Tag Archives: food

The truffles are here!

Truffle hunting: an intense, risky treasure quest requiring skill and instinct, traditionally shared by both Italian men and wild female pigs. (For culinary enjoyment and out of mistaken identity during mating season, respectively). Upon unearthing these treasures, the truffle hunter can sell each truffle for approximately 250 euros per 100 grams in Italy. In 2006, a wealthy businessman from Hong Kong purchased the most expensive truffle in the world at $160,406– an Italian white truffle weighing in at 3.3 pounds. Truffles are prized for their strong, unique flavor that infuse naturally with other ingredients and enhance any dish. They require several years to grow undisturbed in the root systems of oak, pine, or beech trees, before they are found by trained truffle hunting dogs that can also cost several thousand dollars. Truffles were traditionally hunted by wild female pigs who confused the strong scent for that of a boar. But because pigs are essentially un-trainable, dangerous, and end up destroying many delicate root systems, dogs make much better truffle-hunting companions.

During my Bologna market tour, I visited a specialty store that sold fresh white truffles. As soon as the store owner opened one plastic bin filled with fresh white truffles, Continue reading

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Demystifying Bologna’s Food Markets

Going to an Italian fresh food market for the first time can be a daunting experience. Regulars trade stories and recipes with the butchers, while pointing animatedly to cuts of meat based on the age and gender of the animal. Rows and rows of freshly-cut legs of prosciutto are stacked on the shelves of each salumerie, or  specialty “cold-cut” shop.


Fresh vegetables stands are lined up on the side of the street, often consisting of some never-before-seen plant species. Case in point… what am I supposed to this? And at the fish market, how would I even begin to deal with these?

After many confusing trips to the food market, I decided to schedule a food market tour Continue reading

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How to Make Delicious Pasta Sauce with 3 Simple Ingredients

There are times when, at the end of a long day, or upon returning from a weekend trip, I suddenly realize that my refrigerator is not actually “refrigerator-ing” anything. Somehow, the most random of food items end up being the surviving contents of my previously fully-stocked fridge. Unless you are some kind of food magician who can make something edible out of ramen noodles, ketchup, and one celery rib, I  highly recommend you stock up on these three basic, inexpensive ingredients that make up a delicious pasta sauce, even in the most dire of circumstances: canned tomatoes, butter, and onions. It also doesn’t hurt to have a small-ish block of Parmesan cheese sitting around in your fridge either- it can last for a while!

My friend Thuan discovered this recipe Continue reading

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Five Reasons Why Bologna is a Food Lover’s Dream

In Italy, the city of Bologna is known as “la grassa” (“the fat one”) because of its fantastically fatty and flavorful cuisine. Although I’ve hardly seen anyone I’d actually consider to be fat in Bologna, I can attest to the fact that “la grassa” is indeed an appropriate nickname. Tell anyone who has lived in Bologna for a while that you had a “traditional Bolognese meal” the other night and they will smile and groan while reminiscing about the last time they had five courses of tagliatelle Bolognese, crescentina, salumi, frommagi… the rest is just a blurry haze from the onset of food coma. Food, good company, and the leisurely pace at which you eat, make each meal in Bologna memorable.

1) The food is simple, satisfying, and amazing.

Case in point, pepata di cozze from the Ristorante Pizzeria Il Saraceno. Via Calcavinazzi, 2, 40121 Bologna.

This dish is made with the freshest, most tender mussels, pepper, some wine, and lemons on the side for some acidity.

2) Ingredients are fresh and easily accessible at local markets. Via Pescherie Vecchie features beautiful specialty food shops with large cuts of prosciutto hanging in the window, fresh cheeses still submerged in water, fresh pasta lightly dusted with flour sitting in wooden trays, and a variety of dried spices on the shelves. There are market stalls with fresh produce and fresh fish every morning. The fishmongers sell all kinds of seafood from langoustines to mackerels to squid. Butcher shops offer cuts of meat, whole chickens, pigs, and beef. If you’re wondering what the white piece of paper on the pig’s head is in the photo, it is a sign telling all prospective buyers that they’re too late- it’s sold!

3) Fat is embraced as an integral and natural part of food. Italians strategically incorporate fat into a dish to enhance its flavor and texture. Which is part of the reason why everything is so good– they don’t sacrifice or substitute taste to meet specific numbers such as calorie or fat counts. Continue reading

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Food Explainer: Buffalo Mozzarella

What exactly is buffalo mozzarella? Mozzarella cheese made in Buffalo, New York– much like the city’s alleged “buffalo” wings perhaps?

This time, buffalo literally means buffalo. Buffalo mozzarella, or mozzarella di bufala, is a rich cheese that is made from domestic water buffalo milk. Water buffalo milk provides higher levels of protein, fat and minerals than cow’s milk, which contributes to the cheese’s high quality, fresh deliciousness. Buffalo mozzarella is produced in many locations around the world, but originated in Italy, where buffalo mozzarella production is still a key industry and cultural tradition. The majority of buffalo mozzarella produced in Italy comes from southern Italy– namely Salerno, Napoli, Basso Lazio, Caserta

and Foggia. It is served in salads, melted on pizzas, on top of bread, or on its own. Fresh buffalo mozzarella is very dense, but soft and can be cut easily with a knife. It still retains a lot of moisture so some liquids may come out when you cut it. Therefore, making pizzas with buffalo mozzarella often requires using types that have lower moisture content.

There are many theories on how water buffalos first arrived in Italy. It is widely believed that they were introduced to mainland Italy by Norman Kings around the year 1000, after Arabs brought them to Sicily. The presence of buffalos and their by-products have since been traced back to the 12th and 13th centuries.


Domestic water buffalo. Image from http://www.mlive.com

The name mozzarella originates from the Italian word, “mozzare”, or “to cut off”, which represents the stage in the production process where cheese makers hand-cut the freshly made cheese paste.

How it’s Made

These are the main steps for buffalo mozzarella production. For more details and photos, visit the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP page.

1. Milk processing and curdling- Raw buffalo milk is stored, heated and then allowed to curdle by adding natural whey.  The curds are then stirred and broken up manually. The solid matter is then separated from the liquid milk.

2. Curd maturation- Curds are left in the why to ferment for 4-5 hours. When the paste is ready, as determined after a few manual tests, it is placed on a table to drain off the excess whey, cut into strips and placed into special vats.

3. Spinning- Boiling water is added to the cheese mixture and manually spun using a bowl and wooden stick. It is continuously kneaded and stretched until a homogenous paste is obtained.

4. Shaping- Shaping the cheese can be done using traditional or industrial methods. Traditional methods entail one cheese maker holding up the spun paste while another cuts it manually. Industrial cheese makers have mechanical molds. Buffalo mozzarella is usually shaped into bite-size pieces, knots, braids, or its well-known spherical shape.

5. Packaging- The cheese is packaged on-site in liquids for preservation.

How to Identify Authentic Buffalo Mozzarella from Italy

In Italy, certified buffalo mozzarella producers belong to a consortium and follow strict guidelines that ensure authenticity and freshness. In 2008, it was discovered that some uncertified buffalo mozzarella contained a high level of carcinogens, most likely from contamination caused by the illegal trash problem in Naples. Buffalo mozzarella can only be sold if it is pre-packaged at the source. By Italian law, if the cheese is packaged in a knotted bag, the manufacturer must place a seal of guarantee above the knot to prevent possible contamination.

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Recipe: Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

In the U.S., spaghetti bolognese consists of spaghetti with tomato sauce and ground beef. During my few weeks in Bologna so far, I’ve tried many versions of the original ragu bolognese, city’s most prized and well-known sauce. Instead of spaghetti, it is served with fresh tagliatelle— long, ribbon-shaped pasta that is made with flour and eggs. Since it is freshly-made, the pasta is especially porous which makes it ideal for soaking up delicious, rich sauces.

I had tagliatelle alla bolognese at Da Silvio, a fantastic restaurant down the street from me, and had cravings for bolognese sauce for the rest of the week. I finally broke down and decided to find a recipe for the dish, and make it myself. After all, I had access to fresh ingredients and the official recipe developed by the Italian Academy of Cuisine Association and the Brotherhood of the Tortellino back in the 70s, filed with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce.

Ingredients for 4 servings:

– 1 pound Ground Beef
– 1/4 pound Ground Pancetta (or fresh bacon)
– 1 Carrot, finely diced
– 1 rib Celery, finely diced
– 1/2 medium onion, diced
– 4 tablespoons of Triple concentrated tomato paste
– 1 cup white or red wine
– 1 cup of whole milk
1 1/2 cups of beef (or other) broth*
– Kosher salt and black pepper
– 1 pound of (fresh) tagliatelle
– 1 tablespoon butter
*my own addition

This is definitely not a low-fat recipe so beware… but it is pretty amazing. I made some slight modifications to the original recipe to make measurement conversions easier. Just make sure that you are not ravenously hungry when you make this, because it is best after two or more hours of simmering.

Preparation:

1. Brown the pancetta in the pan.

2. Add the chopped vegetables and cook until translucent.

3. Add the ground beef and stir until meat is browned. Add about one teaspoon of salt.

4. Add the wine, a little stock, and the tomato paste. I also added a cup of canned whole tomatoes that I broke apart, because I like more tomato in my sauce, though it is not in the original recipe.

5. Let the mixture simmer over medium-low heat for at least two hours, adding the milk and broth as the mixture thickens. Add salt as needed. (I also added a half teaspoon of sugar because I wanted to) The longer it simmers, the more flavorful the sauce will be. By this point, the sauce should be very smooth and should blend together nicely.

6. When the sauce is about 20 minutes from being done, cook the pasta. Fresh pasta should only take a few minutes before it is al-dente. When it is done, drain the pasta.

7. Add the cooked pasta to a saucepan and toss with some butter. Add your preferred amount of sauce.

Final product! With chunkier veggies and tomatoes. 🙂

Although the original recipe does not detail this last part, all restaurants in Bologna actually mix the bolognese sauce with the pasta in a separate saucepan so the sauce is spread evenly and absorbed by the pasta. It is absolutely delicious, so I would recommend it!

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The Birth of Pizza

The first pizza was born when a Neapolitan visionary put  a tomato topping on flat pizza crust in the late 17th – 18th century. No cheese on the pizza….yet. Although flatbreads had been around for centuries, the Italians were the first to revolutionize plain flatbread and turn it into a versatile meal that can be modest or luxurious with the right selection of toppings. The pizza we know and love today, with oozing hot mozzarella cheese, rich tomato sauce, and toppings, evolved from its Italian ancestor, the Margherita pizza.


Old-timey Margherita pizza. myyyya ...see?

I was lucky enough to sample many varieties of pizza in several restaurants during my time in Naples- one of the benefits of traveling with other fellow pizza lovers who don’t mind sharing!

Pizzeria Brandi

Salita Sant’Anna di Palazzo, 1 (small street off of Via Chiaja), 80132 Napoli, Italia

Tucked away on a tiny side street is Pizzeria Brandi- where it all began in 1780. We are presented with royal blue menus with super fancy script font that takes forever to decipher, but indeed appears very regal. There are original pizzas and special pizzas, named after Italian icons such as Sofia Loren. Each menu has a lovely introductory story about the restaurant and how the pizza Margherita came to be.

The founder, Pietro Colicchio, first named the restaurant “Pietro…e basta cosi” (Peter… and that’s enough!).  All subsequent managers were then referred to as “Pietro”, regardless of their real names. Kind of like how all Yankees managers would be called, Joe, after Joe Torre (lucky for current manager Joe Girardi who already fits the bill), according to present-day boyfriend Pietro. In 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita di Savoia requested a sampling of pizza from Pizzeria Brandi, and later declared the Margherita pizza– made with mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and basil leaves to reflect the colors of the Italian flag–to be “excellent”. The restaurant still has the original letter framed.

But first, an appetizer of buffalo mozzarella with pomodorini and arugola leaves. No sauce, no seasonings- the mozzarella and produce have enough flavor to stand alone. The buffalo mozzarella is juicy when you cut it, since it still retains a lot of liquid from being submerged in water, and it tastes very dense and rich, but mild.

We order a few different pizzas- the Margherita, the Enrico Caruso (mozzarella, prosciutto with arugola), and a traditional seafood pizza. Beverages include red house wine and mineral water.

The Margherita pizza (below, left) definitely lives up to its name of being the first of its kind. The fresh mozzarella is melted, with some of the leftover moisture from the cheese running throughout the pizza and combining with the other ingredients. The mozzarella cheese is added in chunks and spread out, as opposed to many pizzas we see today, with cheese spread throughout the pizza and reaching the crust to produce a complete cheesy cover.

Pietro...and Pietro! Courtesy of B. Mannisi!

The Enrico Caruso pizza (above, right), named after the famous Italian tenor, features a combination of sliced pomodorini (mini tomatoes), arugola, mozzarella, and thin-sliced prosciutto (no sauce). In Italy, pizza is often eaten by cutting it with a knife and fork, which works well with this pizza since the toppings are all loose. This is a common pizza in Naples in terms of the ingredient combinations, but the freshness is what counts. There is a little too much dough for my taste, which fills me up quickly, so I cut around the crusts, and enjoy the toppings.

Present-day boyfriend Pietro gets the traditional seafood pizza (left), with a simple layer of fragrant tomato sauce and a generous helping of seafood toppings. There are baby octopuses with their eight little tentacles intact, squid, clams, mussels, and basil. When you first taste it, it almost feels like something is missing. It’s really good. But I was told this is pizza. Where is the melted pizza cheese? Well, you just have to embrace the original. I’m sure Italians come to America and think, Why is there so much cheese? Cheese everywhere! You can’t taste anything else!

Ristorante Mattozzi

Piazza Carita 2, 80134 Napoli, Italia

Founded in 1832, Ristorante Mattozzi also boasts historically amazing pizza. I order the spaghetti vongole (bottom, left), which has a little more red sauce than the previous version from Ciro a Medina. The spaghetti vongole here is, in the words of Queen Margherita di Savoia, “excellent”. The pizzas is fantastic, and has a very flavorful tomato sauce to build on. The crust is puffy and chewy, a higher crust-pizza ratio than the others.

Most pizzerias in Naples have the option of adding buffalo mozzarella for an additional charge, or offer a pizza that uses buffalo mozzarella exclusively (above, right). These pizzas are especially rich. We also get a pizza with prosciutto, tomato sauce, cheese, and basil, (left) which is great.

Pizzeria Sofi

Via Cristoforo Colombo, 3 80133 Napoli, Italia

Hunger and hunger-driven intuition leads us to Pizzeria Sofi, with surprising, yet wonderful results. We are famished after our long train ride from Bologna and decide to walk straight from our hotel to the port area of Naples to find something, anything, to eat. The pizza at Sofi is slightly different from the centuries-old pizza restaurants we tried. Its pizza crust is even thinner, with more cheese spread throughout the entire surface of the pizza. I think it is closer to the pizza we are used to today but with an a paper thin crust, high quality ingredients, and flavors that come together very organically. All in all, a terrific pizza. I dare say one of the best I’ve had in Italy so far.

I really want to try one of the anchovy pizzas, since southern Italy (namely Sicily) is known for its anchovies. It is called a pizza romana here (below), which is really strange considering most pizzas with anchovies (at least in the north) are called pizza siciliana. The pizza siciliana in opposite-world Pizzeria Sofi is an eggplant pizza. Pietro’s dad asks why pizza siciliana here has eggplant and the waiter said, “because eggplant is good in Sicily.” Fair enough!

Yummm the anchovy pizza here is incredible! Pietro orders the quattro stagioni (four seasons) pizza (below), separated into four corresponding sections with mushroom, prosciutto cotto (cooked prosciutto…really good ham, essentially), artichoke, and four cheeses. I once asked a waiter which season corresponded to which topping, and he said that it wasn’t literally a representation of four seasons but a selection of the different pizza ingredients the chef wants to put on the pizza. I guess sometimes when you really want there to be a story behind something, there is none and that’s that. Unless he just didn’t know, which is quite possible.

Trattoria Medina

Via Medina, 32 80133 Napoli, Italy

I have to bring this pizza back from the previous post (despite the poor photography on this one)- it is too good. I would just like to reiterate how fantastic fresh (not like a newly-opened Polly-O-string-cheese-wrapper type of fresh, but dripping-with-the-cheese-water-it-was-conceived-in type fresh) Italian cheese is on pizza. Particularly this ricotta. It is pretty inspirational, actually. Makes me want to experiment with making my own cheese at home. (And now that I have written it down, I guess I’ll have to follow through at some point!)

Pizza has come a long way since its humble beginnings as glorified flatbread. In the 19th century, the Florentine author of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi, aka one of the first food “bloggers”, remarked that all of the toppings, bits of cheese, and tomato made Neapolitan pizza look just like the “complicated filth” of the city*. Although I suppose people still crack jokes about the humble pizza, (Jack Donaghy from the amazing show 30 Rock referred to it as, “greasy peasant food”), pizza has prevailed. It can be found in many corners of the world, adapted to the preferred ingredients and tastes of fans from all different countries, and in fact, it is now an (if not THE) Italian icon…right next to Sofia Loren and the famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso that my pizza was named after.

* Capatti, Alberto and Montanari, Massimo. Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Jack Donaghy!

Check out this pizza from Japan, at 646 calories a slice:

Looks like America better step it up!


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