Perfect Pairings: 4 Delicious Italian Flavor Combinations

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I don’t know who invented the Reese’s peanut butter cup but I think I speak for all of us when I say that we owe you a debt of gratitude for your pioneering ways in putting together such a delightful flavor combination.   I love the combination of the unexpected – sweet and salty I suppose is my favorite.  Some of my choices were (are) suspect to some but really, you can’t knock it until you try it. My childhood was filled with grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches, fried bologna sandwiches with iceberg lettuce and yellow mustard, and pretzel sticks folded into Stewart’s (my Upstate NY peeps get it) Fudge Ripple ice cream. 

My palate has become a bit more sophisticated, though nostalgia always calls.  The quest for delicious, unexpected combinations was fulfilled in Italy.   Here a few of those perfect pairings that you must try when you are there (or recreate them here to bring Italy to you):

Figs & Prosciutto - figs don't seem to be a favorite amongst Americans.  Most immediately think of Fig Newtons which bear no resemblance to this mid-late summer fruit.  Figs are delicious and sweet without being overly so and just like the cantaloupe, they pair perfectly with salty prosciutto. You will see the sweet salty combo becomes a recurring theme. 

Lemon Sorbet and Prosecco (plus a dash – or two – of vodka) - this little after dinner delight is called sgroppino. Not quite a dessert, not quite an after dinner drink but absolutely perfect on a hot summer night. You can find the recipe (and about 25 others) in my cookbook: Italy, One Dish at a Time

Nutella Pizza -  the very first time I went to Rome, I discovered the beauty of pizza al taglio, pizza which is priced by weight. There are rows of pizza with all different types - pizza with mushrooms, white pizza with gorgonzola, pizza with potatoes and rosemary, pizza with sausage. And then in the corner, as if it is almost shameful to even suggest it, is the pizza con Nutella.  Pizza Bianca sliced open horizontally and filled with Nutella.  The sweet chocolate hazelnut filling with the coarse salt topping of the pizza.  Let's just say we ate it every night.  And thank God we were walking a lot….

Pears & Pecorino - cheese and fruit is nothing new but bears repeating.  Especially when topped with honey.  It is still one of my favorite combinations.

Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar - balsamic vinegar is like gold.  Let me correct that. GOOD balsamic vinegar is like gold.  If you ever have the opportunity to go to a balsamic vinegar producer and see the process, I highly encourage you to do so.  Once you see how the vinegar is made and everything that goes into it, you will never again complain about the price.  The aging process takes place in five different barrels made of five different types of wood.  The best stuff is aged for 15 to 20 years and can cost up to $70 per ounce. In such a case, you use what is called a salva amica or friend saver. This contraption is put on the opening of the bottle and dispenses the ambrosia one drip at a time to keep your friend from dumping $40 worth of vinegar on his iceberg lettuce.   This precious liquid is thick, can stay on a spoon and has a sweet smooth flavor unlike anything you have tried from the grocery store. In Modena, where it is primarily made, they fill chocolates with it and strawberries and balsamic is a must for dessert.  Get the best you can afford and give it a try.  Just a drizzle.  

Have discovered new and delicious flavor combinations in your travels?  I would love to hear about it.  Leave a comment below.

Tastefully Yours, Ashley

 

 

Foodie Friday: The Art of the Aperitivo

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It’s been a long week and I don’t know about you but I am ready for a cocktail.   Mixologists and elaborate cocktails are all the rage here in the US right now but I am longing for the elegance of the the aperitivo in Italy.  The pre-dinner cocktail is a ritual in Italy and has truly been elevated to an art form.  Perhaps it is the sense you get of walking in a bar full of impeccably dressed Italians that already makes this time of day feel special.  Or maybe it is the elegant presentation of the bar snacks that are arranged on the bar in a way that begs to be photographed.  I love nothing more than stopping at a bar after a long day of touring and reliving the events of the day over cocktails.   There are many options to order.  In Venice, go for the spritz - Aperol, prosecco and a splash of soda.  This drink is a vibrant orange color, thanks to the Aperol, a sightly bitter aperitif that is lower in alcohol than most cocktail ingredients.  If you want to feel like you stepped right back into the time of Roman Holiday, when Via Veneto was THE place to be and Audrey Hepburn reigned supreme, try the Negroni.  Here is a recipe:

Negroni

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
Ice cubes
Stir ingredients in a mixing glass, strain into a chilled martini glass (or ice-filled double rocks glass) and garnish with an orange slice.

Campari and soda is another popular choice at Italian bars. And of course, if you want to keep it simple, a glass of prosecco is never a mistake.  One of my favorite cocktails was at a lovely hotel in Naples where we enjoyed prosecco with seasonal muddled fruits.  Being October, the featured fruit was late harvest grapes (similar to Concord grapes) and the flavor was superb. 

My advice:  keep your cocktails classic and simple, serve up some tasty nibbles (think olives, foccacia squares, cheese) and enjoy some great conversation.  That is the art of the aperitivo.  Cin Cin!

Tastefully yours,

Ashley

10 Ways to Order a Coffee in Italy

I have a love affair with coffee.  It all began in  Rome, June 1990, at the Hotel Smeraldo. The signora would make café latte in the morning and it was ambrosia.  No matter what time we had rolled in the night before, Mimi and I would set our alarm clock to make sure we did not miss the breakfast service at the hotel.   Cafe latte, cookies, nun buns and jam.  I have stayed in hundreds of hotels since my first stay at the Smeraldo and not one of them serves a café latte that even comes close. 

The best place to get a coffee is at a cafe - preferably one that serves ALOT of coffee. It is believed that the more a machine is used, the better the coffee will be.  So don't be put off by a crowd at the bar.  This is a good sign and the baristas in Italy move with an efficiency that would humble the dude at Starbucks. 

Here is a primer on how to order.

1. Scuro “dark”.  Cappucino scuro has extra espresso in it. If you  order your cappuccino with an extra shot in the US, this is the way to go in Italy. 

2. Al vetro “in glass”.  Some Italians have a preference that their espresso (or cappuccino) is served in a glass rather than a ceramic cup.  Sometimes the espresso will come in glass regardless but if this is your preference, make sure you specify.

3. Tepido  “lukewarm” Italians have a fear of beverages that are either too cold (no ice, please) or too hot.  The ideal temperature of a cappuccino in Italy will be lower than what you might expect here but if you want to make sure that it is immediately drinkable, go for “tepido”.

4. Ben caldo – “good and hot”  -   on a blustery January day this is how I order a cappuccino.  There is something so comforting about taking a break in a cozy bar after a morning of sightseeing.  The counter is buzzing and you can people watch while you wrap your hands around a steaming cappuccino.  Heaven!

5. Ristretto – “restrained”   Somehow this has something to do with  how the shot of espresso is made. It makes it much more intense. You will usually see a well-dressed Italian businessman with a cigarette and a newspaper in hand drinking this.

6. Senza schiuma “without foam”

7. Latte macchiato “stained milk”  -  a steamed milk with a drop of espresso in it.  It is usually how kids start drinking coffee in Italy.  The opposite of this is a café macchiato (stained coffee) which is an espresso with a drop of milk.   A good option for those who are not quite ready for a straight espresso.

8. Corretto “corrected” – what better way to “correct” an espresso than to add a shot of grappa to it?!?   I know, it sounds intense but it is an option and I can see it being useful in 2 ways.  1) it warms you from the inside out which makes it a perfect option for those Alpine shepherds heading out to work in the Dolomites.  2) it cures what ails you. I drank a corretto one evening after a long day of travel during which I came down with a brutal cold.  The next morning, the cold was gone and I was back on my feet.  True story.

9. Americano “American”.  Don’t expect a brewed, percolated coffee.  The barista takes a shot of espresso and fills the cup with hot water.

10. Con cornetto – the BEST way to order a coffee.  With a croissant, but only at the right café that makes pastries that are worth the calories.  I love the lemon and pistachio or multigrain with honey.  It’s an indulgence that I permit myself once per trip.  YOLO, right??

Foodie Fridays: Pears & Pecorino

Pecorino is a sheep's milk cheese.

Pecorino is a sheep's milk cheese.

Since I firmly believe that one of the greatest activities while traveling is eating (and drinking), Fridays will be dedicated to all things edible and delicious.  Buon Apetito!

Despite the cry of outrage by Italian foodies (most of them expats living in Italy) lamenting the decline of the food quality, I still find the eating in Italy to be sublime, especially those simple dishes that one finds unexpectedly.  Some time ago I was driving through southern Tuscany on my way to La Bandita – a fabulous guesthouse outside of Pienza.    As always, the “getting there” took longer than I had planned and I have learned to let go a bit in this regard.  Happily, right around lunchtime, I happened across a little village, the name of which is still unknown to me.  I don’t know if it was actually a village or a hamlet or perhaps just a little group of buildings alongside the road.  But it did have all the requisites of an Italian town:  a tabacchaio, a bar and a four older Italian men sitting on a park bench.  It was a blustery day and so I popped in to the bar for a bite to eat, thinking that I might have a panino and a glass of wine but as often happens, some of the best “restaurants” are these little unassuming mom and pop establishments along the way. As soon as I opened the door I was greeted with the warmth of friendly banter as the mailman chatted with the barista over a pre-lunch aperitivo.  There were a few tables off the side which were already set with placemats, a sure sign that this bar served more than just panini.      I sat down and was immediately brought a basket of bread, a small carafe of wine (I was having red apparently) and a hand written menu.  There was lasagna, ravioli with pecorino and a couple of other offerings.  At the bottom of the menu was written, very emphatically, that all dishes were made in house and that nothing was frozen.  I was considering the pasta when something else caught my eye:  crostone con pere e pecorino, aka heaven on a plate, the most incredible “grilled cheese” sandwich you will ever eat.   I waited relatively patiently for my meal and enjoyed eavesdropping on the conversation at the bar which centered around the soccer season and the grape harvest and warmed myself with the lovely red wine.  My crostone was served on a terra cotta plate, piping hot from the oven.  A bubbling layer of pecorino covered the sweet juicy slices of pear.  As a was about to cut into it the signora brought over a small crock of honey and indicated that I was to drizzle that over my sandwich – who am I to argue with a Tuscan mamma??   She did not steer me wrong – the honey put that dish over the top.  I have made this in a smaller version as a quick appetizer  - the ingredients are listed below. It goes without saying that the best, highest quality ingredients will make a difference.  It is a perfect fall appetizer but here is my advice to you.  DON’T skimp on the cheese.  Life is too short to skimp on the cheese.  Tastefully yours, Ashley


Crostone with Pears and Pecorino

Good hearty bread

Firm Bartlett Pears (I use less ripe pears because they tend to soften up in the oven)

Fresh Pecorino Cheese (this is different from aged cheese.  It is creamier and not as sharp - a good cheese shop will have it.)

High Quality Honey

 

Toast the bread slightly.  Remove from oven and place one slice of pear and one slice of pecorino on top.  Return to the oven under the broiler but watch it carefully so it does not burn.  Remove from oven and drizzle with honey.   Serve immediately.