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Chocolate and Red Wine – Who Knew?

12 Oct

Somewhere in my past, I picked up the notion that red wine would make a stuffy nose stuffier, so all week when Len and I had meals, I drank water. 

Two days ago, I decided to check the data, and to my surprise, here’s what I found:

Red Wine: 
Red wine actually helps fight a fight a cold. (Am I the only one that didn’t know this?) Antioxidants contained in red wine, resveratrol and polyphenols, can prevent cold and flu viruses from multiplying once they’ve entered your system. 

Interestingly, a few Italian friends suggested this “before going to bed” remedy: 

Boil a cup of red wine, (thus deleting the alcohol), add a few red pepper flakes (optional), drink down and in the morning, the cold will be gone. 

Len says this is what he plans to do if he catches my cold.

Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content) is loaded with zinc and like red wine, contains a lot of antioxidants which help fight a cold. While it is advised to not overindulge, small daily portions can help boost the immune system.

So there you have it, two over-the-counter remedies to consider adding to your shopping list should the cold bug strike. But then, why wait for a cold! 

 

And no, the wine doesn’t need to be a Brunello, but when it Italy, why not?

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

Award Winning Tomato!

6 Sep

Planting an orto or garden in Italy last spring was delightful; sampling the results was delicious; but having an award-winning tomato was divine. In fact, the neighboring farmers were scratching their heads.

Our prize tomato, a Cuor di Bue, weighed in at nearly 2.2 pounds or about 1 kilogram!

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It was so heavy it actually broke the branch during a storm, but fortunately, it had a soft landing and remained unbruised.

©Blogginginitaly.com Cuor di Bue

©Blogginginitaly.com Cuor di Bue

We let it ripen another two days out of the sun.

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You might recognize this tomato as a Beefsteak variety. Its name, Cuor di Bue, literally means heart of an ox because of its distinctive shape. It matures late and when ripe, has an orangey-red color.

Now for the tasting. The team consisted of Fernanda, who selected the plant from the nursery last April, Len and Carlo, who planted it, and yours truly, documenting everything.

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Since the normal weight for this tomato is about 7-8 ounces, and ours weighed 2.2 POUNDS, I was a bit concerned that such a large tomato might not taste great, but then this is Italy, the land that loves its tomatoes.

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And the result?…Perfect!

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It even had few seeds, which I have since learned can make a tomato more acidic.

Cuor di Bue are ideal for eating with fresh mozzarella and basil, as we did. Our tomato produced four extra-large steaks.

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Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, add a dash of salt and pepper, and enjoy!

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Divine!

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta!

8 Jul

If you wait long enough, many of the “avoid” foods seem to return, and not only return, but be included in a healthy diet. Eggs, dark chocolate, nuts, olive and coconut oil, and Himalayan salt are just a few examples. But this week, it was a surprising bonus to read that pasta can be added to that list.

According to an Italian study published in Nutrition and Diabetes‘ this month, based on the dietary habits of over 23,000 adults of varying ages, there seems to be a positive connection between pasta consumption and weight. To be more precise, the study found that there appears to be a link between the amount of pasta one consumes and how likely one is to be slim. Amazing.

But how can this be? Part of the answer lies in the fact that pasta is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, usually adding beneficial ingredients such as garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, and vegetables.

On the national news, they attributed this to the fact that Italians only eat pasta as a small side dish. Must have been a nutritionist behind that story who has never, ever been to Italy.

This got me to thinking about our diet, here and there. When we are in Italy, we eat pasta nearly every day of the week, either for lunch or dinner, yet significant weight gain has never been an issue. If we do gain a few pounds, it is more likely the result of a morning cornetto (aka croissant or sweet roll ) or a bit too much bread. We often say that for us, pasta è basta, meaning a pasta dish followed by a salad is a perfect meal. Yet when we are home, we tend to eat pasta once or twice a week. Age old wives tales stuck in our heads, I guess, but now a thing to happily move to the past.

Today I bought a new basil plant and plan to make some fresh pesto for Sunday’s dinner.

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And last night, it was pasta with olive oil, garlic, red onion, fresh tomatoes, wine and peas, and a dollop of ricotta and grated pecorino to top it off.

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If you are curious or doubtful, click on the link  ‘Nutrition and Diabetesand decide for yourself. As for me, they got me at hello.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Colorful, Grand Napoli

10 Mar

When we arrived last night, there were already two calls waiting for us at our hotel. Neapolitan hospitality.

Giovanni, the proprietor of Giovanni’s Hostel where Benita stayed two years ago, invited us for dinner. Being too tired, we opted to wait until today to meet him. Before we left our hotel, these were the morning’s colorful views from our balcony.

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It’s clear in the moments after we met Giovanni why he’s rated the #1 hostel in Napoli. His love and knowledge of this historic city, as well as his devotion to his guests, was evident immediately. “No one should leave Napoli without savoring fresh mozzarella,” he said, and so we joined him and two of his departing guests on his large deck for deliciously fresh, just made mozzarella.

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Just after those guests left, Tomas from Argentina arrived. Since Giovanni was going to give his “desk tour” of Napoli to Tomas, he invited us to join. As we might have guessed, it was incredible in interest and detail. He walked us through many of the “must do” sights and activities,  pulling various books, maps, charts, etc. from desk drawers and shelves. Here’s a copy of the color coded map we left with.

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After our tour planning, Giovanni decided it was time for lunch, so he pulled some of his homemade Genovese sauce from the freezer, (slow cooked onions and beef), and made pasta Genovese for us. Smiles all around!

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During lunch, we talked a lot about Napoli and the fact that so many only know it as a train station they use to pass through to other parts of southern Italy. Unfortunate indeed, as there is truly so much art, history and culture here. Giovanni showed this CNN clip he recently found, and I pass it along to you. It really gives a wonderful view of Napoli, a city well worth a visit.

As for my other call at the hotel, you’ll have to wait a day or two to learn about it. In the meantime, suffice it to say that we are delighted we are finally experiencing Napoli, its history, culture, food, treasures and people.

Grazie mille, Giovanni, for your friendship, food and hospitality!

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Ciao,

Judy and Leonardo

Pizza Competition

8 Nov

For weeks, Fernanda and Len have been discussing and debating their pizza recipes.

  • Flour: O or OO
  • Yeast: Dry or Fresh
  • Essential toppings
  • Number of kneading times
  • Mozzarella: wet or dry
  • Thickness of dough
  • And so on.

How to resolve? A friendly pizza competition would be held and Carlo and I would be the judges. I know, I know, two judges does not make for a legitimate panel, but we weren’t complaining.

Fernanda and Len each shopped and then made their dough (pasta in Italian) separately, then came together for the preparation.

To add to the fun, I purchased an apron for each of them.

Who won?

Len preparing his toppings:

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Fernanda working her dough:

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And after several long hours of anticipation, they were ready.

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Time for rolling:

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Then adding the toppings:

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Fernanda’s delicious pizza, out of the oven:

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Len’s delicious pizza, out of the oven:

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Carlo and I, being fairly smart people, deemed it a tie! And actually, Carlo and I were the winners because they cooked and we ate.

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Antipasto, vino rosso, and homemade pizza – what a great way to spend an evening with friends. And yes, they are already planning for next year’s competition.

Ciao,
Judy

Italian Tradition – Home Cooking

26 Feb

One of the very best things to enjoy in Italy is the food. But what makes it so special? In a word, local. Italians pride themselves on eating and cooking what is locally available, and in many cases, home grown. That means that menus not only change with the seasons, they are also based on long standing regional traditions passed on from one generation to the next, and, of course, dictated by the terroir or environment.

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When I first began traveling to Italy, I always wished that I would be invited into the home of a local. I wanted to experience the lady of the house cooking for her family, to learn from her and then eat what was prepared. It’s hard to walk the narrow streets of small towns and villages and not get caught up in the delicious smells and banter bellowing from the windows at lunch and dinner.

Luckily for us, we now have native Italian friends who invite us into their homes and give us this opportunity.

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But as we travel to other parts of Italy, is there a way to have similar experiences?

Meet Le Cesarine, a group of  “landlords chosen through a careful selection by Home Food in order to preserve and promote the heritage of wisdom, tradition and culture hidden in the thousands of recipes of our regional cuisine.” According to their website,

Home Food has built a network of “Cesarine” all over the peninsula in order to offer the possibility to find in many places in Italy a cosy table, rich of food prepared and maintained for the members only. For the reason that the “Cesarine” do not manage a restaurant in their houses, but invite you to their tables as a guest of the family who shares the passion for the tradition, the land and its tastes, values, which constitute the mission of Home Food.

Home Foods, founded in 2004, is a collaborative effort among several groups in Italy whose goal is to “spread the culture of traditional food interwoven with the culture of the typical products and the particular area.”

If you think about it, Italy has thousands of informally trained household cooks who, without recipes, create incredible meals from starter through dessert. Home Food has tapped into this resource and created a network of cesarine – grandmothers, mothers, aunts and daughters, who are knowledgeable of their local area, passionate about cooking, and willing to share their traditions as they host events in their homes.

Through Home Food, registered members have the opportunity to learn traditional culinary methods, eat traditional meals, and truly experience regional Italian culture in the home of a cesarine.

I learned of this organization through an article by Irene Levine in the Chicago Tribune, dated February 1, 2015. She and her husband had the opportunity to experience a cooking lesson in the home of a cesarine from Bologna. Although I have not yet participated, Irene’s story presented a way for travelers to experience the flavors and culinary traditions throughout Italy as guests in a local home. If your Italy TO DO list includes a mini cooking class, or eating in the home of a local, this might well be your opportunity.

Their calendar includes event dates, locations, recipes, a bit of history, and pricing. And if you partake, I’d love to hear your feedback.

Buon Appetito!

www.homefood.it/en

Ciao,

Judy

 

Coffee Do’s and Don’ts

3 Oct

Since it’s International Coffee week, and since so many people love Italian style coffee, here are some great tips from Chef Favio Viviani for The Bialetti Company, the makers of the espresso pot found in every Italian home. I especially love the DON’TS! Enjoy.

Ciao,

Judy

Ristorante AD Braceria

20 Jul

There is a wonderful new restaurant in Cortona called Ristorante AD Braceria. The ancient setting was rebuilt several times over many years from four small homes with a street down the middle and the building is still owned by the original family. What was the old street now runs through the center of the restaurant.

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Today, there are many intimate settings for dining…(if only these walls could talk!)

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Business partners Anna and Tito opened this wonderful restaurant which specializes in meat and fish, the latter being a great addition to Cortona, more known for Chianina beef. I felt an instant connection with Anna, as she is from Naples and her husband Marco is from Nola, southern towns where my maternal grandparents were born.

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Braceria can be translated as a carvery, or a place where they slice the meet to order, whether it is prosciutto, veal, or a chianina beef steak.

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At AD, the fish is always fresh.

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We have dined here many times with local and visiting friends and have enjoyed a variety of dishes each time.

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Our meals have been delicious and beautifully presented, and we often let Anna decide our menu. Here’s a sampling:

Shrimp carpaccio with burrata:

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Breaded Clams:

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Seafood salad with five grains:

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Salmon marinated with citrus fruits:

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Octopus salad with mashed potatoes:

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Mixed grilled seafood:

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Len having fun:

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Handmade fresh pasta stuffed with sea bass, shrimp and tomatoes:

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Rigatoni with artichokes, bacon and pecorino:

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Grilled chicken (wait time 35 minutes and well worth the wait!)

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Grilled fillet with rosemary:

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Handcut veal with rosemary:

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Fresh green beans with balsamic:

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And my very favorite –

Paccheri with braceria ragu (veal and pork):

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This pasta is a traditional peasant dish from Naples, made from the various cuts of meat, and simmered for 12 hours with tomatoes and wine. Note: THIS IS THE BEST PASTA I HAVE EVER EATEN!

As one might expect, the desserts are incredible.

Hot and dark chocolate cake with gelato:

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Daily fresh fruit sorbet, (on left) …Typical dessert from Napoli on right:

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We are delighted with the addition of this restaurant in Cortona. Incredible food in an incredible setting – Perfetto!

Ciao,

Judy

 

Making Cheese with Lapo

28 Jun

One day pasta, the next day cheese. What could be better than learning from two experts? My latest lesson: pecorino and ricotta.

Lapo began by explaining the process. The milk is fresh from their sheep and needs to be heated carefully.

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There is a special utensil used to stir the milk and cause the cheese bulk to form.

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An expert like Lapo doesn’t need a thermometer to know when it’s ready – instead, it’s all done by touch. In the meantime, while the milk is heating, he explains how they coat cheese before storing it. He demonstrates two methods – one using ash from the previous night’s grilling with added olive oil and the second from a tomato like paste made from his garden.

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The rounds are then stacked on their sides to allow air to circulate between them and are separated with walnut leaves, which impart a slight flavor.

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He shows us some storage barrels, one with hay and one with the dried walnut leaves. The first is from 1798. If you look closely at the second, you can see the rounds of cheese in them.

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Lapo knows the milk has reached the proper temperature when the tool stands upright unsupported.

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Then the twirling action begins… fast and precise…

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until the liquid separates from the cheese.

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We sample the cheese at this point and it is somewhat rubbery, a bit sweet, and without much taste.

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Thus far, Lapo is doing all the work, but now it is our turn to get involved. We are each given a portion of cheese and per instructions, are to hold and pinch the cheese carefully, slowly eliminating water from the cheese. Thanks, Carrol, for the great photos that follow.

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This is actually harder than it sounds, as it requires much patience and pressure from only fingers. When my fingers start to hurt, I use my palms, but alas, the master catches me in the act, so back to finger pinching for me.

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When Lapo is satisfied we have pushed out sufficient water, we empty our bowls for the next step.

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Time to turn the cheese over…

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Now we push, not pinch, with outstretched fingers.

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Lapo is not only watching us, but touching our hands to ensure they are warm from our body heat. Cold hands are not good for making cheese, and he announces that our hands passed…we are all about the same proper temperature.

After several rounds of pressing, my cheese begins to have a nice fragrance, so I give my friend Larry a whiff.

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This is the fruit of our efforts!

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In keeping with the tradition of using everything, Lapo takes the milky water we have pushed from our cheese and begins making ricotta. The liquid is carefully poured through a strainer to remove any clumps which would burn in the reheating.

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And then it is recooked, hence ricotta, until it reaches the proper consistency.

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As a reward for our hard work, Paola has prepared a lovely lunch on the veranda.

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First, samples of young and aged pecorino with toasted bread, small sausage bites with olives, and the class is very happy!

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Then Paola treats us to Cace e Pepe, a simple pasta made with pecorino, parmegiano, and pepper.

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Finally, we are treated with the ricotta made in class, topped with fig jam. Delicious.

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Quite full, and content with our work, I get the class to pose for a photo reminder of the great day!

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Our pecorino won’t be ready for about 10 weeks, but in the meantime, we each have a certificate to remind us of what we learned. Here’s a sample of Lapo’s Lessons:

1. Nothing can replace passion and dedication when it comes to quality, and patience is paramount.

2. Everything from the garden is better.

3. Cheese is like your body; if your body is too cold or hot, the cheese is too cold or hot, so move it.

4. Share what you make with others.

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Finally, before leaving, I had to snap a picture of the setting where I not only learned to make cheese but also experienced the love and passion of carrying on traditions from generation to generation.

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Grazie Lapo e Paola!

Ciao,

Judy

 

Return to Cortona

19 Jun

Hardly here 24 hours and have already reconnected with so many local friends, returning friends, and even had time to make new friends.

My long time wonderful friend Sue was visiting her daughter in Firenze, then spent a night with us before heading home. We had appertivo last night at Tuscher Cafe (Benita’s favorite!),

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then lunch there again today including Pici Amatriciana and a caprese salad.

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Pici Amatriciana da Tuscher Cafe in Cortona, blogginginitaly.com

Pici Amatriciana da Tuscher Cafe in Cortona, blogginginitaly.com

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Pici is like a thick spaghetti, made from flour and water only. It originated in the Siena area and is usually only found in Tuscany. The Amatriciana included speck, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and cheese. Delicioso! And as usual, there’s nothing quite like an Italian tomato.

In between all the eating, we managed some walking on the steep streets of this lovely Etruscan town.

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And then just before heading home, we stopped in the piazza, and as usual, always something happening.

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Finally, I had to stop these kids as I had never seen so large a gelato. Glad I got to them before the dripping began!

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Ciao for now,

Judy

 

 

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