It doesn’t take me more than 30 seconds to think about one of my favorite Italian wines from the hills of Piacenza. Appreciated by popes and kings and those who would be including Napoleon, Michelangelo and me.
Colli Piacentini Gutturnio is made from two of my cousin Roberto’s favorite grapes, Barbera (70%) and Bonarda (30%). It has a brilliant ruby red color with shades of purple red and an aroma of dried cherries and spice. Because it is little known outside of Italy and often overshadowed by the wines of Tuscany, this wine may not be as familiar as a Chianti, Brunello or a Super Tuscan but well worth your consideration.I had this wine at an afternoon meal in the medievale taverna of Castello di Gropparello with cheese and laurel, tortellini, pork and a chocolate semifreddo for dessert, made in the castle kitchen. Molto buono.
The foam, the crema, the aroma and taste – all create a sensory experience that define the art, beauty and savor found in a cup of well-made espresso. The art and craft of espresso took on a new meaning in 1992 when Illy first began to think about the idea that art can enter the lives of people through a small object of daily use, in this case a coffee cup. Working with leading contemporary artists, Illy commissioned a series of collector’s cups (now there are more than 70 in the series) and later coffee cans decorated with limited-edition works of art.
The latest Illy can features German born artist, Kiki Smith. Living and working in New York City, Smith is known for combining feminism with magical elements and evocative storytelling . The 250g Illy coffee can she designed is a poetic expression of flowers, butterflies, suns and moons “the natural charms of day and night”. Like all of Illy’s art designed cans, avid collectors find any number of ways to re-purpose (flower vase, pencil holder) these iconic works of art. I especially like the idea of using the latest can design for making a tin can lantern to create a perfect glow on a magical summertime evening.
Someone once asked me what my favorite Italian ingredient was. Italian food star Mario Batali has a whole list of favorites from A to Z. An assortment that includes buckwheat flour, bergamont, guanciale (hog jowls), rabbit and raddichio. Marcella Hazan’s epic tomato sauce is made with just 3 ingredients; Italian canned plum tomatoes, unsalted butter and onions. A web site called the Kitchen goes out on a culinary limb mentioning garam coloratura, a sauce of fermented anchovies as one of their 10 favorite ingredients for Italian cooking.
I think the Italian pixie dust that brings a taste of Italy to almost any dish is a well seasoned herb and spice mixture. One whiff brings to mind everything you recall about the romance of Italian cooking. Oregano generally leads the way joined by basil, marjoram, thyme, and crushed rosemary.
Considered to be an essential kitchen “staple”, a sprinkling of Italian herbs and spices can add flavor, color and texture to your cooking. Peppercorns, parsley and sage create more flavorful combinations with e.v.olive oil and garlic defining a cultural identity that makes Italian cooking one of the Top 10 Cuisines in the World.
No it’s not the coat of arms of a rival Medici family but the symbol of the collaboration of two Italian brothers considered the progenitors of espresso machines in production today. The Officina Fratelli Bambi, a company founded in 1927 by Giuseppe Bambi and his brother Bruno, would go on to develop and register the patent (1939) for a project that would lead to the making of the first espresso coffee machine with a horizontal boiler. This new lineal arrangement “linea” (group heads arranged in a line) made it possible to improve the output of espresso machines and simplify the barista’s task.
The brothers Bambi adopted Donatello’s “Marzocco” a seated lion with the crest of the Florentine Lily, a symbol of victory and triumph, and named their company La Marzocco. The iconic design of Linea espresso machines continues to be favored worldwide by baristas with the recent launch of La Strada. A barista’s dream machine, La Strada is designed with the technology to bring out the best of espresso blends. If you’re an espresso geek click here to see the stats that make this machine supreme.
Domestic espresso enthusiasts can bring Marzocco’s lion and the lily home with the GS/3 . Although the GS/3 may be significantly outside the current home market price range ($6,700.), for those of you who want to channel their inner barista and feel like a pro this machine just might do it.
Fun, active, social, unique, cerebral, strategic, generational, competitive. There are few games that inspire a string of adjectives like bocce. You can play a round of bocce with your co-workers, friends and family members of all ages and enjoy good times and great conversation on almost any patch of grass. In Italy it is an essential part of summer.
With an ancient past and a modern future, the game with the LTW (little white ball) also known as the Pallino if not the most popular sport in Italy (that would be soccer), is certainly a contender. Generations of Italians have fond memories of watching or playing bocce with their fathers and grandfathers at neighborhood courts. Brought to the US with early immigrants, Italian-Americans found it to be a nostalgic reminder of their homeland.
Want to learn how to play bocce. Watch this short video from boccenation.com.
Known as an herb of domestic virtue, the narrow, oval, grey-green leaves of this Mediterranean plant with a pungent, lemony flavor is not only the star in an Italian saltimbocca but can also be used to make a delicious pasta sauce.
Tagliatelle Pasta with a Sage Infused Butter Sauce.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6-8 sage leaves
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 package of Aldo di Pasta Tagliatelle
Cook pasta according to package instructions. While your pasta cooks, melt butter in a 12 to 14-inch saute pan and continue cooking until a golden brown color appears in the thinnest liquid of the butter. Add sage leaves and remove from heat, allowing the aroma and flavor of the sage to infuse into the sauce. Fry sage leaves off heat then remove leaves from pan. Drain the pasta, retaining some cooking water. Gently pour drained pasta into saute pan and toss with sauce adding some of the cooking water if needed to loosen the sauce. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with grated cheese, toss to coat. Garnish with fried sage leaves. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper. Pasta is best served immediately and directly from the skillet. (Serves 4 -6)
Italian cooking ingredients are among the most used and abused ingredients in the world. Perfect for creating the iconic dishes of Italy, they often fall short when misused; their flavor potential wasted.
Here are 5 top things not to do with some of Italy’s most beloved ingredients at the risk of having an Italian Nonna chase you around the kitchen with a polenta stick.
- Never let garlic burn. Saute oil on a low to slow medium flame and cook gently until very soft. Don’t let the garlic burn or turn brown or it will taste acrid and bitter and impart that flavor to your whole dish.
- Never refrigerate a tomato, not even after the tomato is ripe. Refrigerating kills the flavor, the nutrients and the texture of Italy’s most beloved ingredient.
- Never forget to salt your water when making pasta. Salted water flavors pasta. Salt the water in the cooking pot just as it comes to a boil. As the salt dissolves into the water, the pasta absorbs the salt along with the water as it cooks. If you cook the pasta in plain water and wait to salt until afterwards, the pasta will taste bland no matter how delicious your sauce and . . . always follow the package instructions for proper cooking time.
- Never use “light” olive oil. Light olive oil is heavily refined undergoing several chemical processes to create a neutral oil with little if any of the flavor and healthy components of extra virgin olive oil. Some producers make olive oil extra light by adding a dash of virgin olive oil to other oils, such as vegetable or canola. If you’re worried about calories, skip the tiramisu. Light olive oil has the same fat content as regular oil, the word “light” is used in reference to the color and flavor.
- Don’t undercook mushrooms. Mushrooms have a savory flavor that is only enhanced by proper cooking. All it takes is some patience. Our Nonna cooked the best mushrooms. If porcini were not available she would use button mushrooms and they would still taste like the forests of Italy. In a large, shallow pan heat up some extra virgin olive oil, butter and finely chopped garlic. Add sliced mushrooms and cook long enough to release as much of the inherent moisture (water weight) of the mushrooms as possible, avoiding a soggy sauté. The volume of the mushrooms will decrease dramatically and becoming nicely brown . Once you’re at this stage you can add salt, pepper and Italian herb seasoning (oregano and marjoram) and if you choose deglaze the pan with some wine and cook some more. Your pan should have well-cooked mushrooms with a delicious glaze.