A few weeks ago I was at the World travel market in London and was lucky enough to get to taste the authentic Pasta all’Amatriciana. It originates from Amatrice, a small town in the Lazio region of Italy which unfortunately suffered a huge earthquake in 2016. But the residents are doing their utmost to get over it and rebuild their future. When the earthquake happened restaurant owners from all the over the world rallied round and contributed money from every sale of Pasta all’Amatriciana in their restaurants.
At the World Travel Market I was invited by the Lazio tourist board to watch a chef from Amatrice, Elia Grillotti cook Amatriciana sauce the PROPER way . There are two versions, one with tomatoes and one without. The original one called Gricia was the traditional dish of the shepherds from Amatrice. It was cooked with Guanciale (cured pork cheek) and Pecorino cheese and only after the end of the 18th century were tomatoes added. I got to try both versions and I preferred the original one but the one with tomatoes was very good too.. The tomato version spread to Rome thanks to the numerous resaurants there managed by people from Amatrice. This is how it became so well known both in Italy and other countries.
This was the recipe that was used.
125 g Guanciale cut into pieces
A tablespoon full of extra virgin olive oil
A drop of dry white wine
Six or seven San Marzano plum tomatoes
A piece of chilli pepper
100g grated Pecorino cheese
Fry the chilli and the Guanciale in an iron pan. Add olive oil. Brown the Guanciale and add the dry white wine. Then remove the bits of Guanciale from the frying pan, drain them and keep them warm.Poach, peel, remove the seeds and cut the tomatoes into slices, then add the salt, stir and cook for a few minutes. Then remove the chilli, add the Guanciale and stir the sauce once again. Cook the spaghetti al dente in plenty of salted water, drain well and pour the pasta into a bowl, then add the grated Pecorino cheese. Wait a few seconds and then pour in the sauce and season.
A few weeks ago I spent a magical week being immersed in the whole Palio experience in Siena hosted by Hedonistic Hiking. If you don’t know what the Palio is , it is a bare back horse race around the main square of Siena (which isn’t square at all -its the shape of a shell). This happens twice a year in July and August and to say the Sienese are passionate about it is an understatement. I shall be writing articles about my experience in the Daily Mail and Italia! magazine so if you want to learn more look out for those. On a trip with Hedonistic Hiking
you get wined and dined very well and taught a lot about the local cuisine. Indeed we had a pasta making lesson out in the Tuscan countryside which I will be writing about in a further post. But I am now going to tell you about the speciality of Siena – Panforte. It is a long lasting cake made with a recipe that originated in the honey cakes of the Middle Ages. Its made with flour , almonds, dried and candied fruits and spices. Although I like the original version it is rather hard and crunchy and I have to watch my teeth these days!! I tried one made with figs and dates and it was lovely and a lot softer. You can buy Panforte in most shops in Siena and because it is not crumbly it is easy to transport home in your suitcase. There are many different variations to try.
A few weeks ago I visited Pistoia the Italian City of Culture 2017. Situated in Tuscany about half way between Florence and Pisa it is not
well known as a tourist destination but there is lots to see and discover. The ladies in the Tourist Information office are the most friendly and helpful I have ever met and I did about a weeks worth of sightseeing in two days with them. I also finally met Michela who I had met on Instagram. She met me off the train from Pisa and very kindly whisked me off to her husbands restaurant Il Pollo d’oro and fed me with lots of lovely Pistoian specialities. Two days later I met Michela’s friend Tania who told me lots of intriguing stories about Pistoia.
While I was there I was supposed to be going to watch The famous “Joust of the Bear” the biggest event that happens in Pistoia. However after two months without rain there was a massive thunderstorm on the afternoon of the joust and it was postponed until the next evening when I would be on my way home. Never mind, it’s a good excuse to return next year!!
Another restaurant I visited was Locanda del Capitano del Popolo which is owned by a famous Italian TV chef called Checco. I had chicken in truffle sauce – it was so good!! Unfortunately he was on holiday and I didn’t get to meet him. Another reason to return.
One of the specialities of Pistoia is “hedgehog confetti”. The first historical evidence of “confetti di Pistoia” comes from 1372 when these sweets were used to celebrate the feast day of the Patron Saint on the 25th July. These days confetti is still produced to celebrate special occasions of all kinds. I visited the shop of Bruno Corsini where hedgehog confetti is made to this day. I was invited to watch their products being made in large copper bowls which rotate continuously until the manufacturing cycle is complete. Pistoia’s confetti is different to those of other regions not only because of its hedgehog form but also because of the great variety of flavours. Another Corsini speciality is the “Panforte di Pistoia Glace” created by Bruno Corsini the son of the founder Umberto. It is a mixture of hazelnuts, almonds, cherries and candied citron and orange peel. It is a secret recipe and is handed down through the generations. I thoroughly recommend a visit if you are ever in Pistoia . You will come away with bags of all sorts of sweet delights! I did.
My friend Michela does wonderful tours of Pistoia
I stayed in a lovely central hotel – Palazzo Puccini – http://www.lsmpistoia.it
Two years ago I met Laura Panico at the Destinations Travel Show in London and instantly wanted to go on one of her cookery trips to the Aeolian Islands. I am finally hoping to do so sometime soon -watch this space!!! Laura’s cookery course is not one of your normal conventional cookery trips. On it you get to fish for squid and cook it seconds later on board the fishing boat under the expert eyes of local fishermen and make your own Ricotta cheese with the milk from the goats grazing on the side of a volcano . You also visit local vineyards and pick up cooking tips from the locals .
Based on the island of Vulcano, famous for its therapeutic mud baths and sleeping volcano you get chance to visit Stromboli whose volcanic crater is definitely wide awake! There is also time to visit the centre of Vulcanology to learn more about these unpredictable fiery monsters.
To finish off the week of adventures both culinary and otherwise you can go on an afternoon boat trip to see the volcano on Stromboli erupting. After dark you get a natural firework display viewed from the sea.
The Aeolian Islands are an series of volcanic islands, which lie in the blue waters of the Tyrrenian Sea between Sicily and Italy’s mainland. The islands geography and climate are perfect for the cultivation of crops and vines – the ideal setting for a cooking and wine tasting holiday. Volcanic soils are the richest agricultural soils on earth and this combined with a sun drenched climate ensures that the islands’ slopes and plains are spilling over with olive groves, fruit orchards, capers and vineyards. Of course there is an abundance of sea life to be caught fresh daily too .
To find out more about these amazing trips go to http://www.aeolianadventures.co.uk and see why I am so looking forward to taking part in one.
A couple of years ago my husband and I spent a wonderful week in Triora deep in the heart of Liguria, High up in the mountains about half an hour from the Ligurian coast it is a small medieval village famous for being the last place in Italy to hold witch trials. The locals like to milk their gruesome history as much as they can and there are witches everywhere you look. Walking round the dark tunnelled streets at night can be quite scary. However in the day time Triora is like any other village apart from the fact that every way you look there are views to die for. We stopped in a property we found on Owners Direct and I don’t think we will ever find another view better than we had from our balcony. Being near the French border we were able to nip into France and visit Monte Carlo to see how the other half live. We also visited The Hanbury Botanical Gardens on the Italian side of the French border.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with food. Well on this holiday I finally got to try authentic pesto Genovese (pesto from Genoa). Pesto is a pasta sauce made with basil, pine kernels, garlic, Parmigiano and Pecorino Sardo, olive oil and salt. according to tradition all the ingredients should be pounded together in a mortar. Many versions exist, 60 or so in the province of Genoa alone. One such is pesto d’inverno, winter pesto made with walnuts, cheese curd, parsley and chard in the months in which fresh basil is not available.
I have read that the best basil to use for true Pesto Genovese is grown in the hills to the west of Genoa in an area called Pra. The basil that grows there is quite small,with oval light green leaves that bow slightly downward. The plants are harvested when they are still young which contributes to the mildness and light colour. Genovese basil has recently become a government protected variety and can only be sold as authentic Basilico Genovese. Continue reading “TRYING OUT PESTO IN LIGURIA”
I was wandering around Venice a few years ago and came across a fruttivendolo boat moored on the edge of a canal. Fruttivendolo means greengrocer in Italian and it is one of my favourite Italian words. It just seems to roll off the tongue nicely. I stopped to admire all the shiny aubergines, tomatoes courgettes and all the other vegetables that Italians use so much. To my surprise nestled there in the middle of them was a cauliflower in a bag which proclaimed its origins. Marshalls of Butterwick in deepest darkest Lincolnshire not far from where I live!! This tickled me and I now try to look out for Italian recipes that use cauliflower. I have not tried one yet but I am sure there are some.
Florence has three historic cafes that you must visit while you are there. Caffe Rivoire is the best situated café for people watching anywhere. Situated in the main square in Florence, the Piazza della Signoria it has been there since 1872 and if your thing is hot chocolate you have come to the right place. It is to die for!!! And you get served by black -jacketed barmen.
Gilli is situated on the Piazzia della Repubblica another large and important square in Florence. Gilli has been serving delicious cakes since 1733. It moved to the premises in the Piazza della Repubblica in 1910 and has a beautiful art- nouveau interior. Its specialities are millefoglie which are sheets of puff pastry filled with rich vanilla or chocolate Chantilly cream.
Caffe Giocosa in the Via della Spada opened in 1815 and it was here that the Negroni cocktail was invented and it was the favourite place of the Anglo-Florentine community between the wars. It is well known for its Caffe de Medici, a shaken espresso topped with whipped cream , chocolate and granola.
Piazzadella Signoria 4,
Piazza della Repubblica 39r
Via delle Spada 10r,
I had always wondered why Balsamic Vinegar from Modena in Emilia-Romagna was so expensive. Having visited Modena on a press trip I discovered why. Although classified as a vinegar, balsamic is actually produced in a very different process. The mosto or grape must is made from the seeds, pulp and juice of fresh local grapes., which is simmered for hours until reduced by half. Then begins the long journey through a series of five barrels , each made from a different variety of wood, imparting its own distinctive flavour.. With each passage the vinegar is reduced again by half. It can take anywhere from twelve to fifty years to make the finished product. I was lucky enough to try a selection of different Balsamic vinegars at the tasting session and then got the chance to buy some to bring home. I love Balsamic vinegar and now I now what the production of it involves I don’t mind paying a bit more for it. If you visit Modena it is well worth a visit to a Balsamic vinegar producer (And for non foodie partners there is also the Ferrari museum just down the road!!)
I love to read novels set in Italy especially if the are about food or drink. One of my favourites is The Madonna of the Almonds by Marina Fiorato -ISBN 9781905636433.It tells the story of the famous Italian liqueur Amaretto di Saronno and is a great read. A mixture of art history and romance and food and drink it certainly ticks all my boxes. Marina Fiorato has written several books set in Italy – The Glassblower of Murano, The Botticelli Secret, Daughter of Siena and the Venetim Contract. All well worth reading.
Having been a bookseller for most of my life. I have a great collection of books about or set in Italy. In fact my colleagues who unpacked the deliveries would look out for them and tell me when one came in. I intend to post a comprehensive list of novels set in Italy especially those with a foodie slant. Watch this space!