Valentine’s days in Italy

List the first three adjectives that come to your mind when you think of Italians: I am sure “romantic” is going to be one of them. Why? Because Italy is not just the world’s capital of food, but also love!! Italians are great lovers and know how to be romantic! That’s just a fact: Romeo and Giulietta, Dante and Beatrice… it is not a coincidence that even nowadays many choose our country for engagements or marriages in our beautiful cities or villas in the countryside. Now we don’t want to go that far, but what about a romantic week holiday during Valentines days in Italy? 

Padlocks clipped by lovers

Padlocks clipped by lovers

All you need to do is decide one or more destinations for your romantic trip and add some original Valentine’s day surprise on top! First, you have to choose which city better fits your need: a magnificent and chaotic Rome, a small and mysterious Florence, a cosmopolitan and lively Milan? But after all wherever you will be is going to be magical! Just relax and enjoy the great Italian atmosphere!

What do Italians do for Valentine’s day? They go for walks in parks (check out Giardino di Boboli if you are in Florence) or enjoy the sunset in one of the city’s best spots (reach Giardino degli Aranci in Rome) or an Aperitivo in some classy bars (Milan will offer you plenty of good ones). The youngest ones will look for a bridge or a lamppost to tie a chain and a padlock as an indelible trace of their love.

Thinking about a special Valentine’s gift? Go for something original! Here are some Valentine’s day ideas: a day at an Italian SPA, relaxing and enjoying thermal waters, a day-out in one of the many stunning Italian little villages or, least but not last, one of our food tours for two! These can be a great idea to spend some time together and get to know another culture!

Valentine's days in Italy

Valentine’s days in Italy

If you want to act like a local, rent a vespa and bring your lady for a panoramic ride! Don’t forget chocolate and flowers! They are still a must!

Meet yout guide: this month is for Debora!

Welcome back to our “Meet Your Guide” post!

DEboraThis month we are going to meet Debora a very sweet guide from Milan, who’ll tell you all about food and history and fashion, afterall you’re in Milan!

 

Name:  Hi, I’m Debora

Nationality and Hometown? I’m Italian originally from Monza a town north of Milan.

Name of tour you lead and where: I’m very fond of our gourmet tours and I lead the Food Tasting Tour and the Beers&bites walking tour.

Monza's Formula Uno Circuit

Monza’s Formula Uno Circuit

If you are not from the city you are based in for tours, what originally brought you there? I was born and raised in Monza, which is mostly famous for the “Formula Uno” races. Monza is a tranquil town with a great historical center and a big, lovely park, the green beating heart of the city. I love enjoying the energy of a big city like Milan while working but go back home at night to a quite, comfy town where I can rest.

Debora (in red) during a food tour

Debora (in red) during a food tour

Your favorite part of the tour: The best part of the Food tour is the Brera district: one of the most beautiful in town. I love to walk about the area filled with locande, art galleries, caffetterias, osteria and to show the connection between art, culture, history and the Milanese cuisine to all visitors.

Drogheria Milanese

Drogheria Milanese

Favorite Local Restaurant in your city: Milan is a metropolis where one can find all sorts of place and personally I like very much shops like “Temakinho” where fine sushi is served with Brasilian cocktails! Despite the many original offers one can find, Milan has a deeply rooted gastronomic culture, that you can discovery at design and fashion restaurants like “Dametra” or “La Drogheria San Marco”, here traditional cooking is served, rivisisted or fashionably served to fully immerse oneself in the Milanese style.

What’s next on your travel bucket list? I wish to visit the entire world! But The United States are very high on my list!

Bergamo's Duomo

Bergamo’s Duomo

What’s your best travel tip for those coming to visit Italy? When visiting north Italy, my suggestion is to plan a long stay in Milan and use it as “base” to travel around the smaller cities, like Monza (my hometown), Bergamo and Mantova all while experiencing the locals life in Milan.

If Debora convinced you, don’t hesitate and book you foodie tour in Milan!

Butter and anchovies: easy crostino topping

Having some friends over for dinner on short notice? Don’t panic! The trick is to start with some good and filling appetizers! Surprise your guests with the starters and they’ll enjoy the rest even better! And if you have no time for shopping, we have a perfect idea for you!

All you need is bread, butter and canned anchovies and here you go with a great Italian starter: crostini burro e acciughe! Sometimes the simplest things are the best!

Butter and anchovies crostini topping

If any of you have passed by Italy already, you might have tried it along with our Florence Food Tour, during which you get the chance to taste Italian crostini in Florence.

Now, as you know there are many crostini toppings in our tradition. You might now some of the very standard one: tomato and basil, black olives… Burro e acciughe is something that doesn’t come to your mind easily, but believe me it is a pleasure for your mouth!

As ingredients, we’ll list what it would be better to use, but surely any surrogate will do:

  • Tuscan bread

  • Good quality unsalted butter

  • Good quality anchovies, in oil or salted.

  • Pickles baby capari (if you like)

Butter and anchovies crostini topping

Tuscan bread is the one that best fit this recipe. If you don’t have, just use what bread you have. Cut as many slices as to have at last two crostini per person. Toast the bread and let it cool some minutes. Spread a good layer of butter on the slices and, depending on the size of these slices, lay one or two anchovies on the top. You can add a capari as the final touch on your crostini burro e acciughe. And there you go, you are ready to offer your guests an original and finger-licking Italian starter!

If you do want to taste Italian crostini while in Florence let us know! We’ll make sure you’ll get the best out of your stay!

 

Torta Fedora: the best of Tuscany

Italian culinary tradition is wide and varied: all kinds of pasta sauces, the many versions of lasagne, tasty meat stews, pizzas, and last but not least: the desserts. There are so many of them that there is always something new to taste. One of the less-known ones is Torta Fedora, a real delicatesse of Tuscan cuisine. A soft heart of puff pastry, whipped cream and sponge cake covered up with a crunchy layer of dark chocolate.

Torta Fedora

Torta Fedora

I bet we already made you drool! No despairs though, you’ll get the chance to try this tasty dessert of our cuisine during our food tours in Florence!

And in case you like it, and we bet you will, here is a simple version of this recipe that you can try at home. The only thing that you might struggle to find is the alchermes liqueur, which you can replace with any another kind of gentle and
Alchermes and Maraschino

Alchermes and Maraschino

sweet liqueur. Some versions of this cake is with maraschino, a liqueur obtained from the distillation of Marasca cherries.

Here is what you will need:

1 roll of puff pastry

1 disk of sponge cake

550 gr whipped cream

Icing sugar as required

Few spoons of milk

For the chocolate crust:

150 gr: dark chocolate

1 spoon of water

2 spoons of honey

Icing sugar as required

For the bagna (to soak the sponge cake):

65 g of water

35 g of sugar

50 ml of alchermes liquor

It would be better to prepare the sponge cake the day before or – don’t tell anyone we suggested you-  you can buy already-made one. First thing, you’ll need to bake the puff pastry. Before doing that make sure you poke few holes on it using a fork, gently brush it with some milk and sprinkle it with some icing sugar. Bake at 180° until golden brown.

While you wait for the puff pastry to bake, prepare the bagna, with which we will soak the sponge cake. Pour the water together with sugar in a small pot. Once it boils, you can leave it cooling a bit and then add the alchermes liqueur.

At this point, take the puff pastry out of the oven, cut it the same size of the sponge cake and lay the sponge cake on it. Pour the bagna all over the sponge cake and now our base is ready to be topped with a thick layer of whipped cream. Let now rest the cake in the fridge for at least few hours.

Cioccolato a pezzi

Let’s now prepare the chocolate topping. Cut the chocolate in pieces, put it together with 2 spoons of honey and a spoon of water in a small pot and let it melt in a bain-marie. Let it cool, sprinkle some icing sugar on a clean surface where you can pour the chocolate. Add icing sugar until it gets thick enough to make a ball out of it. Let it rest a bit until it becomes a malleable dough of chocolate.

At this point, place it on a long piece of baking paper and roll it out using a rolling pin. Now it is all up to you: decorate your Torta Fedora as you wish with the “chocolate papers” you made! You can also add some icing sugar if you want it to look nicer!

Torta Fedora

Well, if Torta Fedora doesn’t sound easy to make, we can assure it tastes good! Don’t miss our food tours in Florence next time you are around, during which you’ll have the occasion to ask more tips for this recipe to the local “artisans” of desserts!

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!

Autumn in Tuscany: the traditional Mushroom Soup recipe

Autumn in Tuscany is marvelously colorful  and smells like mushrooms and chestnuts. Imagine how cozy could be to savor a hot, fragrant soup looking at the foliage outside the window…it really warms body and soul.

Autumn in Tuscany

Autumn in Tuscany

Mushrooms are typical in traditional cuisine and bring us back to a time when the ingredients were the seasonal ones and when people used to cook what the nature had to offer. Also that’s why the original recipe uses mixed mushrooms, since this is what you find when you go pick them! A mixture!

Still nowadays in countryside, grandparents go to find mushrooms in woods with their grandsons and they teach them how to recognize the good ones (if you’re not an expert, do what we do, go to a good shop and buy safe mushrooms ;-)).

Mixed mushrooms

Mixed mushrooms

Here there’s an easy and tasty recipe for you, to enjoy this special comfort food with your family and friends. The ingredients and the preparation are simple, like in most of the traditional Italian recipes.

What you’ll need (4 servings)

  • 800g mixed mushrooms
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 ripe red tomatoes
  • chopped parsley
  • 1l vegetable broth: face the truth,the secret is in the broth, if you’ll prepare it fresh, your soup will  taste far better. It takes a little longer but at the end you’ll  say: I made it!
  • home-baked sourdough bread (I’m pretty sure that your favorite bakery sells it ;-))
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

How to prepare it

First of all, mushrooms should never been washed, but gently wiped using a damp towel.  They’re spongy and washing them under running water means spoiling them since they’ll absorb the water and will lose their aroma. After that slice them thin. Boil for few seconds the tomatoes, peel them and remove the seeds.

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, sauté the garlic, then add mushrooms and pepper. After sautéing a couple of minutes , add chopped tomatoes and all the broth. Reduce the heat, cover and cook for 15 min.

How to serve it

Toast the bread slices and settle them at the bottom of the soup-tureen, pour the hot soup on them and serve it!tuscan-mushrooms-soup

Give your soup a twist ;-)

To make it extremely lavish, pour your mushroom soup into single soup-tureens and cover the surface with some grated Parmigiano, put in the oven and wait until it makes a crispy, golden crust then serve it…hot and delicious!

Like many traditional recipes, the traditional Tuscan mushroom soup is 100%  vegetarian, have you noticed it? And if you serve with gluten free bread is also enjoyable by who needs a gluten-free diet, a truly delicacy for everyone!

And least but not the last, let’s talk about the wine! As every good meal deserves, also the mushrooms soup needs to be paired with a good red wine and our option goes for a bottle of red Chianti, the king of Tuscan wines. It will soothe the palate and the soul.

If it happens to you to come to Tuscany, grant yourself a treat and join our Food Tour in Florence, a real dive into the food tradition and a chance to visit traditional places spotted by locals!

Cornetto Sfogliato: The Italian Croissant recipe

Speaking of what we share with La France, did you think that only French make croissants? Well then, we do too! Our favourite bar breakfast is “cappuccino and brioche”. Especially in Rome, Cornetto is as iconic as the Colosseo.

cornettocappuccio

So, if you want to impress your friends, don’t buy some: make them fresh!
It’s not an easy recipe but with some attention and a lot of patience you’ll awe everyone.

you’ll need

  • 310 gr white or manitoba flour
  • 140 gr “00″ white flour
  • 75 gr sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid honey
  • 70 gr softened butter
  • 100 gr milk
  • 20 gr beer
  • 7 gr salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 of orange flavour
  • 1/3 of lemon flavour
  • 10 g vanillin
  • 1 brewer’s yeast cube

For the “sfogliatura”

  • 200 gr butter

Start kneading the milk, the yeast, the beer, the eggs, the sugar, the honey, the flavours, the vanillin and the sifted flours until the dough becomes smooth and soft; then add the salt and the softened butter.

Once everything is well mixed, keep kneading constantly until the dough is really smooth.

Leave it rest for 20 minutes, covered with a table cloth, then powder a large cup with some flour and transfer the dough, in a ball shape, in it. Cover it with some cooking film and leave it rest, room temperature, for 2 hours. Then put the cup in the fridge and… wait 24 hours!

Next day, you can prepare the “sfogliature” (now, google suggests stripping, I actually don’t know how to translate those amazing, buttered pastry stripes. You’ll see).

sfogliatura

Take off the fridge the 200g of butter and leave it room temperature for 3 hours (it should soften naturally). Then fold it with a clean table cloth and press it until it becomes a 1cm tall loaf.

Roll the dough in a round shape and… put the butter loaf at its center, folding it with the dough (make four angles). Then roll again until it becomes rectangular and fold the lower third upon itself. Now fold the upper third covering the rest of it.

Cover with film again and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Repeat this operation three times (yes, you may have a wine glass now, but just a little bit: you’ll have to be sharp!).

img_7896

Now you can roll the dough in a long, thin, rectangular shape. Then cut it in triangles; stretch the wider part and roll them on theirselves, letting them take their peculiar shape (cornetto means “little horn”). Remember to keep the pointy end below so it won’t detach while cooking.

Put them in the baking tray and let them rest until… they double their volume (it may take more than two hours, so just go out to dinner, or better: leave them rest all night long, so the morning after you’ll have the most amazing breakfast!

croissant-crudo-640x511

Paint the raw cornetti with some egg yolk, heat the oven up to 170° and bake them for about 25 minutes.

Then you can cover them with powdered sugar or brown sugar, and once they’re not super hot you can fill them with cream or jam or chocolate… and enjoy your great Italian breakfast!

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!

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!