Monthly Archives: June 2014

A farewell with wine

Rachel Green

CHIUSDINO, Italy— As the Will Write for Food –Italian Edition study abroad group spent our last days at Spannocchia, an agritourism farm in Tuscany, we enjoyed the peaceful stillness of the country, the delicious family style meals complete with company of people from all over the world and traditional wine on the terrace at 7 p.m. every weekday. Spannocchia has two vineyards on the property that produce the red, rosato and white wine they serve each night. After one full week on the farm, we had learned about grape growing, pruning, fermenting and storage. We had learned about raising Cinta Senese hogs, prosciutto and pasta making, about vegetable garden plans and Italian regional cooking.

What better way to end our month-long journey than to do as the Italians do and relax under the beautiful Tuscan sun, enjoy the company of good friends and enjoy a fine glass of wine made from quality, home-grown grapes?

Will Write for Food --Italian Edition summer 2014 journalism students, left to right: Rachel Green, Jessica Vaughn, Jordan Bromberg, Kaity Martin, Rachel Trujillo, Jenny Janssen.

Will Write for Food –Italian Edition journalism students, left to right: Rachel Green, Jessica Vaughn, Jordan Bromberg, Kaity Martin, Rachel Trujillo, Jenny Janssen.

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Garden fresh: it’s what’s for dinner

Rachel Trujillo
CHIUSDINO, Italy—In Italy, being a Florentine from Florence, Romano from Rome or Milanese from Milan is more important than country of origin. This pride spreads to each of the 20 regions in Italy where each resident believes his or her region is supreme. In a country similar in size to the state of Florida, a 20-minute difference can mean a complete change in culture and cuisine. We see these differences in the most common Italian meal, pasta.

Pasta differences range from the shape, size, wheat content and sauce placed on top. Ingrained custom dictates what goes together and what would never be thought of as an acceptable dish. When we made fresh pasta for lunch at Spannocchia, an agro-tourism farm estate outside of Siena, it was understood the gardener’s sauce was the only acceptable option.

The farm of Spannocchia has a vast garden installed in parcels across their land. All meals are prepared in accordance to the season and what vegetables they are harvesting. When making the sauce, we were greeted with a large bowl of zucchini, carrots, peas, a bell pepper, tomatoes, an onion and cloves of garlic. The cooks followed no recipe or guidelines when choosing these ingredients. Rather, the freshness of each vegetable and the idea that it would combine perfectly in their sauce was key.

The vegetables were blended together in a food processor. Then the green puree with sprinkles of orange and red simmered in a frying pan with olive oil, mushrooms, salt and pepper. As a fresh aroma filled the air, tomatoes were added once the onions became translucent.

When the sauce was done cooking we tossed it together with the fresh tagliatelle noodles, adding basil and olive oil on top for last minute added freshness. Outside the window, the veggies were growing–this was a meal definitely suited for the environment.

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Filed under Chiusdino, regional food, Spannocchia

Cinta Senese hogs thrive at Spannocchia

Jessica Vaughn

CHIUSDINO, Italy- Black and white belted Cinta Senese hogs roam the flower-dotted fields of Spannocchia, an agritourism farm near Siena, Italy, in summertime. The heritage breed was brought back from near extinction in the 1980s by the efforts of the current owners of the estate and other interested parties. These hogs are raised organically until they are two years of age, and then used to produce the farm’s regionally-famous prosciutto products.

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Tiramisu: heavenly homemade celebration

By: Kaitlynn Martin

CHIUSDINO, Italy- Although the green-shuttered window was open, the air stood still and refused to venture into the brick-ceiling kitchen. Dark, rich lakes of espresso sat silently in clear bowls arranged on the kitchen’s island. Their surface stillness shattered with a splash from a long Pavesini cookie. Tiramisu was underway.

The clinking of spoons against mixing bowls with fluffy egg whites orchestrated an early afternoon melody. Dark chocolate shavings kissed the tops of ladyfinger-like cookies layered above a mascarpone cheese and egg mixture. Sweet layers piled to create the Italian dessert of tiramisu.

Loredana Betti, the leader of the Italian cooking class, watched as her students carefully scooped and sprinkled ingredients. She knew little English, so smooth Italian spilled from her mouth and filled the kitchen with instructions and jokes.

With a dusting of cocoa powder over the final white layer, the individual tiramisu cups were completed. Two hours set and chilled the layers to create a delicious combination of bold espresso and bitter chocolate.

Tiramisu in Italian translates to “pick-me-up,” most likely a reference to its content of coffee and sugar. The layered cake with ingredients of eggs, sugar, mascarpone cheese, ladyfinger cookies, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, espresso and rum, is one of Italy’s most popular desserts, but is not always served after meals. A typical Italian dinner concludes with fresh fruit. If an elegant slice of tiramisu is presented, it usually calls for a celebration.

The mid-June afternoon in the Tuscan countryside was not designated as a special holiday, but individual round bowls of tiramisu were made nonetheless. Sometimes the greatest holidays are not printed in bold ink on calendars. They are instead, simple celebrations of life.

The first three layers of tiramisu are complete and ready for layering.

The first three layers of tiramisu are complete and ready for layering.

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Filed under Spannocchia, tiramisu

Italian green thumb grows abundance

Jennifer Janssen

CHIUSDINO, Italy— Carmen Zandarin clutched a carrot freshly harvested from one of three gardens she tends to on the farm at Spannochia. In the background two interns gathered rows of ripened garlic from the dark, rich soil. The amount of vegetables plucked from the garden varies depending on the amount of guests that will be fed a fresh breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Carmen’s flawless knowledge of each and every vegetable on the farm means a synchronized order of how each is harvested throughout every season. Through March and into April, wild herbs become prime ingredients for cooking because many of their leaves are still young and soft, not bitter and tough to taste. Carmen points to a particularly green verbena plant, plucks a leaf, lifts it to her nose, and then rubs it on her wrists. The aroma of verbena fends off mosquitoes and other pests when the scent of the herb is released onto the skin, she said.

“My objective is more is possible,” Carmen said in her thick Italian accent, slowly choosing her sentences in English. Gardener at Spannochia

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Cinta Senese: a pig of many flavors

Kaitlynn Martin

CHIUSDINO, Italy- In a cool basement of Tenuto di Spannochia under a red brick archway, hind legs of Cinta Senese hogs sway. Hooves pointing toward the ceiling are tied tightly with rope. The thick thighs are stamped in red ink, indicating quality and authenticity of the chilled, drying meat.

In Italy it is tradition to use all parts of the pig. This includes not only the fat from the belly, back and head, but also the brain, eyes, blood and other organs. To Americans who love their meat, but usually not cooked any less than medium-rare, the uncooked delicacy of prosciutto and other meats may sound unsettling.

I found plated before me on a round white dish a sensory experience that if I had been at home, I would not have tried. Six meats, all from different parts of a Cinta Senese hog, decoratively circled the plate. Each thin slice of meat ranged in colors of pure cream whites, translucent light reds and grainy browns, sure to offer a signature taste with each unique bite. As a red (and fully-cooked) meat-loving American, I was pleasantly surprised by the flavors of these meats that I would usually turn away from in disgust.

Lardo: Fat from the back of a pig. The fat is cut with skin intact to form a barrier to keep in flavor. Afterwards, the fat is put in a brine of juniper, rosemary and bay to create a salty flavor and smooth texture that melts in your mouth.

Rigatino: This is also known as pancetta and comes from the belly of the pig. It is most similar to bacon found in America. Rigatino is cured with salt and pepper and then hung to dry for three to four months.

Prosciutto: This is prized throughout all of Italy and comes in many variations depending on the type of pig. The cured meat originates from the back leg of the pig and is massaged with salt and left to dry out in cool enclosures. Prosciutto is often paired with fresh cantaloupe or cuts of pecorino cheese.

Cappicollo: “Collo” is neck in Italian, and that is exactly where this meat comes from- the neck muscle of the pig to be exact. Wild fennel is used to season the meat and provides a nutty, spicy flavor.

Salame: Lean pieces of meat ground up and added with cubed fat from other parts of the pig. Salame is then seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and wine and cased in a lining of pig intestines. The combination of meat and fat provides a range of texture and flavors not typical to the thin slices of salami in America.

Soppressato: A mixture of kidneys, head, ears and skin of a pig. The soppressato has an aroma of winter, highlighted by cinnamon and nutmeg. This meat is made right after the pig is slaughtered, which by tradition is done in the winter. Before refrigeration this timing helped keep the meat from spoiling.

The meat of the Cinta Senese pig, clockwise from top center: lardo, rigatino, prosciutto, cappicollo, salame and soppressato.

The meat of the Cinta Senese pig, clockwise from top center: lardo, rigatino, prosciutto, cappicollo, salame and soppressato.

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Filed under Cinta Senese, dried meats, Spannocchia

Around the olive oil wheel

Jordan Bromberg

CHIUSDINO, Italy –Whether its baked in our Margherita pizza or drizzled over our fresh vegetables, olive oil has become part of our everyday diet here in Italy.

Until today I didn’t realize that olive oil could be tasted like wine. I only realized that it tasted better than any oil I have had in the U.S.

Today we sampled olive oils from three different regions of Italy and learned about the variety of textures, appearances, smells and tastes that different olive oils have.

Below is a guide to the words that can be used to describe olive oil based on these traits.

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Made from scratch

Rachel Trujillo

CHIUSDINO, Italy— A tiny mound of delicate flour laid on the marble counter; a cracked egg, olive oil and salt rested in the crater inside. With the smooth whisking motion of the fork, thick dough began to form. The gummy mixture molded itself between my fingers and I found it difficult to separate the sticky dough from my hand. We each had our own ball, eventually combining them into one perfectly kneaded jumble ready to be rolled out. The effortless mixing of these simple ingredients shattered my previous thoughts of how hard making homemade pasta must be.

We watched Loredana Betti, former chef and long-time resident at Spannocchia, gracefully work the pasta dough until it held the perfect consistency throughout. There was something natural to her movement. It became instantly obvious she had a firm grasp on not only this recipe, but of all cooking that took place in the kitchen. Her timing was precise but never rushed. In a one fluid motion we made pear and pecorino crostone, Gardner’s sauce, baked zucchini, thin beef rolls, tiramisu and fresh tagliatelle noodles.

The dough was ready and the pasta equipment was set up. We divided the dough again into pieces perfectly sized for a three-inch wide strip of pasta. Bette placed one chunk into the machine and quickly churned the knob. A thinner block emerged from the other side. She turned the dial to an even thinner setting and repeated her process. We each took turns spinning the wheel and flattening our dough. Eventually we were left with uniformly thin, wide strips of pasta that stretched to great lengths.

Rachel Trujillo tries her hand at pasta from scratch

Rachel Trujillo tries her hand at pasta from scratch

The flexible noodles quickly hardened and maintained their form. This indicated their readiness to be cut into their ultimate noodle shape. The noodles cooked in boiling water just long enough to soften.

The freshness of the pasta paired with the newly picked vegetables in the sauce created a meal fit for the Tuscan countryside.

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No mystery ingredients here

Jordan Bromberg

CHIUSDINO, Italy – I’m used to eating a meal and thinking, “I wonder what’s in here.”

In this small countryside town near Sienna I can close my eyes and truly taste each bite, paying careful attention to the different fresh flavors. I can identify certain spices and certain vegetables. Even with a language barrier that sometimes prevents me from understanding exactly what ingredients went into my dish, I am able to tell what I am eating, unlike what sometimes happens back at home.

Today, we made fresh tagliatelle with a gardener’s sauce from scratch. As we began to make the sauce, chopping the zucchini and garlic, I remembered where each ingredient was grown and harvested.
The sauce, made with zucchini, garlic, bell peppers, onion, peas, mushrooms, tomatoes and, of course, extra virgin olive oil, took on a cheese-y, tomato-ey taste when poured over homemade tagliatelle and sprinkled with Parmesan.

Here on the Spannocchia farm, I know where all of my food is made. I know that every single ingredient in my dinner is from the garden I explored this morning or the animals I visited yesterday.

Even in Florence, a larger city, where I never saw pigs roaming or vegetables growing, flavors of fresh ingredients shone through every dish I ate.

As I eat the homemade pasta we have just prepared, I think about the pasta-like dishes we find ourselves eating far too often as college students – Easy Mac and Ramen Noodles.

I think about the idea of tearing apart of plastic wrapper to reveal a cup of noodles that will expire far in the future – if ever. All ingredients are in a foil packet, and I cannot recognize more than a couple of the ones listed on the label.

We simply add water, microwave and stir a mysterious powder into a container of noodles, which has become covered in a strange milky residue, to prepare what we might call dinner.

Even restaurant meals and “homemade” Italian dishes are more mysterious in the US. What animal’s milk was used to make the cheese that tops my pasta? Where were the tomatoes that make up this marina sauce grown? Are they organic? How much salt is in this? How much fat am I consuming? It is harder to judge the nutritional value of a meal, and distinct, fresh tastes are harder to find.

I miss certain aspects of living in the United States, but the food is not one of them. I will forever be skeptical of what I eat. I will miss living in a place where I know that I am eating the freshest, healthiest ingredients available.

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Filed under pasta, Spannocchia

Tuscan take on soup: ribollita

Jenny Janssen

FLORENCE, Italy — What was placed before me at Trattoria San Lorenzo was a soup packed with steaming vegetables, not even close to simmering loosely in a pool of broth. Just a few simple ingredients–white cannellini beans, tender celery, carrots, chunks of potato and deep green kale–made this dish come alive with flavor. A bowl of warm and crunchy panne toscano, Tuscan bread, waited patiently to be soaked up in the thick and flavorful broth.

Ribollita, meaning “re-boiled” is a traditional stew famous throughout the central region of Tuscany. Combining a mixture of ingredients that are leftover from past meals creates this particular zuppa, or thick soup. It originated from peasants in the Tuscan region in the 13th and 14th centuries who used all of their resources to keep themselves fed when working hard all day. Any sort of beef, chicken or pork was mostly out of reach for peasants; it was served only to the wealthy aristocrats. Peasants filled up on any vegetables they could get.

The ingredients used in the Middle Ages are much the same as today, but now ribollita is a unique staple item of Tuscany that remains drenched in the history of the region just like that last bite of panne toscano soaked in a timeless flavor, centuries in the making.

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