Friday, March 30

Spring in Bloom: Seedlings, Soil & Tulips

The first few tulips of over 250 bulbs I planted in November have begun to pop open!
Oh Happy Spring!!

We are busy working our way through our spring-clean list of painting, scrubbing, mowing, fertilizing the garden with manure, starting seeds (these were planted over a week ago):
seedlings for lettuces starting in the warm windowsil

 ...planting veggies (over 20 kilos of potatoes go in the ground tomorrow!) & starting all the flowers in pots, fixing up the chicken coop for the fowl (20 new hens arrive next week!), starting a new compost bin, draining & cleaning the pool, possibly adding a lavender border around the patio & pool and the list goes on & on & on.... Thankfully Basilio came by with his tractor to form the rows for the grande orto yesterday! Of course Dr. Gaggi was here to over-see the entire operation.

Starting the garden rows, ready for planting!
Everywhere you look - Spring is in bloom!

Plum tree behind the house  

Sunday, March 25

I Like My Peas with Pancetta

Sweet peas have arrived at the farmers market, spring is here! Peas & pancetta - one of my favorite dishes that I only eat in Spring when the peas are bright & fresh.   I can't get enough, I don't know if it's the peas or the pancetta - is it the green veggie or the fatty pork that I love so?! Maybe I should just have another spoonful...

Peas & Pancetta
piselli & pancetta

Thursday, March 22

70 kilos of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This week is the beginning of Spring & the start of the season at our inn which means it's time to replenish the supplies that we don't produce ourselves like wine & olive oil. So this week we drove to the Ancona area (Osimo) and bought 70 kilos of un-bottled, extra virgin olive oil!

 First off I love olive oil, I could seriously sit & eat an entire loaf of any bread, by ripping it into hunks and letting it drown in oil with a few good cracks of salt on-top. (Accompanied by troppo vino of course..) I could do that dinner. Needless to say when it comes to sampling oils, I am a huge fan since they can be so different and range in color & flavor, from smooth & buttery to sharp & green. We have spent the past few years 'sampling,' trying to pick a 'house oil' from Le Marche and finally came up with a winner: Guzzini - Laura, extra virgin, perfectly floral & fatty. 

This year we decided to buy 4 types of olive oil 'loose' or sfuso which is also how we buy the wine we bottle. It means that we show up at the warehouse with our own container, in this case 50 liter stainless steel demijohns and fill them up with oil that has not been bottled, but instead left untouched after being pressed in the massive floor to ceiling containers. They open a valve located about 4-5 inches from the bottom (this allows any impurities to settle on the bottom below the valve) letting the golden oil flow out. 

  In addition to "Laura" we purchased "Campolavoro" with a peppery & green finish, which I love dunking in bread. And "Monte" a blend of two olives with a clean taste to contrast the other two. We use these oils interchangeably for salads & finishing pastas, meats & fish - never to be exposed to the heat of a pan. The fourth oil, is the everyday oil we cook with from the Consortium of Agriculture in Perugia. For more on how Jason uses oil read: Olive Oil 101

Saturday, March 17

Podcast from Italy: I ♥ Gelato! Flavorful Interview with Artisan Gelato Makers

We are excited to share an interview with our friends Antonio & Paola, owners of Gelateria Maki in Fano, our most favorite artisan gelato shop in the Region! They stopped by for a visit so we thought we'd ask a few burning questions about gelato: how is it different from ice cream,  what's the difference between artisan & industrial gelato, where their passion came from and much more! It's clear Antonio & Paola are passionate about what they produce (gelato, sorbet, chocolates) and the importance of quality ingredients - you can taste it in every delicious bite!

Piazza degli Avveduti, 1   Fano (PU) Italy     +39 07211796064

Antonio on the left, Ashley & Paola at Maki

Monday, March 12

'Alfredo' for Adults: Pasta with Formaggio di Fossa

For a rich, creamy, cheesy pasta sauce, skip the adolescent 'alfredo sauce' and try something more sophisticated: fresh pasta with formaggio di fossa (pecorino) or cheese from a pit, a pungent sheep's milk cheese from Le Marche, Italy.  Formaggio di Fossa is considered one of the most delicious culinary rarities from Romagna and Marche with a unique flavor, deep coloring & strong aroma. This cheese is best grated over pasta or eaten with fruit & honey as dessert.

Fresh Pasta with Formaggio di Fossa

Wednesday, March 7

Slow Food: Heirloom & Nearly Extinct, the Italian Solfino Bean

This spring we will plant an antique almost extinct bean, the solfino in our garden. I recently read an article from Le Marche & Food on about a rare flavorful bean from our region of Italy, I was intrigued. We pride ourselves on eating locally, growing our own food & supporting the values of Slow Food, so the thought of preserving a Marche heirloom seed from the dangers of extinction from industrial production was exciting! I contacted La Bona Usanza, the head of the local Slow Food convivium and cooperative that is responsible for cultivating the bean.

In a noisy cafe in a medieval city outside Ancona we were told all about this curious, age-old bean. Solfino is small, round and pale yellow (like sulphur from which it takes its name) with a rich & creamy flavor commonly cultivated in the central Italy (Marche, Tuscany and Umbria) in the past.  

The Solfino Bean has a particularly thin skin, creamy consistency, delicate taste and a capacity to hold up well in cooking.  Affectionately considered "the rich mans beans," because they are so costly (25 Euro/kilo) most Marchigiani serve guests just a spoonful drowned in extra virgin olive oil,  because as our friend says, the beans are "come oro" like gold.  We recommend you serve it just-boiled, still warm, with a healthy drizzling of your best olive oil and a pinch of salt. So simple, so perfect. Peasant cooking with a bean fit for a king!

Years ago when the majority of production was moved from Marche to Tuscany (where it's known as zolfino), the bean had difficulties thriving as it once did. According to some the problem was the soil, others attribute the lack of knowledge by Tuscan farmers when the real experts were the hand of Marchigiani (explained to us by a few passionate locals). Surely it had to do with the industrialization and mass-harvesting of this delicate bean. The big equipment crushed the fragile stalks and the bean production dropped to near extinction until the cooperative of La Bona Usanza stepped in.

We were offered a tour of the 'bean factory', so we downed our caffe and followed the kind gentleman to the unassuming warehouse outside of town.  There we were met with white-gloved middle-aged ladies sorting, cleaning, checking & bagging beans. This small scale production was very inspiring & we felt like we too could be part of it.  Once we returned home that afternoon we divided up bags of beans for our farming friends in the area & gave them as gifts to grow and literally spreading the seeds across the Candigliano Valley. We are proud to be planting, harvesting, eating & replanting these beans, ensuring a long history of flavorful dishes for years to come!

How to Grow Solfino Beans:
"This bean is sown in April and harvested at the end of July; it prefers dry and not overly rich soil as it does not tolerate stagnating water. Cultivation is difficult and somewhat risky each year, as the production of this crop is heavily dependent on the climate and furthermore, many of the operations must be done by hand. Thus, the Solfino Bean is, without a doubt, very good, but at the same time, is very demanding in that it requires much patient care in cultivation. It is for this very reason that it came so close to disappearing altogether. Yet, we can once more enjoy the Solfino, to the great joy and satisfaction of the farmers who have taken to heart this petite bean." - La Bona Usanza

Sunday, March 4

Lick My Spoon Foodie Photos with Pasta with Zucchini Blossom Recipe

The super talented, refreshingly tongue-in-cheek food blogger Stephanie Hua from Lick My Spoon visited us over the summer and snapped fabulous photos of dinners, cooking classes, veggie picking, tomato jarring and roaming chickens.   I will post a few of her photos each week as well on our Facebook page. More photos: Lick My Spoon: Farm & Food in Italy
Here are few photos from our pasta from scratch with sauces class -
The Class Menu & Recipes:
Pasta Class by Stephanie Hua
Fresh pasta with zucchini blossoms at La Tavola Marche by Stephanie Hua
 Thanks Stephanie!!
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