Stringozzi seems like the perfect pasta to make on April 15th and here’s why. The name stringozzi comes from the Italian word stringhe (fpl), meaning laces as in shoelaces or strings because of its shape, a thick round ribbon. A more colorful version of the pasta’s name links it to the word strangozza, a cord used by medieval peasants who in protest to a Papal tax on salt levied during the 1540 Guerra del Sale (Salt War) in Perugia attacked tax collectors in the streets and tried to strangle them with their shoelaces.
Similar to thick rolled spaghetti, or a Tuscan pici, Umbrian stringozzi has a toothsome flavor that goes well with a full-bodied tomato sauce or meat ragu or sliced truffles or . . . simply dressed with herbs, garlic and buttery olive oil.
It’s the beginning of April and we’re filled with Springtime enthusiasm for a story about wine.
In the wine valleys near Bergamo in Northern Italy, always the rules for the production of vino rosso Valcalepio remain the same and require that, in the spring following the vintage, the union of the two wines obtained by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is to be made. When spring begins wines are assembled as indicated – 40 to 75% Merlot, 25 to 60% Cabernet to create Valcalepio rosso, an Italian “Bordeaux- style” blend. Such a mixture gives Valcalepio a special ruby red color and a pleasant scent. Soft yet spicy it goes with a variety of meats and cheeses, butter-based dishes and the polenta specialities of the region.
Little known in the United States, Valcalepio rosso is a great wine to inspire your inner Italian this Spring.
The coloring of eggs at Easter is one of the oldest seasonal traditions. Before Christianity early Romans, Egyptians and other ancient cultures dyed eggs to celebrate rite-of-spring festivals. Using plants like saffron and onion skins as coloring agents Greeks were able to achieve brilliant red colors in a tradition of dyeing that is still in use today. In fact everything you need to color Easter eggs is right in your kitchen pantry. Using natural dyes from spices, vegetables, fruits and beans you can color your eggs turning them into soft muted colors that look like a Renaissance painting. All without the use of synthetic colorants.
Dyeing Easter eggs with herbs is a very common tradition in Italy. Vegetables like Swiss chards, beet tops and spinaches create a beautiful green color. Ancient dyeing customs used wild roots and flowers, forest barks and tree stems with resulting colors that can be achieved with the following, more readily available, ingredients from your cupboard.
Preparation and Process
Select a natural dyeing agent and place the recommended amount in a pot. Add 1 quart of water and 2 tablespoons white vinegar per pot. Bring everything to the boil, then lower the heat. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Strain dye into a bowl, and let cool a bit. With a slotted spoon, carefully lower room temperature eggs into the bowl of strained dye and allow the eggs to set 20- 30 minutes until you reach the desired color intensity. For a glossy effect rub some olive oil on the eggshell using a small cloth.
Natural Dyeing Agents
1/2 cup paprika – peach color
5 T very strong coffee or 3 T of instant coffee – tan to brown color with a vintage sepia look
1 cup canned blueberries with syrup – blue color
1 T of ground turmeric and pinch of saffron threads- golden color
red wine, hibiscus tea, boiled red onion skins – violet blue
skins from 12 medium sized onions – yellow to orange color
1 medium beet into chunks – pink
1 cup of grape juice – lavender
From ancient Roman springtime fertility rites to Christian celebrations of resurrection and renewal, the egg has always been a symbol of Easter in Italy. The biggest Easter displays in Italian pastry shops, restaurants, bars and markets center on brightly wrapped, elaborately decorated chocolate Easter eggs, Uove di Pasqua. Many of these eggs are made by artisan chocolate makers like Perugina and Caffarel and are highly sought after. When I visited the Perugina chocolate factory with my Umbrian friends I saw a chocolate Easter Egg that was 3 feet tall! Often filled with a rich chocolate hazelnut cream (gianduja) encased in delicate, bittersweet chocolate they are ostentatiously indulgent. The Faberge equivalent of chocolate.
Designers like RobertoCavalli and Armani elevate the egg into a chic seasonal statement with fashionable chocolate Easter eggs. Armani displays his eggs embossed with the unmistakable branded “A”. Chocolatier’s like Torino’s Guido Gubino create sensual experiences with creative and innovative designs.
Easter Eggs by Guido Gubino
During different times in Italian history, extravagance has found its way into Italian design (think of the Italian Rocco) and the exuberant and energetic style of Italian Easter eggs is a joyful celebration of the season.
Italians celebrate Spring a fuori – outside.
Although Italians are outside year round no matter what the weather, beginning in March cafe’s open their outdoor dining and everyone is walking and gathering at the piazza. There’s no better way to clear your mind that to get outside and enjoy the longer days and milder weather.
Plan a Spring Break Italian style. Visit a local art gallery or museum, try a new restaurant with outdoor dining, take a walk through a nearby park or forest preserve, arrange for a taste and travel trip to a vineyard, dairy or cheese factory. Walk through your town or city and anticipate the beginning of Spring.
Godete di fuori! Enjoy the outside.
It’s the day after the Feast of St. Patrick – the luck of the Irish may have faded away but the luck of the Italians is just beginning. Tomorrow, March 19th is the Feast of San Giuseppe, St. Joseph’s Day. A day that commemorates an event in the Middle Ages when the intercession of St. Joseph during a severe drought and famine produced crops of fava beans that yielded enough food to deliver the hungry people of Sicily from starvation. In gratitude, wealthy families set up tables or altars, called la tavulata di San Giuseppe, with food to help those who were less fortunate than themselves.
Over the centuries the tables have become more and more grand and abundant. Celebratory foods that reflect the Saint’s vocation, such as bread and cakes shaped like carpenter’s tools are traditional expressions of devotion to San Giuseppe. Breads shaped like staffs, pasta with bread crumbs (representing sawdust on St. Joseph’s workroom floor) flowers, candles, figurines, special pastries and dishes cooked with the fruitful “lucky” fava bean fill the tables.
Celebrations in Italian homes and communities offer a chance to share food with others, a way to express gratitude for any sort of good fortune in our lives.
In this case I’m suggesting that you feed your brain. During the day a spoonful of dark Italian chestnut honey, high in minerals and iron, relieves fatigue and tiredness and helps you continue to work energetically the rest of the day. For a good night’s sleep honey is a natural insomnia cure known to induce relaxing somnolence. In Italy honey is famed for its calming properties resulting in a better night’s sleep and sogni d’oro (sweet dreams). The theory is that a spoonful of honey at bedtime provides the body with enough glucose to ‘feed’ the brain during the night. This prevents or limits the early morning release of cortisol and adrenalin (stress hormones) which disturb sleep. It also stabilizes blood sugar levels and contributes to the release of melatonin.
The particular and complex flavor of dark Italian chestnut honey (Miele di Castagno) is very appealing makes it an incredible ingredient in cooking and as an alternative sweetener for oatmeal and milk which happens to be one of the 6 food combinations that help you sleep better at night.