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
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
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
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
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