Celebrating Fall exploring the magical world of Pumpkins

Celebrating Fall exploring the magical world of Pumpkins

We are now halfway through Fall, and trees are turning into a gorgeous and vibrant palette of yellow, orange, and red.
Just like trees, crops are following the same flow, and Pumpkins are undoubtedly letting us know that the cold season is approaching.

Indeed, you have seen the carved vegetables on the night of Halloween, but did you know that this vegetable is very versatile
in the kitchen and super healthy too?

Conquering tables around the world, one dish at the time!

Pumpkins, also known as Squash (Cucurbita’s family), are remarkably close relatives to cucumbers, zucchini, melons, and watermelons and originated in the area of Mexico and Central America.
They have been cultivated for thousands of years, even before beans and corn. Columbus took the seeds back to Europe, where they were mainly grown in the mildest southern climates. Still, nowadays, they are harvested all over the 6 continents, excluding Antarctica.

The varieties of pumpkins are amazing in colors, texture, size, and flavor! From white to yellow, to oranges, red, green, and even almost blue: these are only some of the shades you might be able to spot!

And we can talk about the texture of the skin, sizes, and shapes: spotty, stripey, smooth, or bumpy! From miniatures to giants, from round to oval, evenly long or squatty. A wonderful reminder of the beauty that Mother Nature is offering us.

Something else unique about this beautiful vegetable is that you can use more than just the flesh! Seeds can be dried out and roasted to make an excellent and nutritious snack, or pressed to produce an exquisite oil.
Asian countries, such as Korea and India, use leaves while some European countries also utilize flowers in cooking.

Moreover, pumpkins are packed with vitamins A and C, potassium, sodium. Low in calories and high in fiber, they make excellent and delicious food for your everyday meal or special occasions such as Thanksgiving.

And what about recipes in Italy? Let’s have a look at a few typical Italian recipes with this delightful veg.

Sciurilli (fried pumpkin flowers)

One of the most delicious street foods you can get in Springtime while walking around Naples.
Freshly picked flowers, stuffed with ricotta and provolone cheese, salt, and pepper, dipped into a light batter and then deep-fried!

Fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheeses.

Risotto alla Zucca

Traveling to the North of Italy, we can find a delicate and tasty risotto alla Zucca. The choice of the right pumpkin and rice type is essential for this creamy and fulfilling dish. While the original version includes only vegetables and spices, you might be able to discover some other enriched with cheese or even bacon and sausages.

Portion of pumpkin risotto decorated with slices of parmesan

Tortelli di Zucca

It is a traditional recipe that goes back to the Renaissance times when pumpkin arrived from the Americas for their first time! Tortelli is a type of filled pasta mainly made in the Northern Regions of Italy, such as Lombardy, Emilia- Romagna, and Tuscany. However, the most famous is from Mantova, as it is a delicate balance between sweet and savory flavors. The original recipe will have a rich filling made of cooked pumpkin, Amaretti cookies, parmesan, and lightly spicy “fruit Mustard.” It will be served with a light butter and sage sauce and a good sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Tasty hand made italian tortellini for autumn season

Roasted Seeds

Being so versatile, you can use Pumpkins in the entire menu, from appetizers to desserts, but whatever you do, keep the seeds!!
Wash them properly and put them in a pre-heated oven for around 15-30 minutes, depending on their size, until golden.
Remove from the oven, cool for a minute or two, enjoy them plain, or be creative with spices!


We cannot talk about pumpkins and not mentioning Jack-o-Lanterns!
This custom originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes were carved and decorated to warn off Jack’s wandering soul. But who was Jack?

Stingy Jack was a drunken man who tried to trick the Devil, and once he died, his soul couldn’t go either to Heaven or to Hell. Doomed to walk around the Earth only with a hollowed vegetable to light his way.

You can read more about the legend here.

Irish immigrants took the tradition to America, where the original root vegetables were substituted by the native pumpkin.

So next time you are buying a pumpkin, let your fantasy run wild. See if you can find different varieties, and get creative in the kitchen, not only by carving it!

15 Facts about Authentic Neapolitan Pizza

15 Facts about Authentic Neapolitan Pizza

Neapolitan pizza is one of the most loved foods in the world, and one of the reasons is that it follows very specific guidelines to ensure a product that is consistent and that can respect the amazing original taste of Italy even when enjoyed in other countries.

The most notorious association for Neapolitan Pizza is the VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana), which has determined a list of qualities every pizza has to offer in order to qualify for the highly desired title.

Here are 15 rules that need to be followed to make an authentic Neapolitan pizza:

Rule #1
Neapolitan Pizza is a hand-crafted, artisanal product. Every pizza is unique, much like a snowflake, and will take on its own character. Italian rules simply state that a Neapolitan pizza must be “somewhat roundish.”

Rule #2
Neapolitan Pizza dough must be made with only water, salt, fresh yeast, and “Double Zero” flour imported from Naples, Italy.

Rule #3
The dough of Neapolitan Pizza proofs at 73.5 F for a minimum of 8 to a maximum of 24 hours.

Rule #4
To make Neapolitan Pizza, the Pizzaiolo expertly stretches the dough strictly by hand on a marble countertop using light and circular pressure to move air from the center toward the edge allowing the crust to grow during cooking.

Rule #5
The critical ingredients used to make Neapolitan Pizza must be from the Campania region, in the south of Italy.

Rule #6
When using peeled tomatoes for Neapolitan Pizza, they must be drained and crushed by hand for a better consistency, and so as not to crush the tomato seeds and add a bitter taste to the sauce.

Rule #7
When using fresh tomato on Neapolitan Pizza, it must be one of the approved varieties grown in the Campania region of Italy.

Rule #8
Either Buffalo or Fior di Latte mozzarella can be used on Neapolitan Pizza, as long as its provenance is certified.

Rule #9
The Parmesan cheese used on the pizza margherita must be spread with a circular and uniform motion of the hand.

Rule #10
A good Neapolitan Pizza has a crust around the edges of about 1-2cm high (1/2in to 3/4in), soft and airy, with few bubbles and charring.

Rule #11
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a very important ingredient in Neapolitan Pizza. Extra-virgin olive oil must be poured from a thin spout in a spiral motion. It must be added on the pizza before cooking, but some additional oil may also be used after the cooking for extra taste.

Rule #12
When preparing a margherita pizza, basil leaves may be added before mozzarella cheese to avoid burning them during cooking.

Rule #13
Neapolitan Pizza must always be cooked directly on the cooking surface of the wood-fired oven without any baking pans.

Rule #14
To cook Neapolitan Pizza to perfection, the oven must be a double-dome wood-fired oven and it must reach 485°C (905F°).

Rule #15
While lifting one hem of the disk to check on the cooking, the Pizzaiolo cooks the pizza for about 60-90 seconds.


Look for these characteristics when ordering your pizza, this is the first step to judge the quality of your pizza.

We are very proud to offer a real, authentic Neapolitan pizza every day – our product is made with love for good food and its flavors, as well as the love to hear words of satisfaction in our guests’ feedbacks.

Neapolitan pizza is an art, and we strive to perfection of craftsmanship everyday.

What is Truffle, the most prestigious food in the world!

What is Truffle, the most prestigious food in the world!

Vanilla, saffron, and truffles.
What do they have in common, you might wonder? Although both Vanilla and Saffron come from flowers, they all belong to some of the world’s topmost expensive food by weight.
Quality and the country of origin are some of the critical elements to build up the price, but in the case of truffles, the size plays a big part.

In 2014 Sebastiano Tartufi (an Italian truffle company) found the largest ever white truffle, which he flew to NYC and sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $61.250. You might think of giant truffle, but the truth is that the super expensive fungus was only 62.99 oz. ( 1,786 Kg)!
In 2019 the price of “regular truffles” ranged from $ 170/kg for Chinese Black variety to a whopping $ 7541.95/kg for Italian White ones.
Although the most prestigious grow in France and Italy, they can also grow in New Zealand, China, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific Northwest.

But what exactly IS a truffle?

Truffles: luxurious culinary cooking ingredients.

A truffle is a form of mushroom that grows below ground, so it does not have a stem.
They have a symbiotic relationship with certain trees only. They mutually exchange nutrients through the roots: the tree gives nutrients to the fungi. In return, they get mostly water and minerals.

As they are growing under the soil, hence impossible to spread the spores with the wind as common mushrooms, Mother Nature equipped them with an extraordinarily strong smell, once ripe. The pungent aroma will attract insects and mammals that will spread the spore around while digging for their food.

There are mainly three varieties of truffle: white, black, and burgundy.

Black ones are robust and earthy, and they usually get harvested from December to the end of March. The burgundy variety is delicate and fragrant, and they grow from September to December. Finally, the white is intense with a slightly garlicky flavor similar to shallots and mature from October to December.
However, depending on the part of the world and the varieties, the seasonal calendar might differ.
Not all varieties of truffles can be cultivated. The most prestigious species are still picked from the wild, or better literally hunted.

Ready to hunt your food?

La caccia al tartufo! (truffle hunt)

Traditionally the hunt was taking place with pigs; however, they were greedy eaters ( or with an exquisite palate, we might as well say) and not delicate in the process of unearthing.
Since 1985, it became illegal to use pigs in Italy, so dogs replaced them with great success.
The best and irreplaceable truffle-seeking dog is the Lagotto Romagnolo, thanks to its incomparable sense of smell. As the name suggests, it originated in Italy, in the Region of Emilia-Romagna.

Once the dog sniffs a truffle in the wood, it will call the “trifolao” (truffle hunter), who will be digging gently with a “vanghino” (a very specific shovel). Then he will be rearranging the ground gently so that new rootlets will be forming.

Visit Italy in the right season. You can go participate in the hunt by booking a day trip with some leading truffle companies, such as the ones below:

Eating and storage

Truffles are served raw, shaved sparingly over warm, simple food to emphasize its flavor. Also, any cooking process will destroy its aroma and its unique taste.

If you do want to take your cooking to the next level, get hold of some fresh truffles for your kitchen.
First, you will have to make sure you choose a fresh one: it must be firm, and the smell must be pungent and intense.
Cleaning is a delicate process. Soak it first in cold water for about 10 minutes, brush it very gently with a special truffle brush, and remove any leftover soil. Never, ever peel it!

Main courses with truffles, such as Risotto or any pasta dish, are probably the most famous. However, this unique fungus is so versatile that it enriches any dish from appetizer to dessert!

Any leftover should be preserved in the fridge, well wrapped in absorbent paper, and stored in a plastic o glass container, up to 5 days.

You could also opt for truffle-infused oil in your recipes to add that unique fragrance to your dishes without using the fresh mushroom. Find a great example in our Pasta alla Boscaiola, served with a creamy white sauce, Italian sausage, mushrooms, Parmigiano Reggiano, and then topped with truffle oil.

If fresh ones are not available close by, or you are not in the right season, you can always try preserved ones or products such as truffle salt or truffle oil.

Curious to give your tastebuds a try?
Try our delicious Pizza Tartufo or Pasta alla Boscaiola!
Both dishes include top quality truffle oil: only one mouthful and your taste buds will get you to travel to those mystical Italian woods on a truffle hunt.

Wine, the elixir of life!

Wine, the elixir of life!

Did you know that you are sipping on thousands of years of history every time you have a glass of wine?

The divine drink consumption could be as old as humankind, and its discovery is most likely accidental. Fermentation happens naturally and spontaneously because the yeasts that ferment the sugar are present on the grape’s skin. Just a couple of crashed fruits and the magic would start happening.

Although there is evidence that fermented grapes were typical in Asia in 6000 BC, the oldest archeologic winery ever found was in Armenia, dating 4000 B.C: the site had a wine press, fermentation vats, jars, and cups.

In ancient Egypt, the wine was mostly found in festivals and special occasions. It was believed to have divine qualities, therefore associated with deities such as Osiris, Horus, Hathor, and Shesmu. The intoxicating effects would help to connect with the ancestors, breaking the barriers between life and death.
Traces of wine were also found in some of the Pharaoh’s tombs, together with hieroglyphs showing cultivations, harvesting, and winemaking.

Thanks to an extensive trade in the Mediterranean basin, wine spread quickly in the Greeks and Romans’ empires.

The ancient Greeks took viticulture (the cultivation of grape) very seriously, studying soils and matching it to specific grapevines. Some regions implemented techniques of cultivation to gather better quality of the wine. They often added resins, herbs, and spices to improve the taste.
Wine was always mixed with water, as they believed that the undiluted drink could drive a man insane, and even kill him.
However, the Greeks used it also for its medicinal properties: doctors prescribed it to cure fevers, as an antiseptic, or to aid digestion.

Dionysus was the God of the vine, grape harvest, winemaking, wine, fertility, theatre, and celebrations. Wine was a symbol of his icona, and several festivals were held in his name.

Trading and the cultivation of Vitis Vinifera throughout Greek colonies in Europe made spread wine culture to other parts of the Mediterranean basin.
The Roman Empire made winemaking a real business, improving technologies to ease the drink’s production, storing, and flavoring.
They believed that wine had to be available to everyone, rich or poor. Hence, to ensure a constant supply, grapes cultivation was spread to all Roman Empire parts. We also have to consider that water was often not potable, so adding a little bit of wine could decrease health risks.

La vendemmia: harvesting in Italy

Now that we traveled through time, let’s take a trip to our favorite country for a super special time of the year: la Vendemmia, or harvesting. Find here more links to the best locations for grape harvesting in Italy.
Throughout the year, differing from Region to Region, but mainly starting mid-September, Italy is bursting with Fairs and Festivals where you can celebrate the grape harvest.

Although not in the top 5 wine producers, Tuscany is one of the main Regions for celebrations. You might not be able to participate in the actual harvest, but the events usually held in the main squares of some of the villages will be displaying stands where you can taste local food and wine while enjoying arts and music. You can check Tuscany’s calendar event before organizing your trip to experience more than one.

Quite unmissable is the Grape Festival of Impruneta, one of the oldest running Italian Festival. The 4 neighborhoods will be challenging each other with floats and locals in medieval and traditional costumes.

While most of the Festival will be held in Fall, the Region of Veneto – the land of the world-famous Prosecco – has its main event, “la Primavera del Prosecco,” from March throughout June.

Grape harvesting is hard work, but especially for smaller vineyard, it is always a great way to get all the family and friends together. Once the grapes reach the perfect grade of ripeness, each cluster will be harvested manually and carefully put into a basket. It is particularly important not to break the skin, or the fermentation process will start. The fruits will have to be destemmed, put into tanks where they will be pressed, and start fermenting.

Once the bubbling is finished, meaning the yeast ate all the sugars, the wine will be transferred into a “damigiana.” This is a large round glass bottle covered in a protective straw layer where the wine will sit until it is ready to be put in smaller bottles (750ml).

As you might imagine, stomping, or crushing wine by foot, is no longer done due to hygienic reasons.

Red, White, or Rosè?

The production of red wines will keep both skin and grape seeds, while white wines will be with the pulp only.
As for rosè wines, skins and seeds will be fermenting with the pulp from 24 to 36 hours max.
All skins will be removed for the production of white wines.

If you are a wine lover, we gave you another reason to visit the beautiful Bel Paese of Italy.
If, however, you want to take your palate on a sensory journey, come by our Restaurant. Our extensive Wine Menu will take you to some of the best Italian vineyards.

Grapes: the food of the Gods on your table!

Grapes: the food of the Gods on your table!

According to archeological evidence, grapes are among the most ancient fruits on Earth. However, its cultivation began 6,000-8,000 years ago in the Near East, when peoples gave up the nomadic life to finally settle down.

We can find purple grapes in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, as well as written records about its cultivation and consumption (both for eating and wine production) among the ancient Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans, often describing it as food of the Gods.

The growing of grapes (mainly Vitis Vinifera) would later spread to other regions in Europe and North Africa, and eventually in North America, where wild grapes – unsuitable for winemaking – were already part of the diet of Native Americans.

Red, white, and rosé: there are an estimated 10,000 types of grapes in the Vitace family, but only 1300 are used to produce wines. There are many other uses for this “divine” fruit!

Let’s have a look!

Healthy, tasty with a limitless potential

  • Table grapes belong to the same species as wine grapes but have quite a few differences: larger, seedless, and with a thinner skin. As the name suggests, this is the type of vine fruit that you will be eating raw. They account for about 36% of the total production of grapes worldwide.
  • Wine grapes are cultivated in all the world’s major wine regions. The fruits are smaller, sweeter, with seeds and a thick skin – as the aroma comes from it. To make the wine, they will be harvested when their sugar peak will reach 24% of their total weight. Wine grapes make for 57% of the total worldwide production of “God’s fruit.”
  • Raisins are dried grapes that can be eaten raw or used in cooking and baking. Their varieties depend on the grapes used; hence they can be different colors and sizes, and sometimes even names (e.g., currants, sultanas, golden raisins). Raising are traditionally sun-dried, but nowadays they can get artificially dehydrated and often treated with preservative.
    Raisins make for 7% of total grapes productions – about 1,3 million tons- and the top three producing countries are Turkey, the USA, and China.
  • Grape juice is made from crushing and blending the fruit into a liquid and can be an excellent alcohol-free alternative to wine. Just like grapes, the juice has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s often used as a detox drink. In 1869, in New Jersey, Dr. Thomas Welch was the first to produce unfermented grape juice. The variety used was Concord grape: robust and aromatic but above all, a perfect mix between the Native American species and the European ones, able to cope with the first autumn frost.
    In 1918, Dr. Welch created “Grapelade,” a modern version of an old fashion Jam, distributed to the soldier in WW1 as part of their ration. It became such a success in a few years that a retail version was launched in 1923.
Red grape juice in glass and grape fruit
  • Let’s not forget about wine vinegar! Like wine, it can be either white or red, and it’s produced by the process of fermentation and oxidization into an acid. On top of being an irreplaceable item for cooking, baking, or salads, it can also be used for many cleaning purposes.
  • In most Mediterranean countries and in some parts of Asia, grape leaves (also called vine leaves ) are stuffed with a mix of rice, veggies, meat, and spices to make a succulent appetizer.

We do get another two exceptional products from the wine industry’s byproducts: grape seed oil and cream of tartar.

  • Grape seed oil is used in cooking and is quite popular in the cosmetic industry due to its high content of Vitamin E and Omega 6 fatty- acid.
  • If you are familiar with baking, you have most certainly heard about the cream of tartar before!
    This magic ingredient is found in the sediment left behind in barrels after the wine has been fermented, and it gets purified into the powdery white substance.

The world produces just a little bit less than 78 million tons of grapes every year, making China, Italy, USA, Spain, and France the market leaders!

Tasty, healthy snack option with limitless potential!

Grapes are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and packed with antioxidants, and as we have seen, there are lots of ways you can add them to your diet.

Looking for some more ideas?

Freeze some of the fruits, use them instead of ice cubes in drinks, or naturally sweeten your smoothies!

Background photo created by topntp26 – www.freepik.com

We are now in the harvest season: don’t miss out on finding out what type of grapes are available in your area, and savor the different flavors.

Basil: from your pot to your table!

Basil: from your pot to your table!

For most Italians, the smell of sweet basil is the fragrance of the summer.
You simply cannot have a tomato salad without the delicate aromatic herb in it!

Although it is an extremely popular herb in Italy and all over the Mediterranean countries, basil is originally from India. In the Asian Continent, however, it is known mainly as “Tulsi” (Sacred Basil in Hindi), and it is widely used in Indian and Thai cooking.
Like many other popular culinary herbs, basil has a dozen varieties. Still, Sweet Basil (Ocimum Bacilicum) and Basilico Genovese are the only varieties used in Italian kitchens.

The basil leaves are not only a fantastic addition to your summer dishes. In fact, according to folk remedies, they are great to cure nausea and bug bites. They are also widely used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

5 tips for growing your endless supply for the summer!

Basil can be used dried, though its spicy and peppery flavor is at its absolute best when fresh (some would say it has a hint of clove and mint to the aroma too).

Since running to the store every day is not an ideal situation for most of us, you can grow your own!
It can be effortlessly done either in your garden or directly in a pot next to a sunny window.

If you think your green thumb needs a little help for the first time you try to grow it at home, it would be best to get some starter plants at your nearest greenhouse or at the farmer market, and then transplant them in a bigger vase right away.
Alternatively, you can make a new plant from a stem: put it in water until roots start to grow, and then transplant it into a bigger vase.

Taking care of your little plant is easy: just follow these steps.

  1. Keep the plants well exposed to the sun, and try to avoid temperature lower than 60° F.
  2. Water them every day. Check the soil before doing so, as different temperatures will require different amounts of water. If you live in a very hot climate, you might need to water them even twice a day!
  3. Harvest Basil when you need it, but it is always better to cut off the stems so that the plants will create more in a few days!
  4. Pinch the flowers off! This action will get the plants to produce more branches and more leaves. Do not throw away the flowers: you can either add them to your favorite dressing or dry them to get the seeds for the following year!
  5. Basil leaves are very delicate, so we recommend picking them only when you need to use them directly.

Presto: let’s make some fresh Pesto!

Undoubtedly the most famous recipe with the amazing tasty herb is Pesto.
Let’s try making the authentic “Pesto alla Genovese” together!

See here the CONSORZIO DEL PESTO GENOVESE website, with the authentic recipe (in Italian).

Before gathering all the ingredients and following precisely the recipe from the Italian tradition, you need to find a marble mortar with a wooden pestle.

Ingredients for 300 grams of Pasta (3 generous portions):

  • 25 leaves of fresh Basil (Genovese variety)
  • ¼ of a glass of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (it would be best if from the Liguria Region)
  • 3 Tablespoons of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP
  • 1 Tablespoon of Pecorino DOP
  • 1 clove of garlic (the sweetest variety you can find)
  • ½ tablespoon of Pine nuts (alternately you can use walnuts)
  • A few grains of coarse salt
  • A lot of patience

Directions:

  • Wash the leaves in cold water and get them to dry naturally on a cloth
  • Crush the garlic clove slowly together with your coarse salt, until it gets creamy
  • Add the pine nuts and carry on, pounding delicately.
  • Start adding the basil, about ten leaves at the time. Crush and pound them in a delicate circular motion. This action is necessary to keep in all the essential oil from the plant and get your sauce bursting with flavor. Once the first batch becomes a beautiful creamy paste, add the next batch and so on.
  • You can add both of the cheeses and keep on pounding. 
  • Finally, slowly drizzle the Extra Virgin Olive Oil into the mix until it is all absorbed.

Well done: your fresh Pesto is now ready to be used!

The good news is that Pesto, just like basil leaves, is versatile and can be used in a great variety of dishes: Pasta, lasagna, rice, omelets, salads, soups, steam vegetables, or meat, and obviously pizza!
The only limit is your imagination.

Therefore, surprise your friends and family even more!
Try serving them this interpretation of the classic cocktail Mojito, with a unique twist!
Let’s prepare an exquisite Basito Cocktail!

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoons of cane sugar
  • ½ lime, cut in slices
  • 1,5 oz of white rum
  • Ginger ale or club soda
  • Ice

Directions:

Stir sugar and lime in a glass; add your basil leaves and muddle.
Add the rum and stir. Add the ginger ale or the club soda and stir.
Add some crushed ice and ENJOY!

If you want to see how versatile Basil can be, pop by and look at our Menu: from appetizers to Pizza and Pasta, mains, and cocktails!
If you love real Italian cooking, you must love Basil!
And we do!