April Newsletter 2011
Fresh Recipes, New Kitchen Ideas, Food News & Fun Things To Do In Sunny Italy
Happy Spring! Coming from the Latin word, Vernalis or vern the word translates to spring, or in Italian-primavera; and it brings with it vernal sunshine and greenery. Some say, vera also can mean verde, meaning green in Italian. Our green garden is sprouting on the Amalfi Coast with sweet baby peas, tender asparagus, precious fave, small bulbs of fennel, and soft spring salads uniformly line up saluting spring. As the outdoor café furniture slowly starts to fill piazzas, terraces and sidewalks, we know it won’t be long before everyone will be sipping a creamy cappuccino somewhere between Venice’s Saint Marks Square and Capri’s Piazza Umberto!
Salute to Melody! Melody, aspiring wine connoisseur has just successfully completed her intensive wine course on the Amalfi Coast. She’s swirled, sipped and visited some of the great wine producers here in Campania! Raise your wine glass to Melody for her great accomplishment. She will be leading our Positano Wine Tastings with a good glass of vino for all!
A Cooking Class For Kids! I was happy to be a special guest at the Schofield School in Wellesley, Massachusetts for 25 bright eyed and enthusiastic second graders. Chloe Lucia our Kids Cooking Chef & food column contributor and I led a hands-on cooking experience for her class. The class also raised over $650 in a bake sale for Japan for Boston’s Japanese Consulate.
Lauren Writes On Delicious Food Writing & on her favorite food writing adventure from Todd English to Nonna In The Kitchen, read more,…
Enjoy Spring and we hope you too are cooking up something delicious!
Blue skies, birdsong, strawberries, the first seasonal baby vegetables, fresh peas, seaside walks and of course, this year Easter too. These are the joys that April in Italy brings, the small pleasures and events that wake you from your winter torpor and put a spring in your step. There’s something wonderful about the thought that for the next six months or so days will be longer than they are right now. It’s a bit like having pedaled to the top of a high hill and being ready for the exhilarating downhill journey, legs star-fished open, your bike flying ahead of its own accord, and the wind in your hair. Another real indication that spring has sprung is the arrival of strawberries at the produce market. This seems to herald spring like nothing else does, those delicious plump red morsels ready to explode in your mouth with their sweetness. Strawberries are good, but their tiny dark red wild cousins are even better, their flavor really packing a punch – perfect for garnishing tiny strawberry tartlets or making a bottle of fragolino (also the name of an Italian grape variety and wine)- wild strawberry liqueur that can be enjoyed as an after dinner drink, used to a liven up a fruit salad or cocktail, or to sprinkle over a sponge cake that is then split and filled with whipped cream. We’re sure you’ll find a dozen uses for fragolino.
We mentioned Easter, which falls late this year, the 24th April, and anyone trying to be good and respect the meatless tradition of lent is spoiled for choice when it comes to alternatives. Baskets full of spring veggies simply beg to be taken home and given the simple treatment – pasta alla primavera for example, made with baby fava beans, fresh shelled peas, young asparagus and a little cream and Parmesan cheese. Frittatas are another healthy option – just sauté some spring vegetables, peas, asparagus and baby zucchini work well, and add your eggs and a little cheese. If you fancy something a little more unusual, why not throw together a dandelion salad with a little crispy bacon and croutons (baby spinach would also work well if you can’t find dandelion), bake some fennel with tomatoes, garlic and bay leaf, or make a creamy risotto with fresh peas (or baby zucchini), mint and lemon. All dishes that Italians enjoy as long as spring produce is available.
This is the month that the vegetable garden takes on a life of its own, fresh peas and fava beans sprouting from one day to next at the first sign of a couple of sunny days, and the herbs that we thought had passed on to the big herb garden in the sky suddenly sprouting tender new branches and leaves and filling the air with the scent of marjoram, thyme, mint and oregano. Rocket pops up from nowhere and parsley appears in places you don’t remember planting it. Every day there’s something new to appreciate, the buds on the new vines and kiwi trees, and the peach and plum trees already sporting a covering of pink and creamy white flowers. Back in the kitchen, it’s great fun having fresh herbs on hand again, even the flowers making a intriguing addition to both savory dishes and sweets. Crème brûlée made with rosemary or lemon basil is unforgettable, and even a handful of finely chopped rosemary in an olive oil cake can change an everyday sweet into something muskier and more mysterious. And if you prefer not to add too many herbs to dishes, the tiny lilac colored blossoms can still be used to brighten up dishes as an attractive garnish.
And though we say it every year, it’s so good to be able to enjoy eating outside again. Who cares if we’re wrapped up in sweaters or coats, the pleasure of an al fresco lunch down by the sea front or a barbecue in the back yard is second to none. But again, remember, T.S. Eliot called April ‘the cruelest month’; it tantalizes you with a taste of summer then threatens a return to winter. So enjoy each sunny day as it comes, but don’t forget your raincoat!
Recipes From Our Kitchen
Orecchiette Al Sugo Di Carne
“Little Ears” in a Slow Braised Meat Sauce
Courtesy of Chef Todd English
- 1 lb Spicy or sweet Italian sausage removed from the casing
- 2 – 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 medium onions – chopped finely
- 1 lb fresh tomatoes – chopped or 12 ounces can of crushed tomatoes
- 2 small potatoes peeled, boiled, and cubed (optional)
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil
- ½ cup chopped fresh flat leafed parsley
- 2 cups chicken or meat broth
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- ¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
- 1 cup grated Parmigaino Reggiano
- In a casserole or saucepan, over medium heat pour the olive oil and let heat up to just before smoking point. Add the garlic, then the sausage, and brown. Make sure you break the sausage up so that it will evenly distribute in the sauce. Let this cook for 4 to 5 minutes then add the onions and the basil and cook for another for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and the broth. Let this simmer for about 20 minutes. To finish the sauce, which should be more ragu like, stir in the heavy cream and the butter.
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the Orecchiette. Cooking time will vary depending on the dryness of the pasta. They are done when soft to the bite but still have a firm texture. Remove from the water and toss with the meat sauce. Generously grate Parmesan over the top and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
Mamma Celeste’s Easter Pastiera
- 1kg flour
- 8 eggs
- 400g lard or butter
- 400g sugar
- Cinnamon, as desired
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 kg grain or Italian Arborio, soaked over night until opened
- 200g milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 700g-1kg sugar, to taste
- 1kg fresh whole milk ricotta
- 10 eggs
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Splash of liquor- limoncello, cognac or whatever you have on had
- Organic orange peels, soaked in limoncello for several days, then blended (this is for those who do not like canditi)
- To make the crust, add flour, eggs, lard, cinnamon and lemon zest to a large bowl and mix together until uniform. Form into a ball, trying to handle it as little as possible. Do not knead it. Cover and refrigerate overnight or freeze until ready to use.
- To make the filling, first prepare the grain. (If you find the already canned soaked grain, add 200g milk, a pat of butter, sugar, and vanilla and mix together over low heat to combine flavors. Set aside and allow to cool before using.) If starting from dry grain. First, soak it overnight in water until grains open up. In a large pot, over low heat, mix grain, milk and vanilla. Stir together until absorbed. Allow to cool. Blend part of the grain in a food processor and add back to the mixture. Add blended orange peels and stir.
- In a separate bowl, mix ricotta, eggs, sugar and cinnamon together with an electric mixer until they form a smooth cream. Add to the grain mixture and stir until well combined, making sure to continually reach to the bottom of the bowl. If needed, use your hands to break down clumps that may have formed in the grain. Add a splash or two of liquor of your choice, limoncello, cognac, Kirsch or whatever you have on hand and mix until combined.
- Roll out the dough with a generously floured rolling pin on wax paper, and carefully place into pie plate, using a knife to cut away any extra dough above the rim. Add the filling until about 1 cm below the rim of the pie plate, and fold the rim of the dough down onto the filling. Make long strips of dough about 1cm wide to make the lattice on top of the pastiera, usually 4 to 6 strips is enough.
- Bake at 400 degrees F until the pastiera is golden, about 1 to 1½ hours. Allow to cool completely. Served with a dusting of powedered sugar over the top.
The Kid’s Kitchen
Chloe & Siena’s Recipes
Well folks, Spring has sprung! And something to make you spring even higher is this yummy banana split. Here’s how to make it! We use organic fruits!
- 1 banana peeled
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- 10 strawberries
- 1 cup of whipped cream
- Hot fudge
- 1 cherry
- 1 oval shaped dish
- Place the banana in your dish. Sprinlke on the blueberries. Place the strawberries in random spots. Add the whipped cream. Drizzle on the hot fudge and place your cherry on top.
With Love From Italy
If you cannot make it to Italy, we bring Italy to you~
GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER
For the whole month of April, you can visit this aptly named archeological exhibition held at the Nuovo Museo Paludi di Celano (in the town of Celano, Abruzzo) which takes a closer look at the world of food and eating through the ages. Take a trip through local domestic life by tracing the many different cooking instruments and implements that were used for everything from preparing daily dinners to funeral celebrations. The exhibition also offers the possibility of sampling a variety of ancient dishes recreated specially for the occasion, based on recipes taken from the cookbook of the great Apicius.
SETTIMANA DELLA CULTURA
This year’s dates for the Italian Culture Week are 9 – 17th April, during which time, all access to museums, monuments, libraries and archeological sites owned and operated by the State will be open free to the public. In addition, a number of sites and monuments normally closed to the public will be opened for this week only and you can also expect special concerts, exhibitions, workshops and conferences. More than 3,000 events are planned all over Italy – so no excuse for not making the best of this annual celebration of culture.
Anyone who loves Italian wine should really try to visit this impressive exhibition at least once. From 7th – 11th April, VINITALY celebrates the world of wine made up of men and women whose passion and dedication is appreciated not only here in Italy, but also increasingly abroad. At the exhibition there is ample opportunity to taste wines from all over the country, but also to partake in events and discussions regarding the difficulties faced by Italian wine during tough economic times, and in an increasingly challenging marketplace.
PASSION OF CHRIST
All over Italy at Easter, there are enactments of the Passion of Christ, some held in tiny villages, other famous now all over the country. But large or small, these events are immensely touching, and very quickly sweep you into the punishing journey of Christ’s last moments on earth. This year most enactments will take place between the 17th and 23rd April: below we have included a link to just one example.
Italian Feasts And Celebrations
This spring, we take a look at some great food festivals to suit all tastes this April in Italy.
I Fiori Eduli: Cavaglià, (BI), 16 April. We love the sound of this sagra, which covers the use of edible flowers in the kitchen. The day starts at the agriturismo Cascina Molino Torrine in the countryside north of Turin, after which, local experts accompany guests on a walk through the nearby countryside, explaining the different plants and herbs and their various properties and uses. Lunch is served back at the farmhouse and is based around the various plants and herbs seen during the walk: borage, marigolds, elderflower etc. After lunch, enjoy a herbal tea and a question and answer session with the expert. (€35 per person.)
Sagra dei Piselli, 16th April, Amendolara, Cosenza, Calabria. Held in the town’s Piazza Giovanni XXIII and beginning in the early evening, this sagra features the area’s delicious fresh peas served up in a variety of dishes like pasta with peas, cuttlefish with peas, meat with peas, tender baby peas served raw with cheese and lots of wine! And just to keep your feet tapping, local bands will liven up the atmosphere with a selection of popular music.
DiteCheese! Formaggio e dintorni, Perugia. Calling all cheeses lovers! From 28th April to 1st May, Perugia holds the fifth edition of its cheese sagra, whose aim is to promote Italian producers and their excellent cheeses. From Gorgonzola and Asiago to Pecorino and Parmesan, there will be something to suit all tastes. Learn more about the production processes, sample delicious accompaniments such as spicy fruit mostarda, sauces and honeys, pick up a useful accessory – beautiful olive wood serving boards or cheese knifes – and follow
a tasting session along with experts.
Festa del Carciofo di Paestum: This sagra which celebrates the famous purple artichoke of Paestum is held from 29 April – 7 May in the town of Gromola di Capaccio (SA). First take a walk round the informative stands describing the unique qualities of this artichoke, then dig in to a selection of delicious local specialties which exalt this product. Traditional musical shows, singing and dancing conclude the evening.
Italy On A Plate
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.)
First fava beans (broad beans)
Restaurant Of The Month
La Fortezza, Assisi, Umbria
Springtime in Italy, and we decided to head to Umbria for a short break, to the beautiful town of Assisi with its famous Duomo, frescos by Giotto and hilly streets and alleyways. As with many towns that attract such a large number of visitors, it’s easy to fall prey to tourist trap restaurants offering mediocre food and service, so it’s always good to have the name of a serious local eatery up your sleeve.
La Fortezza is situated in a medieval building just a few steps from the Piazza del Comune, and is run by the Chiocchetti family as it has been for over 30 years. It’s a fairly ‘old fashioned’ type of place if you consider adherence to traditional menus, ingredients and produce old fashioned, but dishes also display a contemporary lightness of touch suited to today’s needs. Here you’ll be welcomed warmly and settled at your table by friendly staff who will help you decide what to order and recommend a good local wine. Dishes are simple, but you can tell they’ve been created with excellent local ingredients, and also that the chef puts his heart and soul into their preparation. Antipasti include Umbria’s customary salumi and cheeses, but there are also some alternatives – carpaccio of smoked lamb, for example or perhaps sformati with seasonal vegetables. For pasta you might opt for potato gnocchi with vegetables or stringozzi with black truffles from Norcia – a must during truffle season. And when it comes to choosing a meat course, you can really tell you’re in Umbria: tagliata of veal with reduced wine must, delicious pigeon or guinea fowl, duck breast with redcurrants or orange, and boar salmì as well as grilled pork ribs and sausages and simple roast veal. Desserts include a chocolate cake that is to die for, as well as tozzetti (biscotti) with vin santo. The wine list is spot on and prices are honest: all in all, a great little find.
Vicolo della Fortezza
Tel: (+39) 075 812 418
Book Of The Month
Buonissimo: Italian food has never been so sexy
By Gino d’Acampo
After the resounding success of his first cookbook ‘Fantastico!’, Gino d’Acampo returns with this volume of recipes designed to help people create delicious food fast, using simple, fresh ingredients. Here you’ll find dishes for lazy weekends, barbecues and dinner parties, dinners for two, and even for those times you want to create satisfying meal just for one.
D’Acampo’s family comes from Naples – it was his grandfather who instilled in him his great passion for food – and indeed, there are a few of his grandfather’s recipes in the book. But there are dishes from all over Italy included, each given the d’Acampo twist, that is, kept as simple as possible and concentrating on just one or two main ingredients and flavors. From the simplest of options like Pecorino and fava bean salad with capers; fresh pea and parsley soup; zucchini and lemon zest pasta; and eggplant roasted with red onions and goat’s cheese, his preference for fresh, clean flavors is apparent. But heartier dishes also follow the same philosophy – beef tenderloin with brandy and green peppercorns; pasta with clams, rosemary and porcini mushrooms; risotto with prosciutto and vin santo; honey chicken liver salad with sherry vinegar; and roasted monkfish with baby leeks and cherry tomatoes – all these dishes characterized by uncomplicated but effective combinations of flavors. There are also some delicious sounding nibbles, such as crispy breadsticks with Pecorino cheese and thyme, bruschette with roasted pepper and bean purée, and Campari served with Parmesan crisps, and then of course desserts. How about creamy rice pudding with Amaretto and toasted almond; hot chocolate soufflés with raspberries and Grand Marnier sauce; limoncello trifle; or strawberry pavlova with basil? Difficult to resist.
As a last note, we suggest you follow d’Acampo’s rules for success in the kitchen: pour yourself a glass of good wine, use only the best, super-fresh ingredients, make sure your knife is sharp and only cook when you’re in a good mood!