Saturday, January 30

Top 5 Romantic Italian Films

Get in the mood and set the scene~
If you can't make it to Italy or in preparation for your next trip ~ buy a bottle of vino rosso & start a pot of ragu then cuddle up to these classic romantic films set in Italy. (Watching films in Italian is also a great way to learn the language.) This was a hard list to put together as there are so many Great Films Set in Italy from the Bicycle Thief to Life is Beautiful - but those are real tearjerkers so this line-up is all about romance!

Top 5 Romantic Italian Films:

Roman Holiday - Really, how much more romantic can you get than Audry Hepburn (as a princess) falling in love with journalist Gregory Peck in Rome?!

La Dolce Vita - One of the most famous Italian films of all time, starring Marcello Mastroianni and directed by Federico Fellini. Journalist and man-about-town Marcello struggles to find his place in the world, torn between the allure of Rome's elite social scene and the stifling domesticity offered by his girlfriend, all the while searching for a way to become a serious writer.

Pane e Tulipani ~ Bread & Tulips -A wonderfully colorful Italian romantic comedy about a woman regaining her sense of adventure and independence.

Only You - Marisa Tomei plays a girl who believes in destiny and the magic of the Ouija board, which spelled out the name of her fated lover, who just so happens to be headed to Venice. Yes, a bit cheesy - but a good rental.

Il Gattopardo ~ The Leopard - The Prince of Salina (Burt Lancaster), tries to preserve his family and class amid the tumultuous social upheavals of 1860's Sicily. I think of it as the Italian Gone with the Wind.

I'd be remiss without mentioning the movie that turned into a phenom & put Tusany on the map. Under the Tuscan Sun - Do I even need to recap it? However since I'm sure most of you have seen this movie - my suggestion is to read the book by Frances Myers about buying, renovating, and living in an abandoned villa. The book is much different & in my opinion much more realistic.

And in the close-enough category (set in the French countryside) is the male version of Under the Tuscan Sun: A Good Year - a British investment broker (Russell Crowe) inherits his uncle's chateau/vineyard in Provence, where he spent his childhood. He discovers a new laid-back lifestyle as he tries to renovate the estate to be sold. The scenery & cooky locals make the film.

What's your favorite Italian romantic film? Add it in the Comments section below!

Wednesday, January 27

Buona Bologna

Ahh Bologna, a city full of recommendations, famed restaurants, must try butchers & bakeries oh and then there's the history & art too...but that's not why we were headed there!

Recently we jumped in the car on a day with 'nothing better to do' & hit the road to Bologna for lunch & an afternoon stroll (passeggiata). From our farmhouse/inn it is about 2 - 2.5 hours depending on the traffic - a perfect day trip!

We decided to not look a up a damn thing! Why not! We live here now - we can always go back. Instead of following a guided path of historical landmarks or searching for the 'perfect' place to eat...we thought, let's just follow our nose! We knew we might not find the next "Diane" but we didn't care - it's Bologna a city full of food- we were sure we wouldn't go hungry!

We stumbled upon Osteria de Poeti whose doors first opened a few years ago... in 1600! It is located in a 14th century noble palace in the "centro storico" of Bologna. In the 16th century the old wine cellar became a place for entertaining & has been serving typical dishes of Bologna ever since! We stuffed ourselves to the brim! I ordered tortelloni (a regional pasta made by hand) con ragout di faraona e carciofi (ragu with artichokes) - buonissimo! I didn't want to leave a bit behind - the envelopes of pasta were delicate & rich - sooo good and totally different than the pasta served in our neck of the woods!

Jason ordered mousse di mortadella con pan brioche caldo (mouse of mortadella with warm bread) - this is delicious & very hard to do it justice in an explanation - but here we go-
mortadella (Italian's much much more superior version of bologna) is ground & then passed through a fine sieve several times until it become light & fluffy. In some areas the ground mortadella is mixed with ricotta. Either way you make it - spread it nice & thick on a piece of bread! A perfect antipasta that is surprisingly good.

I would totally suggest to find your way to Via Pescherie Vecchie for a tight fit between ancient stone walls, vendors peddling fruits, veggies, flowers, fish, meats & cheese and the locals vying for the ingredients for the nights dinner.

On our way back to the car we just so happened upon the steamy windows of Lo Sfizo. We managed to find a little extra room & had a bag filled with cookies for the ride home & fresh bread for ...well I thought it would make it home but after a little shoe shopping Jason had eaten it!

Random Recommendations:
Pasticceria-Panificio-Pastificio (Pastries-Bread-Pasta)
Lo Sfizo via Riva Reno 100/A, Bologna -Tel. 051.269981
Paolo Atti & Figli via Caprarie, 7 & via Drapperie, 6 Bologna -Tel. 051.220.425

Osteria de Poeti viaDe'Poeti, 1 Bologna - Tel. 051.236166 (Closed Monday)

If you've been to Bologna & have a good recommendation please add it below in the comment section, we'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, January 23

Basically the Best Bacon Ever: Italian Cured Pig's Cheek

Cured pig's cheek or guanciale di maiale (literally translates to cheek of the pig) is hands-down the BEST bacon Jason & I have ever eaten - and have yet to find someone who disagrees once they taste it's porky goodness! I know it sounds a bit weird to some to eat or order cheek - but trust me - just go with it - especially if you are in Italy. In our neck of the woods in Le Marche, it is served at home and commonly found on the menus of rustic traditional osteria's, family run restaurants just like our farmhouse, as an antipasta atop crostini. The recipe below calls for red wine vinegar which perfectly cuts the fat and combined with the sage makes for a rich meaty buttery deliciousness with a kick!

Bacon lovin' seems to run in the family - after 6 months of living in Italy, my sister Meagan returned to the States with only 2 things Italian: a new pair of shoes & a huge cured pig's cheek! Our good friend Fusciani proudly presented her with a home-cured cheek, proclaiming "my gift to America!"

America's gift from Italy

Recipe for Cured Pig's Cheek Crostini
  Crostini di Guanciale di Maiale

cured pig’s cheek (guanciale di maiale)
fresh sage leaves, few handfuls
olive oil
garlic cloves
red wine vinegar
toasty bread

Slice cured pig's cheek very thinly or ask your butcher.
In a frying pan, on medium heat add 2 glugs of olive oil, garlic cloves & sage leaves, add pig's cheek.
Cook for approximately 30 seconds - 1 minute on each side, until changes color to a nice golden brown, but not burned.
Blot with a paper towel.
Lightly sprinkle with red wine vinegar.
Serve immediately with the sage over toasted bread.

Pair best with crusty bread to soak up the juices or better yet blow your diet and serve for breakfast with eggs & toast!

Jason showing a guest how to slice prosciutto & guanciale paper thin

Thursday, January 21

Farm to Fork Cooking Classes in Italy: Flavors of Spring

squash blossoms

Wild edibles, sunny days, fields of poppies and cooking in a 300 year old stone farmhouse - Spring in Italy!
Join us as we celebrate the flavors of spring, Chef Jason shares recipes with the seasons best produce - artichokes, wild greens, squash blossoms, broad beans (fava) and more - all picked fresh from our farm garden!

3 Nights in our stone farmhouse
Make yourself at home in a cozy apartment with wood-bean ceiling perfect for two - one bedroom, one bathroom & a kitchen stocked with the essentials.

cooking class
Pull up the wellies, as we head in to our farm garden to pick the freshest produce for your custom cooking class. Return to the kitchen & create local seasonal dishes. Enjoy lunch together with Chef Jason as you savor the dishes you just made! Take home a handmade apron as a gift to remember your holiday.

cucina povera
Prepared with fresh ingredients from our garden enjoy antipasta, primo, secondo, dolce, digestivo & caffe by candlelight with home-bottled wine from a local vineyard.

the details
3 Nights Accommodations in Apartment Pesca
Welcome bottle of Prosecco
Breakfast Daily
Half-day Cooking Class
Four Course Feast with Wine

~300 Euro Per Person
(Based on double occupancy in low season)

Book My Italian Spring Getaway Now!

Monday, January 18

...just another reason I love living in Italy

I received this email from a friend & neighbor today:

"Hi Ashley & Jason,
Have a look at the picture. It is a prosciutto of 8,8 Kg with bone. It is very nice and tasty, good quality ham, but it is a little big for me alone. So I guessed if you might be interested. I can keep it fresh until you're back and from then you can use it for anything you like. Of course this kind of prosciutto should be cut by hand and I know you have the ham holder and probably also the knife.
Let me know if you are interested, if not I'll make sure to find another candidate for this baby.
Bye, Pieter"

with this picture attached:
Very nice & tasty indeed! Ohh I think we are definitely interested, Pieter - Grazie Mille!!
Reason 10001 of why we love living in Italy - Prosciutto gifts! Because when was the last time your neighbor gave you one of these?! (PS- that's about 20lbs of pork!)

Tuesday, January 12

Meat Curing 101: Homemade Sausage & Salami

Our most favorite winter tradition is stuffing sausages with Vittorio & then hanging them from the rafters of our farmhouse to dry in the cool winter air! If you are interested in getting elbow deep in meat - try one of our cooking classes at our farm in Le Marche on sausage making & meat curing! You can taste the difference & just think of the bragging rights over all your foodie friends!Vittorio has a passion for pork

the meat
People tend to think of sausages as being the leftover parts of the pig - but here in Italy we use the shoulder or spalla of the pig. This cut has the perfect amount of fat to meat ratio and is very flavorful. No "blue-light" supermarket special - buy the highest quality - you're taking the time to make homemade sausges so splurge!

the casing
When it comes to the casing - it is what it is - the small intestine of the pig - you can go to any good high-quality butcher & they should be able to point you in the right direction. (Usually they come packed in salt.) To use them - rinse them thoroughly & soak in a bath of white wine.

the equipment
Grinders: If you have a kitchen aid Mixer they sell the attachment for sausage making or go for the gold & get a heavy duty meat grinder from Atlas or Tre Spade so you can keep it up all year. We use a modified & suped up grinder from Tre Spade with an electric motor.
Stuffers: a device for filling the sausage - again an attachment kitchenaid.
Toothpick, fork - something to prick the casings

the recipe & ingredients
These are guidelines - adjust how you like - more salt or peppercorn, fennel, garlic - it doesn't matter its up to you. We prefer the recipe here - it is just awesome & hits a home run every time - guest come back salivating for more & so do we!! Just remember that when you are mixing & grinding to keep meat as cold as possible (40 F or lower) during processing.

Homemade Italian Sausage Recipe
10 lbs Find the best pork shoulder possible
30 gr salt per kilo of meat
pepper to the eye/ how you like it
Half a glass of white wine

Homemade Italian Salami Recipe
Use the above ingredients & just tweak it a bit:
Use a bigger casing & a net that will hold its shape available at the butcher.
32 g of salt per kilo

sausage & salami
Soak a clove of garlic in the white wine for 2 hours or so, then remove & discard.
Grind the meat.
Spread the ground meat out & sprinkle salt, pepper & white wine.
Mix & incorporate very well.
Shape into balls about the size of a soft ball and stuff it meat stuffer - push all the air out.
Then gently push the meat into the casings.

good size for salami

size of sausage link

Give it a twist over every 4inches or so - what looks like a normal sausage size. A bit bigger for the salami. Be careful NOT TO OVERSTUFF as the meat will burst out through the sides. You'll get the hang of it & feel for the right size after a few turns.
Prick a few wholes throughout the sausages to allow air to pass through the casing.

The sausages can be eaten immediately or hung to dry for about a month in a cool dry place. BE CAREFUL - there are NO PRESERVATIVES - Pay close attention that you have hung the meat to dry in a cool dry place - never above 4degree Celsius. Consult a book or talk with a butcher who has down this before. Rotate the meat on the hooks every day or so.
After about a month, you will see them change & will start to shrivel & become firm - now they are ready!

preserve & store
From here you can preserve them under oil, lard or in a vacuum sealed bag - this is will last for a good six months.

If you skip the curing you can grill them up & enjoy fresh homemade sausages the very same day! If the meat has been cured - peel the casing off as you would salami - slice & serve with antipasta! Pairs perfectly with pecorino (sheep's milk) cheese!

Botulism is a serious form of food poisoning caused by eating food contaminated with the toxin botulin. This is the most debated part of the process because no one wants to get sick. We use the recipe above that has been passed down to us from locals that have made this exact recipe for years. I asked our good friend a retired cardiologist how many cases of botulism he has seen from cured meat & he couldn't think of one. (Maybe it's just that Italians are now genetically immune to this toxin due to years of eating cured meat!)

Sunday, January 3

Grandma's Classic Italian Ragu: Age-old, Tried & True

Buon Anno Nuovo! To Celebrate the New Year we will post a different pasta sauce recipe every month! We were inspired by our dear Italian friend (good ol' Dott. Gaggi), he loves pasta as every Italian does, he finds it his duty to tell our (non-Italian) guests how they could literally eat a different pasta & sauce every day of the year and then begins to ramble off pasta & sauce combinations - Amatriciana, Norcina, Ragu, Wild Boar, Porcini.....very "bubba shrimp" Forest Gump-esque! 365 sauce recipes is a bit ambitious - so let's start with 1 a month and what better way to start than the one & only - Ragu Recipe!

1st Sauce of the Month: Ragu

Everyone has gotta have one - here is our classic ragu (meat & tomato) sauce. Perfect for spaghetti, lasagna, tagliatelle .... the list goes on!


1 small carrot, finely diced
1 med onion, finely diced
1 rib of celery, finely diced
1 clove of garlic
quarter pound of sausage meat
half pound ground veal
1.5 pounds peeled, seeded, pureed fresh tomatoes or 1 large can of peeled tomatoes
olive oil
salt & pepper

In a pot add a couple glugs of olive oil & sauté clove of garlic until brown then discard.

On medium heat sauté veggies slowly for about 10 minutes - so they are not brown but translucent.

Raise the heat slightly & add in meat - breaking up the pieces with a wooden spoon.

Season with salt & pepper.

Add tomatoes & half a glass of water.

Bring up to boil.

Lower to a very low simmer for 2.5 hours stirring occasionally.

Toss with your favorite pasta.

If sauce becomes too thick, add a little pasta water.

Saturday, January 2

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care... hopes that La Befana would soon be there!

La Befana is celebrated throughout all of Italy - but she lives right here in town - in Urbania! Every 2nd - 6th of January Urbania comes alive with the magic of la befana - the streets are filled with eager children of every age waiting to catch a glimpse!

Her name derives from the Feast of Epiphany and she is a good witch that visits the children of Italy on the eve of 6 January to fill their socks! The lore is that she leaves candy for the good kids, coal for the bad ones and being a good housekeeper, she will sweep the floor before she leaves! Many leave out a glass of wine and a plate of food to thank her for cleaning the house!

We love this feste because everyone comes out to celebrate - the tastey vendors peddling their artisan goods - from spiced wine, aged pecorino & honey to the meats of the region; porchetta, cinghiale in all forms & prosciutto.

Late in the evening, after the band parades through town everyone gathers in the piazza to watch la befana descend from the bell tower into the crowd.

Both men & women dress as this old character and parade the streets night & day, sometimes even on stilts - its hysterical! Jason says that next year he will dress up for sure & I don't doubt it!

For all the details on the festivities, video clips & more check out the official web site for La Befana and Urbania (the offical home of La Befana)

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