Wednesday, December 22


Happy Holidays from our snow covered village of Piobbico. We're busy baking cookies, roasting chestnuts & ready to start curing meat! Thank you all so very much for reading our blog, tuning in to our podcast, adding comments, testing our recipes & even visiting us in Italy!

For more festive holiday stories including le befana, the living nativity scene and recipes: Click Here 

Don't miss my monthly coloumn in Italia! Magazine - January 2011: A Very Festive Christmas Eve Fish Feast

Wishing you every happiness at this festive holiday season and throughout the New Year. 

 Auguri ~ Ashley & Jason

Buon Natale e 
Felice Anno Nuovo 

Sunday, December 19

Osso Buco - Eat This Immediately

Osso buco, now here's a great winters dish that is so simple to make.

Most have heard of osso buco, but what is it? What literally translates as 'bone's hole' is simply an inch & a half slab of veal shank. There is a good amount of tough meat surrounding a large flat piece of bone with ample amount of rich marrow in the center. When cooked the marrow melts into the sauce leaving an open whole in the center, thus the name osso buco.
Try this on a cold Sunday evening ladled into a bowl of wet polenta to soak up the rich sauce. Its a good stewy dish!

There are a hundred different variations of osso bucco, mostly braised. This one we did simply with the tomatoes we jarred over the summer.

4 pieces of osso buco (veal shank)
a nice size carrot, chopped finely
nice onion, chopped finely
couple cloves of garlic, smashed & remove the skin
bay leaf
any aromatics you like - rosemary, we used juniper berries because we have them in the woods
a little flour for dusting
salt & pepper
a good handful (about 5 oz.) of canned tomatoes, skins removed or fresh tomatoes with skins & seeds removed
olive oil
white wine (couple of glugs)
half a cup of water or stock

Salt & pepper the osso buco & then dredge in the flour

In a good size casserole or roasting pan, on med-high heat, add a glug or 2 of olive oil & a pad of butter.

Saute the osso buco for 2 minutes on each side. Then add the vegetables & continue cooking the osso buco, turning frequently until it is nice & colored

Add the white wine cook until the wine is reduced by 2/3. Add the tomatoes, aromatics, crack of pepper & salt, water or stock & bring up to a simmer.

Remove from stove & place in a 350 degree oven, uncovered for about an hour & half or until the centers of the bone have melted away & the meat is falling away from the bone. If you need to add a little more water or stock towards the end, do so

Serve over polenta, potatoes or rice to soak up the juices.

This is one of my favorite dishes because it really resonates with the simplicity of cucina povera.

Friday, December 17

Picking Olives in Italy - The Harvest & Cold Press

We recently got a call from our friend Marco inviting us to help his family pick olives in southern Le Marche.  How 'quintessentially Italian' I thought, of course we're in - are you kidding!? I have always wanted to pick olives! We grabbed our boots & gloves & jumped in the car.
As we made our way up the hills and down around the shallow valleys we found ourselves just outside the picturesque village of Ostra (Le Marche) in a tiny olive grove of 70 trees. 

 We turned down a gravel road to meet an old couple picking olives as well. Marco scoffed  "look how they use a machine, we do it by hand." I was just amazed that these 80 year old were out in the trees regardless!

 As we walked through the grove Marco pointed out the different varieties of olive trees and estimated their ages. Piu vecchio, piu oliva, piu buono. (The older, the more olives, the better tasting)

 It’s really quite simple -
Lay out the net, spreading it wide around the tree with poles holding up the edges so the olives don’t just go rolling down the hill. Then you get up in the tree & comb out the olives with a big plastic comb/claw. The branches are more flexible they you may think. Once the tree is clean you roll up the netting, shaking the olives down to the bottom of the net. Then gathering them into crates. 
One tree can yield 20-40 kilos.

Italians love their olive oil - 100 liters of oil a year are consumed by a family of 3-4.

After a hearty lunch we headed back into to the grove - we needed to get picking because a storm was headed our way. It is best to pick the olives dry so we needed to get as many plucked before the rains arrived. Once the inevitable storm stopped our work we jumped in the car & Marco took us to the press.

At the mill, barrels of olives are cold pressed with granite wheels running 24 hours a day for 3 months straight. Ever half hour the hopper starts again with a new batch (at least 200 kilos) of olives ready to be pressed. It takes a total of an hour & half to run through the mill.
First air & vibrations remove leaves. Then granite wheels rotate & crush the olives (pit & all). After that the olive mush moves to a vat with a bit of water & persuades the oil to rise to the top (passing through this twice). The oil is then cooled as the friction with the stone causes the oil to naturally heat up. Finally it then goes through a series of centrifuges to separate the olive from the water. And that's it! The question then is to filter or not.  Marco recommends sticking to non-filtered because in the winter the oil congeals and the heavy sediment sinks to the bottom.  In spring the sediment is removed & voila' - cold pressed, non filtered extra virgin olive oil!

 Grazie mille Marco for the memorable day & the beautiful lunch with your family. As we left he gave us a thank you gift of fresh pressed olive oil & homemade wine! We can't wait to help next year!

Wednesday, December 15

'Tis the Season for Decadant Desserts ~ Italian Christmas Chocolate & Nut Cake

Snow covered Piobbico

Italian Christmas Chocolate Cake
with walnuts, hazelnuts & chestnuts

6 oz unsalted butter
6 oz sugar
325 gr dark chocolate, broken into bits
50 gr walnuts, shelled, halved, toasted & rough chopped (with a good mix of large & small)
50 gr blanched almonds, toasted & rough chopped
75 gr shelled hazelnuts
5 large eggs, separated
150 gr chestnuts, cooked & broken into bits
1 orange rind, grated
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
50 gr ground almonds
powdered (icing) sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Melt butter & sugar in a bowl set over simmering water. Add in chocolate, stirring well.
Add the egg yolks to the chocolate mixture, then mix in the all the nuts, orange rind & cinnamon. Whisk yolks until stiff, but not dry. FOLD in egg whites to the chocolate mixture. (You don’t want to knock the air out by mixing too hard.)
Pour into a buttered 8in spring form cake pan.
Bake for 45 minutes
Leave the cake in the pan to cool for about 20 minutes. It is a fragile cake, so handle with care.
The top will deflate & crack a little as it cools. Dust with powdered (icing) sugar.

Wednesday, December 8

Rustic Italian Jam Tart - Crostata

Crostata is the most classic rustic dessert in Italy, it is a jam filled pastry crust & recipes vary greatly across the country.  You will find this on the table of almost every nonna ready to serve in case anyone pops-in. It gets better after sitting out a few days & dries up nicely (if you don't eat it before!) and is erfect with your morning cappuccino. In our area the most popular jams are fig & apricot - just divine with chopped almonds toasted on the top!
Crostata - Italian Jam Tart

Sunday, December 5

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 loafs 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 favourite 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 a few top choices:

** Bonfanti
*** Artisan made (in our area Cafe del Teatro in Urbania)

If you still aren't ready to make the plunge - try this - buy a box & make french toast!

Happy Holidays & Here's to Panettone Pandemonium!

Friday, December 3

Basic Italian Chicken Broth Recipe - Brodo

Foghorn-leghorn -  bound for brodo
This is one of those recipes every chef knows by heart, one of the fundamentals of the kitchen. Brodo is Italian for broth & is used in everything from risottos, minestras, stews. And, the varieties are endless; fish broth, vegetable both, beef broth, chicken broth. 
We try to always have at least a liter of stock in the freezer. On a cold day you can instantly have a bowl of soup!

Broth Recipe 
1 whole chicken in pieces
1 beef bone
1 tomato
2 stalks of celery, chunked up
2 carrots, chopped in chunks
2 large onions, chopped in chunks
sprig of parsley
healthy pinch of salt

In a large stock pot add all ingredients and cover with water. Bring to a boil, skim the fat and impurities that come to the top.
Then lower to a very low simmer.
Simmer for 3-4 hours.
Strain stock - discard vegetables.
Now you have a delicious stock to be used in an array of dishes & soups.

Pick the meat off the bone & use in the soup, chicken salad or any other dish.
Stock will last a week in the fridge or you can freeze in usable portions.

Tuesday, November 30

Celebrating the True Meaning of Thanksgiving in the Italian Countryside

 We may be a million miles away from America (OK more like 5,000), but every year we celebrate the true meaning of Thanksgiving deep in the Italian countryside, without a pilgrim in site. I never thought it would take us leaving the U.S. to properly celebrate & truly understand the meaning of this holiday. 
Jason carving the turkey
Jason & I take this opportunity to 'give thanks' to those that have helped & supported us throughout the year, our friends & neighbors who help make our life here possible.  The guest list includes of course Dott. Gaggi & his wife (our adopted Italian family) & neighbors like Sylvia & Pieter who contribute in countless ways, Beppe who donates seeds & starters for the garden/farm every year, Severino who let us borrow his truck when we were building our chicken coop, Pierangelo our farmer & bearer of wood, Maria, Pia & Ida the old grandma's that have taught Jason how to roll pasta & perfect his sauces, Marco who helps stock our wine cellar and Vittorio our master of meats, whom we cure hundres of kilos of meat with. These are just a few of the wonderful people that share their recipes, jump the car when its dead, lend a helping hand without a second thought & teach us the true meaning of the word 'neighbor' and how to better be one ourselves.  Plus they are the "over the top & kooky" characters that shape our experiences here & teach us how to live a truly authentic Italian life - every day! For that and much more we are thankful.

Maria rolling pasta for our Thanksgiving lunch
It is our most favorite lunch to host - we combine the traditions of the Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing & pumpkin pie with that of the Italian holidays with dishes like crostini di fegatini (chicken liver) & cappelletti in brodo (little stuffed hats in broth). The entire meal is made with produce from our farm, including the chicken & eggs (we order our turkey from a neighbor butcher). For most of our guests this is the first time they have ever seen, let alone eaten a turkey roasted whole in the oven - its straight out of the American movies for them & they love it - taking pictures with the turkey!
Making pasta with 50 eggs for cappelletti with a few local nonna's
The week before is spent prepping for the feast - slaughtering chickens for the broth, pasta stuffing & crostini, plus hours in the kitchen making cappelletti with a team of grandma's - rolling, stuffing & closing the tiny delicate pasta filled hats. Jason made the dough with 50 eggs from our chickens! Coming together to work on this meal with the locals even more solidifies the feeling of family, community & holiday for me. As we work our fingers gently closing the pasta, the room is filled with warmth from the fire & good ol' Bing crooning the Christmas classics, interrupted by the endless banter of Gaggi 'busting chops':
"you didn't close the pasta right, are you done rolling the dough, next time make it more rectangular...what would you do without me, I'm the only one who knows how to do it right, you see how good I am at this..." 
Note: This is in dialect & he's talking to the old ladies - the experts! They just fire fake insults right back at him, all of us erupting in laughter. - Ahhh  feels like family to me!

American Thanksgiving - Italian Ringraziamente Menu

Meat & Cheese - Prosciutto e Formaggio
Tart of Greens with Parmesan & Formaggio di Fossa - Torta di Bietola e Formaggio


Turkey with Cornbread Stuffing - Tacchino e Ripieno con Pane di Maize
Potato & Cabbage Mash - Lesso di Cavolo

Mix of desserts brought by the guests

Now that's a frisky Italian - Beppe (in his late 80's) asked me for my phone number!

Three years ago we moved out of the U.S., but we've never lost the American spirit to celebrate the holidays!

Friday, November 26

Blog Updates via Email are Back

Thank you blog readers who let me know that there was a hiccup in receiving updates recently. Well, we've fixed the glitch! So here is what you've may have missed:

Thanks for hanging in there with us!

Wednesday, November 17


 We just returned home from eating our way through Sicily (more to come on that of course!) enjoying tons of fresh fish, visiting ancient Agrigento & always in awe of the ever-smoking Etna.  Thanks for your patience while we've been away. I'll be back to regular posts!

Saturday, November 6

"American Water" bottled in Italy, sold at Whole Foods

Chatting with our friend Pieter the other day, who had recently returned from a visit to our local water bottling factory in Apecchio, asked if I would like to try "American water."  Well, I better give it a go I thought, now curious why it would be referred to as this. I wondered what this tiny town in Le Marche had to do with America - I figured he was making a joke & the water had loads of sugar in it!
In total shock I discovered what he meant by "American water"...WHOLE FOODS.

Pieter said well, yes they are so happy to export their water to America!  It is known that the mineral water sources found in Le Marche have remarkable beneficial and remedial properties both in thermal treatments (bathing and at the pool) and when bottled for drinking so it's no surprise that it is sold around the world.
Sure enough it said bottled in Apecchio, shipped to Texas - what a small world we live in.   Upon closer examination the label actually reads that the water has journeyed for 2 years through the Tuscan Apennines mountains... I guess they figured no one had heard of Le Marche & with the "made in Tuscany" label  the price tag climbs to almost $10 bottle.  Better yet, visit Le Marche and drink it for free!

Monday, November 1

Basically the Best Baked Onion Rings - Ever. Baked Vegetables with Bread Crumbs Recipe

Now this is home cooking in Italy. Vedure gratinate (baked vegetables with bread crumbs) can be found on many tables here in our area, always delicious - warm & toasty or packed up for a pot-luck.  The thick slices of onions are my favorite and are basically the best onion rings ever! They come out soft & warm inside with perfectly light & crispy crunch. To top it off this healthy dish is incredibly simple to make & can be served as an antipasto or at the end of the meal with your meat as a contorno.

Baked Vegetables with Bread Crumbs
Vedure Gratinate

Friday, October 29

Much to the Gardeners Shagrin, Frost

1st frost of the fall
"That's it. Say goodbye!" I hear shouted from the back door as Jason stumbled in bearing 2 overflowing crates of peppers.  "The garden's done for the year." 

After our first heavy frost of the season all that is left are the leafy greens, cabbages, cauliflower,  brocoli & fennel plants. (Still a hearty bounty perfect for winter soups!) The last of the peppers were quickly picked before they turned black from the frost. I know what we'll be having for dinner tonight... Peperonata.
frosty veggies
 Soon we will turn the ground, cover it in manure & let it rest for the winter....preparing the land to do it all over again next year!

Wednesday, October 27

Photos of Autumn in Italy - Umbria & Le Marche

 Weaving our way along the boarder of Umbria & Le Marche on a lazy Sunday drive took us from the top of Monte Nerone & then south to Camerino. We marveled at the spectacular fall colors surrounding us. Stopping at picturesque villages along the way, stumbling upon a mushroom festival & the discovering best roadside meat sandwiches ever (more to come on that...) it was a perfect day. Enjoy the photos with a hot cup of apple cider (or in Italy - spiced wine):
Monte Nerone

Metallica, Marche

Palazzo Ducale - Camerino, Marche
Camerino, Marche

....more about that pork-wich in the next post.

Sunday, October 24

A Fall Favorite: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

1 medium-large butternut squash, seeded and cut into thick 1 -inch slices
salt & pepper
8 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 medium red onion, sliced paper thin
1 clove of garlic, sliced paper thin
handful of fresh oregano
pinch of red chili flakes

Wednesday, October 20

The Choco-holics Oktoberfest: Eurochocolate in Perugia

Last week we snuck away from a house full of guests to indulge our sweet tooth at the Eurochocolate Festival and Exhibition in Perugia (the chocolate capital of Italy.)  This was no small event - the police closed the exit off the expressway & redirected traffic up to the medieval town.

We haphazardly left the car in a non-official parking spot and made our way in to the city walls.  It started sprinkling as we approached the first tents & within minutes a full blown rain storm was sitting over us. We pressed on determined to eat of fill of sweet, dark, rich chocolate in all forms....

Saturday, October 16

Meaty Goodness - Spezzatino (Stewed Pork)

There is nothing better on a cool autumn Sunday evening than walking into the kitchen, welcomed by the glow of the fireplace and the rich smells of meaty goodness: a pot slowly simmering on the back burner with stewed meat, falling apart ready to top thick golden polenta. This is a "stick to your ribs" hearty dinner perfect for the fall & winter.


Stewed Pork

Thursday, October 14

Join the Slow Food Movement: Good, Clean, Fair Food

Supporting Good, Clean, and Fair Food
 Slow Food USA is working to transform food and farming, so that all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet. How do you argue with that?! Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. 

Monday, October 11

Fall Harvest on our Italian Farm - Recipes & Photos

Crisp cool air, falling leaves and tall green wellies on suntanned skin with a crate of homegrown veggies hoisted over his shoulder adorning a huge smile on his face - It’s harvest time and Jason knows all that work throughout the spring & summer has paid off! For our sophomore garden we scaled back a bit in respect to last year. That being said, we had 80 pepper plants, beans forever, a few hundred tomatoes, 200 cabbages in 5 varieties, and countless rows of radicchio, lettuces, raddishes, cucumbers, cantelope, watermelons, zucchini, corn, eggplant, herbs, garlic, onions, potatoes, pumpkins....and the kitchen sink!

Photos & recipes from the fall harvest on our organic farm in Le Marche.

Peperoni or Peppers used in countless dishes, but my favorite is when they are simply stewed - Peperonata.

Borlotti or cranberry beans - picked & drying in the sun.

Once the shells are dry we shuck them & pop out these beautiful cranberry speckled beans. Served simply with a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or add it to soups to hearty it up a bit.

Jason returns up from the garden, caked with mud, barring dinner not in plastic bags but with an overflowing basket of goods freshly picked for dinner. With the sheer volume of the veggies we are producing we have been freezing, jarring & preserving and braided onions for weeks!

Cipolle - onions. We grow rows & rows of yellow & purple onions because we just can't get enough of their sweet flavor.

Cavolo nero & cavolo verza - cabbages & kale

Dark leafy greens sauteed with garlic & olive oil or topped on crostini. It's great wilted into soups as well.

Turkish or ugly squash makes the perfect stuffing for Pumpkin Stuffed Ravioli with Butter & Sage Recipe

It seems as if every corner I turn there is another case of squash, onions or garlic waiting to be prepared & eaten next...check back for loads of new fall recipes coming!

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