Category Archives: Spannocchia

In the kitchen with Loredana Betti

By Zara McDowell

Video 1:

MU food writers arrive at the cooking class at Tenuta di Spannocchia, hosted by Loredana Betti. Everyone was handed an apron and a recipe book that included all of the dishes that we were going to make. First, the group started by making the dessert, tiramisu, so it had time to chill in the fridge. Laredona Betti a has been making this dessert for 30 years, yet she showed us step-by-step on how to make it, and then made sure we all sampled our creation half way through the process.

Video 2:
After Loredana Betti’s step-by-step instruction, she let the MU food writers make our own personal tiramisu dish. Needless to say, they were not as pretty as hers, but they still tasted delicious. After making tiramisu, chicken stuffed omelet and asparagus, potatoes with sesame seeds and homemade tagliatelle pasta, Loredana carried out each dish with a smile and sat down to eat with us. She then brought out the tiramisu and everyone indulged in their creation.

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This is no couch potato

By Raina Brooks

Brooks potato

Straw and cardboard tricks the potato plant into thinking its deep underground, keeps weeds down, and makes harvest easy. Photo by Raina Brooks

CHIUSDINO, Italy – Farmers here have to have a gentle hand. With potatoes, the more you pull up the root, the more you release the carbon inside and disturb the plant. Weather patterns also impact the crops drastically. Indeed this spring at Spannocchia has been cooler than most years, which could push back the time potatoes are harvested.

This week at the farm, new potatoes barely sprouting from roots are poking through from beneath their cardboard coverings. The cardboard blocks out light and potatoes can be planted closer to the surface for easy access, Sara Silvestri, education director, said. The fiber will also eventually decompose into the soil as carbon.

Potatoes are typically harvested in June. If treated and kept dry and cool they may last for a month or a little longer. Meat and potatoes are very popular foods in Tuscany, and given their prominence in the farm garden, this is certainly the case for Spannocchia as well.

The precious crops unfortunately have a few predators. Copper is sometimes used as an insecticide, but insects are hardly the most dangerous predator in the region. Wild boars are also an issue as well as other animals such as foxes and deer. There is fencing around the farm to help protect the crops from attacks, but it can occasionally be insufficient. Silvestri says the farm has a common saying “porcupines go under, deer go over, and wild boar just go through.”

 

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Cooking with an Italian grandmamma

By Jennifer Severson

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The author, Jennifer Severson, makes the first stage of tagliatelle noodles with Italian cooking expert Loredana Betti at Spannocchia. Photo by Nina Furstenau

CHIUSDINO, Italy – Loredana Betti, an Italian grandmamma and exceptional cook, leads classes at the Tenuta di Spannocchia after retiring from being the farm head cook. Lucky us. During our stay at the farm, the study abroad family was able to participate in said cooking classes where we were guided through a five course Italian meal:

Antipasti (appetizer): Crostone al Pomodoro (tomato crostone)

Primo (first course): Tagliatelle all’Ortolana (fresh tagliatelle pasta with gardener’s sauce)

Secondo (second course): Rotolo di Petto di Pollo (stuffed and baked chicken roll)

Contorno (side): Patate al sesame (potatoes with sesame seeds)

Dolce (dessert): Tiramisù

The class started with creating the last part, the tiramisù, as it needed time to chill in the fridge. We were each given bowls to assemble our own mini treats and watched as Loredana demonstrated the process of creating the tiramisu components. Each bowl was topped with different cookie decorations to mark whose tiramisu it was.

After the dessert we started the chicken roll, with a majority of our time spent just watching Loredana cook with eyes full of adoration. To prepare the chicken roll, Loredana first used a sharp knife to butterfly a boneless chicken breast, place a half an omelet across it plus steamed asparagus before rolling the stack and securing it with kitchen twine. It was then cooked in the oven with a mixture of herbs, butter, olive oil, lemon and white wine.

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Chicken breast rolled with an egg omelete and asparagus ready to bake with olive oil and white wine. Photo by Nina Furstenau

Up next was the crostone, also commonly called bruschetta. We were all given very official cutting boards and knives to chop the tomatoes for the mixture. The topping was made and Loredana recruited a few of us to rub cloves of garlic right onto the toasted bread to transfer the taste in a subtle way.

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Fresh tomato, garlic and basil top toasted bread at Loredana Betti’s cooking class, Spannocchia. Photo by Jenna Severson

Our hard work thus far warranted a break, so after we assembled the crostone, our group was brought to the outdoor patio where there were glasses of crisp white wine and refreshing elder flower juice waiting for us.

The last, but certainly best part of the class was learning how to make fresh pasta – something I did not realize was a lot easier than it seemed. Everyone in the room had smiles on their faces as they assisted Loredana in the flattening and formation of the tagliatelle noodles. Life was good.

Finally, class ended with us back on the patio, enjoying the fruits of our labor. Grazie mille Loredana for enlightening all of us about the joys of cooking a true Italian meal – it will not be forgotten.

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You say salami, I say salumi

By Vivian Farmer

 

CHIUSDINO, Italy– Salumi is the Italian term for any cured meat and boy-oh-boy does Italy have a lot. Drying meat is a way to preserve it for long periods of time and today the curing method is still used for the delicious unique flavors it draws out in meat.

Salumi

Traditional salumi, starting with the white piece, clockwise: lardo, salame, capocollo, prosciutto and rigatino (also called pancetta). Photo by Vivian Farmer 

Salame–Perhaps the most well known salumi, salame is composed of different portions of pig meat mixed together. The salame made at Spannocchia is soaked in red wine to kill any bacteria and is then cured in a casing made of a pig’s small intestine. The longer the meat is aged the darker its characteristic red color will be. Garlic and black peppercorns are added to the meat to give it a rich flavor. Salame is good as a snack on bread with cheese or enjoyed all by itself.

Prosciutto–Prosciutto is usually the most expensive type of salumi due to its long curing time. Prosciutto is the back leg of pig that has aged for at least four years. To begin, each leg is packed in salt for two weeks, massaged, and then hung to age in a refrigerated area. Prosciutto is sliced thinly and can taste salty, herbal, or slightly sweet. It is often served wrapped around melon slices or as a snack on its own.

Lardo­–This salumi comes from the top layer of fat on the back of a pig. Spannocchia’s version is washed in vinegar, salted, and then cured for three months. Lardo feels slick in the mouth and leaves a buttery coating on the lips. Spannocchia adds rosemary to the thinly sliced fat to give it a distinct flavor. Lardo is often served with bread or as a pizza topping.

Rigatino–Also called pancetta, this dried meat is created from the belly of a pig. Spannocchia adds black pepper to its rigatino and ages it for about three months. Rigatino tastes fatty and rich with a deep meaty flavor at the same time. This meat is eaten as a snack or put into sauces for flavoring.

Capacollo–The meat used for this salumi comes from the nape of the pig’s neck. If used fresh, this meat is almost too tough to eat. However, in keeping with tradition in which no part of the animal is wasted, salumi makers cure it to soften and make it tender. Spannocchia adds black pepper and fennel to their capacollo and ages it for three to five months. Capacollo is eaten on sandwiches, bread, or alone.

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Hand drawn map of salumi meat sources at Spannocchia. Photo by Vivan Farmer

 

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Noodle notes at Spannocchia

By Hannah Dustman

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Loredana Betti of Spannocchia and Hannah Dustman, MU food writer, at work making pasta. Photo by Zara McDowell

CHUISDINO, Italy – “Olive oil,” “garlic,” “pizza,” “cannoli,” we shouted in response to Sara Silvertri’s question, “What foods do you think of when you think about Italy, besides pasta?”

Silvestri, education director at Tenuta di Spannocchia, talked about the regional foods of Italy at the head of a long wooden table as our mouths began to water. Pasta, she said, is believed to have originated in as early as the first century A.D. among the Etruscans and Romans.

But there were differences. Pasta, then called “lagane,” was not boiled like it is today, but baked in the oven over a fire. The Etrusco-Roman noodle was created from the same durum wheat that is used for modern pasta.

Silvestri explained there are many types of pasta noodles created today, each type dependent on the kind of wheat used and where it is produced. She pointed out soft wheat is more commonly produced in the north while hard wheat is more popular in the south due to the warmer and drier growing climate.

Pappardelle, made from hard wheat to keep the wide and thick noodles from falling apart, originates from the central region of Tuscany, yet follows the hard-wheat trend of the southern regions.

The two types of wheat have different protein levels. Hard wheat contains more gluten protein than soft, and this develops with kneading.

Drying time was another factor important to pasta, Silvestri said, especially regarding texture. Pasta produced for mass production in a commercial setting is dried at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, while pasta produced the more traditional way is hung to dry at approximately 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit for a longer period of time.

Silvestri noted the cooks at Spannocchia primarily use dried pasta because of the ease it provides when serving a large group of guests. However, visitors can create fresh soft wheat pasta during scheduled cooking classes while on the farm.

But creating pasta is no small task. During my cooking class, the pile of flour, shaped to hold a drizzle of olive oil and a fresh egg was tidy until I rolled up my sleeves and began kneading. Flakes stuck to my fingers until I formed a potato-sized lump.

Next Loredana Betti, long-time cook and teacher at Spannocchia, pulled out the small, silver pasta press, and that’s when things got exciting.

Smooth, fragile yet flexible three foot stretches of durum wheat tethered me to the pasta press. I broke free when I carried the golden noodle to the waiting cloth-covered table to be cut. The wide noodles were serrated into a dozen or more strips for future lunches.

Warning: tagliatelle is not for faint of appetite.

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The finished product: tagliatelle a la Mizzou. Photo Hannah Dustman

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Hog wild

By Vivian Farmer

 

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Three month old piglet born after a wild boar broke into the enclosures for heritage breed Cinta Senese sows at Spannocchia. A straight tail and upright ears distinguishes the piglet from the pure Cinta Senese, though it has a white “belt” around its shoulders, characteristic of the Cinta Senese breed. Photo by Nadav Soroker 

CHIUSDINO, Italy–Wild boar meat, in stews and pasta dishes in Tuscany, has been used as a component of the region’s hearty cooking for centuries. However, this meat source is destroying land and disrupting the ecosystem. Intermixing of boars and local pigs add to the problem and now the scrappy creatures have taken over the area around the Spannocchia farm.

Randall Stratton, a trustee of the Spannocchia Foundation and co-owner/general manager of the Spannocchia farm has watched as the boar population has grown over the past 20 years. Today, boar aren’t afraid to come right onto the property of Spannocchia.

“At 2:30 in the morning, I looked out my window and 15 feet from me was a boar rooting up my lawn,” Stratton said.

But boars destroy the agriculture of the area as well. Boars are strong and will push under or through fences. The farm has been unable to grow cereal crops for two years now because of the invasive boar species, Stratton said.

In the 1920s and 30s different strains of boar were introduced into Italy, Stratton said, because they were bigger and repopulated more quickly than the indigenous species. These new boar interbred with domestic pigs, the offspring of which were able to produce twice the amount of piglets twice as often, Stratton said. This explosive growth hasn’t been restrained by natural predators.

“Wolves and men were the natural predators,” Stratton said. Wolves prefer to hunt docile sheep, a common animal raised in the area, rather than wild boar. That leaves men, but because of local politics, and because the farm is on a nature preserve, no one is allowed to hunt in the area.

“To not have any hunting at all is unnatural,” Stratton said.

Besides eating the cereal crops, the boar have worked into the fruit orchard, eaten the fruit, broken the branches off of the trees and have rooted around the swimming pool looking for worms and bugs.

For now there is no solution to the boar problem and Spannocchia continues to protect its gardens with strong fences.

 

 

 

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Rolling with it

By Breckyn Crocker
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CHUISDINO, Italy– For many years I watched the methodical hands of chefs on the Food Network piecing together their favorite recipes while I sat on my indented couch, soaking in every measurement and ingredient like a sponge. Many of these televised dishes included various ways of making chicken. Roasted, boiled, fried, marinated, glazed, and barbequed, I thought I’d seen all this poultry staple had to offer.

But at Spannocchia, I was not in my living room at home but in the kitchen cooking with a master of authentic, Tuscan cuisine. And it just so happened chicken was on the menu for our feast that afternoon.

This was not an ordinary chicken recipe nor was it smothered in mozzarella and tomato sauce like I had expected from an Italian kitchen. The chicken was a succulent slice of meat stuffed with a simple omelet, fresh asparagus, herbs, and parmesan cheese.

Loredana Betti, one of the long-time cooks at Spannochia, had an artful way of preparing the chicken, better than any cooking show I’d seen before. She sliced the chicken out like a butterfly, set the hot Parmesan omelet on top, as well as fresh asparagus and herbs. Then, she rolled the chicken pieces and tied them with butcher’s twine like a perfect bow on a present.

The feast that afternoon included an appetizer of gorgonzola and pear crostinis, a first course of homemade tagliatelle with a garden-fresh pasta sauce, herbed zucchini as a side, and a light yet rich dessert of tiramisu. But out of all that heavenly deliciousness, my favorite part was the rotolo di petto di pollo or stuffed and baked chicken roll. The chicken was perfectly tender to accompany the juicy crunch from the asparagus as well as the surprise guest —the cheesy omelet. Maybe it was the simple ingredients that reminded me of my home that I love or maybe it was just the Tuscan version of chicken. In either case, when it comes to Italians and chicken, I’ve learned to roll with it.

Rotolo di Petto di Pollo
Stuffed and Baked Chicken Roll
Serves 6

2 large de-boned chicken breasts
juice from a fresh lemon
salt to taste
4 eggs
4 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 cup of spinach (or asparagus), cooked, and drained
small handful of pine nuts
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 sprig rosemary
5 sage leaves
3 cloves garlic
8 ounces of white wine

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut each chicken breast in half. Take each half and butterfly it so it lays flat. Squeeze fresh lemon over the meat for flavor. Sprinkle chicken with salt to taste. Whisk the eggs and pour half the mixture into a frying pan and make an omelet. Repeat to make a second omelet. Cut each omelet into two equal parts. Put an omelet piece into each open chicken breast. Sprinkle the omelet with one tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Now add a quarter of the spinach or asparagus and a quarter of the pine nuts. Roll the chicken tightly closed, and tie it in three places with butcher’s twine. Put the chicken rolls in a oven-safe pan and add the olive oil, rosemary, sage, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and pour white wine over the chicken. Place pan back in the back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Turn off the oven. You can either serve it immediately, or leave it in the oven (with the door open) until ready to serve. Before serving, cut each roll into several thick slices to show the interior layers and arrange on a large tray.

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Swirl, smell and sip–the MU Food Writers take on a proper wine tasting

By: Faith Vickery

CHIUSDINO, Italy— Contrary to American culture, in Italy a glass of wine is perfectly acceptable to consume at the ripe hour of 1 pm; therefore a proper wine tasting was certainly in order.

Jessica Haden, the Spannocchia farm intern director, placed a bottle of white, rosé and red wine, as well as some Vin Santo, a sweet Italian dessert wine, before us. All varieties were produced right on the farm.
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With a long-stemmed glass in our hands we were instructed to not sip or smell but look at the wine in our glass. Color, viscosity, and opaqueness all characterized the wines we were about to encounter.

The next step was to smell. We swirled the wine around in our glass to aerate and release the natural aromas. We learned not to sniff forcefully, but rather just breath with our nose over the glass. The white wine hinted at an apple scent while the rosé wafted floral. Our novice noses even picked up cloves in the red wine.

Finally we were told to taste the wine. To properly taste wine, we learned to coat the inside of our mouths to reach all taste buds. We discussed the acidity, the sweetness, and the finish of each wine.

Jessica referred to wine tasting as organoleptic, feeling something with all of your senses. I’d never thought of it this way but tend to agree. Next time you taste wine, don’t just taste, but see the vines, smell the grapes, and let the wine unravel it’s complexity right before you.

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From garden to table

By Claire Lardizabal
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CHIUSDINO, Italy – Mint perfumes the air as you walk through one of Tenuta di Spannocchia’s three gardens. The hard-boiled eggs at breakfast came from the hens, the salad lettuce for lunch was just picked this morning and the rosé wine served at dinner was vinted and bottled here just last year.

As you pass the four lemon trees and step into the garden below, the endless slope of vegetables and herbs can become overwhelming. What don’t they have? I thought to myself as we gingerly tried not to crush rows of potatoes, carrots and basil.

Carmen Zandarin is the mastermind behind all this and has been for the past 12 years. She runs and maintains the gardens with the help of eight farm interns a year. On Mondays, she walks through the gardens then discusses the following week’s meals with the kitchen staff, depending on what’s available for harvest. During our tour, she plucked pods of peas off the stalk and passed them along to my group. The peas were fresh, crunchy and sweet –the best peas I’ve ever tasted.
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For our cooking class, we were able to use peas, zucchini, onions and asparagus straight out of the garden to use as a sauce to go with our freshly made tagliatelle pasta. Here’s a recipe to try, and, as I learned from Loredana Betti in the Spannocchia kitchen, feel free to change out any of the ingredients to whatever you have at hand.

Salsa Ortolana: Gardener’s Sauce
Serves six
Courtesy of Spannocchia, Carmen and Loredana

1 zucchini, cubed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bell pepper, sliced
½ onion, chopped
1 cup fresh peas
1 cup sliced mushrooms
3/4 pound fresh tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash all the vegetables well. Combine the zucchini, garlic, bell pepper, and onion in a food processor (all raw) and blend until very fine. Place the mixture in a frying pan with olive oil, peas, mushrooms, salt and pepper and simmer for around 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes to the rest of the sauce and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes over low heat.

This sauce goes great with tagliatelle or penne pasta.

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Peasant food simplicity: delicious

By: Faith Vickery
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CHIUSDINO, Siena— We arrived at Spannocchia, what might be called a “modest” estate if you compare it to others in operation in the Middle Ages, for the last week of our month-long program in Italy. Estate and farm owner, Randall Stratton, took us back in time and explained how Spannocchia, now around 1100 acres or 1/10th of its original size, operated before modern times.

Mezzadria, directly translated as sharecropping, dates to the 12th century here. This way of life, where peasants split the production of their crops with the landlord in exchange for land and a place to live, greatly influenced Tuscan cuisine known for simplicity and regional ingredients. Ribollita , a traditional soup, for example, made with leftover vegetables and bread, was a common peasant dish that’s still popular today.

The practice of sharecropping ended after World War II and, according to Carole Counihan in Around the Tuscan Table, as many as six million Italians employed in agriculture fled to cities. And, as you may have guessed, they took their recipes with them.

So, if you were wondering where the term “peasant food” comes from or why Tuscan cuisine is known for being so simple, it all goes back to farms like Spannocchia and the century old practice of mezzadria.

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