How Not To Lose weight – Aperitivi at Caffè Venezia

There’s no more free lunch they say, but are they right?

Today Italy celebrates its 150 year anniversary as a unified nation. So everyone had a day off. This weeks forecast of week of constant rain was wrong for the first half of the day at least, so the four of us walked down town to look for an Italian flag.

And of course, around lunchtime, we got hungry. But not enough for dinner. So we decided to toast in Unity Day at Caffè Venezia.

Caffè Venezia prosecco cocktail


I first heard about Pescara’s Caffè Venezia in the months after l’Aquila’s earthquake. It was late April 2009 and tens of thousands of us were dazed April guests in summer hotels and apartments up and down the Adriatic. Our hotel-refuge, “Nel Pineto” was in Montesilvano, a northern suburb of Pescara separated from the sea by a sandy strip shaded by centuries old pine trees. It was much better than the tent cities our former neighbors were enduring back home but, as anyone who has ever visited a major summer sea and sand tourist stop in winter can tell you, it can feel pretty isolated. Evening visits to modern downtown Pescara (Abruzzo’s largest city) was the closest escape from the lobby we had.

Caffè Venezia snackplate

During our first weeks there the legend of the aperitivo at Caffè Venezia had already started to spread, at least in our hotel. And there was one reason – the snack plate. When you’ve been shaken, getting a huge plate of pizza and fried snacks with your drinks can feel like fresh water after a dry desert trek.

Caffè Venezia and Love

Bar Venezia is the city’s downtown food service juggernaut (steamroller). Other places may be cozier, closer to the sea, serve more creative food and cocktails or have a better wine list. But the Venezia wins in size and scope while somehow also being good. Nothing amazing, just good. On the inside there’s a pastry shop with amazing ice cream and chocolates as well, it also has pizzas by the slice and a cafeteria serving local dishes and seafood enticing enough to make me hungry while walking through on a full stomach

Caffè Venezia aftermath

I still, however, have not yet gone beyond eating and drinking what makes it to the sea of tables outside. The cocktail list is long but I usually end up with the fruity house cocktail with a dash or prosecco or an Aperol spritz, but my main goal, like that of my post-earthquake companions almost two years ago, is the complimentary food plate. A mountain of pizzette, miniature panzerotti (little deep fried pizza pockets) and a dozen other fried and oven-baked delights. Not good for the waistline, but comforting.

Work and parenting make my pre- lunch or dinner aperitivo escapes few and far between (Although my teenage daughters do agree to a non-alcoholic escape with there dad from time to time).

But it at least when we want to celebrate after a walk to downtown Pescara we know where we can sit oustide all year round and toast the day.

Pescara’s Caffè Venezia

Caffè Venezia, Pescara

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

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Zaffè, when impure coffee is purely satisfying.

Saffron Seduction III – Coffee Consciousness VI

I usually like my coffee black, be it a good American brew or Italian espresso. I understand the appeal of massively large thermal cups with some sort of warm concoction with coffee hidden away somewhere, but it’s hard for me to really consider it coffee. For me it’s coffee like coffee cake is coffee. Something related and even enjoyable, but not the same.

I do make exceptions when a spice or some other flavoring that sparked colonial expansion, pirates, or just very long journeys on camels or wooden sailing ships. Chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg and similar concoctions are permitted, because they are part of the same tradition.
There is one spice that still commands the same astronomical prices per gram as it did at the height of the spice rush that sent Christopher Columbus sailing. Saffron. Real saffron, especially that from places like the Navelli high plain just outside L’Aquila, is quoted at over 2500 a kilo this year (about 4000$ a kilo. That’s about 25 euros (40$) per paper clip in weight. Fortunately, you don’t need that much of the little red threads to taste it. And, unlike other costly products from flowers, it’s safe and legal.

San Pio delle Camere is the largest town in the saffron-growing plains around Navelli. It has a real supermarket, a large hardware store, a florist, a bar that serves pizza by the slice and many other amenities that the medieval hill towns surrounding it lack. When the extended family is in town for the holidays, it’s where we go for supplies.

I was on a supply run, when the pangs of espresso abstinence started creeping over me. So, as soon as my daughter and I had finished loading the groceries into the car, we hopped over to the bar.

Zaffè! in San Pio delle Camere, Abruzzo

It was one of those moments when I wanted something more than just an espresso pick me up, but smaller than a cappuccino and different than a veneziano, so I asked for suggestions. “That’s easy, the barista replied, a zaffè”

I didn’t watch the entire process, but it’s basically an espresso with cappuccino foam and, somehow, a noticeably but not overpowering flavor of real saffron. I peaked over the barista’s shoulder as she plucked a red strand of Navelli saffron from a little jar and positioned it on its foamy bed. The look of the zaffè” was inspired by Fontana or Mirò and the flavor was also a bit artsy – fun from time to time, but not the way I want my daily coffee. Perfect for when I want something special.

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

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Yellow Pasta Geometry.

Saffron Seduction II

The first time I saw real, raw saffron my host and cook was holding up the tiny ruby filaments up in the middle of the kitchen like it was some newly unearthed relic: “Behold, red gold” I’m not sure he really said that, but memories are there to be embellished.

Joshua at Irene's communion

He was actually talking about how hard it was to find in that form; it was over twenty years ago in the midwest. I’m assuming that in 20 years Madison, Wisconsin has come a long way in easy access to an ever wider array of spices, but that does not dethrone the importance of great, and by that I mean real and uncut, saffron.

What's a party in Abruzzo without Montepulciano?

That night saffron and the best Valencian paella ever cooked on a frigid December evening are still with me and I wonder how many dinners are preludes to where our life will be going later. When that paella evening happened I had already lived a year in Bologna, Italy, where I had begun my transition away from my picky eater past by wandering the open air market on via Sant’Apollonia or the traditional, closed market near Piazza Maggiore. I had discovered fresh fennel and rosemary, both sweet blood and sour Sicilian oranges, dozens of varieties of new tomatoes (new to me, at least). It was discovery with an open nose and a closed budget. Real saffron would have to wait – and the Paella on the tour through Spain lived down to it’s price on the menu.

When I walk with friends or family through the mountain town of Navelli, I’m reminded that the arches, carved doorways and stone-paved streets were all built on saffron, as were many of the buildings and churches in L’Aquila and the surrounding towns scarred and broken by the quake almost two years ago.

Saffron Maltagliatti

Saffron is a traditional crop here in Abruzzo, but not a traditional ingredient. Local cooks have however been busily developing new ways to make up for lost time. L’Antica Taverna in Navelli adds it to their version of Maccheroni alla Boscaiola; long egg maccheroni with sausage, and mushrooms. They also do wonderful things with local black truffles
Saffron is a spice that is sometimes at its best when carrying a dish on it’s own – like in Risotto alla Milanese – or dancing with at most one other decisive partner, like at Irene’s first communion dinner.

That day this Autumn Irene and her friends ran around the restaurant looking like maidens in an old pastoral painting, dressed in white with flowers braided into her short dark hair. She presided over the children’s table at La Mora Nera just outside of L’Aquila like Alice having tea with the Doormouse and Mad Hatter. She and her mother chose the menu together, so there was a particular tension towards the simplicity that smaller children often insist on. This can lead towards a few gems.

Maltagliatti up close and personal

The prize this time was maltagliatti and saffron. This simple, very essential dish, was a plate of roughly diamond shaped homemade pasta in a balanced Navelli saffron béchamel-like sauce (probably based and cow milk ricotta) with slight traces of guanciale (similar to pancetta, which is similar to bacon). I didn’t get a chance to ask the waiters between as overdressed children ran in and out of the restaurant as the friends we share with Irene and her mom talked about other great meals and rebuilding plans. I’ll just have to go back.

And so will you.

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

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Other great simple dishes that day

L'Aquila style potato gnocchi with a light meat sauce


Great grilled meats too....

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Maccheroni on Foodista

Bad Crêpes and Beauties in Berets

Cheap on the Nutella leaves Paris crêpes a little flat.

When I was growing up Nutella was almost impossible to find the U.S.A, at least it had not yet arrived in the upper Midwest. The stories of Nutella that my friends who had spent time in Europe mad this mysterious chocolate paste seem larger than life.
Legend, fortunately, is often based on fact. And the fact is that this creamy paste made of blended sugar, chocolate powder, hazel nuts, vegetable oil and powdered milk is hard to resist. They sell it as breakfast food – advertised in Europe much as cornflakes are advertised in America – as part of a balanced breakfast for children and athletes. You can also find it in deserts, cakes, as a pizza topping and any other way you can imagine.

World Nutella Day (Feb )

Its versatility makes it all he more dangerous. Especially since all you really need is a spoon or, even better, your finger. The saltiness adds an earthy accent to it’s flavor (try it on salted crackers or a pretzel if you want, or any way your naughty little mind imagines). Late night snacking and a few more ounces of body fare are only a jar twist away – but at least you’ll sleep with contented grin.
Another legend back then was that the crêpes you bought in the streets of Paris were the best in the world. This might have been true in the 80’s, but this Summer my Nutella crêpe devouring daughters were not thrilled to discover that street vendors in Pescara, Rome or L’Aquila (even post-earthquake) make better Nutella crêpes than the dozen we tried all over Paris.

Emily in Paris (the Crepe Revolutionary)

There are two reasons for this. First, to save time very few of them will whip them up from batter to crêpe in front of you – they will try to throw a pre-made one on before you can protest (if they even have any fresh batter left). And half of the joy is the texture and crisp doughy warmth of a freshly formed and folded crêpe.
The other half is how much Nutella is used and how it is spread along the almost cooked crêpe. Of course purists would say that Nutella came after the legend – and they can be tasty with chocolate syrup, marmalade or just powdered sugar. But Nutella has a habit of nudging aside tradition and grabbing your attention.
Our street vendors in L’Aquila not only pour the mixture on the hot plate in front of you, adding to the wonder as the simplest ingredients evolve before you eyes, but they spread on the Nutella before the first fold so that there are more layers alternation from pastry to Nutella and back. In Paris the spreading only occurs when it is already folded in half. Only the vendor on the side of the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés kept to the script on freshly poured, half moon crêpe building (but he was cheap on the Nutella).

Four wonderful sights

Fortunately there is much more to Paris than a loss of respect for visiting crêpe-eaters, so a few touristy purchases of berets and postcards or an improvised musical puppet show on the Metrò later and the disappointment would fade away.
Besides, there was a jar waiting for us when we got home.


February 5th is World Nutella Day (http://www.nutelladay.com/ )

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Deep Fried Balls of Sunshine

Palermo Has Changed for the Better, and the Arancini are Still Awesome

Over twenty years ago during college I spend a few weeks traveling in Sicily by train and ferry. It was just before All Saints day and there and the first cool autumn rains were signaling that, even on an island just of the coast of Tunisia, Summer does end. I was in Palermo for only three days on that trip and my views then were mixed. So much of the city was breathtaking, a swirl of ancient Greece, Arab domination, Norman invasion and dozens of other chapters of human history permeated the streets of the city.

Maybe it was incessant drizzle or maybe it was the “unconventional” business climate that so many of the shopkeepers were working under, but I did not always feel that welcome when I went into the shops looking for something to eat. But even if the sellers were often surly, sometimes their aranicini made me feel welcome anyway.

Arancino ragout at Bar Alba, Palermo

Aranicini, basically fried, filled rice balls, can be found in street food places up and down the boot and they can be tasty elsewhere, but somehow I’ve never found one as good as any of those I ate during that trip, with the sole exception of the ones I’ve had coming back to Palermo two decades later.

In my three trips back this year Palermo has given me completely different sensation. People are engaging everywhere, even taxi drivers, and every downtown neighborhood seems to have an area where you can enjoy hanging out at night. I’ve found good pizza and rediscovered amazing almond and ricotta based pastries, but I’ve been longing for arancini.

The most traditional arancini are filled with either a meat and sweet pea ragout or béchamel and prosciutto, but you can find store specialties with other fillings. They can be small, like the ones I had as appetizers at the Foccacceria San Francesco a few months back, but the softball-sized ragout arancini are still my favorite. I think you can only fully grasp the importance of eating real Sicilian arancino if you hold it in you hand and bite in. Popping one into your mouth is too similar olive ascolane (which much better in their Ascoli Piceno birthplace or in Amatrice than anywhere else) to have their own magic.

A Great Fried Ball, Bar Alba, Palermo

Last week at my insistence Italo took us to the Pasticceria Alba on our way home. Alba is a full-service bar and pastry shop with an elegant glass corner with table service. There were other distractions – even a sweet basil pesto arancino – but we were able to stick to our goal and I had my long-awaited ragout Sicilian arancino (and a glass of Nero D’Avola red wine). Part of their secret is that they usually made them every few hours.

I was happy, but being from Palermo, my guide had other motives for choosing Albe – their ice cream is, well, dreamy sandwiched inside a brioche bun. But I’ll write more on Palermo’s frozen treats later on.

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

Pasticceria Alba http://www.pasticceriaalba.it/newpasticceriaalba_en.html; also http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=86980155573&v=wall&viewas=0

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See Naples, Eat Chocolate, and Die


What few people know Naples is famous for

The the names Gay and Odin seem more like a Broadway songwriting duo than a neapolitan culinary landmark, but within sight of Vesuvius the names are linked to some of the best chocolate you can find anywhere.
Chocolate Gelato in the Spaccanapoli
The first Gay – Odin shop I came upon is located around the corner form the Santa Chiara monastery along the Spaccanapoli, the historic street that slices the old part of this city in two. Gay – Odin has been renewing the art of chocolate making every day since. This year during the All Saints Holiday (the day after Halloween) Silvia, Sofia and Emily had come to Naples to explore with me and we had ventured off to the historical center to see if the creche markets around San Gregorio Armeno were already in full bloom. (They were.)

My mind was on getting to Scaturchio for coffee and a treat. We just had a nice lunch of Pasta alla Genovese (which in Naples is an onion sauce, not sweet basil) and I need both an espresso for the caffeine and maybe pastry (the usual baba or sfogliattella conundrum). We were almost there when Silvia and Emily made a detour, diving headfirst into the crowded little corner store.

They had found Gay – Odin.

The little shop, like many of Naples’s better chocolatiers or pastry shops is a feast for the eyes – from the art-deco sign and bars of chocolate with wrappers that reproduce their historic designs from the first half of the last century. Every little detail to remind you that this chocolate has been making mouths water in Naples for over 90 years.

Despite the autumn chill and pre-storm wind, most of the crowd was pressed up against the glass curve of the ice cream counter, and Silvia and Emily were in the thick of it (Sofia and I were waiting like sly hyenas out front. I was able to talk Silvia out of some of hers – an indescribable good dark chocolate and orange and dark chocolate and rum. Emily even let her older sister try some of hers – in part out of love, in part because she had also bought herself a handmade boero.

A boero is a dark chocolate ball around a chocolate mouse and liquid rum core. It is strongly suggested that you pop the whole thing in your mouth and don’t talk to anyone until it’s melted away or your risk dripping all over you shirt.

And as we pushed down the darkening street towards my espresso and San Gregorio Armeno’s manger statues, that is exactly what Emily did.

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

The Gay – Odin shop we visited in Via Benedetto Croce 61, Naples (Italian only): http://www.gayodin.it/punti_dettaglio.php?id=9

Semisweet Chocolate on Foodista

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Coffee is King, Especially When He’s Got No Clothes

Coffee Consciousness V – Don’t hide what you love

I am not coffee purist, although I do love my coffee black and unsweetened – be it Neapolitan espresso or good American brew. I feel that if I don’t enjoy it straight up, I’m not fully qualified to comment on coffee that is doctored up with milk, sugar, chocolate or whatever else they are offering.

Espresso a Scaturcchio


It goes the other way around, too. My grandfather would alway say you could tell a good ice cream parlor by it’s coffee ice cream. If it tasted like good coffee, you could trust everything else they made.

Please don’t take this as yet another attack on that giant international coffee bar giant – that’s not my goal here. Even though I am very critical of the whole concept of the place, that did that did not stop my daughter Emily and I from enjoying a chocolate and coffee concoction at atrium to the Louvre this summer. Similarly, my love for locally grown and cooked Italian food does not stop me from getting my Big Mac fix about once a month. It’s benchmarking for research.

Espresso, again


So even though I usually prefer coffee straight up and black, there are times when you want something a little different. Since when in Italy drinking a cappuccino in the afternoon or evening will instantly brand you as American, I suggest ordering a marocchino or veneziano (“moroccan” or “venetian” – the name changes depends on the town or bar) will get you around this. Usually served in little glass mugs and poured so that the coffee, chocolate and foamed milk are layered, it’s the afternoon pick-me-up that won’t buy you amused looks when you order.

Even in the birthplace of espresso, coffee companies and bars are on the lookout for new ways to get you to drink more, and the veneziano has blossomed into scores of other versions. Adding other aromas like cinnamon and liquor like sambuca and grappa have been around for ages, but I believe that the coffee has to stand out. Coffee is still king.
As I write this I have the good fortune of getting to spend a lot of time in Naples for work. Naples is one of Italy’s hardest but most beautiful cities, surrounded by a coastline (Sorrento and the Amalfi coast) and islands (Capri, Ischia) that attract Hollywood movie stars. But tourists often shy away from the city – most recently because its trash collection problem makes the nightly news the world over.

Garbage is a problem, although not enough to keep you away. Same for traffic, inconvenient visiting hours, inefficient public transportation… what holds down the tourist in Italy is the same in Naples, but more so. But it goes the other way around too.

In need of Espresso, Scaturrchio & p.zza San Domenico Maggiore, Naples


This is also part of why so many other things in Naples – from the pizza to desserts to coffee – can be better than in the rest of the Boot. So after an afternoon of running along the Spaccanapoli from the cloister of Santa Chiara to the traditional crèche piece market at San Gregorio Armeno, you can feel a bit woozy. That’s when you can slip into Scaturchio, one of the city’s most famous cafes in piazza San Domenico Maggiore and a nice cup of black, bitter espresso brings you your own little cup of nirvana.

And if you need it sweet or alcoholic, try eating it with a sfogliatella or a babà. But that’s another story.

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

Scaturchio (Italian only): http://www.scaturchio.it/home.htm

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Pizzette in the Land of Pizzelle

What to do in Pescara when it’s a sunny Saturday in November and you don’t want to get the dishes dirty

I’ve been spending most of the last few months in Naples, the city that gave pizza it’s name and fame, so it would appear odd that I’m writing about Pescara’s pizzette first.
The reason is simple, pizzette on the Adriatic coast are a part of the landscape, and at least from Vasto to Pescara, Numana, and Rimini a couple of oven-fresh pizzette have been part of my life for at least 20 years. And my main focus here is not cooking, or food, but life in Italy through an edible lense.
Pescara’s pizza are very different from their bigger neapolitan cousins – they are breadier, crunchier, oilier, they come out of modern (not wood) ovens in individual pans fused together by the dozen like a primordial cupcake pan. What they have in common is an unspiced tomatoe sauce in which you can still taste the sun, and dashes of mozzarella in which you can savour traces of fresh cream.

Pizzette in Pescara!

Pizzette in Pescara!


Until Pescara became our home, and not just a summer day-trip from L’Aquila, it’s unique pizzette were just a special prize after a relaxing post-afternoon swim.
The Trieste beach concession is by far the town’s most famous pizzetteria in town and they seem to excel in keeping summer alive in our tummies and our minds as we pass from one season to another. At least three times in the last month, if the sun is shining on our faces as we were leaving Sunday mass or picking up the girls after school on Saturday* we would magically forget that lunch was waiting for us at home and we would instead steer our bikes down the beach to the river that cuts this city in two. Like donkeys insisting on a rest they would brake in front of Trieste.

If it wasn’t for the long pants, coats and scarves it feels like it’s still Summer; the tables in front are full of people in sunglasses nibbling pizzette and watching their neighbors stroll by. In back it’s even more laid back, same sunglasses but they’re there to soak up what’s left of the afternoon sun. The plastic castles and mazes and swings are still mounted in the sand just behind, and the smaller clients are enjoying the giant plastic toys so much it makes me jealous.
One word of warning, I suspect that one of the secrets to Trieste’s pizzette is that they adhere to Henry Ford’s idea of customer satisfaction: you can have any pizzetta you want as long as it’s a margherita.** The menu does give other choices, basic white (foccaccia), white with sausage, anchovies, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, etc. Only the first two are real possibilities, but mostly in their inland evening joint in the Portanova dining and pub district..
If you really do insiste on anchovies they will make it for you but be willing to wait a while. Except, of course,during the summer; when the beach umbrellas are in full bloom they will look at you like you’re from Mars as they prepare racks and racks of margheritas for the throngs in sunscreen and flip-flops.
Trieste, however, is not about choice, it’s about instant gratification. If you want variety you can choose between wine or beer, Fanta or Coke, still water or bubbly water.
And trust me, the only real choice you will want to make as November’s last rays beat upon your brow, is if you will be eating two, or three, or four……

*In much of provincial Italy school goes from about 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
** Margheria = mozzarella and tomato sauce. Mr. Ford is famous for saying that his clients can have any color car they want as long as it was black.

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

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Navelli, The Town That Saffron Built

Red gold, yellow joy, and what makes Milan’s most famous rice dish so special


Or Saffron Seduction

If you drive from Sulmona to L’Aquila, chances are you’ll pass through the town of Navelli, the historic heart of saffron country in the high rising around the Appennines largest mountain: Gran Sasso. Centuries as the source of some of Europe’s most prized saffron helped build L’Aquila into one of Italy most beautiful but lesser known art cities. L’Aquila is still beautiful today, although devastated and off-limits from the earthquake 18 months ago. Despite this tradition, the hair-thin red threads (the colour changes to yellow in food and dies) have only recently made it into the local culinary culture because it was too expensive for its’ growers to eat – you didn’t eat your livelyhood in these breathtaking but cold mountain valleys.

Some experts say that the variety of bulbs used, soil and specific climate help produce some of the best saffron in the world. At least everyone in Abruzzo says will tell you that – and so would Remy, the mouse chef from the movie Ratatouille if he wasn’t a fictional cartoon character.

Lo Zafferano is still probably the world’s most expensive spice, but it’s now within reach of most of our pocketbooks; the tenth of a gram (a tenth the weight of a paperclip) of powdered Navelli saffron needed for the recipe below can be yours for around ten euros if bought in locally here in L’Aquila or the surrounding midieval castle towns. If it costs much less than that, you know it’s fake.

Given this historical importance the town of Navelli – were my mother-in-law is from and where we still spend much of our summers – it’s not surprising that it’s one of the two local products featured in Navelli’s sagra (local agricultural feast). The other food is the town’s tiny but delicous mountain ceci (chick peas).

Navelli’s Pro Loco association (http://www.prolocodinavelli.it/ ) has been putting on the Sagra dei Ceci e dello Zafferano one the first weekend after Ferragosto (August 15th) for 33 years, even in the aftermath of earthquakes. And the Palio dei Asini, a send-up of Siena’s Palio where untrained donkeys run instead of trained racehorses has been a natural satirical draw for thirty years. My niece was part of the trio – boy, girl and donkey – that won this year.

While saffron helped build L’Aquila and many of internal Abruzzo’s most beautiful cities and towns, the locals never dreamt of eating it. So Italy’s the most famous saffron dish comes from the northern city of Milan. The following recipe, the one used at the Navelli’s “sagra”, is a gem for it’s simplicity and how it draws out the best from it’s ingredients.

Risotto alla Milanese – Risotto allo zafferano.

Ingredients

Risotto allo zafferano (otherwise know as Risotto alla Milanese)
500 g of rice (a little less than half a pound)
100 g of butter (about a quarter pound
1-fifth of a white onion.
50 g parmigiano reggiano, grano padano or another classic Italian grated cheese
1 envelope of saffron from L’Aquila (with a tenth of a gram of pure saffron)
a half pot of broth broth

Instructions
Dice the onion and simmer in a spoonful of butter until lightly golden, then add the rise and stir continuously as you slowly add broth. In the meantime mix the saffron in a small cup of broth. When the rice is almost done (that is, the broth is almost entirely absorbed by the rice), add the remaining butter and pour in the saffron-broth mix. Sprinkle the parmesan on top just before serving. My wife Silvia’s trick is to add a tablespoon full of the saffron liquor that Navelli’s saffron cooperative sells.

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts

This recipe was also included with four others on a guest post promoting George Clooney’s recent move “The American”, set mostly in some of the most beautiful corners of Abruzzo.
http://www.focusfeatures.com/article/the_cuisine_of_abruzzo?pageref=5

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Arborio Rice


Risotto

Don’t Ask for Whom the Bell Tolls in Pisa

Just relax at the Antica Trattoria il Campano

Antica Trattoria "Il Campano", Pisa

The end of our twenty-four hour getaway to Pisa, last autumn, was the tastiest part of the trip. It was sunny, and unusually warm for November in Tuscany. I had finished my telecommuting obligations the evening before and met Silvia after she had said her goodbyes to her fellow historians. As we walked through the maze of little squares and streets around the market between Borgo Stretto and the University, on the way to our hotel, we spotted a restaurant in a small medieval townhouse, with four tables outside. We had two hours before our train to Rome left, and since an hour to enjoy lunch at an outside table was attraction enough to stop, we decided to take our chances on the food.

We soon discovered that we had nothing to worry about. Antica Trattoria il Campano had the feel of a good, small restaurant in a university town. Which makes sense, as the trattoria takes its name from its previous location, under the nearby bell tower (“campano”), that historically signaled the beginning of classes at the University.

Pappa al Pomodoro in Pisa

Our waitress, professional and friendly, took our orders and guided us through the meal, all the while making us feel like we were in charge. The menu, which varies according to seasonal availability, had a tempting mix of traditional Tuscan dishes and variations on the same. Silvia, nostalgic for the years she studied in Florence and Pisa, ordered pappa al pomodoro, a simple Tuscan dish made from stale bread, tomatoes, olive oil, basil and garlic. She used to make it for dinner parties when we were getting to know each other. I snuck a few fork full’s and was immediately flooded with intoxicating memories of those days. I, as always, couldn’t resist ordering the first thing I saw with artichokes – a fresh salad built around thinly sliced raw artichokes and pecorino cheese.

The rest of the menu was so tempting that we also ordered seconds: Silvia a hot eggplant antipasto, and I, venison raviol

Venison Ravioli at Il Campano, Pisa

i. The sauce for the ravioli was made from fresh sheep cheese from Pistoia (“Raviggiolo di pecora pistoiese”) and red currants. I still daydream about that sauce!

Il Campano is famous for two other things–– grilled meats and a huge wine list (which is what you would expect from a restaurant that fills its walls with bottles). We decided to forgo ordering a bottle of wine, but chose one of four reds sold by the glass or carafe –– a Morellino di Scansano produced by Agrucellina. It’s a full bodied wine with hints of currants and a little pepper – a house wine good enough to make me forget there was a wine list.

A word of warning: the menu changes from time to time, so don’t expect to have what we had. If you’re a little adventurous, chan

ces are you will be pleased. Portions are not huge, but big enough to only need two choices to feel full. In fact, if the portions were any larger, the food would not be as beautiful.

Artichoke salad front, eggplant antipasto back

– Joshua Lawrence

Antica Trattoria Il Campano

Via Cavalca 19, Centro, 56126
http://www.ilcampano.com/

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carbonara-by-Joshua-Lawrence/291542554139?ref=ts


Silvia and her Pappa al Pomodoro at Il Campano

Venison on Foodista

Red Currant on FoodistaRed Currant

Artichoke on FoodistaArtichoke