Thursday, October 30, 2008

Homemade pizza, bee food and tired Bacco

30 Ottobre
Happy Halloween everyone! Here in Italy we are entering the month of the dead, November, and noone gets married next month for that reason.
I helped out our neighbor, Luigi, with some olive harvesting today and he will reciprocate with our trees in the valley tomorrow. Our olive trees down below are of a later maturing variety, so they are now ready. We are saving 2 trees for our students to harvest and today I finished the massive "remodel" of Nascondiglio di Bacco in preparation of their visit. 15 beds are now singles and we have left a "master suite" for the tutor who will stay in room 9 by herself.
Today, I made a homemade pizza for lunch and thought I would pass on the recipe. Sure, you can buy Boboli pizza crust, but it is so much more satisfying to get out your grandmom's old rolling pin and make the dough yourself. I can't remember who I stole this from, but at this point with minor variations, it is my recipe. Homemade pizza crust costs about 15 cents I imagine.
Start with fresh yeast (or powdered) and mix with a tepid mixture of 4 oz of beer and 4 oz of water. Let sit a while-about 10 minutes and measure out 500 gms of all purpose or OO flour. I happen to sift mine, but who knows if that makes a difference' (I doubt it). Now add a pinch of salt (I always forget this part) . Stir in half of the yeasty liquid with a spoon and then the other half and knead a bit-I usually have to add about another 1 oz of warm water to get all the flour moist. Let this sit in a warm place covered for as long as it takes to do your daily errands-1-2 hours, although 1/2 hour will suffice. Squoosh the dough some more and if you have time, it will rise again a bit. Now pinch off a third to make a 12" pizza and on a floured surface, smash it flat and turn it over to coat the other side with flour. I turn it over and press it flat by hand a few times and then with my grandmom's rolling pin, I roll in all directions until I get my thin crust. I put the dough on a piece of baking paper on a baking pan and roll in the edges. Now coat the entire surface with olive oil and salt as desired. I use coarse salt myself, but be careful how much you use. Now put whatever you want on top. The pizza you see has leeks, red onions and a bit of dried hot pepper all sauteed in oil 1st for 5-10 minutes, thinly sliced cherry tomatoes, and fresh sausage that cooked with the pizza. I use 225 degrees Centigrade or max out your oven temp baking for about 12 minutes (more or less) depending on the the thickness crust. Watch it like a hawk or you may have a cracker instead of a pizza. I grated pecorino cheese on top right after removing from the oven. Good luck.
The other pictures show the bees or wasps enjoying the grapes which were smashed to oblivion to get the last drop of juice. I finally reached 36 liters from our passito grapes, but it took 2 days to get there. Bacco played with us in the olive grove this morning, so he was pooped.
Have a great weekend and be safe on a Friday Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Time once again for the passito wine and more olive picking

29 Ottobre
Yesterday, we spent the morning picking another 5 olive trees to make 200 kg which is the minimum we need to take to the frantoio for pressing. The afternoon was spent pressing our passito grapes which you remember were harvested a couple of months back and then tied to the cables to dry. This year was a bit wetter and cooler than the year before, but we didn't have any moldy grapes and the liquid which exited the press was like caramel. Last year was honey, so we should have a bit of variation between the 2007 and 2008. We only managed to squeeze about 27 liters of juice, enough to fill one container of 26 liters and leave some leftover for cooking, ice cream or some other concoction.
Raffaele is off to the champagne region of france for the long weekend and I will be here slowly preparing for our much anticipated visit by the students of UNISG who will be exploring the Marche. the second week of November. I plan to tag along as permitted and perhaps learn some new things myself.
The pictures show the reharvested grapes, Raffaele loading the torchio (press) and firing it up and the exiting juice with our fancy filtering colander in evidence.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Museo egizio, torino

Final Torino post for 27 ott.
Here are some fun pix of the egyptian museum and since they didn't allow flash, I had to improvise, using the computer for special effects when the image was too dark. Let me know what you think.

Torino night life and the city

27 ottobre
Torino is a really nice italian city which I completely failed to visit 2 years ago when i visited salone del gusto as a student. Vowing not to make the same mistake, I rode around a bit on their local buses and visited the various piazzas and a famous coffee shop or 2. I also visited their egyptian museum, which is one of the top 3 in the world along with Cairo and London.
Speaking of London, Fabio Diu was there with friends, boss and famous chefs from England and they are wicked partiers. I hung out with them a couple of nights into the wee hours, which is something I can't really experience here in the Marche. I drew the line at fighting with gangs of italian youth or transvestite clubs, but otherwise, tried to hold my own with these guys and gals. We visited a nice restaurant, a french bar, a nightclub/discotecca and somehow were able to find taxis at 430 in the morning. I slept in or took naps to try and survive. I am back to Nascondiglio di (tox) Bacco and am eating salads and All Bran again.
I also went to 2 wine tastings I haven't mentioned which were of New Zealand wines, both pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. Other than one S.B., I didn't like anything, but that is just my taste and not that of others.
Finally, I should mention the 3 glass tasting (Tre bicchiere), which is the award given to the best wines in italy and signifies for us wine spectator readers, a vote of 88 or above. It is held on the ramp in the old Fiat factory where they used to drive the cars out as they came off the assembly line --all downhill-- which may be why in years past they had so many problems; they weren't adequately tested. Anyway, I was able to try Gaja, Ornallaia, Sassiccaia and all those big name italian wines. Most of them are too much the same with sacks of new oak tannins to ruin your palate and stain your teeth. There were some nice smaller producers which I liked and 5 from the Marche, all good. I also finally found a primitivo (their name for zinfandel) which I liked called Es (not est!)
. I am hoping the next time I attend it will be as a producer!
The pictures, starting from the bottom and heading up, show our dinner on Friday night, followed by a walk thru the piazza reale i think, then "what did he/she just say?!", fabio diu and the piazza by day with a photo exhibit.
Next up, the museo egizio

More from Salone del Gusto

27 Oct.
The producers at Salone del Gusto.
The exposition invites small niche producers from all over the world and pays the way for those unable to attend for financial reasons. Thus, we find owners of little coffee farms from Honduras, a family chocolate business from Ecuador, cheese makers from Romania, and a myriad of others who grow or make special food products which are in danger of extinction. With globalization of food resources, we lose biodiversity, a prime example is the loss of 90% of the apple varieties in Italy in the last 60 years. I show one of the apples from the Marche which is now a Slow Food Presidio product, the mela rosa. It is a small, ugly apple which wouldn't appeal to the masses who buy their perfectly formed, tasteless, red delicious apples at the supermarket. It is a strange apple, which I don't particularly like, but which gets better with age, so that an apple picked in the Fall will be better in mid winter as the flavors concentrate a bit.
I bought a pack of nuts called Baru from a farmer in Brasile which tastes like a cross between an almond and a hazelnut and they are worth searching out! (
There were salamis made only in one town in Italy or by one producer, cheeses from an endangered type of sheep or goat which might live only in one mountainous zone. As always, you can check out these products at under Presidi products. There was a booth devoted to artisanal non pasteurized american cheeses and if you haven't compared pasteurized with unpasteurized cheeses, please do so and your taste buds and eyes will be opened to the big loss of flavor you get with pasteurization. You can find these wonderful cheeses at
There are rows and rows of products from Sicily, Tuscany, Piemonte etc. and then there is the via of chocolate, one for cured meats, another for cheeses, another for honey and jams, another for grains, etc. One really needs 3 days to do Salone del gusto well. There is a beer tasting area, a wine tasting area with 500 wines by the glass, and little posts where you can get some snacks to counteract the the effects from the above.
This event occurs every 2 years, alternating with "Cheese" at Bra and both are worth scheduling as part of a vacation. Be sure to reserve special tastings 4 months in advance as the best sell out quickly. You can then hit truffle season in Alba or travel to other zones in Italy, afterwards.
My next post will be about the Tre Bicchiere tasting and Turin/Torino the city which is really interesting as well.
The pictures are of the mela rosa (pink apple) from the mountainous area of the Marche, Eataly, the grand food store across the street from the Lingotto exposition area, which is more beautiful than whole foods at home, my friends from the wonderful rice maker Acquarello (available in the USA and great for risotto!) and a couple of cheese booths, the latter being parmigiano obviously.

Salone del Gusto, Torino and feste

27 ottobre
This is the 1st of a couple of posts about my trip to Torino for the 2008 Salone del Gusto exposition, which is Slow Food's biggest production and happens every 2 years. I left from San Benedetto Thursday morning on the 5:08 train, changing in Ancona and again in Milano to finish an almost 8 hour voyage to Turin. The big exposition is in the former Fiat factory, which was converted years ago, and is big enough to handle the 10's of thousands of visitors who pack in every 2 years to view food and beverage products from all over the world. Some are large commercial vendors (who pay the bills), but the rest consist of little niche producers of everything from salami to chocolate, liqueurs to cheeses, and honey to apples. Also, each region of Italy is represented with their own stand with tourist information and more importantly, their particular regional specialties. Many also offer degustation menus for lunch and dinner which you can try for a reasonable fee if you make a reservation. Check out the links at
I wanted to arrive early so I could visit my neighbor and friend Marco, who makes a very particular and special wine from Cupramarittima called Kurni. The vertical tasting of 5 of his wines which is 100% Montepulciano was sold out and the 2004 was really exceptional! We are hosting the master's class from the University of gastronomic sciences in a couple of weeks and they will get to visit the winery and have lunch with the maestro and we are going to tag along.
From there, it was time to say hi to all my old tutors and professors from the University and then see the sights of Salone. There are thousands of stands to visit and I was lucky enough to find many of my old acquaintances from our stage visits, who make everything from the best risotto rice (Acquarello) to the best culatello (Spigheroli).
My old classmates started trickling in as well and the weekend of partying and catching up with my buds was underway. After sampling my way around many of the food booths and buying all of Raffaele's requests I could find, like special chocolate cakes from Firenze and a liqueur called Genepi, I went to the last tasting of the day which was of Veuve Cliquot. The winemaker brought the 3 still wines they used to blend the Yellow Label in 2007: Petit Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We tried each of these, then the final assemblage and then the finished yellow label itself. Top that off with the 2005 vintage brut, rose and extra rich champagnes and then the 1988 and 1985 vintages and you have a very interesting and fun degustazione!
I then caught the bus to the main train station, Porta Nuova and walked 1.7 km to my bed and breakfast, arriving at midnight...end of day 1 (the easy day!).
The pictures show Marco of Kurni, the panel for the Veuve tasting and musical performers who play native instruments at various venues around Salone. Also included is one of the little forums where small producers are interviewed about their product and the problems they might have with production or marketing. They are helped by the Slow Food foundation with financial support and expert advice, so their niche product will not disappear forever. Many of these producers are unique in the world and finding someone to carry on the tradition is important as well and cannot happen if their is not a financial incentive to continue.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

2008 olive oil from Nascondiglio di Bacco

22 October
Here are some pictures of Tiziano, our neighbor at his frantoio, processing our olives into oil, from the original machine which separates the leaves and dust from the olives, to the exit of the oil. In between the olives get ground up seeds and all, into a paste which is then centrifuged to separate unusable paste and water from the oil. We are projecting 300 liters of oil this year if anyone wants some!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chinese friends, olive harvest and guitar pasta?!

21 Ottobre
We have just said goodbye to 3 Taiwanese friends who visited for a couple of days. Andy, Maggie and Angie are going all through Italy as Andy is writing a book about Italian local food and wine specialties for the chinese consumers. We visited a couple of olive presses and tried a bunch of marchigiana products together, like the rose apples of the mountainous region, ciauscolo, a fresh salami, 3 pecorino cheeses of different ages and a cow cheese which is from Belmonte Piceno, a town north of us, and is exceptional (made with lamb rennet).
Andy was in search of a type of pasta called chitarra which means guitar and we found it in a very good restaurant just across the border in Abruzzo. The restaurant is Locanda della pompa and the owner, Pietro, was nice enough to show us the machine which cuts the pasta shape and looks a bit like a musical instrument.
We have harvested about 12 olive trees and took our 1st 200 kg to the frantoio today to make a monovarietal oil from the lechino olives we have. It is very strong right now, but should be very good when it mellows a bit in 2 months. Our 1st 4 trees produced as many kg of olives this year as all 104 trees last year!
I made a quince cake and sorbet in the last couple of days from our "mele cotogna" tree. You have to cook the fruit for 3 hours in sugar water before it is edible! The recipes can be found on the internet and they are quite humorous, the ones from England. It is a fruit with the consistence of a soft brick and one of the recipes says "Be careful!! not to cut yourself when you slice the quince- it will turn red after cooking.
I am off to salone del gusto day after tomorrow, so we will pick a bunch of olives tomorrow to make another batch big enough to press-my neighbor is letting us use his machines for a half day which should speed us up a bunch. (Remember the pictures of my friend Bill with the beater). I have helped him for 3 days in return for this favor.
The days here are unseasonably warm at 24-25 centigrade, so I am tanning up in the tops of the olive trees.
The pictures are from the restaurant in Abruzzo with the stringed "pasta instrument". Also, we put all our special guests to work as you can see.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Full moon for all you biodynamic folks

15 Ott.
I have my camera back, so it is time to play! Check out the shrooms in the post below as well. The 1st two are from last night and the last 3 from tonight.

Mushroom hunting in the Marche

15 Ottobre
Yesterday, I went mushroom hunting with a neighbor and his brother-in-law, which was appropriate since it was my brother's birthday and he is a huge morel mushroom hunter. The guide was just like my brother Jim, who seemingly knows every tree which has ever put forth a mushroom spore, and at the end of 2 hours we had about 20 lbs of mushrooms. We followed the forest work by a lunch of pasta and shrooms and too much wine. I still have another 4 bags in the freezer for future risotto or meat dishes for those who want to head our way. Most of my friends and family know I am not a big mushroom eater, but these were exceptional and I might now change my ways.
We will probably press our red grapes in the next couple of days and depending on who wins the argument, the dried white grapes in a couple of weeks to make the passito. Today, I added compost to the garden, placed another 350 iron training poles in the vineyard while hoeing weeds and this after helping our contadino neighbor pick his olives (he has promised to return the favor when we pick ours).
The weather here is perfect for those planning for vacations next year-remember October-good weather, no tourists and the chance to harvest olives!
The pictures show some good examples of the variety of mushrooms, my 2 hosts, Bacco enjoying a swim in the creek, the mushrooms cooking down and Raffaele and Corrado waiting for lunch (look at the level of wine in the bottles and lunch had not yet begun!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bacco frolicking on the beach

13 Ott.
Be sure to check out the new post below, but this is a bonus post showing Bacco in action! It is nice to have someone who can take photos other than me, and thanks to Bill for all of these, showing Bacco retrieving, running in the sand and getting a well deserved drink from the fountain in the Piazza d'Arringo in Ascoli Piceno.