Formaggi toscani: an amazing bite of Florence

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If you think of cheese, probably the first thing that will come to your mind will be France. But Italy has some aces too, in the matter. Tuscany, for example, is quite big in the cheese field: have a taste of Florence‘s deliciousness!

In Tuscany many different caseary products are made, but the king of all formaggi toscani is Pecorino. And, furthermore, there’s not just one kind of pecorino… 

Let’s talk about this creamy wonder a bit more. Pecorino means “sheep cheese”: it’s made from sheep milk and its taste depends from many things. First of all, its aging time.
Young pecorino tastes sweet, it’s soft and it almost melts into your mouth. It’s perfect with a light red wine or a rosé and even with some white vernaccia; very good as well with nuts or honey (another very typical tuscan product) – tuscan raw prosciutto, though, might cover its flavour a bit too much. With some grated fresh black truffle, though… it’s quite a love story.
Often you can find it served at the end of a meal, not a real dessert but almost one, a sweet taste to refresh your mouth.

cacio fresco

Semi-aged pecorino, that you often recognize for its reddish “skin”, is more intense, more solid. It’s the perfect merenda: two slices of tuscan bread, some pecorino and prosciutto and there you go with your panino. All the tuscan kids ate this during their lessons break. Seriously: all of them.
Its yellow colour and its great texture, its flavour not too strong but already bald makes it also the perfect appetizer. It’s often combined with strong honey (such as chestnut honey) or mustards, and it’s great with beer – sometimes they sell beer cheese as well and it’s pretty often a semi-aged pecorino.

formaggio-e-birra

Aged pecorino looks either really yellow or really white, according to its aging process, it’s quite hard to cut and to eat but, it may looks almost dry, but – it’s my absolute favourite, so forgive me if I’m getting romantic – at the taste it’s like an explosion. Do you remember the famous Ratatouille’s scene where the mouse imagines the flavours like a colourful symphony? There we go. Red wine is its match, salame (tuscan salame of course) its companion, and you can really experiment stuff with it: try it with honey, or with balsamic vinegar… grate it on your pasta and add a little pepper and you will have one of the most famous plates in the tuscan kitchen. Or… with figs or pears, of course (there’s a motto that says: don’t let the farmer know how great pears and cheese will match / al contadino non far sapere quanto è buono il cacio con le pere).

ppichi-pecorino-e-miele

So these are the most known ways to taste Pecorino; keeping aside all the great flavoured kind: with pepper, with chili pepper, with truffles… Florence has plenty of these little cheese shops, but if you happen to walk through the Valdorcia (the valleys around Siena, like San Quirico or Pienza) you’ll find one special kind of heaven.

As I said, though, there’s not only Pecorino: Tuscany also produces great Stracchino, for example, a very soft – almost liquid cow cheese. If you’re brave enough you might want to try the other great tuscan merenda, the panino with raw sausage and stracchino!

Yes, that’s another level of bravery. But a “gottino” (a small red wine glass) and this, are the grown up merenda. Actually it’s not so easy to find anymore, and I highly recommend you to either buy it from a superfresh certified butcher shop or to try its more secure version, the one they also give you in restaurant, oven baked crostini with the same mix… or pizza! I cannot decide which one I like best.

crostini

Guess with what does stracchino matches greatly as well? With prosciutto, of course! Forget Hawaii pizza and ask for a prosciutto e stracchino. Or – veggie version: an apple and stracchino pizza! It’s pretty grand, I promise.

So, get fit and get ready, because once you’ll be here, while exploring the city with us, you will have the chanche to train nothing but your tummy!

Meet your guide in Florence: Angela!

Meet your guide in Florence: Angela! Learn about Florence food and history!

This August we want to introduce Angela, she is one of the “oldest” guide at Italy Segway Tours! Be prepared to have the best fun on the tour while Angela tells you the history of her marvellous city!

 

Meet tour guide in Florence: Angela!

Name: Angela

Nationality and City of residence: 100 % italian, from Sicily originally…but Florence has stolen my heart!

Name of tour you lead and where: Food tour in Florence, but also Segway, Bike and walking tours to the top of the Duomo!

If you are not from the city you are based in for tours, what originally brought you there?
I came here the first time when I was 16 during a school trip. I really fell in love with Florence and with all its beauty so I decided to come here to study Art History: I moved here when I turned 19 and never left since!

Your favorite part of the tour: I love when I’m asked a lot of questions because it means that I managed to arouse interest in my customer about what we see and taste on the tour, and perhaps that I was also able to lit up some more curiosity!

After wine tasting, everyone’s happier!

Also, the best moment of the food tour is right after we start tasting wine…everybody suddendly turns happier and more sincere!
Favorite Local Restaurant in your city: This is a tough one! There are so many good restaurants in Florence…But if I have to pick one I would say the one where It feels like home: “Sabatino”, in the Oltrarno district. It’s not a fancy place and the menu it’s almost always the same but everything is genuine and it’s like going to dinner at my grandma’s house! If you’re looking for a place where only locals go, that’s the one!
One thing visitors to my city can’t miss: The view of Florence at sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo and the San Miniato church on the top of the same hill: it’s the most romantic place in the city! Be aware you are at risk to falling in love!
Travel Mantra? “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind”, words by Seneca, a Latin philosopher and writer, that really knew what traveling means!

 What’s next on your travel bucket list? I’d love to visit Turkey or to take a trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights!

What is your favorite Italian city to travel to? Not just a city, an entire region: Sicily, my birthplace!

What’s your best travel tip for those coming to visit Italy? Try new things, don’t be scared by our, sometimes strange, habits and always ask when you need help: you will be surprised by the kindness of (most) Italians! ;)

Bistecca alla Fiorentina - thick and raw!

Bistecca alla Fiorentina – thick and raw!

What’s the food that someone must try in your city before leaving? The Fiorentina steak, the best beef I’ve ever tried! But remember it has to be rare, so don’t ask the chef to have it more cooked, otherwise you will offend him!

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had on one of your tours? Once I had on a tour a man with my same last name; he was American and his grandparents emigrated to the States from Sicily. It was like having a new uncle…he even started talking Sicilian dialect with me!

What do you like most about leading tours? I believe that tourguides are the ambassadors of our culture so what I like most is to introduce to people from all over the world with very different backgrounds to our history and food, and almost always with the same result: they fall in love with it!

 

Angela the Cook!

Angela the Cook!

What makes your tour unique? The fact that the places where we go are mostly just for locals…it would be very difficult to find them on your own!

And personally I should also say that I really love to cook so I always spend time to explain what are the ingredients of the things we taste and how they could be made at home to continue the food tour experience!

 

Won over by Angela already? So, what are you waiting for? Conclude your booking and ask for her!

 

Till next time!

GRAPPA AND ITS MULTIPLE USES

If you have in mind to visit destinations in northern Italy you can’t ignore grappa. Let’s say it, in Italy a meal can’t be considered finished until you drink the so called ammazzacaffè…which can be literally translated into “coffee-killer”, since is meant to dull the caffeine effect.

A glass of grappa

Each Italian region has its own traditions in terms of ammazzacaffè, but we can say that if in southern Italy usually restaurants serve the world-famous Limoncello, in northern Italy what will arrive on your table is grappa. Of course many restaurants have Limoncello, but since you’re here, why don’t try something local? And honestly after a rich Milanese menu there’s nothing better than a little glass of grappa to help the  digestion. After all, as old (and wise) people say: a devil drives out another.

If you’ve never seen it, imagine that grappa can be transparent, golden or brownish and contains around 40% alc/vol. It comes from the distillation of pomace and, exactly like for wine, the taste depends on the grapes used to make it and on the aging. If aged in wood barrels, the color turns into yellow or darker and it gets a nice vanilla taste.

Let's spray some grappa!

Let’s spray some grappa!

In our Milan Food Tour, we figured  out a way to taste it…by spraying it! Our clients decide if to spray it directly in their mouth or on a hand and then to smell it…Don’t worry, for tougher people small glasses are provided ;-). We picked a variety of grappa distilled from a sweet grape, with a nice floral bouquet of honey, vanilla, almond and fruits like apple and pear. We promise, even the most hesitating person was surprised by how sweet and smooth it can be.

But speaking about habits, how do we serve it in Italy? Basically we drink it straight in small glasses, or we add it to the coffee to make the so-called caffè corretto (literally “corrected coffee”). The quantity served depends on you and on where you are, don’t be surprised if in simple trattorie in country side we bet that they’ll pour you a bigger quantity of it! If you’re hosted by a local family it may happen that after dinner the host proudly opens for you his liquor cabinet and describes you the features of each variety of grappa in it.

If you don’t like to mix your coffee with grappa, you can “rinse” the cup with some grappa after that you finish the coffee. Just put a little amount of grappa in the cup, stir and drink…yummy!

But grappa’s multiple purposes are not finished yet! It can also be used to give a twist to a simple fruit salad. The best is with peaches, just slice them, add some sugar and some grappa and eat them…you’ll be surprised by the taste! Same with gelato, try to put some on top of your vanilla, pistachio or chocolate gelato and tell us if it’s not delicious.

Last but not least, try to put some on meat before putting it on the barbecue, it will give it a special taste and the meat will be more tender.

We bet you’re curious now, then join our walking tour in Milan, learn about grappa’s multiple, creative uses and make a toast with us.. Cin Cin!

MEET YOUR GUIDE IN FLORENCE: VERONICA

Meet your guide in Florence!

This week, we’ll meet a new entry in our Segway Tours in Florence. She’s nice and kind and she do love her job very much! After reading her words, I bet you’ll book a tour immediately!

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Hi there, what’s your name?

Hello!!! My name is Veronica!

What are your nationality and hometown?

I was born in Florence and I live in the so called Oltrarno, “the other side of the river”, but I left my heart in the Santa Croce district where I grew up.

Name of tour you lead and where: 

I lead food tours, bike, segway and walking tours in Florence and surroundings areas.

Why did you choose to become a touristic guide? 

I chose to become a tourist guide because it’s the only job that gives me the chance to do everything I really love: meet people from different countries, share ideas and knowledge, make people fall in love with my city, just as much as I am.

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Your favorite part of the tour: 

What I enjoy the most in my job is seeing a dazzling smile or a sparkle in the eyes of our customers tasting something they never tried before and they really like!

Your favourite recipe:

It’s hard to say, but one of my favourite recipy is the “Gnudi”, a tasty typical dish easy to prepare that fully represent our cuisine. “Gnudi” are little dumplings made of poor ingredients: spinach and ricotta cheese. Actually the Gnudi are the filling of the ravioli and Gnudi in the fiorentine dialect means “naked”. Therefore, we could say that ‘Gnudi’ are similar to ravioli, but without clothes/dough!

Favorite Local Restaurant in your city: 

One of my favourite restaurants is Il Ghianda in the Santa Croce district. The menu changes quite often and they offer a great selection of typical dishes cooked like the tradition says. If you want to immerse yourself in a local atmosphere, I suggest to going there during the lunch time when the restaurant is crowded by many florentines.

One thing visitors to your city can’t miss: 

When visiting Florence you can’t miss the stunning view of the city visible from the Michelangelo terrace, a wonderful hill-top panorama which I recommend at sunset.

Favorite Travel Quote? 

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” (M. Proust) Sometimes our customers are my “new eyes” pointing out something that I had not noticed yet.

What’s next on your travel bucket list?

It’s still a dream but I want to do the Trans-Siberian, the famous route from Moscow to Vladivostok. I’m really fascinated by the amazing nature and the fact that you have to change 12 different time zones.

What’s your best travel tip for those coming to visit Italy?

Italy is well known all over the world especially for its good food, so I definitely suggest enjoying it as much as possible. Also, keep in mind that the dishes are different from one city to the other!

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What’s the food that someone must try in your city before leaving?

I use to say: “If you haven’t tried the Lampredotto with green sauce and a glass of red wine… even two, you haven’t been to Florence!” It’s the most famous sandwich in town. Only for strong people!

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had on one of your tours? 

One day, on our first stop at ChiaroScuro, after the coffee tasting, the typical elderly florentine customers of the cafeteria stopped us and started to talk to the beautiful women I was leading. It has been an hard and fun work to take them away and reach the next stop!

What do you like most about leading tours?

The thing that I prefer the most is to share thoughts, ideas and good time with all our customers. I feel so lucky to know a lot of people coming from so many different places and distant spots on the earth.

RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE

One of the most typical food in northern Italy is Risotto: that thick amass of rice and condiment that looks so sticky and is yet so perfectly al dente. If you haven’t tried it in our Milan food tour, you definitely should: the Risotto alla Milanese is one thing you sure cannot miss. And with us you have the chance to taste it in a really interesting version, that mixes italian flavours and tradition, from North to South, from Milan to Palermo… any clue? Book and behold our delicious arancino di risotto!

Infact, there are many ways to prepare Risotto, from the gourmet like the one before to the basic-simple-and traditional, and lots of sauces too! The most famous in Venezia is the one with Radicchio, in Tuscany there’s the one with asparagus and sausage, both in the north and center there’s the mushroom one… but the real icon is this golden and savory plate, the one and only Risotto alla Milanese.

risotto

Making risotto is not as simple as it looks: the rice should not overcook, but it should as well look “melted” with all the other ingredients. It’s not like a friend of mine used to prepare it – she cooked the rice and melted some cheese on it with some zucchini. That’s not a risotto, everybody!

It requires patience and attention. If you are willing to take your time with it, risotto will reward you. So, let’s try!

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, very finely chopped

100 grams of unsalted butter

400 grams of arborio, vialone nano, or carnaroli rice, or other medium- or short-grain Italian rice

half a liter of dry white wine

1,5 lt hot homemade stewing steak broth or low-salt canned chicken broth; more as needed

30 grams (one teaspoon) of dried saffron

100 grams of finely grated parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

zafferano

 *

In a heavy-based saucepan (there should be a lot of room after you poured all the rice), on a medium-low fire cook the onion with half of the butter until it’s translucent and fragrant.

Stir in the rice and cook it over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add the wine and let it evaporate almost entirely, then add 2 cups of broth, then the saffron, stirring with a wooden spoon to avoid the rice sticks at the bottom. Enhance the heat until the mixture starts to simmer, then set the flame in order to maintain the simmer.

Keep cooking until most of the liquid has been absorbed, stirring every minute or two. You don’t actually have to stir constantly, even if every italian mother would tell you so.

Add another cup of broth and keep cooking, stirring, and adding broth until the rice is al dente but not raw or grainy in the middle. How to determine that? There’s only one way – you have to try it!

When the rice is ready, you can add the cheese, directly in the saucepan, and keep stirring. Add as much broth as you need to obtain the consistency you like. Turn the heat off, stir in the remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm – even if it’s amazing also when it’s tepid… or even the day after!

Just one tip: do not re-heat it unless you want something mushy! Invite a lot of people over if you made too much :)

Cantucci mon amour!

948-cantucci-la-ricetta-originale-toscana

If you spent more than one hour in Tuscany, and probably even so, you definitely have tasted Cantucci. Highlight of our Florence food tour and highlight of almost every tuscan traditional restaurant, Cantucci and Vin Santo are considered the perfect couple and the best dessert. Its flavour not too sweet, its crunchy consistence make them a great after dinner, the sweet touch that won’t cancel all the great flavours that you ate before.

Cantucci (or “Cantuccini”) tradition is spreaded all around Tuscany, but exactly, where are they from? Ask that to a Florentine, they will say: From Florence! Ask that to a Pratese, they will say: from Prato! Ask that to a Senese, they will say: From Siena!

We tend to agree with the Prateses and give them the honour of having created this crunchy, long shaped cookies. Infact, history tell us that in 19th century a pastry chef from Prato, Antonio Mattei called Mattonella, perfectioned the famous recipe and make it a classic that won lots of faires and prizes, included a mention at the world famous Universal Exposition in Paris 1867! The “bottega del Mattonella” (“Mattonella’s shop”), is still working in Prato and it is considered an important legacy keeper. Moreover, Cantuccini are also called “Biscotti di Prato”, so…

So, how are these Cantuccini made?

What makes them so special?

Cantuccini are golden, hard cookies with a long shape and on the inside an explosion of peeled almonds, whole or in pieces. Their peculiarity comes from the fact that this cookies are actually “bis-cotti” (twice baked): first they go into the oven in the shape of soft almonds baguettes, then they are cut in pieces and put back in the oven until they take their nice, hazely colour and crunchyness!

cantucci

Their name might come from latin “cantellus”, which means “piece of bread”: that is because their shape actually reminds of a slice of bread, maybe one or two days old. The kind of bread that peasants like to use to cook (pappa al pomodororibollita… anyone?) or dip in some red wine! So probably that’s exatcly how it went: I like to imagine a cook who wanted to prepare soft cookies with almonds – similar maybe to the Senese Ricciarelli – and they got so hard they crooked teeth, and then he thought “hm, let’s try with wine” and found the delicious sweet Vin Santo… Maybe that’s just my imagination, but I’m pretty sure we’re not so far from the original story.

Cantucci-con-Vin-Santo

The original recipe actually had also dried fruit and spices, now it has a bit evolved and went minimal: and that’s a good thing because the taste of 2 centuries ago was quite different from ours, we could find it a bit too strong. Then again, the actual flavour fits perfectly with Vin Santo – so well that sometimes the wine is also in the cookies dough. That’s why, even if tradition wants us to dip the cookie into the wine, chefs recommend to try them separate, tasting a bite of Cantucci and then a sip of wine in order to distinguish all the great flavours.

They are not that hard anymore. And they make them in many different flavours! With hazelnuts, with chocolate, with pistachios… It’s your call anyway: what will you choose? Tradition or Gourmet?

 

Recipe: The best PARMIGIANA DI MELANZANE ever!

Hello food lovers!
Today I’m going to talk about one of my favourite meals in the world. And I’m going to share with you my favourite recipe!

I’m talking of the famous Parmigiana di Melanzane – I don’t actually know how to translate it: what is sure, is that eggplants are involved, but the name has nothing to do with parmesan cheese. Sicilians say that “parmigiana” comes from the ancient word for “eggplant”, “petrociana”, which slowly changed. Anyway, there’s Parmigiano cheese in it, so… who really knows.
Have you ever tasted it? Just do it in our Milan food tour! If you are – like me – an eggplant lover, and if you are – like me – a deep-fried stuff lover, you will love this amazing combination! The odd thing is that this plate is commonly eaten in summer. Of course, eggplants are not a winter vegetable, but if you think of its thickness you might find it a bit to heavy to eat with 30, 40 ° C! And yet, we do. And so will you!

parmigianadimelanzane

Here the recipe, for a number from 4 to 6 people according to… your hunger lust!

4 eggplants

1 onion

250 g mozzarella cheese (you can also switch to scamorza cheese, just not the smoked kind)

100 g grated parmesan

2 eggs

breadcrumbs

½ liter tomato sauce

1 garlic slice

extravirgin olive oil

basil

frying oil (seed oil, soy or sunflower)

salt & pepper

sandwich-parmigiana-07

Wash the eggplants, clean them and cut them in slices of half a centimeter. Put them in a colander, covered with some salt for each layer, then leave them rest for about an hour. This will help drain them: after an hour you will have to squeeze them, rinse them from the salt and dry them again.

Meanwhile you can take a large pan, start sauté your chopped onion and the whole garlic slice together with the olive oil (say 3 or 4 spoons). When the garlic has goldened, take it out, add carefully the tomato sauce, the chopped basil, the salt and the pepper. Cook for 15 minutes, the sauce should remain liquid.

Mix the breadcrumbs and the eggs and dig the eggplant slices in it.

Now it’s time to fry! Open all your windows and, in a large frying pan, heat up abundant seed oil. A few at the time, fry the eggplants and, once crispy put them on kitchen towel in order to soak up a bit of oil.

melanzane-impanate

Meanwhile, cut the mozzarella in pieces or slices (that depends on you).

Once you have all fried and ready, you can build your masterpiece:

Set a large baking tray and spread just a sip of tomato sauce on the bottom, then align the first eggplant layer, followed by some mozzarella cheese, the sauce, the basil and the parmesan. Keep adding layers until you have space or ingredients. The last one should have a thick parmesan covering over the tomato sauce.

Put the parmigiana in the oven, pre-heated at 180° and bake it for half an hour or a bit more, until the smell starts make you really really hungry… the last 3 minutes set the oven on “grill” mode, you will have a delicious crust of Parmesan gratin!

Now take it off the oven and… eat it? Nope, not yet.

You need to leave it “rest” for about 2 hours! Once that time has passed, parmigiana will be really thick and solid. And probably still tepid: that’s the moment you can serve it and enjoy!

Healthy tip: You can avoid dipping the eggplants into egg+bradcrumbs mix before frying them, just wet them roll them into some flour: they will be less thick and crunchy but still really enjoyable!

About Prosciutto, Culatello and other treats

Summer is around the corner, and we are convinced that some tips about Prosciutto, Culatello and other treats could be useful for your summer parties :-)

From the green, gentle hills of the province of Parma, come some of the most refined Italian specialties: Prosciutto di Parma, the Culatello and last but not least, the Parmigiano.

Prosciutto di Parma

Prosciutto di Parma

The real Prosciutto di Parma is produced following a rigorous, traditional method where no preservatives are involved, but only salt, skill and care. The real one is not too salty, has a delicious perfume and melts in your mouth when you eat it…mhhh. To be sure that you’re buying real Prosciutto, check carefully the skin of the prosciutto that you’re buying and look for the crown-shaped brand PARMA.

On the other hand, the Culatello – the King of cured meats – which comes from the best part of the leg of the pig, looks similar to the Prosciutto but is drier, the slice has an oily surface and the taste is stronger. Also the production is different, since instead of being aged in dry places, is kept in humid, old caves and, believe us, all of it gives them the distinctive, unique flavor.

When you buy Prosciutto or Culatello, be sure that the host slices them fresh under your eyes, like it happens during our Milan Food Tour. And as we say to our guests:  eat them with hands, they will taste even better!

How to taste them

When you have such great ingredients, the best recipes you can prepare are the easiest ones.

Italian flair on a cutting board

There’s nothing better than putting some prosciutto, some Culatello, chunks of Parmigiano and black olives on a old-fashioned wooden cutting board…easy and tasty.  Ah, don’t forget crusty bread, a good glass of wine or beer (a good Bonarda or a fresh ale could be perfect) and a little bowl of aromatic honey to put on the cheese.

 

Prosciutto e Melone

Prosciutto e Melone

Prosciutto e melone

When it’s summer, buy a sweet orange melon, just slice it and wrap some Prosciutto around each slice..the sweet-salty combination is literally delicious.  You can serve them as an appetizer before lunch or dinner and accompany with a glass of white wine like a Vermentino or a Chardonnay.

 

Parmigiano reggiano

Parmigiano reggiano

Formaggio con le Pere

(Veggie option, go for cheese!)

In Italian there’s a sentence which sounds more or less like this: Don’t let the farmer know how good cheese is with pears. Seems obscure? Just try to pair Parmigiano chunks with ripe sweet peer slices and a glass of Sangiovese or Cabernet and then let us know.

Share your experience with us!

PS: If you want to taste Culatello and other treats, if you’re fallling in love with italian food, please, discover this 10 things to do and see in Milan ( there’s our Beer Tour, too!)

Summer PAPPA AL POMODORO Recipe!

“Pappa al pomodoro” is a typical tuscan main dish. Its origins refer to the peasant tradition – Florence and Siena both claims it’s theirs, because it’s a really tasty food and everyone would be proud to have it… I mean, it’s so good they made a song about it!
When in Florence, you absolutely need to try it: you can do that by booking a Florence Food Tour with us.

The great thing about Pappa al pomodoro is that you can eat it warm in winter with a good red Chianti, but if you change, just slightly, the preparation, it’s a great plate to eat in a warm summer day with a vermentino or a vernaccia!

pappa al pomodoro

Pappa al Pomodoro is basically a bread and tomato soup with plenty of fresh local olive oil and basil. Tuscan bread is notoriously tasteless, because it is prepared without salt. As a result, the bread goes stale quite quickly: so, if you want to make it at home, make sure you take a fresh bread loaf, not salted and with a pretty thick dough. As usual, “sandwich bread” is not good at all!

Let’s go with the recipe!

INGREDIENTS

500 g (about 2 cups) peeled tomatoes, chopped, preferrable the “piccadilly” or “ciliegino” quality
250 g (about 1/2 lb) stale bread (preferably Tuscan bread), cut into smallish pieces
1 liter (about 4 cups) vegetable broth, warmed
1 big onion, chopped
basil, chopped coarsely (with your hands!)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (you can also use seasoned or spicy oil)
salt and pepper

You can add carrots or chili or whatever you think it fits: as all peasant preparations, this one is easily customizable.

soffritto pappa

Start with preparing your soffritto in a large and tall (around 10 cm tall) saucepan, by sauté the chopped onions in a large amount of olive oil. Once they’re golden, you can add salt and pepper (or chili).

Add the tomatoes and let them cook on a slow flame until they are softened, but not still a sauce. Now you can add half of your broth and the bread. Stir carefully, the bread has to soak in all the liquids and swell.

Once it’s swollen add the other half of the broth and the basil, and keep the bread under the liquid surface, constantly.

Stop mixing for a while: when you see the oil solidify on the surface, stir it a little bit. Do that for about 5 times and… you’re ready!

pappa-col-pomodoro4-850x638

Now you can take the pan off the fire and leave it rest. The longer the better! You can eat it lukewarm and the day after it would be even better. Just give it a nice splash of extravirgin olive oil and chop some fresh basil on it.

Way to eat a great Pappa al pomodoro in summer!

Liquid gold: some facts about Italian Olive Oil

What do you know about Italian Olive Oil? For sure, if you tried our Florence Food Tour, you know it’s really tasty. Maybe you did eat a bruschetta or two, on your Tuscany trip. And I’m sure you enjoyed it.

Olio-di-oliva

Tasting olive oil straight is the best way to judge its quality. You can do it pretty easily by yourself (if you try a guided lesson, though, you will learn lots of useful stuff) a little in a small glass and warm the glass in one hand, while covering it with the other. Now put your nose into the glass to sense the aromas. Hopefully, it reminds you of things like fresh olives, grass, bananas and apples. Hay, cardboard, vinegar, mud and mustiness are some of the aromas that indicate an olive oil has gone bad.

The flavour matters a lot too. Try the green Tuscan oil, quite ticklish on the tongue, that tastes like fresh artichokes, or maybe the golden southern oil, from Puglia or other southern regions, that has a smoother taste. This depends on the variety of the olive, on the terrain, on the climate. The way it’s made it’s the same for every good one: after olives are picked and washed, they’re crushed – sometimes between two big stones, but now more commonly by steel blades. The resulting paste is stirred to release the oil droplets in a process called maceration, before being spun in a centrifuge to pull out the oil and water. After the water is removed, what is left is olive oil. The picking process might be pretty different though. In Tuscany we pick the olives from the trees, while they’re still greenish (that’s why they have that “fresh grass” flavour), while in Puglia farmers wait for olives to fall naturally on big nets on the ground. Therefore, this oil tastes more mature. If you manage to try them one after the other, the difference will be enormous. But I bet you won’t be able to decide which one you like the most – well, you can always assign them different purposes.

olive02

We cook with olive oil… basically everything. We use it to cook, to fry, to make cakes, we even make ice cream from it (have you tried it? Do it, it’s amazing)! Some gourmet chef invented the crème brulée with olive oil on the side, and it’s a fancy mix.

There’s a lot of stuff you can do with olive oil: why do we keep choosing it over and over again, even when we do have cheaper products? Well, it’s not only because of its flavor. Infact, olive oil is one of the ealthier products on Earth (and yes, we keep telling that to ourselves while eating fried stuff). I will always suggest to use olive oil for cooking. Believe it or not, is skinnier than any other oil, and lighter. Replace other fats like butter with at least two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil every day, eat lots of veggies and go for a walk. I mean, if you kill an entire parmigiana di melanzane, you cannot blame the olive oil for feeling “loaded”, do you?

So, what makes olive oil so good for health? Well, for example, olive oil is extremely high in oleic acid which is used to reduce blood pressure. Olive oil also contains many antioxidants including vitamin E, carotenoids and oleuropein. Researchers are doing their job, founding out that it might be a real help for heart diseases and even for cancer, but this is something we do not know for sure yet.

What we know, is that it is a major “fountain of youth”: it contains a high amount of polyphenols, which helps the cell renewal. That’s why there is also a large market for olive oil soaps and skin care products, of course: but I really do suggest you try, once (maybe not with “olio nuovo”), to wet your skin with tepid water and then moisturize, until absorbed, with some olive oil drops. The result is amazing, I do that sometimes. No, I actually do something else, I make myself a scrub with sugar, honey, lemon and olive oil, and my skin is thankful every single time. You’re welcome too.

crema olio

Do not though – seriously, do not – use it “to improve your sun tan”. This is actually the most dangerous thing you might do. It burns, it’s oil, it fries up your skin and so much for eternal youth. Use protection, and eat a great cucumber-carrots-oil-salt-and-pepper salad after your day at the sea!

Just one warning: be sure that you’re using a true extravirgin olive oil. Lots of cheap products are the result – just as for Aceto Balsamico – of a mix of different oils or chemicals, or are made with non-italian olives. Of course greek or Turkish oil might be good: but cheap imported products aren’t probably the same thing. So, how to manage when a tasting is not possible, like in a supermarket? I have two tips. One is: do not rely on the price. Always check the tag and the ingredients. But if it’s suspiciously cheap, leave it there. The other one is: treat yourself! Buy the “DOCG” products and you’ll be safe, sound and happy.

The very last thing I want to share with you about oil is about its storage. Oil, because of its chemical composition, suffers a lot from oxygen. Therefore, if you buy a big bottle, either you finish it really quickly, or you fill a lot of little bottles and close carefully the others, storing them in a dark and dry place, and opening them only once you finish the previous one. They will mantein their properties much better.