Author Archives: Christina

Tastes of Piemonte, with and hints of Lombardia

By Casey Hines

Here's Casey enjoying a gelato

For our last Italian Cuisine class, the foods were focused to the Northern part of Italy.  The dishes are primarily from Piemonte, with a couple from the regions neighbor to the east, Lombardia.

For our antipasto, we had Bresaola.  This antipasto is a common dish of both regions.  Bresaola is an air-dried fillet of beef that is a specialty of the Valtellina (Lombardia) that should always be served very thinly sliced.  It has become immensely popular; especially when served the way that we had it over rucola served with shards of grana padana (or can be with parmigiano-reggiano).  We also topped it off with a sprinkling of olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.

The bresaola prior to adding shavings of Grana Padano

Moving onto our primo, we moved into the region of Piemonte with a sausage risotto.  Risotto is a silky combination of several ingredients.  We began by softening the onion and garlic in olive oil then cooking the sausage.  Traditionally in the north, they use butter rather olive oil in most of their cooking.  After the meat was browned we added the rice and stirred with the mixture in oil to break down the hard  outside.  This breakdown is essential for obtaining the silky consistency of a good risotto.  We added white wine then began to add chicken stock ladle by ladle, all the while stirring constantly.  This dish was perfect for the winter time.  When it contains something like sausage or chicken, it makes for quite a hearty dish.

Sausage risotto

The texture is interesting because the rice remains al dente, so it is a little bit stiff, yet it is creamy from the breakdown of the outside of the rice and the liquid of the wine and stock that was added.  The richness of the dish is also typical to the northern regions that often have a French influence.

For our secondo, we had Brasato al Barolo, another dish of Piemonte.  This is a dish of a roast marinated in wine and vegetables then seared and simmered in the wine with vegetables for four hours.  After the meat was done, we reduced the wine over a flame then used a hand blender to make a sort of gravy with no flour to serve over the beef.  This way of cooking the beef resulted in very tender, flavorful  slices.  Because the flavor was so intense, in was paired nicely with basic polenta.  The reason we paired it with polenta rather than pasta is again because we were cooking from the north.  There are lots of areas that were originally poorer here and polenta was a very cheap way to make meals more filling.  Though these areas are some of the wealthiest areas of present-day Italy, this dish is still commonly found in regions like Piemonte and Lombardia.  I especially liked this dish because it is heartier than many of the meals that I have encountered in the Lazio region, which are often a lot of pasta and very little meat.  (Note from Christina – this is a secondo so not just a sauce for pasta)

Before moving onto our dolce, we took a pit stop with formaggio from both regions.  Two cheeses that were very good with crackers were the dolce (a slightly sweet version that is golden yellow) and picante (a sharper version that is golden) gorgonzola that was originally from Lombardia, but is now also produced in Piemonte in Novara.  These cheeses both had very robust flavors, but in my opinion, were not very distinct and very much like other blue cheeses that I have had previously.

Gorgonzola dolce

Grana Padano

We had grana panama again- solo this time.  Grana Pandana is the Lombard’s version of parmigiano-reggiano and more fine versions can be found in Lodi and Cremona.  This was my favorite cheese of the night as it is a little bit aged with flavor that fills your mouth but is not too overwhelming.    Lastly we had another cheese a Toma from Piemonte that is white in color with a golden crust.  We paired it with Mostarda, a quite unique food from Cremona.  It is fruit preserved in syrup that gains quite a kick from a healthy jolt of mustard-seed, and is one of the standard condiments served with boiled meats in northern Italy.  It started with a little bit of a kick, reminiscent of wasabi, but does not continue to burn and is a good way to cleanse the palate before moving onto our dolce.

The surprise sweet and mustard flavour of mostarda from Cremona

For the end of our meal we had two classic Christmas cakes and pears cooked in wine.  Pan d’Oro from Verona (region: Veneto) is a traditional Italian sweet yeast bread, most popular around Christmas and New Year.  It is traditionally shaped like  an 8 pointed-starsection and is often served dusted with vanillascented icing sugarmade to resemble the snowy peaks of the Italian Alps during Christmas.  Panettone from Milano is a classic yeast cake of Milano (the Lombardia region), with egg, saffron, raisins, and sometimes candied fruit.  It is usually available year round but is a Christmas cake and is consumed with sparkling wine during the holidays.  Both of these cakes are very light, more like bread to me than of what I consider “cake.”  They are a good way to finish of a big meal because they are so light and give just enough flavors for a sweet finish.

Pan d'Oro from Verona

Panettone origionated in Milan

The pears cooked in wine, or pere cotte al vino, is a dish of firm pears that are pealed then cooked slowly in Barolo (we actually used a light red Bardolino).   We also added sugar, cinnamon sticks, and lemon peel for flavor.  After the pears were done cooking, we also reduced the wine to make thick syrup to pour over the pears (which was also very good with the cakes).  The pears were very soft and sweet, even though we did not use a sweet wine.

Always a favourite, pears in red wine

This was probably the best complete measl that I have had in Italy!  I really enjoyed the tastes of the north that I have not gotten a chance to experience.  It was also interesting to me that everywhere I have been, olive oil is a huge part of Italian cuisine but does not seem to be the case in the north where they tend to use more butter or lard.  Hopefully, one day I will be able to travel there and try even more dishes.

A Typical meal from Viterbo, Lazio

By Jennie Kitaychik

Jennie enjoying a gelato

The first time I ever had a full course Italian meal was in our culinary class. That day was the first time in Italy I knew what it was like to be full.

We started off our class with making desserts. I later learned this to be a common theme of making desserts first so that they would be ready by the end of the evening. For this class, we made the delicious dolce of Tozzetti. Though it was made first, it was eaten last.

1st stage of cooking the biscotti as long sausage shapes

Cutting the tozzetti, ready to be cooked again

For our antipasti, we had three different cheeses along with three different type of salumi

Locally cured Prosciutto crudo, capocollo and locally made salami

We were instructed to try some of the cheeses with honey. Though, I would never think to combine the two normally, the combination was such a pleasant surprise.

All pecorino cheese - primo sale, al cacciatore and alla Romana

local honey

For our primi, we had prepared Lombricheli alla Amatriciana which is a dish native to the Viterbo, Lazio region. The noodles were so thick and filling that it was hard to imagine that there would still be a secondi dish. It was ultimately a tasteful pasta dish with tomato sauce. It was a delicious dish that did not take too long to prepare.

Lombrichelli all'Amatriciana

For our secondi, we had made Pollo con le Olive Nere, a dish native to the Lazio region. The contorni that accompanied this chicken dish were green string beans. It was the first time since being in Italy that I finally had some form of meat in my diet. The fact that it was chicken in a delicious wine, garlic, rosemary, and onion sauce, made this dish exquisite.

pollo con le olive

After our secondi, we all had some ricotta cheese again with honey. At this time the tozzetti were already made and ready to be eaten. This dinner took a total of four hours. We did not eat for all four hours, but instead took much needed breaks in between each course. I will never forget my first full Italian meal.

Summer pasta

By Nicole Denering and Lauren Eckworth

After our shopping cuisine class we made a delicious primo dish called summer pasta. This simple dish included only a few ingredients but it is great for warm weather when minimal stove top cooking is desired. The few ingredients create a final taste that is light and refreshing. The only ingredients were tomatoes, fior di latte cheese (mozzarella), and pasta.

Only the outer layer of the tomato was used because the pulp would have caused the pasta dish to be too watery. You can also liquidize some of the tomato to form a ‘sauce’. The tomato was cut up into small cubes and seasoned with pepper. Next, the fior di latte cheese was torn into small pieces to be added to the pasta. Fior di latte is similar to mozzarella but made with cow’s milk, so it is more chewy. This cheese is made in Viterbo in the Piano Scarano area. The pasta was cooked al dente and then added to the tomatoes and fior di latte and all was mixed together to be served.

The heat of the pasta caused the cheese to melt slightly. Once the cheese solidified again, it had absorbed some of the tomato juice to create a flavorful combination to be enjoyed with pasta. This light yet satisfying dish is a very enjoyable primo dish and summertime favorite.

Making Cannoli during class

By Bailey Sheridan

Bailey Sheridan

The first time I ever had a cannoli I threw it away. The filling had a weird taste and the shell was way too hard. When I was asked to make cannoli in cooking class my first thought was to say “No way!” However, I kept my thoughts to myself and decided that I could help make them without tasting them, so I got working!

The first thing we did was roll out the dough into thin circles. Then we had to take a wooden cylinder and roll the cannoli around it. This task was tedious because if you got the dough too thin it would tear, and if it was too thick it was hard to make the sides stay together!

Anthony Donofrio III puts his strength into rolling and cutting the dough

After that we dropped the dough into the deep fryer and fried them up!  Once the shells were golden brown we took them out and set them aside.

Ella Trujillo deep frying the shells

Jackie Correa prepares the chocolate

Next we made the cannoli filling. For this we used cream, (and I don’t know what else!)  (Note from Christina – actually it wasn’t cream but ricotta beaten so that it was smooth and creamy)  Then we slowly added in chocolate chips and whipped up the mixture. Once the ricotta was ready we put it into little bags and squeezed it into the shells!

Bailey beating the ricotta

...and pipes the ricotta into the shells

When it came time to eat them I was very hesitant, but since they were small I figured I might as well try one! I am so glad I did. These cannolies were absolutely amazing! The shell was not hard and stiff, and the filling was light and fluffy. The chocolate chips were also a nice touch. They were the by far the most delicious thing I have made in cooking this year!

The canolli were dusted with powder sugar to serve

For the full recipe go to the recipe section/dolce canolli

Learning Young

Learning to taste wine?

Last Friday evening there was a Wine tasting of the wines produced by Tre Botte, an excellent producer of red and white wines in the province of Viterbo.  Bar San Sisto, Viterbo, hosted the launch of their new Rosè wine, which won’t be available for purchase until March.

All the wines were excellent and Bar San Sisto provided some delicous nibbles to accompany the wines.

The image above shows that Italian babies learn very young to appriciate good wine – (for those of you from different cultures I can assure you that the baby didn’t actually get to taste the wine even if from the evidence of the photo it really seems as if she would like to!

 

Cooking of the Lazio Region

By Grace Hauck
We enter the house and can smell something already cooking.  The aromas fill the air.  Today, all the cooking we did included foods and dishes from our region of Lazio. We first make Zuppa di Cecci e castagne, which is a soup with chickpeas and chestnuts a soup that is usually made for Christmas Eve.  The soup has dried chestnuts, chickpeas, tomatoes, celery, fresh rosemary, garlic, and one dried chili.  Traditionally this served on top of a slice of bread, but already having a big meal, we didn’t have our soup with bread.

While the soup was cooking, we began to make the Tozzetti cookies.  Italian baking is very different from American in that it uses olive oil rather than butter most of the time.  Tozzetti are made with toasted hazelnuts locally grown in nearby towns of Vallerano, Vignanello, and Caprarola.  The cookie contains flour, olive oil, eggs, sugar, lemon rind, baking powder, and toasted hazelnuts–a major product of this region.  This cookie is baked twice, first baked in long logs and then cut diagonally into pieces and baked again.  As we cut the cookies we can’t help but take bits and pieces to nibble on just to get a taste as we await our meal.  As the cookies came out of the oven, our feast could begin with zuppa di Cecci e Castagne. This delicious soup is slightly pureed before serving to give it a thicker consistency.  We ate our soup, momentarily filling our growling stomachs.

The Lombrichelli pasta, the classic pasta of Tuscia, came next. The name comes from the word il lombrico, or worm-like, since it is a very thick pasta.  Lombrichelli alla amatriciana is a dish using smoked pig’s cheek and pancetta fried in a pan until crispy, and tomatoes, basil, white wine vinegar, olive oil, a hot chili pepper, and topped with freshly grated pecorino cheese.  As the sauce is added to the freshly cooked pasta it squishes together combining to make a delicious dish.  With this dish we served white wine “Est! Est!! Est!!!”.

Est Est Est

Next to tastefully jump into our mouths is Saltimbocca alla Romana.  Saltimbocca literally means, “jump in the mouth” because it is simply that good of a dish.  We took the pork tenderloin (called Arista here), rolled it flat with the back of a knife, laid a piece of Prosciutto crudo (air cured ham) on top, followed by a sage leaf, and a toothpick to hold everything together.  The pan is heated first, then the oil, and is finally followed by the pork for a quick cook time of only about 2-3 minutes.  The Prosciutto gets nice and crispy.  It leaves fat in the pan to be soaked up after the cooking is done with Marsala wine to make a syrupy sauce served over the pork.  The wine to go with this dish is a white wine called “San Marco- Frascati Superiore-Secco.” We learned to smell this wine, look at something white to notice and compare the color, swish it, and finally taste it.  The dish did jump into our mouths and we enjoyed every last bite!

The excellent white wine from Frascati

The cheese course was next, in which we tried four different types of cheese.  They were lined up from least sharp to sharpest on a cutting board sliced for everyone to try.  The first cheese was caciotta, which was very mild and not very flavorful.  The second was pecorino rosso, which was the perfect marriage of sharpness and smoothness.  Following was pecorino del caciotori, which was similar to parmesan cheese to my taste and very mature.  The sharpest cheese was the pecorino Romano cheese, which we had grated over our lombrichelli alla amatriciana as well as here to taste.

Pecorino cheeses

Next we tried ricotta, which might seem in order following the cheese, but despite popular belief is not really a cheese.  Ricotta is really the remains of the true cheese making process – The whey recooked. Topped with either delicious apricot jam or coffee grounds.  Both were surprisingly good!  Lastly came Tezzotti with Aleatico di Gradoli red wine to dip the cookies in.  This wine is made just for dipping cookies in.  We all took a deep breath and relaxed after such a wonderful selection of foods.

A Meal in Spoleto

By Hillary Kladke (USAC student studying in Viterbo)  This was written as a final paper.

Umbria, a landlocked region situated between Toscana, Lazio and Marche, is very often called the “Green Heart of Italy” because of its combination of mountains, hills and flat terrain and its location in the center of Italy. Other than Perugia, the capital, Umbria is a relatively quiet region, the somewhat lack of tourism allowing the Umbrian cuisine to remain close to its roots. Umbria has many famous abbeys, monasteries and convents, such as in Assisi and in Montefalco. Simplicity, because of St. Francis of Assisi’s view of poverty, is favored in this region and that shows through in the many food dishes in this region. The people of Umbria are some of the most environmentally conscious Italians and much of the food grown in this region is the “healthy food” that Italians commonly consume. Part of the diet of Umbria includes many different types of vegetables, including peas, lentils, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, spinach, beans and eggplant. Ingredients in Umbria come from the surrounding land and, therefore, most of the dishes are fresh.

While traveling in Spoleto, a town in Umbria, for a Hill Towns Class, we ate a beautifully prepared six course meal at Il Tempio del Gusto,  (translates as “A temple of Taste) a family owned restaurant.

Il ristorante - Il Tempio del Gusto

The menu is a constantly rotating menu based on the seasonal ingredients available to the cooks. Lucky for us, we were able to try many of the different flavors that Umbria is known for because we came during a season in which olive oil was being harvested and roasted pig was at its best, according to the owners of the restaurant. The food in Umbria is known to be “simple, sober and homely, but it also has great elegance,” which can be seen in the following description of the filling and elegantly prepared meal that we ate in Spoleto

The new oil

While waiting for our food, we tried two different types of olive oil on bread and on bruschetta. One of the olive oils was produced by the restaurant and the other was a generic brand of olive oil. The generic brand of olive oil was simple olive oil, probably normally used for cooking, for it wasn’t very good on top of the breads. However, when we tried the restaurant’s newly made olive oil, I was stunned at the difference that fresh olive oil made. According to the Cuisine book, the olive oil in Umbria is “jade green, fragrant, fruity and sometimes very lusty [and] it is among the finest oils in Italy.” While we were in Spoleto, the olive harvest was taking place, near the end of October. The oil is used in all types of cooking and the black olives from the trees are usually “marinated in oil with orange peel, garlic and herbs and served with wine”

The next course was a type of hardened crepe with different types of cheeses inside and a mushroom and tartufo sauce. Many of the ingredients found in the cuisine in Umbria are taken directly from the woods, like mushrooms. The king of all Umbrian mushrooms, according to Perugia Online, is the Porcino mushroom and the Porcino mushroom is frequently used in many dishes because of its abundance in the nearby forests of this region. Umbria also has a solid relationship with cheese-making, especially with goat cheeses that are produced seasonally and made in small, sustainable quantities (Veria.com). Goat cheese, one of the cheeses in this dish, has twice the protein, one-third the calories and half the fat and cholesterol of regular cream cheese, which makes this cheese more popular in this region due to the region’s love of health food.

The next course was a doughy potato ravioli, smothered in la ghiotta. La Ghiotta is a popular sauce made from cooking juices from the meat or fowl being cooked, plus olive oil, vinegar, anchovies, olives, lemon peel, sage, salt, and pepper.

Delicious potato ravioli

For our next course, we had spaghetti col rancetto, a Spoleto specialty. The dish is made with pancetta and marjoram and long pasta strands, Stringozzi, which are made with hand-milled flour. When the area around Spoleto was part of the papal lands in the Middle Ages, the pope sent collectors to gather funds from people who did not pay their taxes. The people around the area of Spoleto who did not want to pay plotted to strangle the collectors with a long leather cord called the “strangozzo.” This is how the popular noodle of Spoleto came to have its name.

Stringozzi

After that, we were given yet another type of pasta. The pasta were large, circular noodles in a tartufo sauce with sausage. The forests of Umbria are abundant with truffles, a flavor that is often used in Umbrian cuisine. The black truffles in Val Nerina, near Spoleto, are the most highly prized truffles in all of Umbria, which shows through in the cuisine in which nearly every dish is covered in tartufo. There are different types of truffles, ranging from jet black to white. According to the cuisine book, truffles are so abundant that they are used in nearly everything. Many times, they are grated or chopped up and used in various dishes, which to some, might seem like a disgrace because truffles are not abundant everywhere and, in many places, are considered a delicacy. In other regions, white truffles are more highly prized than the black truffles because they are claimed to less perfume, but Umbria claims that the black truffles have a much better taste. Umbrians use truffles all year round, but in the autumn, the truffles are sniffed out and taken out of the ground by truffle-sniffing dogs and pigs. In this region, this time of year is cause for celebration and many festivals are held in honor of truffles.

For our Secondi, we had beautiful cutlets of pork, covered in a rich sauce with potatoes and eggplant on the side.

Very elegantly served pork

The meat in this region is known to be some of the best. In Norcia, there are talented cooks that have few rivals; they are so accomplished that Norcia’s pork butchers have become a noun. A norcino is a top pork butcher and they can open up a place called a norcineria. Norcia is considered the gastronomic capital of the region — it is known for its cured ham, sausages and salami. Vittorio Battilocchi, who owns Dal Francese, thinks that the meat is so good in this part of the region because Norcia had the oldest school of surgery and the knowledge of human anatomy may have been able to be applied to the butchering of a pig. The men of Norcia, according to the Cuisine Book, are artists in the art of preparing the pig. The local ham of Norcia is lean and compact because the small black pigs are fed on acorns and chestnuts. The ham is very garlicky, stronger and more peppery than most other types of ham. Other towns beside Norcia use their own special breeds of pigs and have their own specialities. Umbria is very famous for porchetta, a whole roast pig that has been stuffed with garlic, wild fennel, rosemary and sage. One of the main features of Umbrian meat cooking is the grill and spit. Lamb is also another type of specialty.

For Dolci, we tried some odd new age dessert that I haven’t been able to identify. However, I know that it had pine nuts in it. Desserts in this region are often flavored with honey, chestnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts and almonds, all ingredients that can be readily found in the areas around the towns and in the forests, according to ItalianCook.ca.

The seasons, according to the Cuisine Book, are very noticeable in Umbrian cooking, especially the seasons for mushrooms and game. The people in this region catch migratory birds that, twice a year, stop for a month to feed on the olives and juniper berries. From these birds, they make cappelletti con sugo di tordi, which is stuffed pasta with a sauce of thrushes. Umbria also has many food festivals called Sagre, which feature seasonal regional food. Each season revolves around seasonal food and, apparently, we went to Umbria during one of the best seasons — fresh truffles, fresh olive oil and the best meat. From olive oil to truffles to excellent game, the cuisine in Umbria is beautiful, simple and well-worth eating.

The Hill Towns class enjoys a hearty lunch!