Cherry Festival of Gragnano, Mt. Vesuvius - Bay of Naples
Today, June 15, 2012, we are going to the fabulous cherry festival of Gragnano. Click on the link to see what it was like last year. There's a heat wave in Italy and we are riding it with everybody else here who is pretty happy about finally getting some heat after a miserably cold and rainy winter this year. So, how better to celebrate the coming of summer with some big, fat, juicy ripe red cherries! Gragnano, also home of many artisan pasta factories, hosts a yearly cherry festival featuring the ciliegie di Castello that we cannot wait to taste. Hopefully, we will be bringing a fabulous cherry preserve back to the U.S. from here, and secretly I am hoping we can find a great source of amarene, maraschino cherries, or better yet my favorite: visciole, a kind of wild type sour cherry that I've only really had in the form of ice cream (find that at Giolitti ice cream parlor in Rome!)
Cherry Crumble by Valentina Prencipe
Valentina from Cime di Rapa blog in Puglia came to our aid and put the "cherry on the sundae" of our search for the perfect cherry tonight at the festival. So that when we return we are going to try the above cherry crumble delight right here at home. Now is the time to find some great Bing Cherries or whatever you can get at your local market, and the rest is easy so follow her instructions below and let's get started.
Recipe for four people:
about 20 cherries
a handful of peeled raw almonds
3 oz of sugar
3 oz of flour
2 oz of butter
Remove the butter from the fridge to soften it up a bit, and pit the cherries.
Place the butter, flour and sugar in a bowl and mix.
The mix should not be too homogenous, so the end result should be to have chunky butter pieces.
Add the cherries and raw almonds.
Mix everything together without crushing the cherries.
Butter up and oven pan and add the mix.
40 minutes in the oven that was preheated to 400 degrees F....
Naples and Mt. Vesuvius
Given its proximity to the sea and plentiful seafood, the birthplace of dried pasta, and the land of red tomatoes, seafood pasta dishes may very well have been invented here in the Naples area. Fortunately, we are insiders to this area where we have many friends, especially Maria and Saverio who live on farmland in a village along the slopes of the Mt. Vesuvius volcano. They are in the heartland of where the best tomatoes grow thanks to the high mineral content of these volcanic rocky slopes. But they are also in those seafood markets and artisan pasta shops of Gragnano, Piennolo tomatoes at Boscotrecase, and their farm in Pollena Trocchia. And man, Everything is just so darn good over there!
Saverio and Maria
So... we got them to give us a little demonstration of how they prepare a typical seafood pasta dish of the area: calamaretti pasta, or mezzi paccheri with calamari squid rings and peas. Saverio shows his stuff in a video recipe in their kitchen that is going to make you hungry and super excited to try it yourself at home.
Before we get to the fun part of actually eating this, though, we need the ingredients. Like any of the other classic, wonderful Italian dishes that we all know, and that are often super easy to make, the most important thing is to find the best ingredients or it won't turn out. In the case of Maria and Saverio, they are right where they should be for this, like the piennolo tomato clusters they actually grow in their yard. These tomatoes, also called POMODORINI COL PIZZO are found only in a few small communities along the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius volcano. They hang outside people's homes until late January because they are so naturally sweet they don't require refrigeration! And to add to their luck, our friends are about a 10 minute drive from Gragnano where they can find any number of factory outlets where they can get some calamaretti pasta that is super high quality.
Nedless to say, hot peppers are a must and they too must have as much flavor as they can. I know they are growing some of these devils in their yard, but if they fancied they could drive just south of the area and get to Calabria. Get hot chili peppers made in every possible way, especially at the peperoncino festival that is held in Diamante there. Some dried peperoncini or even some peperoncino paste mixed in with olive oil, this is the ideal thing you want to use with a classic seafood pasta dish like Saverio is going to show us. Thanks to our imports, we prefer to use our incomparable bomba di calabria hot pepper paste in a dish like this.
But let's give the word over to Saverio, with Maria consulting and directing, while brother Luigi does some of the filming. Click on the link below to see a 4 minute and 52 seconds video on how to make mezzi paccheri with calamari squid rings and peas.
10 oz calamari pasta
1 lb of calamari squid
1 cup peas
1 lb Mt. Vesuvius, or cherry, tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot pepper paste, or dried peperoncini
2 cloves garlic
1/4 onion, chopped
few leaves of Italian parsley.
Pour some olive oil into a pan over a medium flame. Add two cloves of garlic, the chopped onion, and the hot pepper. Saute' until not quite brown. We remove the garlic before it browns. Add the calamari squid that was cut into circles, then add the peas followed by the Mt. Vesuvius tomatoes. After about 20 minutes the sauce is ready. Meanwhile, cook some calamaretti pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water, drain, and mix into the sauce under a fire. Serve hot. Serves 3 to 4 people. And that's it!
Italy has almost 4500 miles of coast, much of it breathakingly beautiful. But it is not surprising that the small stretch of northwestern Italian coast leading to the border with France is called The Italian Riviera as if it were all concentrated here. It is a magical boomerang shaped region that plays out mostly along the coast and is splendent with dramatic terrain, amazing shows of flowers, gorgeous villages clinging to the rocks like the world renowned Le Cinque Terre. And of course, some of the best food you can get in Italy.
The port town of Genova has for centuries been influenced by the food products and culture of the entire world. Today, the market places, like the Mercato Orientale shown here in the center of Genova, are bustling centers where you can find an endless variety of fruits and vegetables, seafood and meats, spices and herbs, and above all the basil that makes this region world famous. Along the waterfront to the west is the Parco del Basilico di Pra', the ideal location to cultivate Ligurian, or Genovese basil. This is one of the 80 varieties of edible basil in the world, but it is the ONLY one that can be used to make traditional Pesto alla Genovese with PDO (protected designation of origin) certified basil from Pra'.
Click on the image below to see Roberto Panizza making traditional pesto by hand using a mortar and pestle. Roberto is the organizer of the world championship of hand made pesto that takes place every year in Genova, and is going to show us how to make pesto the way it should be done in Genova where pesto was first invented. I placed a list of ingredients used below the image, but the pesto will not come out as intended by Roberto unless you are there in Liguria using ingredients that come from where he indicates during the video. We make pesto using the recipe below where we live in California with basil grown here. But it certainly is not like the pesto you eat in Liguria.
Hand Made Pesto using Mortar and Pestle
Ingredients (placed in mortar in following order):
The cold of winter is upon us and there is no better time than now to warm up the kitchen with a slow cooking bean or grain soup or... why not... a grain tart! It's also the time when oranges are at their peak, so fortunately for us our friends Valentina Prencipe and company are presenting us with a delicious farro orange tart with extra virgin olive oil, oranges, and flour frangipane. I think we need a little explaining to do first though. Farro is one of the most ancient cultivations that originally comes to us from Mesopotamia where it was grown from 7000 B.C. Farro is vitamin and mineral and contains proteins and fatty acids.
Castiglione di Garfagnana, Tuscany
Farro is famous for being grown in the Garfagnana valley of Tuscany without interruption for the last 3000 years! The Romans made wide use of it, and perhaps for this reason there are hundreds of farro recipes handed down to us today. You can basically make it and serve it in any way you want. We highly recommend that you accompany any farro dish with red wine.
So, we'll get down to business and bring in Valentina and her friend Marina Iacobini who will present a video on the preparation of the tart. When you're done, it should look like what you see above.
The recipe below calls for flour of farro. If you can find ground farro use that. We at Italian Harvest have whole farro that you can order from our website. Click on the image at the right to buy it. We love this farro because it is slow cooking, taking 50 minutes to be ready to eat. This is always a sure sign you're getting high quality, nutritious, and heirloom beans or grains. What you could do is either use the farro whole even though the recipe calls for the flour, or you could mash it up or grind it to obtain a coarse flour that you can use to make your tart. Needless to say, using all high quality ingredients is essential to make anything turn out finest, so make sure you use organic lemon peel and oranges, and obviously the olive oil. Click on the image on the left to buy our recommended Pugliese olive oil made from Ogliarola olives near Bari, and your tart will be delicious.
Farro Orange Tart with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Oranges and Almond Flour Frangipane
11.5 oz "00" flour or 7 oz organic wholemeal flour and 4.5 oz farro flour
4.5 oz organic rice flour
Grated peel of 1 organic lemon
8.8 oz extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup water
4 egg yolks
7 oz muscovado sugar (or brown sugar with molasses)
Whisk egg yolks and water and drizzle the oil little by little until completely emulsified.Place in the fridge to set. Sift all the flour and add in the middle the sugar salt lemon skin and add the emulsion. Work it in the sugar first and then gradually incorporate all the flour.
Make a flat shape and refrigerate 30 mins.
Almond frangipane with extra virgin olive oil:
4.5 oz almond flour or unpeeled darl almonds
4.5 oz muscovado sugar (or brown sugar with molasses)
4.5 oz butter or 3.5 oz extra virgin olive oil
2 tblsp grs water
1.75 oz "00" flour
limoncello (homemade lemon liqueur, or grand marnier)
grated orange zest
Work with an electric whisk the almond flour together with the sugar and add the olive oil and water, then the eggs little by little. And then the rest of the ingredients.
Work the dough to a pliable consistency and line a tart tin. Prick the bottom with a fork and brush some lemon jam at the bottom and sides. Fill the lined tin with frangipane and bake at 390°F for 30 mins or until golden. Leave the cake to cool.
Peel 4 oranges and slice them thinly.
In the meantime melt a couple of tablespoon of honey with some sugar ad lib and lemon juice and place the slices in the pan to slowly let them stew in the sauce.
When cool decorate the cake and brush the sauce onto it
And here it is, the video recipe!
Click on the image above to see the video recipe
I think that it's a good idea to try and head as far south as you can during these cold January days. So heading to Sicily way in the south of Italy is a great idea.
I remember wandering the streets near the waterfront in the coastal town of Mondello just near Palermo and eating street vendor food that was just delicious... and sometimes just plain COLORFUL! Sicily is absolutely the best place in the world to eat great seafood, eggplant in every which form, almonds and pistachios... and that includes marzapane, oranges and tangerines. And why not: chick pea fritters! Something we like to call "comfort food" and that's really super easy to make.
Valentina and Nicoletta are going to show us how to make Panelle, or chick pea fritters. This healthy finger food is great as a snack or a light meal. Find some chick pea flour, although I recommend you get our chick peas by Riso Carena because they are totally awesome in flavor and nutritional value. I mean... she's selected and chosen a variety that is like eating steak while being completely vegetarian. Just soak the chick peas for about 24 hours, then air dry them really well and put them in a blender. Blend until they become flour. You'll also need parsley, water, salt, pepper, sunflower seed oil or olive oil for frying, and lemon, and voila... you're ready to go.
But we are going to pass the word to Valentina and Nicoletta who have also produced the video that you can view by clicking on the image below and follow step by step the simple recipe for making panelle.
.....Panelle are traditional Sicilian fritters, kind of street food from Palermo, where people use to eat them with bread, just like a sandwich. They are so good even as appetizers, served with a glass of white wine (a Sicilian one, of course!). In our video we show how to make them step by step. Enjoy it!
about 3 and 1/2 lbs chick pea flour
1.5 to 2 cups of water
some drops of lemon juice
sunflower oil for fry
Chop the parsley, only the leaves, then boil the water in a pan, add a teaspoon of salt, and then the flour, little by little, while mixing for about 20 minutes. Remove the mixture from the flame, add the chopped parsley and black pepper and mix well. Pour some oil with kitchen paper on a marble surface or in an oven dish, then spread the mixture, not too thin, to let it cool off. When the mixture is cool you can cut into squares or diamonds or triangles.. As you prefere. Fry them and serve hot with some drops of lemon juice.
Frustingo may be one of the oldest recipes handed down to us by the Etruscans who inhabited central Italy well before Christ, and brought to life today and every year around Christmas and year end celebrations. Mostly found in Le Marche (pronounced Lay Markay) region of the eastern coast of Italy, but called in so many different ways depending on where in Le Marche you go: ristingo or frustingo in Ascoli Piceno, frostengo in Macerata, pistingo or bostrengo elsewhere, but also called "lu ficu ficoso" or "figgy fig"! in some locations. This rich concentration of goodies is actually a classic "piatto povero", or "poor food" recipe, a term widely used today in Italy to mean foods that were invented by subsistence farming communities that have become a mainstay in all homes from farmer/peasants to aristocratic dinner tables. Wherever you are today, if you can get a hold of these basic ingredients you will come up with a delicious dessert that anyone will enjoy.
Made with figs, walnuts, and raisins into a rich nut feast that we can celebrate here in the U.S. because of our high quality raisins and walnuts. Also simple to make and natural, this is a Holiday delight that can be prepared in any home. Before passing the word to Valentina Prencipe who made the video for the preparation of Frustingo, I would like to suggest some alternative ingredients that you can use.
The recipe calls for tritello or groats which is finely chopped oats, but you can substitute with bread crumbs. And by the way, my preference with bread crumbs is to save my old crusty bread and grate it into your favorite size bread crumbs. Also required by some of the variations of this ancient recipe is citron. Now, if you can't get to Santa Maria del Cedro in Calabria to find your citron peels, just use lemon making sure it is organic. The rest of the ingredients should come easily, with the usual warning by your Italian Harvest friends that recommend you use only the best ingredients.
Valentina Prencipe tells us she did EVERYTHING herself so I would like to commend her on excellent hard work: she made the frustingo and took all the photos, positioned the video camera, edited the video and was blessed with good luck before she finally ATE IT! Good for her. And here she is:
Here it is for you, one of my favorite dishes: the frustingo. Scent of figs, lemon, honey, spices, chocolate... I can't resist! But I live in Puglia, in the south of Italy, and Marche region is far away from me so the only way to get a frustingo is... to prepare it by myself! See the video recipe for frustingo or follow the recipe below. Enjoy it!
Frustingo (serves 6)
1.1 lbs dried figs
2 oz roasted peeled almonds
2 oz raisins
2 oz peeled and roasted almonds
2 oz walnuts
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sugar
1 lemon peel
1/2 to 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of cinnamon
a pinch of nutmeg
1 tablespoon of bread crumbs
bitter dark chocolate in pieces about 2 oz
Almonds in Honey from Italian Harvest
and other fig products imported by us
Put the figs in a bowl, add lukewarm water, figs must be covered by the water. Then leave them in the bowl all night long, to reconstitute them. Chop them and add raisins reconstituted in water, start to mix, then add grated lemon peel, peeled and roasted crushed almonds, crushed walnuts, sugar, pieces of chocolate, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg. Add extra virgin olive oil little by little while mixing well all ingredients. Then put the frustingo in an oven pan and cook it in a preheated oven at 325 F° for about 30 minutes until it looks golden. Serve it at room temperature. Buon appetito!
Siena! in the heart of Tuscany. We love everything about it: from the rolling hills all around, the cypresses, its history and festivals like Il Palio, excellence in good living and great food starting with the olive oils, the meats and cold cuts, artichokes, truffles and spreads, pici pasta, and on and on.. to the dessert like panforte and RICCIARELLI! This scrumptuously rich pastry is from an old recipe dating back to the 14th Century in Siena. They are made in preparation for Christmas and other religious festivals... perhaps on account of their egg shape that may refer back to some ancient fertility ritual during Easter or something! They should be served with a sweet wine, or better yet marry them with a Moscadello di Montalcino.
Find the recipe to make Ricciarelli below. As Nicoletta of Cime di Rapa tells us, Ricciarelli are very easy to make, and they have the added advantage over other pastry or cookies that they are actually gluten-free AND delicious at the same time.
See the egg shaped Ricciarelli next to almond Cantucci, another Tuscan specialty that is world renown, both made by Nicoletta Tavella in her cooking school located in Amsterdam.
Ricciarelli and Cantuccini
We'll pass the word to Nicoletta and her recipe to make Ricciarelli. One word of warning, though. Like all simple foods, if the ingredients aren't good you may as well not do it. In typical Italian Harvest style, we strongly believe Italy has some of the best basic ingredients in the world. In the case of Ricciarelli, the almond paste, or marzipan, is key and if it's not the best, your Ricciarelli might not taste like much. Our suggestion: Stramondo Marzipan imported by Purely Organic.
Since I adore Tuscany I recently added these little Tuscan Christmas sweets typical from Siena to the Tuscan menu at my cooking school in Amsterdam. They’re called ricciarelli and you can actually eat them all year round.
Very easy to make, the ricciarelli from Siena are a guarantee of wonderful sweetness obtained with little effort.
In the photo above, next to the Italian text, you can see them accompanied by their “cousins”, the cantuccini cookies from another Tuscan city, Prato (for the recipe go here).
You can make them in advance, they’ll keep perfectly well for a few weeks if you put them in a tin box of a glass jar. They’ll get a little bit dry but will stay buonissimi.
Makes 16-18 ricciarelli
8-9 oz almond paste (or finely ground almonds)
3 1/2 oz sugar
3 1/2 oz icing sugar
3 egg whites (medium-big eggs)
1 bag vanilla sugar
grated zest of 1 organic orange
Pre-heat the oven at 160° C.
Shortly mix the ground almonds in the mixer with half of the quantity of sugar until slightly powdery.
Transfer the mixture in a bowl and mix with the rest of the normal sugar, HALF of the icing sugar, the grated orange zest and the vanilla sugar.
Beat the egg whites until very stiff and carefully mix them with the rest of the ingredients.
Make cookies from this mixtures giving them an oval or diamond-like shape and roll them in the rest of the icing sugar.
Lay them on an oven dish covered with baking parchment and bake them for about 10-12 minutes until slightly golden.
Nicoletta's finished Ricciarelli
Another thing you could do is get the Ricciarelli made in Siena and imported right here to the United States. Le Dolcezze di Nanni is a wonderful family operated bakery located just outside of Siena and sells to several bakeries within the walls of the city. Find them here:
I've had this dessert before years ago, and by coincidence Valentina Prencipe has filmed and written a blog post about this scrumptious rich Calabrian dessert. See how beautiful it comes out looking like roses. We have a great video that you can see by clicking on the image below to see how to make it. Here is what Valentina writes about this southern Italian dessert.
".....I love southern Italian Christmas desserts, they are wonderful, rich in flavours and so simple at the same time. All ingredients are from our countryside, no butter in them, instead we use extra virgin olive oil! In the South of Italy we have a great respect for traditions and the Christmas dessert cooking session is one of our more ancient traditions. Southern grandmothers and mothers used to prepare desserts for their family all together before Christmas so.. Here it is, a video made for you with my friends Mariella and Teresa and my sister Emma preparing the pitta ‘mpigliata, a traditional Christmas dessert from Calabria, and I am the camerawoman.
click on the above image to see a 5 min 29 secs video on how to make Pitta 'mpigliata
The video tells and shows you everything, but in case you want to see it written, here it is:
2 lbs flour
1 cup water
1 cup red wine
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil (or 1/2 cup of butter)
1 cup sugar
1/2 oz baking powder
3 lemon peels
2 lbs walnuts
10 oz raisins
Mix flour, sugar and baking powder and knead slowing adding the water, then the wine a little at a time. Continue to knead adding the eggs, the olive oil (or butter), and keep kneading until the dough is elastic. Allow it to rest a little under a cloth. Prepare the stuffing with crushed walnuts, grated lemon peel, sugar, honey, the raisins that were reconstituted in water, and the cinnamon. In the video they use an Imperia pasta machine, but if you don't have one then use a rolling pin to obtain strips of 1/8 in thick dough that's about 4 inches wide. Finish the edges with a rolling pizza cutter to obtain a zig zag edge. Drizzle the honey down the middle of each strip of dough and add the stuffing. Fold over the edges to trap the stuffing inside, and roll the stuffed strips into rose shapes. Place the roses in an oven pan and cook in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for about 40 minutes and VOILA!
... and nothing could make your Christmas more merrier!
I think this is a perfect dessert for people in America, or at least out here in California, because we have the best walnuts you can get, and raisins too! Give it that all Italian touch by using good extra virgin olive oil, or make it more American by using butter.
I'm going to leave you with the image of San Giovanni in Fiore, located in the remote Sila Mountains of Calabria in the "toe" of the boot of Italy where this dessert was invented, and where today they have a yearly contest and award the pitta 'mpigliata baker who makes the longest strips!
Gnocchi (pronounced knee’okey), also known as potato dumplings, is an Italian staple that is usually prepared at home everywhere in Italy from north to south. The basic preparation using flour and water was thought to have originated in the northern region of the Veneto centuries ago, while the more common version known today using potatoes really only became prevalent in the late 1800s. Gnocchi is a great dish to prepare now with the arrival of cold weather, and it is especially good for American home cooks because we have such a great selection of wonderful potatoes here, from Yukon gold, to Idaho potatoes, fingerlings, etc. However, to make the best gnocchi you need a starchy potato like russets.
I used to help my grandmother make gnocchi about once or twice a month in Italy. She always used her thumb to shape the gnocchi into a concave disc that was then covered with flour while waiting to be cooked. And we usually had the gnocchi served with a classic ragu’ alla bolognese with ground beef and a tomato sauce.
Click on the image to see a 6 minute video of Nicoletta Tavella showing us how to prepare gnocchi from the basic preparation of the potatoes mixed with eggs and flour to the final presentation using butter and sage. If you decide to make gnocchi I think you should follow her every step to get them to come out perfectly. There are two particularly important things to remember: one is that the dough should not be allowed to get cold, and don’t work it too much or the gnocchi turn out chewy.
Look below to see two recipes written out, one of the gnocchi prepared with butter and sage, and another with the basic ragu’ alla bolognese.
Gnocchi with Butter and Sage
3.5 lbs potatoes
11 oz flour
5 oz butter
Ragu' alla Bolognese
4 lbs of ground beef
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots finely chopped
1 finely chopped stalk of celery
2 finely chopped onions
2 cloves garlic
4 cups of tomato passata
Add the vegetables and the meat to a sauce pan after the oil has been heated up. Stir for about 10 minutes, then add the wine. Reduce it and add the tomato paste stirring for about two minutes. Add the tomato passata and an equal amount of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1-2 hours. Pour this sauce over your hot gnocchi that were just drained and serve with plentiful grated parmiggiano or pecorino cheese.
One of the first and most important things that's been brought to our attention is the fact that for one thing the American public is very interested in Orecchiette pasta. However, from talking to so many people over the years, we noticed that not too many know that this pasta originated in the region of Puglia. One reason for the confusion is that often Orecchiette pasta is found in markets in food markets sold by large industrial food manufacturers, so it is not made clear to the American public that actually Orecchiette are a specialty from Puglia where they've been made in every family's home kitchen and served in a large variety of ways for centuries.
So, let's immediately get started and introduce you to Orecchiette from Puglia. See the following video featuring women making orecchiette in their kitchen in the old town of Bari, Puglia, using just durum wheat semolina flour, water, and their hands.
Toward the end of the video is a recipe suggestion worked up Valentina in her kitchen in Puglia.
Orecchiette with Rapini and Anchovies
The cuisine of Bari
- 1 lb orecchiette
- 1 lb of broccoli rabe, or rapini
- 4 anchovies
- 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- hot pepper
Clean the broccoli rabe and wash them in cold water. Place 1 and 1/2 gallons of water in a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Add the orecchiette, and after five minutes add the rapini. Drain when the orecchiette are still “al dente”. While the orecchiette are cooking, place two cloves of garlic in a pan with the olive oil, the hot pepper, and the four anchovies. Saute’ while crushing the anchovies to a pulp. When the garlic is beginning to brown, remove it from the pan. Drain the orecchiette and pour them into a bowl and to which you can add the oil saute’. Mix well and serve hot.