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! 

How to prepare the best tomato sauce for your pizza

What is the best pizza you have ever eaten? Think about it before you answer and ask yourself what was so special about this pizza?? Next time you are in Rome, be sure to join our Rome Pizza Tour to taste the best pizza in Rome!

Pizza Tomato SauceThe first secret of a good pizza is a good tomato sauce! At the end of the day, it is what really makes a difference. A great dough can be ruined by a careless prepared tomato sauce. So here we go with some useful tips about the best tomato sauce for pizza EVER!

Ingredients (this should be enough for around ⅚ pizzas:

Extra virgin olive oil

  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tins of quality plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 6 tbsp tomato paste
  • dried oregano
  • basil
  • salt

Pizza Tomato SaucePut the oil in a pan together with the garlic. Cook until it becomes a bit golden, be careful not to burn it, it tastes horrible if overcooked. If that happens, you have to throw it away and start all over again! Add the tinned tomatoes and cook until almost dry, then add the tomato paste, some basil leaves, salt and oregano. If necessary, you can add also some spoons of water if you are not happy with the thickness of the sauce. Once ready, let it cool before spreading it on your pizza.

Now the most important question: when is the right time to add the tomato sauce to your pizza? Answer is: before baking the pizza! Only things that are allowed to be added once the pizza is baked are: prosciutto, rucola salad or other fresh ingredients. Another tip for your best pizza: please do not over “cheese” it! Taste your result! If you are not satisfied, come to Rome and taste the best pizza!

Best Restaurants in Brera – Milan

Brera, MilanIf Milan is the city from the many faces, Brera is the artistic one. In fact, this quite central neighborhood is dotted by small artisan’s workshops, art shops, antique shops and is surrounded by a vibrant atmosphere. Brera is also  home to the Accademia di Belle Arti (Fine Art Academy) and the Pinacoteca (Milan’s Art Gallery), the historic Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, the Museo Astronomico and the Giardino Botanico (Botanical Gardens). Day and night, Brera is one of the most lively neighborhood of the city, with many interesting places to dine or have lunch. The district is particularly bustling during the Fuori Salone, one of the most important events in town: do not miss it! Our Milan Food Tours are great opportunities to have a taste of Brera’s energy and have an idea of the best restaurants you can visit in Brera!

If you do pass by on your own, here are some suggestions on where to stop!

L’orto di Brera

Best Restaurants in Brera

Via S. Carpoforo, 6, 20121 Milano
The great place for healthy people! At first glance, it looks a grocery shop, but if you are curious enough to enter you’ll find a cozy and modern restaurant inside! The cuisine is all veggie based! But vegetarian food doesn’t mean boring! There will be plenty of surprising taste for everyone! Try the lasagne and the burrata! You can also take-away, which is rare in Italy if not in fast foods. At lunchtime there are interesting fixed price options.

Parma & Co

Best restaurants in brera

Via D. Tessa, 2 angolo Corso Garibaldi, 20121 Milano
This is the right place to taste authentic and original dishes from one of the best culinary traditions in Italy, Parmigiana’s one! Everything is so simple and yet so tasty…definitely a must! Founded by the Carmignani Father and Son, “it was born to offer in a special context, or perhaps just in an appropriate one, the best products of the Parma tradition” as they say. Parma&Co is also a typical Parma delicatessen shop, where it is possible to buy the products and taste them at home, or you can take a rest and eat them in the pleasant dining room surrounded by hung hams!

Vianson – La Focaccia al Formaggio

Best Restaurants in Brera

Via Mercato, 3, 20121 Milano
The best place in town to have quick lunch to or an early dinner (the place closes at 8 pm, apart from Tuesday and Saturday, when it closes at 10:30 pm). It is something like a pizzeria, where you can have many choices of “focaccia” (pizza-dough without cheese and stuffed with salami, cheese or vegetables). Giorgio Vianson, the owner, is from Liguria, which is the homeland of focaccia. After working many years in the States, he decided to come back to open his own brand, at it was indeed a successful idea: many come from all over the city because it is basically the best focaccia ever!

Ristorante Emilia e Carlo

Best restaurants in brera

Via Guiseppe Sacchi 8, Milan, Italy, +39 02 862100
Ristorante Emilia e Carlo is what you want to choose if you are looking for a place with an elegant and formal atmosphere, yet typical Italian. Everything you’ll try here is high quality and the menu rotates on a seasonal basis. Specialties from all around Italy can be tasted here: Tuscan salami with figs, Chianina beef and Cotoletta alla Milanese. Not to mention the great fish dish choices available. Ristorante Emilia e Carlo also features an excellent and rich selection of Italian wines and few but outstanding International ones. Useless to say that prices are definitely the ones of a high-range restaurant.

Pasta al pomodoro: easy pasta recipes for everyone!

Pasta al pomodoro: easy pasta recipes for everyone (but don’t spoil it please)!

pasta al pomodoro

Here is an Italian cooking lesson for real beginners and for all the ones who started off with the wrong foot…I don’t intend to sound harsh but some pasta cookers around the world are really messing it up, so it is always good to refresh the basis.

We’ll propose here one of the easiest pasta recipes ever: pasta al pomodoro! It is also one of the most common dishes you will find in touristic restaurants and sometimes not of the best quality. So don’t be fooled: have a real taste of pasta al pomodoro in Florence, Italy, next time you are around!

 

Before getting started let’s repeat some important rules of pasta cooking:

  1. Pasta has to be added to water only after it has started boiling

  2. Never overcook the pasta!!!! Or if you do, don’t call it pasta.

  3. Italians join pasta and sauce in a pan and “jump it” (saltare) for some minutes before serving (will come back to this later)

 

Ingredients for 4 people

  • Some leaves of fresh basil

  • 1 clove of garlic

  • 1 kg ripe tomatoes, or 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • 480 g dried wholewheat spaghetti ( good quality, if possible)

  • 15 g Parmesan cheese

  • Salt, pepper and a tiny pinch of sugar

Ingredients pasta al pomodoro

Start with peeling and slicing the garlic. Chop the tomatoes if you are using fresh ones. I suggest to choose this option only if you can get good quality organic tomatoes, otherwise just go for the tinned ones. Put a saucepan on a medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic, then cook until soft and lightly golden. Add few leaves of basil and the tomatoes and start to stir. Add a bit of salt and pepper and a tiny pinch of sugar, then continue stirring for around 15 minutes. Meanwhile fill a large pot with water and put it on high heat and let it boil. Alternatively, boil some water with the boiler and then fill the pot (which is an option Italians do not even think of, but makes lots of sense). Add some salt to the boiling water and then add spaghetti and cook according to packet instructions or even a minute less: “al dente”. Literally this expression translates as to the tooth and means cooking the pasta just a little bit less than what you are supposed to so that it remains firm. Anyhow, it is always a good idea to try some. No other methods are allowed. Once the pasta is done, drain in a colander over the sink and tip the spaghetti back into the pot. Stir the spaghetti into the sauce, adding a splash of the pasta water to loosen, if needed. Serve with some fresh basil leaves sprinkled over the top and put a bowl of some grated Parmesan cheese on the table , in case some of your guests want to add some.

Easy pasta recipe

As I said, very easy pasta recipe… but very easy to spoil. Try following these instructions one by one and let me know how it tastes! We’ll be glad to invite you for a pasta taste in Florence at the wonderful traditional and yet contemporary Mercato Centrale!