The Red Passion Collection – What does an Italian Sourceress conjure up for Valentine’s Day?

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What does an Italian Sourceress conjure up for Valentine’s Day to See and Savor Italy?

Traveling in Italy, sourcing products for CosituttiMarketPlace , brings me to artisan producers and generational families who have a passion for the cultural and culinary history of regional Italian food and la bella vita . Here is a collection of some of our favorite food, wine, art and design for the Red Passion of an Italian inspired Valentine’s Day.  A desirable collection that shares the color Red and the Romance of Italy.

Francis Francis X7.1

I could have begun the Red Passion Collection with an iconic red Ferrari but I was looking for something a little more attainable and Illy’s Francis Francis X7.1 iperEspresso machine may be it. The signature lipstick red curved design by Italian architect Luca Trazzi makes brewing a cup of espresso a work of art and a whole lot of fun.

Campari and Red Wine

Campari has always been my favorite Italian aperitivo. This bitter-sweet, bright red herbal liqueur is made from over 80 different herbs whose recipe remains an everlasting family secret. Among the Brunello, Chianti and Super Tuscans that get most of the wine media’s attention there are a whole group of bold, full-bodied Italian red wines and pale rosy sparklers that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day. Here are a few to consider.

  • Brick-red or garnet Barolo and Barbaresco – the King and Queen of Italian wines from Piemonte
  • Ruby colored Barbera d’Asti another Piemontese wine with aromas of juicy black cherry, ripened blackberry and plum
  • Rose-red Brachetto d’Acqui – a semi-sparkling frizzante with a natural sweetness reminiscent of rose petals, strawberries and raspberries with a low alcohol content (5.5%)

Aceto Balsamico

In the pantheon of Italian food products one type of vinegar stands above all others, Aceto Balsamico from Modena. Rich, glossy, a deep red-brown, a true balsamic vinegar gets its color from the skillful cooking of the grape must and the aging in wooden barrels and its complexity of flavor from the passion of those who make this unique Italian condiment. It is a tonic, digestivo, a gastronomic treasure of Italy with a depth of flavor that enlivens a variety of foods. Our favorite-drizzled over flakes of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Chianti Red Wine Jelly

The passion and color of Chianti red wine combines with organic apples from the Arno Valley to create a chutney-style jelly, a unique condimento or perfected glaze with a sharp yet sweet flavor that complements grilled meats, pork, lamb, roasted chicken and more like this deliciously different for Chianti Cranberry Sauce.

Amarena Sour Cherry Jam

You’re almost tempted to drink this jam made from the viscola cherry of the Marche by Morella Austera as the aroma of wild cherries and deep ruby color reminds you of a wild cherry wine which they also make! We use it in a variety of ways on muffins, toast, as a topping for ice cream, yogurt or panna cotta and as a filling for our Italian thumbprint cookies.
Italian Red Sauce

Botanically related to the mandrake, or “love plant”, the tomato was once believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac, said to be able to “lead a man like a dog”. It certainly has led a lot of men to the table as a sauce, seasoning and ingredient. Cooked tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant making Italian red sauces ideal for a heart healthy Valentine’s Day like this Tuscan Red Sauce made with Sangiovese Wine.

Venice and Verona

Venice “La Serenissima” is perhaps the most evocative and romantic of all Italian cities and Verona a city so famous for love that it gets thousands of letters simply addressed to “Juliet. Two of our favorite cities in Italy and the setting for two of our favorite movies about Italy. Against the evocative background of Venice, Casanova (played by Heath Ledger) finds the true meaning of love all while avoiding the Inquisition and in Verona Club di Giulietta, a group of volunteers keep the romance of Juliet alive by answering letters that have been left for her in Verona for over 70 years. One letter inspired the movie Letters to Juliet. Listen to one of Shakespeare’s most beautifully sung sonnets.

A Picture is Worth a 360 Degree View

San Gimignano

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. A moment in time, an idea that becomes an unspoken memory.  Whether a sepia toned picture of the past or a digital image of the present each picture brings with it a reality faded or vivid. Smart phone photography with fotos on demand means that you can create and share those memories in a nano second with unprecedented picture quality and detail so that you almost feel like you were there.

The website 360 Cities takes this experience once step further with extraordinary panoramic fotos that give a 360 degree view with an incredible level of detail so that visually you are there. You literally step into the photograph by moving your cursor up, down, sideways, 360 degrees to get a virtual tour of over 90 countries from  photographers all over the world. Whether your researching archival fotos, curious about a sight or want to re-live a travel moment you can so with extraordinary detail.  I like to use this website for pre-trip planning to take a virtual full-screen 360 degree walk-about of what I plan to see. It’s like a virtual guidebook and with 360 Cities mobile app you can view hundreds of thousands of the world’s finest panoramas on the go.

Here are a few of my favorite 360 Cities Italian panoramas that make make me feel like I’m there.

Food Frustration

Craving the sweet, juicy bright flavor of tomatoes in the middle of winter need not be a cause of food frustration.

With at least 320 varieties of tomatoes commonly grown in Italy (primarily in Sicily, Sardegna, Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, Lazio and the Veneto region) transporting the fruit from one region to the other takes a matter of hours rather than days. So it is possible that even in winter fresh tomatoes from Puglia can end up on the tables of Milan.  Not so easily done in the States but the newer varieties of cherry, grape or golden sweet cherry on the vine tomatoes now available at your local grocery store may be the next best thing. Grown in greenhouses during the cold-weather months in the Northeast and Midwest these tomatoes come close to that just-picked-from-the-garden taste.

Even though I may not be able to make a robust sauce (that’s why canned San Marzano tomatoes are on my shelf) I can still manage a caprese skewer or respectable  panzanella in the dead of winter. I even found a few recipes that feature these dwarf varieties that will bring the summertime flavors of the tomato to my wintertime table including one for Pasta con Pomodori al Forno (Pasta with Baked Cherry Tomatoes) from Lidia Bastianich with tomato varieties you get in winter used successfully because of the concentration of taste and texture during baking .

Tomatoes cherry      cherry tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Black Olive Crema

Using a sharp knife, slice off a bit of the top of the tomatoes and then gently core the inside. Add a 1/4 teaspoon black olive crema or more depending on size of tomato and replace top or replace top with a piece of goat cheese. You may want to slice a thin layer off the bottom of the tomato – but not too deep – so that they stay upright

Fragrant Mature Wine – A Cure for the Renaissance Cold

With the cold and flu season spreading across 48 States, the CDC (the US gov.’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that high flu acitivity continues nationwide meaning that finding ways to avoid and reduce the severity of symptoms is on everyone’s mind. Cold and flu remedies from prescription antivirals to OTC brands to home remedies and immune boosting foods swirl through the media like the airborne viruses they seek to control leaving most of us wondering what is the best way to stay healthy.

Citizens of the early Renaissance relied on the advice and recommendations of the Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval handbook on health and sanitation based on the Taqwim al‑sihha تقويم الصحة (Tables of Health) by Ibn Butlan, a Christian physician born in Baghdad who died in 1068. This eleventh-century Arab medical guide focused on the ancient concepts of the Greek sciences that emphasized balanced eating, sleeping and exercising as a guide to healthy living. The word taccuino in modern Italian means any kind of pocket handbook, guide or notebook; in this case a reference manual with helpful hints for the Renaissance household on how to prevent illness. During the late fourteenth-century in Lombardy this illuminated manuscript of four notebooks was completed with sections on six things that are necessary for every man in the daily preservation of his health.

The first is the treatment of air, which concerns the heart. The second is the right use of food and drinks. The third is the correct use of movement and rest. The fourth is the prohibition of the body from sleep, or excessive wakefulness. The fifth is the correct use of elimination and retention of humors. The sixth is the regulating of the person by moderating joy, anger, fear, and distress. The secret of the preservation of health, in fact, will be in the proper balance . . . from the Tacuinum Sanitatis.

Among the recommendations for the elderly in winter and cold regions is eating dried fruits, nuts, figs and raisins and the drinking of fragrant and mature full-bodied red wine. It seems that the beneficial properties of resveratrol were known even then. The notebooks were definitely holistic in their approach, pointing out the importance of spiritual wellbeing and mention the benefits of listening to music, dancing and having a pleasant conversation.

The Renaissance version of WebMD includes lively illustrations that give us a fascinating picture of the lifestyle of late medieval and early Renaissance Italy with detailed drawings of men and women in their linen shirts and aprons, dresses and caps going about their daily lives and encourages the reader to enjoy each season of the year and the consequences of each type of climate, wind and snow.

 theriac-shop-vienna-tacuinum-sanitatis-ca-1400-fol-53v      34-caccia_tortore,Taccuino_Sanitatis,_Casanatense_4182_ net      tacuin sanitatis


12 Books Every Would be Traveler to Italy Should Read

tuscany book

Every time I plan a trip for someone to Italy I always include a recommended reading list with the itinerary.  I call this a literary meet and greet. Pre-departure information shouldn’t be limited to operational activities only. It’s important to plan for accommodations and transportation, what type of clothes to bring and how to exchange your money but it’s also important to have an understanding of the history, geography and culture of the people you will encounter on your trip. A little pre-trip knowledge goes a long way in helping to understand on-the-spot-descriptions and sort through all the tourist babble and sensory overload that you’re bound to encounter. What you read will personalize your experience making it uniquely your own.

The 12 books that every would be traveler to Italy should read is also a  retrospective list as well. Meaning that when you return from Italy the pages and pictures in these books will bring back memories of your trip with “aha” moments, a defining moment where you say to yourself that person, place or thing I saw really did change my life.

Here is the suggested  list. It is in no particular order other than by topic and by no means inclusive as there are many books on the purposes and pleasures of traveling in Italy. These books are a good place to start.  Divertiti!

To understand the culture of Italy

1. Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World

To understand how Italians think and live

2. The Tuscan Year: Life and Food in an Italian Valley

3. An Italian Education

To learn about the art, architecture and history of Italy

4. Basilica

5. Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

6. The Italian Renaissance

8. The City of Florence: Historical Vistas and Personal Sightings

9.  Italy: Cities of Art: Italy from Above

To learn about food ,wine and gastrohistory

10. Delizia!: The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food

11.Seeing and Savoring Italy: A Taste and Travel Journey

To learn to speak Italian

12. Learn Italian the Fast and Fun Way

An Italian Time Capsule


2012 has ended and 2013 is well on its way. New Year’s resolutions are new and not yet broken and most of us are still retrospective about last year’s gains and losses; a perfect time to think about what we might have included in a time capsule for duemiladodici.

Time capsules have been around since the 7th century BC.  Oglethorpe University in Atlanta Georgia, home of the International Time Capsule Society (ITCS), believes that leaving objects buried for future generations is a “valuable reminder” of the significant highlights of our history and gives us a voice into the future. For the 1939 World’s Fair, Westinghouse Electric created a time capsule that included a Mickey Mouse Cup, toothbrush, slide rule, eyeglasses, can opener, safety pin, the Sears Roebuck Catalog and Holy Bible. The 1964 World’s Fair Time Capsule gave historical importance to contact lenses, a transistor radio, birth control bills, a Beatles record, bikini and a credit card.

This got me thinking about what I would include in an Italian time capsule and here is what I came up with.  Although I haven’t kept my choices within one calendar year I think that’s fine because when thinking about what to stash as a present for the future, anything from Italy remains eternal.

What would you include in an Italian time capsule?

Seeing and Savoring Italy’s Time Capsule

  • Copy of a Renaissance painting
  • Copy of a page from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus
  • Italian cashmere sweater
  • Recording of Nessun dorma by Luciano Pavarotti
  • A Venetian Carnevale mask
  • Bialetti Moka pot
  • Florentine leather bound journal
  • Murano glass
  • Tuscan terracotta
  • Italian presepe
  • An Italian designer handbag
  • Recipe for an authentic Neapolitan pizza    

The Assumption of Venice

Frari ticketAlthough Venice’s Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is considered to be one of the greatest churches in the city, few day trippers to Venice may see it. Even with a campanile that rivals that of San Marco (the second tallest in the city) and a canal side location right in the heart of Venice’s San Polo district, the minor basilica remains just off the tourist flow. It’s unassuming appearance belies the masterful artwork inside and the inward serenity of this Franciscan basilica elevate it above the sometimes frantic pace of sightseeing in Venice.

Guidebooks like Frommer’s and Foder’s showcase this Gothic treasure noting that it contains some of the most brilliant paintings in any Venetian church. Titian’s altarpiece of the Assumption of Mary, a multi-tiered masterpiece is located here. Painted between 1516- 1518 it is arguably one of the great works of the Renaissance effusively spilling over with color, composition and detail that is overwhelming (the painting measures 270″ × 140″ and is 22′ high). I was drawn to visit the Basilica because of its connection with the Franciscan Friars (frari is the Venetian dialect for frati or brothers). I’m a Franciscan fan having visited Assisi and La Verna and having many friar friends in the States. So Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari was on my must see list when in Venice as it should be yours.

The glorious art of the Basilica rivals any found in a world-class museum with breathtaking works by many of the A-list artists of the Renaissance  (Titian, Donatello, Bellini) including a unique pyramid-shaped monument to the Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova he originally designed as a tomb for Titian.

Canova_tomb Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari                   choir stalls Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari venice

The imposing architecture and amazing art of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is punctuated by the central nave of the basilica with the orginal stalls of the old friar’s choir (the only example in Venice where they have maintained the original location and structure). The 124 wooden carved choir stalls stand in silent testimony to the Franciscans and the profound impact they have on all who seek the calm and gentle spirituality of St. Francis. The basilica is located on the Campo dei Frari near shops and a canal side pizzeria that is a favorite.