Category Archives: Italy

Italian Life Rules – If The Shoe Fits

Italy is famous for its shoes and rightly so. There are, however, rules for which pair of shoes is appropriate for each occasion and location.

The short and unchanging list: 1) shoes and sandals for townwear (be it a village or city); 2) sport shoes for participating in sporting events; 3) flip-flops or rubber sandals for the beach or poolside; 4) shower shoes for public or hotel showers; and 5) slippers for home.

Italian Style seen on the streets of Florence
Italian Style seen on the streets of Florence

The trend-setting Italians base their choice of shoe both on reasons of style and of health. The sidewalks, streets, and floors in the world outside the home are not controlled nor cleaned by the Italian mother. Thus, all surfaces outside the home are suspect and assumed to contain large amounts of deadly pathogens. Shoes and sandals, depending on the weather, are to be worn at all times when outside the home, except when participating in a sport or at the beach.

Traveling Italian Style
Traveling Italian Style

No professional Italian woman transits (on foot, via car, scooter or bicycle, or on public transportation) to work wearing sports shoes with her designer slacks or skirt. Sports shoes are to be worn when participating in sporting events. Men may be let off the hook if they are wearing designer sporting shoes with casual attire.

Flip-flops are never worn by Italians anywhere except the beach, poolside or at the spa (spa footwear is usually a spa-branded slipper). After leaving the sand and entering the parking lot or street, shoes or sandals must be worn.

Good for the beach (or Jersey Shore) not for the center of Florence
Good for the beach (or Jersey Shore) not for Florence

Shower shoes are necessary for any shower that is not your own or is not maintained in the way that your mother would approve. Dangerous fungi, molds, and germs lurk, waiting for the Italian foot in public shower stalls and hotel bathtubs.

Upon arrival home, the Italian will remove his shoes and put on slippers or some footwear that is designated for the house only. An Italian does not wear these slippers down three flights of stairs to retrieve a package from the deliveryman. An Italian does not wear slippers to deposit the bundled newspapers and magazines outside the door on recycling day.

The Casa della Pantofola sells only slippers
The Casa della Pantofola sells only slippers

Bare feet are not allowed in the home, except in the shower or the bed. The coolness of the floor can lead to cramps, if not other maladies. Furthermore, between mopping and vacuuming an errant breeze might bring a dust-borne pathogen will adhere to bare feet and those feet will eventually slide between clean sheets at bedtime. Pantofole (slippers), wool for winter and open-toed for summer, are the footwear of choice for the Italian home.

Be stylish, be healthy, be Italian by wearing the proper shoe at the proper time in the proper place. It’s all part of the Italian Life Rules.

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! – 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

Tuscan Traveler’s Picks – Women Artists Now More Visible at the Uffizi

INVISIBLE WOMEN, a documentary based on the book Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, written by American Jane Fortune (The Florentine Press, 2009) won an Emmy award on June 1, 2013, as the Best Documentary in the Cultural/Historical Program category by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The documentary, produced by WFYI Productions of Indianapolis, was recently aired on American public television (PBS).

Tuscan Traveler's Favorite Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (Uffizi)
Tuscan Traveler’s Favorite Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (Uffizi)

“Winning the Emmy is a new boost to my project, which aims to restore and exhibit artworks by women in Florence,’ said Jane Fortune, art collector, philanthropist, as well as Founder and Chair of Advancing Women Artists Foundation. ‘To achieve these goals it takes technology and skill. It takes the commitment of the city’s museum directors, its restorers and its citizens in general, who are eager to finally learn more about these lesser-known works.” (See the website of Advancing Women Artists for an interesting recounting of the restoration of Artemisa Gentileschi’s David and Bathsheba.)

Restored Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (David and Bathsheba)
Restored Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (David and Bathsheba)

“Efforts to safeguard works of art are obviously directed to our cultural heritage in general. What I think we are doing on many fronts is dedicating supplementary attention to works of art by women, through initiatives like restoration and presentation to the public, placing an emphasis on the personalities of these women artists,” said Cristina Acidini, Superintendent of Florence’s Historic and Artistic Ethno-Anthropologic Patrimony and the Polo Museale.

Restoration funded by the Florence Committee of NMWA
Restoration funded by the Florence Committee of NMWA

Suor Plautilla Nelli, Artemisia Gentileschi, Elisabetta Siriani, Irene Duclos Parenti, Elizabeth Chaplin, Lavinia Fontana—the search for women artists in Florence spans hundreds of years and leads the art lover through the halls of the city’s museums, where a sprinkling of representative works gives incentive to further investigation. The whirlwind tourist knows nothing of them, while the art-loving resident lucky enough to happen upon an occasional exhibit aimed at unearthing the city’s hidden cultural patrimony may only vaguely remember their names.

The documentary Invisible Women will have its Italian premiere at Florence’s Odeon Cinema on Tuesday, June 25 at 7pm. Tickets cost 6 euro, with proceeds going to the Advancing Women Artists Foundation which restores and safeguards works of art by women. The Odeon Cinema is a partner in the event, evidence of its ongoing commitment to culture in the city of Florence and of its international nature.

For information on the evening visit the websites of The Florentine (www.theflorentine.net) and the Odeon Cinema (www.odeonfirenze.com). See the Facebook page.

For more information contact: Linda Falcone, Advancing Women Artists Foundation (linda.falcone7072@gmail.com)

Finding Art by Women in the Strangest Places

One of the most interesting, but least visited museums, in Florence is the Garibaldi Museum, maintained by the Associazione Nazionale Veterani e Reduci Garibaldini, in the 10th century tower, Torre della Castangna which stands in Piazza San Martino, on the corner of via Dante Alighieri. It has in its collection a portrait by one of Florence’s most talented artists, working at the dawn of the 20th century, Elisabeth Chaplin.

The Torre della Castagna is interesting in its own right, being one of the least altered medieval towers in Florence. In 1038, the tower was given by Emperor Corrado II to the Benedictine monks of the adjacent Badia Fiorentina in order to help with the monastery’s defenses. In 1282 the tower became the meeting place of the Priori delle Arti, the governing body of the Florentine Republic. The name of the tower came from the fact that the members of the Priori used chestnuts (castagne) to cast their votes.

Torre della Castagna home of the Garibaldi Museum
Torre della Castagna home of the Garibaldi Museum

Today, the tower houses a collection of artifacts having to do with Giuseppe Garibaldi, a central figure in the Italian Risorgimento, since he personally commanded and fought in many military campaigns that led eventually to the formation of a unified Italy.

Among the collection is a portrait of Anita Vignoli (née Castellucci) painted by Elisabeth Chaplin. Anita Castellucci, named by her father after Garibaldi’s beloved Brazilian wife Ana Ribeiro da Silva (commonly known as “Anita”), who fought with Garibaldi. Her Vignoli husband worked to carry on Garibaldi’s legacy into the 20th century. Anita Vignoli is wearing her father’s medals.

Portrait of Anita Castellucci Vignoli
Portrait of Anita Castellucci Vignoli

Elisabeth Caplin, born in France, came from a family of painters and sculptors. In 1900 her family moved to Italy, first to Piemonte and afterwards to Savona in Liguria. It was there that Elisabeth started to teach herself to paint, with no formal training and only the advice of Albert Besnard. When the Chaplin family took up residence at the Villa Rossi in Fiesole in 1905, Elisabeth had the chance to visit Francesco Gioli’s studio and meet Giovanni Fattori. (Her painting of Anita Castellucci Vignoli was painted sometime between 1906 and 1922.)

An almost Invisible Woman - Elisabeth Caplin in Torre della Castagna
An almost Invisible Woman – Elisabeth Chaplin in Torre della Castagna

Chaplin’s visits to the Uffizi Museum were decisive. She learned from copying the classics. From 1905-8, she painted her first large canvases and in 1910 her Ritratto di Famiglia (Family Portrait) for the Florence Society of Fine Arts won her a gold medal. In 1916 she moved with her family to Rome, where she would live until 1922.

Elisabeth Chaplin's self-portrait (Vasari Corridor)
Elisabeth Chaplin’s self-portrait (Vasari Corridor)

She participated in the Venice Biennale in 1914 and in the Paris Salon in 1922 and thereafter. In the 1930’s Chaplin produced numerous frescoes and murals. In 1937 she won a gold medal at the International Exhibition in Paris and in 1939 she was given the French Legion of Honor. She returned to Italy after World War II.

Chaplin donated her entire body of works to Florence. Fifteen of her paintings are on show at Palazzo Pitti’s Modern Art Gallery, while almost 700 (paintings and sketches) are in storage. Why are so many masterpieces by extraordinary women artists hidden from the public eye and from the enjoyment of visitors? See a small part of the story at the Odeon Cinema on June 25.

Open on Thursday afternoon
Open on Thursday afternoon

Mangia! Mangia! – Dante Would Have Loved the Prato Bread Festival

Tourist are frequently surprised when they first taste traditional Tuscan bread that is always made without salt. Tuscans, especially those from Florence and Prato, would not eat it any other way.

The best bread in Tuscany
The best bread in Tuscany

Dante agreed. “Tu proverai si come sa di sale Lo pane altrui, e comè duro calle Lo scendere e il salir per l’altrui scale.” In these lines from the Paradiso of ”The Divine Comedy,” Dante learns of his exile from Florence and is given some idea of the difficulties he will face. ”You shall learn how salty is the taste of another’s bread, and how hard a path the descending and the climbing another’s stairs,” he is told.

Some say the best Tuscan bread is made in Prato. Pane di Prato is justifiably famous throughout the region. There are Florentines who virtually refuse to eat any other bread than Pane di Prato, even if their regard for the rival Pratesi is of a somewhat lesser degree. The bread of Prato was already being sold in the Florentine markets of the 16th century as a prestigious brand. It is said that the Medici served only Pane di Prato at their villa at Poggio a Caiano.

Official Website

Last weekend was the first, and hopefully not the last, annual Festival del Pane di Prato. All of the bread bakeries were showing off their best breads, including the famous bozza, a small quickly rounded loaf with a rustic crunchy crust. The soft middle part of the loaf is honeycombed in appearance and somewhat elastic. When you squeeze a bozza, it springs back into shape. The taste is salt-free, yeasty and slightly acidic.

Hot schiacciata cut up and served to the festival crowds
Hot schiacciata cut up and served to the festival crowds

The Festival served up hot schiacciata for all attendees. Street performers celebrated the bakery theme. Despite the unseasonable rain nobody could be depressed when there is the unlimited supply of yeasty bread.

Making schiacciata with fresh Tuscan olive oil
Making schiacciata with extra virgin Tuscan olive oil

The bread is baked in the pre-dawn hours in a variety of forms that adapt themselves to every need: the cazzottino (‘a small fist”) is for breakfasts and snacks, perfect with a few slices of Pratese mortadella; the filone seems made to be sliced and slathered with flavorful marmalades, or drizzled in local olive oil and sprinkled with salt — the pan con l’olio used for snacks for kids and just about anyone else – or to make the traditional fettunta (toasted, rubbed with garlic and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper) reserved for the dinner table. But the best is the bozza, which goes well with everything and when it is stale and hard as a rock, it becomes the prime ingredient for panzanella, ribollita, pappa al pomodoro and other tasty dishes.

Bread bakers take rolling pins to the streets of Prato
Bread bakers take rolling pins to the streets of Prato

The Pisans get all the blame from some pundits for the salt-less bread made in Prato. Supposedly, they attempted to force Florence to surrender in one of their endless battles against each other by blockading the salt that arrived at the Pisan port, preventing it from reaching Florence via the Arno River. Prato, as Florence’s nearest neighbor, was caught in the fight.

Bread of all kinds at the Festival of the Bread of Prato
Bread of all kinds at the Festival of the Bread of Prato

Others claim that the wide spread poverty in the Middle Ages is to blame – that salt was too costly for the Tuscans to use in bread-making. (It’s hard to credit this story because poor Italian peasants in other regions couldn’t afford salt, but didn’t give up making salted bread.)

I like to think it was the pope’s fault. During the 14th to 16th centuries, it is said, the popes, who controlled much of the Italian peninsula (known as the Vatican States), levied a tax on salt. Pope Paul III raised the tax in 1539 and the Perugians and the Tuscans refused to pay it. The government of Perugia even went to war over the issue – the Salt War of 1540. The Perugians lost the war, but some say the citizens then refused to buy the salt, thus forcing the fornai (bread bakeries) to produce salt-free bread. (Tuscan bread is one of the few that remains salt-free today, but there are many historical references to bread made without salt in other parts of Italy.)

The perfect Pane di Prato
The perfect Pane di Prato

During the 16th century in Tuscany, the Tuscan Medici dukes controlled all of the resources, including salt, for Tuscan towns such as Prato. When they needed cash (for a war or for building a new villa) they raised the price on salt and other commodities. Thus, pane toscano (Tuscan bread) became bread famous throughout Italy for being sciocco, from the word in the Tuscan dialect for “insipid” (to Tuscans “sciocco” also means “stupid”, but that doesn’t fit this situation because they think salt-less bread is anything, but stupid). Those who are not Tuscan make fun of the bread of the region, but Tuscans, like Dante, mourn it when it is not available.

Salt-less Tuscan bread is not intended for eating on its own. It’s usually served along with the main meal and is meant for sopping up thick, rich, spicy sauces. The bread doesn’t compete with the flavors in the dish, both are enhanced.

 

Prato bakers also produce a great wheat bread
Prato bakers also produce a great wheat bread

The Bread of Prato’s lack of salt helps keep it fresh for several days. Since it has no salt to hold in water, it does not form mold – it just becomes hard as a rock when it is stale – thus making it the basis of many of the tasty dishes that are renowned in Tuscan cuisine.

Bread baking and the arts celebrated in the streets of Prato
Bread baking and the arts celebrated in the streets of Prato

The following Italian dishes are made with stale salt-free Pane di Prato:

Ribollita – a twice-boiled thick vegetable soup (ribollita means ‘re-boiled’), made of black and white cabbage, white beans and other vegetables, made thick with crumbled stale Tuscan bread or poured over toasted Tuscan bread.

Pappa al pomodoro – a bread-based thick tomato soup in which stale Tuscan bread is rehydrated and crumbled; then cooked with the tomatoes, basil and garlic to make a tasty pappa.

Panzanella – a summer salad dish. Stale Tuscan bread is soaked in water, squeezed into a damp mass, crumbled into a big salad bowl and cucumber, raw onion, fresh diced tomato and fresh basil leaves are added. The ingredients are tossed thoroughly with some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

 

Cacciucco – a fish chowder from Livorno made of fish, mollusks and crustaceans. The Livornese claim that the recipe should contain at least five types of fish to match the number of ‘c’s in the word cacciucco. Once cooked, the cacciucco is served on a bed of toasted Tuscan bread that has been rubbed with a clove of fresh garlic.

Fettunta – “garlic toast” made with slices of hot toasted Tuscan bread, rubbed with a clove of fresh garlic, splashed with fresh extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with salt. Don’t try to cut into a completely stale loaf of Tuscan bread to make this; it’s too hard to cut. Use slightly stale bread – too dry to eat untoasted, but perfect for fettunta.

(Tuscan Traveler will go anywhere for great bread. Matera bread is a a past and present favorite. While in Prato Tuscan Traveler, of course, stopped at Mattei for a kilo of brutti ma buoni cookies.)

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

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

Friend In Florence Gets a Nod From Dream of Italy

A favorite Italian-interest website (and newsletter), Dream of Italy, just named Friend In Florence and yours truly as one of Italy’s Best Local Tour Guides for 2013. A big GRAZIE to both founder Kathy McCabe and contributing editor Rebecca Winke (also of the fabulous Agriturismo Brigolante Guest Apartments in Umbria).

best-tour-guide-badge-largeOver ten years ago, Kathy McCabe had the brilliant idea of starting one of the first subscription travel newsletter on the Internet. She was passionate about all things Italy so it became Dream of Italy, The Insider’s Guide to Undiscovered Italy. The newsletter was awarded “Best Consumer Subscription Newsletter 2007” and has been recommended by USA TODAY, National Geographic Traveler, U.S News & World Report and BusinessWeek, among other major media outlets.

Kathy McCabe
Kathy McCabe

Through her newsletter and media appearances, Kathy has become well known as the travel expert for Italy. She has helped thousands of travelers “be Italian” for a day, a week, or a month. She was recently voted one of the “12 Top Travel Twitter Personalities for 2012.” She was also the editor for the recently released mobile app – Rome: Dream of Italy.

Kathy’s first-hand Italy reporting has included assisting in the production of buffalo mozzarella in Campania, partaking in truffle hunts in Piedmont and Umbria, soaking in magical hot springs in Tuscany, watching open-air opera in Verona, visiting ancient caves in Basilicata and reviewing Italy’s newest restaurants and hotels. She recently wrote about her visit to Francis Ford Coppola’s new venture, the exclusive hotel Palazzo Margherita in the Basilicata region, for The Huffington Post.

Rebecca’s blog is one of the wryest (and truest) looks at an expat’s life in Italy. When is she going to write that book?

Agriturismo Brigolante Guest Apartments
Agriturismo Brigolante Guest Apartments

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:

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Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

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Mangia! Mangia! – Baccalà Binds and Divides Italy

In the U.S. you can count on finding a burger at every truck stop, small town or major city. In the U.K. the same could be said about fish and chips. In Italy, it’s baccalà (salt cod). In the case of hamburgers or fish and chips, the recipe never varies much, but the recipe for salt cod changes drastically from region to region in Italy. Don’t ask for baccalà alla Livornese in Venice or baccalà mantecato in Puglia.

Salt cod can be fried for the Italian version of fish and chips
Salt cod can be fried (served with patate fritte) for the Italian version of fish and chips

It’s not hard to imagine why salt cod became the go-to food around the Italian boot. In times before trucks and refrigeration, the transport of fresh fish was impossible. Despite this fact, the Roman Catholic Church mandated days of abstinence when meat could not be eaten. Salted or dried fish became a Friday and Lenten favorite. It had the added benefit of being very inexpensive and was a protein staple for the poor. Cod boasts remarkable nutritional properties: it contains over 18% protein, which once dried rises to almost 80%.

Salt cod came to the ports of Livorno, Genoa and Naples in the 11th century, brought by Basque sailors, who ventured into the waters of the northern Atlantic, hunting the whales that passed through the Bay of Biscay. They came into contact with the Viking sailors, who dried the fresh-caught cod in the cold dry North Sea winds and then broke it into pieces and chewed it like a biscuit. In the 13th century, the Portuguese, realizing the commercial value of the easily-stored dried fish, cornered the market, sending their ships as far as Greenland. They added salt to dry the fish faster, giving rise to bacalhau (derived from the Latin, meaning “baculus” or stick). They traded salt cod along the western coast of the Italian peninsula.

Fried salt cod simmering in a spicy tomato sauce
Fried salt cod simmering in a spicy tomato sauce

The history of baccalà in Venice only dates back to 1431 when a Venetian ship, laden with spices and 800 barrels of Malvasia wine, departed from the island of Crete under the command of the sea captain Piero Querini, and headed for the North Sea and Flanders. When the ship reached the English Channel, the route was disrupted by a violent storm that, after breaking the rudder, blew the ship north for many days. Boarding lifeboats, the crew (only 14 of 68 survived) landed on the uninhabited rock of Sandoy, in Norway’s northern Lofoten Islands.

For four months, the Venetians lived with the Norwegian fishermen, and learnt the art of preserving cod. Norway’s unique climatic conditions of low temperatures, dry air and a low amount of precipitation were (and still are) perfect for air-drying cod in open tents. Cod preserved in this way can last for years. Captain Querini returned home with sixty dried stockfish. He told the ruling Doges how the Norwegians dried the fish in the wind until it became as hard and then they beat it and spiced it turning it into a soft and tasty mix. The recipe was known by the Spanish words baccalà mantecato (creamed codfish). Querini went back to Norway many times, becoming a major trader in dried and salted codfish.

There are two forms of dried codfish – stockfish and salt cod. Stockfish or stoccafisso is made using the smaller cod, dried on sticks in the cold dry air of Scandinavia, creating a very light, easily transported stick fish, thus the name. Salt cod or baccalà is created from cod, three to six feet long, split, and salted on wood planks for about ten days, thus only partially drying them. Today, all of the stoccafisso and baccalà eaten in Italy comes from Norway.

Salt cod has many of the characteristics of fresh cod, large, soft flakes of succulent, opaque flesh with slightly chewy firm texture from the salting, and not at all fishy in flavor. To prepare it, the cook rinses the salt off it and soaks it in cold water for 12 or more hours, depending upon its thickness, changing the water 2-3 times daily. (Stockfish takes a couple of extra days to rehydrate.) Once it has soaked it is skinned, deboned, and ready to be made into the local recipe.

Bacala alla Livornese ready to serve in Tuscany
Baccalà alla Livornese ready to serve in Tuscany

In Veneto, baccalà is considered a real delicacy: Baccalà alla Vicentina (slowly braised with onions, anchovies and milk) and Baccalà Mantecato (an mashed preparation with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and parsley) are always served with polenta. Some other popular recipes are Baccalà alla Livornese (with tomatoes, garlic, parsley and basil), cooked throughout Tuscany. When in Rome you will find Baccalà Fritto (salt cod chunks fried in a simple egg and flour batter)and Baccalà all’Agro Dolce (with tomatoes, cooked in wine, flavored with red pepper, pine nuts and sultana raisins).

Baccalà alla Pizzaiola (salt cod covered with tomatoes, breadcrumbs, capers, plenty of oregano and baked in the oven) and Baccalà alla Napoletana (the baccalà is fried and then placed in a simmering tomato sauce, with olives, capers and pine nuts), are recipes from Naples. The Neapolitans, even today, boasts the highest consumption of both stockfish and dried salted cod. They claim there are 365 different ways to eat baccalà – one for every day of the year.

As you travel around Italy, ask for baccalà at least once at each stop to taste the true regionalism of  the country.

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

Dove Vai? – The Umberto I Library at the Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute, Library #7

The Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute is a modern orthopedic hospital, founded in 1896 in the monastic complex of San Michele in Bosco on the hill close to the Bologna center. The Umberto I Central Library, named after King Umberto I, is located in the sixteenth-century rooms where once the books of the Olivetani monks were kept.

Ornate Umberto I Library at Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute
Ornate Umberto I Library at Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute

As with many historic locations in Italy, there is controversy as to the exact date of the construction of the first library of the monastery of Saint Michele in Bosco: to some it was raised towards the end of the 15th century, while others argue that the Priorate of Barnaba Cevenini ordered the construction in 1517. It is certain that in 1677, Taddeo Pepoli, prior of the monastery, refurbished the library, entrusting the task of architecture to Gian Giacomo Monti, and the contract of the ceiling paintings to Domenico Maria Canuti.

Painted by Domenico Maria Canuti (1677)
Painted by Domenico Maria Canuti (1677)

With Napoleon’s suppression of the monasteries in 1797, the library suffered great damage: the antique 16th century shelves were destroyed and the precious miniature books and manuscripts were dispersed. The former monastery of San Michele in Bosco went through a dark 50-year period until 1841, when the complex became the residential palace of the Legato Pontificio Spinola. In the library, the Canuti paintings were restored. The rooms of the library were used as a hall of princes, cardinals, knights and famous politicians until 1880, when Professor Rizzoli acquired the convent to construct an Orthopedic Hospital.

But the library only regained its greatness in 1922, when the director of the Institute, Vittorio Putti, restored the rooms as the Umberto I Library, thanks also to the donations of the Bologna Province to honor the memory of King Umberto I. Now the rooms hold one of the most complete and rare collections of books in the entire field of orthopedics.

Globe of the 18th century world by Father Rosini da Lendinara (1762)
Globe of the 18th century world by Father Rosini da Lendinara (1762)

The first item that catches your eye as you enter is a giant world globe. It is the 1762 work of Father Rosini da Lendinara, who used maps and descriptions of global explorers to create the masterwork. The Canuti paintings shine over the shelves of both ancient and modern books. A giant (about 3 feet long and 2 feet wide) complete three volume 19th century copy of the Divine Comedy by Dante is housed on its own wooden shelf.

19th century copy of the Paradiso from Dante's Divine Comedy
19th century copy of the Paradiso from Dante's Divine Comedy

Positioned in what once were the apartments of the Priors of the Monastery of Saint Michele in Bosco, in front of the Umberto I Library, there is the study and private library of Professor Vittorio Putti, which he donated to the institute upon his death. Born in Bologna in 1880, Professor Putti succeeded famed orthopedist Professor Alessandro Codivilla, as director of the Institute. He held the post from 1912 to 1940, the year of his death.

Professor Putti's office is now one of the most famous collections of historic orthopedic texts
Professor Putti's office -- one of the most famous collections of historic medical texts

An excellent surgeon with great managerial skills, Professor Putti was interested in all issues of orthopedics, introducing new methods and innovative instruments. He gained great international prestige and became an honorary member of the most important foreign societies, as well as being the correspondent for the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, the largest medical journal in the orthopedic specialization.

Fireplace in Professor Putti's office
Fireplace in Professor Putti's office

A renown book collector, the professor created in his own study/library a small private museum of the history of medicine. In his study, wall-to-wall with dark briarwood shelves, he gathered more than 1.000 antique books of medicine, including more than two hundred 16th Century works, into a collection, which is considered by experts to be one of the richest and most carefully selected in the world, not only for the quantity, but also for the quality of the texts they contain.

Umberto I Library at Rizzoli Institute displays historic orthopedic text
Umberto I Library at Rizzoli Institute displays historic orthopedic text

Among the rare collection of texts are editions of Ippocrate, Galeno, Avicenna and other fathers of medicine, you’ll find the Fasciculus Ketham (the first medical book with illustrations published in Italy in 1493); one of the four volumes of anatomical woodcut prints (1528) by Albrecht Dürer (some inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci); the famous first edition of Vesalio (De Humani Corporis Fabrica) 1543; and the first book of orthopedics written by Nicholas Andry published in Paris in 1741.

Book of anatomical woodcut prints by Albrecht Dürer (1528)
Book of anatomical woodcut prints by Albrecht Dürer (1528)

In the Donation Room off of the office hang the portraits of famous doctors, a collection of surgical instruments that were used from Roman times until 1800, as well as other valuable objects bought by Putti from the most famous antique dealers from all over the world, including two splendid manikins from 1500 that can be dismantled and were used in Europe for teaching and in China for diagnosing.

Visitors can admire the architecture, the frescos and other works of art from the XVI and XVII centuries in the church and halls of the former monastery by taking City Bus # 30 from the train station to it’s very last stop. Tours of the library are limited by reservation, as are those to the Putti Collection.

View of Bologna from Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute
View of Bologna from Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute

The Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute is organized in two departments that group wards and healthcare services and research laboratories. The units are specialized in: treatment of degenerative pathologies of the hip and knee; spine pathologies, pathologies of the foot and upper limbs; sports pathologies; tumors of the musculoskeletal system; pediatric orthopedic pathologies; and diagnosis and treatment of rare skeletal diseases. High expertise; organization aimed at integration between research and treatment and the offer of high quality healthcare; innovative technologies in continuous evolution – are the ingredients for Rizzoli’s success in Italy and worldwide. Website: http://www.ior.it/en.

Dove Vai? – Predappio, the Scariest Haunted Town in Italy

We weren’t there for the celebrations, but in August the town of Predappio, Italy, seemed haunted by Benito Mussolini, all the same.

Most Italians just try to forget about it, but they have just had to face up to this tricky subject again, as October 28 is the 90th anniversary of Mussolini’s “March on Rome” (1922) that brought the Fascist leader to power and enabled him to stay there for 23 years.

Mussolini brought fascist architecture to his hometown
Mussolini brought fascist architecture to his hometown

For many years after the fall of fascism, Italians turned their backs on their recent history. The fascist party was banned, the history curriculum in Italian schools even stopped at World War I. But gradually in the 21st Century old taboos are being broken.

The dress code for the celebration is rigorously black. The chants nostalgic, a medley of Fascist truisms peppered with clipped bursts of “Duce, Duce, Duce” will be hushed when the parade enters the cemetery in this central Italian town this week to arrive at its mecca: the tomb of the former Fascist dictator.

Tomb of Benito Mussolini
Tomb of Benito Mussolini

It’s always thus in Predappio, three times a year, a strange and scary group of odd fellows gather – the older black-suited Mercedes owners, the young tattooed skinheads, military-styled (also dressed in black) middle-agers, who unload black SUVs of pretty Stepford wives and two to four children, all coming to commemorate the day of Mussolini’s birth (on July 29, 1883, in a house not far from the cemetery), his death (at the hands of partisans on April, 28, 1945) or the March on Rome, which brought Mussolini’s party to power in Italy in October 1922. This year, on the 90th anniversary, the crowds are sure to be bigger and more strident in these time of economic turmoil when the trains do not run on time.

Mussolini’s tomb gets between 80,000 and 100,000 visitors a year, with peaks during the three commemorations.

After Mussolini’s corpse was hung upside down on meat hooks on April 29, 1945, in Piazzale Loreto in Milan, where citizens vented their fury at their former leader, he was buried in an unmarked grave in a nearby cemetery. A year later, neo-Fascist loyalists dug up his body and hid it in box in a convent in Lombardy until 1957, when the remains were returned to Mussolini’s widow, who buried them in the family crypt in Predappio. Supposedly, the brain took a separate path, but was eventually reunited with the corpse.

Such veneration weighed on Italy’s leaders in 1945. After Mussolini was killed, a decision was made to obscure his grave site, much the way military officials in the Transitional National Council of Libya chose to bury Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in a secret location last month and American commandos buried Osama bin Laden at sea in May, to avoid creating a shrine for their supporters.

Room of honors in the crypt dating from 1945 to 2012
Room of honors in the crypt dating from 1945 to 2012

In fact, Italian authorities’ efforts to hide the burial site backfired on them, as its location rapidly became a matter of intense interest. “The vitality of Mussolini’s afterworld life was great as long as the mausoleum didn’t exist. A corpse that is nowhere is everywhere,” said Sergio Luzzatto, a historian at the University of Turin who wrote The Body of Il Duce about the corpse’s travels. The popular documentary Il Corpo del Duce was inspired by the book.

“Italians lived the absence of the body as a presence, so continuing the love story between Italians and their leader, which was very carnal in many ways,” Luzzatto wrote. That story ended when the body was returned to the family and “it became fixed and sepulchral,” primarily in the guest books at the tomb, where visitors can sign and leave comments. New commemorative, adoring metal plaques, dated 2011 and 2012, keep getting attached to the walls of the underground tomb where Benito is not alone – he is surrounded by the long past and recently deceased Mussolini family members.

Other family members share Mssolini's crypt
Other family members share Mssolini's crypt

Still this October other admirers will come to glorify an epoch in which they believe that Italy, in contrast to today, counted for something in the world. Some today think that Italy needs a distinct change – that it is the laughingstock of Europe, especially after the Berlusconi bunga-bunga years.

Plaster bust for Dad, T-shirt for Mom, and a Benito bib for Baby
Plaster bust for Dad, T-shirt for Mom, and a Benito bib for Baby

A museum of Duce memorabilia opened in 2001, curated by Domenico Morosini, a successful Lombardy businessman, in what was once a Mussolini summer home. The registers are shelved under a beam inscribed with a Mussolini citation: “It is not impossible to govern Italians, merely useless.”  The museum gets between 2,000 and 3,000 people a year.

Selling well in Mussolini's hometown
Selling well in Mussolini's hometown

On Predappio’s main street, bordered by a jarring number of gargantuan Fascist-designed buildings, on a steaming hot day in August we toured a handful of shops doing brisk business in Fascist memorabilia, selling everything from truncheons to bronze busts of the long-dead leader to Mussolini calendars and authentic German helmets, circa 1945. Ever felt a cold chill climb the back of your neck on hot summer day?

Truncheons on sale for neo-fascists
Truncheons on sale for neo-fascists

This is just the kind of tourism that Predappio’s center-left mayor, Giorgio Frassineti, would rather avoid. “We refuse a vision of Predappio of the few, of the people who attend the commemorations, but also of those from the extreme left who want to cancel its history,” Frassineti told a New York Times reporter, apparently straddling the divide that splits this tiny haunted community.

The smallest town with the biggest fascist-inspired buildings
The smallest town with the biggest fascist-inspired buildings

To see what happened October 28, 2012 view the videos in this article.