A little slice of pastry heaven

When your colleague has a birthday, (and he is from Napoli) you know it is going to be a good day!

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Too beautiful to eat, or too delicious to share?!

Italians have got pastry baking down to a fine art.  You find these little bites of heaven in La Pasticceria (pronounced pa stee cher EE a), which is the Italian pastry shop.

All the little cakes are called pasticcini!

Buon appetito!

A(nother) weekend of foodporn in Modena

The other weekend Modena hosted the latest edition of La Bonissima.  According to legend “Bonissima” which translates to “Well-known” was a noble woman who helped the people in a time of great famine in the 13th century.  So it only seems appropriate that a festival celebrating the local food, its tradition and heritage is named after her.

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La Bonissima

At this annual festival you will find cooking shows and market stalls.  Aceto Balsamico. Parmigiamo Reggiano.  Tortelli. Tortellini.  Biscotti.  Proscuitto.  The list is endless.  But what caught my eye this year was Panino. To be exact Da Panino.

In Italian the noun panino (Italian: [pa’ni:no]; plural panini) is a diminutive of pane (“bread”) and literally refers to a bread roll. Panino imbottito (“stuffed panino”) refers to a sandwich, but the word panino is also often used alone to indicate a sandwich in general

Source: Wikipedia

Ok, so we know that panino is the fancy word for toasted sandwich.  However, did you know that in Modena it is considered an art form?

There is even a local eatery called Da Panino , which was the brain child of Beppe Palmieri. Better known as the sommelier of the Michelin starred Osteria Francescana.  (Which is only a few meters away – in fact even Massimo Bottura and his kitchen crew have been spotted here grabbing a quick bite).

So at this years La Bonissima Christian di Asmara put on a real show in Piazza Grande , with a live cookery demonstration showing us how to make Italy’s best Panino!

We were shown how to create two masterpieces:

The first is the prize winning “Lo Speciale” (no surprise that it translates to ‘the Special’….see you will be speaking Italian in no time!).

Lo Speciale won the coveted Gambero Rosso prize in 2015 for ‘Sandwich of the Year‘.  It goes like this:

Oven baked ham from Langhirano, served with a jam of bitter cherries from Modena Igp, a sprinkling of almonds from Toretto and bread from Matera.

The second was a dream:

Gorgonzola whipped together with Mascarpone cheese, Mostarda (a mustard flavoured syrupy jam) from Voghera, walnuts and iced celery served between two slices of toasted bread.


Unfortunately the sandwich did not last long enough for its photo op! Oh well I will just have to make another one….

Christian di Asmara of Panino making a masterpiece
Modena’s Ghirlandina the backdrop for our food market

Gelato is good for you!!

No you are right Mr Trump, global warming doesn’t exist.  So please can you explain to me why in the second week of March I am sitting melting my pretty ass under a blazing sun drinking spritz?!! Would you believe the thermometer has already spiked 23 degrees here in Modena!!

The unusually warm weather got me thinking of another reason why I love Italy.  GELATO. No, gelato is not just a fancy word for icecream.   It is very much different, here are the basics:

  • it is churned more slowly
  • contains less air = more yumminess (denser I believe is the technical term)
  • is served at a slightly warmer temperature which means a silkier and softer texture
  • has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream

And as if Italians weren’t already living the ‘dolce vita’ they also have proclaimed that eating this heaven on a cone is actually good for you.

You don’t have to take my word for it, find out more via Why Gelato is Good For You – Perché il gelato ti fa bene | ITALY Magazine !

How to prepare an Italian for an Irish Christmas

  1. Keep them warm. Socks, thermal underwear, hats, gloves, scarfs.  Go on dress them up like a mini Micheln man you won’t regret it.
  2. ….and keep them cool.  We have a nice open log fire at home.  One of the things I miss the most is sitting in front of warm glowing log embers on a dark cold winter evening…….but what no one tells you, is that sitting next to a burning flame is hot. Really hot and I don’t mean in the sexy way.  Imagine sitting in the living room.  Open fire.  40 degrees celsius stripped down to our underpants.  Cheeks glowing pink (it’s probably due to the wine consumed, but we’ll blame it on the temperature) and then deciding its time for bed, or a bathroom break or whatever.  Heading away from the fireplace into another part of the house.  Now  this can only be described as an experience similar to that of jumping into a frozen lake after sitting in a Nordic sauna.  Not at all pleasant.  Although come to think of it people do say this is healthy and good for you, which on second thoughts almost always equals something rather unpleasant.
  3. Get the liver warmed up. Increase daily tolerance of alcohol SLOWLY in the weeks leading up to the festivities.  This should allow the body to get used to the blood being a little more diluted than usual.  Do you need some more wine in your blood system???  No problem, just visit my mum.
  4. Gin and Tonic is an aperitivo.  Consumed in our household normally before the Christmas lunch.  This is THE secret ingredient to all our cooking and quite frankly anything that helps keep my mum singing while she’s juggling a 2 kilo turkey in the kitchen is more than welcome! In Italy this cocktail is more commonly consumed as a digestivo, late in the evening after a hearty meal so getting used to this cultural difference, I hope should come as a pleasant surprise.
  5. Throw away the daily planner.  Mum is in charge.  Much like Italian mothers controlling the household, Irish mothers seem to have read the same parenting handbook.  Think Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins without the psychedelic trips into street paintings.  You should not expect to make any decisions for the entire stay. This however should be seen as a positive.  Say yes for a simple life and let the brain take a well deserved vacation.
  6. Set them up to make pasta fresca.  I ordered a while back for my sister a large rolling pin and tagliere, the large wooden board for making fresh homemade pasta.  This can have two benefits.  The home cooked Italian pasta creating a mini-island of calmness and familiarity in the chaos that is an Irish home – and we get to eat well!…
  7. ….or alternatively get them to be mums chef in training in the kitchen. This is a more realistic option for Christmas as generally there is little time to ask, “what shall we eat today?” given all the mincepies, turkey, christmas puddings, coffee, cakes and finger food that is forced upon you.  Bonus points with mum as she has a little helper never fails!
  8. Secret escapes to the beach.  A little ‘down time’ away from the Irish clan is essential to (a) relax the brain from having to understand our babbeling, noisy, fast and unique way of communicating with each other.  Remember your (better) Italian half will feel at times like a fish out of water (b)  Breathing in the fresh salty sea air is just priceless and a great way to steal secret kisses and hugs with your Italian Stallion (although be warned the dog will be keeping one eye on you!).
  9. The dog is the most loved member of the family.  She will be your shadow, cuddle your feet, eat your leftovers and take you for walks.
  10. Finally, say goodbye to elegance and impeccable Italian style.  Say hello to crazy Christmas jumpers!

Pasta Fresca, the golden secret of Emilia Romagna

I will never forget the moment when I first truly understood the passion that Italians have for food.

Shortly after I first moved to Italy from the UK, I was out dining with locals – the dish was tortellini alla panna (tortellini with cream).  An amazingly good, melt in your mouth experience but I was struggling with the generous portions and I decided to leave the plate unfinished.

Within seconds my dining companion exploded with the fiery outrage Italians are famous for, ‘but that dish has taken 3 years of love and tenderness to make – you can’t leave it!!!” He was serious.  I was speechless.

Nowadays of course I wouldn’t dream of such a thing, after all to quote the original Italian goddess Sofia Loren ‘everything you see I owe to spaghetti’ …..and tortelli, pizza, risotto, the list is endless!!

Anyway, back then I was still very much a ‘rookie’ when it came to understanding where my food came from and crucially the importance of tradition in the Italian kitchen.