Calzoni are half-moon shaped stuffed pizzas that can be prepared as individual servings or one large turnover to be sliced into pieces. The fillings can include a variety of meats, vegetables, and cheeses. In Italy, calzoni are not typically prepared with tomato sauce. This version combines spicy sausage (use mild if you prefer), spinach, and a blend of mozzarella and provolone cheeses. Brushing the calzoni with an egg wash gives the baked pies a professional sheen. [Read more…]
Conventional cooking wisdom dictates that fresh herbs are always preferable to dried. A generation ago, you might find fresh parsley in the supermarket produce section, but that would be it. Today, fresh herbs crowd an entire section and “gourmet” recipes demand the just-picked stuff.
Some fresh herbs are, indeed, superior to their dried relatives a few aisles away. Basil is the most obvious example. It shares its subtle anise-mint flavor only when it’s newly plucked. But oregano? I don’t agree with the trend to cooking with this herb before it’s dried, especially if it was grown in a hot house or hydroponically, as so many commercially-grown herbs are.
Oregano, in Italy, is the Neapolitan pizza herb. For making the finest pizza at home, the type of oregano you choose makes a dramatic impact.
One in an occasional series of conversations with those who try to “live Italian” wherever they are.
Linda Dini Jenkins is a freelance travel writer and photographer and the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband (more later on how to win a free copy!). She also blogs regularly about travel and travel writing at Travel the Write Way and teaches creative writing and journaling. She enjoys taking small groups of friends, to explore what Italy has to offer beyond the Florence-Venice-Rome triumvirate, and she can pack her suitcase in 15 minutes.
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Q: Living “Italian”. . . Is it a great way to live or the greatest way to live?
A: Well, I think it’s the greatest way to live. When you take into account the slower pace of life (outside the big cities!), the immersion in history and art, the fantastic cuisine, the love of design and music, the respect for taking time out to enjoy the simple things . . . whether it’s Italian or Mediterranean or European, it’s how I want to live.
A: Are you kidding? Start with the food, the design sensibilities, the language, the arts, the vino, the pausa, the passeggiata . . . need I go on?
Q: When did you discover your Inner Italian? What is your Inner Italian named?
A: I always knew about my Inner Italian but, like other children of first-generation Italian-Americans who desperately wanted to assimilate, “being Italian” was something that just happened and was never really encouraged. In fact, I’d heard stories growing up of how hard it was for my father to be Italian in a New York suburb in the 1930s and ‘40s; even being Italian in my first job in New York in the 1970s was something of a liability. And I was always a little ashamed after that of being part Italian (my mother’s side of the family was English/Irish/German) until I met my husband and he took me to Italy in 2000. Since then, I have been a proud and vocal Italian-American. If my Inner Italian has a name and it needs to be something other than Linda, I suppose it’s Principessa . . .
Q: What does “living Italian” mean to you?
A: My grandparents came over from Italy in the late 1890s and they were anything but rich. So for me, living Italian has to do with cooking and eating together, always having crusty bread and wrinkled olives and green olive oil on the flowered oilcloth-covered table. It means not being afraid to be emotional—even if that involves fists and things flying when you’re angry. It means loving music and feeling the arts very deeply. It means trying to have a sense of style—of la bella figura—even if the clothes or table settings come from Target. And it means being a storyteller and a traveler and something of an adventurer.
I think I know the reason that production of mozzarella di bufala increased by more than 11 percent in the first half of this year (according to the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP consortium).
The bump in output coincided with my visit to Salerno Province—a major producer of mozzarella di bufala—where I savored the heavenly fresh cheese at every opportunity.
I learned that until you eat DOP (“protected designation of origin” zone) mozzarella on the day it is produced, you haven’t eaten true mozzarella. The milk of water buffalos is higher in fat (about 9 percent) than cow’s milk (about 4 percent) and fat = flavor + mouth feel. Tangy and supple mozzarella di bufala is simply divine.
Our group of travel professionals was invited to watch the artisans at the Fattoria del Casaro in Paestum making mozzarella. As we entered the spotless production room, we were cautioned to tread carefully. The tile floor was slick from dissolved milk fat splashing out of vats filled with steaming water and walnut-sized cheese curds.
The mozzarella men pulled the curds with a long stick to create skeins of cheese. Prior to the scalding stretch fest, the curds relaxed in warm water for about four hours. The name mozzarella comes from the verb mozzare, meaning “to cut.” The stretched curds are pinched by hand into varying sized balls or braids.
In the U.S., fresh mozzarella di bufala is available in big city shops but is very expensive. A good alternative is cow’s milk mozzarella, called fior di latte “flower of milk.” Since freshness is its calling card, overcooking mozzarella is a big no-no. Melting it atop pizza is about as much cooking as it can take.
In summer, a classic way to savor fresh mozzarella is in insalata caprese, named for the island of Capri. The dish is prepared by placing alternating slices of mozzarella and ripe tomatoes on a plate and drizzling with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper. New York-based cookbook author Arthur Schwartz, who teaches cooking classes in Paestum, writes in Naples at Table that vinegar is never used in a caprese. Also, he recommends cooks outside of Italy select ripe Big Boy tomatoes as a good stand in for the Caprese pomodori cuore di bue.
Here is a recipe from Naples at Table for a wonderful pasta dish made with fresh mozzarella.
Spaghetti con Melanzane e Mozzarella
(Spaghetti with Eggplant and Mozzarella)
1 pound eggplant, peeled or unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Oil for frying
2 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 pint (1 pound) cherry tomatoes, cut in halves or quarters
12 to 14 ounces spaghetti
2 tablespoons finely cut basil or parsley
8 ounces fresh or several-days-old mozzarella, cut into1/4-inch cubes
Grated Pecorino or ricotta salata
- Salt the eggplant and let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes or longer. Dry it well with paper towels, pressing the eggplant to remove moisture.
- In a skillet, heat about 1/2 inch of oil and fry the eggplant until it is soft and lightly browned. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper.
- Pour out (and discard) all but about 2 tablespoons of the frying oil. Add the garlic and the pepper flakes and place over low heat. Cook the garlic, pressing it into the oil a couple of times to release its flavor, until it barely begins to color on both sides. Remove the garlic.
- Add the tomatoes, immediately cover the pan, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook the tomatoes until they fall apart and become saucy, about 8 minutes.
- Meanwhile cook the spaghetti until al dente in plenty of salted boiling water.
- Just before the pasta id done, add the eggplant cubes to the tomato sauce, lower the heat, and cook gently, still covered, for another minute or so.
- Drain the spaghetti and turn it into a well-warmed serving bowl. Add the eggplant and tomato sauce, plus the finely cut herb. Toss well. Add the mozzarella and toss again.
- Serve immediately. Garnish with some grated Pecorino or ricotta salata if desired.
La Fattoria del Casaro packages mozzarella di bufala for airplane carry-on. You can also purchase fresh mozzarella di bufala from Fattorie Garofalo which has a shop in Naples Capodichino Airport.
Question: What’s wrong with this picture?
Answer: Absolutely nothing!
I was with a group of travel professionals and writers touring the hotel during a recent certification program hosted by the province of Salerno, which occupies about half of the region of Campania. The Italian Government Tourist Board North America (ENIT) and Alitalia Airlines were also sponsors.
In three action packed days, our Salerno hosts treated us to some hidden gems. They’re working hard to expand awareness of Salerno’s offerings, the best known of which are the towns clinging to the Amalfi Coast.
Salerno is the Amalfi but a lot more as well. It is the mountains north of the coast that divide costiera d’amalfi from Naples and also the large area south of the city of Salerno. This includes the incomparable Greek ruins at Paestum, plenty of beaches, and the wild beauty of the Cilento national park.
In my upcoming posts, I’ll share some tastes and sights of Salerno province where new doors were opened for me.
Have you visited Salerno?
What destination spoke to you?