On New Year’s Eve a steaming pot of lentils with sausages and slices of cotechino was always on the dinner menu at home in Perugia. In preparing this festive comfort dish with the aromatic smell and strong flavor of cured pork meat, my mother followed a tradition meant to bring prosperity, as the lentils have come to symbolize coins. As a child, I didn’t know that the lentils we ate were quite special.
Umbria, the region in the heart of Italy of which Perugia is the capital city, is renowned for the cultivation of various legumes: the lentils from Castello di Norcia I ate as a child, lentils from the Altopiano di Colfiorito, cicerchia beans and others. (more…)
If no meal in Italy is complete without wine, no day is complete without coffee. The cult of coffee is central to Italian life. From stovetop moka pots, to affordable coffees sipped at the neighbourhood bar, there are almost as many ways to order coffee as there is to make pasta!
As with anything in Italy, there is a right and a wrong way to do coffee. This short guide to Italian coffee culture will help you find the drink to satisfy any caffeine craving.
Caffè – a shot of espresso served in a small ceramic cup. Ordered first thing in the morning, taken during a 5-minute mid-morning break, after lunch, in the afternoon, after dinner, or any time. No need to call it an ‘espresso,’ it is simply “un caffè.”
Caffè macchiato– if you find a straight caffè too strong, you can asked for coffee ‘stained’ with milk. A shot of espresso with a small amount of milk foam on top.
Caffè americano – the Italian-take on American style drip-coffee (which is sometimes called acqua sporca or dirty water). An Americano is made by adding hot water to a shot of espresso, diluting the concentration.
Caffè lungo – sometimes confused with an Americano, a caffè lungo is a ‘long’ pull on the espresso machine. This allows more water to filter through the espresso, and results is a slightly diluted shot. (more…)
In my recent travels through Tuscany, I visited this little village on top of a hill called Sant’Angelo in Colle in Montalcino, where Mazzoni Wines are produced. I had an amazing lunch at Trattoria il Leccio, where they specialize in the region’s famous pasta called “Pici,” which is a longer, thicker version of spaghetti with a wild boar ragu sauce.
I told the owner that I wrote a blog about Italian cooking and he invited me into the kitchen to see how Pici is made. His Nonna (grandmother) was in the kitchen making this regional pasta and she showed me the process and gave me tips on how to roll and stretch the pasta perfectly.
Over the burners on the stove was a large pot of ragu that had been simmering for hours. She walked me through a recipe and told me, “Devi avere pazienza,” or “Be patient.” The sauce takes over two hours to become so rich and delicious.
To bring a little bit of Montalcino to the United States, we’ve provided you with a traditional Pici recipe below. With this recipe, I hope you’ll make your own fresh pasta. There is a great tutorial here if you’ve never made Pici before. Don’t be afraid of the dough; not only will you impress your guests, but you’ll notice the difference in the taste and texture of this special dish. (more…)
If you’ve been to Italy, you know there are a few differences between American and Italian customs. While there are pros and cons to both cultures, we think the U.S. could take a few pages from Italy’s book when it comes to living La Dolce Vita (the sweet life).
Take a look at our top five Italian customs that we think should be adopted in American culture.
Orecchiette, strascinati, cavatelli. The musicality of the Italian language is displayed not only in inherently lyrical expressions, like poems and songs, but also in the names of everyday things, like pasta. Scorze d’amelle, scorze di nocelle. Simply saying these names tickles the imagination.
When I want to learn more about a pasta shape, my reference is the “Encyclopedia of Pasta” by Oretta Zanini De Vita. The book contains entries for 310 types of pasta. Each type is identified by a main name, and when applicable, alternative names. The same pasta shape can have different names in different regions, or different towns. Various sizes of the same shape may have different names. Sometimes the same name refers to two different types of pasta. Such proliferation can be a bit intimidating, if not maddening, for the visitor – or the writer trying to inform her readers. (more…)
The blur of the holiday season may seem to be fading into the background, but the Italian celebrations continue for one more day- La Epifania.
The Epiphany takes place on 6 January (the 12th day of Christmas), and is a national holiday in Italy. While Babbo Natale has the 25th of December covered, the real star of the season is La Befana, who visits on the night of January 5th.
This Thursday is New Year’s Day, and it’s one of our favorite holidays because it’s celebrated by all kinds of people all over the world. Whether you’re in New York or Milan, religious or not, a new year is cause for festivity.
New Year’s Day is also an excuse for a good meal surrounded by family and friends. Seafood is always a popular choice for New Year’s, as it’s thought to bring good luck, so we’re sharing our favorite mussels and pasta recipe with you this week in preparation for the holiday.
Are you ready for the holidays yet? We’ve had so much fun preparing for the festivities right along with you – we’ve taken you on a tour of some of the best European-style Christmas markets in the U.S., we’ve cooked up a holiday meal, and we’ve shared how to celebrate the holidays like an Italian.
In the whirlwind of shopping, cooking, and wrapping, sometimes it’s hard to slow down and enjoy the holidays. So this week, we’re encouraging you to sit down, relax, and enjoy the company of those around you.22
In Italy, relaxation time often involves music (and wine, of course!), so this week we’ve rounded up some of our favorite Italian Christmas songs to accompany your holiday parties. Take a listen and sing along! (more…)
After hitting up the Italian Christmas markets, with all your gifts wrapped and Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) on his way, it is time to settle in and celebrate Christmas like an Italian.
1. Take in the lights | During Christmas, the concept of bella figura extends to cities and streets as well. It is all about image, beauty and presentation. Head out on foot to experience the twinkling lights, and never say no to roasted chestnuts and mulled wine along the way.
2. Set up il Presepio | While Christmas trees are gaining in popularity, most Italian homes still set up a presepio, or manger scene. All of the usual cast of characters are included, but to really deck out your holiday set up, you can opt for optional figurines like pizzaioli (pizzamakers) and tiny casks of wine (of course) to fill out the scene around Mary and Joseph. (more…)
Italian has given the English-speaking world so many wonderful words and phrases. Here are a few of them and their origins.
This word was coined by Italian director Federico Fellini for his 1960 film La dolce vita. One of the photographers that follows the main characters around Rome is named Paparazzi. (more…)
Above: The Italian professional basketball league is hugely popular among fans (image via Basket Streaming).
No, that’s not a photograph from a recent Cleveland Cavaliers game above.
Above: The recipe for roasting chestnuts at home is easy. Just arrange the chestnuts in a seasoned cast iron pan and roast on your stovetop over low heat. When the shells start to opena and the chestnuts become tender, they’re ready to eat.
From the island of Sicily to Italy’s Dolomite alps, the tradition of roasting chestnuts in fall is practically sacred.
Across the boot, as the weather starts to get cold and the leaves turn to brown, you’ll find vendors slow-roasting chestnuts in the piazzas.
And every Italian will tell you that the aroma of roasting chestnuts brings back great memories of childhood and time spent with family.
It’s easy to roast chestnuts at home.
You can do it on a grill: whether gas-, wood-, or charcoal-fired, just arrange the chestnuts on the grill and roast slowly over low heat for 20-30 minutes, turning occasionally until tender (cooking time may vary). When the shells start to opena and the chestnuts become tender, they’re ready to eat.
You can also do it on a stovetop: a seasoned cast iron pan is ideal for this.
Once the chestnuts are ready to eat, open a bottle of Mazzoni Piemonte Barbera (a classic pairing), close your eyes, breath in the aromas of the wine and chestnuts, and you’ll be transported to an Italian piazza on a fall day.
What is Barbera and where does it come from? And most importantly, why does a Tuscan winemaker use it to make one of his favorite wines?
Let’s face it: Not a lot of folks in America know what Barbera is. They may know their Cabernet from their Chardonnay and maybe their Merlot from their Malbec. But in more cases than not, most American wine lovers have ever heard of Barbera.
In fact, Barbera (pronounced bahr-BEH-rah) is one of Italy’s most popular grape varieties. Especially in northern Italy, it’s a dinnertime favorite for people who enjoy light-bodied, food-friendly red wines.
The thing that sets Barbera apart is its high amounts of natural acidity.
Acidity, you ask with a sour face?
As harsh as the word sounds, acidity in wine is actually a good thing. It’s what gives wine its freshness and it’s one of the components in a balanced wine that helps to make it food-friendly.
Just as acidity in vinegar or lemon juice helps to “cook” food in marinades, acidity in wine helps to draw out the flavors in food pairings.
That’s just one of the reasons why Italians love it so much.
So why is a Tuscan winemaker in central Italy like Alessandro Bindocci, who is known for his Mazzoni Sangiovese-Merlot blend, making a Barbera using grapes grown in northern Italy?
He fell in love with Barbera during his travels across the north of Italy. But he was disappointed to discover that many winemakers prefer oaky and overly concentrated versions of Barbera wines. And so he decided that he would make Barbera the way that he likes it: in a clean and refreshing style, light bodied, with fresh fruit aromas and flavors.
His family partnered with grape growers in the Asti region northwestern Italy, where the most famous bottles of Barbera are produced.
And thus was born his delicious Mazzoni Piemonte (Piedmont) Barbera, one of the best and most value-driven bottles of Barbera available in the U.S. today.
Above: Men’s fashion in Italy.
The fall has officially arrived and with it comes one of our favorite times of the year, here at Live Like an Italian: time to accessorize with scarves!
In other era, social convention dictated that men — in Italy and the U.S. — had to wear a tie to work every day.
Those days are over and most businesses in America and Italy no longer require a necktie in the workplace.
In our view, that’s a bummer because WE LOVE TIES (stay tuned for another post on ties soon).
The good news is that scarves are the new ties: they allow men to make a fashion statement by adding color to their daily ensemble.
Of course, in Italy, scarves have always been in fashion, partly because Italians hate cold air and they always concerned about drafts and their perceived health effects.
In fact, Italian men often wear their scarves indoors as well!
So this fall, as you gear up for work or school or whatever, add some colorful scarves to your wardrobe and accessorize like an Italian man!
Best Italian food blog? When it comes to the top online resources for Italian recipes and cooking techniques, no one holds a noodle to Briciole (above).
Last week we blogged about how to food shop like an Italian.
This week, we’d like to share some of our favorite resources for Italian recipes and cooking techniques on the internet: Italian food blogs!
In another era, recipes were handed down in notebooks and favorite recipe collections, often from generation to generation.
That tradition continues to this day in Italy, where mothers (yes, mostly mothers) still share dog-eared recipe albums with daughters and sons (yes, sons, too!).
The internet hasn’t caused the phenomenon to disappear. Exactly the opposite: many Italian food bloggers are inspired by their parents’ and families’ culinary legacies and they take to the web to document, share, and trade notes with like-minded Italian foodies.
The follow are 5 of our favorite Italian food blogs.
Pronounced BREE-choh-leh, this blog has it all: recipes and technique, amazing photography, concise videos, and wonderful insights into Italian cuisine, culture, and language by an Italian living in California.
This blog is by an American ex-pat living (currently) in Umbria. The site is chock-full of recipes, gorgeous photography, and a fantastic “kitchen tips” section with a glossary, substitutions for food products not available here in the U.S., and conversions (very important when you need to use a recipe written using the metric system).
Loosely translated, coco de mama means mommy’s little baby and the title couldn’t be more appropriate for this blog inspired by recipes by the author’s mother and grandmother. “When I was growing up, although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was spoiled!” writes the author on his about page. “I had 2 of the best chefs under one roof, my Grandmother Nonna Sara and my Mama Francesca, who made every meal from scratch and with love.”
Whether hamming it up (pun intended) with one of Italy’s biggest food stars, the Italian butcher Dario Cecchini, or sharing the nitty gritty on Sicilian street food, Over a Tuscan Stove is always a great read. The author’s life seems to be as fabulous as her cooking.
Emiko tends to focus on Tuscany and Tuscan cooking on her blog because that’s where she lived for many years. But she also branches out into other regional cuisine as well. Her recipes are very precise and nearly foolproof and we really love her index of recipes (which makes the blog really easy to browse and search).
Are you an Italian food blogger? Let us know about your site by leaving a comment on this post!
Above: Farmers markets and organic produce abound in Italy, where wholesome ingredients are a quintessential part of the Italian life style.
If you’ve ever been to Italy during summer, then you know that the tomatoes taste so much better there.
There’s a reason for that. And it’s not because Italians use gardening products to make their fruits and vegetables more robust or more flavorful.
In fact, there are a number of reasons why produce seems to taste better there on average.
– Italians food shop and cook seasonally. Tomatoes come into season during late spring and summer. No self-respecting Italian would serve you a tomato during the fall. At the end of summer, Italian families peel, seed, purée, and bottle their tomato crop (or they go buy tomatoes at a farmers market).
– Farmers market abound in Italy. Nearly every Italian city has a weekly if not daily farmer’s market where the growers sell their produce directly to families. The good news for us Americans is that more and more U.S. cities have farmers markets these days. Just Google your city’s name and “farmers market” and you might be surprised what you find.
– Italians prize organically grown food. Organic farming is just starting to catch on here in the U.S. But in Europe, it’s been popular for decades now. In fact, Italians see organic farming not only as a way to deliver better-tasting and more wholesome food. They also view it as a civic responsibility. If everyone farmed organically, i.e., without the use of chemicals, the world would be a better place for our children and our children’s children, goes the logic.
Americans are still fundamentally challenged when it comes to buying top-quality, fresh, and organic fruits and vegetables.
If you don’t have a farmers market in your town, look for CSA or Community-Sustained Agriculture programs near you. These programs, which have popped up across the country, connect farmers directly with consumers.
And, of course, more and more these days, even the major chain and national speciality super markets carry more and more organic foods.
Food shop like an Italian! Not only will your food taste better, but you’ll also make the world a better place!
Above: Some of the best pizzerias in Rome now often serve sauceless pies topped with freshly sliced mortadella.
One of Italy’s greatest gifts to the world is its culinary traditions. Pasta, pizza, caprese salad, osso buco, risotto, panini…
And the list goes on and on: just think of the many Italian and Italian-inspired dishes that have become part of our own culinary traditions here in the United States.
Most Americans couldn’t live without them!
When cooking Italian food at home, always look for the freshest ingredients and take advantage of the many excellent Italian cookbooks that are available today and the many Italian food bloggers who post regularly about their favorite recipes.
But there’s another Italian lesson that we can all benefit from by taking time to properly savor our food and enjoy mealtime.
Sitting down at the lunch or dinner table is a sacred event in daily Italian life. No matter how hectic the workday or how busy the schedule, Italians always put a hold on everything when they sit down to eat.
It’s a time for workers to recharge and families to reconnect.
And here’s the Italians’ best-kept secret: by relaxing and winding down at the lunch or dinner table, you’ll also digest your food more easily.
So the next time you sit down for a meal, whether at home or while taking a break from work, eat like an Italian by taking time out to truly taste every morsel.
Above: Adam Driver signing autographs at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
Italians are passionate about cinema. And they have every right to be: The Italian filmmakers of the 1920s and 30s were pioneers and they produced some of the greatest movies of that era.
By the 1950s and 1960s, Italian films topped the box office charts: Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni… The list can go on and on.
Italian cineastes from that era created some of the world’s favorite movies and most enduring images.
Just think of heartthrob Marcello Mastroianni wooing bombshell Anita Ekberg at the Trevi Fountain in Rome in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita! The scene is one of the most famous images captured on film of all time.
The Venice Film Festival, now in its seventy-first year, is currently underway and will show its final film Saturday of this week. It is the world’s oldest film festival and, together with the Cannes festival, it is arguably the world’s most prestigious.
And just to add icing to the cake, it takes place each year in the beautiful city of Venice, where residents use canals and gondolas instead of streets and cars.
The festival is part of the city’s Biennale art festival, which spans the entire year with screenings, exhibitions, art shows, and other artistic “happenings.”
The film festival (just like all the other events) are open to the public.
And we highly recommend taking a look at the Wikipedia entry for the festival. It gives a great overview of the festival’s origins and its importance in the world of cinema today.
And of course, when you attend a screening, don’t forget to turn to the person sitting next to and say, buona visione!, enjoy the movie!
Image via the Venice Film Festival website.
Many of you will be surprised to learn that Italians have gone HAMBURGER CRAZY!
Over the course of the last two years, scores of hamburger-themed restaurants have appeared across Italy, from Milan to Rome and beyond.
And Italian food bloggers join in the fun by rating and ranking the many different restaurants where they’re now serving all-American burgers, sharing recipes, and bragging about the “best hamburgers” they’ve ever eaten.
The fad is so popular, in fact, that you’ll often hear Italians use the English bacon when they order their “bacon cheeseburgers” (“amburgher con formaggio e bacon”)!
(Traditionally, bacon is called pancetta in Italian.)
Here at Live Like an Italian, we’re already planning our all-American burger Labor Day menu.
Above: Italian food bloggers love to rate and rank their gourmet hamburgers!
There’s probably no wine that pairs better with hamburgers than the Mazzoni Piemonte Barbera: it’s bright, fresh, and lively in the glass and it’s also a wine that Italians like to chill during the summer.
Here’s our Labor Day grilling menu wine pairing tip: put your bottle of Mazzoni Piemonte Barbera in the fridge the night before your Labor Day bash; take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you plan to serve it to your guests; it will be just the right temperature (chilled but not so cold that it will mask the juicy, delicious flavors of the wine).
Above: Summer truffles foraged in Umbria, not far from the Mazzoni winery in Tuscany.
The U.S. truffle foraging season doesn’t begin until the fall but it’s never too early to begin planning your trip to truffle country!
It was once believed that truffles — a Tuber (not a mushroom) – were found only in Europe.
But today, there are a number of truffle “farms” scattered across the U.S. and in some areas, the naturally occurring truffles are so abundant that the culinarily adventurous can book “private truffle forays.”
The most popular destination is Oregon, where truffle hunting begins in late November and lasts throughout the spring.
The spring and the summer are the seasons for black truffle hunting in central Italy, where Mazzoni wines are made.
August is generally the last month when hunters head to the wood with specially trained truffle hunting dogs.
In another era, pigs were used. Female pigs are attracted to the scent of truffles but they would often eat their bounty once they found it!
Dogs, on the other hand, can be trained to find the truffles and not eat them.
So if you want to hunt for truffles just like an Italian, simply Google “truffle foray” or “truffle hunting America” and you’ll find a wide array of truffle hunting packages.
And in case you just want to eat truffles (and not hunt for them), be sure not to miss the Oregon Truffle Festival in January.
Some may find it hard to believe. But it’s true.
In Italy, nearly everyone takes a vacation on or around August 15, a holiday known as Ferragosto (Italian for August vacation).
Some people go the beach. Others to the mountains. Many will leave the country. And plenty of folks will just stay at home. After all, when you live in Italy, you are surrounded by beauty — natural and artistic — wherever you are!
Across the boot, shopkeepers close up their business and signs that read chiuso per ferie (closed for vacation) appear everywhere.
Of course, there are some people who don’t take the holiday off: for people who work in the tourist industry, it’s the busiest time of year.
But the average Italian looks forward to this date each year and most take up to two weeks off.
It’s a sacred ritual. A time to relax, recharge, and take stock.
Even the team at Mazzoni takes time off from their work in the vineyard and the cellar. As Mazzoni winemaker Alessandro Binodocci wrote on his blog last week, he and his entire staff are on vacation from August 9-17. They’ll come back just in time for the harvest.
So even if you can’t take a week off this month, take time out to savor a meal and enjoy a glass of wine. It’s just one way that we can live like Italians, too!
It’s August, which means Italians are taking a two-week holiday. While they’re celebrating summer, we want to celebrate YOU. Visit our Facebook page to take part in our first ever #MazzoniMonday. Take a picture of how you’re living like an Italian this week: cooking like an Italian, playing like an Italian, or simply feeling Italian. Post your photo to our wall with #MazzoniMonday. We’ll pick a winner to receive a prize and a feature on our page. Buona fortuna!
When you travel to Montalcino, Tuscany where Mazzoni wines are made, you quickly learn that the folks who live there like to eat steak.
The bistecca fiorentina (often simply called fiorentina) or Florentine steak is one of the region’s most popular dishes.
Tuscany is famous for being “wine country” but it’s also cattle country. And the Tuscans are fiercely proud of their special breed of cattle, the Chianina. It’s an extraordinarily large breed and because of its size, it makes for some of the most prized beef in the world.
Grilling a steak can be a lot harder than it seems. And the Tuscan use a special technique (see below) for cooking the fiorentina, a cut that we know in America as the Porterhouse.
Because they like their beef seared on the outside and rare on the inside, they cook the steak upright on its “T” before cooking either side.
This does two things: It heats and releases the juices of the bone and it warms the entire steak without changing its color. After the steak has “warmed through,” you simply cook it briefly on either side over high eat to achieve the desired char.
Do the Tuscans love steak because they make such great red wine or do they love red wine because they make such great steak? It’s an age-old question that may never be answered.
What we do know is that one of the greatest pairings for bistecca fiorentina is the Mazzoni Rosso di Toscana: the lush fruit of its Merlot sweetens the char of the beef while the acidity of the Sangiovese cuts through the meat’s tender fattiness.
It makes for a great summer grill but it will thrill your meat-loving guests anytime of year, as well.