They somewhat resemble cavatelli pasta. Where does the name come from, you ask? There are several stories but one is that gluttonous priests devoured this pasta so quickly, due to its deliciousness that they, well, chocked! I’m not sure how true that is but they were very good! Unlike typical dry pasta, they very much taste like freshly made pasta. Their flavor is a lot more delicate and tantalizing than your everyday dry pasta.
I made the sauce using diced tomatoes and one small can of ground tomatoes. I also used imported olive oil, from Calabria, of course! The sauce takes about 25 minutes to cook and the strozzapreti take just two extra minutes than regular pasta, so about 12 minutes, so halfway through the sauce cooking, you can add the pasta to the boiling water. You can purchase the strazzapreti, oil and other delicious products here. Pasta & Vino is a great resource for authentic Italian ingredients that are hard or impossible to find in the grocery stores. Many of their items are imported from Calabria, so that excites me even more!
Strozzapreti with Artichokes and Tomatoes
3 Tablespoons Migliaresi Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Small Onion, Chopped
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
3 Sprigs of Parsley, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon salt
1 14.5 oz Can Diced Tomatoes
1 8 oz Can Crushed Tomato Sauce
1 12 oz Bag Frozen Artichoke Hearts
½ pound Astorino Strozzapreti pasta
If Rome has the carbonara, and Bologna has the fettuccine in Bolognase sauce, than Puglia’s dish to fame is Orecchietti with Sausages and Broccoli Rabe! Puglia is a region in Southern Italy and being a Southerner myself, its cuisine is certainly something I enjoy eating and preparing. I recall growing up in Calabria and being surrounded by wonderful produce. My father was a produce merchant, so we certainly never lacked for great produce around the house. Summertime favorites growing up were zucchini and their delicate blossoms, eggplants and of course, tomatoes! If you have never had a freshly plucked tomato in August in Calabria, well, I will go so far as to say that you’ve never had a really delicious tomato! They are just amazing simply sliced with salt and olive oil. A fresh mozzarella next to them always helps too! ;-)
One vegetable that is versatile and found year-round is broccoli and also broccoli rabe, or rapini. I really enjoy both and one of my favorite ways of preparing the rabe is in this typical Pugliese dish. The Pugliese are known for their orecchiette shaped pasta. Orecchiette means little ears, although I think they look like small caps more than little ears! It’s very typical to walk in the streets of Bari and find local women making these fresh and selling them right on the streets. If you happen to find yourself there, I highly recommend buying a kilo or two, you will not be disappointed.
This is my version of how to make this classic dish. Everyone has his or her own way but I have found I rather like my version, if I do say so myself! Many do not use the onion that I add, but I really like it and find that it adds lots of flavor, so I use it. Add garlic too, if you wish, although I do not in this dish. This dish serves about 4 people.
Orecchietti with Sausages & Broccoli Rabe
2 bunches broccoli rabe, trimmed, and washed
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1 small onion, chopped
1 – 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
4 pre-cooked sausages of your choice (pork, chicken, hot, sweet)
1/2 pound orecchietti pasta
Is it really the end of March and we have yet to celebrate Easter? It’s incredibly late this year, and, as I love Easter, perhaps more so than Christmas, I am really itching for it to get here! Facebook recently reminded me that last year, I made this delicious Easter bread. It made me yearn for the holiday even more. Easter resembles all that is good in the world, doesn’t it? Spring weather, renewal, and new hope. The birds chirping, tulips blooming and we’re all filled with a new sense of optimism and assurance.
I grew up eating this bread (or cuzzupa in Calabrian dialect) every Easter. It would actually start a week or two before the holiday and my mother would either make it or buy it at the local pasticcerie. Sometimes she would make it glazed, sometimes just with a sprinkle of sugar on top, either way, my sister and I would devour it for breakfast and afternoon merenda, or after school snack. As if this yummy bread wasn’t enough by itself, my sister and I would spread Nutella on top. Yup, talk about making a good thing great! I am very ashamed to admit it, that practice has not stopped in my adulthood. Yes, I still smear it with Nutella! Although I no longer eat it for weeks leading up to Easter, but rather just for a few days around the holiday. And if time permits, I have been known to make it for Palm Sunday too. #golosa
This bread is not overly sweet, if you don’t add the icing and the Nutella, that is! It tastes a bit like brioche and challah bread. It goes great by itself, or simply toasted with some butter and / or jam. Topped with cinnamon sugar is also a great combo. Last year, I made it twice, for Palm Sunday then again for Easter. You’ll see the two results below. I am torn about whether I like the colors on the eggs. I think this year, I will skip coloring them and use just white. No matter how I try, the color always bleeds into the bread, which makes it look so artificial and a bit messy. Or perhaps I’ll make two, one with colored eggs and one with white, so I can best decide which I prefer. It’s a dirty job, research really, but someone has go to do it!
Tip: You do not need to boil the eggs first, they will bake in the oven, just be careful not to crack them. Also, the eggs are mostly for decoration only. You can eat them the same day you bake the bread, but once you leave the bread out a few hours, the eggs do spoil. So either leave the eggs on the bread and trash them as you eat the bread, or remove them and put them in the fridge. Since the eggs are really what ads to the appeal of the bead, I just leave them there and trash the eggs when the bread is finished.
Cuzzupa Calabrese (aka: Italian Easter Bread)
2 ¼ teaspoons rapid rise yeast
1 ¼ cups scalded milk, cooled
pinch of salt
5 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
3 ½ cups flour (the flour is approximate, you may need to go up to 4 to 4 1/2 cups)
1 egg, slightly beaten
3 uncooked dyed or undyed eggs
Icing – Optional
1 to 1 ½ cups of confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 – 4 tablespoons of milk
We’re in the middle of March and for Italians, March means a few things. For one thing, we’re in Lent, so chances are, Catholics have Easter on their minds. But before that, we’re looking forward to celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph, or La Festa San Giuseppe, in Italian. Celebrated on March 19th, the feast honors Joseph, husband to the Virgin Mary and earthly father to Jesus. It is also the day in which Italy celebrates Father’s Day. And if your name is Joseph or Josephine, you will also be celebrating your “onomastico.” An onomastico is the celebration of your “name” day. St. Joseph, St. Francis, St. Anthony, St. Anne, St. Catherine and so forth, are all celebrated name days in Italy. And while not celebrated with the same grandiose celebration of a birthday, an onomastico is an occasion for Italians to celebrate with family, friends and of course, a cake or pastries.
While St. Joseph and Father’s Day are celebrated all over Italy, the celebration of St. Joseph is more prominent in Southern Italy, particularly Sicily. Considered by Sicilians as the Patron Saint of their region, St. Joseph is credited to have saved Sicily’s residents during one of their many devastating droughts. Tradition has it that residents prayed to St. Joseph for rain. The rain came, and as such, their spring crops were spared from being destroyed, preventing a widespread famine for Sicily. It is believed that this is the reason the celebration is held in March.
A traditional “alter” or “St. Joseph’s Table” is also popular in Italy. Placed in private homes, churches, social clubs and even cafes, creating a table for St. Joseph is commonplace. Many Italians brought that tradition with them to the States and while it is less common these days, it is something older Sicilians still take great pride in. The table is filled with gifts, both of food and sentimental ones, offered to the saint in thanksgiving for prayers answered. Generally, a statue of St. Joseph is placed at the head of the table and is surrounded by gifts of various foods, citrus fruits and of course, breads. On the feast day, an open house is held, inviting friends and family to join in the celebration of eating the gifts left on the table. Fava beans, one of the spared crops, represent good luck and abundance, so be sure to add them to your table for March 19th.
As with anything in Italy, the menu for a St. Joseph celebration is rooted in tradition. Because the holiday falls during lent, meat is generally not eaten on the holiday of St. Joseph. Foods containing breadcrumbs, or the “poor man’s parmigiano” are enjoyed. Joseph, as you might know, was a carpenter, so breadcrumbs are supposedly eaten to resemble the sawdust left behind after a day’s work in the carpenter’s shop. Lemons, like fava beans, are said to bring good luck, particularly to the single ladies looking for a husband.
While relatively unknown to the non-Italian U.S. population, one city that widely celebrates this feast day is New Orleans. Louisiana used to be a popular arrival port for Sicilians and at one point, the now French Quarters were known as “Little Palermo.” Celebrations occur, even to this day, with traditional foods and festivities.
While fava beans, lemons, breads and seafood are frequently eaten on the feast day of San Giuseppe, and are certainly delicious; my all time favorite food to enjoy is the Zeppole di San Giuseppe. Found in any respectable Italian bakery, both in the States and in Italy, a zeppola is a pastry, almost resembling a cream puff, but fried, and tastier, if you ask me. After fried, the zeppola is cut in the middle and filled with various flavored creams or sweetened ricotta. It’s frequently topped with amarena, a sour cherry preserve, and dusted with confectionary sugar. Delicious by itself or enjoyed with a cup of espresso, if you do nothing else this upcoming holiday, be sure to enjoy a zeppola in honor of San Giuseppe and say a little prayer of thanksgiving for the gifts you have been granted.
A fun fact about San Giuseppe: Did you know that he’s the patron saint of realtors or anyone trying to sell a home? As with any tradition, its origin is very unclear. But if you’re trying to sell a home, be sure to buy a small statue of St. Joseph, and bury it upside down in your yard, preferably near flowers. As he is also the patron saint of “home life,” it is believed that he will quickly help anyone trying to sell a home if placed in a somewhat uncomfortable (upside down) position. His eagerness to be removed from there, will speed up the sale of your home!! After the sell of your home, be sure to dig the statue up and display it in your new place as a way to honor him and in thanksgiving for his assistance in the speedy sale of your house.
As you can see, there are a lot of traditions, superstitions and customs to Italian religious holidays. If nothing else, be sure to pick up a zeppola this week-end and celebrate the day in a very sweet way.
Thinking of going to Italy? Join us for one of our upcoming culinary trips! Led by a native Italian, spring is the perfect time to visit Italy. Before the summer crowds and heat take over! Click here for more info!
You’ve certainly seen images of it, and perhaps have been intrigued by it all. The masks, the loud music, the rowdy behavior, the overindulgence, but what exactly is Carnival? There’s more to it than the masks, right? And why even wear a mask? Well, I’m so glad you asked! Well, perhaps you didn’t, but here you are still reading about it so perhaps you have some curiosity about Carnival.
This year, on Wednesday March 1st, Catholics will celebrate Ash Wednesday. Though the date changes every year, Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, the 40 days (minus the Sundays) before Easter. As Catholic tradition has it, Lent should be a period of sacrifice, consisting of abstinence, self-denial and fasting. Well, if one is aware in advance that the next 40 plus days are going to be sacrificial, what better way to prepare for them than going out with a bang? And that’s precisely what Carnival is: a Pre-Lent period of celebration, festivities, gluttony and over-indulgence.
Celebrated with parties, music, dancing, parades, alcohol and excess foods, most of which are less than healthy and theoretically not eaten during lent, Carnival can last anywhere from a week to several weeks. Revelers, young, old and anywhere in between, take to the streets in celebration of what is sure to be a grand old time. The term Carnival is believed to come from the Latin terms “carne” and “vale” – or the removal of flesh. One could safely assume that implies the removal of meat from your diet, as well as pleasures of the flesh. Carnival was also a good a way to remove all those foods that were to be off limits during lent, from the home. Meats, fried foods, sweets and other gluttonous ingredients were off limits, so the best way to quickly dispose of them would be to throw a party! Out of sight, out of mind, so no temptation during Lent.
In one way or another, Carnival is celebrated in many parts of the world. New Orleans has Mardi Gras and Rio de Janeiro has perhaps one of the wildest Carnival parties around. But of course, being Italian, my own personal favorite is celebrated in Venice. I will admit, I have never been to Venice during Carnival season. I’ve been there during the summer, and have added returning during Carnival to my “life list.” (Yes, I call it “life list” – bucket list is just so dreadful and morbid!) After all, some 3 million people visit Venice during Carnival, what’s one more, right?
Venice has been celebrating Carnival “on again, off again” since 1162. Having just won their victory over the Patriarch of Aquileia, Venetians took to the streets for celebration. Masks were always important to Venetians, and they were permitted to wear them from the day after Christmas until the day before Ash Wednesday. Also worn during other times of the year, it wouldn’t be unheard of for Venetians to wear masks for upwards of six months of the year! Masks permitted the generally reserved and “high society” Venetians to partake in risky business, such as gambling, or mingling with the higher class. Masks took one out of character and allowed one to become someone else, if only while wearing the mask. Transgressions were not unheard of while wearing the mask.
There certainly isn’t a lack of entertainment in Venice during this time of year, and this can last anywhere from 12 to 14 days, leading to Ash Wednesday. St. Mark’s Square becomes a festive and joyous piazza filled with locals and tourists alike wearing masks and costumes. Food stalls are common selling local items such as the famous peach Bellinis to frittelle, or fried dough. Seeing as we’re not going to be enjoying any of these during Lent, now’s the time! (If you’re looking for a great recipe eaten during Carnival, be sure to check this recipe for Chiacchiere out!!) Many events are family-friendly and free, while some require tickets and an admission fee. Many parades include children dressed as cartoon characters. Music festivals fill the streets and “invite only” masquerade balls are also very common.
If you’re like me and plan on adding Carnival in Venice to your “life list,” be sure to plan ahead. Hotels book early as this is their peak season, and some events require tickets that sell early and fast. Many balls can be very expensive but numerous hotels host their own masquerade balls, so this may be a great option. Fancy dress-up gowns can be rented, though I advise buying a mask and keeping it as a souvenir. They are wonderful ornamental items that can be carefully displayed on your wall. They make for a great addition to any home office.
But remember; don’t get too risqué while wearing your mask. You may be wearing a mask today, but don’t do anything you wouldn’t be able to look yourself in the mirror for tomorrow!
Time to book a trip to Italy? Be sure to check out our current selection of culinary adventures here.
“I can’t be left alone in the room with them,” I told my sister with a very serious tone. And I wasn’t kidding. As a frequent home baker, over the years, I have pretty much learned self-control. As much as I love baking and having something sweet to go with my after dinner espresso, I am definitely a sharer as well. I frequently bake and immediately give away much of my efforts to neighbors, friends or even the mailman! And if I don’t give away the fruits of my labor, I will enjoy them with family over several days. Rarely over doing it, for the sake of health or overindulgence. I find that giving goodies away permits me to bake more often, which also gives me the ability to try different recipes on a more frequent basis.
All that said, the rules change completely when it comes to chiacchiere. I don’t show any self-control, nor do I share! These crispy pieces of sweet dough are fried and immediately dusted with confectionary sugar. They are very, very addictive! Much like potato chips, it is impossible to eat just one! And like I told my sister, I can’t be left alone in the room with them! And I am not even kidding! Over indulgence is almost a sure bet with these. They are most often eaten during carnival season in Italy. The period before lent in which overeating, in preparation of the more restrictive period of lent, is almost a given.
The word “chiacchiere” loosely translates to “small talk” or “chatter” in English. More than that, it means a few laughs. In Italy, you’ll often hear people say something like “C’i incontriamo per due chiacchiere?” Or “Shall we meet for a few laughs?”
There are various variations of these, much like most Italian dishes. Many add white wine, some add grappa and many add citrus zest. These here are vanilla and when sweeten with the confectionary sugar, they are just perfect! If you have anise liquor or white wine, you can add a few tablespoons here, in place of the milk. You can also add citrus zest, but if you do, I suggest leaving out the vanilla or the anise liquor as those flavors to not blend well with the zest of lemon or orange.
Truth be told, these are not very lazy. In fact, if you have an extra set of hands, it will make the process of rolling the dough in the pasta machine that much easier. They are a great Sunday afternoon activity. If you do not have a helper in the kitchen, you can still make them just as easily; just give yourself at least an hour’s time from start to finish. And be prepared to munch on these all day long. They go well with coffee, tea, wine, anisette liquor or all by themselves!
This recipe makes about 70 pieces.
4 cups of flour
½ cup sugar
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 – 5 tablespoons of milk
4 – 5 cups of vegetable oil for frying
Confectionary sugar for topping
Specials tools required: pasta machine
It’s a new year and self-improvement appears to be on everyone’s mind. It’s during this time that we all resolve to better our lives via various means. Whether it’s the ever-popular declaration to finally lose weight, or perhaps stopping to smoke, cook more home meals, meditate for more clarity or a host of other promises, we all step in to a new year with good intentions.
While I see nothing wrong with any of the above, in fact, they are very admirable and I have made a few of them myself in the past, this year, I resolve something different. For 2017, I resolve to travel more! After years of traveling back and forth to Italy, I realized that I always felt better, both in mind, body and spirit not only while on vacation but also before and after. “Of course!” you say, “You’re on vacation, you’re bound to feel better!” But in a country where we’re known for not using our vacation days, working through holidays and having our cell phones with work email glued to our hip, can we learn to disconnect and actually enjoy our hard-earned time off?
But how might travel be good for your health, you ask? Well, read my list below to see where I am going with this.
1) Travel Leads to More Exercise: I was recently in Rome for just a few days, while traveling to a few other regions in Italy. I wore my trusted Fitbit, just for the heck of it, and during one day alone, I clocked in over 20,000 steps and 10 miles! The best part, of course, is that I didn’t feel any of them. Unlike walking for the pure purpose of exercise, I walked all day in Rome and didn’t even bother to check the Fitbit until bedtime. When not on vacation, I check it almost obsessively and it feels like drudgery to get to half that! Not to mention that along the way, I saw some world-famous sites! After all, Italy has the most UNESCO designated world heritage sites of any other country.
2) Stress? What’s That? Perhaps it’s because you’re exercising more, or being away from the cube or office, but it’s no surprise that being on vacation reduces stress. When the toughest decisions of the day are whether to have pizza or pasta and the flavors of gelato to pick, stress will seem like an unknown entity. And the best part, the reduction of stress is not just while you’re on vacation, but lasts for weeks afterwards!
3) Live Longer: Want to increase your chances of seeing 100 candles on your birthday cake? Than travel is in order! It’s widely known and researched that more exercise improves your cardiovascular health, as does reduction in stress. (See above points) But did you know that studies show that women who travel at least twice a year and men who travel at least once per year, reduce their chances of a heart attack or coronary death? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to pack a bag!
4) Travel Builds Relationships: Building meaningful relationships has been linked to improvements in overall health and well being. Chances are that, when traveling, you’re likely going to meet like-minded individuals with similar values and interests. If you join me on one of my culinary tours, you’ll meet folks who like cooking, wine and good cuisine. You will immediately bond over this one similarity over culinary appreciation. Other trips offer similar benefits, though clearly not as delicious!
5) Travel Builds Confidence: Growing up, my family and I frequently returned to our native Italy. Than one year, it became apparent that the “family” trip would have to be postponed to the following year. Being young and rebellious, I decided to go by myself instead. I was in school and had the summer off, so off I went for six weeks! The reality is that it was an amazing trip! I visited places I had never been with my family, I lingered under the summer sun at the beach, and more than once made gelato my dinner. It was liberating and freeing and totally built up my confidence! I mean, if I can travel by myself, what else could I do??
6) Travel Promotes Joy: Unlike material objects, which have a fleeting effect of temporary joy, travel has anticipatory and lasting effects. It’s not just the actual trip, but also the anticipation of it that makes the daily grind more bearable. The countdown to the first day brings almost as much joy as the trip itself. And just like the stress reduction benefits, the joy is felt for weeks before and after the trip.
7) Brain Growth! Travel actually makes your brain larger! And because I knew you’d have a hard time taking my own word for this one, I have scientific evidence to back it up! Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh says that “When you expose your brain to an environment that's novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts.” And “travel by definition is dropping your brain into a place that's novel and complex. You're stunned a little bit, and your brain reacts by being engaged, and you begin to process on a deep level." "Travel sticks with us and brings back positive memories and experiences," he said. "You have the ability to go back there in your brain."
So are you ready to pack a bag already? Can you see why I resolved to up my travels in 2017? And as Oliver Wendell Holmes so accurately put it, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
Check out our Culinary Adventures page for info on traveling with us to Il Bel Paese!
“Bologna? Like the one you put in your sandwich? Is that in Southern Italy?” That was the question I received from someone at a recent conference, when I told her I would be conducting a culinary adventure week in Bologna. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. After all, despite it being a very large metropolitan city in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, its popularity is no Florence, Rome or Venice, the “Holy Trinity” of most visited cities in Italy.
In case you’re wondering, the answer is no to both questions.
Bologna is not in the South, no where near it actually. It’s the largest city in the Northern region of Emilia-Romagna. It’s also the capital of the region. A rich city, known for its prestigious schools, medieval towers, churches, and art, Bologna is a well-respected and important city for Italy. If you walk around Bologna, a pedestrian friendly city, you will immediately notice the beautiful porticoes. Some 25 miles of the city center is sheltered from the elements of rain thanks to these beautiful and picturesque porches, which connect churches and other city buildings. The city is also renowned for some of the country’s best schools and universities and is also home to the world’s oldest university. Dante was a student in Bologna in the 13th century.
On your walk, you’ll certainly also notice the famous towers of Bologna. While only about 20 remain from some 200 that were built between the 12th and 13th century, the towers were once used as a status symbol of wealth. Le Due Torre, or Two Towers, are the most famous ones in Bologna and stand practically next to each other. If you’re looking straight at them, don’t worry, you’re not getting dizzy, they have a slight “Pisa” effect and both are a bit leaning. And if looking at them reminds you of New York City’s fallen twin towers, it’s because Minoru Yamasaki, the architect for the magnificent structures is said to have been inspired by Bologna’s Due Torre.
In 2006, the city was named a UNESCO City of Music, thanks to its rich musical practice. The Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Bologna’s opera house, is one of the most important one in Italy. The city is also host to numerous festivals, including the International Contemporary Music Festival, International Classical Music Festival, the Italian Autumn Jazz Event and other countless celebrations. As such, the city is always festive and jovial.
Now, let’s talk about food. Bologna is Italy’s food capital and affectionately known as “Bologna la grassa” or “Bologna the fat.” But let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. While some say that the lunchmeat boloney, you know the one, usually found inside many lunches in school cafeterias, was named after the city, Bologna, the two have nothing in common. While Bologna (the city, not the meat) is home to mortadella, a delicious pork product, served either cubed or thinly sliced, and believed to be the inspiration to boloney, the two meats have no actual resemblance. Named as one of the “must eat foods to eat before you die,” mortadella is perhaps to Bologna what prosciutto di Parma, is, well, to Parma. Enjoyed deliciously as is, it is also a famous filling for stuffed pasta, such as tortellini, another famous dish of this city. Every October, the city celebrates this iconic staple with its own festival. Only pork, pork fat and spices are used in making mortadella, while boloney is actually a combination of several meat scraps and meat ends. Boloney is a “mortadella knock-off” at best. I’m sorry I had to be the one to tell you that.
Tagliatelle al ragu is another staple of Bolognese cuisine. Known to many as “Bolognese” sauce, it is typically made with ground pork and veal, carrots, celery and tomato sauce. Like all Italian recipes, there are variations, including the addition of heavy cream, dry porcini mushrooms or wine. Often, tough not exclusively, butter will be used as the fat, as oppose to oil. They don’t call it “Bologna the fat” for nothing! For the record, the Bologna Chamber of Commerce protectively holds the “official” recipe. Needless to say, I did not attempt to get that recipe for this post. Served not with spaghetti, as perhaps in other parts of Italy, it is usually served with egg noodles called tagliatelle, freshly made, of course. Whatever you do, don’t ask for spaghetti to go with your ragu, it’s considered a bit offensive to the Bolognese. And yes, they also prefer you call it ragu as oppose to Bolognese sauce.
Speaking of freshly made pasta, it’s unlikely that you’ll find better tasting fresh pasta anywhere else in Italy. While many Southerners make fresh pasta with just flour and water, leave it to the Bolognese to add eggs. Fresh pasta is not only used to make the tagliatelle, but for lasagna, tortellini and also its larger counterparts, tortelloni. And did you know that Venus’ navel is supposedly the inspiration for the tortellini shape? I’ll let you decide and judge for yourself if you see a resemblance. You will find tortellini in brodo, or simple broth at many restaurants, and while it sounds simple, the flavor of both the broth and tortellini is impeccable. You’ll find fresh pasta sold at many small specialty shops throughout Bologna, packaged for travel.
And what would a post on Bologna and Emilia Romagna be without mentioning specialties such as the indisputable king of cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Easily identified by the markings on the rind, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is protected by the Denomination of Origin and must follow strict guidelines and inspections. It can only be produced in the cities of Bologna, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Mantua. The cows that produce the milk used in making this deliciousness are fed only local grass and natural feed. No additives go in the milk and after the salting process, the curing lasts anywhere from 12 – 24 months. Do not be fooled by what we in the US call “parmesan,” much like the boloney, it’s a knock-off best left on the shelf. For home use, avoid having it dry out by grating it just before using.
And what goes great on a nice piece of parmigiano cheese but a nice drizzle of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar? Made from the cooked must of white trebbiano grapes and aged for at least twelve years, the real “Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena” is protected by the Designation of Origin and is produced in the city of Modena, near Bologna. Classified as a condiment and not vinegar, the Traditional one is thick, syrupy and sweet. It goes just as well on a piece of parmigiano as it does on fresh cut strawberries. What we find on grocery store shelves in the States and on restaurant tables is not “Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.” Similar in name, non-traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is in fact, classified as a vinegar, does not have the requirement of it being cooked and is a combination of various musts, vinegars and in some cases, caramel. While a decent alternative for salads and every day use (be sure to buy the one without caramel), it should not be confused with the real thing. Don’t be shocked when the price will reflect its authenticity!
While I love a simple panino made from a fresh roll, mortadella and a few shards of parmigiano, and I’ve yet to turn down a bowl of tortellini in my life, what might really be memorable from Bologna is their gelato. While an icon all over Italy, many claim that Bologna and Emilia Romagna are home to some of the country’s best gelaterie. We will be the judges of that during our culinary tour in May.
If Bologna is starting to sound tasty to you, be sure to click here for info on our culinary tour to this delicious city!
There is something about pine nut cookies, or pignoli cookies, that brings me right back to the bakeries, or pasticcerie of Italy. Their smell, chewy texture and flavor brings me right back to my childhood in Italy. Particularly, the times when my grandfather would drive from our small town and head into the larger city, about 45 minutes away. Usually the main reason for his trip was a doctor's appointment. Despite the reason for the trip, or perhaps because of it, he'd bring back with him a small batch of cookies from the city bakeries. Never mind the fact that he was a diabetic! His sweet tooth often won over his cravings. But isn't funny how a smell or simple cookie can bring up such long-forgotten memories? This is over 30 years ago! Nowadays, even the small towns in Italy have their own bakery, but during those times, we'd have to take a bit of a drive for things like these. Which, I didn't mind at all and rather enjoyed the quality time with my family.
Pine nut cookies are chewy, sweet, have a distinctive taste but have a short shelf life. After a few days, they go from chewy to really, really chewy! These are best eaten fresh. And considering how expensive both the pine nuts and almond paste are, you don't want to let one go to waste! I add a bit of flour into the batter. Not all recipes do that, but I found that it adds some body to the otherwise too-sweet cookie. You'll need a food processor for these cookies, but no mixer!
Prep all of your ingredients so you have everything at the ready. Do this every time you cook or bake, It will make your life so much easier!
Grinding up the pine nuts and almond paste. Adding some pine nuts adds to the overall flavor of the cookies as oppose to just topping the cookies with them.
The rest of the few ingredients have been added. Yes, my spatula says "Keep Calm and Bake On" - somebody knows me well!
Here are the pignoli, reserved for the topping. Some folks roll the cookies right in the pine nuts. I find that this adds way to much chewyness so I just top the cookies with them. If you prefer rolling, you can, but just know you will end up using a lot more pine nuts.
Scooped up and ready to have the pine nuts added before heading for the oven. Using a small ice cream scoop will ensure that they are all the same size.
Approx 1.5 Cups Pine Nuts - Separated
1 7 oz tube of Almond Paste
3/4 Cup Sugar
2 Egg Whites (Always reserve the yolks for use in something else!)
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
1/4 Cup Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Flour
1) Preheat oven at 325 degrees.
2) In the food processor, pulse 1/4 cup of pine nuts until ground, resembling cornmeal.
3) Chop the almond paste and add to pine nuts, pulse again until well incorporated.
4) Add the sugar and vanilla and pulse again until combined.
5) Add the egg whites, pulse until the batter comes together.
6) Add the flour and salt until eventually all the ingredients come together to form a smooth dough.
7) Using a small ice cream scoop or two rounded teaspoons, drop dough into cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper or a silpad. Space about 2 inches apart. Top with reserved pine nuts.
8) Bake for 20 minutes, until sized are slightly browned.
9) Cool on rack or clean paper towels.
10) Place in serving platter and if desired dust with some powdered sugar.
You take chocolate and you take espresso, and you pretty much have my two favorite food groups. Ok, they are not their own food group, per se, but boy, they should be! I love the flavor of these cookies so much! The funny thing is that they are not super sweet! How can that be? They have more sugar than they have flour! I think it's the unsweetened chocolate in them. Dark chocolate is healthy for you, right? They are also coated in sugar! I'm not proud of it and it's not something I make on a weekly basis, but the holidays wouldn't be the same without these. I know, I said the same thing about the pizzelle and butter balls. The thing is, the holidays just wouldn't be the same without sweets and sugary treats. The new year is upon us soon, I promise to post recipes about soups and grilled chicken!
Until that time, bring on the cookies! These cookies are not complicated to make, just a few easy steps. You don't even need to get your stand mixer out for this one! You will need a few separate bowls. The butter and chocolate get melted in the microwave and you then combine the dry ingredients to the wet ones. Easy peasy! I've pictured the steps below. Be sure to make these and do not skip on the espresso powder. I get mine on line, easy enough to find on Amazon these days. I do use it a lot for baking so it's not one of those "I'll never use this again" ingredient, which I hate! You can make creams with this and, actually, if you heat up a cup of milk and add a teaspoon of this, you will have a great latte! Who needs those expensive lattes from outside when you can make it at home? Actually, a latte goes really well with these cookies!
Here are the basic ingredients. Nothing out of the ordinary here. On the right are the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda and salt. (It's about to smell really delicious in here!)
Here are the butter and chocolate before and after. You can see, it's just chopped chocolate with the butter. It takes about one minute total but everyone's micro is different so check it half way. If you feel small pieces of chocolate still in the mixture, blend it with a fork and it should melt. Do not keep it in the microwave more than you have to.
Here are the brown sugar, eggs, espresso powder and vanilla. On the right is after all the goodies have been well-blended. The espresso powder smells so good! If you don't like the espresso, you can, of course, make these without if, but than they would not be chocolate espresso cookies, just double chocolate cookies. ;-)
Here, we've added the melted chocolate to the wet ingredients and eventually the dry to the overall mixture. We're almost there!
Here's the cookie dough resting for about 15 minutes. This helps in scooping it out as it is a bit sticky. On the right are our sugars, which we will roll our cookies in. First regular granulated sugar then ending it with confectionary.
Here they are! Right out of the oven, they look nice and puffy. Within a few minutes, they do deflate a bit. Looking delicious on my Italian plate!
Double-Chocolate Espresso Cookies (24 - 28 cookies, depending on size)
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
½ stick unsalted butter
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup confectioners' sugar
1. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk brown sugar, eggs, espresso powder, and vanilla together until well blended. Set aside.
3. Combine chocolate and butter in bowl and microwave for about one minute, checking ½ way through to make sure it is not burning, both butter and chocolate should be melted. Blend both ingredients until you have a nice, glossy syrup like mixture.
4. Whisk melted chocolate and butter mixture into egg mixture until combined.
5. Fold in flour mixture until no dry streaks remain. Let dough sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. In the meantime, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpad.
6. Place granulated sugar and confectioners’ sugar in separate bowls. Using a small ice cream scoop, scoop out dough and roll into balls. Drop dough balls directly into granulated sugar and coat. Transfer dough balls to confectioners’ sugar and roll to coat evenly. Evenly space dough balls on prepared sheets, they will spread so about 12 cookies per sheet, max.
7. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, for 12 minutes, rotating the cookie sheet at the half-way mark. Cookies will puff up and crack at the center. Remove cookies after 12 minutes of baking, they will look underdone. Cookies will slowly deflate down a bit, a bit like a soufflé, and will not be as puffy as when you remove them.
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