Posts tagged italian cooking
Visiting Italy - The Little Italian School
Piazza Gabriele Pepe - Campobasso - Molise

Piazza Gabriele Pepe - Campobasso - Molise

Molise. Where is Molise you ask?  Well, that’s what a lot of people ask. Once upon a time Abruzzo was the name of the region until 1963 when the province of Campobasso was split to form another region known today as Molise. As a little girl I remember hearing my father say he was Abruzzese when people would ask what region he was from, because it was easier than giving a history lesson!

One of the reasons I chose to take my students to Molise was because apart from being close to my heart, it is not a tourist destination, and I wanted to invite them into our other ‘life’ in Italy, where we still have immediate family, our best friends and godchildren, our nieces and nephews. I wanted them to experience the true taste of local Italian living. The visit turned out to be even more wonderful than I could have ever imagined and I am truly looking forward to doing it all again very soon.

Cantalupo del Sannio - Molise

Cantalupo del Sannio - Molise

Our 5 day tour of this delightfully picturesque region situated between the Adriatic Coast and the Sannio and Matese mountains, with the Abruzzo and Puglia regions above and below, I drove the students around in our Fiat 500 and they discovered a winery that was brought back to life, spent a day on a friend’s farm with his family and made pasta, took a trip to one of the highest points in the region to a cheese factory, and visited a Countess at her masseria to taste her extra virgin olive oil, along with some very long lunches of some of the finest typical Molisani dishes served with a whole lot of love and pride. The most important part of the visit was sharing our local Italian life with this very small intimate group. Does it get any better?

Here are a few pictures and a description of how our days went. I will do my best to remember the details because I was too happy living and enjoying the moments to keep a journal and stop too many times to take photos. I am certain I missed a few snaps along the way. I must mention that everything we ate and drank on this journey was either produced by the host, or by a local neighbouring farmer, and our guests could taste it with every single morsal and sip during their stay.

Enjoy!

Riccia - Molise

Riccia - Molise

The students arrived a day early, which wasn’t a problem at all, because in true Italian style nothing usually is. One of the best things about this visit was that the group was small and intimate, and the visitors were considered to be our guests rather than tourists. My husband and I were the guides so we could ad lib when we wanted and add in the odd extra aperitivo, or visit somewhere spontaneously that wasn’t on the ‘agenda’. It was very relaxed and as authentically Italian as can be.

The morning after they arrived we were headed to my sister in law’s farmhouse for a visit. She’d asked us if we wanted to go and make jam as the fruit on her prune tree was ready to be picked. We stopped by at one of the towns pizzeria’s, owned and run by a family who has been baking for over 100 years. You’ve never eaten pizza quite like it. We also stopped to get a bit of prosciutto, mozzarella and parmigiano to take to her farmhouse for a little ‘spuntino’ (snack) at lunch time. On arrival we decided against making the marmellata (jam) and instead went for a short hike through the woods to stretch our legs and breathe in some fresh Molisano air.


Before our orientation that evening (when the visit officially began) we went for an aperitivo and took a stroll through the historic centre up to the Castello Monforte. Later that evening we ate at a restaurant tucked away in the underground city of Campobasso, boasting ancient stone carvings and paintings. We ate melanzane al forno with ricotta, homemade cavatelli with cinghiale, veal medallions, and then enjoyed some deserts, caffe` and of course amaro.

On day two we headed off to Ripalimosani where we took a 4wd and drove through some hillside vinyards to see how this uncultivated land had been given new life by its owners, and how the wines are produced using no preservatives or pesticides. Back at the hosts home, we tasted all of their delicious wines, from Tintilia rose and red (a typical grape from Molise), to whites including chardonnay.

I’m not sure I’d call them ‘tastes’ as the pours were extremely generous, so it was just as well we were offered platters of bread, capocollo, salsiccia, caciocavallo and other cheeses, all from local neighbouring farmers.

After our visit to the vineyard, we headed off to our friend’s horse riding property where they also have a trattoria and we enjoyed a never ending lunch that was absolutely divine. Rosaria prepared many different local delights and the antipasto was full of variety including cacio e uova (cheese and bread balls), buffalo milk mousse and fiori di zucca. My favourite were her homemade ravioli with ricotta filling and a very light pesto di pistacchio sauce. The cantucci biscotti with cherry and lemon jam she made were so good I took some home for our breakfast the next day. From the pips of the cherries she’d used to make the jam, she also made a heavenly cherry liquor enjoyed by all. Waste nothing!

Day three we took a visit to our friend Pino’s farm who greeted us that morning with an espresso made with the moka (stove top espresso maker) and a few different homemade biscotti and crostate (sweet pies). If our guests had known what his mamma was going to prepare us for lunch I know they would have refused breakfast.

We were invited into Pino’s ‘sala dei lampadari’ (the room where all of the prosciutto is hanging to be cured) where he explained to us the process of how it’s all done (in Italian of course!). We also got a chance to taste it at lunch. Pino’s mamma then took us to milk the cow and use the milk to make some fresh mozzarella, followed by a pasta making class of cavatelli (a pasta shape typical of the Molise region) with flour made from their own grain. We tasted the ricotta she had made earlier that morning and all agreed it was the best ricotta we had ever eaten! After lunch we all had ‘la zoletta’ made especially by Pino, which is a sugar cube soaked in alcohol made from a variety of different herbs found on their farm, and was just what we needed to help us digest the 6 course meal we had just devoured. Then we took off up to the top of this wonderful village to enjoy the most supurb panoramic view of Italy, all the way from East (the Adriatic coast) to West (the mountains of Campania), and while up there we visited some churches and drank fresh ice cold water that was gushing out from the mountain side.

Day four was our cheesemaking day in Agnone. Near one of the highest points of the mountains in Molise (alto Molise) we were guided by the daughter of the producers of the famous Caciocavallo cheese, fresh mozzarella, and cheeses with tartufo and peperoncino (chilli) to name a few. The family have been making cheese since 1662 and we watched as they created the cheeses in their petite factory and then headed off to view the ageing produce in their cellar, along with a tour through their very own museum where we found out about the family’s history and ended with a tasting of some of their cheese. Afterwards we drove a little further up the mountain to enjoy another very long lunch by another gorgeous family, who when we couldn’t decide on which ‘amaro’ we would like at the end of our meal, they brought us out every bottle they had (there were around 6 from memory) with some glasses so we could taste them all. One was made with the ginseng root which is grown on their land, though we were told it is hard to find.

Day 5 and our last day was with the delightfully charming countess Donna Marina at her masseria, walking through her olive grove, seeing how the extra virgin olive oil is produced, bottled and labelled by hand, and ending our day with the most wonderful olive oil tasting imaginable. We enjoyed a beautiful light lunch of olives, crostini, pasta with chickpeas, and ‘la pampanella’ which is a typical slow cooked pork rib dish from San Martino in Pensulis, followed by some biscotti and caffe. On the way home we stopped by the family farmhouse to show our guests my fathers old school, which is pictured in what I use as my logo, and was the inspiration for starting up The Little Italian School.Just as well we had a light lunch because we had our aperitivo and fairwell seafood dinner in a quaint little piazzetta in Campobasso that evening where we enjoyed local wine and the freshest fish from Termoli (a coastal fishing town in Molise) caught that morning. It was a great night but I was feeling a little emotional knowing our guests would be leaving the next day, wishing they could stay just a few days more.

 

I am so grateful for the way in which the hosts embraced our visitors and treated them like family from beginning to end. It couldn’t have been more perfect and we are looking forward to taking more guests to this undiscovered region of Italy that continues to deliver its local culture and traditions in the most authentic way, with so much pride, love and passion. The locals can never do enough for you. There is a saying in Italy that goes ‘Il Molise non Esiste’ meaning ‘Molise doesn’t exist’. I can tell you that it absolutely does, and it has so much to offer. I believe it’s one of Italy’s best kept secrets and kind of hope it stays that way.

Termoli - Molise

Termoli - Molise

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Learning Italian. Where do you begin?
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Learn Some Nouns

You want to learn how to speak Italian but not sure where to begin? Well, a good start would be to learn as many nouns (names of things) as you can. In my Absolute Beginner Classes I also like to expose students to some Italian grammar. Learning grammar gives you a much better understanding of the language and gets you speaking a lot quicker than learning phrases. Exposing students to grammar doesn’t mean they should be memorising and mastering what you teach them in an instance. It just means they have seen the word or the rules and from that point on, each time they are re-exposed to it they may learn and remember a little more. Remembering what is learnt comes with practice by doing exercises, and it takes time.

Essere and Avere Verbs

There are two ‘verbs’ (doing words) in Italian that are taught in the Absolute Beginner course and I am going to write a little explanation on how to learn and use them. While rote learning may be a little old school, it may be a good way to memorise them, but if you have a method that suits you more then you should stick to it.

In Italian, we have verbs just like in English. Only in English, we don’t change the verbs 6 times to suit the person or object doing the action, or the person we are speaking about who is doing the action, like we do in Italian.

To construct a sentence we use lots of words and grammar. A sentence like :

‘The boy is beautiful’. 

‘Il ragazzo e` bello’.

This simple sentence is made by adding a noun + verb + adjective …..or in simple terms subject + doing word + describing word)

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So firstly you should learn your ‘subject pronouns’  (the subject of your sentence – who you are speaking about):

Here are the subject pronouns (meaning the person or thing doing the action).

I - io

You - tu

He/She/It - Lui, Lei, esso/a

We - noi

You all - voi

They - loro

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Essere (to be) and Avere (to have) are the first two verbs we learn as Absolute Beginners

So the verbs Essere and Avere in English are used like this

 

ESSERE - TO BE

io sono -I am

tu sei - you are

tui/lei/it e` - he/she is   (notice the verb has changed 3 times already   am, are, is)

noi siamo - we are

voi siete - you all are

loro sono - they are

example sentences:

I am Italian - Io sono italiano

you are French - tu sei francese

he/she is Australian - lui/lei e` australiano  

we are Italian – noi siamo italiani

you all are Italian – voin siete italiani

they are Italian - loro sono italiani

AVERE – (TO HAVE) works the same way.

I have a child - io ho un figlio  (pronounced fi-li-yoh)

You have a child - tu hai un figlio

He/she/it has a child - lui/lei/esso ha un figlio

We have a child – noi abbiamo un figlio

You all have a child – voi avete un figlio

They have a child – loro hanno un figlio

These are very simple sentences, but if you have a few Italian nouns up your sleeve, then you can already start to make simple sentences.

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The problem most students face when learning verbs is they get confused when the ‘subject pronoun’ (the person or thing doing the action), is replaced with a name.

For example:

He is beautiful – Lui e` bello

Gianni is beautiful – Gianni e` bello (He = Gianni)

Or a little more complex is when you are speaking with someone asking them questions and they have to answer changing the verb so it all makes sense.

For example:

Question: Do you have a child? - Hai un figlio?

Answer: Yes I have a child. - Si, ho un figlio.

Question: Does Chiara have a child? – Chiara ha un figlio?

Answer: Yes, Chiara has a child – Si, Chiara ha un figlio.

Note how the verb ‘have’ in the English sentences hasn’t changed , but in the Italian sentences it has because it is agreeing with the person in the sentence who is doing the action.

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This is a very basic explanation and joining classes can be very helpful and would be the next step for anyone wanting to learn ‘la dolce lingua’. While phrases may be fun to learn, they are very limiting when trying to have a conversation. I always remind my students that they must walk before they run! So start your learning journey by building your Italian vocabulary and slowly but surely the language will all start to come together.

La Festa della Donna - Women's Day
Pictured : some of the strongest women I know. Family & friends of the heart - location: Farmhouse Italy  L-R Silvana, Adriana, Myself, Fausta, Rachel

Pictured : some of the strongest women I know. Family & friends of the heart - location: Farmhouse Italy

L-R Silvana, Adriana, Myself, Fausta, Rachel

We Italians love a good ‘festa’.

For those of you who have lived in Italy, you'll know that the Festa della Donna (International Women’s Day) is celebrated with blooming mimosa flowers that can be found on almost every street corner ready to gift to a wonderful ‘donna’ (woman) in your life.

La Festa della Donna is celebrated each year on the 8th of March and is a significant day because it reminds us of the importance of women all around the world. Once upon a time women were suppressed and discriminated against, but on the 8th of March in 1917 in San Petersburg, after the 1st World War, women marched the streets to fight for womens rights. 

Pictured: The most important woman, friend & role model in my life: Mamma

Pictured: The most important woman, friend & role model in my life: Mamma

The mimosa is the chosen plant to give women on this special day. There are a few different reasons why it is thought that this bright yellow bloom was chosen.

Some say the flowers of the mimosa are a reflection of what a woman is, being bright, cheerful, delicate and strong all at the same time.

Others say that the flower was chosen just after the war, when there wasn’t much money around, so it was economic and easily found in the fields, blooming every year in March.

Picture Pinterest

Picture Pinterest

Buona Festa della Donna a tutti!

Have fun celebrating all of the strong, beautiful, sensitive, caring, loving women in your lives!

Pictured: the other most important woman in my life - Nonna 95 years old

Pictured: the other most important woman in my life - Nonna 95 years old

Ciambella allo yoghurt, datteri e noci
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I often wake early in the morning and love to bake when it's quiet and the kids are still asleep. I usually always make the same Ciambella al Limone, which the family love for 'la colazione' (breakfast), unless there is something in the fridge like ricotta, cream or yoghurt that may be close to it's use by date. If so, then I'll usually use 'un po` di fantasia' (a little imagination) and add something different to the ciambella. I hate waste, and this is such a great way to waste less. I often create our evening meals like this too, but that's another blog...

now back to la ciambella...

Another thing I find hard to do is follow methods. I find that if ever I have tried to read a method while cooking, the dish loses my attention and often lacks something. Since I was a young girl I have watched my mamma & nonna cook, and realised that preparing food is about using all of the senses, so if you put the recipe book down, you'll magically be able to connect to your dish through 'touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste' and your meal is sure to taste delicious! Give me the ingredients and I'll create the dish. Because cooking really is that simple, as long as you've been taught, or taught yourself, the basics. If it's too complicated, I don't care for it. Simple is key.

So this morning I woke up to check what may be going out of date in the fridge, and it was the good old plain greek style yoghurt. Here are the ingredients, step by step and quite roughly for you to recreate this really easy Ciambella with a twist:

You'll need...

a whisk and a bowl

3 eggs

12 tablespoons of sugar (or less if you prefer)

12 tablespoons of sunflower oil

3 tablespoons of plain greek style yoghurt

12 tablespoons of self raising flour

a handful of dates (or more if you like them)

a handful of walnuts (or more if you like them)

some vanilla (either from a pod, or essence or whatever you have or usually use)

** greese your tin and put the oven on to a moderate heat

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Crack your eggs and add the sugar and whisk

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add the yoghurt and whisk a little more

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Add the sunflower oil, and then add your flour and vanilla and whisk again.
Then add the dates and walnuts and mix with a spoon gently at this stage.

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Pop in the greased baking tin, then into the heated oven.

Bake until it's golden and smells delicious! Poke a knife in if you're unsure and if it comes out dry you're good to go. Serve with some thickened cream or with some breakfast caffe` e latte (milk and coffee)...

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The word 'Molto' & it's different endings

When do we change the ending of the word 'Molto' in Italian?

This week in one of our Italian language classes, we stumbled on the word 'Molto' with a different ending, which led to the question of 'why' and 'when' does the word change. So I decided to write a quick blog about it...

Wouldn’t it be great and much easier if the endings of Italian words were all the same?! But if they were, then the saying ‘la dolce lingua’ would no longer be. The sweet sound of the Italian language is partly made of just that. Almost everything rhymes!

The word ‘molto’ means ‘very’, ‘a lot’, ‘very much’, ‘ a great deal’ and so on. This blog is to explain, very basically, why the ending of the word ‘molto’ changes sometimes and when we need to change it.

Location: Campobasso, Italy

Location: Campobasso, Italy

If we are using the word ‘molto’ as an adverb then it doesn’t change.

Here are some examples:

La ragazza e` molto bella.

The girl is very beautiful.

Il bicchiere e` molto pieno.

The glass is very full.

Queste mele sono molto buone.

These apples are really good.

Questi occhiali sono molto carini.

These glasses are very nice.

If the word ‘molto’ is used as an adjective then changes like so:

C’e` molta neve.

There is lots of snow.


C’e` molta gente.

There are a lot of people.

Ci sono molte mele.

There are a lot of apples.

Ci sono molti libri.

There are a lot of books.

Hopefully this helps Italian language learners a little!

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Crostata con la Crema e le Fragole

Here are the ingredients and very rough method of how I put together a couple of crostata's this morning because I had dozens of eggs from our wonderful chooks to use and my nonna handed me some sweet red ripe strawberries yesterday she got from a farm she went to with her friends on the community bus. (Her social life at 94 years of age is more full on than mine!)

First of all : make some custard! and let it cool. 

Pasta Frolla Ingredients:

250gr butter

approx 250 grams (half packet of) La Molisana Flour 00 

5 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon of lievito per dolci

1 small satchel of vanilla powder

Lemon rind from 1 lemon

2 eggs (whipped by fork and poured in at the end)

Mix, knead and let rest in fridge for half an hour

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Strawberry Mixture

Cut up a 2-3 punnets of strawberries, add a few tablespoons of brown sugar and a tablespoon of plain flour. Stir through and let sit.

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Roll out your pastry wider than the pie dish you are cooking it in. Fill it with custard on the bottom layer and then top it with the strawberries. Don't use all of the juice they have made while soaking in the sugar, but a little bit is ok. Flap the pasta frolla hanging over the dish on top of your pie as shown below. Cook it in a really hot oven (mine was on fan forced 220 degrees but it's old and almost had it's day I think). When it's nice and brown take it out. You'll should be able to smell when it's cooked.

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Ecco la crostata! Let it cool to set. Don't worry if the juices flow out while it's cooking. They add a nice sticky sweetness to the edges. We don't mind imperfections in our home!  

Enjoy :)

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'I Fiadoni.' A Traditional Italian Easter Recipe from Molise

It's Almost Pasqua!

For every region it Italy, Easter comes with many different traditional recipes. In my papà's region, with 'Pasqua' come 'I Fiadoni Molisani', sweet or savoury. It is a recipe you'll need a load of eggs for! 'Le uova' (eggs) being symbolic of spring and abundance. 

Other names for 'i fiadoni' are 'casciatelle', 'sciarone' or 'fiarone'. Whatever you choose to call them, they are delicate and delicious, and pair beautifully with an aperitivo, or a simple glass vino rosso or bianco.

They are shaped like a mini calzone, and are filled with a tasty cheese & black pepper mixture, or you may prefer the sweet version which is filled with ricotta and choc chips or candied fruit. While cooking they puff out, like a balloon ready to burst. Each town has it's own variation of how to make these little traditional Easter morsels, but the one I'm going to share with you is my mother-in-laws savoury version. They are very easy to make and smell absolutely delicious while they are cooking. Enjoy!

La Ricetta 

Il Ripieno

Let's start with the filling....

500gr of grated pecorino cheese 

5 eggs

1 small sachet of yeast for sweets (lievito per dolci)

Black pepper (I put a few pinches but you can put more or less)

Nutmeg (a couple of pinches)

2 beaten eggs put aside to paint the tops of the fiadoni before they go into the oven which should be preheating at 180 - 200 degrees

Once mixed together it should look a similar to this. 

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La Pasta

Now for the pastry...

500g of plain flour 00

4 eggs

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup milk

1/2 sachet of yeast for sweets (lievito per i dolci)

Place everything in a bowl like so and mix into a messy ball

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Knead away!

Make smaller balls to roll out with a rolling pin before putting them through the pasta machine

Work the dough through the pasta machine until you get to around number 6 or 7 on your machine 

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Flap the pasta in half so it covers the filling and with your hand gently push around the edges of the filling. With a glass or cookie cutter, make a half moon shape.

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Place them onto a tray, snip the top of the pastry with some scissors or poke with a fork, then paste them with the beaten egg before placing them in the oven.

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Place them in the over until golden brown. They should puff up and some of the cheese will ooze out of the small hole you made in the pastry.

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Buon appetito and Buona Pasqua!

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