Baked clams: fish for Christmas!

christmas

Christmas, Christmas… coming closer! Getting ready for having some friends over? If you want to make your Christmas eve dinner more Italian, read some of our tips on Christmas traditions in Italy! Among this traditions, the fact that Italians prefer to avoid meat on Christmas eve and therefore have developed a large variety of fish dishes, some of which are really easy and quick, like the one I will propose you here: baked neck clams!  You’ll have the opportunity to taste some of these appetizers including fried fish during our Milan Food Tour

baked-clams

As you know, in Italy appetizers are important as much as main dishes! This easy recipe is accessible to everyone, it is tasty and even good-looking! What else?

Ingredients

  • 25 little Neck clams

  • 1 cup  bread crumbs

  • grated parmesan cheese

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • fresh parsley

  • extra virgin olive oil

  • salt & pepper

neck clams

Wash the clams under fresh water, shuck them and leaving the fruit on the half shell.

In a bowl, add the chopped garlic, parsley, olive oil, breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese and mix well until the oil is fully absorbed by the bread crumbs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put all the open clams on a baking sheet and with the help of a teaspoon put the breadcrumbs in each clam until the clam is completely covered. Bake at 180 c° (500F) for 5-7 minutes, then put under the broiler for 1 minute to brown.

baked clums

Serve hot if possible and together with some fresh rucola and lemon!

Only thing that you need to add now is a good white wine or prosecco if your guests fancy some bubbles to start with!

Want to discover more about Italian food traditions? Follow us on our Food Tours! There is so much more to know, believe me! ;)

 

Italian Apple pie: torta di mele!

Autumn, autumn…winter is just alle porte! And so it is family time!

Italians are really bounded to their families and cold months are a perfect occasion to get close to your relatives and spend some time together! So what to bring in occasion of a warm family reunion?

Italian apple pie

Well let us tell you: una bella torta di mele! Apple pie Italian style! If you are not new to Italy you’ll probably know almost everything about pasta and lasagne (and more than that if you took part in  our Florence Food Tours), but we are not only that! Let us guide you in the sweet side of Italy!

Italian apple pie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you’ll need:

  • 4 apples

  • 8⅚ ounces flour

  • 3½ ounces butter

  • 5⅓ ounces sugar

  • 1 egg

  • 1 egg yolk

  • 4 ounces milk

  • 1 lemon

  • ⅗ ounce baking powder

  • salt

Heat the oven to 200° C while you prepare the cake.

The process is easy and it will be faster if you have a friend/partner/family member peeling the apples for you! ;)

Another thing about Italians: cooking is something social, so not only your Italian apple pie will be a great contribution to your family reunion, but you can invite a cousin or a sibling over to help you prepare it!

Start by mixing the sugar with the butter in a bowl. Stir it until you have a creamy and uniform mixture. Add the eggs, the flour, milk (you can substitute also with any almond/rice/soya milk), the lemon zest, a pinch of salt and the baking powder. Mix until the dough is creamy again. You and add a little bit of milk or water if it is too thick!

At this point, if no one has done it for you yet, peel the apples. Slice 3 ½ of them and cut the rest in small chunks that you will add to the mixture. Butter and sprinkle with flour a round baking tin and pour the mixture. On the top of it, place the sliced apples as in a radial (or in whatever shape you want them to form).

italian apple pie

Bake for 40-45 minutes in the preheated oven. Once ready, for how yummy it may look, let the cake cool before slicing!

Some nonna will also want to decorate it with some icing sugar on top! Other modifications can be adding some pine nuts or some cinnamon.As you can find out in our Food Tours Italians also like to be creative!

Cooking is something serious in our country, so any innovation is welcome if it comes from solid basis! Take your time to become familiar with cooking and baking and then find your way!

Buon appetito and enjoy your family reunions!Italian apple pie

Cachi: oriental fruits that became part of Italian Autumn

At this time of the year, Italian countryside’s landscapes are changing colors; from light yellowish they are going towards one of my favorite colors: orange and red! Colors are bright  and warm and every little gem of nature adds a pinch of Autumn in our days.

cachi italian autumn

There is one gem that became very popular and typical in Italy even though its origins are to be found in a very far land. It is kaki (or Persimmon), a rounded and orange sweet  fruit that decorates many family tables in Italy in Autumn time! Not to speak about the beautiful tree of cachi, with their bright orange color: they are simply part of our imaginary of a chilly rainy November day.

cachi Italian autumn

The origins of this fruit are to be found in Asia and it can be proudly described as one of the oldest plants in cultivation. In Italy kaki is eaten alone and simple with a spoon as a dessert and it is also used to make jams, cakes and liquors, just like most things in Italy. Our motto is: whatever tastes good should be eaten in all its possible shapes! That’s why during our Italian Food Tours you can try many different kinds of jams, patè and dressings!

Be careful to eat cachi only when well ripe, as they contain high levels of tannins and are really astringent (or allappanti as Italian say)! You’ll understand if it is just by touching it: it should be soft! If you are in Italy and you buy them, you’ll probably be sold unripe ones! That is completely normal! Just place them together with few apples and they might be ready to be eaten even within 24 hours!

cachi italian autumn
Cachi contain a lot of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and fiber, and are said to be beneficial for the nervous system, the liver, and for gastrointestinal problems. They contain a lot of sugar and are a high calorie fruit: try it to believe it! Even one normal size cachi can be really filling! If you pass by in the right season (between October and November) you might be lucky enough to try them during our Italian Food Tours.

Interesting facts about cachi

The full name is diospyros kaki, from Greek the fruit of Zeus! In Italy is often called cachi or diospero in Tuscany.

This fruit was introduced across Italy in the middle 1800s.  It is believed that Mussolini created a decree for them, requiring each farmhouse have a cachi tree planted besides it.

Risotto alla zucca: an Autumn must!

Autumn is here! Landscapes are getting orangish and brownish, sky is blue, rain is back again in Italy after a long dry summer! Tomato, eggplant, zucchini season is almost over…but no despair!! It is time of one of the greatest pearl of our vegetable gardens: butternut squash! Starting from the end of September on, these curiously shaped vegetables enter Italian houses and take place as decorative elements of livingrooms and kitchens, to be used in the following months for great vellutate and risotti! You’ll notice this seasonal change also in food shops and window decorations in Italy. If you don’t trust us, come and see it yourself and join our Italy Food Culture Tours!

risotto alla zucca

In October, it is very likely that your nonna will serve you the first risotto alla zucca of the season! If you want to be as seasonal as we are, here you go an easy recipe for this creamy, tasty and warm dish!

 

Ingredients (serves 4-5 people)

1 Tbsp unsalted butter or few spoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 onion

1 garlic clove

1 lb butternut squash, diced ½ inch

1 tsp salt

1 tsp rosemary

6 ½ c water or broth

500 gr risotto rice

Parmesan cheese, grated

 

Directions

As for everything in Italy, you can follow different schools for the risotto. One makes the famous soffritto (onion and garlic base for any sauce) with butter, the other with extra virgin olive oil. So make up your mind and go for your favourite option!

 

In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium high heat. If you are using the extra virgin olive oil, just pour few spoons to the pan and add diced onion and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, until golden. Dice the squash in ½ inch squares and add it to the pan together with salt, rosemary, and ½ cup of water (or broth).

Risotto alla zucca

Cook until the squash begins to turn tender. In the meantime, bring the remaining 6 cups of water (or broth) to a boil in another pot. Add the rice to the squash mixture. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the water gradually, stirring and waiting until the water has completely absorbed before adding any additional water. Continue to cook the risotto this way until the rice is soft and creamy. It should be around 30 minutes but it all depends on the quality of the rice you are using. Once the rice has reached your desired consistency, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the fresh, grated Parmesan cheese. Serve warm topped with additional Parmesan cheese and rosemary for decoration!

Risotto alla zuccaAdd a good red wine to your table and toast to this great Autumn!

Schiacciata con l’Uva Recipe

Schiacciata con l’Uva:  waiting for the wine

 

uva
There is something Italians love as much as their mums: that dark red/purple liquid called wine. No surprise then that in Tuscany, one of the most important areas of wine production in Italy, there is lots of excitement and expectation when we come closer to the time  of the year where the yearly wine production will finally “be released”. That is, in early Autumn. Wine harvesting in Italy starts at the end of August and by the beginning of October the vino novello (not aged fresh made table wine) will be already on our tables. Get to know more about Italian culture and traditions with us along with our Food Tours!

While waiting for the real stuff to be ready, Tuscan people make use of the grapes as much as they can. Schiacciata con l’Uva is a product of this sense of expectation. Traditionally made with a a bunch of the grapes of the harvest, this grape pie is very similar to the focaccia dough, but sweater.

Schiacciata con l'Uva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowadays, many Italians do not harvest their own grapes any longer so they choose to use uva fragola grapes for this recipe! You can choose to use whatever grapes you find available in your country! Try to go for the  most organic option you can find!

Ingredients

FOR THE FOCACCIA DOUGH:

  • 5 Cups white flour

  • 2 Teaspoons instant east

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • 1 Teaspoon Salt

  • 1 3/4 Cups Warm Water

FOR THE FILLING & TOPPING:

  • 2 bunch of grapes

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • Rosemary

  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil

Put the flour, three olive oil tablespoons, salt and yeast in a bowl. Mix and start adding the warm water little by little, while stirring. Continue to add water until the dough begins to thicken and you are able to knead it with your hand. At this point, continue “to work on” (as Italians say) the dough for around 5 outside the bowl, on a lightly floured flat surface. Make a ball with your dough and place it back in the bowl, after sprinkling some flour on it so that it doesn’t stick to your ball. Cover it bowl with a kitchen cloth or a plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm spot for around an hour or more.

impasto schiacciata con l'uva

 

Divide the dough in half, and place half on a large baking pan. Drizzle it with a little olive oil, and scatter half the grapes over it. Sprinkle with half the sugar and rosemary.
At this point, add the other half of the dough over the dough in the pan. Stretch it and pinchi the two doughs together. Spread the other half grapes on the top. Leave the dough to rest while preheating oven to 180 C° (375 degrees F). Bake the focaccia for around 30/45 minutes until it is golden brown.

schiacciata-con-luva

Ecco fatto! Italian early autumn taste on your table!

To be enjoyed as a snack with your afternoon tea! Feel like trying more?

Come along with our Florence Food Tours!

Octopus and potatoes salad: easy and summery

 

Who said that Italian culinary tradiion is all about pasta? Italian cuisine has a lot to say also about fish! This recipe is going to join your need of fresh flavors and Italian taste!

Octopus and potatoes salad

It is great as a starter, as a main dish and also as finger food if you provide toothpicks. The must-follow rule is quality extra virgin olive oil and fresh parsley. Italian cuisine makes great use of this herb, but it is strictly fresh and never dried! So let’s try to stick to these simple rules to get some real taste of Italy! When you visit, have a look at our Food Tours to discover more about Italian culinary tradition!

For this fresh and easy recipe the ingredients should be easy to find. There are many small variations of this recipe that can be adapted to your personal taste! Just give it a try!

Ingredients for 5 people

1 kg of octopus

5 big/1 kg potatoes

1 clove of garlic (optional)

Few bay tree’ leaves

Parsley

1 lemon

Salt

Pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil

As first, place the potatoes in boiling water until cooked. You can choose whether to cut and peel them before or after boiling them! Just be awareh that if you peel and cut them before it will take less time to cook and you should be careful not to over-boil them! If you boil them intact, check with a fork: when they are soft they are ready! Drain them in cold water and put them aside cut in big pieces. Here, it all depends on your taste, if you prefer to cut them a little bit smaller, then cut the octopus in pieces of the same size!

potatoes

Clean the octopus and cook it in boiling water together with the bay tree’ leaves until the meat will become white and tender (it will take usually around 30 min). Once ready, leave it in its cooking water until it cools. It is important to do so, in this way it will stay nice and tender.  Once cool, drain and cut into pieces. Place the octopus and the potatoes together in a bowl.

Octopus salad

And now the seasoning: add the entire clove of garlic peeled (only if you like and are ok with garlic), chopped parsley, the extra virgin olive oil, the lemon juice, salt and pepper.

The best would be to leave the octopus in its seasoning for at least half an hour before being served. Enjoy it with a great dry white wine. We will give you also some ideas for wine-food combination during our Food Tours in Florence!

octopus and potatoes salad

 

Truffles: yet another diamond of Italian cuisine

Italian cuisine is surprising. When you think you know everything about spaghetti, then you find out about risotto, when you mastered your art of cooking melanzane, you find about the great power of basil. Truffles are just another diamond of Italian cuisine: one of the most precious.

You might have heard about it, you might have tasted it in some fancy restaurant, you might have smelled while walking in the streets during your last visit to Italy.

Italian truffle

If you haven’t, well this will be an important discovery for you, I am talking of another diamond of Italian cuisine: truffles! Small and yet tasty tubers belonging to the family of fungus which are found in Mediterranean soil, they are called tartufo in Italian and a sprinkle of it is enough to make any dish special! Useless to say that the best ones come from Central and Northern Italy! That’s why they can’t be left out from our Florence Food Tour!

tagliata tartufoTruffle’s taste is hard to define. The most peculiar thing is that it involves the scent of it as well: you can recognize the smell of tartufo from few meters. If a trattoria has tartufo in the menu, you will smell it in the air. If you do, please do not miss it and try a tartufo dish of the house. Truffle goes great with meat (tagliata con tartufo), tagliolini (tagliolini al tartufo), risotto, eggs and you may find also very tasty tartufo sauces for your crostini. If what you are being served doesn’t have much taste than you know that you did not get a good truffle.

Usually truffle dishes are quite costly, since this fungus is really hard to find. It grows close to trees’ roots between 5 and 30 cm below the ground. The only way to harvest it is to train hogs and dogs and to dig the earth when they find the right spot. Truffles usually grow close to poplars, oaks, hornbeams, pine trees and beeches. In Italy, the truffle hunters are treated with respect and they are admired by local communities.

italian trufflesTruffles come in different shapes and colors, from dark to light brown, wrinkled or more smooth. There are many different types but if you are not  an expert the taste will be very similar. If you come to Florence, don’t miss our Food Tour experience! You’ll get the chance to taste the famous Tuscan truffle, and this will give you just another reason to be back!

Summer Italian starters

Summer is here and the heat is going up! Best thing to do? Lots of shower and….fresh healthy food: plenty of fruits, vegetables and salads. You can find many suggestions about healthy food, so here we’ll focus on Italian healthy food!

If you visit Italy during your holiday, and if you do come and join us for a Florence Food Tour, you will notice how many fresh and healthy Italian starters are in the menu! The famous bruschetta (to be pronounced as if there was a “k” after the s please), caprese salad, taglieri and cheeses. Here we offer you some hints for some original and yet very Italian tasting appetizers!

Prosciutto e melone

Cantaloupe  and ham is just a classic! Here you go with the amount for around ¾ people. The real challenge here will be to find

Italian starter

Ingredients

1 cantaloupe

7-8 slices of sweet Italian prosciutto crudo (i.e.San Daniele)

 

Cut the cantaloupe in slices, dispose on a pate with few slices of ham! As easy as this, as tasty as it can be! You can play a little bit with your creativity and create shapes with your slices in circle or spiral!

 

Grilled zucchini and aubergines with olive oil and garlic

2 big aubergines

4 zucchini

Olive oil

1 clove of garlic

Balsamic vinegar

Salt

Parsley

 Italian starter

Cut the aubergines in slices of around 1 cm and the zucchini just a little bit thinner. Place a grill pan on the stove (or use a real grill if you have and you can) and start grilling the slices of vegetables on both sides. The timing depends on the heat of your stove/rill. When you see that also the visible side of the slice is becoming light brown it is time to flip it.

In the meantime you can start preparing the vinaigrette. In a bowl, mix around 8 big spoons of olive oil with a spoon of balsamic vinegar, add some chopped parsley, a pinch  of salt and the sliced clove of garlic.

Italian starter

Once the slices of aubergines and zucchini are grilled, place them in a deep food tray trying to form layers (as if with a lasagna) and pour a bit of vinaigrette on each layer. Add also a sparkle of sweet red chilly and some parsley on the top layer.

Enjoy your summer Italian starters! Stay fresh and come and join us our Food Tours if you want to find out more!

 

The ultimate Italian summer salad dressing

saladsSummer is coming and it is time to get fresh! Bring all of your creativity in the kitchen and start getting mad on salad! Salads are just the best solutions for fresh, easy, quick and yet nutritive lunches! Parmigiano reggiano and bresaola, mozzarella and tomatoes, rucola and cherry tomatoes…you can really create anything out of simple ingredients!

Strawberry salad dressingEver tried adding fruits to your salads? Strawberry with vinegar is just one of my favourite! Not talking about regular vinegar of course but of aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar)! One of the greatest characteristics of this specific type of vinegar, traditionally produced in the central city of Modena, is that it renders all good flavours just taste even better! Try it if you don’t believe me! During our Florence Food Tours you’ll get the chance to try aceto balsamico with cheese and strawberries and trust me it will drive your taste buds crazy!

Here you go with a simple and quick recipe for your Strawberry Salad Dressing with aceto balsamico!

Ingredients

1 cup of strawberries (5/6 big strawberries)

2 tsp of extra virgin olive oil

4 tsp balsamic vinegar

Pinch of salt

Instructions

Blend the strawberries, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt in a blender or a food processor. Mix until smooth and serve it in a bowl next to your salad! You can even choose to cool it a bit in the fridge! In that case, be sure to prepare it a bit in advance and take it out right before serving the salad!strawberry salad dressing

As simple as this! Now you just have to compose your salad and pour as much vinaigrette as you like on it! I suggest a spinach, walnuts and gorgonzola salad for your first try for your strawberry salad dressing !

strawberry-salad

I have tried also this vinaigrette adding few leaves of mint and it does taste even fresher if possible! Some other options are adding poppy seeds to the dressing or a pinch of mustard!

Just experiment and find the right combination for you!  Looking forward to hearing your feedbacks!

 

Italian Craft Beer

Italian Craft Beer: Italy is not just about wine

Italian craft beer

So you thought Italy was all about wine  right? Have you spent your last Italian holiday tasting every single Chianti selection? Well, let us prove you wrong! Wine is still our best product, no doubt, but there is a new trend spreading in Italy, thanks to young, local and creative entrepreneurs: Italian craft beer!

After long years of religious dedication to the art of wine production, the new Italian generation realized that with our great genuine products we could also give it a try with beers! And so it happened! Don’t you trust me? Take part in our Florence Beers and Bites tour and find out more! Let us guide you and surprise you and discover Italy’s newest flavours!

Italian Craft beer

As a matter of fact, Italy’s craft beer scene turns out to be one of the most creative in Europe, with around 500 breweries established in the past 10 years, most of them small-size and relatively young. Italy’s craft beers often contain unusual ingredients such as grape must, chestnuts and different fruits and spices, depending on the region the brewerie is located and the typical products of their area you will find interesting mix of flavours in your beer.

If you want to try a Tuscan one, visit the Birrificio Toscano BSV! Their speciality is Pratomagno, flavoured with a mix of herbs from Pratomagno Mountain!

Birra Viva Toscana

Birra Viva Toscana

The coolest thing is that Italian craft beers are so local-based that you really need to go and look for them sometimes! You won’t just find them everywere, as for wine, and strangely enough it is easier to find them in small Italian villages.  So whenever you travel across Italian countryside, stop by local small pubs and ask taste their selection of Italian craft beer! If you are in Florence, no need to struggle: just contact us and join our Florence Beer tour!

As every Italian product, also with beer quality is the first element. The rest is creativity!