Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Baking Cantuccini di Prato

Cantuccini di Prato
1 kg white flour
800 gr sugar
500 gr almonds (slightly roasted in oven)
30 gr baking yeast
The peel of one lemon, grated
A pinch of salt
6 eggs
6 egg yolks
and 1 egg yolk to decorate

Throw together flour and sugar and add the 6 eggs and the 6 yolks. Stir together and add the grated lemon peel, a pinch of salt and the yeast. Add the almonds and work them into the dough to form a uniform mass. All this is best done by hand.

Roll out dough into long sausages and put on paper on baking tray. Pencil with egg yolk.
Introduce into preheated oven at 190 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes approx.
Take out and cool down for 5 minutes. Then cut into pieces, slightly tilted. Reintroduce in oven for 45 minutes at 110 degrees.

You now have lots of cantuccini, commonly called biscotti in the US. Put into bags and use as Xmas gifts.
Traditionally served with a glass of Vin Santo. If you want to buy one, go into a specialty store and make sure to get a “DOC” quality (not the “liquoroso” kind which is a poor imitation).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Beautiful September

Beautiful September has come and the hot months can be forgotten until next year. My first reminder of September in Tuscany, is the hunters who wake (us) up early on Sept 1st inaugurating the hunting season with one too many a gunshot. They are hunting for small creatures at this time, like birds. Big game doesn't become huntable until November.

Apart from that, September in Tuscany is magical. The air is clear and clean, the fruits are maturing on the trees, especially the figs look so delicious. A local tradition is to serve Tuscan salami with fresh figs (one of those classical sweet and savoury combos like prosciutto and melon in the spring). The local cuisine this time of year is full of fresh vegetables, the tomato conserves have just been made or are in the making. There is abundance in every sense and it is wonderful to be part of.

Usually in September starts the grapeharvest. We're a bit behind this year due to a strange climate this summer. If you are planning a trip to Italy to see the harvest, my guess is that you're better off coming in mid October...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Northen Italy

One of the less travelled areas by Americans is Northern Italy. Travel plans may include Venice, Milan and lake Como, but that's usually as Northern as it gets. This summer's vacation we dedicated to the regions Veneto, Trentino and Alto Adige - on the discovery of the land, food and wines. Another good reason was to escape the grand heat of the Central and Southern parts of Italy...
We started in Northern lake Garda (Italy's largest lake), a place called Riva di Garda. Garda starts at the level of Verona and then ends up in the alps and Riva is the Northernmost point. The lake is beautiful and clear, the water cold, but some people swim in it. We took several walks by the shore and enjoyed the fresh breeze, and took a boat ride to get a feel for the water.
And the lake fish, of course, need to be mentioned...served especially good at the restaurant Alla Terrazza which I can highly recommend.

It's nice to spend an afternoon in Verona, there's some very good gelato to be eaten :) and of course Verona is a charming city with a good story for the kids (Romeo & Juliet), a Roman Arena and lots of nice places for window shopping. Just North of Verona lies the Valpolicella region, famous mostly for the intensive Amarone wine made with dried grapes, less famous for the masses of less interesting Valpolicella Classico or non Classico. We did a drive-thru and, not surprisingly, compared to scenic Chianti that I'm used to visiting, I wasn't awfully impressed as it is definitely more industrial in it's outlook.

This part of Northern Italy is also exceptionally good for it's olive oil, a special varietal Casaliva gives a very nutty flavored oil. Lots of vines grow around the Garda lake as well, and then the wine region continues North of the lake, up towards Trento and all the way beyond Bolzano. We followed this route to see how the grape varieties change as we went North to the training system, that became Pergola between Garda and Trento and then partly back to Guyot in German speaking Bolzano.

One day we went to visit a beautifully restored castle Thun in the Valley of Non, which was surrounded by apple trees.

In fact, the fruit plantations are just as spectacular and widespread in the valleys as the vineyards. And the result in the kitchen is fabulous!:

Trento and Bolzano are lovely towns, both worth a stroll around. Trento is the more Italian of the two, with larger streets and nice restaurants. A favorite to us became "Scrigno del Duomo" where we returned 3 times! The ambience was beautiful, the service a bit slow, but the food homemade and excellent. Also a lot of local wines by the glass...

Of course, this was only one of the restaurants we visited...but don't want to make you too hungry by posting too many reviews!!!

We visited a few vineyards as well. Pojer & Sandri in the Trentino region where we got a tour of the highly technological winery by the wine maker, and tasted something like 10 different wines. Our favourites were the whites Muller Thurgau, Sauvignon Blanc and interesting of course to try the more local varietals like Kerner.

And then on our way to Bolzano, we stopped in at Franz Haas to taste their very nice wines. We already had a premonition which was confirmed, the Pinot Noir rocks!

We stayed in a few different places, including the tower of a castle built in the 1500's!!!

Overall impression, Northen Italy is really a great place to visit, ideal in August - perfect for foodies and nature lovers!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Selva won the Palio in Siena

The "Palio" horse race is more than just a simple medieval feast as there are many others around Tuscany, many of which seem to be more of touristic events to generate more visitors.
Of course Siena is mobbed during the week of the Palio by curious tourists, but the Palio is strictly a Sienese tradition for the Sienese people.
The race takes place twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th. The week that precedes the Palio is a week of anticipation in the Contrade neighboorhoods that will run the race, where the Contradaioli (people who belong to the neighboorhood) will socialize in the evenings with common meals in the streets decorated with the flags and colors of their Contrada. It's very colorful to see and the atmosphere is festive and exciting.
There are daily trial runs in the Campo before the actual race that are nice to see, because it is less crowded that the actual Palio.
The winner of the Palio receives the "Palio" which is a flag especially made for the occasion by commissioned artists. In this video you will see the Selva Contrada marching the streets the day after the Palio, showing off their winning horse and the Palio flag:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Le Cinque Terre

Ok, guys, finally time for a new posting. I have to admit that I've been extremely busy this season juggling my time between the wine tours, the restaurant and the brand new wine school in Siena.

But since the kid's school is out, we finally found time for a week-end out. And, I'm almost embarressed to admit this, but finally (after 15 yrs in this country) I've got around to visiting the natural reserve of Le Cinque Terre - the land of the 5 towns: (from South to North - arriving from La Spezia:) Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.

This is the land of pesto and fish (not necessarily together, if not anchovies). On the menus, very commonly you will find Lasagne either classical "bolognese" style or with pesto on the menu. Anchovies are also really common, and of course fish, fish, fish. So expect grilled or oven-baked sea-bass, branzino, orata and what not fresh from the sea (check menus for fresh fish).

Wine??? Well, the 5 Terre has it's own DOC - Cinque Terre DOC in which the grape vines Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino are allowed (the latter which is really famous in Sardegna) the other two rather local.

To tell you the truth, we were not utterly impressed with this wine. Maybe we weren't the luckiest in finding the best producers?!

The most famous wine from the 5 terre is the SciachetrĂ  (you must drink it to be able to pronounce it - LOL!). It's a naturally sweet dessert wine, produced with the same grapes as the Cinque Terre DOC, but obtained by drying the grapes prior to the fermentation (appassimento - a typical procedure to obtain Italian dessert wines like e.g. the Tuscan Vin Santo).
There's a little wine museum dedicated to this type of wine in the second town, Manarola, for those particularly interested.
For the curious, the bottle of SchiachetrĂ  can run from the 20 euros a bottle that gives you an idea of what this wine is about to around 70 for the best ones...
We're talking half bottles, of course :-)

However, take a look at this picture and see how the terraces of vines are steep - all work here is done by hand (and is dangerous?)

So, it was an early Sunday morning in June...
The June sun rises really early in this part - especially on Sundays, it seems! You think you might have the chance of sleeping in one morning, but - alas - that's probably not going to happen if you have kids. In fact, we were up by dawn. Not even the local cafes had started serving breakfast by the time we arrived. Not that Italians have a great deal for breakfast - it's usually reduced to a cappuccino or caffe latte with a brioches (plain pastry or with cream, jam or chocolate).

We only had this one day to roam around which turned out to be sufficient to get a taste for the area. We resided in Manarola and took the boat from the one end to the other - from Riomaggiore to Monterosso - in the early morning. After a quick dip in the water on the only beach in Monterosso, we backtracked with the train, taking a stroll in each town. We encountered many an enthusiastic hiker and considered doing one of the tracks, but we kept our energy for roaming around the towns.

Lunch was in Corniglia - the only town that requires a hike anyway - more than 300 steps even if you take the train from town to town. However, it was well worth it. It proved to be a little less touristy and we ended up in a great local osteria called Cantina di Mananan, where the food and service were straight forward in true Slow Food style!

All in all, our 5 TERRE trip was a great experience both for big and for small. I would highly recommend a side trip from Florence out there to anyone visiting Italy.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Opening the Tuscan Wine School in Siena

Finally, after several months of preparation, the opening of the first Tuscan Wine School came along on the 3rd of March. The school is situated in the heart of Siena, right inside the historical Panther district.

The school will be run by myself, alongside Eli and Riikka. The latter are both sommeliers and have been in Italy at least as long as I have, if not longer.

For me this means an actual point of reference, as being bound to a place and not just to a van. But I'm excited about it and to get to know Siena from the inside!

Lastly, I am happy to introduce this new event for tourists in Tuscany. Having lived here for a while, and having snug my nose into tourism (not just glasses of wine!) and having noticed a slight lack of informative places for the wine tourists, I am hoping to create just that: a helpful place for any sort of tourist to pop in and learn about wine, get information about the wineries and the wine regions of Tuscany. By the way, for those of you who might be interested here’s a great blog post about the faults of tourism in Italy: http://www.athomeintuscany.org/2010/02/06/10-things-i-dont-like-about-italian-tourism-promotion/


Opening of the Tuscan Wine School from Rebecca Christophersen on Vimeo.