Category Archives: Food

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.

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.

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.

Is there really no truffle in truffle oil?

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

In most cases, yes.

Truffle oil has gotten quite a bad rap as of late. More than once I’ve seen contestants on popular cooking competition shows immediately sent home for using it. Anthony Bourdain has even said, “Let it be stated here, unto forever and eternity, truffle oil is not food.”

So, why all the hate? It’s not just because almost all truffle oil is artificially flavored. Other than an olive or grapeseed oil base, there is nothing natural in it. All of the flavor and aroma comes from chemicals created in a lab. 2,4-Dinitrophenol does not sound delicious.

This being said, there is real truffle oil out there; it is a bit hard to find though. High-end specialty stores such as Eataly and Dean & DeLuca are sure to carry it…right alongside the fake stuff. The labeling on the fakes can also be very misleading. So, how can you be sure you’re buying the real stuff? Keep one thing in mind, black truffles start at about 50 dollars an ounce with white truffles being quite a bit more. If you’re only paying a few bucks an ounce for truffle oil, it is not the real thing.

What is gianduja?

nutella

It’s the heavenly combination of chocolate and hazelnuts.

Gianduja, pronounced zhahn-doo-ya, originates from Torino, the capital city of the Piemonte region of Italy. While gianduja can be found in solid form, it is more commonly seen as a spread; the most popular worldwide being Nutella.

Nutella is produced by the Ferrero company, also in Piemonte. In its earliest form, Nutella was created in the 1940s by Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker. Due to World War II rationing, cocoa was in short supply, so there was very little chocolate. To stretch the chocolate supply, Pietro added hazelnuts, which are plentiful in Piemonte. This year, the Nutella that we all know and love is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Is it true that Parmigiano Reggiano is lactose-free?

image

Surprisingly, yes.

The production of Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of Italian cheeses, is one of long tradition and strict regulation. The cheese must be aged a minimum of 12 months before being inspected and deemed worthy of the DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) stamp. One thing that must be true of all Parmigiano Reggiano is that it is made from 100% raw cows milk. So how does a pure cows milk cheese become lactose free? Through a maturation process dating back several centuries.

During the early stages of maturation, bacteria turns the lactose into lactic acid. By the end of the minimum 12 months of aging, the amount of lactose in the cheese barely registers above 0. Despite its name, lactic acid is actually safe for those with a lactose intolerance.

There are a number of other hard, aged cheeses that are also lactose free, including Parmigiano Reggiano’s close cousin, Grana Padano. Just be aware. A cheese simply named “Parmesan” may not be aged enough to be lactose free. When purchasing a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano, always buy one with a bit of the rind with the “Parmigiano Reggiano” stamp, otherwise it may not be the real thing.

Is the new Eataly in Chicago worth all the hype? (Part 1)

eatalylogo

Overall, yes.

What hype, you ask? Well, you must not live in Chicago. For weeks, we, here in the Windy City, have been inundated with all things Eataly. The second U.S. location of the famed Italian food megaplex just opened here on Monday, and no one has been more excited about it than me.

For those not familiar, Eataly is a high-end Italian food mall with a variety of restaurants, groceries, and retail items. Each location has a number of service counters featuring meat, salumi, cheese, seafood, bread, and more. The whole concept was dreamed up by entrepreneur Oscar Farinetti in 2000, and the first location opened in Torino, Italy in 2007. Currently there are 10 locations all over Italy, 13 in Japan, and one in Dubai, Turkey, New York, and now, Chicago. Mario Batali, Lidia and Joe Bastianich are also partners.

The Chicago location is nearly 65,000 square feet over two huge floors of all things related to Italian cuisine. That’s a lot to see, so I arrived shortly after they opened on their third day of business, and it was already bustling. I was immediately impressed by the layout. The coffee bar, pastry counter, and gelateria are all located near the entrance so those just passing by can stop in for something quick without hassle. Also in this area is the Nutella bar…yes, Nutella bar, featuring Nutella gelato, Nutella crepes, etc. The produce section is near the entrance as well, and while it was beautifully displayed, it was also way overpriced. While I didn’t expect Eataly to become my new go-to grocery store, I was surprised at the markup. No biggie, though, I wasn’t there for produce…I was most excited about the salumi, the cheese, and the fresh pasta. So, up to the second floor to find what I came for.

salumi

As the escalator reaches the second floor, the view of everything around you is unbelievable. On this level are eight restaurants, a variety of specialty counters, and many aisles of imported Italian items. While I spent most of the morning going aisle by aisle to see as much as I could, I would have liked to have spent all day there to really see everything. There is that much there. While I expected to see a lot of imported pasta, and tomatoes, and such, I was happy to see a lot of the basic, but hard to find items such as 00 flour, semolina, and imported spices. There were many items that I had never seen before, especially in the cookie and cracker aisles.

The smells around you are definitely a great part of the experience. This is especially true at the salumi and cheese counter. This was the first counter I visited and again, I was hit with some sticker-shock. 26 bucks for a pound of pancetta? I don’t think so. I can get it for half of that at my Italian grocery store. The one thing I really hoped to see here was some culatello. You know culatello, the thing I went on and on about here. There was culatello there…from Washington state…for 69 bucks a pound. No, thanks. One thing I will say about this counter and all the others I visited is that the service was great. Everyone I dealt with was very friendly and helpful.

The fresh pasta counter ended up being one of my favorites. While there wasn’t a huge variety of pasta available (no tortellini or tortelloni?), what they did have looked great. I love that the pasta is made right there in front of you. I asked what kind of flour was used and was pleased to hear that other than the agnolotti, all of the pasta was made with 100% semolina. I ended up buying a couple different kinds of the pasta and both were fantastic. I also thought the prices here were pretty reasonable.

pasta

The bread counter was great. Most of the bread is of the rustic, crusty variety. There are many flavors to choose from: raisin, fig, prosciutto and provolone, just to name a few. I loved that I was able to sample them all. There are a few varieties of focaccia to choose from as well. This was another counter with an amazing aroma.

There is also a meat counter, a fishmonger, and a vegetable butcher. The wine department is large. I plan to spend much more time there on my next visit. The olive oil department is fantastic, as well.

I did have lunch while I was there. I ate at Rossopomodoro, the pizza restaurant, which features authentic Napolitano-style pizza. This is the fork and knife kind of pizza with the bubbly crust and moist, soft middle. It was every bit as good as some of the pizza I’ve had in Italy. I started with an antipasti of fresh bufalo mozzarella that was really great, too. It tasted as if it was just made. All of this was perfect with the glass of rosé I had from the Bastianich wine collection. For the quality of the food, the prices were certainly reasonable.

Overall, I was very impressed with Eataly. It was definitely an experience, and I look forward to returning. I do have a few small gripes, such as the pastry counter not having any canolli or many traditional Italian cookies, but the surprises outnumber my gripes. I’ve called this post Part 1, because there is still more of Eataly that I have yet to experience. I have only tried one of the eight eating venues, and I’m sure there are nooks and crannies that I must have missed. I can’t wait to go back…and that’s saying something.