Thursday, December 8

Panettone Pandemonium!

Every year around this time, strange large octagonal boxes appear filling the isles of every market, alimentare & grocery store across Italy. They stack enormous pyramids to the ceiling of this classic Italian Christmas bread. It's panettone (large bread) and it is the indication that Christmas season is here! Even before the huge snowflake lights are hung above the city streets or the first tree is lit - panettone is stocked in every shop! Seriously, this is no exaggeration - Italian bakers produce 117 million loaves of panettone every Christmas - that is more than one loaf a person! (We're up to 4 already & gathering steam!!)

So what is panettone?! I remember seeing these boxes in random shops in the States before we had moved & thought; what's in the box..why is it shaped like that..the picture looks like a poofy dome cake-thing with weird dried fruit...why did they seem to last so long...??  These were questions I wasn't ready to answer.

 After being offered thick fluffy slices at every house you enter (& you can't say no!) I have come to not only enjoy the candied fruit (which normally I don't dig at all) and the warm soft bread that melts in your mouth but I crave it night & day! It's bread - not a cake. And if you place it by the fire during dinner (or on the radiator or any heat source - keeping it in the plastic bag) it starts to get warm & soft and the butter begins to melt- it's perfect!

Panettone - the original recipe/flavor if you will- contains candied orange, citron & lemon zest as well as raisins, which are added dry & not soaked. Many other variations are available such as plain, only raisins or with chocolate & almonds. Panettone goes great with vin santo, moscato or any other sweet wine or liquor you like! Or like Dr. Gaggi - dip it straight into your glass of wine at the end of the meal.

My favorite un-orthodox way to eat it - french toast!

Panettone was unarguably born in Milan, but it's origin dates back to the Roman Empire - when ancient Romans sweetened a similar type of leavened bread with honey.

Most Italians prefer store bought panettone than making their own - it's a difficult, time consuming process with several days of proofing (this coming from the same people who roll pasta paper thin by hand!) Here are classic choices:

MottaAlemagna or Bauli
** Bonfanti
*** Artisan made (in our area Cafe del Teatro in Urbania or Martinell's in Apecchio)

Add your comments below on which is your favorite!

Happy Holidays & Here's to Panettone Pandemonium!

Wednesday, December 7

Chef Recommended: 10 Gifts for the Cook

Typically (for the last 10 years) I have been writing the blog posts - but this late autumn & early winter Jason has jumped onboard adding more than just his two cents. Here are Jason's (the Chef/Farmer/Cooking Instructor) recommendations for Christmas Gifts for the Cook in your life! Guests of our cooking school will find many of these items familiar...

Gifts for the Cook:
by Jason Bartner

What can you get for someone who loves to cook but seemingly has everything? How about something they will actually use! I'm not a kitchen gadget guy, so this list will be very practical. I know many people have closets and drawers filled will devices, gizmos, and machines designed to make life easier and seldom get used. Not conveniently stored, difficult to clean, and mostly preforming one function kitchen gadgets all meet their fate, years down the line, at the garage sale or Ebay. Not anymore! Regardless if that person loves Italian food or cooking in general, I've listed some daily use items that will never see a box in the garage:

1) Bench Knife, Dough Scraper
We'll start small and cheap with something I use every day and goes by many names. The Bench Knife, Dough Scraper, etc. is essential a dull blade of stainless steel with a handle in either wood with rivets (fancy) or plastic. Traditionally, it's used for literally scraping up balls of dough to move them around the board, but I use it for a different motive. To keep my knives sharp. By drawing the knife blade against the board to bring together those onions you just chopped dulls the blade. Also, it's not a great idea to clean off the onion that stuck to the blade with your finger. (Everyone Does It!) Instead, keep the board tidy with the dough scraper! Transfer the veggies from the board to the pan with this great tool instead of the blade of the knife and a cupped hand. It's part of my primary set up for every cooking class.

2) Bialetti Moka and Milk Frothier
I'll put these two up against up against fancy home machine any day. Patented for the first time in Italy by the inventor Luigi De Ponti for Alfonso Bialetti in 1933, this iconic design found in most households throughout Europe and Latin America has not changed. Paired with a simple Stainless Steel milk frothier it is the essential beginning to the day. Comes in several sizes and spare parts are wildly available. Granted, the Moka does not produce la crema on the top of the coffee like the machine does, but the cheap espresso machines are garbage and who spends thousands on the real deal?

3) Cutting Board with Lip
I told you this list was practical. Yea, a cutting board. For the bakers and anyone who hates when that board slips out from under while working. Load up wet towels underneath, it will not stop that board from sliding forward as you roll out your pastry or pasta dough. 'But I thought marble was the best for pastry?' Yeah, marble weighs a ton. How do you get that thing to the sink? All my boards have lips, it's so simple. Ikea make a great one; I have at least 15. They're cheap so when they warp or get beat up, I retire them to some other part of the house.

4) Lettuce Spinner
If you are the unfortunate soul who is fed wet salads, or still worse, have witnessed lettuce being dried with paper towels by a loved one? Please gift that person a salad spinner. I am amazed how many people comment as I spin lettuce at the sink. Does everyone buy lettuce in a bag? This forgotten tool cleans and dries all types of greens. Herbs, salad, chard/kale- Just today I used mine to clean muddy radicchio from the garden.  Through the magic of centrifugal force, water is whisked away leaving perfectly dry, clean greens for your enjoyment! 
5) Water Stone 
This is a knife care gift. Regardless of quality, knives work a whole lot better when they are sharp. Check yours, I bet they are not. Like any tool, blades need to be maintained. That plastic gizmo you run the knife through after you squash the tomato you tried to cut is not working. Knife care is a 'thing' that some get really into especially hunters. For the kitchen, I don't require a knife sharp enough to shave my arm, but they must be able to slice a ripe tomato with ease. There are countless sizes any types of water stones ranging from economical to very expensive, I am not an expert- Google will be your friend on this. A book or some other guide on knife care is a useful addition to this gift.

6) Pasta/Stock Pot
When cooking pasta for more than 2-3 people, the standard large household pot does not hold enough water to dilute the starch being released by the pasta. The result is predictable. A larger pot also prevents boil-overs, can be used as a basin to wash muddy veggies, and does not need to be expensive. It's primary function is to boil water so it need to be neither thick nor stainless steel. Light stock pots are also easier to store on tall shelves. Know a cook who makes gummy pasta? Perhaps they need a bigger pot- be a sport and get a lid as well!

7) Earthenware Casserole
A must for the Italian kitchen, every Nonna has her favorite casseruola. A casserole is a earthenware vessel that is used in many Italian dishes. From the stove top into the oven and onto the table, the cassurolo is a one pot staple of the countryside. Some are simple, others very ornate so prices vary. The casserole is to Italy what the cast iron skillet is to America; one pot that can do a little of everything. 

8) Chinois or Fine Mesh Strainer
Is a concave sieve with a wire mesh. It is used to strain custards, purees, soups, and sauces, producing a very smooth texture. Good examples are made out of stainless steel and can be expensive. Mesh ranges in size from super fine (barley passes water) to large (for pasta). No more floaters in the stock! This is something I have several of and use all the time especially now in Autum. I pass puree soups through a fine chinois to give a great silky mouth feel. 

9) Atlas Pasta Machine
Ok ya got me- one gadget. This one really works. The Atlas pasta machine. I've used them hard in my classes for 10 years now and they hold up. They can be used to roll out pastry,marzipan, any dough really. Much better than the pasta attachment for the kitchen machine that has a constant speed motor (too fast). The Atlas has a hand crank making it much easier to go slowly as you work through the learning curve. 

10) Le Creuset Extra-Large Double Burner Griddle
This last one is what I would like for Christmas. This formidable chunk of iron fits over two burners and turns the stove top into a small flat-top. Steaks, fish, quesadillas, pancakes everything!! It's heft makes it great for getting really hot for searing, finishing in the oven and then making the sauce back on the stove top in the pan. It has low sides and large surface area making getting in there with a spatula simple. Since it's Le Creuset it costs too much money in my opinion, but I'm not buying it!

       If you ask me, that looks like a really nice list for anyone serious about cooking with tools they will actually use. Let me know if I left a good one off the list or you had gift success with one of my recommendations. These are tried and true tools of our kitchen & cooking school!

Monday, December 5

My Typical Late Autumn Day in the Countryside

Buongiorno! I love cold blustery Autumn mornings like today. The sun won’t show itself for at least another hour, all the fires lit, and coffee on the stove. We have our neighbors’ giant dog Soum with us for the next month snoozing in front of the fire; such the perfect cliche.

Anyone who heats the home with wood will understand why we wake up at this unnatural hour in what is our ‘offseason’. Sleep in, and cold air begins creeping into this drafty stone farmhouse and unfortunately heat from a fire takes a moment to radiate out and begin having any effect. So, 5.30 AM wake up time it is! Procurement, movement, and burning of wood will be a major theme in our lives until sometime next Spring.

Comfortable alongside the dog by the fire enjoying our cappuccinos, checking the news, email, and most importantly, a solid hour of language study while the brain is fresh and absorbent before the Sun peaks over Monte Rupert.

With only about 9 hours of daylight this time of year, I set off with the dog into the hills as soon as there is enough light to see. We hike up above the Candigliano valley, walk along the ridge and descend down to the mill of Basillo on the south end. It’s a bit crowded in the woods this time of year with truffle, game, and mushroom hunters who are more accustomed to seeing pointers and spaniels roaming; noses buried in the forest floor. Constantly I must calm the fear they have of the 45 kilo Rhodesian Ridgeback walking beside me, assuring he is very friendly and does not bite.

Todays projects include refilling the wood holes and cutting back the long shrubs.

I mentioned that our lives are consumed by wood. Before the really cold weather sets in I have to move this wood pile:

Into these spaces:

Fun Fact: From the time the trees are fell until the logs are burned; we must touch each piece of wood (8) EIGHT! times. Cutting, splitting, moving, stacking, moving again, into the house, and burned. I’ve skipped a few but you get the gist.

And now it's time to trim the shrubs. Ahhh the shrubs.
Last year I neglected pruning the long shrub/bushes that runs the length of the property along the road. During that time the hedges have exploded in size and have consumed the outdoor lights that once flanked them. Before the snow arrives weighing down the overgrown branches and breaks them, I must go though and cut everything way back. With a branch cutter and a pair of shears I turn this mess:

Into this:

Pruning everything back is not that difficult, hauling all the branches away and cleaning up is a whole different matter. By the end of spring everything will have filled back in looking neat and orderly.
This can be done anytime the plant goes into its’ dormant phase.

We loose light early here in December. After another walk with the dog (shorter this time and on the road) and dinner, bedtime follows shortly behind. You could say that most 12 year old children have a later bedtime than us, and that would be true. There is simply no point to staying up late. In Summer the situation is totally reversed. Most nights end after midnight as we eat later due to the heat of the day. Now in late Autumn the cold, crackling fire, and quite combine forces to lull one to bed at a unusually early hour.

I know this life sounds totally glamorous and my intentions are not to brag. Hopefully today we can cross one project of the list and then get back at it tomorrow bright and early!
- A post by Jason

Saturday, December 3

2017 Cooking Classes & Workshops in Italy - Celebrating 10 Years!

Join us for our 10th Anniversary!!
It's time to pop the Prosecco! We are very excited & proud to be celebrating 10 years of Cooking Classes in Italy - I can't believe it's flown by so quick!  Join us at the farmhouse & kitchen where it all began a decade ago! Check out the 2017 Calendar of Cooking Classes & Workshops in the works. 

It's never too early to start planning your next trip to Italy!  Here's a sneak peak at what's cookin' in 2017 to whet your appetite: 

Wood-Oven Class (make more than just pizza) 
Pickle, Preserve & Confit Workshops 
Gelato Classes!! 
Sausages from Scratch 
PLUS!  Workshop on Moving to Italy & Starting a B&B!

Hope to see you in the kitchen,
Ashley & Jason Bartner

Monday, November 28

An Autumn Drive thru Le Marche

Autumn is hands down my favorite time of year, especially in Italy! From the color of the falling leaves and the colder bluer sky to but the smell of the wood stove mixed with roasted chestnuts and spiced wine, we not only see the changes of the season but feel and taste them too. One of my favorite ways to spend an autumn afternoon is a road trip to nowhere in particular.   We live just outside of Piobbico in the shadow of Monte Nerone. This northern part of Le Marche is rugged and breathtakingly beautiful - reaching from the foothills of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea (which is only about a 45 minute drive). 

Recently we jumped in the car on a brisk day for a drive to the northwester corner of Le Marche where it meets Umbria & Emilia-Romagna to explore Frontino & Carpegna. 

Frontino has been included in the prestigious club: "i borghi piu' belli di Italia" The most beautiful villages in Italy. It is easy to see why - it may be small but stands tall over the valley below. The views from here are stunning and with a four sided clock tower covered in ivy it's perfectly picturesque and charming.

We stopped in Carpegna for the morning market and a stroll thru the 'big city.' Enjoyed a porchetta panino and started to make our way back home. After 10 years of living in this crazy country I am still amazed & in awe of the beauty with which we are surrounded by on a daily basis and thankful to call this little corner of Italy home.

A little history: FRONTINO

The history of Frontino is that of a long dispute between the Malatesta from Rimini and Montefeltro for the madman of this “sentinel” in the territory of Massa Trabaria. The Montefeltro finally managed to keep it to pass a fief Oliva of Piandimeleto their vassals. Frontino, important part of the Duchy of Urbino, where he remained until the end of the dynasty of the Della Rovere – Montefeltro (1631). But the character of the town is about Malatesta who fortified, who raised the Palace of the family and that they provided the mill and religious buildings.

The towers and the mighty walls are reminiscent of the origins of this embattled castle, advanced sentinel of Montefeltro.

The monumental fountain water sculpture by Franco Assetto, named after Catherine Remies Forlani as symbolic figure of teacher much loved by the people of Frontino.

Read more about it's rich past:

Saturday, November 26

#SlowlivedMoments from our Farmhouse

All autumn I have been posting short films of slow lived moments #slowlivedmoments from our farmhouse in Italy on instagram & Youtube - I just realized I forgot to share them with you! Join in and post your quiet, simple, country moments of cooking, sipping tea, chopping wood and tag it #slowlivedmoments. I will share on a few on here in December!

To start - here is one of my favorites - Falling Leaves & Wellies

Monday, November 21

Italian Recipes from Our Farmhouse Perfect For Your Thanksgiving Meal

My how the time flies - I can believe it's already the Holiday Season!
Here are a few favorite recipes from our farmhouse & cooking school to add to your Thanksgiving menu to compliment your big beautiful (brined) turkey:


ANTIPASTI (Appetizers)

PRIMI (First Course)

 DOLCE (Dessert)


For more recipes visit our recipe box - here  


Thursday, November 17

Podcast from Italy

We woke to the first hard frost of the year after a light snow on Saturday. Jason shares his tips for menu planning and preparing your holiday feast! From brining the turkey to making the most of your equipment - plan ahead & you'll do great! We talk Italian politics from the new garbage bins to Renzi's reform. Happy Holidays & thanks for listening!

Podcast from Italy #93: Turkey Talk & Planning Your Holiday Meal
Listen/Download/Subscribe via iTunes, Stitcher or Podbean!

Dr. Gaggi & Jason, during one of our Thanksgiving celebrations

Sunday, November 13

Video: Sausages from Scratch

A look at our Sausages from Scratch Cooking Class! Starting with a pork shoulder and breaking it down, adding just salt & pepper and a glass of wine (with a garlic clove) - a simple DELICIOUS local recipe from Le Marche! With two fun Aussie guests I filmed this during their sausages from scratch cooking class - then we devoured them!!

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