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April 2012 Newsletter

Fresh Recipes, New Kitchen Ideas, Food News & Fun Things To Do In Sunny Italy

April, the month that ushers in spring is named after the goddess Eostre, -bringing everything fresh, beginnings, spring and rebirth!  Even though the rain in Italy has been readily present and we have not seen the sun for quite sometime, it is watering the way for the flowers and veggies to come in May.  This rainy season has certainly lived up to its old reputation, and bringing bushels of green fava, peas and precious artichokes.  So our kitchen has been busy making pasta with fava, risotto with peas, and stuffed artichokes of every kind.

Although we appreciate the rains of April, we were very thankful that Mother Nature was on our side and stopped the drops on April 12, because dear Melody at Cooking Vacations celebrated her wedding day with Nando.  It was a sunny day that celebrated happy wedding blessings for the couple. We wish them long love, health and a happy life together.  Tanti Auguri to Melody & Nando!!!


Table Talk

There’s a lot to celebrate in April – there was Good Friday with its processions and enactments of the Passion, Easter Day (not just the religious aspect, think pastiera, lasagna, colomba!), Pasquetta – the Easter Monday picnic in the countryside, longer days, busy birds making nests, spring veggies, strawberries, the first of the year’s rhubarb and so much more. April sees Rome’s Birthday on the 21st, Liberation Day on the 25th, which also happens to be the Festival of San Marco, celebrated of course in Venice, and from the 14 – 22nd of April, the Ministry of Culture organizes the Settimana della Cultura where national museums and archeological sites offer free admission, often putting on view exhibits and sites normally closed to the public – a fabulous way to soak up as much as possible of Italy’s incredible culture. Sagras and food festivals abound, featuring seasonal produce like asparagus, artichokes, peas and fava beans. It’s also a great month for walks and excursions, with many Italians foraging for wild vegetables and herbs then having fun creating delicious dishes from their pickings. One unlikely sounding ‘herb’ is the stinging nettle, somewhat of a wonder food, from which you can whip up some nettle pesto, green sauce, nettle frittata, nettle tea, nettle soup and use like spinach either to color homemade pasta or use as a pasta filling with ricotta. But there’s also wild garlic, wild asparagus, borage, purslane, burdock, bee balm and wild mustard. So, make the best of sunny days and transform whatever free food there is to be had in your area into unusual but tasty lunches and dinners…

Food Notes

We’ve renamed April as the month of weeds. They are everywhere and growing fast. Or are they? Well, it might look like that, but to the discerning eye, these aren’t weeds, but wild salad. The trick is recognizing what’s what. Down at the vineyard, our friend Gaetano wanders round, plucking handfuls of this and that from the ancient stone walls and steps, his basket gradually filling with dandelion, tender thistle, arugula, purslane, tiny first fronds of fennel and handfuls of other herbs whose names are known only in local dialect. Back home we rinse everything then soak the purslane in vinegar (because Gaetano’s grandmother who died forty years ago said you should), add a quick splash of dressing and eat. It’s one of the most delicious salads you could hope to eat, but it does take some chewing.

Back in the vegetable garden, April is a super-busy month. If you didn’t get the potatoes planted in March you have to do it now (when the moon is waning of course), and we normally plant onions at the same time. It’s the month of asparagus, baby spinach, watercress, new born fava beans and artichokes.

Perhaps because of their rather intimidating appearance, not everyone has tried cooking with artichokes. With origins in Mediterranean Europe and perhaps even northern Africa, the artichoke is a member of the cardoon and thistle family, boasting a larger than normal edible flower. It’s easy to be intimidated by artichokes, but it really doesn’t take much to transform their prickly looking globes into something delicious. What you decide to make very much depends on what type of artichoke you choose and at what stage of its development it’s at. Small, tender artichokes aren’t always easy to find but can be eaten whole, while it’s best to remove some of the outer leaves and tips from older specimens before steaming, frying or stuffing them. They can also be thinly sliced and tossed in a pan with oil and pancetta for example, sun-dried tomatoes or clams, and make for a quick and easy pasta dressing. Artichokes and rice partner well, with risotto ai carciofi a spring favorite in many regions, while deep fried artichokes are a Jewish Roman specialty, and many a pantry makes good use of  blanched chokes preserved in oil and vinegar.  This month’s recipes include a variety of seasonal ingredients that you can either pick up at the market or forage for free: either way, enjoy your time in the kitchen!

Recipes Of The Month

Wild Garlic Pesto

It’s the leaves of wild garlic (ramps) that you eat, not the bulb. If you manage to find wild garlic in the nearby countryside, well and good. If not, lots of farmers’ markets now carry it.


  • 50g wild garlic leaves
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 50g grated Parmesan
  • 50g pine nuts, almonds or walnuts
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 150ml extra-virgin olive oil


  • Rinse and dry the wild garlic leaves, discarding any thicker stems.
  • Throw into a food processor with the shallot, Parmesan, pine nuts and salt and give a quick whiz. Slowly add the oil and process until you have the desired consistency.
  • If you don’t intend to use immediately, spoon the pesto into small jars, pressing gently to remove any air pockets, and top with olive oil to seal.
  • These jars will keep well in the fridge for short periods, but can also be frozen.
  • Use this delicious pesto to dress pasta, add a highlight to risottos or spread on bruschettas.

Nettle Soup

Gather only the top few sprouts of the stinging nettles, and use gloves of course, while you gather and prepare them.

Number of servings (yield): 4


  • 25g butter
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • Large bunch of stinging nettles, leaves removed from thick stems and rinsed
  • 1 liter of good quality chicken stock
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • Fresh cream for garnish is desired


  • Melt the butter in a pan, add the onion and cook over a medium heat until softened.
  • Add the potatoes and toss for a few minutes then add the stock.
  • Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the nettle leaves. Season with salt and pepper, cook for another 5 – 10 minutes then purée with an immersion blender.
  • Adjust seasoning and add a little freshly grated nutmeg.
  • Serve as is, or with a swirl of fresh cream.


Artichoke Risotto

Number of servings (yield): 4


  • 6 small globe artichokes
  • Juice 1 lemon.
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 50g butter
  • 400g Carnaroli rice
  • Splash dry white wine
  • 1.5 – 2 liters boiling vegetable stock
  • 50g grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest


  • Prepare a large bowl with cold water and the lemon juice.
  • Trim the artichokes, removing the tough outer leaves and the top third of the spikes.
  • Cut into two, remove the hairy choke and slice vertically very thinly with a sharp knife.
  • Place slices immediately in the lemon water to prevent them discoloring.
  • In a large frying pan, heat the butter and sauté the chopped onion until it is has softened.
  • Drain the artichokes and add to the pan, season with salt and pepper and cook gently for 8 – 10 minutes with the addition of a little vegetable stock. Stir in the rice and sauté until rice starts to become translucent.
  • Add the white wine, and when it has evaporated, begin adding the boiling stock a little at a time, stirring continuously.
  • As the rice absorbs the liquid, add more and continue in this way until rice is cooked, about 15 – 20 minutes depending on the quality of the rice.
  • Off the heat, check the seasoning, stir in the grated Parmesan and lemon zest and serve immediately.


Mushroom and Ricotta Ravioli with Aromatic Oil and Pecorino Cheese

Courtesy of our Sardinia & The Costa Smeralda

Number of servings (yield): 4


  • 350 g. Fresh Egg Pasta

For the filling:

  • 200 g Mushrooms
  • 30 g Onions, chopped
  • ½ Garlic clove
  • 150 g Ricotta, preferably of sheep
  • 1 Egg
  • 20 g Pecorino, grated
  • Parsley, chopped
  • Salt & Black Pepper, to taste

For the garnish:

  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • Herbs (garlic, mint, sage, rosemary, thyme)
  • Pecorino cheese, grated


  • Wash the mushrooms and dice them.
  • Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté the mushrooms, chopped onion, garlic, salt and pepper.
  • Take off the heat and stir in the ricotta and the egg, Pecorino, and parsley.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Roll out the fresh pasta and cut squares of approximately 5cm by 5cm.
  • Spoon some filling in the center of each square. Close each individual square by pulling the four corners up around the filling and pinching them shut together.
  • In this way, they should look like little sacks made of pasta.
  • Cook the pasta in abundantly salted water until they rise to the surface.
  • Remove from heat, drain, and toss for minute in a heated frying pan with oil and the chopped herbs.


Fresh Pasta with Wild Asparagus

Courtesy of our Sardinia & The Costa Smeralda

Number of servings (yield): 4


For the pasta:

  • 300 g Flour
  • 3 Whole Eggs and 2 Egg Yolks
  • 10 g Salt
  • 1 tbs Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

For the sauce:

  • 100 g Wild Asparagus
  • 3 stalks of Wild Garlic,
  • 40 g Aged Ricotta
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, as needed
  • Salt & Pepper, as needed


  • Lay out the ingredients for the dough on a flat surface.
  • You can start mixing with a fork and then continue with your hands.
  • Once you have obtained a nice, smooth dough, set it aside for 10 minutes.
  • Roll out the dough and cut in strips to form tagliatelle noodles.
  • Wash and cut each asparagus stalk in half.
  • Heat the olive oil in a pan and then add the asparagus stalks.
  • Add a little of the cooking water from the pasta and let cook until the asparagus is tender.
  • Finely chop the wild garlic and add it to the asparagus.
  • Once the pasta is al dente, drain and add it to the pan with the asparagus.
  • Mix together well and then transfer to a serving platter.
  • Top with the salted ricotta cut in very thin slices.


Beef Sirloin with Cannonau Wine Sauce

Courtesy of our Sardinia & The Costa Smeralda

Number of servings (yield): 2


  • 2 Melina Beef Sirloin Steaks of 150 g
  • 1 Onion
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 500 ml Cannonau Red Wine
  • 30 g Sesame Seeds
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • Small Pepper


  • Preheat oven to 180° C or 350° F.
  • Slice the onion thinly and sauté in a pan with olive oil.
  • When caramelized, remove from heat and set aside.
  • Pour the Cannonau in a saucepan and let it reduce over low heat until thickened.
  • Pour a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick pan.
  • Once the oil has heated add the Melina sirloin steaks and brown them on each side for 2-3 minute. Finish cooking in the oven for another 5 minutes. Then roll the sirloin in the sesame seeds.
  • Arrange it on the center of the plate, then garnish with the caramelized onions and thinly sliced small pepper and pour the Cannonau next to the sirloin and serve.


Nonna Philomena’s Egg Biscotti


  • 6 cups Flour, sifted
  • 6 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • ½ cup Canola or Vegetable Oil
  • 3/4 cup Milk
  • Zest of one Lemon
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract


  • In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and oil.
  • Then form a well in the center of the mix and add the milk, lemon zest, and eggs.
  • Mix well with a fork until fully incorporated.
  • Transfer mixture to a floured surface and knead. Shape the dough in small balls or crescents and placed on a greased baking sheet.
  • Bake for 10-15 min.
  • For glaze topping: Coat the biscotti with a simple frosting of 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 ½ tsp of milk or water, ½ tsp of vanilla extract and additional natural food coloring.
  • Combine all the ingredients and cover each cookie once chilled.

Melody’s Vine Picks

Wild Garlic Pesto
Pair with: La Roncaia Sauvignon Blanc Eclisse 2008
Try this Saugignon Blanc-Picolit blend from Northern Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia a wonderful compliment to the fragrant Wild Garlic.

Artichoke Risotto
Pair with: Vestini Campagnano Pallagrello Bianco 2004
Try this lesser-known Campania white from the province of Caserta, that originated from Ancient Greece. Fruity with peach and notes of walnut.

Nettle Soup
Pair with: Sartarelli Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Classico 2010
This Verdicchio from Le Marche offers a citrus but also stoney & mineral finish. Complex enough to rinse your palate clean after this creamy and buttery soup.

Mushroom and Ricotta Ravioli with Aromatic Oil and Pecorino Cheese
Pair with: Bruna Pigato Russeghine 2010
Similar to a Vermentino, try this Pigato from Liguria.  You can almost taste the seaside in this lovely white, pairs nicely with the fragrant herbs in the Ravioli.

Fresh Pasta with Wild Asparagus
Pair with: Paolo Bea Bianco Santa Chiara 2009
With sweet aromas but a dry wine, this Garganega-Malvasia and Grachetto blend stands up to the bitterness of the Wild Asparagus.

Beef Sirloin with Cannonau Wine Sauce
Pair with: Punica Montessu 2008
If you finish the bottle of Cannonau while cooking, try this Carignano blend with wonderful dark fruit aromas and ripe tannins.

Sea Bass with Vernaccia Wine from Oristano
Pair with: Contini Vernaccia di Oristano Riserva 1985
Oristano’s Vernaccia (not to be confused with Vernaccia di San Gimignano), is truly a treat if you can find it and is wonderful with Sea Bass.

Nonna Philomena’s Egg Biscotti
Pair with:  La Sala Vin Santo 2003
With Easter just behind us, toast with a Vin Santo, whose name comes from the fact that the grapes were left to dry until ‘la Settimana Santa’ Easter Week, before being pressed to become this sweet dessert wine and enjoyed along with Nonna Philomena’s light Egg Biscotti.

Cooking Vacations Program Of The Month

Sardinia & The Costa Smeralda
Cooking with Chef Ivo

Islands often have a touch of mystery about them and Italy’s beautiful Sardinia is no exception. With its gorgeous white beaches, exclusive resorts and wonderful weather, every year Sardinia attracts thousands of visitors eager to experience its spectacular scenery and entertainment. But the truth is that Sardinia is largely unexplored and many of the island’s most beautiful areas are tranquil spots far from the famous Costa Smeralda or the cities of Sassari or Cagliari. Our program takes you on an unforgettable journey to the village of Riola Sardo near Oristano and a beautifully restored historic residence that will be your home away from home. Click here for more information on the 4-Day Program or 6-Day Program.

Italy On A Plate

By Germaine Stafford

Germaine continues her roundup of what’s happening in the culinary world in Italy and gives you her chef of the month, book recommendation, and a list of seasonal foods for April.

What’s in Season?

Pork products (salami etc.)
Sea Bream
Spring lamb
Wild garlic
Morel mushrooms
First fava beans (broad beans)
Jerusalem artichokes
First strawberries

Restaurant Of The Month

Oste della Mal’ora, Terni, Umbria

Umbria always beckons in the springtime, its lush green hills and olive groves providing the perfect backdrop for a short break or weekend away from it all. This month we head to the delightful town of Terni, situated in the southernmost corner of Umbria where you’ll find the osteria/wine bar Oste della Mal’ora, a strange choice from some points of view, but a gem nevertheless. It may only be open in the evening and be closed for much of July and August, but we still think this is a place you should sniff out, as much for its unique, vibrant atmosphere as its gastronomic offerings. In truth, this restaurant is as popular with wine aficionados as it is with those who love eating, as owner Renzo Franceschini really knows his stuff. Founder of Vinarius, the association for Italian wine bars, Renzo is well known in the wine industry, both among producers and critics, and ordering wine at his osteria is a guarantee that you’ll be sampling some of Italy’s best, though not necessarily its most expensive. Thankfully.

There’s a true sense of passion and fun here. Like the wine, all food is selected and prepared with love and respect and reflects local culinary traditions, many different choices on the menu chosen to represent the typical seasonal products of nearby villages – pecorino cheese perhaps, salumi, chick peas or beans. But as a salute to Italian gastronomy on the whole, excellent produce also arrives from further afield, from Sicily, Veneto and Lombardy whenever something catches Renzo’s eye. It’s a strange thing, but those truly gifted at their job, in this case restauranteur, manage to infuse their work not only with excellence but also with enjoyment. It’s as if the osteria has taken on a life of its own, attracting like-minded people, curious, enthusiastic individuals towards its cultured but relaxed atmosphere. And that doesn’t just include diners, but also the staff who are happy to stop and explain dishes, wines, produce, anything really you may have a question about. Oste della Mal’ora has become a meeting place, a vibrant center of discussion, exchange and enjoyment. So, settle back, enjoy your goose salami, platter of marinated fish, oysters, cheeses (local and national), smoked herring salad, salmon, beef carpaccio, homemade tarts and desserts and don’t dare leave without the excellent chocolate tasting! Wine available both by the bottle and by the glass, and remember, this really is one place to accept your waiter’s or sommelier’s advice.

More information:
Oste della Mal’ora
Via Tre Archi, 5
05100 Terni
Tel: (+39) 0744 406 683

Book Of The Month

The Italian Baker, Revised: The Classic Tastes of the Italian Countryside–Its Breads, Pizza, Focaccia, Cakes, Pastries, and Cookies

By Carol Field

After the resounding success of the first publishing way back in 1986, Carol Field’s ‘The Italian Baker’ has been revised, updated and re-released. For a whole generation of chefs and home cooks, this book was a veritable bible of Italian baking, and even managed to become a classic in Italy, no small feat in a country whose every town and village has committed artisans creating quality regional bread each day. The thoroughness with which the subject is investigated and described is testament to the two years spent by the author in Italy as she researched bread-making from Lombardy to Sicily and there are stories and anecdotes regarding the rituals and etiquette connected with bread that illustrate just how serious an affair bread is to Italians.

So what can you expect to find in the book? Firstly, there is much discussion on the different breads and baked goods from Italy’s various regions, the ingredients, equipment and techniques used, and suggestions for substitutes whenever original Italian ingredients are unavailable. Field offers advice on everything from mixing ingredients to proving and rolling the dough, all of which help obtain a more authentic result. There are breads from particular towns like Terni in Umbria and Brianza, sweet bread from Milan, focaccia from Recco in Liguria and the famous bread of Altamura in Puglia. There are special occasion breads with additions such as anchovies, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, almonds and eggs, and sweet breads with currants, candied peel, figs and walnuts. Then again, pies and cakes with plums, lemon, ricotta, jams, marzipan, pears and cream, and nut-studded biscotti for every occasion. It’s a book that makes you want to bake, that will have you head straight to the kitchen to create your own irresistible Italian breads and pastries.