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!

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!

 

Warm up your winter with an Italian cappuccino

What’s better than a hot, foamy cappuccino to start the day?

Hot cappuccino

Hot cappuccino

For us, cappuccino is like morning fuel, it’s absolutely necessary to start the day and it has to be foamy, creamy and hot. Italians are used to good food and they are extremely demanding about it. After all, a good cappuccino can make your day and a bad one, on the other hand, may ruin it.

The secret for a perfect cappuccino is the foam that should come in a rich, creamy and consistent layer. You can ask for some cocoa powder or cinnamon on top.

But what is this cappuccino? Basically consider that is based on a regular espresso, milk and foamed milk. The creamy foam strictly requires whole milk.

The perfect pairing for a perfect breakfast is with a buttery, fragrant brioche. Yes, we know that the correct name for this pastry is croissant, but we call it brioche anyway. If you want to feel and act like a real local, try to order breakfast standing at the counter and saying: Cappuccino e brioche, per favore!

Usually we don’t order a cappuccino in the afternoon since it’s considered a breakfast drink. I mean, they’ll serve it to you but if you want to feel like locals, don’t order it after 11 a.m. ;-).

cappuccino-e-brioche

cappuccino-e-brioche

But what’s the origin of this drink? First of all, the name literally means hood, or rather small hood, since it recalls the brown color of the habits used by the Capuchin friars. The first version of this drink appeared for the very first time in Wien, where the first cafés were opened in 18th century and where once a Capuchin friar, asked the barman to mild his coffee with some milk and spices. The first cappuccino was born.

When Austrian have conquered the central and northeastern Italian territories, they  brought with them their habits, “Kapuziner” included, and it became popular mostly in the area of Trieste.

Actually the cappuccino as we know it, descends from these first versions, but has some differences and it became popular only from the beginning of the 20th century, when the first coffee machines were patented by a brilliant, young Italian mechanic born and raised in Milan: Luigi Bezzera. From then on, it has spread all over the world!

Being so proud of our fellow citizen (and being cappuccino addicted), we couldn’t not include this drink in our Food Tour in Milan. The first stop of the tour is in a bakery that smells like fresh bread where we taste cappuccino and a sweet pastry. Drooling? Come and taste a cappuccino in Milan with us!

We bet that now you’re dying for a cappuccino :-)

Mozzarella di bufala: the real taste of mozzarella

mozzarella di bufala

Mozzarella di Bufala

Apologies if what we are about to say might sound harsh to you, but we have to reveal you a cruel reality: whatever you think of mozzarella, you have no idea of what a real mozzarella is like until you try a mozzarella di bufala. Imagine the taste of the soft clouds of heaven… well that taste will sure resemble the one of mozzarella di bufala: juicy, creamy and slightly sour, a mix that drives all Italians crazy.

This kind of mozzarella is usually bigger and the texture is indeed very different from a normal mozzarella, which usually is addressed as fior di latte. Whenever in a pizzeria, you’ll know it is a good one if it has at least a margherita with mozzarella di bufala on the menu.  That is why it can’t be missing in our pizza tour in Rome! Anyhow, the best way of enjoying this kind of cheese is to eat it alone, as a separate dish. Useless it is to add oil, salt, oregano or any other kind of sauce. It has already such a peculiar taste that it will enough to carry you away.

Italian water buffalo

If you wander what the difference is with a normal mozzarella, that is an easy question to answer: mozzarella di bufala is produced with the milk of domestic  Italian water buffalo.

This milk is higher in calcium, protein and lower in cholesterol than cow’s milk. Not only, Mozzarella di bufala is manufactured under strict regulations in precise areas: in in Lazio, Campania and near Foggia in Apulia. Mozzarella di Bufala produced in Campania region bears the “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana” trademark and DOC status granted in 1993. In 2008, the European Union granted Mozzarella di Bufala Campana a Protected Geographical Status. You’ll probably find mozzarella di bufala produced elsewhere and we strongly advise you to stay away from imitations. Instead, you could consider a trip to Italy to enjoy the beautiful experience of a the real pizza with a real mozzarella! Check out our pizza tours!

Last but not least: mozzarella di bufala shouldn’t be kept in the fridge, but at room temperature on “its own water”, which means in the water were it was when you bought it! If kept in the fridge, it should rest at least 20 minutes outside before being served!

Formaggi toscani: an amazing bite of Florence

tagliere-4big

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!

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?

 

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!)