Fun on the Funicular in Gubbio!

-6Gubbio is great for a day trip in Umbria.... that said I rarely go... and when I do go, it is either in the evening or freeeezing.... which means that I have never been on the Funicular, or Funivia... the main reason many go to Gubbio in the first place!

 

 

So today being a rare, balmy, sunny November Sunday, we decided to take a drive out.   -1 To be honest, the real reason that I had wanted to go was because there was a festival called Quinto Quarto, celebrating the secondary and tertiary cuts of beef.  This is usually right up my alley, but alas, this festa was sort of a bust as they didn't have a lot of variety and the food was so so.... the lampredotto was inedible.... but they had a polpette (meatball) making class for my kids, so they were happy.

On to lunch... we stopped at Ristorante Bosone Garden because 1) it was lunchtime and we were walking under it (kids were at T minus meltdown) 2) it had rare outside seating on a nice day in Gubbio 3) I hadn't done my advance research as I was not planning on eating in a restaurant during a food festival.  We didn't order a lot because we had already had our antipasto of rubbery lampredotto and mediocre meatballs, so we just ordered pasta all around - tortellini in brodo for the kids and tagliatelli with goose ragù for us.  There were no seasonal options on the menu and the only antipasto on the menu that looked interesting to me, of course, they did not have.  The pasta was fine but not good enough to justify the outrageous prices.  I don't mind paying for an exceptional plate of pasta, but it better be hand made, in house, and this was obviously store bought....

Onto the funicular, the highlight of the day!  We arrived at 2:30, just as it was reopening - check their website for seasonal operating hours.  Now, when you first see the lifts for the funicular, your instinct will probably be to just turn around and walk back down into Gubbio.  But, trust me - it's really not so scary!  I was mostly worried that my sometimes timid 5 and 2 1/2 year olds would protest.  Also because, as our good friend Sir Newton says "What goes up must come down".... my translation, "What screams all the way up will scream all the way down."  However my kids were surprisingly game and they had a great time.  The hardest part is jumping in and out of the cages as they move fairly quickly, but the operators have it down to an Italian science and everyone moves along.

Once at the top, the main attraction is the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo, the patron saint of Gubbio and home to the famous Ceri, used in the Corsa dei Ceri in May.  However, my kids immediately spotted the bar with ice cream and seeing as how I had already had them traverse Gubbio and they were without much needed naps, we stopped there (and never made it to the Basilica, a mere 20 feet away - next time).

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The Birds & the Bees of Zucchini Flowers... or... Everything you always wanted to know about Zucchini Flowers (but were afraid to ask)

It's that time year when zucchini blossoms are everywhere here in Italy... and they happen to show up frequently in my cooking classes and private dinners... ;-)  But there is more to the humble zucchini blossom that meets the eye! For instance, did you know that there are both male and female flowers on each zucchini plant, and that each serves a different purpose in the culinary world?

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Let's begin with the female - she is easy to recognize as she can be found on a short stem close to the center of the plant literally 'birthing' the zucchini.  In fact, they are frequently sold with their little zucchini offspring attached.  The flower is bulbous near to the stem and the stigma inside is composed of tiny 'fingers' to catch pollen from the males.  The females tend to be softer and wither rather quickly after harvest, so I use them to toss in pasta dishes and frittatas. 

YlzSO0PO-BXgE2YzpI_PAUjpTQvN5s-tbarRSv5MS3MOfxh_r_g-v08ZFS5ZHy6MhzcTv-jscpWAI6eKaOI9FDQU9ymU7Rn7q18vOD-Tg7ADSJSwuY217SpKk5RBkGnRz7oEL69eM1GuYOeF30Ty6ieqYkNUw3UTo5Ede39UInRWJmMDlOxozcTzOLTa4s5n596kLBxLyW7--Jbeelg3rvKMbVvKSN CPJRkKtEor7ShQYokhfi-g23b7B8A3CbOShimTaeieZ4F9orKER1hHrSpkN6s_O0FGyR4BJrfgzADrHCrdbYDU7OYGTZh8O6TQVhBbEeqRnGca0voS7ps2INRILsiycDUlLMcLF9dYfdX-fSTcrU7xBvHj55gDSZBaJ3SW5hpunqO3We5GF93nG19t1Dq7q6PerZYce-4xhTCwahvoSJJegR2w54ki

Our friend the male zucchini blossom, on the other hand, stands at attention (hee hee) on a long slender stem.  Inside you will find a single stamen, which one could correlate with a part of the human anatomy (ahem).  The male flowers tend to remain, umm, firmer (insert joke here)... so I use them for stuffing and deep frying as they can better take the heat.

Here is my recipe for Fiori di Zucca Fritti (Fried Zucchini Blossoms)

I0U1BKtbpFnx-VCg5dNZuPWTWUZpeR1uoFeztgQxhVcTNFqYJPKiY5FEZvh4Ro79j0miVJYR9DNAItFC1MzdHL06afs-tBj-zv4P1uKq8PW5LPZRe3hsOJmg8A973F93H1b1-tQzHBk7dgMXFlRtj-DElzIFqq4cfrdx3PFwgnExr1C3gmmqbpPbMZklw4omGfZr91Fm9PsH2LWuca8KEgP76qiPJjMale zucchini blossoms
Mozzarella (a type made for pizza – drier than traditional buffalo mozzarella)
Salted anchovies (de-spined, rinsed and cut into small pieces)
All-pupose flour
1 ice cold beer (I use a mild tasting beer like Peroni)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (sometimes I cut the oil with organic sunflower seed oil to cut down on the cost)
 
CzirVDO2i0Hud8g3Ld0dFkamMA30iM-Qh9MXtDq1s0_BCu78UtQuk3x57iuOsWfo14-FSARpIdqA2TQnf7tmxIgmAy3eIjB18Oo-MkU8QdsS9TqHxENOYREugORYmicuM4RWT-hYrkh79A2LAly1lBopopNK7W2sutGN1cRZWYzdlv1DvD2z2s72pNRaU_dQtVXTMDrouwVa7WQRq-99l5uwqsq4hKCarefully remove the stamens from the zucchini flowers. 
Then stuff each flower with a piece of mozzarella and a piece of anchovy and twist to close.  
Whisk the beer into the flour, should be like pancake batter.
Pass each flower in the batter.
Drop into hot oil to fry, will be done after 2-3 minutes, when the bubbles start to slow down.
Drain on paper towels and salt while hot.


Chickpea Flour Torta

IMG_5736Monday night dinners usually mean a 'clean-out-the-fridge-frittata' in my house, however, my son was recently diagnosed with a (hopefully temporary) egg allergy.... so the frittata is out.  Perusing the (gulp) vegan blogs I found a lot of recipes for chickpea flour 'eggs.'  Umbria is legume country, especially from the area known as Colfiorito, meaning we have no shortage of chickpea, or ceci, flour.... so I thought I'd give it a try... and what do you know? It was great!  Mind you, it has nothing to do with eggs now matter what the vegans and vegetarians will have you believe, but it is delicious all the same (and I know that because my 2 year old devoured it). It is reminiscent of a baked version of Sicilan panelle, which are basically fried chickpea flour patties.  Here is my version:

  • 165g chickpea flour (about 1.5 cups)
  • 2 cups water
  • chopped spring garlic
  • 1 med zucchini, small diced
  • 1 cup cooked swiss chard, chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • heat oven to 400F/200C

In a cast iron pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. 
Add garlic, zucchini, chard and cook until zucchini starts to turn golden brown.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, slowly whisk together the water and chickpea flour until smooth.
Pour the chickpea mixture into the pan and cook over medium high heat for a few minutes, season well with salt.
Then, put in oven to set, about 15 minutes.
Let cool slightly before cutting.

 


100th Rave Reviews on TripAdvisor!

I'm proud to announce that we have just received our 100th outstanding review on TripAdvisor!  Thanks to my partners and travellers to Umbria for making each experience unique and fun! Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 16.02.26

 


It's a Beef Stew kind of day...

-1It's a drizzly, February day here in Umbria... a beef stew kind of day... 
One day, like today, when I had my restaurant in Foligno, I decided to make an Italianized version of Irish Beef Stew... Low and behold, what I had really made was classic Umbrian Spezzatino di Manzo - and it was a hit!  I had to leave this dish on my menu all winter, because for my Umbrian clients, spezzatino was a comfort food, a dish that takes time to prepare, and few have that time - except for me, of course!

Spezzatino di Manzo

  • 5o0g cubed beef for stew
  • flour for dusting
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 -2 carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery or 1 fennel bulb, diced
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small hot pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbs chopped rosemary
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 1 Tbs course sea salt
  • extra virgin olive oil

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot.  Meanwhile, dust the beef with flour.  Brown the beef in the olive oil (over medium high heat) and remove from pot.
Add the diced onions, carrots, celery, garlic, pepper, bay leaf, rosemary and sweat for a few minutes.
*If you want a red stew, you can add some tomato paste or tomato puree at this point, and subsitute red wine for the white.
Add the beef back into the pot with the potatoes.  Deglaze with a glass or so of white wine. Salt.
Add enough water to come about half way up the meat.
Cover and turn heat to low, or cover and put in oven at 325/165 and cook slowly for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until meat is tender.

 

 


Ricotta Frappe for Carnival!

-1Many of you are preparing for your Superbowl party, but we here in Italy are in the midst of the Carnevale season, which means we eat a lot of fried sweet dough (there is always an excuse!)!

Here is a recipe for Frappe aka Chiacchiere, which, with the addition of ricotta cheese, turn out like the lightest most fluffiest funnel cake you have ever eaten.  Try them as they are very easy to make!

Frappe alla Ricotta

  • 500g flour (about 1 lb)
  • 15 g brewers yeast (a little more than half a cube), dissolved in 25 ml warm water
  • 25g (2 Tbs) butter, melted
  • 120g (1/3 cup) ricotta, well drained
  • 2 heaping Tbs sugar
  • pinch salt
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 1 Tbs Mistrà or anise flavored liquor
  • 125 ml milk, just warmed
  • 1 liter sunflower seed or peanut oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup of warmed honey
  • powdered sugar
  1. In a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook (or just mix very well by hand), add flour, yeast with water, melted butter, ricotta, sugar.
  2. Mix well on low speed for a few minutes
  3.  Add salt, zest, mistra, mix well.
  4. Slowly add milk, mix well for a few minutes.
  5. Turn dough out onto a wooden cutting board and knead with your hands for a few minutes.
  6. The dough should be soft and pliable and not too sticky.
  7. Place the dough in large bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
  8. Once risen, turn out the dough onto a large wooden cutting board and roll out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 2-3 mm - the thinner the better
  9. Cut into strips about 2 cm x 8 cm
  10. Twist the strips into any shape you like
  11. Meanwhile heat the oil in a wok (gives you depth and surface area) - you are deep frying.
  12. When the oil is hot, drop in the frappe, 4 or 5 at a time, they will puff up.
  13. The oil should be over medium heat. Hot enough that the frappe float immediately the oil bubbles, but not so hot that they burn.
  14. When they have browned on one side, turn them over and fry until the bubbles diminish.
  15. Drain on paper towels
  16. Drizzle with warmed honey and sprinkle with powdered sugar

For my Castagnole recipe (another Carnevale treat) read my post Lolita's Carnevale.

 

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Farmers' Markets in Umbria: Back to the Future!

Bruschettina-1One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced when I moved to Umbria from Seattle was something completely unexpected  - there were no farmers' markets!  Now, whilst living in Seattle, I was a central part of the booming farmers' market industry there - I had a very popular stand called Bruschettina, lines down the block, I even had an employee - the farmers' markets were my life.... So imagine my shock (and dismay and horror) when I moved to a place where, honestly, in America we think we are modelling our markets after, that is barren, so to speak. 

Understand that other than bananas and citrus, I had not bought a piece of produce in a supermarket in years.  I was dying on the inside...  The 'markets' here were what I oh-so- lovingly deemed Socks and Underwear Markets.  Basically a bunch of stalls selling knock off clothing and plastic crap.  Deep within the rows of socks and underwear, there might be a fruit/veg stand, but you know if they are selling bananas (and they always are) that most likely nothing is local and forget about organic.

When I moved from Foligno to Cannara I had the absolute fortune of discovering Ada.  Ada is mentioned frequently on my blog as she was my 'savior.'  She and her family have a small farm here and she sells her produce 2 days a week in our town.  So that solved my produce predicament, but I was still driving all over the hinterlands to buy meat, cheese, grains etc...

Now, I always joke that Italy follows in the footsteps of the United States (right or wrong), only 20 years later.  When the American style big box stores and supermarkets came in, small farmers in the area went out, as did the markets.  Slowly but surely, Italy is again following the fashion (better late than never) and catching on to the Farmers' Market trend.  What really kills me is when I see Farmers' Market written in English - I just want to scream - don't you know this is your lost tradition?!?!  Anyway....

In the past few years, a national group called Campagna Amica has been introducing markets showcasing local products all over Italy... and I am so happy!  The first time I went to one I felt all the memories of the Seattle markets rush back because many of the producers in these Campagna Amica markets are already my friends/ trusted producers - now finally all together!

If you are visiting Umbria, please take the time to visit and support one of these local markets, granted they are not the immense banquets of Provence, but it's a start in getting back to our future.

Weekly (not socks & underwear) Markets in Umbria

  • Santa Maria degli Angeli (Assisi) - Monday
  • Todi - Monday
  • Spoleto - Tuesday 
  • Città di Castello - Tuesday
  • Perugia (Pian di Massiano) - Thursday
  • Foligno - Friday
  • Gubbio - Saturday
  • Umbertide - Saturday

Most of the markets run from 8:00 - 12:00/13:00.  Perugia also holds an organic market once a month and of course, Ada is in Cannara on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

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My New Food & Wine Tours in Umbria for 2015!

See Umbria through the eyes of a Chef with
Jennifer from Life Italian Style!


A professional chef since 1998 by way of Philadelphia and Seattle, Jennifer is now a private chef and leader of active Food & Wine tours in the heart of Umbria. She works closely with the local, artisan producers she has met over the years and keeps her ears open at the markets, always ready to learn a new traditional recipe from an Italian Nonna to share with you!


Custom Food & Wine Tours
Single or multiple day tours available for guided exploration of the best local artisan producers in Umbria!


Private Chef in Umbria
A classic Umbrian dinner prepared directly in guest villa, using only the best local and seasonal ingredients. Umbrian DOC wines included. “Pizza Night” available for those staying in villas with a pizza oven. Please enquire for Cooking Classes as well!


Cycling Tour of the Umbrian Valley
Tour along country roads with a professional Italian guide through the beautiful vineyard and olive grove covered hills of the Umbrian Valley, stopping in small villages along the way. A full Umbrian Picnic lunch in the countryside completes the day!
Hiking and Walking Tours also available.


Horseback Riding & Winery Lunch
A 45 minute tour on horseback (no experience necessary) through the vineyards of the Terre Margaritelli winery in the countryside of Torgiano (just outside of Perugia), followed by a tour of the winery, wine tasting and lunch.

Nature Abounds in the Valnerina
We begin our day with a visit to a local pecorino cheese maker to see the production of various sheep’s milk cheeses.  This is followed by a visit to a local family which specializes in saffron production. We will then take a walk through the forest with them to forage for edible and medicinal herbs. Afterwards we enjoy a lunch with a guided tasting of local sheep & goat cheeses as well as delicacies prepared with foraged greens.

Farm to Table Tour
Our first stop is at a unique stone flour mill and wood-fired oven bakery. We learn about breadmaking beginning with grain!  We then move up to a local farm where a local family raises animals for salumi making, meat and cheese production. We will make cheese and pasta with Nonna Rita before indulging in a traditional farm lunch.
*Wild Asparagus hunting in the Spring
*Truffle hunting available in June and July

The Artisans of Perugia
We begin at the base of the historic town with a visit to the weekly farmers’ market. Then we will move up into the center to discover the lost art of weaving jaquard and silks on 17th century looms. We then stroll through the city stopping in artisanal bottegas along the ways before enjoying lunch in an enoteca known for its exclusive use of Umbrian products.

Meat Lover’s Tour
A tour of a local farm which raises prize-winning Chianina (native white cow of Italy), Cinta Senese pigs, sheep, birds, and crops. Included is a brief demonstration of butchery & salumi making. We then move on to the Terre Margaritelli for a lunch of grilled meats from the farm accompanied by a wine tasting & tour.

Wine and Chocolate Tour
We will first visit an artisanal chocolate producer to see how some of their specialties are produced.  From there we will move on to the Terre Margaritelli winery for a tour of the winery and full wine tasting lunch.

Umbrian Cooking Class & Lunch
Cooking classes are held in the rural village of Cannara, located in the heart of Umbria between Asissi and Spello or directly in guest villa. They are based around the best local ingredients in season, and includes making antipasto, primo, secondo and dolce followed by a lunch (eating what we just made, of course!)


Please contact Jennifer directly
at lifeitalianstyle@gmail.com
for booking and information!

 


 


Decoding Italy: Wine!

IMG_6179One of the biggest challenges for visitors to Italy is usually trying to understand Italian wine labels.  Yes, it can be daunting task for the uninitiated, but after learning a few simple rules, the whole endeavor becomes much more potable...

Classification  All Italian wines are classified according to their designation or denomination.  It is a way to help guarantee to the consumer what type of wine to expect in the bottle.  I like to think of these designations as concentric circles.

The smallest circle would be DOCG Denominazione di Origine Controllata e IMG_3312Garantita.  These wines are identifed by a purplish tag placed on the cap of the bottle.  DOCG controlled wines have very strict requirements which range from how densely the vines can be planted, to how much alcohol is in the wine, to aging requirements, color, fragrance, and of course, which grapes to use in each wine.  The wine must also be produced from grape to bottle within a very specific zone, and the bottles are counted and analyzed by government officials.  These wines typically carry a heavier price tag due to the costs of production.  This is not a guarantee that it will be an amazing wine - it is only a guarantee that the winemaker followed the specific rules of vinification during the winemaking process!  Here are a few examples: 

Continue reading "Decoding Italy: Wine!" »


Anchovy & Potato Tortino Recipe

IMG_4676After posting pics of my fireplace dinner from this weekend, I just had to post the recipe due to popular demand!

Tortino di Alici e Patate

  • 500 grams of fresh anchovies - not salted!
  • 4-5 medium sized potatoes, sliced very finely
  • 1/2 c breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 c grated aged pecorino cheese
  • 1 Tbs grated lemon zest
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbs chopped parsley
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt

Continue reading "Anchovy & Potato Tortino Recipe" »