Apr 112014
 
Pasquino, mascot of free speech, by Cornelis Bos, Netherlands, 1642

Pasquino, tribune of the populace, by Cornelis Bos, Netherlands, 1642

Just when I was thinking I should offer a recipe with an accompanying historical yarn about abbacchio, the suckling lamb that is Rome’s gastronomical obsession at Easter, this lively story about just that, titled “Pasquino Discusses a Tender Subject” landed in my mailbox. The author, Anthony Di Renzo, who chronicles a fading Italian world in his novels, writes a column for the California-based  L’Italo-Americano newspaper under the pen name, “Pasquino.” For those not steeped in Roman lore, “Pasquino” is the nickname of an ancient, battered statue that lost its arms during the sack of Rome and was buried in a ditch until April Fool’s Day, 1501.

After the ruin was dug up and heaved onto a pedestal, it became a soapbox for anticlerical squibs (from which derives the English word “pasquinade,” or  lampoon) and local sarcasm (at which the Romans excel). Pasquino still observes the goings on of the city, large and small, his opinions voiced in the placards and graffiti displayed around his remains. Here in America, Anthony’s column channels the statue’s ruminations. In time for spring holiday celebrations, the marble hulk muses on abbacchio, as imagined by him. You will learn the history of the iconic dish—”Not bad for a hunk of stone,” Anthony says— and from me, the recipe (below). Buona Pasqua a tutti, and Happy Spring Equinox to all!

A mile and a half from the Circus Maximus, sheep graze in Caffarella Park. Warming themselves in the April sun, they are indifferent to the ruins of towers and mausoleums and oblivious to an annual rite of spring. Shepherds gather and transport the youngest of the flock for slaughter and sale at Piazza San Cosimato and Piazza Testaccio. As Easter approaches, Rome once again craves abbacchio, suckling lamb.

Pasquino today, collecting protests over the mayor's plans to privatize water. | Credit: Anthony Di Renzo

Pasquino protesting city plans to privatize water, 2012. | Credit: La Repubblica Roma

Abbacchio was a delicacy before the city’s founding. When Italic shepherds roamed free, sheep were Latium’s basic monetary unit, called a pecus. Their skin and wool provided clothing. Their milk, cheese, and meat supplied protein. When Roman law was codified, peculium (the Latin root for “pecuniary”) came to mean transferable property, sometimes in the form of pasturage or livestock. The Divino Amore district, between the Alban Hills and central Rome, was the best range in classical times. The best abbacchio, connoisseurs swear, still comes from here.

According to Juvenal, who satirized Rome’s imperial appetites, true suckling lamb should be “more milk than blood,” killed before it tastes its first grass. The tender-hearted may weep, but the tough-minded shrug. Lambs are not harmless. They nibble everything in sight and compact and erode the soil. Dairy ewes live about a decade, producing up to four lambs a year. When too many threaten to deplete a pasture, ranchers whisk them to the slaughterhouse, the sooner the better.

The term abbacchio reflects this cruel reality. Abbacchiare means to beat down or demoralize. The verb derives from bacchiare, to beat fruit from trees with a bacchio, a long stick called a baculum by the ancients. Suckling lambs were carried to the Forum Boarium with their hooves twined over the baculum and were slaughtered with it. Abbachiare also means to sell at bargain-basement prices, to dump on the market, because the overabundance of spring lambs always drives down prices. During the early Christian era, however, butchers jacked prices and gouged customers. Everyone was expected to eat abbacchio at Easter, so demand always exceeded supply.

The "agnellatura," lamb slaughtering. Roman woodcut. Artist unknown. | Courtesy: La cucina romana e del Lazio, Livio Jannattoni (Newton & Compton Editori, 1988)

The “agnellatura,” lamb slaughter. Woodcut. Artist unknown. | Courtesy: La cucina romana e del Lazio, Livio Jannattoni (Newton & Compton Editori, 1988)

The Lamb of God proved good business. Even the shepherds of the church profited. Medieval popes abandoned to pasture huge tracts of land extending from the gates of Rome to the borders of Tuscany and Umbria. To fund protection against local authorities and to replenish its treasury, the Vatican established a dogana dei pastorizie. It taxed all flocks within its purview and collected rent on all pasturage.

Stuff or spice baby lamb with minced rosemary and garlic and roast it with new potatoes. That’s abbacchio al forno con le patate, the centerpiece at Easter dinner. Braise the lamb in broth with white wine and scrambled egg yolks and slurp abbacchio brodettato, an Easter Monday specialty. Cleave it into dainty chops, sprinkle them with rosemary, and grill them for abbacchio scottadito, so named because the chops burn your fingertips.  If you sauté the lamb’s internal organs instead, adding slivers of artichoke hearts, you get coratella con carciofi. This hearty dish tastes best on Easter morning around ten, whether or not you’ve fasted on Holy Saturday. Tough luck makes tender flesh. Despite its unsavory history, abbacchio is too succulent to resist. Unlike grass-fed lamb, suckling lamb is pale, buttery soft, and sweet. Slaughtered at one or two months old and weighing between 15 to 20 pounds, abbacchio has burned off most of its baby fat but has not developed muscle. Every ounce of the animal is consumed with relish, from legs to ribs, organ meats to intestines. At a trattoria near Campo de’ Fiori, a waiter recites a litany of mouthwatering recipes to Maryknoll nuns on pilgrimage.

The Mother Superior, raised on a Nebraskan sheep farm, orders pajata d’abbacchio: lamb chitterlings stewed in tomatoes and served with rigatoni. A baby-faced novice wonders whether it is right to eat lamb before Easter but swallows her scruples with the first bite. That’s human nature. We beat our breasts and lick our fingers. 

The author, Anthony Di Renzo, a fugitive from advertising, teaches writing at Ithaca College. His essays and stories satirize the ongoing culture war between Italian humanism and American business and technology. (Italy usually loses.) He lives in Ithaca, New York, an Old World man in a New Age town.

More on Cooking Lamb the Italian Way

Historically and until the present day, enormous quantities of abbacchio have been consumed in Rome from Easter until summer (for example, in 1629, the city alone recorded selling 165 thousand for 115 thousand inhabitants). A look at any Roman menu, or any Roman cookbook, for that matter, will show that meat is preferred to any other food, even bread. Thus it is not surprising that Romans are very discriminating in all matters of meat. They like it very young, preferring suckling pig, suckling goat, and suckling lamb to grass-fed animals. Milk-fed lamb has none of the gaminess of older lamb and tastes, as Anthony describes, buttery and sweet. Abbacchio is raised for slaughter between autumn and spring, its season ending on the feast of San Giovanni, June 24.

Roman abbacchio with potatoes is the Easter centerpiece at home or in restaurants. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

Roman abbacchio with potatoes is the Easter centerpiece at home or in restaurants. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

Other  southern regions, particularly Sardinia, are satisfied with older animals as well, and eat it all in prodigious amounts, applying countless delectable local ways of preparing it nose-to-tail.

Ballarò market, Palermo. | Photo: Julia della Croce

Selling young lamb at the Ballarò market, Palermo. | Photo: Julia della Croce

Milk-fed and older lamb and goat at market in Catania. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

Milk-fed and older lamb and goat at market in Catania. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

Neither the Americans nor the English typically slaughter lamb at such a tender age, but a good butcher can tell you when to order a baby animal in time for the holiday. If you can still get one at this late date, here is a recipe for abbacchio. If not, my recipe for roasted leg of lamb also follows. A general note about lamb: In the interest of flavor and health, it is best to procure organic, truly “all-natural,” or traceable locally raised meat (rather than industrially farmed). Niman Ranch is one such lamb producer that distributes its meat in markets nationwide.

Abbacchio, Rome. Photo: Paolo Destefanis for Roma, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle)

Abbacchio, photo, right, by Paolo Destefanis for Roma, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books)

Roast Milk-Fed Baby Lamb
abbacchio al forno
For 8 people
From Roma: Authentic Recipes from In and Around the Eternal City, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, 2004)

The famous Roman abbacchio, milk-fed baby lamb not older than six weeks, goes down your throat like butter when it’s cooked. The best way to prepare this delicious meat is to do as little as possible to interfere with its natural flavor. The lamb needs no marinating, and no sauce save the pan juices. Have a butcher prepare the lamb for roasting. Be sure he cracks the joints so you can arrange the lamb on the rack on a roasting pan. Enough fat should remain on the meat to keep it moist while it cooks.

1/2 milk-fed baby lamb (15 to 20 pounds)
4 large cloves garlic, cut into slivers
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, or 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Remove the lamb from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting. Preheat the oven to 400º F. With a small, sharp knife, make numerous small incisions on both sides of the lamb: in between the ribs, on the shoulder and leg, and between the joints. Slip garlic slivers into the cuts. Rub in the olive oil, rosemary, and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string. Place the meat on a rack in a large roasting pan. Slide the pan onto the middle rack of the oven. Immediately lower the heat to 350º F. For “pink” lamb, roast 12 minutes per pound. After 30 minutes, remove the lamb from the oven and close the oven door (to keep the oven temperature constant). Baste the lamb with its own juices and return it to the oven. Repeat every 20 minutes.

Remove the lamb from the oven when the internal temperature of the thickest part of the meat reaches 130 degree F, and the surface is nicely browned, sprinkle with salt, and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Carve the meat and serve on a warmed platter with the degreased pan juices.

Fork with noodle_2

Roast Leg of Lamb My Mother’s Way
Agnello alla sarda
For 8 people
From The Classic Italian Cookbook, by Julia della Croce (DK Publishing, 1996)

Nothing reminds me more of my childhood, and of Sardinian cuisine, than lamb roasted over the embers of a hardwood fire.  The method is simple, and the results, utterly delicious.  An indoor wood-burning oven is not a feature of the average modern kitchen, but an outdoor coal-burning grill can be substituted. It is important, however, to start the fire with kindling rather than chemical fire-starter, which affects the flavor and aroma of the meat.

1 leg of lamb, trimmed (about 6 pounds)

For the rub:
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, or 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary leaves
1/3 cup minced fresh Italian parsley
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper, coarsely ground
fine sea salt

Bring the lamb to room temperature.  Combine the ingredients for the rub.  With a small, sharp knife, make shallow, evenly spaced incisions on all sides of the leg.  Work the rub into the incisions.  With your hands, work the remaining rub into the surface flesh of the lamb.  Transfer the lamb to a roasting pan and allow it to stand at room temperature for 2 hours.

For an outdoor grill:
Use dry hardwood such as oak, if possible.  Alternatively, use charcoal.  The grill is ready when the embers or coals are at their hottest, that is, white and glowing.  Arrange them around the edges of the grill to produce indirect heat, leaving a few coals in the center.  Transfer the lamb to the grill; cover the grill, turning occasionally, until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the leg registers 130 degrees F for medium rare, 45 to 60 minutes.

For oven-roasting:
If roasting in an oven, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 400 degrees F.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast lamb until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the leg reaches 130 degrees F, about 1 hour.

Transfer the lamb to a serving platter; let stand for 10 minutes.   Sprinkle it with sea salt to taste.  Carve and serve immediately with defatted pan juices.

Julia della Croce is a New York-based author and journalist who writes about the culture of food and drink. Her thirteen books chronicle the vanishing Italian cooking of her childhood. 

Fork illustration: Winslow Pinney Pels

With gratitude to Anthony Di Renzo

Mar 292014
 

Almost in the very middle of this little sea, enclosed between the water and the sky, lies Venice, a fairy vision, risen as if by miracle out of the water that surrounds it and like green shining ribbons, cuts through its beautiful body.

Eolo from afar

The Eolo plies the waters of the Venetian lagoon. | Photo: Nevio Doz

So wrote Giulio Lorenzetti, in his famous 1926 guidebook, Venice and its Lagoon: A Historical and Artistic Guide (updated in 1994 and still the most authoritative guide). Yet there it is, the ancient “Serenissima,” a glittering city decorated with gold, arising out of the lagoon, firm and fixed. We can barely grasp how architects could have imagined its plan and how century after century, its stones were put into place.

Gondole, and Palladio's San Giorgio Maggiore  in the distance. | Photo: Greg Mitchell

Gondole, and Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance. | Photo: Greg Mitchell

Mauro

Mauro Stoppa, skipper, chef, in his galley.

Venice was born in the lagoon, though to outsiders, it seems somehow completely separate from it. To really experience la Serenissima, the ancient city of waterways and light, you must ply its inland sea and visit its tiny islands (there are 30 of them, and 150 canals in the archipelago). You need to go beyond the tourist route to find the bustling life of true Venetians that is hidden from the view of foreigners and to enter a quiet world of history, art, and nature surrounding the spectacle of Venice. What better way to explore the real Venice than alongside a native son with deep roots in the natural world of the lagoon, and with an award-winning American food writer, journalist, storyteller, and one-time sailor who has intimately explored Venice and its cuisine? 

Come with me and Mauro Stoppa, a local hero and legendary skipper-chef on a unique three-day journey and see the Venice behind the stage set for an experience of a lifetime.
I began my cooking career on a 50-foot sailing ketch.

I began my cooking career on a 50-foot sailing ketch.

Sail its secret estuaries on board the Eolo, a flat-bottomed sailing bragozzo constructed to navigate the shallow waters of the lagoon. Built in the nearby port of Choggia in 1946, Mauro has lovingly restored the historic boat and appointed it for the comfort of an intimate group of guests. Be transported for three days on the archipelago’s waterways to the grace and rhythm of another time, far from the tempo of today’s battering pace and the throngs of tourists. Immerse yourself in the natural life of this magical and mysterious place, see its unique flora and fauna, savor its seafood, wild game, and the fresh harvest of the lagoon islands in autumn. Drink the delicious “salty” wine that is made from local grapes kissed by the sea air. 

Hemingway decimated the wild duck population on Torcello, where he hunted and wrote. Photo: Foto Graziano Aric

Hemingway decimated the wild duck population on Torcello, where he hunted and wrote in 1948. | Photo: Foto Graziano Aric

Discover nearby islands like Torcello, where Hemingway wrote parts of his Across the River and Into the Trees and hunted; refuge of royalty and international superstars seeking seclusion at Locanda Cipriani, the legendary inn still run by the Cipriani family. Visit Lazzaretto Nuovo with its Bronze Age ruins, where digs over the last 20 years have turned on its head the previously held notion that Venice was settled some 1,500 years ago by mainland tribes fleeing the Longobards. You might stop at Sant’Erasmo, a floating island of vegetable fields and orchards; or untouristed Chioggia, whose ancient mercato puts the famous Rialto fish market to shame. Afterward, feast on sublime meals from the galley, dreamed up by Mauro using the fresh local bounty of the day. Dine in the best restaurants and stay overnight in the finest hotels in Venice. You’ll never get any closer to the real and enchanting essence of Venice.

Mauro Stoppa, skipper and chef, on board his beloved Eolo. Photo: Paolo Destefanis

Mauro Stoppa, skipper and chef, on board his beloved Eolo. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

VENICE BY LAGOON, SEPTEMBER 19-22, 2014

Continue viewing "Cruising Venice," www.

The lagoon by air. Credit: Mauro Stoppa, www.cruisingvenice.com

Read about cruises on board the Eolo and view previous excursions for a sample of our upcoming “Venice by Lagoon” culinary-historical tour, on Mauro Stoppa’s new website here.

“September,” Mauro says, “is the best time of year to come to Venice, not too hot and not too cold or rainy. It’s when the island farmers harvest pumpkins, the first radicchio of the season, local cabbages, eggplants, peppers, and the sweetest tomatoes of the year….We have local breeds of figs and plums and an old, sweet white grape variety, ‘Dorona.’ The skin is too delicate to export so it’s only eaten here. We get sea bream with the first storm and different kinds of fish migrate to the open sea that join the main canals between the lagoon and the Adriatic….Also the cuttlefish are ready….It’s open season for wild duck—they have a different taste in autumn, unique.”  

Can you resist?

THE ITINERARY

“…it’s hard to blame people for getting excited when they eat risotto with sea asparagus—the Venetian “salicornia”—or grouper cooked in peaches with a Byzantine basilica as a backdrop.” —Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times

DAY ONE

  • We will meet you upon your arrival at Venice Airport and take you by water taxi to the Eolo, the only bragozzo of its size still navigating.
  • Cruise the lagoon to uncover the origins of the most fascinating city in the world. Reach the Venissa, a manor house-hotel and wine estate on its own bucolic island, Mazzorbo, top-rated by The New York Times, Michelin, and Travel + Leisure. The tiny, peaceful island, once an important trading center, is known today for its colorful houses, vineyards, and orchards. Refresh here, eat a light lunch.
  • Visit Torcello in the afternoon, the original site of Venice, a tiny island made famous by Ernest Hemingway, today sparsely inhabited by twenty people and a Byzantine cathedral.
  • Drop anchor in the serene northern lagoon, where Mauro will cook a superb dinner from the pick of the fishermen’s catch and the local foods and wine. Back to locanda Venissa where we will stay overnight.
Our first stop, the island of Mazzorbo. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Our first stop, the island of Mazzorbo. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Locanda Venissa, Mazzorbo. Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Our lodgings on the first day, Locanda Venissa, Mazzorbo. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Table set for dinner at twilight with the local varietal wine typical of Venice. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Table set for dinner at twilight with the local varietal wine typical of Venice. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

 DAY TWO

  • Sail to the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, where the Venetian government once quarantined people and boats for 40 days during the plagues, thought to have entered Venice on vessels from the Far East. This is where the Venetian mask originated, elaborate cloth cover-ups soaked with vinegar to ward off disease. Today, the island is a beautiful and and peaceful respite. Drop anchor and have lunch on board.
  • Visit the remarkable excavations in progress on the island, revealing human settlements in the archipelago that predate the Roman period.
  • Cooking lesson with Mauro and me on the Eolo using local produce and fish from the lagoon. Formerly an agronomist and vegetable expert, he is a first-rate chef with a profound knowledge of the local history, natural habitat, and cuisine. Lunch follows.
  • After lunch, visit an organic wine producer who revived ancient vines a few years ago in this semi-sandy soil. Sample grapes and vintages that are reminiscent of the tastes and aromas of the lagoon all around us.
  • Back on board, pass the “Murazzi,” a thin strip of land that divides the sea from the lagoon and was built up and reinforced by the Venetians with stones from Istria, brought by thousands of boatloads from Croatia, at that time under Venetian rule. Reach Malamocco  towards evening for dinner and the night at Ca’ del Borgo, a beautiful 16th century palazzo.
Venetian carnival masks originated during the plague. Photo: Paolo Destefanis for Veneto, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books)

Masks originated during the plague. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis for Veneto, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle)

The local catch for lunch on board the Eolo. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

The local catch for lunch on board the Eolo. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

On the Eolo in the middle of nowhere. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

On the Eolo in the middle of nowhere. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

DAY THREE

  • This morning, after the fishermen of the village have dropped off their catch from the night, we cruise in the direction of Venice.
  • Cooking class with Mauro and Julia using splendid ingredients the lagoon offers us. As we finish our enchanted lunch, la Serenissima begins to appear in the distance.
  • Dock on the island of San Giorgio just across from San Marco with plenty of time to stroll the streets of the city. Dine and stay overnight at the magnificent Palazzetto Pisani Ferri, a private 15th century palace on the Grand Canal, once a residence of wealthy merchants.
The fishermen bring us their catch early in the morning. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

The fishermen bring us their catch early in the morning. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

Cooking lesson with Mauro on board the Eolo. Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Cooking lesson with Mauro on board the Eolo. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Piazza San Marco. | Photo: Greg Mitchell

Piazza San Marco. | Photo: Greg Mitchell

Last night in Venice: THe Palazetto Pisani. | Photo: Courtesy of Palazetto Pisani

Last night in Venice: The Palazetto Pisani. | Photo: Courtesy of Palazetto Pisani

DAY FOUR

  • Breakfast.
  • Our cruise is over, but if you’d like to stay on in Venice we can suggest what to see, where to eat,  and where to stay.
Mauro's biscotti for breakfast, baked on board.  Photo: Paolo Destefanis, from Veneto, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books)

Biscotti breakfast, baked on board. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis for Veneto by Julia della Croce (Chronicle)

The Grand Canal as seen from Ca' Franchetti. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis for Veneto, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle)

The Grand Canal. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis, for Veneto, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle)

VENICE BY LAGOON SEPTEMBER 19-22, 2014

RATES AND PARTICULARS

  • Euro 2,300 per person (US$ 3.175/rate 1.38, at this posting).
  • 10% deposit upon reservation, refunded if the minimum of 6 guests is not reached.
  • 40% upon confirmation, the balance 30 days before departure.
  • Minimum 6 guests. Maximum, 12 guests.
  • Possible extension of a stay at Palazzetto Pisani Ferri, Euro 300 per couple per night.

Included

  • Accommodation as detailed, breakfast, lunches, dinners daily; private stops as per itinerary, local guides, the services of your two tour leaders.
  • Two cooking classes on board the Eolo.

Not Included

  • Flights, travel insurance, items of personal expenditure (e.g. telephone calls, laundry, etc.), discretionary gratuities to boatmen and guides, government levies or taxes introduced after publication of this program (March 25, 2014).
  • Please note that if circumstances beyond our control necessitates some alteration to the itinerary shown, you will be notified of any such changes as soon as possible. 

Contact

Winner of the 2004 World Gourmand Awards.

Julia della Croce’s Veneto: Authentic recipes from Venice and the Italian Northeast, with photography by Paolo Destefanis (Chronicle Books) won the 2004 World Gourmand Awards.

“Everyone knows Venice, but the Venetian cuisine has been somewhat of a hidden treasure. Rich in the use of unique spices left from its Serenissa years, the cuisine sparkles with surprise. Julia della Croce [in her book, Veneto]…has captured wonderfully [its] nuances and sparkle of this regional cuisine.” —Lidia Bastianich

Julia della Croce has been immersed since birth in the tastes and aromas of the Italian cooking she loves. After becoming disenchanted with a political career, she began cooking in the galley of a 50-foot sailing ketch for paying passengers. She is a journalist, and James Beard award-winning cook book author and cooking teacher. Among her thirteen titles, is Veneto: Authentic Recipes from Venice and the Italian Northeast (Chronicle Books), winner of the 2004 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. She writes about the culture of food and drink for Zester Daily and in this blog, and is a noted authority on the food of Italy.

Mauro Stoppa was born and raised on his family’s farm in a small village near Padua on the southern edge of the Venetian archipelago. He is an agronomist by education but his first love was always the world of the lagoon. In 1998, he pulled up his land roots and bought and restored the Eolo, a vintage bragozzo named after the Greek god of the wind, a flat-bottomed 52-foot fishing barge that is one of the last of its kind. There and then, he decided to fulfill his lifetime dream of living on the sea and to devote himself to the restoration of the Venetian waterways. Stoppa takes small groups on cruises to sail, eat his sublime food, and experience the magic of Venice and the lagoon he loves, a venture featured in the New York Times.

with Mauro at Met

Mauro in NYC to cook for a private party at Sotheby’s, bringing his own ingredients with him from Venice. We met at the Met for some down time. | Photo: Nathan Hoyt

Mar 242014
 
You asked for it—Francine Segan's Bucatini Cupola

My last post featured cupola di bucatini, bucatini dome, a recreation of a historic timballo (aka timpano). It was created by Francine Segan, a food historian and author of Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), to celebrate the appointment of the new Italian Trade Commissioner, Pier Paolo Celeste. ”This recipe dates to 18th century Naples, and was rediscovered and modernized by Giorgia Chiatto and Carmela Caputo, who run Naples’ first…cooking school, Cucinamica,” she says. She learned how to make it on site from Garofalo, one of the city’s oldest and most famous pastificci, headquartered in Gragnano, home of some of the best dried [...more...]

Mar 212014
 
A Tipple, a Tid-Bit, and Delights Discovered at the Italian Trade Commission

Spring is in the air everywhere, not least at the Italian Trade Commission in New York City, the Italian government agency charged with promoting and educating about Italian products abroad. Always on the job, at a special reception this week for the newly appointed Commissioner and Executive Director, Pier Paolo Celeste, I turned up some discoveries, old and new. One, panettone gastronomico, or unsweetened panettone, a fairly recent phenomenon in Italy for making little bar sandwiches, and new to most Americans. It was carved up into a layered tower of delicious “tramezzini,” triangular sandwiches with various fillings of genuine Italian products. Francine Segan, a [...more...]

Mar 172014
 
 Teaching the Irish (Immigrants) How to Make Soda Bread

If you think you’ve eaten real Irish soda bread, you probably haven’t. So says Darina Allen, queen of Irish cooking. “Real Irish soda bread doesn’t have any sugar or caraway seeds in it,” she said, “That’s the emigrant version.” She ought to know. Her dominion is the world-class Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, but her pupils are scattered the world over. If they haven’t been initiated into fine Irish cooking under her personal tutelage, they have learned what she calls “the forgotten skills of cooking” by virtue of her knowledgable books (her last one, Irish Traditional Cooking, when re-issued two years ago, [...more...]

Mar 042014
 
Heart of Nicaragua: Grace and Magic in a Corn Masa Cookie

Travels with Julia || Nicaragua Maybe because growing up in a family that endured the last world war in Italy, often hungry, my journey as a writer is concerned with food. For me, everything about it fascinates—growing it, harvesting it, cooking it, understanding its cultural trajectory. The recipes are metaphors, albeit edible ones. When I traveled to Nicaragua recently to meet up with my daughter and make our way together to a remote village in the country’s highlands, I learned such a recipe, one that has come to have meaning for me far beyond the discovery of a new dish. [...more...]

Feb 242014
 
The Magical Gluten-Free Cookie: A Rosquilla Lesson, Step-by-Step

Following up on my recent story in Zester Daily about delicious corn masa cookies I discovered in Nicaragua, we took photographs of the method in hopes that you’ll find them as easy to make as I did. Sweet rosquillas are Nicaragua’s answer to shortbread, but wheat-free. Both sweet and savory versions of mass-produced rosquillas are ubiquitous in the markets and on street corners all around the country. Peddlars hawked them at the bus terminal where we started our journey but they are not the same as those I learned to make in El Lagartillo. I have no doubt that the national obsession with this [...more...]

Feb 212014
 
Julia's Sweet Potato Gnocchi Recipe Airs on NPR

If you missed it, click on the logo below to hear my broadcast on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” The lead: For 27 years, Julia made her gnocchi with sweet potatoes, mixing an American staple into the classic recipe. “Here I was, one foot in the new world and one foot in Italy, where my family is from, and they seemed perfect for gnocchi. Why not?” And in all that time, her dumplings were sweet, served with a hazelnut butter sauce, and — most importantly — a lovely shade of orange. This is one way I serve them–American style–alongside roasted duck. [...more...]

Jan 282014
 
Readers Write: Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce Stirs Passions

You might wonder why I’m still noodling about spaghetti and tomato sauce after publishing my last post, a fairly definitive update on the state of Italy’s favorite–and undeniably most emblematic–dish. Ever since spaghetti al pomodoro con basilico left the slopes of Vesuvius, its birthplace, to seek fame and fortune elsewhere, its reputation has been sullied by foreign cooks. Such has been the fate of all Italian food, but last week’s International Day of Italian Cuisines, as reported in my earlier post, was an attempt by a legion of native Italian chefs to set the record straight about the “official” recipe. [...more...]