Spring Tour USA 2016 - Events Schedule

Seattle Events February 5-12

Feb 5 - Delaurenti - Trampetti Olive Oil Tasting, from 1:00 - 6:00
Feb 6 - The Shop Agora - Terre Margaritelli wine & Trampetti Olive Oil Tasting, from 2:00 - 6:00
Feb 9 - PoggiBonsi (Renton) - cooking class with me, wine & olive oil tasting 6:00 - 8:00
Feb 10 - PoggiBonsi (Renton) - cooking class with me, wine & olive oil tasting 6:00 - 8:00
Feb 11 - Barnacle - Terre Margaritelli & Trampetti wine & olive oil tastings 3:00 - 6:00

Nashville Events Feb 15-17
TBA

Washington DC Events Feb 19-28 at Via Umbria in Georgetown:

Feb 19 - Cooking Class with me & Terre Margaritelli tasting
Feb 20 - Terre Margaritelli winemaker dinner
Feb 24 - Trampetti Olive Oil tasting
Feb 25 - Terre Margaritelli winemaker dinner
Feb 26 - Cooking Class with me & Terre Margaritelli tasting
Feb 27 - Terre Margaritelli winemaker dinner
Feb 28 - Terre Margaritelli winemaker dinner

Grand Cayman Feb 29-March 11
(ok, this is vacation, but if you are there and want to organize something or just hang out, let me know!)

Philadelphia & NYC Events March 13-23

March 15 - Boffi Soho showroom (NYC) cooking demo & Terre Margaritelli wine tasting
March 16 - Boffi Soho showroom (NYC) cooking demo & Terre Margaritelli wine tasting
TBA - Urbani Truffles (NYC) cooking demo & Terre Margaritelli wine tasting

rest of dates TBA


Spring Tour USA 2016!

As some of you already know we are planning our big US Tour!  In each city we will be holding private dinners, Terre Margaritelli wine tastings, Trampetti olive oil tastings, cooking classes and much more!  Below you will find the dates for each city, if you would like to organize a private wine dinner (minimum 8 people), send me an email and we will do our best to accommodate you.  Follow along on my social media for our upcoming event calendar!

Seattle: February 5-12

Nashville: February 15-17

Washington DC: February 19-28

Grand Cayman: March 1-11

Philadelphia/NYC area: March 13-23


Weekend Escape: Naples & Pozzuoli (part 2)

IMG_9663Finally on to Naples!  Now I have heard 2 versions... one that it is a chaotic, dirty, crime-ridden mess, and two that it is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy.... obviously I will have to see for myself!

We took the standard Metro train (line 2) from Pozzuoli to Naples, which, in theory, takes about 30 minutes... but could take much longer for no apparent reason as this train likes to just stop for awhile every now and again.  Do not take this train if you have an appointment that you need to be on time for!  But if you just want to arrive in Naples at some random point in time during the day, it is fine.  Welcome to Southern Italy. 
The train dropped us off in the Chiaia district of Naples which is pretty much the opposite of everything you have ever heard about this city.  Large, tree lined boulevards, gorgeous palazzos, and all of the major designers from Prada to Gucci to Louis Vuitton... there was even a nice Umbrian representation from our high end designers like Brunello Cucinelli and Luisa Spagnoli.

But I did not come to Naples to see the same shops I can see in every major city.  I want to eat!  So we walk along through the center for two very important first stops:  Sfogliatella Mary and Gran Caffè Gambrinus.  I have eaten a few sfogliatelle in my day, but never hot out of the oven, crispy pastry, with warm, steaming lemon scented sweet ricotta on the inside... I now fully understand what all of the fuss is about.  Don't let your eyes be bigger than your stomach - there is a lot to eat in Naples so do yourself a favor and keep moving. 
Up next is an espresso from Gran Caffe Gambrinus, one of the most famous, historic bar-caffetterie in Naples, known as a meeting place for the cultural elite of Italy.  Apart from the beautiful 19th century decor, you will be amazed by the service.  The day I was there, the long bar was packed with people 5 deep, and 3 men all in their 60s & 70s (maybe even 80s) served us in minutes - these guys will put any coffee house anywhere in the world to shame.  And the coffee..... it takes a few extra seconds to make a true caffè Napoletano with the traditional manual lever machine, but it is worth the wait.  Served in a screaming hot porcelain tazzina, the stiff crema on top is enough to bring tears to any coffee lover's eyes.

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Moving deeper into the centro antico, the streets narrow and the air becomes laden with the perfumes of deep fried food and pizza.  So we stop again for a snack (why not?).  This time a frittatina napoletana.  I don't even know how to begin describing this... I only know that 4 days later, I am still full from having eaten it!  Basically it is gooey macaroni and cheese (but made with broken spaghetti) formed into a ball and stuffed with meat ragù.  Then closed back up, breaded, and..... fried.  You get the picture.  Across from the frittatina place was a (self described) enoteca.... this is one of those 'only in Napoli' type places - a guy with a few bottles (wine, prosecco, beer) sitting on top of a barrel with plastic cups.  Everything that could be misspelled was and everything cost either €1 or €1.50.  Sooooo, yeah, why not?

We decided that maybe it was time for a little culture break to aid the digestion so we dove into the Napoli Sotterranea, or Naples Underground.  Here you can do a guided or self guided tour through 2400 years of history - into the real 'old town' of Naples!  We also popped into the Chiesa di Gesu Nuovo a church which looks like a fascist war barracks from the outside, but inside holds a bomb of Baroque religious art and architecture.  And of course, no visit to Naples would be complete without a trip down Via San Gregorio Armeno, aka, Christmas Alley.  Here you will meet all of your Nativity scene needs, as it is packed with workshops and stores hocking everything from made in China holy family knick knacks to elaborate handmade porcelain and silk models.  This was the busiest, most congested street in all of Naples. 

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Believe it or not, all of the above was accomplished before 1:00pm, and believe it or not, it was now lunch time and we were starting to feel a little peckish... Naples is the first and only city I have ever been in in Italy (so far) that did not completely empty out at 1:00, especially on a Sunday.  Usually, this is when restaurants open for lunch and anyone in town either dives in hoping for  a place or heads home.  Honestly, other than pizzerie, I didn't really even see a whole lot of restaurants in the old historic part of Naples... and this is because this area is known for its Street Food (of which we had been partaking all morning).  Walking back up Spaccanapoli, the main road of this quarter, we stopped at a Friggitoria with a huge line (mob of people), so, we got in it too.  We pushed our way up to get paper cones overflowing with fritto misto (mixed fried fish & vegetables and of course, fried dough).

Do I want to explode at this point? Ummm.... yes.  We took a break at another local bar for a much needed digestivo and another amazing caffè, this time sweetened, at Bar Mexico, before meandering our way back through the byways of Naples.
The food portion of the day was pretty much over now, so how about a little shopping?  One aspect that really stuck out for me were all of the small, locally owned artisan shops, especially the Sartorie - you can find amazing tailored men's clothing all over the city - I was actually a little jealous - the women's clothing were all pretty standard... but the men's....!

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A walk along the waterfront to take in a cloudy view of Vesuvius and Capri and our day in Napoli was complete.  So what is missing from this anecdote?  Crime, trash, chaos....  I didn't see any of this.  Naples is a city, and like any city, it has a certain grime to it, but I found it to be much cleaner than Rome.  I also didn't see any obvious pickpockets and gypsies like I do in Florence and Rome.  Obviously there are bad areas in Naples, really bad, but they are far enough from the historic center and you wouldn't go walking around looking for trouble in those neighborhoods, just like you wouldn't go walking around in South Central LA...common sense.  The town moves at a frenetic pace as it is densely populated but I didn't feel overrun (of course, I was visiting in January... I don't think I would have enjoyed myself as much with the added tourists and heat of July).  I found Naples to be vibrant, lively and completely charming, not to mention delicious, and I cannot wait to return!

*****
Grazie Mille to Bryan & Ellen Barletto for guiding us through Pozzuoli and Naples!!!

 


Weekend Escape: Naples & Pozzuoli (part 1)

FullSizeRender-3Naples is not for first time visitors to Italy.  Even I have been wanting to visit Bella Napoli, home of the only real pizza (in my opinion) for  a very long time, but, we all know the stories about Naples... pickpockets, trash, mafia... so I wanted to wait to visit to go with someone who knows their way around.  Lucky for me, a few Americans living in Pozzuoli came up to Umbria to do a Food & Wine Tour with me and we quickly became friends... and consequently, I got a tour guide for Naples!

We opted to stay in Pozzuoli, a lively little port town just west of Naples.  This is  a great place to base yourself if you want to ease yourself into the Napoletano experience.  Like most towns along the Campanian coast, it is built into steep cliffs.  We stayed in a residence at the top of the town, which gives the option of escaping the late night revelry of the port, plus the climb helps you to walk off all of the fried food and pizza that you will inevitably be eating!
You do not need a car once in Pozzuoli.  In fact, I discourage it.  I haven't seen so many banged up and beaten cars since the last time I drove through North Philly.  If you arrive with a car, make sure your hotel has a parking lot (preferably gated... things happen... wheels get stolen...) and just get around (easily) on foot.

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Pozzuoli is bursting at the seams with bars, restaurants and pizzerie.  In the morning you can enjoy a fantastic brioche or sfogliatella (more on that later) with the best caffè and cappuccino in Italy and an amazing freshly squeezed orange juice - it was mandarino season, so they threw a few of those in as well!
For lunch try one of the seafood restaurants down by the port.  Most serve an antipasto misto of cold and hot seafood dishes, accompanied by little balls of fried dough, called zeppollini.  You will become extremely acquainted with zeppollini by the end of your stay.  Then, if you have room, everyone serves the standard seafood pasta dishes and main courses.  Wash it all down with a local Falanghina, the white wine of the area.
If you can stand to eat more food, check out a traditional Pizzeria for the best pizza you will ever have in your life.  This is the area where it all started, so you might as well take advantage!  We had a Cornucopia (fried dough filled with fried things) before our pizza (which was after an Aperitivo (accompanied by fried things)) to really make sure that we weren't going to go hungry.... don't worry, a limoncello afterwards helps with the digestion (I guess.... ;-) ).  We had an especially good time at La Dea Bendata - apart from the amazing pizza, when the owner/head Pizzaiolo, Ciro Coccio found out that we were from Umbria (he makes a special "Taste of Umbria" pizza with products imported from our region), he immediately bumped up our reservation and a table appeared out of nowhere for us - true Neopolitan hospitality!

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One caveat about the restaurants in this area:  there is always a TV and it is always on.  Usually it is muted so that you can hear music but not miss any of the Italian game shows or sporting events that might be happening during your meal.  We happened upon one restaurant where the TV was actually off (shocker), but alas, at a certain hour, the music went off and the TV went on, with the volume relatively high because it was time for the news.  And by news, I mean all things related to Napoli calcio (the Naples soccer team) with a sprinkling of Formula 1 and motorcyle racing thrown in for good measure.  Welcome to Naples.

Unfortunately we didn't have a lot of time to explore the sites (we were too busy getting from one meal to the next), but there is really a lot to see and do, especially if you are fond of Greek and Roman ruins - Pozzuoli is even home to the 3rd largest Roman amphitheater in Italy.
The port area is great for food shopping.  We found a fruttivendolo who was also selling homemade passata (tomato sauce) and preserved peppers.  The bakery had wonderful bread as well as local Taralli - which is basically a type of savory biscuit composed of lard, flour, black pepper and almonds.  In theory, you could eat tons of these things, but you will feel the lard aspect hit you like a ton of bricks!  Nearby the local caseficio (cheese shop) has fresh mozzarella di bufala daily as well as scamorze and provolone.  Every morning you can also find the local fishermen with their catch of the day down by the water if you feel like trying a local recipe at home.

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Next stop, taking the train to Naples... (to be continued...)

Where to stay: Villa Avellino Hotel Residence

Best Bars:  Giorgio's Caffè, Bar Primavera, Il Capitano Cafè

Where to eat:  La Dea Bendata Pizzeria, Ristorante Il Faro a Ninella, Putipù Bistrot, La Cucina degli Amici


The Rite of Winter in Umbria: La Spolpatura!

IMG_0001Nothing makes an Umbrian's eyes light up like hearing that there is going to be a pig roast!  And I'm not talking about throwing a few ribs on the grill... this is a full head to tail operation!  Every winter, families get together to butcher a pig.  The smaller cuts are put aside to be cured under salt - they will be ready in a few months (hint...just in time for Easter breakfast!), and the legs will be cured to make Prosciutto crudo... but we won't see those for another 18 months or so..... which leaves us with, well, everything else!

The first step is to boil the head.  I know this is a rough one for the unadventurous, but let me tell you, the tender meat from the head is really the best part!  Some is packed into sacks  - this will be chilled and henceforth known as Coppa di Testa (head cheese).  The other half is shredded, mixed with a little orange zest, oil and vinegar and tossed with some salad greens... henceforth known as heaven...

Next, the major cuts for grilling are broken down (ribs, pork chops, steaks, etc) and the rest is ground up, and mixed with a heavy dose of salt, black pepper and garlic to create that glorious Umbrian staple known as Salsicce (sausage). 

Last, but certainly not least.... the innards!  The liver is cut into chunks, wrapped in caul fat and skewered alongside fresh bay leaves.  These will be caramelized on the grill - who needs dessert when there are sweet fegatelli?!?  But we are not done yet!  The heart, lungs, kidneys, and other bits are chopped up and quickly stewed with a little bit of onion and vinegar to make Coratella.  Here we usually eat lamb coratella (again, see Easter breakast), but the pork coratella is even better!

Enjoy the photos below and think of an excuse to visit Umbria next winter!

Pictured below: the various cuts of pork, antipasto: prosciutto & coppa di testa, warm coppa di testa sald, bruschetta & sausage on the grill, sausage & coratella, fegatelli on the grill, fagioli con le cotiche (beans cooked with the skin of prosciutto).

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Italian Soups: Stock, Broth... or Water?

IMG_8635In my cooking classes and private dinners here in Umbria, my students & clients are always shocked to hear that the main ingredient in my soups is, well.... good old-fashioned pipe stock.... otherwise known as... water!

Most Italian regional cooking, especially that of Umbria, is a very rustic, peasant style cooking, and making stock just doesn't fit into that equation.  Stocks are part of French haute cuisine, which is what most chefs (especially those on TV) learned as their base in cooking school... and therefore, it is what they preach to everyone at home.  Not that there is anything wrong with that... but it's not Italian!

Stock is when we put bones and vegetables in cold water (no salt), bring it to a boil and then let simmer for a few hours until all of the meaty essence is leached from the bones.  Stock can then either be reduced to form a glace (French) or added to sauce bases (again, French) and soups.  But you will hard pressed to find an Italian recipe calling for stock! 

Broth, or Brodo in Italian, is when we bring a pot of water to the boil first with vegetables, aromatics and salt.  Then we add meat such as a stewing hen, capon or off cuts of beef:  tongue, belly, and leg muscles to the boiling liquid.  The meat is then simmered until tender, and becomes a dish known as Bollito (boiled meat).  The remaining broth, or brodo, would be used to make soupy pasta dishes such as Tortellini in Brodo (tortellini with broth) or Stracciatella (basically the Italian version of Egg Drop Soup).

To make up for the lack of a meaty stock, Umbrians add their favorite ingredient to almost every soup in the book: pancetta.  Pancetta is cured pork belly - similar to bacon, except that it is not smoked, just hung out to dry with a heavy dose of salt, garlic and black pepper.  If pancetta is not used, we might see lard ground up with onions, carrots and celery as a base, or even the extra skin and fat cut off of a prosciutto, as in Fagioli con le Cotiche (Beans cooked with prosciutto skin).

Zuppa di Lenticchie (Umbrian Lentil Soup)

1 cup of Umbrian brown lentils
extra virgin olive oil
1 thick slice of pancetta, cubed
1 med. onion, diced finely
1 carrot, diced finely
1 stalk celery, diced finely
2 cloves garlic
1 small hot pepper
1 bay leaf
4-6 sage leaves
1/2 cup tomato sauce/puree or 2 Tbs tomato concentrate
salt

Heat a medium sized pot,  add a few tablespoons of olive oil and pancetta, and brown.
Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, hot pepper, bay leaf, sage leaves.  Cook until they become translucent.
Add lentils.  
Add tomato puree.
Add 4-5 cups of water.
Salt to taste.
Cook until lentils are tender, adding water if necessary.
Serve with bread and extra-virgin olive oil.


100th Rave Reviews on TripAdvisor!

I'm proud to announce that we have just received our 100th outstanding review on TripAdvisor!  Thanks to my partners and travellers to Umbria for making each experience unique and fun! Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 16.02.26

 


It's a Beef Stew kind of day...

-1It's a drizzly, February day here in Umbria... a beef stew kind of day... 
One day, like today, when I had my restaurant in Foligno, I decided to make an Italianized version of Irish Beef Stew... Low and behold, what I had really made was classic Umbrian Spezzatino di Manzo - and it was a hit!  I had to leave this dish on my menu all winter, because for my Umbrian clients, spezzatino was a comfort food, a dish that takes time to prepare, and few have that time - except for me, of course!

Spezzatino di Manzo

  • 5o0g cubed beef for stew
  • flour for dusting
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 -2 carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery or 1 fennel bulb, diced
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small hot pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbs chopped rosemary
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 1 Tbs course sea salt
  • extra virgin olive oil

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot.  Meanwhile, dust the beef with flour.  Brown the beef in the olive oil (over medium high heat) and remove from pot.
Add the diced onions, carrots, celery, garlic, pepper, bay leaf, rosemary and sweat for a few minutes.
*If you want a red stew, you can add some tomato paste or tomato puree at this point, and subsitute red wine for the white.
Add the beef back into the pot with the potatoes.  Deglaze with a glass or so of white wine. Salt.
Add enough water to come about half way up the meat.
Cover and turn heat to low, or cover and put in oven at 325/165 and cook slowly for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until meat is tender.

 

 


Ricotta Frappe for Carnival!

-1Many of you are preparing for your Superbowl party, but we here in Italy are in the midst of the Carnevale season, which means we eat a lot of fried sweet dough (there is always an excuse!)!

Here is a recipe for Frappe aka Chiacchiere, which, with the addition of ricotta cheese, turn out like the lightest most fluffiest funnel cake you have ever eaten.  Try them as they are very easy to make!

Frappe alla Ricotta

  • 500g flour (about 1 lb)
  • 15 g brewers yeast (a little more than half a cube), dissolved in 25 ml warm water
  • 25g (2 Tbs) butter, melted
  • 120g (1/3 cup) ricotta, well drained
  • 2 heaping Tbs sugar
  • pinch salt
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 1 Tbs Mistrà or anise flavored liquor
  • 125 ml milk, just warmed
  • 1 liter sunflower seed or peanut oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup of warmed honey
  • powdered sugar
  1. In a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook (or just mix very well by hand), add flour, yeast with water, melted butter, ricotta, sugar.
  2. Mix well on low speed for a few minutes
  3.  Add salt, zest, mistra, mix well.
  4. Slowly add milk, mix well for a few minutes.
  5. Turn dough out onto a wooden cutting board and knead with your hands for a few minutes.
  6. The dough should be soft and pliable and not too sticky.
  7. Place the dough in large bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
  8. Once risen, turn out the dough onto a large wooden cutting board and roll out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 2-3 mm - the thinner the better
  9. Cut into strips about 2 cm x 8 cm
  10. Twist the strips into any shape you like
  11. Meanwhile heat the oil in a wok (gives you depth and surface area) - you are deep frying.
  12. When the oil is hot, drop in the frappe, 4 or 5 at a time, they will puff up.
  13. The oil should be over medium heat. Hot enough that the frappe float immediately the oil bubbles, but not so hot that they burn.
  14. When they have browned on one side, turn them over and fry until the bubbles diminish.
  15. Drain on paper towels
  16. Drizzle with warmed honey and sprinkle with powdered sugar

For my Castagnole recipe (another Carnevale treat) read my post Lolita's Carnevale.

 

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Farmers' Markets in Umbria: Back to the Future!

Bruschettina-1One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced when I moved to Umbria from Seattle was something completely unexpected  - there were no farmers' markets!  Now, whilst living in Seattle, I was a central part of the booming farmers' market industry there - I had a very popular stand called Bruschettina, lines down the block, I even had an employee - the farmers' markets were my life.... So imagine my shock (and dismay and horror) when I moved to a place where, honestly, in America we think we are modelling our markets after, that is barren, so to speak. 

Understand that other than bananas and citrus, I had not bought a piece of produce in a supermarket in years.  I was dying on the inside...  The 'markets' here were what I oh-so- lovingly deemed Socks and Underwear Markets.  Basically a bunch of stalls selling knock off clothing and plastic crap.  Deep within the rows of socks and underwear, there might be a fruit/veg stand, but you know if they are selling bananas (and they always are) that most likely nothing is local and forget about organic.

When I moved from Foligno to Cannara I had the absolute fortune of discovering Ada.  Ada is mentioned frequently on my blog as she was my 'savior.'  She and her family have a small farm here and she sells her produce 2 days a week in our town.  So that solved my produce predicament, but I was still driving all over the hinterlands to buy meat, cheese, grains etc...

Now, I always joke that Italy follows in the footsteps of the United States (right or wrong), only 20 years later.  When the American style big box stores and supermarkets came in, small farmers in the area went out, as did the markets.  Slowly but surely, Italy is again following the fashion (better late than never) and catching on to the Farmers' Market trend.  What really kills me is when I see Farmers' Market written in English - I just want to scream - don't you know this is your lost tradition?!?!  Anyway....

In the past few years, a national group called Campagna Amica has been introducing markets showcasing local products all over Italy... and I am so happy!  The first time I went to one I felt all the memories of the Seattle markets rush back because many of the producers in these Campagna Amica markets are already my friends/ trusted producers - now finally all together!

If you are visiting Umbria, please take the time to visit and support one of these local markets, granted they are not the immense banquets of Provence, but it's a start in getting back to our future.

Weekly (not socks & underwear) Markets in Umbria

  • Santa Maria degli Angeli (Assisi) - Monday
  • Todi - Monday
  • Spoleto - Tuesday 
  • Città di Castello - Tuesday
  • Perugia (Pian di Massiano) - Thursday
  • Foligno - Friday
  • Gubbio - Saturday
  • Umbertide - Saturday

Most of the markets run from 8:00 - 12:00/13:00.  Perugia also holds an organic market once a month and of course, Ada is in Cannara on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

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