Recently in Italy category

Slow Food: Salone del Gusto (Part I)

After returning from my first-ever visit to the Slow Food Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy, on Monday, I began writing up the event, and looking at the photos I’d taken. As I wrote, I found myself writing a but at length of what this event was, and wasn’t, and how people (including me) perceive these kinds of events. I didn’t go with any agenda; I was simply interested in seeing what the Salone was all about, as I’d heard it was very interesting from some people I respected in the food world.

salonarabicman

Unlike the perception I, and other folks have, the Salone del Gusto was not a bunch of rich, elitist folks swilling wine and congratulating themselves on what fabulous folks they were for going “green” or indulging in “peasant foods.”

Continue Reading Slow Food: Salone del Gusto (Part I)…

What Is Gelato?

gelato

How does one explain, in a few short paragraphs, something that’s such a critical part of Italian life, like gelato? If you’ve spent any time in Italy, especially in the summer, it’s hard to look anywhere and not see an Italian balancing a cono di gelato, often while balancing the omnipresent cell phone at the same time.

But everyone, from suave businessmen in Armani suits to grandmothers chatting on a stroll with friends—they all eat gelato. And like the tiny shots of espresso taken from morning ’til night, it’s a part of Italian life and consumed everywhere, all-day long. Granita di espresso on a roll for breakfast anyone?

Gelato‘ means ‘frozen‘ in Italian, so it embraces the various kinds of ice cream made in Italy, and that’s the best definition one can offer.

More than most countries, food in Italy is fiercely regional: in the north, near Torino (Piedmonte), the food is very earthy with white truffles and hazelnuts appearing in various dishes. At the other end of the boot is Sicily, where the climate is far warmer so the flavors lean towards citrus and seafood. And in between are lots of villages and regions, including the Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Campania, Tuscany, and Puglia, among others.

The gelato made in the north of Italy, where it’s cooler up near the mountains, the gelato is richer, often made with egg yolks, chocolate, and most famously, with gianduja, the silky-smooth hazelnut and milk chocolate paste. In the south, ice creams tend to be lighter, and flavored with lemons and oranges. In Sicily, granite are prevalent; slushy shaved ices that are almost served like a drink, with a spoon and a straw to slurp them up, as well as fruit-flavored sorbetti.

But getting back to gelato…as mentioned, gelato means Italian ice cream. But what makes it different?

Continue Reading What Is Gelato?…

Delving Deeper Into Coffee

Because I’m out of my mind, once I get something stuck in my craw, I’m not okay until I get it all figured out once and for all. I guess that’s why I’m a baker. Because I’m insane. When I got my new espresso maker, I became obsessed with that too, and I needed to figure out how to pull the best espresso out of it as I could, like they do in Italy.

So what did I do? I went to Italy.
Mais oui.

Coffee

Although I got a lot of questions answered there, new ones kept popping up when I got home. And when I posted about my trip there were some enlightening comments, especially from Greg Sherwin of CoffeeRatings.com. I clicked away, delving deeper into his site where there was much top-notch information and we began corresponding.

Continue Reading Delving Deeper Into Coffee…

Trieste Address Book

Trieste is located in the upper corner of Italy, located just at the border of Slovenia. It’s a compact port city and in addition to Slovenian influences, you might be surprised to come across a shop carrying beer steins, since there are residual Hungarian and Austrian influences in the melange as well. But unlike other Italian cities, you’ll find people drinking big glasses of beer, and dining on sauerkraut and dumplings…and I mean, big, hearty ones…not just gnocchi, although you’ll find those too. Which I certainly did.

Along with perhaps a little gelato here and there…

Gelato
My daily dose of heavenly gelato from Zampolli

Since my time was limited, I wasn’t able to explore the areas far out of town, which I’ve been told were where the best food was to be found. The restaurants in the city were a bit uninspiring, although the bars filled up in the early evenings and were great places to have a Gingerino or my favorite aperitivo; an oversized wine glass (God bless the Italians…) with a shot of bitter orange aperitif, chilled prosecco, and a chunk of blood orange served with a handful of ice. I couldn’t catch the name, but it sure tasted good with all the food the Italians pile up at the bars nightly to snack on. The first time I saw an enormous spread of food on a bar a few years back in Italy, free for the taking, I expressed my surprise to an Italian friend, who replied, “Well, it’s so much nicer to have a little something to eat with your drink…don’t you think?”

Why yes, since you asked.

Although I know it’s not a trend that’s going to cross the border into France. But it’s a national custom I’m happy to partake of when in Italy.

After all, I don’t want to be rude. Do I?

Continue Reading Trieste Address Book…

Rome Addresses

During my recent trip to Italy, I joined an Italian friend of mine at a trattoria for a late night supper. As we hungrily ate our overfilled plates of pasta Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe, a local specialty made with pecorino cheese and lots of spicy, freshly-ground black pepper, and pondered our day spent searching down the best coffee and chocolate in Rome.

romechocolateII.jpg

Chocolate in Rome, you ask? Although one doesn’t normally associate Rome with chocolate, since chocolate normally finds its way into creamy-smooth gelalo due to the warm temperatures, but friend of mine, a native of Rome who didn’t offer advice of the carnal nature, gave me directions to a chocolate shop that she swore, “Rivals anything in Paris.” So we wandered the streets of Rome, searching for the shop, until we came upon a small piazza where Confetteria Moriondo & Gariglio was tucked away in the corner.

Entering the velvet-lined shop, I smelled something delightful in the air, and saw in the small, well-lit backroom, a group of women sitting around chatting and peeling freshly-roasted chestnuts. Being naturally curious, some say a pain-in-the-butt, I wandered back there to take a look. Within minutes a large Italian fellow came lumbering towards me, and after our greetings, offered to speak with me about his chocolates.

romachocolate.jpg

Attilio Procietti explained how Rome is a tough place for him to make chocolates, since anything chocolate dipped need to stand up to the heat of summer. To combat melting, he uses a harder chocolate with less cocoa butter than normal, which resist melting. In addition, he avoids soft or creamy centers high in milk fat, and indeed perhaps the best of his chocolates that I sampled were simply little dark chocolate squares embedded with crackly cocoa nibs. His shop, Moriondo & Gariglio is the oldest chocolate boutique in Rome, started in 1850 as the chocolatier to the House of Savoy, whose recipes have been handed down for generations and generations.

Attilio also gave me tastes of his molded fruit gels, similar to the French pâte de fruit, and I was impressed by the bright orange apricot-flavored ones. I was quickly becoming high on sugar, finding myself swooning, as defenseless to the charms of Rome.

chestnuts.jpg

I was most curious about the candied chestnuts made from the castagni the women in the back were peeling, which are called Marrons Glacés, an Italian specialty that have because a favorite holiday treat in France as well as Italy during the holiday season. Most marrons glacés end up tasting like dry, starchy lumps of sugar, but these were moist and delicate, each one a perfect bite of woodsy, earthy chestnut preserved in a slightly-sweet sugar syrup.

I feel deeply in love with these marrons glacés, and if you go to Rome, I suggest you stop in and see what you think.

Confetteria Moriondo & Gariglio
Via del Piè di Marmo, 21-22
Tel: 06.69.90.856

Other favorite addresses in Rome:

Tazza d’Oro
Via degli Orfani, 84
My favorite espresso stop in Rome. Elbow up to the always-busy counter and be sure to try the Espresso Granita in the summer.

L’Albero del Cacao
Via Capo le Case, 21
Tiny, friendly chocolate shop with good selection of Italian chocolates from my friends at Domori, Amedei, and Slitti.

San Crispino
Via della Panetteri, 42 (near Trevi fountain)
Some of my favorite gelati in the world. Try the meringue-based flavors for a special treat.

Giolitti
Via degli Uffici di Vicario, 40
Near the Pantheon, the classic Rome gelato. A must!

Pizzarium
Via della Meloria, 43
Great stand-up pizza place a short hike from the Vatican (stop at food emporium Castroni on the Via Cola di Rienzo en route). The pizza topped with potatoes is the most popular, and with good reason.

Volpetti
(near Testaccio market)
Via Marmorata, 47
Amazing food store with everything Italian, including every conceivable salumi and cheese imaginable. Cafeteria-style restaurant just around the corner is great for lunch after visiting the market.

Biscottificio Innocenti
Via della Lucce, 21a
Really fun cookie shop, but how does one choose? Try brutti ma buoni, aka: ugly but good.

More posts on Italy:

Espresso di Roma: Sant ‘Eustachio

Italian Gelato

What is gelato?

Learning to Make Espresso at Illy

Trieste Address Book

Molto Gelato in Bologna

Molto Gelato in Bologna

“It’s not your fault!” she laughed.

I had just walked in the door of my hotel, clutching my stomach in a bit of a panic, unable to fit in another morsel of food, no matter how small or appealing. Halfway through my 10 day eating trip through Italy, I felt like a plump, overstuffed ricotta-filled cannoli, bursting at both ends. I told the woman at the front desk at my hotel that I could not eat one more bite of anything, or I would surely die.

bolognagelato3.jpg

“It’s not your fault.” she told me, “The food in Bologna is too good!”

And indeed, she was right. We’d eaten very well, from simple trattorias, slurping up Tagliatelle al Ragú and Tortellini with Ricotta and Zucchini Blossoms floating in brodo, to filling up on pizza bianco, stuffed with everything from roasted potatoes and fragrant rosemary to gooey, stringy Italian cheese and thin-sliced prosciutto. Although I could easily point a finger at the restaurants for the gustory overload, I did have a role in the matter, since between all these meals, I consumed a rather indecent amount of gelato.
So I’ll share the blame, mezzo-mezzo.

gelatomachine5.jpg
Fresh-churned Gelato di Cioccolato

Eating gelato in Italy is a national pastime. Like Americans who tote oversized paper cups of coffee wherever they go, Italians walk around lapping up cones of gelato instead. You never hear anyone complain about their weight, calories, or anything like that. They just love their gelato and its enjoyment is an integral part of life in Italy. And as they say, “When in Rome…”
(A theme which began a few days earlier, when we actually were in Rome. But it’s not so pretty to say, “When in Bologna, do as the Bolognese do.” Is it?)

But one thing that is pretty incredible is the gelato that’s churned up in Bologna.

gelatomaker.jpg
Gianni Figliomeni of Il Gelatauro

Just a short walk from the center of Bologna, is where you’ll find Il Gelatauro, where Gianni Figliomeni makes what many consider the best gelato in Italy. Although I think the cookies deserve an award as well, and just looking at the picture makes me wish I hadn’t been so polite when they offered me a bag to take back with me.
Stupid Boy! What was I thinking?

bolognacookies1.jpg
Krumiri cookies and Mondorletti al Cioccolatto Fondente

Above are the chewy, excellent cookies that I had from Il Gelatauro. The krumiri are vibrant-green cookies made simply of pistachio paste and honey mixed together and baked. But what pistachio paste that is! Unlike ordinary, dull-flavored pistachios, Bronte pistachios from Sicily are brilliant-green, and not-so-delicate, filled with intense pistachio flavor. You simply can’t make cookies like these without them, nor can you make Pistachio gelato without them as well, so don’t even bother. The other cookies, Mondorletti al Cioccolatto Fondente, are made by mixing ground nuts with rare manna syrup (when Gianni can find it), then dipped in sublime Amedei Chuao chocolate from their plantation in South America.

gelatocase.jpg
Most gelato has less fat than regular ice cream, but it’s denser since less air is whipped in while churning, generally just 20-25%.

But what I came here for was the gelato, which not only didn’t disappoint, but after eating gelato non-stop the previous week in Rome, I wasn’t prepared for how special these gelatos are. Il Gelatauro uses mostly organic ingredients, so when you order a cone of Creme (and they have gluten-free cones), you can taste the fatty, golden-yellow egg yolks used to enrich the gelato base. And although it would take a rather big Italian dude with lots of muscles and a crowbar to pry me away from my beloved Cioccolato gelato, the Yogurt gelato had the fresh tang of yogurt combined with the slippery, lickable texture of gelato. It was the best, freshest-tasting Yogurt gelato I’ve ever had.

bolognagelato4.jpg
Once the gelato is scraped from the machine, chunks of cake crumbs are scattered over and soaked with liquor, then mixed in.

Other flavors included Principe di Calabria, scented with bergamot and Calabrian jasmine flowers, rich Mascarpone, Zucca e Cannela, made with squash and cinnamon, and Semi di Finocchio, a gelato flecked with sugared, candied fennel seeds, which were originally given to pregnant women to increase milk production. Since I’m neither pregnant, nor lactating, I’ll have to take their word for it.

But it’s not just esoteric or the unusual that tempt, delight, or whatever they say in Italian (Hey, lay off—I’m having enough trouble with French…let’s not toss Italian into the mix.) His Chocolate-Brownie gelato was an amazingly right-on recreation of an all-American idea, although that should come as no surpise since his wife is American artist Angela Lorenz,whose artwork is shown on the walls of the gelateria. Perhaps she also had a hand with the creation of the Baked Apple and Cinnamon gelato and Caki, or the creamy, autumnal Persimmon gelato with a soft orange hue as well. If so, I suggest they revoke her American passport so she has to stay in Italy.

As they walked me through the gelateria and the spotless laboratory I learned much about his gelato-making techniques. Many gelaterias make just one base, then add flavors to build them up. But at Il Gelatauro, each base is made separately and to certain specifications, then frozen at the start of each day. All Gianni’s gelatos are made with fresh, organic cream and milk, unrefined cane sugar, and a touch of the highest-quality powdered milk to increase the milky-smooth flavor and mouth-feel without increasing the fat. He confided in me that many of the thick gelatos we taste at other places have added vegetable fat to make them thicker and smoother. But there’s nothing like that done here, and as I watched and tasted a spoonful of each and every flavor they had to offer (how could I resist?), I finally made my way back to my hotel.

To do—what else? Make plans for dinner!

Il Gelatauro
San Vitale, 98/b
Tel: 051 230049

(More food photos of my trip to Italy are here.)



Other Gelato in Bologna

bolognagranita2.jpg

Stefino
Via Galliera, 49/B
Tel: 051 246736

Sicilian-style granite, or shaved ice. I can’t imagine anything better in the summer (or even in the winter) than espresso and chocolate granita piled into a cup.

la Sorbetteria
Via Castiglione, 44
Tel: 051 233257

Rich, thick gelato in flavors such as ricotta with caramelized figs, dulce de leche, and chocolate-studded straciatelle.
Make sure to visit their chocolate shop, il Coccolato at Via Castiglione, 44/B, just down the street too.

Restaurants in Bologna

Trattoria Tony
Via A. Righi, 1/B
Tel: 051 232852

Simple basic Bolognese fare. Great pasta, tortellini en brodo, and bollito misto. Friendly service, but the food requires a grappa chaser afterwards if you plan to sleep that night. Seriously.

Trattoria Anna Maria
Via Belle Arti, 17/A

Angela from Il Gelatauro was so rapturous about the barely-there, super-thin strands of tagliatelli that I knew if I didn’t go, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. I followed my Tagliatelli Ragu´ with roasted, fork-tender Guinea Fowl. Be sure to reserve.

Enoteca Italiana
Via Marsala, 2/b
Tel: 051 235989

Lovely, lively wine bar with an amazing selection of Italian delicacies for sale as well, including well-stocked shelves of Domori, Slitti, and Amedei chocolates.

A.F. Tamburini
Via Capriarie, 1
Tel: 051 234726

Glorious shop featuring all sorts of cheeses and salumi. Casual cafeteria if you wish to sample their fare on the premises.

Hotels in Bologna

Two reasonably-priced hotels in the center of town, just a 10 minute walk from the train station, and just minutes from all the gelaterias listed above!

Hotel Paradise
Vicolo Cattani, 7
Tel. 051 23179

Hotel Metropolitan
Via dell’Orso, 6
Tel: 051 229393

Tuscan and Torino Treasures

Having returned from my trip to Italy, narrowly escaping the hairy fangs of the too-vigilant EasyJet luggage police, I returned with a suitcase full of great Italian foods: chocolates from Amadei, and Domori, coffee (and more chocolate) from Slitti, jars of bittersweet chestnut honey, 12-year old syrupy Balsamic vinegar, luscious sun-dried tomatoes, and of course, bottles of fruity Tuscan olive oil.

Fresh Dried-Pasta
I’ve seen a lot of noodles in my time, but stopping in Pastificio Defilippis (via Lagrange, #39, in Torino) I had to take a moment to collect myself. Lining the walls were every kind of dried pasta imaginable, all made right there on the premises. Members of my group made a beeline for the pasta al cioccolato, but for some reason they ignored the coiled-up stewed eels available for antipasti.

pastablog.jpg

Mesmerized, I found these two pastas irresistible. One I nicknamed ‘bellybutton pasta’, which I had to translate for the pasta maker by lifting up my shirt (“Boys Gone Wild: Torino!”), and the other is a whole-wheat pasta. If you haven’t had whole-wheat pasta, it’s great tossed with fresh or good-quality tinned tuna, pitted olives, sun-dried tomatoes, finely-shopped anchovies, fresh thyme leaves, topped with crumbled feta cheese.

Cocoa Beans
Is chocolate good for your health? There’s no easy answer for that (although a simple yes would do.) Some research proves that the antioxidants in chocolate have health benefits. Yet a chocolate-maker that I know says most of the antioxidants disappear during processing.
What I tell people is that any health benefits in chocolate are likely found in the cacao beans. Either way, it’s unlikely you’ll get any health benefits from, um, say, Chocolate Cheesecake. Skip the ‘cheesecake’ part and just go for the chocolate.

kashayablog.jpg

These are cacao beans from Domori that I was blogging about earlier. They are the best beans I’ve tasted.

Lardo
(If you’re kosher, or vegetarian, skip this section….)
I don’t know what prompted me to try lardo in the first place. It’s pork fat, thinly sliced, and served on warm toast with a flint of rosemary leaves. But it’s one of those things that if you eat it once, you’re hooked and you will never, ever get over the craving for. We don’t get Food Network in Europe, but it seems every time I see it in America, Mario Batali is going on and on (and on) about lardo.
The name alone is a blatant indication that it’s probably not good for you. But imagine grilled Tuscan bread moistened with just-pressed olive oil, draped over it are soft, rich and buttery slices of lardo. MMmmmmm….

Here’s a photo so you can avoid a similar fate:

lardoblog.jpg

Formenton Garfagnana
I love polenta. And it’s impossible to find in France. You have to make do with instant polenta which isn’t bad, if you like baby food. At a lunch in a villa near Lucca, the chef gifted me a sack of artisan polenta, called formenton garfagnana. When I asked him what made it different from polenta, he began getting very excited, explaining it in detail, in rapid-fire Italian. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt and let him know that I had know idea what he was talking about, so I kept nodding, avoiding the deer-in-the-headlights look. So if anyone can edify us all, post it in the comments section here. (Preferably in English!)

polentablog.jpg

Chestnut Honey
Years ago I innocently dipped my finger in a jar of Italian chestnut honey, anticipating sweet syrup. Instead I recoiled from the bitter taste which lingered way too long in my mouth. Now that I’m all grown up and so much more sophisticated, I begin each morning with a smear of velvety, savory chestnut honey on buttered toast. Yum! Is this stuff good. It can be expensive in the United States, but in Italy, it’s common. Italians use so much of it that I even bought some from a street vendor in Pisa. I ended up lugging home in my carry-on enough jars of chestnut honey to last me for at least a year, I hope.

honeyblog.jpg

Two extraordinary vendors in the Central Market in Florence will mail order authentic Tuscan foods directly from their stands:

And if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can visit the warehouse of Village Imports, which has open warehouse sales throughout the year.

Gianduja and Gelato

Here I am in Torino, or Turin, if you’re familiar with the shroud.
Being on the road means that I’m in unfamiliar hotels with less-than-ideal access. When I attempted to change the thermostat in my hotel room, the digital display read ‘PARTY’. I don’t know what the ‘party’ mode is, but when I pressed the switch again nothing exciting happened.

thermostat1.jpg

I’m leading a fabulous chocolate tour as I write. Torino is not on the tourist route. But it should be if you’re into chocolate. Gianduja is the star chocolate attraction here, a blend of milk chocolate and hazelnuts ground until smooth then formed into a paste. Hazelnuts are a specialty of the Piedmonte region and during wartime, cocoa beans were scarce so someone had the great idea to blend them with chocolate, and gianduja was born. (If you’ve had Nutella, you know what a terrific alliance chocolate and hazelnuts can be.)

Gianduja1.jpg

Once the gianduja paste is made, it’s formed into mounds that are molded into a flat peak, then wrapped in gold foil. I’m not much of a fan of milk chocolate, but when mixed with hazelnuts, it’s dreamy and truly delicious. The best gianduja that I’ve had was at A. Giordano (Piazza Carol Felice, 69.)

The other chocolate treats of Torino are Bicerin and gelato. Bicerin is great, and something that deserves to be better known outside of Torino. It’s a hot drink made with espresso, chocolate, and just enough whipped cream to make is smooth and creamy. It’s a fabulous combination, and each afternoon residents of Torino line up at bars for a warm Bicerin.

The gelato here is thick, gooey, and delicious. Like nothing you’ve had in your life. Flavors include caffe, gianduja (my favorite, of course), pistacio, tangy yogurt, and torrone loaded with almonds and sweetened with honey. Here’s my favorite gelato maker at the Caffe San Carlo (Piazza San Carlo, 156). He is perhaps my new favorite person in the world.
At least in Italy.

gelatoman1.jpg

Italians in Torino walks down the street eating gelato all hours of the day. Businessmen at lunchtime slurp cones while avoiding dripping on their Armani suits. Afternoons, swarms of teenagers with low-slung jeans send text-messages in between licks, and elderly women wander through the passages and window shop savoring gelato.

So I’m off tomorrow with my group for the mountains of Biella, where we’ll dine at an Agriturismo, a farm that serves meals made from ingredients only grown on the land. Then onward to Genoa, where we’ll stop along the way at Domori chocolate, one of the world’s great chocolate manufacturers.