Category Archives: Italian Food Rules

Mangia! Mangia! – Zabaione, the Italian Dolce, Rarely Found in Italy

In the mid-1980s, I was sitting at the counter of the newly-opened Jackson Filmore Trattoria in San Francisco. I had finished a dinner that included gnocchi “come nuvole” (like clouds) as the Jack, the chef/owner, liked to say, when the subject of a dolce came up. “Have the zabaione,” Jack said. “Trust me.”

My seat at the counter was only a few yards from the kitchen stove. I watched as the pastry chef whipped up egg yokes in a deep round copper bowl, adding only Masala wine and sugar, and heating the mixture slowly as he whisked. Copper conducted the heat from the boiling water bath evenly, which allowed him to control the cooking process.

Zabaione (photo jacksonfilmoresf.com)
Zabaione (photo jacksonfilmoresf.com)

The volume of heavenly, luxurious yellow foam expanded as I watched. Served over strawberries, the warm zabaione flowing over the rim of a stemmed glass … no wonder I still remember this fabulous dessert thirty years later.

In 1998, I moved to Florence and stayed for over fifteen years. I thought my life would be filled with zabaione. Apparently no restaurant in Italy serves it and no home cook makes it anymore. A Florentine answered my wishful griping by saying that it was a dish made by mothers for their children and is too much trouble these days. I found zabaione gelato at Gelateria Vivoli in the late 90s and many artisanal gelaterias in Italy offer zabaione-flavored ice cream today.

Zabaione, an almost extinct classic sweet (kept alive only in America and still served at Jackson Filmore), is the perfect light, not overly sweet, ending to a dinner. The traditional recipe calls for only three ingredients—eggs, sugar and Marsala wine—and can be whipped up in just a few minutes. It’s useful to have a strong arm and a copper bowl.

Zabaione, also know as Zabaglione in the U.S. (photo fioriogelati.it)
Zabaione, also know as Zabaglione in the U.S. (photo fioriogelati.it)

One of the custard-like sauces that use egg yolks to thicken a liquid—crema pasticciera, hollandaise sauce and mayonnaise, come to mind—making zabaione is simpler in concept than in practice. Zabaione, like the others, is an emulsion, and the proportion of fat to liquid plays an important role. It requires patience when adding the Marsala to the egg yolks to prevent separation and care not to overheat and curdle the mixture.

The perfect copper pot for making zabaione (photo kitchenamore.it)
The perfect copper pot for making zabaione (photo kitchenamore.it)

Marsala is the most common wine used to make zabaione. But Gina DePalma, former pastry chef at Babbo Ristorante in NYC, makes her zabaione with Vin Santo, “because it is a wine with both sweetness and acidity.” She sometimes combine the Vin Santo with rum or grappa. In the Italian region of  Piedmonte, where zabaione originated, it is often made with bubbly Moscato D’Asti, a sweet local wine made with muscat grapes, or another Piedmontese wine, Brachetto D’Acqui.

marsala_vino_superiore_NI’m no cook, only an enthusiastic “good fork” (as they say in Italy), so I won’t give you the recipe or full instructions here. But I recommend a slow reading of home-cook Frank’s post on Memorie di Angelina and professional pastry chef Gina DePalma’s write-up on Serious Eats. Both describe how to make the traditional zabaione that has been made for centuries in Italy. Mika at The 350 Degree Oven adds whipping cream. This allows for either a warm zabaione or the cold thick zabaione, popular in the United States.

I favor the warm eggy zabaione, made without heavy cream, served immediately after it’s made, allowing the aroma of Marsala to waft about me as I savor its sweetness with every bite. Hopefully, while sitting at the counter in Jackson Filmore Trattoria.

Mangia! Mangia! – Zucchini Flowers Italian Style

My father just posted a couple of beautiful photos of the zucchini flowers from his veggie garden and asked if they were really good to eat. Simple answer: Yes, the flowers are scrumptious! However, Italians have two pieces of advice for my father: 1) pick the male flowers now and cook them up immediately, and 2) don’t let the zucchini squash grow beyond five inches long before harvesting it.

Gorgeous zucchini blossoms (photo gourmasian.com)
Gorgeous zucchini blossoms (photo gourmasian.com)

Americans are notorious for growing gigantic zucchini and then searching for ways of disposing of the tasteless watery squash. Garrison Keillor reportedly claimed July is the only time of year when the citizens of Lake Wobegon lock their cars in the church parking lot, so their friends won’t put a squash or two on the front seat.

Too big already (photo gardeningknowhow.com)
Too big already (photo gardeningknowhow.com)

Italians frequently buy their zucchini with the flower attached. The squash is firm, flavorful and can be eaten either raw or cooked in a dozen different ways.

Pick it now! (photo http://bonnieplants.com)
Pick it now! (photo bonnieplants.com)

But, back to the flowers. The gorgeous golden blooms should be plucked from the garden according to their sex. Judy Witts at Divina Cucina explains this well. The male flowers will never produce a squash, so snap them off and eat them now. Judy also gives us a recipe for fried flowers, the way most people love to eat the blossoms.

Male and female zucchini flowers (photo foodcity.com)
Male and female zucchini flowers (photo foodcity.com)

In Rome, you will find stuffed zucchini flowers, full of ricotta and a sliver of anchovy, fried up in golden olive oil. If you want them stuffed, but not fried, cooking the ricotta filled flowers in a fresh tomato sauce is delicious, says Jamie Oliver.

Delicious fried zucchini flowers (photo lifesambrosia.com)
Delicious fried zucchini flowers (photo lifesambrosia.com)

Mario Batali offers a frittata decorated with blossoms, but you can also make an eggy frittata with both chopped baby zucchini, overlaid with golden flowers.

There is a wine bar in Florence that offers a focaccia with a light cheese, decorated with splayed zucchini blossoms, kind of a squash blossom pizza.

Zucchini blossom frittata (photo by seaweedandsassafras.com)
Zucchini blossom frittata (photo by seaweedandsassafras.com)

So my father should either cook up those male flowers now and the female blossoms when the baby zucchini is just long enough, or he should make a sunny bouquet to decorate the center of the dinner table. Zucchini flowers should not just hide away in the garden.

Italian Food Rule – Eat Colomba for Easter

Colomba Pasquale or Colomba di Pasqua (“Easter Dove” in English) is an Italian traditional Easter cake, the counterpart of the two well-known Italian Christmas desserts, panettone and pandoro. The colomba traces its birth to the Lombardia region, but is enjoyed throughout Italy at Easter time.

Colomba Pasquale (photo theitalianwineconnection.com)
Colomba Pasquale (photo theitalianwineconnection.com)

The dough for the colomba is made in a similar manner to panettone, with flour, eggs, sugar, natural yeast and butter. Some prefer the light yellow dough studded with citrus peel or dried fruits; others want to only enjoy the sweetened cake.

Colomba Dough is Bright Yellow
Colomba Dough is Bright Yellow

The sticky dough is fashioned into a dove-shape paper mold (or fashioned with two crossed halves of the dough to form the suggestion of a bird) and finally is topped with pearl sugar and almonds before being baked.

Easter Colomba in the Oven
Easter Colomba in the Oven

Some manufacturers produce other versions including a popular bread topped with chocolate, but purists would argue that this is an unnecessary exaggeration.

There are a couple of fanciful stories about the origin of colomba. One version has the colomba dating back to 1176, commemorating the Lombardian victory over Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. During the deciding Battle of Legnano, according to this version, two doves representing the Holy Ghost miraculously appeared on the Milanese battle standards.

The finished Colomba  (photo by Flickr Nicola)
The finished Colomba (photo by Flickr Nicola)

Another legend dates the bread to 572, when Alboin, King of the Lombards, conquered Pavia after a three-year siege. He demanded the typical tribute, including a dozen maidens, 11 of whom succumbed. The twelfth girl, however, arrived on the fateful night with a sweet bread in the shape of a dove, a symbol of peace. Alboin was so charmed (or exhausted) that he set her free, spared Pavia from destruction and made it his capital. (He later was assassinated on the orders of Rosamund, his Gepid wife, whom he forced to drink from the skull of her dead father, which he carried around his belt, inviting her “to drink merrily with her father.”)

Tre Marie Colomba is one of the best
Tre Marie Colomba is one of the best

In more mundane times, the colomba was commercialized by the Milanese baker and businessman Angelo Motta as an Easter version of the Christmas specialty panettone that Motta company were already producing. Motta, however, does not rate as high these days among the producers. The honor of the best commercial colomba goes to Tre Marie and Bauli.

Colomba Pasquale on Sale in Florence (photo FMBoni)
Colomba Pasquale on Sale in Florence (photo FMBoni)

Many local Easter specialties incorporating the dove can be found throughout Italy. The dove, a pagan symbol of the coming of spring as well as the sign of the Holy Spirit in Catholicism, is the inspiration for a sweet called pastifuorti or moscardini in Palermo, pasta raffinata in Noto, and incanniddati in Syracuse, where it is shaped like a dove sitting with little candies at its base.

Find out more about Italian Easter Eggs and Easter in Florence.

Tuscan Traveler’s Picks – A Dozen Top Italy Blogs

Every two years or so, everyone who maintains a travel website or blog should clean up their Blogroll. For those who have never clicked on a Blogroll link or even thought “blogroll” was a word: a blogroll is the list of other websites or blogs (hopefully with handy click-through links) that a blogger (or travel writer, a term I prefer) either reads, or believes should be read. A blogger may have exchanged links with other websites in hopes of greater shared readership, or may believe that a blogroll should be created and maintained as part of the website management to-do list, or may have a myriad of other reasons for the list.

Photo by Melika http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/writing/images/9349790/title/pen-paper-wallpaper

The problem with a blogroll is that, unless you are linking to sites like The New York Times (or, come to think of it, even if you are linking to TNYT), the links will  become stale as Tuscan bread, meaning it is impossible to get through anymore. Further, in a place like Italy bloggers tend to pick up and move back to Dallas, Denver or Derbyshire, the story ending with a still relevant “Twenty Things I Love about Italy” post written four years ago. (In Italy the twenty things really don’t change all that much, I’ve found.)

Even if the writer is still in-country and posting away, the frustrations of WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, LiveJournal, and the like, or the failure to maintain the payments for the domain name and/or server, will result in a “404 Not Found” status code or a “503 Service Unavailable” or some such pothole in the internet highway to “Life in Italy.”

So today, I wandered back into my Blogroll, inspired by A.K. at Arttrav.com who is in competition with some other fine writers for Blog Awards 2013 at Italy Magazine. Going through the Italy Magazine Blog Categories I found a number of sites that I hadn’t heard of and will follow in the future. That led me to the job of adding those to my Blogroll, which led me to check the links and do an early spring cleaning of the whole list, which can be found by clicking on the link found right below the Tuscan Traveler banner.

All of the boring back and forth of clicking and checking and deleting and linking and checking again and swearing and starting all over, resulted in the idea that I, too, could do the impossible and pick the twelve best Italy blogs. Of course, this is completely subjective and subject to change next week, next month or next year. But I hope that none of these folks get tired of Italy or done with writing or weary of the process of posting or get a “real” job that eats up all of their blogging time and energy because I love reading what they write and marvel at the photography skills of most of them.

Tuscan Traveler’s Top Dozen Italy Blogs

Screen Shot 6

Arttrav

Arttrav is a blog about art, travel, and expat life in Florence, Italy.  Alongside art historical information, exhibit and museum reviews, you will find articles about the people and events that make up the lively nature of Italian life. Alexandra Korey has a PhD in Renaissance Italian art history from the University of Chicago and a goal to make art accessible. She has a real job, but luckily it is internet-related so she can keep Arttrav going while at work.

Screen Shot 8

Emiko Davies Regional Italian Cuisine 

Living in Florence, for seven years taught Emiko Davies a few things about Italian cuisine. One, that recipes of Tuscany are not all there is to Italian food. Instead, there are twenty regional cuisines. Two, that traditions rule. On her site she shares the anecdotes, techniques and history behind some favourite traditional regional recipes. If you’re making a trip to Florence or indeed anywhere in Tuscany soon and you’d like some tips on where to eat or places to visit, you’ll find things throughout her blog, like her favorite gelato shops, breakfast spots, where to eat like a Florentine, panini and wine bars and other food adventures.

Emiko has one of the most beautiful food sites of any country. Her writing and photographs can be found in a number of places, both online and in print, so start with her “About” page to get an idea of where to find more of her stuff after you’ve devoured her Regional Italian Cuisine blog.

Screen Shot 3

The Bittersweet Gourmet &  Platform 17

Living in the Bel Paese, in the tiny town of Grezzano in Tuscany, about an hour from Florence, Amy Gulick was in love with an Italian, but oceans now divided her from the people to whom she’d been closest. For many of those early years it seemed every minor success she achieved in her adoptive country necessitated a number of setbacks. This tough, perplexing, sometimes sorrowful time was not without its joys, however. On the contrary: it was also thrilling, full of first-time experiences with food, art, travel, new friends, and a new lifestyle she would soon come to cherish. She now says that no word more aptly sums up her initiation into Italian life than “bittersweet.”

Amy is maintaining two blogs (I hope, because my favorite is Platform 17 with both its history posts and its “life back of beyond in Italy” stories, and the last post is dated October 2013 . . . ), a scrumptious home food one, The Bittersweet Gourmet, with recipes and the other with a great “About” story of why it is called Platform 17, the unluckiest number in Italy.

Screen Shot 9 

Mozzarella Mamma

How does a young American woman brought up on field hockey, frozen vegetables, washing machines, takeout Chinese food and backpacking become transformed into a functioning Italian mamma with perfect pasta and luscious legs? Impossible, but Trisha Thomas is giving it her best and writing about it as she goes.

Over the past 16 years, she has been raising her children and her “mamma buddies” have provided the understanding and wisdom to get her through. One mamma friend summed up beautifully her concerns about being an Italian-style mamma. She said, “We try to teach them good values, we try to teach them to work hard and do their best, but somehow I think we are turning our children into mozzarellas.”

Trisha has jotted down her humorous experiences as she has both worked for a television news agency and endeavored to become a good Italian mamma without losing her American-ness. She divides the anecdotes into different categories—food tales, health stories, clothing issues, and lately, Italy’s political foibles.

Screen Shot 7

Rebecca’s Brigolante Blog

Rebecca Winke, originally from Chicago, joined her husband Stefano in Assisi in 1993, and shortly thereafter the couple began a lengthy renovation project on the Brigolante farmhouse, which has been in the Bagnoli family for at least eight generations.

She posts essays that touch on her life as an American transplanted to the Umbrian countryside. If you have ever dreamed of picking up and moving to the Bel Paese, you will enjoy reading the cautionary tales on her blog that arise from life in Umbria.  Her real job of running a fabulous B&B and raising children keeps her really busy, except in the winter when school is in session and the B&B business is slow. So I hope her memory is good and she gets a year’s worth of posts written down in January and February.

Screen Shot 1

Not Just Another Dolce Vita 

Ever since Sarah Mastroianni can remember she has been fascinated by the Italian language and has felt strongly connected to her Italian roots. She has a Master of Arts in Italian Studies from the University of Toronto, and experience travelling, studying and working in Italy. She like to hang her hat in Siena, but her stories take her all over Italy. This blog gives her an outlet through which to express her love for Italian language and culture, to write (another passion) and also to share her firsthand knowledge with other fans of Italy.

Screen Shot 5

Parla Food

Katie Parla is from New Jersey and she earned a BA in Art History from Yale. In 2003, shortly after graduating, she moved to Rome and since then has earned a sommelier certificate (FISAR) and an MA in the Cultura Gastronomica Italiana. She has written and edited more than 20 books and her food criticism and travel writing have appeared all over the world. (She never sleeps.) She is now a Rome-based food and beverage educator and journalist so her blog is here to stay.

Parla Food is her personal blog where she gets to take a break from her day job of lecturing, giving private tours, and writing for others. She writes mostly about food issues facing diners in Rome and in Italy. Sometimes she sneaks in a non-food related topic if she is really excited about something and wants to share. She recently picked up an archeological speleology certification from the city of Rome so we should be reading soon about what is underneath the streets of Rome.

Screen Shot 10

Rubber Slippers In Italy

It’s a long, long way from Hawaii to Italy for Rowena. Living in the land of pasta, pizza, and wine is everything you might imagine, but one thing remains true: You can take the girl out of the island but you can’t take the island out of the girl.  Like many who have suddenly found themselves in a new environment, the desire to document every experience gave birth to Rowena’s humble little page on Blogspot. That page grew into more pages, year after year, developing into compilation of recipes, travels around Italy, and discoveries in a place that is so very unlike Hawaii.

Her dogs Mr. B and Mads are along for the ride whether they want to or not because she is compiling the “100 Ways to Celebrate Italy” (80 and counting) a fascinating compilation of sagras, festivals, parades, and carnivals.

Screen Shot 13

Green Holiday in Italy

Anna is a freelance journalist living in a stunning corner of Italy, Abruzzo, and doing her bit for the planet: she recycles religiously, grows organic vegetables, shops and eats local and make an effort to keep her holidays as green as possible. She started this site to share her passion for slow travel in Italy.

She sees responsible travel as looking at the world around you closely, making conscious choices and giving back to the places you visit and the people you meet. Her site has some of the beautiful photographs found on the internet and is one of the very few places you can find a post that starts out: “Birdwatching in Italy has just become more exciting! After 400 years the Northern Bald Ibis returned to Northern Italy.”

Screen Shot 12

Rick’s Rome

Yes, most of the best Italy bloggers are women. But then there is Rick Zullo.  Quite a few years ago he came to Italy on an extended vacation (he called it a “sabbatical” just to make it sound impressive, but let’s be honest…).  About midway through that trip, he fell in love with Rome on his very first night in the city.  On the second night, he fell in love with one of its inhabitants (who is now his wife).  Rick found being an American in Rome to be challenging. Rick’s Rome describes many of his trials and tribulations, how he’s been able to overcome them or at least come to a compromise, making the most out of living in that fascinating, perplexing, chaotic city.

Screen Shot 2

Timeless Italy

Susan Nelson is happiest walking the cobbled streets of Italy and exploring ruins that have existed for thousands of years. She has an exquisite eye for the the great photo shot, ranging from the quirky corner to the breath-taking vista. Giant aqueducts, earthy catacombs, back streets and back roads, mystical legends of the saints — they all catch her imagination. She shares her thoughts and experiences through Timeless Italy; a perfect companion for the armchair adventurer. 

Screen Shot 4

Over the Tuscan Stove

Judy Witts Francini adores shopping the markets and being inspired to cook with local seasonal food. She began her career as a pastry chef in San Francisco and when she moved to Florence she started from scratch in learning a whole new way to cook and eat. In 1997, she started her website Divina Cucina with a dining guide to Florence and Chianti and also Tuscan recipes. Soon after she started sharing her thoughts and observations in Over The Tuscan Stove. Now she’s expanding into the world of travel apps.

She writes about meeting the individuals who grow, make and sell the authentic food of Tuscany,  learning from them the age-old family traditions. Her recent tours to Sicily and southern Italy have provided a whole new set of posts and pictures.

Baker’s Dozen

If you want to get into the act, you can always comment on any post that these twelve superb writers produce. But to get a real conversation going about all things Italy (and France and Spain and . . . ) join the Slow Europe Travel Forums at SlowEurope.com, created by Pauline Kenny the creator of the Slow Travel movement with her original site SlowTravel.

Screen Shot 14

What are your favorite Italy websites? Leave a comment here.

Francesca’s Footprints – A Student Finally Learns Something Important

It is a joy to learn something new and surprising. As a teacher, it is even better when I learn from a student. Here’s a story many of you at TuscanTraveler.com may know, at least in part. It’s about Ann, the Tuscan Traveler. She’s published a book! I wrote the Foreward.

Ann was a San Francisco lawyer in search of any enlightenment that nine months in Italy could bring her when she walked into my Italian grammar class in Massa Marittima, near the Tuscan coast, in 1998. To be kind, let’s say that she had no ear for my melodic language.

Francesca Al Vapore!
Francesca “Al Vapore”!

Changing focus, she sought to learn to expand her kitchen skills beyond admittedly delicious chocolate chip cookies and carrot cake to include Florentine and Tuscan recipes. I was conducting cooking classes for Americans and other tourists. Ann, unfortunately, could never master a passable soffritto or achieve al dente when it came to cooking pasta.

I was ready to give up on the notion that Ann was ever going to awaken to the state of being Italian even for a day, but then we started to delve into the customs and practices that make Italian food authentic. Maybe it is the lawyer’s need for defined rules and precedents or Ann’s love for research that, combined with her passion for eating, if not cooking, Italian food led her to collect what she came to call the Italian Food Rules.

Italian Food Rules FINAL DIGITAL FRONT 1000 PIXELS

After nine months in Florence became over fifteen years in Italy, Ann is still clearly American, but she knows more than most Italians about the basis of the food practices that are passed down from generation to generation. Her delight in each discovery has frequently been shared in her writing on TuscanTraveler.com and, now, in this enchanting book.

The facts, fictions, history and reasons behind the Italian Food Rules, as well as the revelation of the mere existence of so many customs or edicts, will assist any visitor to Italy by making their stay easier, less confusing, and richer. For Italians, their response to reading Ann’s list of the rules is usually “giusto, giusto” (“exactly right”) and then delight when they read the rationale and history of the gastronomic commandments passed down from their grandmothers.

I never knew where Caesar Salad originated (certainly not Italy), or why spaghetti with meatballs was considered an Italian dish, or why Americans always wanted a bowl of olive oil with a squiggle of balsamic vinegar delivered immediately to the table when dining at a trattoria. I enjoy eating lampredotto and lardo on a regular basis, being very familiar with these Tuscan specialties, but I never thought much about their origins in Italian history until Ann started asking questions, urging me to translate at Florentine tripe stands, and traveling to Colonnata to see where herbed lard is aged.

The bricks that form the foundation of the most loved cuisine in the world today are important and should be preserved. Ann Reavis has given us the gift of memory in her light and amusing book of Italian Food Rules.

You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Mangia! Mangia! – Al Covo Introduces Its Offspring CoVino in Venice

While Francesca was savoring the best pizza in Florence, I was at the Biennale in Venice making my own fabulous food find.

CoVino, the new spot in Venice
CoVino, the new spot in Venice

Fifteen years ago, I tasted eel for the first time at Al Covo in Venice. Tasty eel, devoid of fat, is hard to find (or so I’ve been told) so it was good that my introduction was an eel prepared by Cesare Benelli. After two or three more meals at the up-market Al Covo over the years, I am happy to say that this past May they opened a more casual place around the corner — CoVino, a classic bacaro-style place with the same high Al Covo standard for both food and service.

Ristorante Al Covo opened its doors in 1987, fulfilling a dream shared by owners Cesare and his Texan wife Diane Rankin (Abilene or Lubbock, I believe). Through the years, Al Covo has been known for the research, conservation and promotion of the exceptional regional produce of the Venetian Lagoon and surrounding territory. It was and still is one of the best Slow Food restaurants of Venice.

Diane and Ceasare - 25 years at Al Covo
Diane and Ceasare – 25 years at Al Covo

Located just off the beaten tourist track, hidden in an alley off of the Riva degli Schiavoni near the historic Arsenale, the small 40-seat restaurant is divided into two comfortable rooms in a rustic-elegant atmosphere and, in summer, opens an outdoor terrace facing the ancient campiello in the tiny piazza.

At Al Covo don’t miss the pasta with squid in ink sauce, fritti misti, grilled scallops and razor clams. Cesare’s pistachio rigatoni with bottarga is talked about on at least two continents. In Spring or  Fall, try the Venetian moeche (soft-shell crabs), simply dusted in flour and deep-fried or col pien, which is to dredge them in milk and egg yolk, then dust with flour and deep-fry, both served with bianco perla polenta. Or choose to simply have the crabs grilled briefly on the griddle, served with lemon-extra virgin olive oil mashed potatoes, tiny cherry tomato confit and fresh seasonal lettuces.

CoVino, tiny with its 14 covers,tastefully designed in the dark-wood bacaro style, offers a traditional menu and terroir wines. For thirty-three euro, you will pick from the market fresh offerings three courses (a glass of wine, an appetizer or pasta, a main dish and desert or cheese). I give Diane full credit for the great dolce. Somehow Americans create the most scrumptious cakes. Another nice touch is the small pitcher of iced water with a lemon wedge and a sprig of mint and the small paper bag of mixed breads placed on each table.

Andrea will welcome you into CoVino. He comes from the Enoteca Mascareta family and thus, knows everything there is to know about wine pairing and the wines of the Veneto. Dimitri is cooking in full view of the tables. His roots are in the hills north of Venice and he carries on the Al Covo standard of quality ingredients and precise execution of each dish.

Salt cod with a spicy touch
Salt cod with a spicy touch

Start with the traditional Venetian-style (sweet and sour) fresh sardines and melanzane in saor or creamy borlotti bean, bell pepper and clam soup. Follow that with sear fresh tuna with melanzane, tomato, and a patè of pistachios and black olives or baccalà (salt cod) with melanzane, olives, tomato salsa, and rosemary. Do not miss Diane’s dark chocolate cake, but if you must go lighter, try the watermelon with anise liqueur.

Diane's dark chocolate cake with chocolate sauce
Diane’s dark chocolate cake with chocolate sauce

Arrive early (12 noon) because there is usually only one seating at lunch, once the seats are taken, people tend to linger. At dinner there are two seatings at 7:15pm and 9:30pm. CoVino is closed on Wednesday and Thursday. No credit cards are accepted, so bring cash.

Address:  Calle del Pestrin, 3829a-3829, (ask at Al Covo if you get lost)

Phone:041 241 2705

Email:info@covinovenezia.com

Website: www.covinovenezia.com

Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Italian Food Rules: The BookAmazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

“Bacaro” with a traditional menù and terroir wines, just around the corner from it’s “mother” restaurant.
The same quality as “Al Covo”, in a more simple, less expensive format.
Set price menù of 3 courses, to choose freely from the daily menù, accompanied with wine by the glass–€ 33,00.
Lunch:  from 12:00PM–3:00PM
Dinner:  two seatings, at 7:15PM and at 9:30PM

Francesca’s Footprints – Pizza from Heaven in Florence

While Tuscan Traveler is in Venice for the Biennale, Francesca has found a Pizza Paradise…

Here is her guest post:

So I was thinking how sad this summer is going to be: Florence is hot, it is humid, the world is going to hell, my new professor of Russian went back to Moscow, leaving me alone to struggle with words and a furious nostalgia for a time that is long gone, plus Guido, my cat, is feeling old and scruffy and I, myself, don’t recognize that lady in the mirror in the morning etc., etc. but … last night …

I HAD A PIZZA FROM HEAVEN!

Graziano and Roberta invite you to La Divina Pizza
Graziano and Roberta invite you to Divina Pizza

This place is called Divina Pizza and it is situated in a very scruffy (yes, like Guido) neighborhood, on the corner of via dell’Agnolo and Borgo Allegri.

As the pizzaiolo and owner Graziano says, this is not a pizzeria it is a laboratorio artigiano. Already a good start.

All the info for the best pizza in Florence
All the info for the best pizza in Florence

Let’s see, how to describe it? You can stand or maybe sit on a tall stool if you get one, but it DOES NOT matter. The pizza they produce is worth every possible sacrifice. Graziano made me smell the lievito madre naturale (natural yeast mother) that he keeps re-feeding day after day and that has nothing to do with the usual stinky (his words, and I agree) lievito di birra (brewer’s yeast) that is usually used for pizza.

Then he opened the very new first issue of the guide called Pizzerie d’Italia of Gambero Rosso and with pride he showed us the 3 rotelle (cutting wheels) that were awarded just a few days ago for the best pizzeria al taglio (by the slice) in Florence (one of only 2 in Tuscany, the other one is in Arezzo).

The organic products that Graziano, his wife Roberta and son Gabriele use, are: a top of the line extra virgin olive oil, very fresh mozzarella fiordilatte and  lusty veggies with a hearty glow, but I think the most important ingredient is Petra, a fantastic stone- ground wheat flour.

Dough made with Petra flour is rich in fiber (from 6.8% to 8.1% fiber). The flours are able to absorb up to 10 times their weight in water and the chemical structure of the fiber allows it to bind with water. This phenomenon occurs much less in type 0 and type 00 flours because they are low in fiber. The results will surprise you. Products made from Petra flour are more flavorful, easier to digest and last longer – naturally, without added preservatives.” (More here.)

I went there last night after a very not satisfactory meal in another place that I will not mention. So we had already had dinner BUT we were able to ‘vacuum’ two cutting boards full of paradisiacal tastes:  slices of pizza with sautèed zucchini and ricotta di pecora (sheep’s milk ricotta), others with mortadella made with maialino felice (happy pork!, as Roberta says), and more eggplants and mozzarella; even the more classic margherita with the sweetest cherry tomatoes was perfect, and then real ‘nduja from Calabria, or should we talk about the focaccia topped with black sesame seeds?

Seasonal ingredients make the freshest most interesting pizza
Seasonal ingredients make the freshest most interesting pizza

As they only use fresh ingredients I can’t wait for winter to have the cavolo nero and lardo di colonnata pizza!

Also, for Susanna who cannot eat cheese, Roberta made an amazingly beautiful – yes beautiful – round pizza with string beans, eggplants, carrots, tomatoes, gorgeous black olives (that burned all our mouths because we couldn’t even wait for them to cool off a little bit).

Insomma, a beautiful evening accompanied by smiles and love in this little corner of paradise born amidst the plastic food that surrounds us pretty much everywhere you go nowadays, if you happen to live, like me in a very touristy city.

When you go to Divina Pizza, try not to go during rush hour. You want to enjoy a nice chat with Roberta and Graziano, with their sincere smiles and love for what they do. You will be immediately conquered by the simplicity, enthusiasm and strength of their beliefs: “Remember we are not a pizzeria, we are a laboratorio artigiano!

I can’t wait to be back there … maybe tonight?

Divina Pizza
Borgo Allegri, 50r angolo via dell’Agnolo, Firenze

Hours: 10:30am-11:30pm (Closed on Sunday, except the last one of the month)

See the video of Divina Pizza.

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Museo del Cibo – Visit the Carpigiani Gelato Museum

This week the Florence Gelato Festival was the subject of a misunderstanding or evidence that Mayor Renzi does not have his eye on what’s happening in Florence. The Festival was scheduled to run from May 17 to 26, then at the last minute the Mayor’s Office declared that this was too long and was taking up too much valuable space, taking all of the participating gelaterias by surprise. The organizers of the Festival took the city to court and prevailed, so the festival will run until next Sunday. Check the official website for more information.

Carpigiani-Storico-004636

One of the major participants in the Festival is Carpigiani, the largest manufacturer of equipment for gelaterias, restaurants and other businesses, as well as for in-home use. Tuscan Traveler enjoyed a few days at Carpigiani’s Gelato University a couple of years ago and is happy to announce that the Carpigiani Gelato Museum has joined the pantheon of food museums in Italy. (Also see here and here.)

Carpigiani Gelato Museum near Bologna
Carpigiani Gelato Museum near Bologna

The Gelato Museum is innovative, dedicated to the study, documentation, and dissemination of the history, values, and culture of artisan gelato, a beloved treat (or rather, necessity) that represents Italian excellence and creativity throughout the world. (Carpigiani has the company goal of taking gelato to every corner of the earth.)

“The objective of the Carpigiani Gelato Museum is to highlight the roots and history of this quality food and the gelato artisans that produce it, bringing excellence, creativity, and flavor to customers worldwide,” said Romano Verardi, President of the Bruto and Poerio Carpigiani Foundation. “We are pleased that this initiative came together just a short time after the official establishment of the European Gelato Day.” (The EU has named March 24 as the annual European Day of Artisan Gelato, first celebrated in 2013.)

1958 One of the first soft serve Carpigiani gelato vans
1958 One of the first soft serve Carpigiani gelato vans

The thousand square meter museum space was created in the current Carpigiani headquarters near Bologna. The complex is built around a central garden that connects the various areas of the building, including showrooms and the Carpigiani Gelato Museum, itself.

The museum features an interactive tour that highlights three principal themes regarding gelato: the evolution of gelato over time, the history of production technology, and the places and ways to consume gelato. More than twenty original machines are on display, along with multimedia presentations, 10,000 historical images and documents, accessories and tools of the trade from ages past, and workshops.

Antique tin boxes for storing gelato cones
Antique tin boxes for storing gelato cones

“The Gelato Museum fulfills the dream of our founders, Bruto and Poerio Carpigiani, the two Bolognese brothers who made it their job to spread gelato technology, culture, and business throughout the world,” says Andrea Cocchi, General Manager of the Carpigiani Group. “The challenge is now to reaffirm the historical memory of our roots so as to strengthen our future, leading us to progress, innovate, and expand our culture.”

The museum has gathered a number of audio-visual testimonies from people who have played a key role in the history of gelato.  Gelato’s place in history is recognized by UNESCO as part of the world’s nutritional heritage.

The Carpigiani Gelato Museum is located along the highway to Milan at Via Emilia 45, in Anzola dell’Emilia, Bologna.

Open Monday to Saturday, tickets free with guided tour, reservation required.

Information and reservations: www.gelatomuseum.org – +39 051 6505306 – info@fondazionecarpigiani.it

Learning labs at the Gelato Museum for children
Learning labs at the Gelato Museum for children

If you are in the Bologna area for more than a few hours take part in tasty gelato lessons after visiting the museum. Choose the experience that entices you most and enter the world of artisan gelato. The activities are conducted by the instructors of Carpigiani Gelato University, the most prestigious gelato school in the world. Check out the website here for the family events and the small group classes at the Gelato Museum ranging from a one hour tour with gelato tasting (5 euro per person), to a two hour tour with hands-on gelato making lesson, gelato tasting, certificate and group photo (10 euro per person, ten person minimum), to the fabulous four-hour tour, gelato theory lesson, hands-on gelato class to create your own flavor, gelato tasting, certificate and group photo (35 euro per person (min. two participants, max. six participants).

There are also shorter duration classes designed especially for children. See here for details.

Mille Miglia pit stop for gelato
Mille Miglia pit stop for gelato

Just a couple of weeks ago, Carpigiani played host for a few hours to one of Tuscan Traveler’s favorite all-Italy events: The Mille Miglia Antique Car Endurance Road Race. See the video here.

logo_Millemiglia_pit_stop_carpigiani_400_59121

 

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Life Rules (the book) is coming in Summer 2014. Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Mangia! Mangia! – That’s Amaro, Italy Loves Its Digestivos

The smoothly running digestive system is crucial to an Italian’s health and happiness. This concern is the basis of so many of the Italian Food Rules. You already know that you do not add uncooked milk to a full stomach (cappuccino, caffelatte, gelato); you do not eat “cold” melon without the “heat” of prosciutto or salt or peperoncino; you do not eat leftovers; and you do not overeat. Having eaten well, however, an Italian may partake of an herbal digestive drink after dinner.

Cynar is an amaro made from artichokes
Cynar is an amaro made from artichokes

The first attempts to aid digestion using aromatic herbs and seeds steeped in liquids were made by the Greeks and Romans. Yet today, no country can match Italy for the sheer variety of digestive remedies available. They traveled from the pharmacies of the 1800s, intended as palliatives to counter all sorts of ailments and physical imbalances, to restaurants, bars and the dinner table in the 20th century. They are bitter – that’s amaro.

These homemade restoratives, generally bitter herbs, plants and other botanicals blended into an alcohol base, live on commercially today in the form of digestives. Digestives are not the usual after-dinner drinks, like brandies, grappas and other distilled products that are meant to add a pleasant intoxicating after-note to a meal, or the sweet high-alcohol wines, like Vin Santo, which give you a final sweet taste, but not the fullness of a three-layer cake.

These digestives, or digestivi, are known collectively as amari. The word refers to the bitterness that unifies this disparate group of liqueurs. Dozens of amari are produced in Italy. Each has a proprietary formula made by distilling a wide variety of herbs and spices and tempered in barrels or bottles. Amari have been touted in Italy to cure overeating, flatulence, hangovers, gas pains, cramps of all kids, baby colic and cholera. One theory is that bitterness, typically associated with poison, cues the body to accelerate the production of saliva and digestive juices.

Amaro from Puglia
Amaro from Puglia

No two amari shares the same makeup or ingredients.  For example: Amaro Averna from Sicily is comprised of citrus, herbs, roots, and caramel; Cynar is an amaro made from 13 herbs and artichokes (Cynara scolymus), from which the drink derives its name; Nocino, is a digestivo made from green walnuts; Unicum, formerly a Hungarian amaro, contains 40 herbs and is aged in oak casks (the Zwak family, holder of the secret Unicum recipe, emigrated to Italy after WWII); Vecchio Amaro del Capo, a herbal and minty amaro is made in Calabria; and Fernet-Branca, probably the most world-famous amaro, is made from a secret recipe of 27 herbs obtained from five continents.

Fernet-Branca was created by a self-taught herbalist in Milan in 1845. The secret recipe for this digestive, first sold in pharmacies, includes aloe from South Africa, rhubarb from China, gentian from France, galangal from India or Sri Lanka, chamomile from Italy and Argentina, saffron, red cinchona bark, myrrh from Madagascar (yes, that’s right – myrrh), and elderflower. The brew is aged in oak barrels for twelve months. It is about 40% alcohol. Fernet Branca is considered by some as a perfect cure for a hangover, but Italians drink it as a digestivo after a long meal.

Frenet-Branca is the most internationally renown Italian amaro
Fernet-Branca is the most internationally renowned Italian amaro

Nocino is an amaro that can be found in most restaurants and ordered as a digestivo. But it is also the most popular amaro for the home-made digestivo, probably because of the ease of its recipe. Its main ingredient is green walnuts picked long before they are ready to eat.

The regions of Campania and Emilia-Romagna are the largest producers of walnuts in Italy. Traditionally, the walnuts are picked by a woman (there is a bit of the pagan about this concoction) on the eve of June 24th, the Festa di San Giovanni (St. John the Baptist’s saint day), the recipe is made the next day, after the noci have rested over night, and then the brew is put away until Ognissanti (All Saints Day), November 1st, when it is drunk to honor the dead. Thereafter, it is sipped as a digestivo after the big December holiday meals.

To make Nocino, the walnuts (noci) are cleaned and quartered, put into round glass bottles with a mixture of alcohol, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves and allowed to rest in a warm sunny place. The liquid seeps into the nuts and turns dark brown.  More sugar and spices are added and, if the liquid has become too strong, a little water is added.

Nocino can be made at home from green walnuts picked on St John's Day
Nocino can be made at home from green walnuts picked on St John’s Day

Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911), the father of modern Italian cooking, reportedly suffered from a “delicate stomach” and noted in his seminal cookbook that the digestive and tonic powers of this dark and sweet liqueur were the perfect end to those heavier meals later on in the year when the cooler months arrive. Artusi’s Nocino contained  unripe walnuts, alcohol (95%), white sugar, ground cinnamon, whole cloves,  water, and the rind of one lemon. Sealed tightly in a large glass vessel, stored in a warm place, shaken “every now and then”, the concoction was ready in forty days or so. A couple of days before November 1st he would have a little taste. If it was too “spiritoso” (too high in alcohol), Artusi advised adding a cup or two of water. Then, when the liqueur is ready, strain it first through a cloth, and then to clarify it, again through a finer cloth or paper, such as a modern coffee filter, before bottling.

Artusi also recommended an amaro he called “Cinchona Elixir” made with “bruised Peruvian cinchona bark” and “bruised dried bitter orange peel.”

Don’t succumb to the distasteful practice of doing Frent-Branca shots at your local bar in Los Angeles or New York in an effort to be cool. Sip a small glass after a four-course dinner at you favorite restaurant in Torino or Milan.

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Mangia! Mangia! – Prosciutto & Melon Go Together

One of the most famous Italian food pairing is prosciutto and melon. Prosciutto, pink sapid and dry, is the perfect wrap for the orange, sweet juicy cantaloupe.

Serve the melon peeled and sliced in long crescents with one slice of prosciutto wrapped around each piece to be eaten with a knife and fork. Or wrap a small cube or ball of melon in a tiny sack of prosciutto for perfect finger food.

Melon & Prosciutto - a perfect food pairing
Melon & Prosciutto – a perfect food pairing

The melon must be in season and as sweet as can be.  Prosciutto is always available and it is a matter of taste whether the famous Prosciutto di Parma is selected or the saltier Tuscan variety from the Cinta Sinese pork is desired.

As with all Italian ingredient pairings, no substitutes will do. Don’t wrap a slice of baked Virginia ham or of roasted prosciutto di Praga around a spear of watermelon or a piece of green honeydew melon. The taste will be wrong. The texture will be wrong and the color combination will not delight the Italian eye.

Eating melons without the prosciutto is considered somewhat dangerous to Italians. It comes down to an issue of digestion, as many things do in regard to the Italian Food Rules. If a “cold” food, like melon, is eaten without a “hot” balancing food, like a salty meat or spicy chili peppers, the body is “chilled”, which leads to the dreaded congestione, or at least, indigestion.

There is historical proof for this claim. In July 1471, Pope Paul II died after a dinner consisting of three cantaloupes. The melons were to blame. In 1602, Giacomo della Porta, the architect for another pope, died after reportedly eating too much cantaloupe and watermelon, causing fatal indigestion when his organs became chilled.

The lesson learned from centuries of Italian trial and error: Eat melon with prosciutto for a happy and healthy day.

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook