Friday, December 30

Panettone French Toast

What to do with all the extra boxes of panettone stacking up after the Christmas onslaught? Make French Toast! Now we are talking. Soft sweet buttery panettone (especially the ones with chocolate chips or raisins) makes perfect french toast to be drowned in Grade A maple syrup on a cold frosty December the diet for after Befana (January 6th)!

Panettone French Toast
maple syrup
(powdered/icing sugar optional)

Beat eggs, adding in vanilla, cinnamon & nutmeg in shallow dish. Stir in milk.
Dip thick slices of the panettone into the egg mixture, turning to coat both sides evenly.
Cook panettone slices on lightly greased nonstick griddle or skillet on medium heat until browned on both sides.

To really go wild - you can add a layer of powdered sugar to one side, flip it back onto the heat and let it form a sweet crust!
Drizzle heavily in good maple syrup & serve!

Wednesday, December 28

Creative Tourism Award: Best Creative Residency 2016

What a wonderful surprise! Our farm, inn & cooking school La Tavola Marche has just been honoured & recognized by the Creative Tourism Awards for Best Creative Residency 2016 for our innovative & sustainable tourism efforts. We are blushing a bit & stammering for did they ever hear of our little farmhouse?! 

I'll share with you what they sent:
The Jury highlighted the quality, originality and sustainability of La Tavola Marche as well as its engagement for the experiential tourism.

The Jury of the Creative Tourism Awards particularly appreciated the authentic and elegant experiences designed by La Tavola Marche though which the travellers can enjoy the art of living and the uniqueness of Le Marche area.
With its wide array of activities aimed to very diverse targets, La Tavola Marche contributes to the development of a sustainable tourism offer.
The Jury underlined the balance between the quality based on a strong professional background, and the human generosity brought by the owners’ personal involvement in this project.

Created by the Creative Tourism Network, the Creative Tourism Awards  aim to reward companies, projects and destinations worldwide that foster the creative tourism, a new generation of tourism, characterized by the active participation of the tourists in artistic and creative activities.

Internationally recognized for its action in favor of a more innovative and sustainable tourism, the Creative Tourism Network® works with a panel of prestigious experts headed by the Professor Greg Richards, co-inventor of the creative tourism concept, in order to determine and guarantee respect of the Best Practices of the Creative Tourism.

Hence, the international jury of the Creative Tourism Awards selected five, among more than hundreds of initiatives and destinations from twenty-eight countries, that highlight for their commitment to this emerging sector. The Jury particularly appreciated the authenticity and creativity of the proposals, as well as their promoters’ interest in involving the locals and the tourists in the production of the experiences.

Based on the criteria of quality, originality, innovation and sustainability, the prizes were awarded to:

Best Strategy for Creative Tourism Development 2016: VisitEstonia   (Estonia)
Best Creative Destination 2016: Pafos Region - (Cyprus)
Best Creative Travel Agency 2016: Human Connections (Mexico)
Best Creative Residency 2016: La Tavola Marche (Italy)
Best Creative Experience 2016: The Place  (Cyprus)

WOW! Like I said, we are a bit speechless... A very sincere thank you to this fantastic international organisation (based in Barcelona) led by the amazing Caroline Couret in there endless efforts of fostering & promoting creative tourism around the world. We share similar ideas of sustainable tourism - in the simplicity of connecting travellers to the local life, food & culture in a honest authentic way. Well, we couldn't be prouder - Grazie Mille, Thank you Creative Tourism Network!

Tuesday, December 20

Cappelletti: An Italian Christmas Story

Last year I recorded a short timelapse video of making kilos of this handmade pasta but the best part is it's narrated by Dr. Gaggi!


Christmas celebrated in Le Marche, Italy is not complete without a heart-warming bowl of cappelletti in brodo or little stuffed hats in broth. I was once told is a dish served for only those you love because it takes so much time & patience to make!  In our area this dish is traditionally served on Christmas day for lunch and New Year's Eve for dinner.

Take the time and make it from scratch, buy the freshest eggs (it will make the color of the dough nice & golden) and enjoy this homemade pasta the way it was meant to be eaten - surrounded by family. (Plus they freeze well so you can have them on-hand, at the ready all winter long!)

Cappelletti in Brodo
 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.)

Pasta Dough Recipe:
(serves 4)
400 grams of flour (type 0)
pinch of salt
4 eggs
To make the dough - follow our recipe - click here
6 oz. lean beef cubed
4 oz. pork loin, cubed
half a chicken breast, cubed
1 sausage, without casing, cubed
1 carrot, diced finely
salt & pepper
a healthy pinch Nutmeg
handful of grated parmesean cheese
1 egg
pad of butter
glug of olive oil
salt & pepper

In a pot, melt the butter & toss in all the meat & carrot.  
Cook over medium heat, until meat is cooked & 2/3 of the liquid is reduced.
Set aside & let cool.
When the meat is cool toss it into the food processor & pulse until it resembles ground beef - not a paste.
Add the egg, salt & pepper, nutmeg & cheese - mix with your hands.  (It will hold a ball when squeezed together, but not wet)
Roll out pasta dough into about 2mm thick sheets.

It may help at this point to watch this clip on youtube (fast forward to about 6 minutes in): How to close your cappelletti:
Cut into 1 inch squares.  Place a pea size amount of filling in each square.
 Fold the square into a triangle - making sure to seal the edges very well! (Super important)
This is when it gets difficult to explain...Then take legs of the triangle & pinch them together. 
Make sure not to over-stuff your cappelleti & to seal them properly - otherwise they will burst when you boil them.
Boil in brodo (broth) until they float - if they are fresh about 2-4 minutes. Jason suggests that when they start floating - try one.
To freeze for later: Let the pasta sit & dry overnight in a cool dry room in a single layer with parchment paper underneath.


Friday, December 16

New Episode of Podcast from Italy: Memories of our 1st Christmas in Italy 10 Years Ago...

After a month of work at the house and visiting family in the States, we are back reminiscing about our first Christmas in Italy, 10 years ago! Jason runs down his top list of Christmas gifts for the cook and we compare Christmas in the States vs Italy.

Podcast from Italy #94: Christmas Gift List & 10 Year Anniversary in Italy
Listen/Download/Subscribe via iTunesStitcher or Podbean!

Happy Holidays!!
From then to now...
10 years ago...our first night in the house -
last years festivities in Urbania

Thursday, December 15

Recipe Video: Poached Pears in Red Wine & Rosemary

Continuing my collection of #slowlivedmoments in Italy - one of my favourite autumn/winter dessert recipes Pears Poached in Red Wine, Rosemary & Juniper. The sweet pears, spicy aromatics and boldness of the wine round out this dessert perfectly. Use any red or rose you like or that bottle of wine that's been collecting dust in the back of your cupboard (you know the one) - it will work great in this classic dish! A wonderful addition to your Christmas or Holiday dinner!

The key to this dish: Cooking the wine and herbs slowly will create a beautiful rich flavorful syrup.

Poached Pears in Red Wine

Serves 4
4 pears, peeled and left whole
1/4 cup sugar
1 bottle of wine - red or rose' - whichever you prefer or have in your cupboard
herbs you like: we use sprig of rosemary, sprig of thyme and lemon zest or you can use cinnamon, clove and nutmeg

Place pears in a pot that fits snugly. Add sugar and herbs to the pot with pears. Cover the pears 3/4 with wine.

Place the pot on the stove with the lid on and bring up to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Let simmer for 10-18 minutes depending on the size of your pears. You'll know when they are done when a knife slips easily in (just like when boiling potatoes).

Once cooked through remove the pears from the liquid & place in the fridge. Return the pot to the stove and reduce the wine, on a simmer for about 10-15 minutes until it forms a syrup. Be careful not to burn it by reducing too much.

About a minute or two before before the wine syrup is ready give it a taste checking to make sure its not too tart. You may need a little more sugar depending on the sweetness of the wine.

To serve, strain a ladle full of the syrup through a fine mesh strainer directly onto each plate. Top with your pear - either serve whole or sliced in half. Finish with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or mascarpone cream.

Find a pot that fits the pears snuggly!

Monday, December 12

Christmas Cornflake Cookies

Snickerdoodles, Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin, Classic Chocolate Chip and...Cornflakes?! Cornflake cookies are an easy to make, not too sweet dessert, perfect not only for the Holidays but any of time year! I had never seen/eaten these before we moved to Italy, though after a quick recipe search they are found all over from the States to Australia. 
A cookie so simple, even I can make it! 
Buon Natale! 

 Cornflake Cookies
Biscotti di cereali

makes 30 cookies

250 grams of flour
2 eggs
100 grams of sugar
100 grams of butter
4-6 tablespoons of raisins
tablespoon of vanilla extract
16 grams of ‘lieveto per dolci’ or baking powder
(handful of toasted pine nuts optional)
Corn Flakes

Preheat oven to 175 Celsius or  345 Fahrenheit.
Cream butter and sugar. Then add eggs and vanilla and blend. Sift flour and baking powder/lieveto.  Mix the wet and dry ingredients. Fold in the raisins and optional pine nuts.

Make small balls of dough and roll in Corn Flakes.
Bake for about 15-18 minutes.

Saturday, December 10

A Gift of Homemade Limoncello for the Holidays

If you are a Christmas gift procrastinator - you still have time to pull off this homemade crowd pleaser for the holidays!! (The recipe is below and only takes about 10-15 days from start to finish.)

Since this year our motto was 'If life gives you lemons, make the best damn limoncello' it was a no-brainer what we'd be sending out this holiday season.

I love giving homemade gifts for the holidays, not only because it can be a thoughtful but money saving way to give when your Christmas list is long, but I love doing these kind of fun-cheesy projects! For years, even when we lived in Brooklyn we would make homemade gifts (always edible) from tins of carmel popcorn to black & white cookies to chocolate covered pretzels and bottles of olive oil...the list goes on and on. I can't think of anything better during the holiday's than sitting around the fire and writing out the cards with fancy shimmery pens, Bing Crosby crooning in the background and the smell of buttery deliciousness baking away! 

The hardest part isn't the execution of the idea/baking for days (I've got Jason and we make a good team), but sourcing the packaging. (Take into consideration if you will be shipping them or hand-delivery.)  

Here's the "Recipe" for Bottling, Labeling & Making Homemade Limoncello:
The Bottle: Size, glass color, flip top or cork?
1. Collect a mix of bottles from ebay, yard sales and even thrift shops.
2. Order from Amazon or Ebay an entire 'lot' or look for 'wholesale'
3. Or find a site like for a huge selection to find just what you're looking for.

Labels, tags or stamps...(now this is the hard part): Homemade or a bit more professional?
1. Make your own with glittery pens and tags (I've done it for years).
2. Print your own using mailing labels (way cheaper than you'd expect).
3. Order fancy ones (I finally did it this year). My favorite online label maker (great selection of font, color & design choices) is Evermine/ or Etsy of course!

The Recipe: Classic Limoncello
Rinds of 6-7 lemons (no whites) - find organic, wax-free lemons
1/2 liter of pure alcohol (everclear or vodka will work too)
1 liter of water
500 gr. sugar

1. Let the lemon rinds soak in alcohol for 10-14 days. Then filter the lemon rinds with a strainer. 
2. Make a simple syrup with the sugar & water (warming the water on the stove & incorporating all the sugar). 
3. Once cool, combine the simple syrup with the alcohol & mix.
4. Bottle & freeze. Serve cold!
Happy Holidays!!

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

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