What are cantuccini?

image source - flickr.com/photos/etringita
image source – flickr.com/photos/etringita

They are the cookies that Americans call biscotti.

So, why aren’t they called biscotti in Italy?  Because all cookies in Italy are called biscotti.  The word cantuccini only refers to the twice-baked delights that go so great with your morning or after dinner caffè.

Cantuccini originated in the Tuscan town of Prato, but are common throughout Italy. Because they are baked twice, they have a hard, crunchy texture, which make them easily stored for a long period of time.  They often vary in size and flavor but not shape.    Traditional ingredients include anise, dried fruit, and nuts, while many modern versions include chocolate.

 

Are we about to see a Nutella shortage?

Nutella

Probably not.

The rumors of a Nutella shortage have widely circulated throughout newspapers and the internet in the past few months. The reason for these rumors? Last spring, a severe frost wiped out a majority of the hazelnut crops in Turkey, where the 70 percent of the world’s hazelnuts are grown.

Ferrero, the Italian company that makes Nutella, buys and uses a quarter of the world’s hazelnut yields to make the delicious spread. In fact, it takes 50 hazelnuts to make one 13-ounce jar. So, while a shortage of the nut would seem to surely lead to a shortage of Nutella, Ferrero representatives have assured consumers that this will not be the case. The company states that they have been aware and prepared for such a nut shortage and that the high quality of Nutella will also remain unchanged.

Whether or not the price of Nutella will rise remains to be seen. Hazelnut prices in stores, however, have spiked over 60 percent…much like the pine nut last year.

Is it true that the muffuletta sandwich has Sicilian origins?

image source - flickr.com/photos/1yen
image source – flickr.com/photos/1yen

Somewhat, yes.

The muffuletta sandwich is traditionally made with mortadella, ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella, and olive salad on a soft, sesame seed bread. Based on its Italian ingredients, it may come as a surprise that the muffuletta was first created in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

The French Quarter’s Central Grocery, which has been open since 1906, is the birthplace of the muffaletta. Around that time, a majority of the clientele were local Sicilian immigrants who visited during lunchtime and fumbled with large plates of meat, cheese, olives, and bread. Central Grocery‘s owner, Salvatore Lupo, also a Sicilian immigrant, came up with the idea to combine it all into a sandwich. It has since become a New Orleans staple.

Ask for a muffuletta in Italy, and all you will get is a loaf of sesame seed bread. The sandwich takes its name from the Sicilian bread it’s made with.

Who is considered to be the most influential figure in Italian cuisine?

marcella

Though a subjective question, I think most would agree…Marcella Hazan.

Marcella Hazan is often referred to as the Julia Child of Italian cuisine. Just like Julia did for French cooking, Marcella introduced America and Great Britain to the traditional Italian ways of cooking. Their similarities don’t stop there. Both began cooking as adults after marriage had them living in countries that were not their own. Marcella was born in Italy, and it wasn’t until she moved to the U.S. in her thirties, that she began to cook, drawing from her memories the flavors she grew up with.

Without classic training, Hazan began her career teaching small groups of Americans the techniques of traditional Italian cooking in her New York apartment. Shortly thereafter, she opened her own school, The School of Classic Italian Cooking. While the school was a success, it is her cookbooks that made her famous. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is an absolute must have for anyone interested in Italian cooking. It is actually a compilation of Hazan’s first two books (The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking).

hazanbook.jpg

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is much more than a cookbook. It is a handbook to achieving classic Italian flavors from high quality, everyday ingredients. Hazan’s recipes and techniques are many times very basic, yet inventive. One of her most famous recipes from the book is a simple tomato sauce that contains just four ingredients: tomatoes, butter, two halves of a peeled onion, and salt. Simmer for about 45 minutes, toss out the onion, and you end up with a surprisingly rich and flavorful sauce. The book is considered by most to be one of the most important cookbooks of all time.

Sadly, Marcella Hazan passed away last September at the age of 89, but her legend surely lives on. Many of the great chefs of Italian cuisine have been largely inspired by Hazan; Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, to name just a couple.

Is it true that eggplant parmigiana did not originate in Parma?

image source - flickr.com/photos/anotherpintplease
image source – flickr.com/photos/anotherpintplease

Yes. In fact, the traditional recipe does not even include Parmigiano Reggiano.

Eggplant parmigiana, or eggplant parmesan as we know it here in America, is a bit different from its traditional preparation which hails from southern Italy. So why isn’t it called eggplant Siciliana or eggplant Calabrese? Well, the original name was eggplant parmiciana, not parmigiana. Parmiciana is a word of Sicilian dialect that means strips of wood used to make window shutters. In the original preparation, sliced eggplant is layered on top of each other in the same fashion.

So, how does the original preparation differ? In addition to not including Parmigiano Reggiano, there are no bread crumbs, as is often seen in modern interpretations. Only soft cheeses are used, like mozzarella or tuma, a tangy ewes-milk cheese from Sicily.

Is there much of a difference between bologna and mortadella?

image source - flickr.com/photos/turismoemiliaromagna
image source – flickr.com/photos/turismoemiliaromagna

Absolutely.

As Americans, we all know bologna (or baloney). What some may not know is that this typically cheap lunch meat was inspired by the delicately delicious mortadella. Mortadella is a pork sausage that originates from…you guessed it…Bologna, which is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

Mortadella is made from ground pork, hard pork fat (usually coming from the neck), black pepper, and many times, pistachio or myrtle berries. Like many other Italian foods, there are strict rules that must be followed during production for a Mortadella from Bologna to receive the IGP stamp (a mark of quality given to foods specific to a region of Italy). There is no allowance for cutting corners.

Boloney, on the other hand, can be made with a variety of things. In most cases, beef and pork are used, but not always the choicest cuts. It is not uncommon for scraps, end pieces, and organs to be included. Some brands might even use a synthetic casing containing collagen or a little plastic…yuck.

Tasting the two next to each other is the easiest way to understand the differences. Mortadella practically melts in your mouth, while bologna…well, you get it.

Are you ready for my Italian tuna salad recipe?

image source - flickr.com/photos/roboppy
image source – flickr.com/photos/roboppy

Yes. Yes, you are.

It’s sandwich season again, and I love a great tuna sandwich. What I don’t love though is a lot of mayo, so here is my simple mayo-free tuna salad that is loaded with Italian flavors:

First of all, use a solid tuna packed in oil and not water. Tuna packed in water is tasteless. I know. I know. Tuna in oil is higher in fat than it is in water, but we’re not using any mayo, and we will be draining most of the oil anyway. Though it costs a bit more, I use an Italian tuna packed in extra virgin olive oil.

Season with black pepper, but no salt. The capers should provide enough saltiness.

Don’t use just any olive oil. For some deep flavor, break out your finest extra virgin olive oil.

Because this tuna salad is less “wet” than a mayo-heavy version, it holds up great on a crusty, rustic bread. Try adding some ripe tomato slices, arugula, and italian olives.

2 5-oz. cans of solid light or white tuna packed in oil, drained
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp. Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp. capers
2 tbsp. high quality extra virgin olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Black pepper, to taste

Put all ingredients in a large bowl and mix together with a fork while breaking up the tuna.

Buon appetito!

Is it possible to find American coffee in Italy?

image source - flickr.com/photos/epsos
image source – flickr.com/photos/epsos

Yes, but not everywhere.

If you walk into any restaurant or bar in Italy and order a coffee (un caffé), what you will get is an espresso. Coffee, as we know it in the States, is a bit hard to find. Hotels and B&Bs in cities with a large amount of American tourists are a sure bet for a cup of joe, but you’re likely out of luck when dining out.

What is widely available is a caffé Americano. Despite its name, a caffé Americano is not an American coffee. It is an espresso served with hot water. Okay, so it’s not exactly the same thing, but when in Rome (literally).

Something to know…coffee shops (or bars, as they are called in Italy) never offer free refills on coffee, so if you want another caffé Americano, you’re going to have to pay for it.

What is the Feast of St. Joseph?

st.joseph

Loosely, it’s St. Patrick’s Day for Italians.

St. Joseph’s Day is March 19, just two days after St. Patrick’s Day. It is celebrated by not only Italians but other Catholic European countries such as Spain and Portugal. It is also Father’s Day in these countries…Joseph was Jesus’ “father”, you know . The day is probably most celebrated in Sicily though, where St. Joseph (or San Giuseppe in Italian) is the region’s patron saint. Legend has it that prayers to St. Joseph ended a drought and great famine in Sicily, so it is tradition to honor him with a huge feast.

Traditional St. Joseph Day feasts start with an elaborate altar of fine linens, flowers, and an ornate centerpiece. There is always a large number of breads and pastries in a variety of creative shapes. Cream-filled doughnuts known as zeppole are the most traditional of the pastries. Because the day always falls during lent, it is a meatless feast, so there is seafood. While there is usually a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, the fava bean must always be present. In Sicily, the fava bean is a sign of good luck. During the great famine, fava beans were the only vegetable that was in abundance, and for many, it was all there was to eat.

I have noticed that the number of people around me who celebrate St. Joseph’s Day is much smaller than when I was young. You could always tell who observed the day by who was wearing red, the official color of the holiday. That being said, some churches in the U.S. cities with a large number of Sicilians still host feasts on March 19, and there is even an annual St. Joseph’s Day parade in New Orleans.

Is it true that tiramisu has only been around since the 1960s?

image source - flickr.com/photos/peterhess
image source – flickr.com/photos/peterhess

Yes.

Tiramisu is probably the most popular Italian dessert in the U.S., if not the world, so what a surprise to find out that it’s only been around for about 50 years. While some still argue about its exact origin, Biccherie, a restaurant in Treviso, Italy, is widely recognized as the birthplace.

Legend has it that the owner of Biccherie created the dessert to give herself energy after having just given birth to her son. Tiramisu, which translates to “pick me up”, is traditionally made with coffee, savoiardi (ladyfingers), mascarpone cheese, and cocoa powder. Last summer, Biccherie presented a bid to the European Union to grant protected status to its recipe preventing it from being made with berries or cream.

Despite being a once-popular destination in Treviso, which is in the Veneto region, Biccherie has recently suffered a large decline in business and will be closing its doors after 76 years. The tiramisu will surely live on forever.