Bravo Brodo

brodoThis post is all about the pleasures of a well-made brodo. In Italy brodo means broth and in its most basic form is an icon of Italian cooking. A foundational stock that is made from bones of beef, veal or chicken or the shells/ bony skeletons of seafood infused with fresh vegetables and aromatics. The most favored being cappeletti in brodo, a classic Northern Italian comfort food traditionally served around Christmas or New Year made with caps of fresh pasta swimming in a homemade chicken broth.

Recipes for a basic broth are culinary landmarks on the Mother Road of world cuisine. Anthony Bourdain calls it a blank culinary canvas, an enchanted liquid. He refers to meat brodo as the “dark universal stock”, a broth of bones that can be magically manipulated into soups (yes there is a difference between brodo and zuppa), stews, sauces and the hydrating medium for an Italian risotto.

Brodo di manzo (beef broth) starts with the roasting of  beef bones. Slightly rub beef bones with  a little olive oil, place them in a heavy roasting pan. Roast the bones for about 20 minutes; adding in a chopped onion and continuing to roast for 30 minutes more, or until bones brown. Roasting bones vs not roasting bones is a preference although most cooks/chefs believe that the initial roasting of bones caramelizes them and deepens the flavor.

Concerns about the fat content of roasted bone marrow? It’s been noted that marrow is 69% unsaturated fat. It’s also very nutritious, containing iron, phosphorus, vitamin A, trace amounts of thiamin and niacin and contains substances that boost and maintain our body’s immune system and helps our body stay healthy.

If you are bothered by all the fatty bits found in your brodo you can skim off the fat or let the stock pot cool and remove the fat on top. Or you can serve it alla stracciatella by quickly whisking an egg into the stock. Stracciatella is Italian for “little strands” and  whisking the egg forms little tail-like strands that attract all the fatty bits and other solids, drawing them out of the liquid, “clarifying” it, and making even the cloudiest stock clear to the bottom of the bowl.

As “bone broth” is in the news today, being beneficial for improving your skin, joints, immunity, digestion etc, having a stock pot of Italian brodo brewing in your kitchen is an old world tradition for a nourishing  and restorative winter.

 

The Rovigo Ermine Turkey – An Italian Inspired Thanksgiving

turkey-featherPart of our Italian family is from the Veneto and although Thanksgiving is not an Italian holiday I can imagine that, if it was, the Rovigno Ermine turkey would be at the center of the table. Tacchino, turkey in Italian, is eaten in Italy but it’s not prepared nor sold the same as in the US. I did have an excellent turkey dish in Emilia at a cooking lesson with my friend Rita made with a rolled turkey breast but a traditional Thanksgivingesque turkey is most likely only to be found on an American expat November holiday table.

rovigoThe Rovigo Ermine turkey (Ermellinato di Rovigo) came into being in 1958, a result of a cross of local birds to the American Narraganset. It differs from the Italian Common Bronze turkey (Comune Bronzato) by its flesh-colored legs, white skin, and ermine color. Although very rustic, the color and design of the bird make it more stately and unique. Well-imagined as stuffed, displayed, feathers and all at a a medieval banquet. Our intention would be little less dramatic and our presentation more in keeping with the traditional Thanksgiving bird. Trussed, stuffed, dressed and served with the usual side dishes but with a decidedly Italian twist.

Sweet potatoes and pumpkin replaced with Marina di Chioggia, chioggia-sea-pumpkinthe sea pumpkin of Chioggia near Venice, a bumpy, misshapen Italian heritage cultivare of pumpkin with yellow orange flesh and a fantastic taste that lends itself to many preparations. Cranberry sauce morphed into an Italian mostarda (recipe below) and brussel sprouts roasted with prosciutto and balsamic. Parmigiano Reggiano mashed potatoes piped Duchesse style, in homage to Caterina de’Medici, the great granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent whose marriage to King Henry ll brought Tuscan food customs to the tables of France.

All brought together with family and friends and the belief that preparing a well-laid table to share and enjoy with your family and friends in a relaxed and tranquil manner is a lost pleasure that must be found again and a reason to be thankful.

Amarena Cranberry Mostarda (Serves 6-8)

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1/4 cup yellow onion, minced
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup Morello Austera Wild Cherry Jam
1/2 cup Maletti aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dried sour cherries
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon fresh marjoram, finely minced

Add all the ingredients, with the exception of the fresh thyme, to a heavy bottomed pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to bring the mix to a simmer, and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occassionally, until thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the fresh marjoram and let cool slightly before serving.

from CosituttiMarketPlace

An Italian Sponge – Simplicity that is Sublime

cake-venetianClean lines and high level function have been a hallmark of Italian design. In cooking simple ingredients well-prepared define Italian cuisine. The Italian aesthetic for simplicity in form and function combined with tradition is never better demonstrated than by the Italian sponge cake (Pan di Spagna), a simple, airy cake made with only 3 ingredients: eggs, sugar and flour…no baking powder, no butter and no oil!

The Italian sponge is used as a base for fillings and candied fruits and is key ingredient in hundreds of classic Italian desserts like zuccoto and Sicilian cassata. Pan di Spagna‘s light airy texture absorbs “like a sponge” (once cooked, it can absorb almost up to twice its weight) so it is often layered and soaked with a flavored syrups or spirits or used to soak up the juices from fresh fruit. It stacks wonderfully. Layered with a cream filling it is an impressive dessert but just as enjoyable eaten on its own sprinkled with powdered sugar.You will find its simple, delicious flavor and spongy texture a perfect base for your Italian layered or rolled cakes and desserts.

I was introduced to the Italian Sponge by my mother-in-law Marion who used it to make Italian Rum Cake, a family tradition for celebrating birthdays and many special occasions. I have never made it as well as she or my Aunt Margaret who Americanized it as the chiffon but I have learned a few secrets to perfecting a successful Pan di Spagna.

  • Use extra large eggs at room temperature
  • Use cake flour if possible
  • Beat the egg whites until tripled in volume but not dry
  • Beat the egg yolks and sugar for no less than 15 minutes; it is during this stage that air is incorporated
  • The dry ingredients must be sifted together and added on top of the egg mixture, a little at a time and deliberately folded gently together with a spatula or wooden spoon. If you pour too much flour in too fast it will sink to the bottom of the bowl
  • While the cake is baking don’t be tempted to open the oven door or the cake will deflate quicker than a Patriot’s football
  • When the cake is done, turn off the oven but leave the cake inside with the oven door slightly ajar for about 10 minutes
  • Cut the cake only when it has cooled
  • If you plan on layering the sponge, soaking the layers with a flavored syrup or liquor, do so and then wrap the layers in cling film and leave in the refrigerator overnight before spreading each layer with filling for the final assembly

There are many versions of Pan di Spagna. I have a version made with a Zabaglione Moscato Wine Cream Filling that I use in place of pastry cream or custard. It also eliminates the need to soak the layers in a flavored syrup or liquor as the creme is made with Piemonte DOCG Moscato.

Pan di Spagna with a Zabaglione Moscato Wine Cream Filling

Ingredients for the Pan di Spagna:

5 large Eggs
1 1/2 cup Sugar
1 1/2 cup Flour
(you can add 1 teaspoon Vanilla or  1/2 teaspoon Lemon Zest) as a flavoring

Directions:

Let eggs come to room temperature before starting. Butter and flour a 9″ (23 cm) cake pan. Set aside.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift the flour into a bowl; set aside. Separate the eggs yolks in one bowl; whites in another. Add the sugar to the egg yolks, and whip with an electric mixer until thick. Stir in the lemon zest and vanilla. Rinse the beaters off well,  whip the egg whites to a stiff peak. Then fold the beaten egg white into the yolk mixture. Add the flour a bit at a time to the egg mixture, and fold it carefully in. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan, place in oven, and bake for about 20 minutes. When done, a toothpick will come out clean, and the top will be golden. Turn upside down on a wire cake rack to cool.

Assemble the Layers:

Slice sponge cake in half with a thin bladed serrated knife to form two layers.Combine stabilized whipped cream with the Zabaglione Moscato Wine Cream (according to taste)   to make a filing for the layers. Retain some of the whipped cream to be used as a frosting. Place bottom sponge layer on platter cut side up, generously spread layer with filling. Top the cream layer with another layer of sponge cake. Frost the top sponge cake layer (and sides of cake) with remaining stabilized whipped cream. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers.

You may have noticed that the Italian Sponge has a Spanish name. Pan di Spagna means Bread of Spain. For nearly half a century, Spanish monarchs ruled Naples, Sicily and Sardinia. Gastro-historians credit the introduction of a Spanish influenced “sponge-like” cake to the Northern Italian table because the learned cities of the North like Parma in Emilia Romagna embraced a cosmopolitan cuisine and were influenced by the marriage of the Parmese Duchess Elisabetta Farnese to the Spanish King Philip V (1714).

Others attribute the Italian sponge to Giovanni Battista Cabona from Genoa. Cabona went to Spain in the mid 1700’s as part of the domestic entourage of the ambassador of Genoa. The inventive young baker was asked to create a new and original cake for a royal Spanish banquet. Working with basic and simple ingredients, Cabona was able to create an incredibly light and airy cake, and gave it the name Pan di Spagna, in honor of the hosting country. The cake so pleased the Court of Spain that it was renamed Génoise, in honor of the Genoese creator. Throughout Europe it is still known as Génoise, while in Italy it has maintained its original name, Pan di Spagna.

Italian Infused Water

Infused waters are all the rage. For those of us who are used to drinking from the tap, they make water interesting again with “spa” like benefits and healthy hydration. Store shelves and the internet are literally awash with brands, flavors, recipes and recommendations on the use and enjoyment of infused waters.

Italians discovered the benefits of water long before it was fashionable to carry around a spa water bottle. Their “infusions” were from underground springs that passed through deposits of limestone or volcanic rock absorbing nutrients and minerals along the way. A ubiquitous liter or two of bottled mineral water (d’aqua minerale) is served at the Italian table as an accompaniment to every meal. Either naturale (non-carbonated ) or gassata (with “gas” or natural carbonation) many Italian mineral waters have a devoted following. The “miraculous” waters of Italy’s iconic San Pellegrino have been appreciated since the time of Leonardo da Vinci, their mineral content thought to be of great benefit to one’s health and well-being. Today, within Italy, you can find over 600 brands of bottled mineral water, many of these are local varieties unique to the terroir of the region. Brands like San Pellegrino infuse flavors like lemon, orange, mint, grapefruit and prickly pear, Italian versions of our sodas. One of these, Chinotto, made from the Sicilian chinotto a small bittersweet citrus fruit similar to an orange is a distinctive acquired taste.

Using Italian culinary herbs like basil or rosemary you can make your own version of an Italian infused water. Place herbs in bottom of a jar or pitcher and muddle with a wooden spoon to release some of the essential oils. Fill jar with water. You can add agave, honey or a natural sweetener if you choose. Refrigerate overnight to intensify the flavor.

rosemary waterHere are a few Italian inspired combinations to try for approximately a pitcher (6-8 cups) of water. WASH FRUIT AND HERBS THOROUGHLY. I prefer using organic produce.

1 fennel bulb thinly sliced plus a few green fronds + 1 ripe but firm pear thinly sliced

4 slices lemon + 4 sprigs fresh mint (each 2 in. long, slightly crushed)
+2 sprigs fresh rosemary (each 2 in. long, slightly crushed)

1 cup strawberries (hulled and quartered) + 2 cups watermelon (cubed)
+ 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 cup strawberries (hulled and quartered) +2 lemon slices
+3 basil leaves

1/2 pink grapefruit (sliced thin) +2 lemons +1 cucumber (sliced)
+1/2 cup parsley

Crazy for Chard

chard rainbowAs soon as the ground warms, spring time gardners prepare to sown the seeds of one of Italy’s iconic vegetable. Our Nonna’s friend, Angelo would bring us weekly bundles of chard throughout the growing season. Versatile at all stages of growth from spring to late fall, chard can be clipped early for fresh baby greens, the young stalks can be cooked like asparagus, the mature leaves cooked like spinach and larger/mature stalks added to fritters and frittatas.

Recent research has shown that chard leaves contain at least 13 different polyphenol antioxidants, including kaempferol, a cardioprotective flavonoid also found in broccoli, kale and strawberries. Another primary flavonoid found in the leaves of chard is syringic acid known for its blood sugar regulating properties. Shown to inhibit the activity of the enzyme alpha-glucosidase. When this enzyme gets inhibited, fewer carbs are broken down into simple sugars and blood sugar is able to stay more steady offering special benefits for blood sugar control.

Sometimes referred to as Swiss Chard, chard was first identified by a Swiss botanist (possibly accounting for its name). Known to the ancient Greeks and Romans it is wildly popular in the Mediterranean and in Italy Swiss Chard,  (bietola) or coste as it is called by the Piemontesi, is a used to flavor soups, pasta, pizza, meatballs, sauces, strudel, served over polenta, as a contorno (side dish) sautéed and slightly wilted with extra virgin olive oil and garlic and in the making of a torta salata (savory pie).

Rainbow Torta di Bietola (Swiss Chard Tart)

Heat  2 T of extra virgin olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add  2 cloves of garlic; saut
 1 minute. Add 2 large bunches (about 1 lb.) of Rainbow Swiss chard (a mixture of red, white and yellow stalks) coarsely chopped leaves and stalks; sauté until excess liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Transfer chard mixture to large bowl. Cool slightly.  Mix in –

torta 2

1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano  Reggiano or Pecorino cheese

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

 

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 375°F. To complete you will need 1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed. Roll out 1 pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to 14-inch square. Transfer pastry to 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Trim edges, leaving 1-inch overhang. Fill pastry with chard mixture. Lightly brush pastry overhang with pastry brush dipped into water. Roll out second pastry sheet to 13-inch square. Using tart pan as guide, trim pastry square to 10-inch round. Drape over filling. Seal edges and fold in. Brush with egg wash. Bake until pastry is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.

Cabbage Means Wintertime in Italy

pasta and cabbageAlthough my Eastern European friends may disagree and my Irish friends may wonder if I’ve had one too many shots of espresso cabbage did originate in Italy. The crinkly Savoy cabbage (cavolo versa or Cavolo Milano) dates to the early 1500’s when it was a popular wintertime vegetable in the Savoy, a region of Italy that borders on Switzerland and France. It was often sauteed with garlic and olive oil, used in soups, served alone or with rice or pasta and is one of Italy’s favorite wintertime dishes.

A rustic, toothsome pasta pairs well with braised cabbage and other vegetables making it well worth trying. We recommend tagliatelle or La Bella Angiolina Olive Leaf Pasta from CosituttiMarketPlace for a vegetal flavor that pairs well with a St. Patrick’s Day Corned Beef and Cabbage.

Savoy Cabbage and Pasta

1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 small head savoy cabbage, about 1/2 pound
1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 large cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1/2 pound La Bella Angiolina Olive Leaf Pasta
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Chop cabbage into coarse shreds and sprinkle with salt. Allow to set for about an hour and drain squeezing to remove excess water. Melt the butter in a large skillet and add the garlic. Heat until the garlic just barely starts to color, then remove from the heat. Discard the garlic. Add drained cabbage and slowly braise until caramelized and soft. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil with the salt and boil pasta. Combine drained pasta with the cabbage in skillet. Pour additional melted butter over (if needed) and toss until all the ingredients are well mixed. Season with coarsely ground pepper and taste for salt.

The Night of the Red Underwear

red-underwear-2In Italy, New Years Eve, l’ultimo dell’anno, is celebrated with rites, rituals and events that are meant to bring good fortune, happiness and prosperity in the coming year. Derived from Roman celebrations in honor of Janus, the god of gates, doorways, beginnings and endings, New Years Eve in Italy is a time to put an end to the problems of the past and open the door to the possibilities of a New Year. And being Italian you want to ensure that you do so on the most fortuitous manner!

So wear something red, the traditional color of good fortune, on New Year’s Eve. If you’re Italian that would be red underwear! and eat grapes for good luck and prosperity and throw something old out the window.

Fill your table with regional Italian dishes that symbolize good fortune and abundance. Pork, coin shaped pasta and specialty sausages like cotechino and zampone served with lentils are traditional to the holiday. If you can’t find cotechino or a zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter), make your favorite sausage to serve with Giorgi Locatelli’s recipe for Herbed Lentil Soup

Then think about the wonders, beauty and blessings of the past year with a short “ringraziamento“, thanksgiving, and begin Capodanno 2016.

My Perfect Panzanella

tomatoesIt’s almost time for my favorite summertime salad made with vine ripened tomatoes fresh from the garden. I’ve been waiting for those firm, smooth, brightly colored fruits of the vine all year and now their brief time has come. Cold weather and refrigeration will kill their flavor and create a mealy texture so now is the time to use them to their greatest potential and for me that is in the making of panzanella, a Tuscan bread and tomato salad. Mine is patterned after a perfect panzanella eaten at the table of Tenuta di Capezzana, near the village of Carmignano, northwest of Florence. The scent, aroma and flavor of their highly acclaimed estate bottled extra virgin olive oil elevated the simpliest of ingredients into a work of food art. Simple but sublime panzanella is Italy’s “everyman” summertime salad as much enjoyed by King Vittorio Emanuelle, while he was a guest at a castle in Chianti as the Italian contadini in the fields.

Here is a recipe inspired by my visits to Capezzana. Do not use stale American bread for this recipe. It is not a substitute for the firm, artisan quality Tuscan bread needed to make this recipe so good.

Ingredients (this recipe will make several servings)           panzanella
10 oz loaf of Italian country style bread
1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
3 large ripe tomatoes cut into cubes with their juice
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar; more or less to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
a few cloves of fresh minced garlic

Cut the bread into bite size cubes. Warm 2-3 T extra olive oil in a large skillet. Add minced garlic to perfume the oil being careful not to let garlic brown. Toss bread cubes in oil, transfer to a baking sheet and finish in a 375 degree oven for a few minutes until bread al dente (firm yet soft). Let cool and transfer to a serving bowl and toss with tomatoes making sure to use all the juice the tomatoes yield. Dissolve salt to taste with the vinegar and oil in a small bowl, mix well and drizzle it over the bread mixture. Add basil and a few twists of coarsely ground pepper and toss.  Most Italian cooks recommend leaving the panzanella sit for a while before eating to allow all the flavors to come together.

10 Ways Italians Are Going to Save The World

Everyone’s got problems. Especially today. Maybe it’s because we’ve lost the artistry of living that the Italians know so well. They call it benessere “a sense of well being”. Traveling in Italy and staying with my Italian family and friends has led me to believe that Italians seem to know how to balance work and relaxation, surrounding themselves with beauty and art in their homes and businesses, eating fresh and vibrant food and focusing on family and friends. Italian design and fashion, culture and living, the way Italians prepare and eat their food all combine to create a sense of well being that doesn’t depend solely on the size of your bank account or stock portfolio.

Italians have long understood how art and beauty forge and strengthen our emotional bonds to life to create a sense of well being and lighten our discontent. Here are 10 ways Italian “benessere” is making the world a better place.

figs1. Green agriculture and eco-sustainability

Italy is a country with “un cuore verde”, a green heart. A country that measures its worth by preserving and protecting the land. In Italy green agriculture and eco-sustainability have been a powerful movement for decades. The pleasures of the table and ecologically-balanced farming methods are valued and encouraged. Italy’s farmhouses, family vineyards and orchards have always been a model for land to hand cooking. The traditional agricultural roots of Italian casalinga (homestyle) cooking are a legacy of Italian cuisine that we can all benefit from.

wine pour2. Wine

Wine is not simply considered an alcoholic beverage in Italy. It is part of the local culture, a product of the land, a family tradition and an integral part of the Mediterranean diet. Recently there has been a lot of buzz about the healthy lifestyle and longevity enjoyed by the people of Sardegna who drink Cannonau, a dark red wine said to contain the world’s highest levels of antioxidants (two to three times the level of flavonoids as other wines). The people of Sardegna who drink this wine are 10 times more likely to live to be 100. Research and the known effects of flavonoids have shown that moderate wine consumption may increase life expectancy while also lowering stress levels. Wine may not be able to solve all the world’s problems but reducing stress often allows us to put our problems in perspective and find a more balanced solution.

piazza3. Love, Friendship and Conviviality

Love is in the air all year long in Italy and has been for centuries. While we were busy developing the austere virtues of the Reformation, the Italians were relaxing in the inspiring glow of the Renaissance. And although we might want to identify the Italian style of love differently, Italians more often equate love with the concept of enchantment, charm or delight, innamorato. Italians take pleasure in the companionship of friends and opening themselves to life on the piazza. My Italian friend Luca once told me that his day would not be complete if he did not connect with at least one of his friends.

Olives4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Since ancient times Italian olive oil has been an integral part of the way Italians eat. High in polyphenols and protective antioxidants beneficial to heart health, extra virgin olive oils are an important part of a heart healthy diet reducing the risk of variety of diseases and promoting good health. Italians share their love of olive oil and Italy’s precious bottles of “liquid gold” are available all over the world.

camera degli sposi5. Art and Design

Laura Biagiotti, known for her Italian cashmere collection, has said that “Italian fashion is meant to add the extraordinary to everyday life”. From ancient Italian cultures to the Great Masters of the Renaissance, Italian art and design transcend politics, gender, economies and cultural differences to inspire and elevate all peoples of the world.

pecorino sardo6. Cheese

According to National Geographic writer and Emmy award-winning documentarian Dan Buettner the secret of longevity is encoded in an Italian cheese. Whether or not an Italian cheese can save the world remains to be seen but Buettner who travels the globe to examine and unlock the secrets of long life claims that a Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese is a start.

Eaten as part of a diet among people in Sardegna, designated by Buettner as a World Blue Zone (regions where long lived people can provide lessons for living longer and improving the quality of life) the cheese, known as pecorino sardo, is made from grass-fed sheep’s’ milk that results in a product which is high in omega-3 fatty acids.

copy-la-dolce-vita-tile.jpg7. La Bella Vita

Italy’s contribution to living a life of purpose and pleasure is eloquently summed up by Andrea Bocelli as he describes the essential elements of living life in Tuscany.

”Man was created for living here, where, with the toil of his labour in the fields, he can procure everything that he needs for a tranquil life and where he can also meditate on the profound meaning and spiritual value of his time spent on earth safe from the contradictions, vices, absurdities and tensions of the increasingly oppressive reinforced concrete world, where saying triumphs over doing, having over being, the frivolous over the useful, and the superficial over the concrete”.

Coffee cup8. Espresso

Although Italians may not have invented coffee they have perfected its making and service. Italian coffee beverages bring enjoyment and satisfaction to millions of people all over the world every day and as an espresso has less caffeine than a cup of coffee, a little goes a long way in lifting our spirits.

Our Italian Family in the Veneto
Our Italian Family in the Veneto circa 1919

9. Family

Italians appreciate their families and develop strong bonds with older family members. Elders are celebrated and family is revered. Loving grandparents provide child care, financial help, wisdom and motivation to perpetuate cultural and family traditions. In turn, elders are more engaged and feel a sense of belonging in their families and communities. Time and age is more irrelevant and society as a whole more dependent on family values with encouragement and supportive circle of family members.

Conservation sant eustorgio milan10. Conservation

No country is more perfectly constructed to the benefit of man than l’italia. The natural landscape of Italy is awe inspiring. Italians appreciate the true beauty of their country. Preservation, protection and conservation are part of their DNA. Italians have a better perspective and appreciation for their natural resources. Old buildings are left alone. If needed they are repaired or rebuilt, but otherwise they remain part of the landscape and their timeless charm and ancient beauty enhance the landscape. The patina of age is part of the natural landscape of Italy and Italians are more culturally sensitive and socially responsible for preserving heritage sites and promoting restoration.

A Well-Laid Picnic

cropped-picnic-fiat1.pngA picnic in the Italian countryside in your classic Fiat 500 or ______. Just fill in the blank and your picnic basket with salumi, salame and a crusty loaf  of bread. My choice would be a rustic Tuscan pane and a selection of Italian cold cuts like mortadella, capicola and finocchiona (if I could get it). Add a few bruschetta toppings, a selection of mostarda, some fruit and formaggi (a truffled pecorino would be very nice). For dessert, a melon with prosciutto and biscotti to dip into my flask of Vin Santo. Speaking of wine no self-respecting Italian meal would be complete without vino. So bring along a bottle of wine and to quench your thirst include a bottle of aqua minerale (San Pelligrino or Panna would be a good choice) and Italian soda.

Planning an Italian inspired picnic. Of course you’ll need a cutting board, corkscrew, cheese knife and a nice cloth and plates. Although there is no reliable etymological translation for the world picnic in Italian, an outdoor meal eaten al fuori (outdoors) in the countryside or a garden is widely described in Italian literature and a well-laid table was encouraged to heighten the experience.

Our Italian family were known for a well-laid table set in the Italian countryside.

Our Italian Family in the Veneto
Our Italian Family in the Veneto

Here is a picture of them circa 1919 relaxing in the countryside near Vicenza. To me it represents the idyllic Italian lifestyle and pleasures of “villegiatura”, leaving the life of the city for a villa in the country. Even though our Italian family did not have a villa along the Brenta Riviera they still enjoyed picnics in the Veneto. An Italian inspired picnic is my way of bringing Italy home and capturing a small slice of “la dolce vita”.

Here are a few ideas for your picnic panini –

Mortadella di bologna, emmental, rucola, senape
Bologna mortadella, emmenthal cheese, arugula, mustard

Parma Panini
Prosciutto from Parma, buffalo mozzarella, tomato, extra virgin olive oil

Salame, provolone, rucola, rafano, olio extra vergine d’oliva
Salami, provolone cheese, arugula, horseradish, extra virgin olive oil

Mozzarella di bufala, pomodoro, basilico, olio extra vergine d’oliva
Buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil, extra virgin olive oil