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October Newsletter 2011

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

Truffles, pumpkins, chestnuts and mushrooms in all shapes and sizes fill our kitchen as we cook up produce from the autumn harvest. One of nature’s most prized gifts is the Olio Nuovo, or new oil. Plump olives still hanging on Italian olive trees will soon be pressed into the season’s new olive oil. Cooking Vacations’ new EVOO, made from chemical free olives that are grown with tender care, cut by hand and pressed on cold stones along with our Amalfi Coast Lemon and Chili Pepper EVOO. Extra virgin and first cold pressed is a must in any Italian kitchen.

On the menu for October is warm and hearty, Bruschette con Cannellini E Olio Nuovo, toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with cannellini beans in the season’s new olive oil; Zuppa Di Cipolle~ Onion Soup, a creamy onion soup from the Poggio Hills in Tuscany, Penne Strascicate ~ Penne With Meat Ragu, another Tuscan recipe hearty and warm with meat sauce; Torta di Mela, fall apple cake from the foothills of Florence, and Castagnaccio, chestnut cake are on a few of my favorite fall recipes on schedule at Cooking Vacations.

Elizabeth Berg, great American author who loves to cook is in our kitchen this week on the Amalfi Coast. Elizabeth chopped, sliced, and sautéed along while also leading a Writer’s Studio in Positano. Elizabeth said, ‘when I am not in my office, I am in the kitchen!’

Cooking Vacations cooks up its own organic spices to keep the flavor of Italy alive in your own home kitchen. Imagine, Sun-dried red tomatoes, Pasta Positano, Risotto Al Limone, Red Chili Peppers, Puttanesca and Oregano. Look for them soon on our website.

Buon Appetito!


Table Talk

Something magical happens in Italy as summer slips into fall. The air takes on a refreshing nip, days shorten and colors everywhere change, the vivid greens of the countryside slowly turning amber, tan and deep red. Mornings are often misty, and the muffled bangs of the hunters in the hills serve as a reminder that this is the season for game. After a summer spent outdoors, indoor pleasures again raise their head; lazy breakfasts at the bar with friends to enjoy a steaming cappuccino and a brioche still warm from the oven; a cozy midweek dinner created from fall’s first offerings. Or the sudden need to make a sticky plum cake or apple crumble right now! But of course, October can surprise you. Often the sun will come out as if it were still early September and the beaches are suddenly dotted with bodies stretched out to soak up the warmth. However, one glance at the mounds of fallen leaves under the trees, the vivid red tomatoes clinging to withered vines and the mountains of orange and green pumpkins at the market, is enough to bring you back to fall.

In most areas the grape harvest is well and truly over, but further south, you’ll see vineyards teeming with activity, the warmer weather permitting wine producers to delay the harvest and leave grapes on the vine to stock up on sugars. And last but not least, nothing beats a walk through the countryside where slow rising spirals of smoke mark farmers burning off piles of dried grass and leaves, and permeate the air with the scent of burning foliage. On days like these, all that’s missing is a helping of hot roasted chestnuts and a glass of red wine. Life really doesn’t get much better than this…

Food Notes

The arrival of October marks the advent of a delicious new slew of ingredients, with one of the most popular here in Italy being mushrooms: chanterelle, porcini, chiodini, puffballs, ovulo and many others. (Not to mention truffles!) The Italians have a real love of mushroom hunting, and as soon as the summer is over and the rains begin, you’ll see them out at the break of dawn with their wicker baskets, eager to get to their hidden spots before others do. It’s no secret that mushrooms are delicious in pasta and rice dishes, but sautéed they also make a great side dish, larger ones can be wiped clean, finely sliced and eaten raw with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and many different types can also be preserved in oil, oil and vinegar or even frozen.

There’s lots to see in the vegetable garden too: newly planted cauliflower, Savoy cabbage, green-black kale, feathery fennel, radicchio, dark green minestra, broccoli, broccoli rabe, escarole, red-striped lollo lettuce, Swiss chard, beautiful grey-green artichokes, beetroot, leeks and tiny spring onions. The apple and pear trees are laden with fruit, with all perfect specimens picked and stored on wooden trays or shelves in the cellar, and any bashed or damaged fruit transformed into sweets, cakes and applesauce. The walnut trees also keep us busy, with hours here and there spent gathering any fallen fruit then cleaning and drying it so it will keep well over the winter months. Apart from serving walnuts at the end of a meal, often to accompany cheese, or using them in sweets, one of our staples is homemade wholemeal walnut bread with a few fennel and caraway seeds thrown in for a little extra flavor. Walnuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts are extremely versatile ingredients. Many great recipes can be found in out of date regional cookbooks that address the problem of how to use a glut of nuts. Thus you might come across unusual ideas for calamari stuffed with potatoes and chestnuts, poached capon with walnut and bread stuffing, pork stew with chestnuts or cavolo nero with sausage and hazelnuts. So summer might be over, but fun in the kitchen isn’t!

Recipes From Our Kitchen

Zuppa Di Cipolle~ Onion Soup

From our Villa Florentine Cooking program

Number of servings (yield): 4


  • 3 cups Onion, sliced
  • 1/3 cup Butter
  • 2 Tbsp Flour
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • 2 quarts Vegetable Broth
  • Toasted bread croutons
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano


  • In a large pot, heat the butter over low heat and add the onions.
  • Cover and allow to cook for about 30 minutes on low. Next add flour, salt and pepper and mix to dissolve the flour.
  • Add the broth slowly, stirring continuously and cook for about 15 minutes.
  • In the meantime, cut slices of bread into cubes and toast in the oven or in a pan. In each serving bowl, place the toasted bread then pour the soup over the top.
  • Sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano and serve hot.


Penne Strascicate~ Penne With Meat Ragu

Number of servings (yield): 4


  • 1 Carrot
  • 2 Celery stalks
  • ½ Onion
  • 4 tbsp Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 lb Lean Ground Beef & Pork (mixed together about 13 oz beef, 3 oz pork)
  • 1 lb Peeled Tomatoes, pureed
  • 1 tsp Tomato Concentrate (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb Penne Lisce (smooth penne, from Pastificio Fabbri Toscano, if possible)
  • ½ cup Beef Stock, if needed


  • Chop the carrot, celery and onion finely.
  • In a large wide pot, heat olive oil and add chopped vegetables and sauté until the onion is blonded.
  • Add the ground meat and sauté until it starts to brown.
  • Next add the pureed peeled tomatoes (you can use a hand blender or vegetable mill to puree the ‘pelati’) and the tomato concentrate, if desired.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste and reduce heat to low.
  • Cover and cook sauce for about 3 hours over low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  • When ready to eat, cook the pasta in boiling salted water for about ¾ of the cook time (very al dente).
  • Drain and toss in a pan with the Ragu, adding a bit of beef stock if needed to dilute the sauce, and finish cooking the pasta for a minute or two with the sauce.
  • Serve hot with Parmigiano Reggiano grated on top, if desired.


Torta Di Mele~ Apple Cake

Number of servings (yield): 1large cake


  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 ½ cups Sugar + 2-3 tbsp to sprinkle on top
  • 4 tbsp Butter, melted
  • 1 ½ cups ‘00’ Flour
  • 1 tsp Vanilla or Zest of 1 Lemon, as you prefer
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • Pinch of Salt ½ cup Pine nuts
  • ½ cup Raisins
  • 5-6 Rennet Apples depending on size, or baking apple, peeled and sliced thin


  • In a large mixing bowl, mix eggs with the sugar until foamy.
  • Add the melted butter, flour, vanilla, baking powder and salt.
  • Mix well and divide in half.
  • Mix half of the dough with the pine nuts, raisins, and the slices of about 4 apples (save about 1 apple to put on top).
  • Butter and flour a 10-inch round cake pan and pour apple mixture into the pan.
  • Spread the rest of the dough on top, then top with the rest of the apple slices and sprinkle with a generous layer of sugar (a couple of tablespoons).
  • Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for about one hour.
  • Use a toothpick to test if it is done, if it comes out dry it is ready.


Castagnaccio ~ Chestnut Cake

Number of servings (yield): 1large cake


  • 500 g Chestnut flour
  • ½ Glass extra-virgin olive oil
  • 50 g Chopped pine nuts or walnuts
  • 50 g Raisins
  • Rosemary
  • Grated orange rind (optional)


  • Sieve the flour and knead with warm water or milk until the dough is smooth and even.
  • Add the oil, the pine nuts or walnuts and the raisins previously soaked in warm water and .
  • Mix all the ingredients and pour in a baking tin greased with oil.
  • Top with rosemary needles, pine nuts or walnuts, the orange rind (optional) and a drizzle of oil.
  • Cook in a medium oven (150-160°C) for about an hour.


Property Of The Month

Beatrice’s Villa In The Tuscan Countryside™

Cooking With Chefs Emma & Anna In Barga ~ 8 Day

Nestled high within the Apennine Mountains lies the enchanting medieval town of Barga, home to Beatrice’s unique Tuscan cooking classes. Take a step back in time as you make your way down the Villa’s captivating and majestic garden path and through the century-old grand doorway. Beatrice and her team of chefs are waiting to take you on an unforgettable culinary adventure where you will learn the ancient secrets and methods of Italy’s most humble cuisine.

Click here to read more.

Italian Feasts & Celebrations

This month, we take a look at some great food festivals to suit all tastes this October in Italy.

Peperoncini in Mostra
Cavaglià, Piemonte

For those who like to add a touch of spice to life, until the end of October, at the ‘Azienda Agricola Cascina Molino Torrine’ in the town of Cavaglià, you can sample as many of the 200 different varieties of chili pepper on display! Some are extremely rare, some are ornamental varieties but all with make your mouth (and probably your eyes) water. There will also be other local products on display, but all dishes prepared will be distinctly hot!

Fiera del Tartufo Bianco
Pergola, Le Marche October 8-9th and 16-23rd

Fall wouldn’t be fall without truffles, white truffles especially, and the region of Le Marche is a veritable gold mine when it comes to this beloved tuber. On various dates throughout the period of the fair, visitors will be able to sample the area’s delicious white truffles, take gastronomic tours of the town, choose from a number of truffle-based menus on offer from the town’s restaurants and take part in the various plays, discussions and concerts organized by the local council. Visitors should also take time out to visit Pergola’s interesting museum.

Rassegna dei Formaggi di Malga della Val di Non, Trento
October 23

Calling all cheese lovers! In the Alpine town of Tassullo, Sunday the 23rd is the day dedicated to the area’s excellent artisan cheeses. In the morning there’s a guided tasting of different cheeses and products, lunch also makes the best of local cheeses, and there is a competition between local artisans to see whose cheese turns out to be the favorite. The afternoon prize giving ceremony brings the sagra to an end, but not before visitors are treated to a taste of hot apple fritters.

Il Primo Olio ed Altro Ancora
Montisi, Siena October 29 – November 1st

This is the twelfth edition of this festival near Siena, where visitors can try out the year’s new extra-virgin olive oil and sample many different local specialties. A menu created around the new oil is available at various restaurants in the town, and there are also a number of oil tastings and wine tasting events organized by the Italian Association of Sommeliers. During the day, visit local oil producers and mills and enjoy a luncheon accompanied by traditional music.

With Love From Italy

If you cannot make it to Italy, we bring Italy to you~

Rome Film Festival
The end of October (27th) brings Rome’s international film festival which hosts a number of great international premieres, world class actors and directors of the caliber of Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. There are also encounters with the public, documentaries, retrospectives, exhibits, concerts and live shows. Tickets are available both at authorized ticket centers throughout Italy or online. For more details visit www.romacinemafest.it

Choco Tango Festival
Talk about combining two of life’s most sensuous pleasures: and this is precisely what the town of Perugia has done, combining its annual chocolate festival with the seductive world of tango. Passion, elegance and allure become the principal elements of this festival where between the 6th and 9th October Perugia transforms itself into a land of temptations, offering everything from plump chocolate coated mouthfuls to hauntingly beautiful tango exhibitions.
Web: www.chocotangofestival.com

Foto Famiglia!
Until the 23rd October at Rome’s Complesso del Vittoriano, you can visit this fascinating exhibition of photographs tracing the evolution of families in Italy from 1861 to the early 1960s. Themes include The Symbolic Construction of the Family, Engagements and Marriages, Realizing a Family, Intergenerational Aspects of the Family and Constance and Faithfulness. One of the most interesting facts underlined by this exhibition is how the family was once perceived as the project of a lifetime, a project to be valued, worked hard at, and shared by the families of both bride and groom, in sharp contrast to today’s mentality which increasingly favors a short term view of both marriage and family.

Wine Jelly
Villa Matilde, the well known wine producers in the Province of Caserta, have recently launched a delicious sounding series of jellies based on their most important wines. The deep red Aglianico jelly has a decisive flavor and makes the perfect companion to meat dishes, cheese dishes and even desserts. The Falanghina jelly, on the other hand, is a delicate straw yellow color, and is best enjoyed with cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses. Too good to pass up!

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 October.

What’s in Season?

Sea Bass
Wood Pigeon
Guinea fowl

Restaurant Of The Month

Piazza Duomo, Alba

Okay, it’s October, the month of white truffles, and we’ve decided to give ourselves a treat. A real treat. Where better to head than the town of Alba, famous for its white truffle fair and auctions, and the wonderful local produce. There are many quality eateries in Alba, but the two star Piazza Duomo is undoubtedly home to one of Italy’s most skilled chefs, and offers a truly exquisite gastronomic experience.

Chef Enrico Crippa is clear-headed and determined, a man who takes his responsibility as head of a winning brigade of chefs very seriously. He cut his teeth under some of the world’s most important chefs, including Gualtiero Marchese, Michel Bra and Ferran Adria. Unsurprising then, that his own restaurant is now such a success. The dining room at Piazza Duomo is pained a striking shade of pink, with nothing on the walls bar a couple of frescos to distract diners from the real art – that on their plate. Despite his illustrious international training, Crippa’s respect and attachment to locally-sourced ingredients is paramount to the success of his dishes, and he knows how to make the produce of the Langhe sing like no other.

Dishes often bear deceptively simple names: prawns and melon; Amatriciana; pepper and tuna; veal cheek and buckwheat cream, however, what arrives at your table is a treat for the senses: a combination of color, scents and design that really does constitute a form of art. There are various menus to choose from, roughly speaking, a tasting menu (including cod and peas; risotto with porcini and star anise; lamb, chamomile, milk cream), a traditional menu (sausage and tomato; cold tagliolini, pepper and celery; peach, amaretti and angelica), and a territorial menu (vegetable and fruit soup; pigeon and cereal; Swiss chard, coconut, strawberries and green tea), all of which however, bear the stamp of Crippa’s curiosity and love of experimentation. Another of the restaurant’s great assets is Sommelier Mauro Mattei, and you’d be well advised to give him a few pointers then let him help you choose the best bottle for your needs. And it goes without saying, as long as you’re in this wonderful wine producing neck of the woods, enjoy something local. The dining experience at Piazza Duomo doesn’t come cheap, but few will be more worth the price.

Further Information:

Piazza Duomo
Piazza Risorgimento 4
12051 Alba (Cn)
Tel: +39 0173 366167

Web: www.piazzaduomoalba.it

Book Of The Month

Italian Slow and Savory

by Joyce Goldstein, Chronicle Books

There are a number of books I tend to reach for with the advent of fall, and this volume by renowned chef and cookbook writer Joyce Goldstein is one of my favorites. As the title suggests, the book covers a selection of slow-cooked soups, stews, roasts, sauces and casseroles, and one of the things I love most is the accessibility of the dishes. All are thoroughly researched, unfailingly authentic, and although simple dishes at heart, never banal and often unusual.

Italian Slow and Savory comprises recipes from all regions of Italy, and indeed includes a summary of each region and its signature flavors. Here you’ll find a veritable treasure trove of traditional dishes, many of which are still refreshingly unfamiliar in today’s replete Italian cookbook market. Dishes are of the comforting, reassuring ilk, many elegantly simple (asparagus soup with saffron, baked pumpkin with mint and almonds), others enticing in their novelty (wild fennel and bread soup, cocoa-crusted beef braised in Rosso Conero wine, roast leg of lamb cooked on tiles). But all utterly delicious. From Puglia hails sausage, potato and wild onion casserole; from Lazio, clove scented beef; from the island of Favignana, braised tuna with tomato, garlic and mint; from Abruzzo, polenta with sausage and raisins; from Tuscany, savory farro tart; and from Sicily, an utterly delicious pumpkin squash with mozzarella and tomato (pumpkin parmesan, if you will).

Goldstein’s writing is at once conversational and informative, and recipes are peppered with interesting tidbits of information that add an extra dimension to her prose while alerting cooks to possible pitfalls and complications. That, combined with her clearly written, foolproof instructions and suggestions for wine pairings makes this the ideal book with which to celebrate the advent of fall and enjoy long, cozy evenings in the kitchen.