Hitting the streets of Ferrara

August 31, 2010

On September 4th I have a blind date, but not with a guy… with a monument!
Yes, you got that right, let me explain. On September 4th, the city of Ferrara is hosting the first ever “Street Dinner”. This is a unique opportunity to enjoy art and food together; an ensemble of adventure, gastronomy, natural scenery, conviviality and mistery.
Chic but informal at the same time, the event welcomes a large number of gourmands who, armed with a table, a chair and a bag filled with delicacies, will only find out at the very last minute by what historical building or monument they are going to sit and enjoy all the provided local specialties.

All is possible thanks to text messaging: indeed all participants will find out their destinations step by step directly on their phones. The first text will provide the location of the “welcoming” aperitivo where people can mingle and get to know each other while sipping spumante. A second text will inform all of the location where to pick up the table, the chair and table settings plus the food bag (there are two different menus available. The actual dishes are a secret but you can choose between a meat-based or a fish-based menu). Thirty minutes later another text will inform each guest of their diner location. Some of these locations are, for example, the court of Castello Estense (a magnificent castle built in the center of the city), on Corso Ercole I d’Este with a view of Palazzo dei Diamanti (the house of the National Art Gallery, is one of the most famous buildings in Italy: the white marble exterior consisting of 8500 blocks are carved in the shape of diamonds), along the Listone of Ferrara (a beautiful square by the Duomo), in Via delle Volte, among the Ancient Walls and many other wonderful corners (such as one of the city’s beaches or bridges).

As I said, the menus, like everything else, are secret, but I hope that they will feature some of these local specialties:Cappellacci di zucca, pumpkin ravioli, are served with ragù or butter and sage sauce; tagliatelle, noodles with ragù or mushroom sauce, the maltagliati, irregularly shaped egg pasta cooked with beans, classic lasagna, green lasagna, pasticcio alla Ferrarese, a pie stuffed with maccheroni, béchamel, cheese and ragù with porcini mushrooms; riso con zucca e salsiccia, rice with pumpkin and sausages, or with fish Brodetto, a seafood broth. Rice is also prepared with eels, with ragù, cheese and porcini mushroom. Polenta is often served in place of pasta. It can be fried in butter or dressed with a sauce, cheese, meat or fish. Anguilla (eel) and polenta, polenta with ragù, polenta and sausages are common fare in the Ferrarese. As far as desserts are concerned: ciambella ferrarese is made with flour, eggs, butter and a little sugar; torta di mele is a sponge cake mixed with fresh apples sliced very thin; panpepato is a super rich chocolate cake with candied fruits and nuts, ginger, pepper and other spices and mandurlin dal pont are delicate and crispy cookies made with eggs, sugar and almonds.
For more information: http://www.streetdinner.it
– Natasha Lardera

Sicilian flavors: Caponata at Cacio e Vino

August 31, 2010

Several Italian news and travel web sites (www.siciliaonline.it and www.myluxury.com to name a couple) are reporting that Sicily has defeated Sardinia as the favorite summer destination of local and, mostly, international stars. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Elton John, Giorgio Armani, Sting and many more prefer the still uncompromising beauty of this island to the pretentiousness of a natural paradise that has been turned into a sort of circus by the wannabes. A round trip ticked to Palermo, this time of the year, starts at $523 on Meridiana (available only until mid September) but if you are like me, meaning you don’t have much time off so going all the way to Italy is practically impossible, you’d be happy to know that Sicily can be “tasted” in the East Village. At Cacio & Vino to be exact.

The menu is a never ending (but in a good way) and features some of the most traditional and flavorful Sicilian dishes (including Sarde a beccafico con cipollata,
baked Mediterranean sardines stuffed with bread crumbs, pine nuts, raisins, orange zest, sweet and sour onions; Involtini di melanzane, stuffed rolls of eggplant with pine nuts, raisins, basil, pecorino cheese, tomato sauce; Spaghetti con pesto trapanese, homemade spaghetti, fresh tomato, basil, garlic and almond pesto; Gnocchi di fico e primosale, potato and fig gnocchi in a Sicilian cheese fondue sauce and Pesce spada all’agrodolce,
pan-seared swordfish in sweet and sour sauce with olives and onions and vegetable ratatouille.
Every time I go I am undecided on what to order as everything looks, and tastes so good, but one thing I know for sure is that I will order Caponata (as a cold appetizer). At Cacio e Vino caponata consists of Sicilian style sweet and sour eggplant, celery, olives, onions, served with chick pea fritters and goat cheese. Bursting with color and flavor, it is blend of eggplants and tomatoes, balanced with green olives, capers, celery, sugar and vinegar for its characteristic sweet and sour taste. Caponata can be served cold or at room temperature and it should be prepared a day in advance so the flavors will have time to blend and settle. It can be served with pasta, rice, or omelets but the more traditional way is to serve it as an appetizer with crackers or accompanied by fresh crusty Italian bread or, in the case of Cacio e Vino, with freshly baked pizza dough cut into small slices.
Enjoying it with a glass of wine while waiting for the next dish to arrive is absolute bliss.

– Natasha Lardera

August 16, 2010

@Rojodu Thanks for stopping in! Hope to see you again soon.

Honoring the garlic of Voghiera (DOP)

July 28, 2010

The experts tell us that what makes it unique is the combination of large, compact, white cloves, a unique, pungent flavor, and a long life span: Voghiera’s garlic isn’t only Italy’s most beloved garlic, but the true elixir for a long life (the heath benefits of garlic in the treatment of colds, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, infection and even impotence are more than often praised) that is about to be celebrated for three days in a special festival in the Castle of Belriguardo (in the province of Ferrara.) From August 6th to the 8th, this special bulb, the only one that earned (in 2007) DOP recognition, returns for the 13th time to flavor and “bless” every type of dish, so that garlic-laced foods will be available for sampling.

At the festival, in addition to sampling, people can participate in culinary competitions, a beauty pageant (“Miss Garlic” will be elected for the first time this year) and a poetry challenge. This is the opportunity for the Grande Mercato dei Sapori, a large local produce market, to introduce the public not only to this special garlic but to other products found in the area.

The garlic produced in Voghiera counts for less than 1% of the national production, but quality counts more than quantity; its unique characteristics derive from the terrain and environment where it is produced, with its silty-clay soils, near the Po’s Delta. It is cultivated in Voghiera, Masi Torello, Portomaggiore, Argenta and Ferrara according to specific rules and then it is certified by an external inspection entity, which is recognized as qualified by the Emilia Romagna region.

Garlic is an important ingredient in Italian cuisine but it is not used in everything (many still believe it is) as its distinctive taste can sometimes detract from that of other more shy ingredients. It is used in some sauces, stews, soups, salad dressings, pasta sauces, casseroles, breads, grains, and croutons. An important rule: when sautéing, avoid overcooking because as the garlic browns it begins to exude a bitter aroma that will be a portent of its contribution to the final flavour of the dish.

– Natasha Lardera

Grow your own dinner

July 26, 2010

Tomatoes, carrots, and lettuce. But even zucchini, eggplant, asparagus and artichokes. These are the new ingredients of a stress-fighting diet, as long as each type of vegetable is cared for from seeding to harvesting. At the breathtaking Antica Corte Pallavicina Relais in Polesine Parmense (PR) chef Massimo Spigaroli unveils all the misteries of a great vegetable garden. It is a process that starts from the preparation of the earth, to the seeding of the products to finally end with the pleasure of harvesting and with practical lessons on how to cook and preserve these beloved vegetables. Growing your own veggies is a trend that was started by the Obamas that goes in an organic and eco-friendly direction. It is definitely “green”, fun and healthy because it brings to our plates fresh and seasonal products while helping the environment. No need for a large piece of land, just a tiny rectangle of earth in the backyard or a large tub placed on the rooftop (terrace for the lucky ones) can bring nature closer to us. Each class held at L’Antica Corte is 3 hours long. Chef Spigaroli goes over each step, from preparation of the earth to the preparation of the dish and, at the end, each participant receives a box of freshly harvested vegetables. The remaining classes for this year are: August 2, September 6, October 1 and November 1.

– Natasha Lardera

Porchetta Sandwich – Juicy Perfection

June 18, 2010

One of my closest friends works in a lovely wine bar in NYC – Cellar 58. So as I love to see my friend and drink some good Italian wine, (in Italian we call this “Prendere due piccioni con una fava” which basically means “To kill two birds with one stone”) I go to visit her as often as possible. Needless to say I have elected my favorite dish on the bar menu: the porchetta sandwich. Porchetta is a succulent pork roast, typical of the traditional cuisine of Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Tuscany (Cellar 58’s menu has been inspired by the cuisine of these regions). The exact location of where porchetta was first conceived is still a culinary mystery. People from Ariccia, in Lazio, claim paternity of the original recipe, while in Umbria it is told that Norcia, town known for pig farms since the times of the Ancient Romans, is the culprit. Apparently even the people of the Marche have claimed to be the originators…

Porchetta is a tender and juicy hunk of pork encased within fatty, crispy skin (crackling) made by cooking together rosemary, garlic, fennel, sage, salt and pepper and spreading them over pork loin. The meat is then rolled up before being tied with butcher’s twine and roasted (usually for about two and a half hours). The pork is so flavorful you really do not need any other accompanying ingredient. There are however regional differences: tradition calls for two basic ways to season porchetta. In southern Tuscany, southern Castelli di Roma and in other areas of Central Italy, it is seasoned mainly with rosemary. In northern Lazio, Umbria and Marche it is seasoned mainly with wild fennel which gives it a unique taste and aroma.

The Porchetta sandwich is not commonly eaten during a meal, but between meals as a “snack” or as a craving after a long night out (drinking and dancing). It is usually eaten warm, sliced and stuffed into fresh bread (ciabatta is a fave) on the street (from special trucks), outside a nightclub, during concerts, open air markets, town sagre and sporting events. Porchetta needs to be eaten right away, there is no time to waste. The most flavorful parts are those with equal parts of fat and lean meat that are marbled with stuffing. The crispiness of the skin best indicates the freshness of the meat.

In Tuscany or Umbria, street sellers are called porchettai, while in the Castelli di Roma area they are known as porchettari. NYC is still porchettari-free so when in need of this special sandwich going to Cellar 58 is the best solution. (One can also stop by Porchetta, where Chef Sara Jenkins makes porchetta sandwiches to takeout).

By Natasha Lardera

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Villa Massa Limoncello – A Burst of Summer

June 16, 2010

Limoncello is a staple at the end of meals in Italy, especially during the summer months but you can find it all year long. There are other after dinner digestives such as Amaro and Mirtu but Limoncello holds a special place in many people’s hearts. Some 16 million liters of Limoncello are produced on a yearly basis.

Limoncello is synonymous with the Amalfi coast in Italy and the Campania region. Lemon cultivation began there in the Middle Ages. Lemons grow particularly well in this area thanks to the composition of the volcanic soil which also has considerable potassium within it.

Limoncello has also become very popular in the United States thanks to a number of producers, among them Villa Massa.

Villa Massa Limoncello is a made from the rinds of fresh Sorrento oval lemons, a protected variety of lemon with the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) designation. The lemons are carefully peeled within 24 hours of harvest. Sorrento lemons are much desired for the quantity of essential oils that they contain in their rinds. At Villa Massa, the lemon rinds macerate in alcohol for three days. After several days the liquid is filtered and blended with a syrup of purified water and castor sugar. This product has 30% alcohol or 60% proof.

Villa Massa is located in the Piano di Sorrento on the Sorrento Peninsula. In order to receive the coveted PGI designation, the lemons must be grow in a particular way and using organic cultivation methods, free from pesticides. In fact, Villa Massa’s Limoncello uses no perservatives, no artificial flavorings nor coloring agents. Just lemon rind, sugar and alcohol.

The Massa family has been located in the Sorrento Peninsula since the late 1800s but the company that makes Villa Massa Limoncello was founded in 1991. Still the recipe that they use to make the Limoncello is the same as the one created in 1890.

Limoncello can also be used in cocktails and in cooking recipes.

By Susannah Gold

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Pecorino cheese – A Versatile Ingredient For Summer

June 14, 2010

Summer begins on June 21 but we are already in the throws of seasonal summer produce which can be eaten on its own or blended with cheeses and used in pasta. One of the great cheeses that work well with all of this summer produce is Pecorino.

It comes from sheep’s milk and is made in a host of regions in Italy including Sardinia, Sicily, Tuscany and Lazio. The cheese tastes slightly different in the various regions. Pecorino can be made into a fresh style cheese or into an aged or “stagionato” one. Sometimes peppercorns or truffles are added to the cheese to enhance the flavor. Pecorino can be a flavorful cheese or can be somewhat mild, it depends on the aging and the style of cheese you are buying.

Pecorino Romano is the most ubiquitous in the United States. It is quite salty. Much of the Pecorino that is made in Tuscany is made by Sardinians who emigrated there.

Pecorino can be used in salads, eaten on its own at the end of a meal, eaten with pears or used instead of Parmigiano on pasta. Pecorino is an extremely versatile cheese and a good one to keep in the refrigerator at all times.

By Susannah Gold

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… and a vacation for Prosecco lovers

June 9, 2010

As my personal quest for Italy’s unique destinations continues, I figured that after tasting the best of Tuscan cuisine I need to sip on one of my favorite Italian wines: Prosecco. What a better destination than the “Strada del Prosecco”? (Literally Prosecco wine road).

First known as the “Strada del Vino Bianco” (officially opened in 1966), this stretch of road leads you, for about 47 kilometers (29 miles), among the hills of Conegliano, Feletto, Quartier del Piave and Valdobbiadene all the way to the feet of the Prealpi mountains in the Veneto region. The trip starts in Conegliano exactly in the square where the castle is and it procedes throgh several towns: Costa, Rua, San Pietro di Feletto, Refrontolo, Pieve di Soligo, Solighetto, Farra, Colle San Martino, Guia, Santo Stefano and San Pietro di Borbozza. The road is drizzled with florishing vineyards, lovely communities that welcome old taverns, locandas and trattorias, and striking landscapes. Each participating locanda in town has to feature a plate that reads “Bottega del Vino”. This means that the business has been carefully reviewed by a group of experts in terms of quality of wines available for tastings and on sale, authenticity of the place and oenological knowledge of the staff. The review is done yearly, and who does not pass has to remove the plate. To be considered for qualification, each bottega has sell, no matter the season, the following wines: Bianchi dei Colli, in the dry and amabile varieties, and Prosecco and Cartizze, in dry, amabile, frizzante and spumante varieties. These great wines are paired with fresh baked bread, appetizers, cheeses and cold cuts.

For a place to stay: Villa Giustinian in Portobuffolè (TV) is an amazing villa that offers Prosecco-flavored stays. From June 6th to August 1st, a five-night stay features a tasting in a locanda, a meal in a local trattoria, a bottle of Prosecco and a relaxing vacation at the villa. From August 6th to the 8th fireworks will color your nights, while sipping Prosecco in one of the many locandas.

By Natasha Lardera

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A vacation for aspiring chefs

June 2, 2010

As I am planning my upcoming Italian vacation, I am researching cool and different places with unique things to do. Although I was born and raised in that beautiful country there is still so much I have not seen, so my goal for the upcoming month is to get home, drop my suitcase and pack a smaller one for several short trips.

One of my first destinations will be the house where Monsignor Giacomo della Casa, Italian bishop, poet and translator who is mostly known for his popular treatise on good manners, Galateo, lived. Monsignor della Casa di Borgo San Lorenzo (FI) is a retreat for those who love to live life at a slow pace, taking time to enjoy good food, a beautiful landscape and the company of friends. The place offers some incredible classes and it is my intention to try them all. The “Tutti chef al Monsignore” program features meetings with the resort’s chefs where the unique taste and simplicity of Tuscan cuisine is explored. It is a fun way to learn the traditional dishes of Tuscan cuisine in a breathtaking environment. In the “house of good manners” a team of experts leads all guests who desire to participate in this program, in the preparation of true delicacies with impeccable style. Among pots, pans and other tools, the art of Tuscan cooking is shared among food lovers who wish to prepare an authentic menu which features homemade fresh pasta (from pappardelle to gnudi), meats from the area (exquisite wild boar), and vegetables gathered in the resort’s garden (do not miss seasonal zucchini flowers). This program ends on January 9th, 2011. Other culinary recreational activities such as olive oil and/or Chianti tastings, saffron and/or chestnut picking, visits to the local fresh produce markets and to cheese making facilities can also be enjoyed. I think I want to try them all.

By Natasha Lardera

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