Monthly Archives: June 2014

Farm to table at Spannocchia

Rachel Green

CHIUSDINO, Italy – Upon our arrival on Saturday to Spannocchia, a 1100 acre self-sustaining farm estate in the Tuscan countryside, our group was met with a classic Italian family style lunch.
mansion

Spaghetti, salad, bread and potatoes were accompanied by the peaceful silence of the countryside, a polar opposite change from the bustling city life we had grown accustomed to in Florence the past three weeks.

Over the next week at Spannocchia, we will be learning of the farm’s history and sustainable agriculture practices. We will be eating meals prepared with ingredients grown in the expansive vegetable garden, vineyard and animal housing units.

The Spannocchia property was built in the 1100’s and was a large farm tended to by sharecroppers. It has since then been expanded and modernized but still holds many traditions of Tuscan farm culture.

With spectacular views and large family style dinners that carry on the tradition of the property, it is sure to be a week to remember.

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Will hike for food: Cinque Terre

Jessica Vaughn

CINQUE TERRE, Italy – From the cheerful soft yellows, pinks, and oranges of the villas that dot the cliffs of the five villages of Cinque Terre to the perfectly still aqua seawater that lies beneath them, the views of the coastline of this portion of the Italian Riviera are some of the most inspiring and breathtaking in the country of Italy, and arguably the world.

Though it’s entirely possible to appreciate this beautiful place from a boat or train, the most spectacular views can only be obtained with a little bit—okay, a lotta bit—of extra effort. The extra labor is in the form of a 3.5 km hike from the towns of Vernazza to Monterosso. Cinque Terre, the home of five small villages, translates to “Five Hills” in English; however in reality these were more like mountains. But the best experiences in life wouldn’t be as wonderful if you didn’t have to fight for them, right?

We fought, and we won. The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso was steep, narrow, and in some places, downright dangerous. The two-way path was at most two-feet wide, twisting and winding up and around the sides of the mountain on the edge of the Liguaran Sea. In some places the path was dirt and in others it was steep rocky stairs, but in all places, it was difficult—especially if the only exercise you have had in the past two weeks is walking to and from the gelato shop.

The hiking time is approximately 1.5 hours if you continuously climb without any breaks, but it would be silly not to break occasionally to take in the views of the sea and the mountainside. We reached the end of the path—the beach—in about two hours. By that time our water bottles had long been emptied and our stomachs were growling for food. Luckily, the region in which Cinque Terre lies is home to the freshest and best seafood and pesto in the world.

My tired body fought over what it wanted. My legs ached for a chair, my stomach for food, and my mind for a strong margarita. I made it down the strip, past big-lettered tourist traps, rocky beaches, and overpriced mixed drink stands to a sky- blue sign with white lettering that read “Cantina.” The restaurant looked promising. My stomach was winning the battle.

The restaurant was indeed the oasis we hoped it would be. A shaded two-person table welcomed us to sit and enjoy an aperitivo of fried focaccia bread paired with three delicious herb and olive-based dips. The first was the region’s famous pesto, fresh and almost sweet with a strong basil taste. The second was an olive paste, made with a mix of black and green olives, crushed into a smooth dip perfect for spreading on bread. The third was an olive oil, but not traditional pure oil that Italy is known for producing. It had a buttery taste, and was thicker and more yellow in color instead of green. All three were delicious. We ran out of dip much sooner than we ran out of bread.

Next came the calamari. A giant plate filled with fresh-out-of-the-sea and hot-out-of-the-fryer squid, spritzed in lemon and served co-mingled with zucchini. It looked and smelled appetizing to my rumbling stomach. It was coated in a thin layer of breading, salted and flavorful without any greasy residue that you might find in a Midwest preparation of the same meal. You could sum it up in one word: satisfying.

The strenuous hike led to many beautiful views and one heck of a traditional meal on the Italian Riviera. But even if the best pesto in the world and seafood is found thousands of miles away from home, it’s always possible to create your very own basil masterpiece. The Cinque Terre website (www.cinqueterre-travel.com/gastronomy/pesto/)offers a quick and easy six ingredient recipe.

So remember, if the hills look a little too steep to climb or the path looks too narrow to share, overcoming those obstacles will lead you to a view like this and a plate full of your dreams.

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This sauce rocked John Travolta

Rachel Trujillo

FLORENCE, Italy—Three of us took a long walk down the Arno River last week to a part of Florence we had yet to explore. If we were going to listen to one suggestion from a friend who spent a semester here, she made it clear Ristorante Il Profeta needed to be it. Awaiting us was a meal we have longed for since we began our adventure.

For the first time in two weeks we actually made a reservation, a sure sign of our enthusiasm. We were late and nervous we had lost our spot. Frantically, we rushed inside only to be greeted by a tranquil and hospitable elderly man eagerly awaiting our arrival. He proudly introduced himself as the owner who was there to serve us the best meal. We sat and watched in awe as he greeted each customer by name and made sure the young girl next to us left with a souvenir.

The restaurant was small and quaint. The walls glowed with a simple cream palate with hand drawn paintings in neutral tones. The placemats matched the napkins in a deeper shade of rustic yellow. It was modest-looking and comforting. I was instantly brought back to my grandparent’s table, anticipating the spaghetti dinner my grandparents cooked in the kitchen.

When the owner approached the table, he made a point to ensure we understood the vastness in our options for dinner that night. He went though the entire menu with such distinct detail that left my mouth watering. We decided to begin with the bruschetta coated with what he said was Italy’s most pristine olive oil and tomatoes. He gave us one tomato-less piece so we could savor the flavors of this olive oil. After treating us to far more samples than my appetite was ready for, my main course meal came out.

I followed the directions of my friend and ordered the “John Travolta,” almost despite its name This was not technically its name, but rather its description ever after John Travolta licked his plate clean twice after eating the meal.

The thick, homemade noodles were soaked in a puree that he proudly stated has been secret recipe for 34 years. Unable to decipher the flavors, I became content with knowing that this food experience was unique to any I have and will experience in my life.

I ate slowly allowing the flavors to introduce themselves individually. When my meal was complete a large pile of the delicious thick puree remained on my plate. To my surprise and basket of freshly baked bread was placed in front of me, permitting me to scoop up what was left of this unique sauce.

The owner spoke frequently of the commonalities we shared although we were from different countries. He explained how we all speak a number of languages but don’t know it and each time we use certain expressions we are conveying the same concept. So as I sat there scraping up the last of my meal, he stated that I “made scarpetta,” and Italian expression literally meaning I am scraping the remains on the plate like a little shoe. This was a great compliment to the chef and my only way to ensure to him that he had certainly served me the best meal.

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Seafood splendor at Cinque Terre

Rachel Green

CINQUE TERRE, Italy – Weekend adventures led me to the five towns of Cinque Terre along Italy’s western coast where I discovered its treasure, seafood.

Calamari

Calamari


After a beautiful boat ride on the turquoise water with a view of all five of the hillside towns, we reached the fifth, Monterosso. There, we came across Ristorante Belvedere. A quaint little place right by the water, it was relatively inexpensive and the food was tasty.

Cinque Terre, known for its walking trails between towns with wide ocean vistas, also has excellent fried calamari and prawns. I made a decision.

Two others in the group ordered the same thing so we received a heaping portion of fried seafood–whole prawns; eyeballs, brains and all, calamari in giant pieces, so fresh and delicious when dipped in olive oil and salt.

Collectively, we managed to polish off the whole massive plate of seafood, quite an accomplishment.

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Shh…it’s a secret

Rachel Trujillo

FLORENCE, Italy—Early each morning a sweet aroma spills into the streets of Florence signifying sugary croissants and fresh pastries rising in hot ovens. Dedicated bakers begin their next day while most residents are still winding theirs down. Late night wanderer’s noses follow the fragrant path to a nighttime snack. In this moment, a transaction of pastry and cash takes place. Word of mouth gets you there, or maybe just your nose. For savy wanderers, suddenly, the city’s “secret bakeries” are no longer a secret

One night, a thick scent hit us strongly at Via Torta.”. Around the corner in a narrow alleyway, the buildings did not seem alive, nor was there any clear entrance. There was no visible sign hanging above; rather graffiti decorated the side of the wall in this crammed street. It was clear no business resided there. Still, an anxious group waited outside, sheepishly in small herds awaiting something.

Behind the thick white walls, wholesale bakers made their daily supply of goods to send to multiple cafes in Florence. Their purpose is not to conduct business at that hour. Rather they are there to bake for their real job. Still, they were prepared for the late night crowd eagerly awaiting a sweet treat.

We approached the one lit up window and a man quickly handed us a small bag with a request for three euro in return. We handed him the money, he quickly shut the window and we were off. Inside the white bag laid three perfectly crafted, warm and oozing chocolate croissants. The filling was smooth and subtle but still satisfied every cho¬colate craving. As we strolled home, feeling that enchanting aroma still around us, we devoured the most delicious midnight snack.

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Got milk? Or, better yet, gelato?

Jordan Bromberg

FLORENCE, Italy – There is no shortage of gelato here in Florence, and I have certainly been enjoying my fair share of the tasty treat. In the more touristy areas of the city – around the Duomo, near Ponte Vecchio and in some of the more popular piazzas, – gelaterias display signs that read “ice cream.” This confused me, at first, as I have always recognized an obvious difference between gelato and ice cream. I have learned, however, that ice cream does, indeed, translate to “gelato” in Italian. While the same word may be used to name the two types of dessert, Italian gelato and American-style ice cream do have several important differences.

The main factor that influences the differences in the taste, texture and nutritional value between gelato and ice cream is fat content. Ice cream, with a heavier, creamier texture and taste, contains more fat. Eggs and cream are used in ice cream, causing its fat content to be higher than that of gelato, which is made with fewer egg yolks than ice cream and is prepared with more milk rather than cream.

The cream used to make ice cream enables air to be whipped into the dessert when it is churned at a fast speed. Gelato is churned at a much slower speed than ice cream. The slower churning and the lack of cream prevent as much air from being whipped into the substance. For this reason, gelato is denser than ice cream. Because it is made with milk rather than cream, gelato has a milky texture while ice cream is creamier.

The amounts of sugar and other ingredients added are not part of what deem a substance gelato or ice cream, but there are undoubtedly some differences in what is included to flavor the dessert.

My favorite gelateria/bakery, ARA’: è Sicilia, located several blocks away from the Duomo on Via Degli Alfan, has been making homemade gelato since it opened about one year ago.

I can taste the fresh, flavorful ingredients in every spoonful of any unique flavor I try. My personal favorite is Madagascar Vanilla with Sicilian Lemon, but flavors like Ricotta and Wild Fennel are surprisingly sweet and tasty, as well.

In a kitchen upstairs, the Sicilian owner makes all of the gelato and bakery items sold. He uses fresh milk from a nearby farm and regularly purchases other ingredients from local markets. All ingredients used are organic and have known origins.

The process used to make gelato and the ingredients that go into prove the Italian version of an American favorite to be less fattening and more nutritious. I am realizing that, while Italians may appear to be consuming just as many unhealthy foods as Americans, many of the foods that they are consuming are prepared in a healthier way with fresher, more natural ingredients.

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Doughnut addiction: ciambella any time

Rachel Green
FLORENCE, Italy –
doughnutI have noticed many frequent happenings here in Florence in my time here. The church bells ring every hour, an adorable couple and their even more adorable dog sit outside the same café near my school everyday and the same gypsies hang around the same piazzas every day. I feel like I am becoming a part of the city, even though I have only been here for few weeks. I have even developed a little habit of my own.

I am a very frequent customer of the café, Moka Arra on the corner opposite my school and a very frequent eater of ciambelles. In Italy, ciambelles are the doughnut’s sister food and are similar in nature, except they are made with flour and boiled potatoes and covered with granulated sugar instead of a sticky matte glaze.

It’s hard to resist the glistening, fluffy, sugary goodness of the darn things. But here, breakfast time has a fairly strict code: ordering a cappuccino for instance, to accompany a ciambella after 10 a.m. is considered culturally absurd. I once ordered two in one sitting and got quite the look from the café owner. My stomach was happy; he didn’t seem to be.

My affection for the pastries will carry on despite the cultural difference, despite the stares. I will continue to enjoy them; my own personal frequency.

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Filed under Ciambella, Florence, regional food

Wine–from roses to reds–through photos

Rachel Green
MONTEPULCIANO, Italy —
rosato
Salcheto Winery’s 2013 Obvius Rosato is a dry and fruity wine perfect for pairing with pasta. Notes of raspberry and strawberry make the Rosato a great summer wine, too. Made with Sangiovese Canaiolo, Mammolo, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot grapes creates an appealing blend. No sulfates or other ingredients are added during the process.
riserva
Salcheto’s 2010 Riserva Nobile Montepulciano is a full-bodied red that pairs well with desserts. With notable legs, its thicker consistency and berry flavor derived from slightly over-ripe Sangiovese Prugnolo grapes gives it exceptional flavor. It is aged for 24 months in barrels and at least 12 months in the bottle before being made available for consumption.

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The heart of Italy: family business

Carlo Lanfranchi stands beside hams after the first stage of the prosciutto process. There are many steps in producing prosciutto including freezing, seasoning and drying out.

Carlo Lanfranchi stands with the first stage of the prosciutto process. There are many steps in producing prosciutto including freezing, seasoning and drying out.


Rachel Trujillo

PARMA, Italy—The Italian countryside sends shades of green to meet the bright blue skies. Passing through, perfectly symmetrical lines of crops fill the farms that serve as resident’s backyards. Italy is known for fresh ingredients that grace local markets and each dish. Parma Ham, one product grown in these rolling hills is produced by 156 firms in the region. Salumificio La Perla is one of these few businesses.

Brothers Carlo and Fabrizio Lanfranchi took over La Perla from their father 25 years ago and have been dedicated to the production of the “prosciutto di Parma” ever since. Their family owned business consists of the factory and a kitchen and dining space for guests. After a tour, guests are invited to sit and enjoy a meal consisting of prosciutto and a pasta dish. A bond and a sense of passion fills the building as members of the family scurry around. While one employee speaks of their product, they may stop to introduce you to their father, mother or distant relative as they pass by.

Considered the backbone of Italy, family owned businesses have persevered. More than 70% of Italian employees work for private companies with less than 100 employees, over 50% with fewer than 20, according to the Bank of Italy Statistics. Some of the better-known family companies are FIAT, owned by the Agnellis, Pirelli, an auto parts store, and De Benedetti, Italian industrialists, engineers and publishers. The size of these companies compliments the Italian stereotype that family is everything. When times get tough, most Italians look towards their family to aid them in their financial struggles. Family members are willing to do what ever it takes to ensure their family member can stay on his or her feet. Lately with the advancements of Internet, businesses find it hard to afford setting up websites and keeping up with the digital world, according to The Economist website. Many families are looking towards outside parties to invest in them and, unfortunately, losing part of their ownership. This is causing a slow shift away from what were traditionally all-family operations.

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Creamy stars: a mystery

Jordan Bromberg

Florence, Italy – It was bound to happen at some point, but it happened last night – sooner than we had thought. The sky over Florence fell dark. The streets were less crowded, less noisy, and the tourists that populated the city during the day were nowhere to be found. The six of us left our apartment cautiously together, holding our purses close and paying careful attention to those around us, but it didn’t help. A tall Italian man dressed in all black opened a door and motioned for us to enter. We walked through the doorway, shaking our heads at what we were about to do.

Inside, techno music played loudly. We walked forward, and the tall Italian man followed close behind us. We approached a long bar, unsure of what to say or do. More and more men slowly gathered behind us, and we felt pressured to take action.

“I’ll have the chicken McNuggets with fries and a drink,” Jenny said.

The golden arches had summoned us only four days into the trip of a lifetime.

This McDonald’s was much different than any one you might find back in mid-Missouri. We laughed at the nightclub-like environment and jokingly danced to the far-too-loud Italian techno songs in our seats as we waited for our meals.

We all ordered what we might typically order at a McDonald’s in the states, but there were a couple of unfamiliar menu items that we had to try. The most mysterious item on the Italian McDonald’s menu was “Creamy Stars.” After finishing our meals, we passed around six Creamy Stars. We smelled them, looked at them carefully, and each hoped that one of the other girls would be the first to take a bite.

Unsurprisingly, I was the first to bite into the Creamy Star. After one bite, I still had no idea what I was eating. The other brave girls at the table tried the mysterious snack, and we agreed that we were eating some type of fried cheese – perhaps, ricotta?

Most of us became sick to our stomachs immediately after our meal. Is McDonald’s to blame? Was it the Creamy Stars? We’ll never know. We were able to determine, however, that in less than a week, we had already become less fond of and tolerant of the fried, greasy fast food we sometimes eat at home. I won’t be going to McDonald’s in Italy again. With so many flavorful, fresh, homemade dishes at the restaurants around us, we have no need for the Big Macs, McNuggets or the Creamy Stars that remain a mystery.

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