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.
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