It requires patience to bake this medieval leavened fruitcake, but you can really call yourself a Tuscan chef when it works out!
Ever been given a Panettone for Christmas? If you have, obviously you have friends or family with good taste. This dome-shaped sweet bread loaf originated from Milan in Italy is usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year. It takes three days to bake this medieval cake, also known as the “tall, leavened fruitcake”. It is mostly large enough to share, but will be gone in no time! This is because the Panettone melts in your mouth and then all of a sudden it is gone, making you longing for more. Its fluffiness and hints of sultanas have been around for decades and are mostly baked for Christmas and New Years dinner parties.
The history of this Christmas cake lies in a medieval city in northern Italy. The name “Panettone” is short for pane di Tonio, which can be translated into Tonio’s bread. Tonio was a poor Milanese baker and invented the loaf for his daughter after she fell in love with a nobleman. He needed to bake a cake to show his love, but he didn’t have enough money to bake one of the well-known desserts. Everybody loved the cake and they enjoyed it so much that the family asked for its name, this is where Tonio came up with his own bread and the name has not changed since. Due to World War II people got to know this Christmas sweet, which was cheap to produce and gave people hope during the Christmas period. The loaf was often combined with hot cocoa or liquor and its popularity brought the Panettone to the rest of Europe and even South America and Australia. Nowadays Italian food manufacturing companies and bakeries produce over 117 million Panettones and their sister Pandoro cakes every Christmas. Not only Italians, but also Americans have discovered this luxury Panetonne is something you want to serve at Christmas.
Variations of Panettones
There are over a hundred types of Panettones you can bake for the Christmas table. Basic ingredients added to the bread dough are sugar, butter, raisins and tender citrus peel. These are added over a couple of days, resulting in a light-as-air texture. After this the doughis left to prove for 10 hours; upside down! This is the basic mixture, but other famous flavors include; Prosecco, double chocolate, Tuscan honey, cherries and Tiramisu. We recommend you to try the Finettone once; it is made with juniper, rosemary and gin-soaked olives. The saltiness from the olives is combined with an orange infused Gin & Tonic. But most of all Panettone is known from its delicious festive flavours of light and sweet dough filled with fruits and its amazing tastes. Served with a large dollop of creamy mascarpone and a splash of amaretto, which is absolutely divine. During the Christmas season you can find Panettones in every grocery store or bakery, but have you ever tried to make one yourself? Note: you need some patience and baking skills to get the desired taste, shape and feeling.
We, at Tuscookany, know the smell of a great bake and all the scents that come free in the kitchen. It reminds one of a mother baking and having to be patient to unwrap Christmas presents (read: tear open). The smell of perfumes of candied citrus peel, dried fruit, butter and sugar are about to indulge in your home for three days when baking the Panettone. This fluffy and versatile Panettone is delicious enjoyed for breakfast or dessert or a mid-afternoon snack to get you through the 4pm slump. In our opinion we cannot think of a time it wouldn’t be appropriate for a slice. A hint from one of our chefs of the Italian cooking classes in Tuscany is to serve this sweet bake with either a hot beverage or a sweet wine like Moscato. Serving this combination not only looks good but will also open up the playing field for same charades during the Holiday season festivities.
Now it is your turn to decide; are you going to bake it yourself or buy it in a store? One thing you should never forget is that a party without a cake is just a meeting, so get the most of the Holidays this year. We from the Tuscookany team and everyone from the cooking classes in Italy, wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year and hope all your cooking wishes will come true next year. If you really want to know how to bake this Panettone do not hesitate to ask our chefs during one of the Italian cooking courses, they would be happy to help! We hope to see you next season!
Have fun cooking!
The Tuscookany Team
We would love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about Panettone with your friends.0 comments | Add comment
When the Greeks found Naples, they adopted a dish made by the natives, made with barley-flour pasta and water dried by the sun.
We also find references to pasta dishes in ancient Rome, which dates back to the 3rd century before Christ. In fact, the Roman Cicero himself speaks about his passion for the “Laganum”, the “laganas”, which are the long pasta (wheat-flour pasta, wide flat shaped sheets). During that time, the Romans developed instruments, tools and procedures (machines) to manufacture the pasta for lasagna. Ever since, cereals have exhibited great facilities for both its transportation as well as its storage. It was the Roman expansion and dominion which fostered the harvesting of cereals in the whole Mediterranean basin.
Look out for World Pasta Day celebrated annually on October 25th, with a plate of your favorite pasta!
The first World Pasta Congress was held in Rome, Italy on October 25th, 1995, when World Pasta Day was established by 40 International pasta producers.
Types of Pasta
There are two major classifications: pasta fresca (fresh) and pasta secca (dried). From here, there are more than 400 unique types of pasta that altogether have more than 1300 names: sheets, strips, long strands, cylinders, unique shapes, flavors, and many other local varieties.
This 14th-century Italian miniature shows two stages in pasta making. The woman to the rightis kneading the dough while her colleague is hanging cut strips of vermicelli - little worms - to dry on a rack.Much later, a thicker variation of vermicelli developed, today known as spaghetti.
Pasta vendors in 1880s Naples sell vermicelli in industrial quantities in this 19th-century hand-colored woodcut painting.
Spaghetti (at the time called macaroni) drying in the streets of Naples, circa 1895.
Photo from more than 400 years after the commercial production of pasta began (the first photography was taken in 1827 by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.
10 Most Importand Pastas:
Three-edged spiral, usually in mixed colors. Many vendors and brands sold as Fusilli are two-edged. Variations: Fusilli Bucati, Fusilli Lunghi Bucati. Fusilli may be solid or hollow. A variant type of Fusilli is formed as hollow tubes of pasta that is twisted into springs or corkscrews and is called Fusilli Bucati. Another variant is twisted long lengths as though Spaghetti were coiled around an object known as Fusilli Lunghi. Fusilli Napoletani are flat lengths of coiled pasta formed around a spindle. From Fusile, archaic/dialect form of Fucile, meaning rifle. As the inside barrel of a gun is “rifled” using a similar screw-shaped device. Fusilli pasta as originally developed in Southern Italy, Campania, by rolling fresh Spaghetti around a thin rod and letting it dry. The "Fusillo" shape was then developed as a pasta shape in its own right.
Most common round-rod pasta.
Variations: Bucatini, Spaghettoni, Spaghettini, Fedelini, Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Sciatelli, Rigatoni and Linguine.
Originally, Spaghetti was notably long, but shorter lengths gained in popularity during the latter half of the 20th century and now it is most commonly available in 25–30 cm (10–12 in) lengths.
The modern word "Macaroni" derives from the Sicilian term for kneading dough with energy, as early pasta making was often a laborious, day-long process. Spago means twine, Spaghetto means little twine, Spaghetti is plural. Sicily appears to have been the first place in Europe where pasta was made in long thin strands and subsequently dried. Durum wheat was well-suited to the soil and weather of Sicily and equally to Campania, the region around Naples. It was grown in large quantities in southern Italy. Naples also had an ideal climate for drying pasta: mild sea breezes alternating with hot winds from Mount Vesuvius. This ensured that the pasta would not dry too slowly and become moldy, or dry too fast and crack.
Ribbon of pasta approximately 6.5 millimeters wide. Fettuce - Wider version of Fettuccine. Modern Fettuccine Alfredo was invented by Alfredo di Lelio in Rome, in the early to mid-20th century. The story goes that in 1914, a man named Alfredo di Lelio was trying to cook something that would please his pregnant wife. He created a sauce made from parmesan cheese and butter and poured it over some fettuccine. Di Lelio opened a restaurant in Italy and served his fettuccine dish. Little ribbons. Originated in Lazio.
Flattened Spaghetti. A thinner version of Linguine is called Linguettine. Little tongues. Linguine originated in Genoa and the Liguria region of Italy. Linguine alle vongole (linguine with clams) and Trenette al pestoare are popular uses of this pasta.
A type of tubular pasta having diagonally cut ends cylinder-shaped pieces. Penne is the plural form of the Italian Penna, deriving from ??? Variations: Penne Lisce, Penne Rigate, Pennoni, Mostaccioli. Latin Penna (meaning "feather" or "quill"), and is a cognate of the English word pen. Originated in Campania, a region in Southern Italy.
Tubular pasta. Large tubes, approximately 4 inches long and 1 inch wide, cut straight on both ends with a smooth surface, usually stuffed with a meat or cheese filling. This tube-like pasta is generally mistaken with the Italian pasta called Manicotti. Manicotti – which roughly means “sleeves” – is a filled crepe rather than an actual pasta and is traditionally prepared in a special crepe pan. Italian, literally ‘large tubes’, from Cannello ‘tube’. The origin of Cannelloni dates back to around 1907, when Nicola Federico, a well-known chef from Naples, Italy, invented this pasta. He created it while working at the La Favoria, a popular restaurant in Sorrento, Italy. Initially, this tubular pasta was called “Strascinati”, which soon came to be known by the name that is popular today – Cannelloni. It gained popularity when the residents of Naples fled to Sorrento, during World War II, which is when they got introduced to this pasta. Today, most restaurants across the world prepare various cannelloni dishes.
Ribbon fairly thinner than fettucine. Variations: Pizzoccheri, Tagliolini. From “Tagliare” – to cut. Originated from the Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions of Italy. Legend has it that the tagliatelle shape--strips of pasta about a half inch wide, was invented in 1487 by Maestro Zafirano, a cook from the village of Bentivoglio (Emilia-Romagna), on the occasion of the marriage of Lucrezia Borgia to the Duke of Ferrara. The cook was said to be inspired by the beautiful blond hair of the bride. Despite the appeal of this romantic notion, it seems likely that the invention of tagliatelle in Italy is earlier.
Bow tie or butterfly shaped. Farfalle come in several sizes, but they all have a distinctive "bow tie" shape. Variations: Farfalle Rigate, Farfallone, Farfalline Translation is Butterflies. Farfalle dates back to the 16th century in the Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna regions of Northern Italy.
Ring-shaped. Stuffed with a mixture of meat and cheese. Sometimes also described as "navel shaped", hence their alternative name of "belly button" (ombelico). In the Italian city of Modena, Farfalle is known as Strichetti. Italian, plural of Tortellino, diminutive of Tortello ‘small cake, fritter’. Originated in Emilia-Romagna.
Large and slightly curved tube. They are larger than Penne and Ziti, and sometimes slightly curved, though nowhere near as curved as Elbow Macaroni. And unlike Penne, Rigatoni's ends are cut square (perpendicular) to the tube walls instead of diagonally. From Riga, meaning line: Rigatoni is pasta with lines (large). Rigato or Rigate, when added to another pasta name means lined, or, with ridges added, as in “Spaghetti Rigati”. Originated in Southern Italy, Sicily.
We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about Pasta with your friends.2 comments | Add comment
What are the ingredients? Where are its origins? Which versions do you like best? Join us in Tuscany to learn how to cook some different variations for yourself!
Parmigiana, known as Parmigiana di Melanzane or Melanzane alla Parmigiana, is a classic Italian dish made with thinly sliced, floured and fried eggplant layered with tomato sauce and cheese and baked in the oven. Parmigiana made with a filling of eggplant is the earliest and still unique Italian version.
Why not book some Cooking Classes in Tuscany with Tuscookany to find out how the Italians cook their Parmigiana?
The History of Parmigiana
A lot of regions in Italy claim the invention and all of them could be true: Sicily, Naples and also Puglia and Calabria. Each region prepares its own version, just like our chefs at Tuscookany, and all are equally delicious.
In Sicilian dialect “Parmiciana” indicates the slats of wood in the window shutters, which remind us of the overlapping eggplant and sauce layers. Some also believe Parmigiana came from Parma in the north of Italy but it is not part of Parma food so this is unlikely.
As you can see, no one knows 100% so we’ll leave it to you to decide where it really came from! However, it remains a humble dish in its simplicity.
Some suspect that the first “Parmigiana” used pumpkin or zucchini so the recipe could be older than first believed. Later it was found that using eggplant worked the best but of course it could be personal preference if you wish to make it your own.
The cheeses can also be changed, perhaps substituting a different mozzarella like Mozzarella Fiordilatte or Buffalo Mozzarella, or maybe a smoked cheese like Provola Affumicata to give a different flavour. Not all recipes use both Parmesan and Mozzarella, you can use whichever combination you prefer. Others might also add some Neapolitan sausage or spicy salami.
Whichever variation you wish to choose, enjoy this delicious Italian dish!
Variations are made with breaded meat cutlets, such as veal and chicken, have been popularised in other countries, usually in areas of Italian immigration.
In the United States and Canada, veal Parmigiana or chicken Parmigiana is often served as an entrée. It is also popular with a side of or on top of pasta. Costelette Parmigiana is another related veal dish, however, in Italy it is generally served without sauce or cheese.
Veal or chicken Parmigiana is a common dish in Australia and Argentina and in both countries often served with a side of chips or salad. In Australia, it may also contain a variety of toppings, including sliced ham or fried eggplant slices.
In Brazil, Parmigiana is a popular restaurant dish, which was brought over by Italian immigrants. There are three kinds of Parmigiana in Brazil: filé de frango a Parmigiana (chicken fillet Parmigiana), berinjela a Parmigiana (eggplant Parmigiana) and meat Parmigiana.
Three types of beef are used to make meat Parmigiana: two prime cuts, yielding, respectively, filé mignon à Parmigiana (tenderloin Parmigiana) and contra-filé à Parmigiana (sirloin steak Parmigiana), while the third type, yielding bife a Parmigiana is simply beef of an unspecified cut. In Brazil, Parmigiana dishes are usually served with either white rice, french fries or with pasta in a tomato sauce.
No matter which version you choose you will definitely need tomatoes, mozzarella and a big chunk of Parmesan!
We look forward to welcoming you to our Cooking School in Italy…….
We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about Parmigiana with your friends.
1 comment | Add comment
At Tuscookany we love bruschetta, the best Italian starter ever. Known outside of Italy, its name still confuses many. Learn how to pronounce and make it correctly.
Bruschetta is a traditional Italian starter dish, which consists of grilled bread, garlic, olive oil, salt and, very often, tomatoes. Different regions of Italy add their own “twists” to a traditional bruschetta by adding other veggies, cheeses or meat. However, the tomato bruschetta remains the most popular and the all time favourite variation.
Bruschetta is correctly pronounced as brew-sket-ta [bruËˆsketta]. Many English speakers, however, tend to turn the “sch” into [Êƒ] sound, which, quite frankly, drives most Italians mad. Therefore, if you do not want to fall out of favour with your Italian friends or, God forbid, our Italian chefs, you’d better learn it once and for all, that there is [sk] sound in the middle of bruschetta.
The name itself comes from the verb bruscare – “to roast over coals”. It is said that originally olive oil producers used toasted bread to taste their freshly pressed olive oil. While bruschetta is thought to come from the Middle Ages, it is believed that it might be a lot older, going back to the Roman or Etruscan times.
Neutral unsalted Tuscan bread is perfect for bruschetta, as it absorbs the flavours of newly pressed extra virgin olive oil, ripe, sweet and juicy red tomatoes, aromatic fresh basil and ever-essential garlic. This is a match made in heaven. Bruschetta seems easy to make, and it is indeed not the most difficult meal on earth, but the freshness of the ingredients and right proportions make a huge difference. Therefore, while bruschetta can be made and eaten all over the world, it tastes nowhere better than in Italy.
Thanks to our chefs and our wonderful garden, here at Tuscookany we are lucky to enjoy amazing bruschetta. Provided you can easily find the right ingredients, we are sharing our Chef Laura’s recipe with you here:
Laura’s Tomato Bruschetta:
6 fresh ripe tomatoes
6 slices country-style white bread
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper from the mill
10 fresh basil leaves
- Slice the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Dice into small cubes (1/2 inch). Mince the garlic cloves. Tear the basil leaves into small pieces.
- Place in a bowl, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper and stir
- Grill the bread on both sides. While it is still hot, brush one side generously with garlic oil, or rub with a peeled mashed garlic clove, and drizzle a thin stream of olive oil
- Top it with the diced tomato mix. Serve while still warm
And if you want to try a true Italian bruschetta, why not to come to Italy and join one of our cooking courses? Our Tuscookany chefs will be happy to share their secrets!
We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about Bruschetta with your friends.2 comments | Add comment
Learn more about this traditional Italian flatbread and find out how to make the Tuscookany version which our guests enjoy so much. It’s time to put the heat on!
Here at Tuscookany focaccia is always a hit among our guests. Who does not like this wonderfully simple bread that can be enjoyed both in combination with other food or on its own. Today we will tell you its story.
A BIT OF HISTORY
You can find flatbreads of different kinds pretty much in any corner of the earth, especially in its Eastern parts. However, probably with the only exception of the pitta bread, focaccia is by far the most famous of them all. Whether it’s the Italian origin that attracts eaters, like pizza, pasta or gelato, or just its absolute deliciousness, go figure! We are inclined to believe it might be both…
Historians believe that focaccia originates from the Ancient Greeks or with the Etruscans who inhabited the territory of modern Tuscany, part of Umbria and Lazio. The name comes from the word “focus”, which means “fireplace” or “hearth” in Latin. The bread indeed was cooked over the open fire or on heated stones in the antiquity. The ingredients were simple back then and the basic recipe has not changed much to this day. Flour, water and olive oil are the three essentials. Focaccia can then be topped with coarse salt, rosemary, cherry tomatoes, onion or other veggies and is considered to be a pizza prototype.
REGIONAL TYPES OF FOCACCIA
When travelling around Italy, you will surely notice that focaccia does not look or taste the same in the different parts of Italy. Its thickness, softness and toppings vary from one Italian area to another.
Liguria is considered to be the birthplace of traditional Italian focaccia. Foccacia ligure or genovese is about 2 cm thick and is soft inside, sprinkled with salt and brushed with olive oil. Recco focaccia (also from Liguria) consists of two thin layers and soft fresh cheese in between. Sardenaira originates in Sanremo, and it is focaccia with anchovies or sardines.
Venetian focaccia is sweet, baked for Easter and resembles the traditional Christmas cake panettone. Sugar and butter are used instead of olive oil and salt.
Focaccia barese, which is common in Puglia in southern Italy, is made with durum wheat flour and topped with salt, rosemary, tomatoes or olives. There is also a potato version.
Tuscan focaccia, schiacciata, which means, “squashed”. Fingers are used to flatten it; hence the attractive dimples, with a sprinkling of olive oil all over its surface. Traditionally Tuscan focaccia is medium thick and medium soft but crispy on the outside. Salt and rosemary are its usual companions. However, throughout Tuscany you can also find a thin and crispy version as well thick and very soft. Tuscan panini with cheese and cold cuts often use focaccia for a base.
While other countries, for example France (foisse) or Spain (hogaza), have their own versions of this wonderful flatbread, focaccia retains its Italian essence and leadership.
TUSCOOKANY’S FOCACCIA TOSCANA
Our Tuscookany chefs love focaccia and have their own little secrets to make it perfect, which you could discover by joining us for an Italian or Mediterranean cooking course in Tuscany at Casa Ombuto, Torre del Tartufo or Bellorcia.
Here we are happy to share the recipe of focaccia toscana from “The Flavours of Tuscany” cookbook, created by Paola, Laura and Franco:
Ingredients (serves 6):
- 900 g (2lbs) of all-purpose white flour
- 0.5 l (1 pint) warm water
- 25 g (1 oz) fresh baker’s yeast or 12 g (1 pinch) of dry yeast
- ½ level tsp of sugar
- 1 tbsp of salt
- 10 tbsps of extra virgin olive oil
- extra virgin olive oil and coarse salt for cooking
Pour 7 Tbsp of water into a small bowl with the yeast and sugar. Leave until the ingredients froth.
Mix the flour in a large bowl with salt, then add the yeast, oil and warm (not hot) water, and mix thoroughly. To make the focaccia softer, replace the oil with 3 tbsp of lard. Add more water if necessary: the dough should be quite soft and sticky.
Let the dough rise under a damp cloth for about 90 minutes, in a warm place.
When it has risen, brush a baking sheet with oil, flour hands well and stretch the dough to a height of approximately 1.5 cm (2/3 in). Use your fingertips to make the characteristic “dimples” in the focaccia, brush with plenty of oil and sprinkle with salt. Add rosemary to taste and bake for about 25 minutes in a pre-heated oven to 180C (355 F).
We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about Focaccia with your friends.2 comments | Add comment
Read more about traditional stuffed pastas in our latest blog and come and join us here at Tuscookany - Cooking vacations in Tuscany to make many variations.
Stuffed pasta is one of the legendary cultural classics around here in Tuscany. Now, when I say “one” I actually mean “many”. In fact, there are so MANY recipes requiring some shape or form of stuffed pasta you would be amazed. Starting with the marvellous cannelloni going all the way down to the myriad of different flavours and representations the famous ravioli has brought to the table. Another reason why this is such an important cornerstone in the Italian culture is related to the fact that stuffing pasta - i.e. making ravioli/tortellini/casoncelli/fagottini/etc. - is a delicate process grandmothers teach to their daughters and granddaughters; a ritual passed down from generation to generation. Well, we also do it at Tuscookany but we always remind our guests that this is sacred territory: stuffing pasta is a BIG deal in Italy. Imagine this: flour on the table, sun outside, the ingredients placed in different bowls, a pestle & mortar for the spices, a rolling pin for the pasta… you know magic is about to happen!
When it comes to choosing the ingredients to compose the actual filling, you kind of make your own rules - from pork to chocolate and squash to mushrooms. Every corner of Italy has its own favourite fillings, which are often related to extensive traditions and the freshness of the seasonal ingredients. There is, of course, a combination made in heaven. One that has become extremely popular around Italy and indeed around the world: spinach and ricotta. The green flavour of the spinach combined with the creamy deliciousness and lightness of ricotta cheese produce an irresistible combination that can be enjoyed by those who love to eat and those who want to lose some weight. As a matter of fact, ricotta is extremely digestible and light as a feather. It is a whey cheese you can make yourself at home by combining 1 litre of warm milk with the juice of 1/2 a lemon and salt. Even vegetarians cannot find a good excuse to avoid this beauty. To finish it off, add a little butter and sage to your spinach/ricotta ravioli and that is all you will ever need to impress your guests: simple and unbelievable. Of course, you can always do more, if you are in the mood for some art!
Spinach and Ricotta Roll
This is precisely what it sounds like. Prepare the stuffing with butter, onion, spinach, ricotta and, if you want, a little egg and some Parmesan cheese. Spread the mix on a sheet of pasta, roll it and cook it for 45 minutes in the oven. Wait until it gets crispy, slice it and serve it with tomato sauce and pepper!
Go out and get some lumaconi! They are one of the shapes of pasta Italians love the most: big snails, literally. This time around, combine spinach, ricotta, nutmeg, salt and pepper. This is for the filling, of course. At the same time, you need a tomato sauce made with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, a little oregano and pepper. Get ready with diced mozzarella too. Now, cook the pasta and place the lumaconi in a baking dish. Fill each “snail” with the stuffing and cover them with the tomato sauce and add the diced mozzarella. Allow it to crisp up in the oven for about 20 minutes at 190 degrees and you will find out what “miracle in the kitchen” really means.
Now, this is just pure fun. Cook your conchiglioni (big shells in Italian, a type of pasta). As you do so, prepare the stuffing with spinach, ricotta, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Fill the conchiglioni one by one with this divine combination. Place them in a buttered pan, add bechamel sauce and bake it all for 20 minutes at 230 degrees celsius. Trust me, this is delicious.
Are you ready to come to Tuscookany and allow us to teach you, in our cooking classes, the many variations of stuffed pasta which you can enjoy together with your fellow cooks together with delicious wine pairings!
We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about traditional stuffed pastas with your friends.
1 comment | Add comment
At Tuscookany we are not only fond of Italian cooking but wine and liquors too. Learn about Italian bitters and toast with us after your Cooking Class in Tuscany.
While almost every country in Europe has their own spirits to drink as an aperitif or digestif, Italians are particularly fond of theirs, and you will most certainly be spoilt for choice here. Amaro is a true star of the Italian liquors. Although, for a long time, it was considered to be an “Old Man’s drink”, it got its second wind in recent years and gains popularity in Europe and across the Atlantic.
“Amaro” in Italian literally means “bitter”, and bitterness is indeed the integral part of any amaro liquor. Most Amaro recipes are kept secret, but they are usually made with a selection of herbs, roots, citrus peel, flowers, spices and bark, which are macerated in base alcohol. Amaro can be aged in barrels, but not all of them are. The alcohol content is not set in stone either, and Amari usually contain anything between 16% and 40% ABV.
Most Amari are drunk after meals as a digestif to help your stomach cope with the abundance of Italian cooking. Some of these herbal drinks claim to have medicinal qualities and were originated in pharmacies and monasteries. One of the oldest Amari was created in this way. Benedictine monks from Abbazia di Santo Spirito in Sicily invented Amaro Averna in the early 19th century. Its recipe was then given to a merchant Salvatore Averna as a gift for his contribution to the community and the church. Salvatore initially produced the liquor for his farmhouse guests, while his son Francesco got the Royal patent and commercialized Amaro Averna all over the country.
There are countless Amari in Italy, and almost each region produces its own Amaro, some of which are more known to the international public than others. Allora, let us have a closer look at the most famous Italian Amari.
There are two most commonly used bitters which form the base for a truly Italian aperitivo:
Origin: Novara, Piedmont
When to drink: before meals
While Campari’s recipe is kept in secret, what we know for sure is that it includes water, alcohol and a number of bitter herbs and fruit such as chinotto and cascarilla. Some traditional Italian cocktails are Campari-based, for example Americano (Campari, red vermouth and soda water) or Negroni (Campari, gin, red vermouth and orange).
Origin: Padua, Veneto
When to drink: before meals
Among the known ingredients of the Aperol secret recipe, there are rhubarb, cinchona, bitter orange and various roots. Aperol became famous all over the world thanks to the excellent aperitif cocktail Aperol Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco and soda water).
Most Amari, however, are usually taken as digestivo and drunk neat or on the rocks (although they can also be used as cocktail ingredients):
Origin: Caltanisetta, Sicily
When to drink: after meals
The recipe was created by the Benedictine monks in the 19th century, and is based on Mediterranean herbs, roots, orange and lemon peel. It has mild bitterness and is quite sweet.
Origin: Pisticci, Basilicata
When to drink: after meals
This dark brown amaro is a blend of more than 30 herbs and it has a distinct bittersweet taste.
Origin: Milan, Lombardy
When to drink: after meals
Ramazzotti is a blend of 33 spices, including star anise, cardamom, cloves, myrrh and orange peel. It is full-bodied, dark brown with a bittersweet. This is also the liquor most favoured by owners.
Origin: Italy (created by a Venetian entrepreneur)
When to drink: before or after meals
Cynar is one of the youngest Italian Amari and appeared on the market only in 1950s. It is made of 13 herbs and roots, and the main ingredient is artichoke, or carciofo in Italian. The brand name originates from the artichoke’s botanical name cynara scolymus. Cynar can also be drunk as an aperitif.
Origin: Milan, Lombardy
When to drink: before or after meals
The base ingredient for this Amaro is rhubarb, combined with other spices, roots and citrus peel. It may not be widely available on the international market, but is quite common and easily sourced in Italy. It can also be taken as an aperitif.
Origin: Milan, Lombardy
When to drink: after meals
This Amaro, created in the late 19th century, is made of a blend of different herbs, flowers and spices, including chamomile, cinnamon, aloe, saffron, rhubarb and iris.
Amaro del Capo
Origin: Capo Vaticano, Calabria
When to drink: after meals
This Amaro is lighter in style and is to be consumed ice cold. The herbal and fruit ingredients include tangerine and orange peel, chamomile, licorice, mint, anise and juniper.
Having an aperitivo or digestivo is one of those Italian drinking habits, which go side by side with taking café after every meal (careful, cappuccino can only be drunk in the morning!), or to accompany food with wine. We love this Italian drinking etiquette, and you could enjoy most of the above Amaro liquors as part of your cooking vacation with Tuscookany as well as during your eating “routine” anywhere in Italy.
We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our amari post with your friends.
0 comments | Add comment
A unique opportunity to win two spots at the Italian cookery course at Casa Ombuto running from 13-20 May 2017. More details on the Tuscookany Facebook page
One Facebook friend of Tuscookany has a chance of winning TWO free spots at the Italian cookery course at Casa Ombuto running from 13-20 May 2017. If you would like to qualify please share this link with the picture on your own Facebook page and send us a message why you think you should win this and include your email address. The most original message will win!! We will decide at noon Friday so you have time to book your flights!! Good luck!
The Tuscookany Team !
9 comments | Add comment
Photo: "The flavours of Tuscany" La bistecca alla fiorentina page 145
The smell of the Tuscookany aromatic salt makes your mouth water even before you start cooking! Read about the best combinations and have fun experimenting!
Salt is no joke, let me tell you that. Italians say il cuoco lo fa il fuoco, which means the fire is the real cook (i.e. use it carefully, it’s like a musical instrument, not a simple tool), but if that is true salt is certainly the waiter. It carries the flavour to the table, it defines whether or not you will have a good experience and, if it wants to, it can really mess things up. I will try quite hard to forget those who add salt to the dish before tasting it, a severe crime punishable by a portion of bad pasta in Italy. Seriously, do not do it. This said, I will insist in reiterating that salt has a soul and a purpose, which is not simply to make things… well, salty.
Did you know that certain molecules in our dishes find an easier way to the air thanks to our special waiter? You could almost say it helps define the strength of the aroma, and if you have ever been at an Italian grandma’s house on Sunday you might know a powerful aroma is a quasi religious experience. As a matter of fact, taste is partially defined by the smell. Also, salt balances sweetness and sourness (e.g. a pinch of salt in your cake, hello?) and can suppress bitterness. Do you still think salt is bland? Yes? All right. Then, let me introduce to the ultimate salty experience: aromatic salts.
Lemon, Orange Or Tangerine?
Choose your tone, get ready and grate it! You can go with lemon peel or orange, or maybe tangerine if it is the right season. What matters is that you only need 1 fruit for every 3/4 spoons of coarse sea salt. Suddenly, in no time, you will own a weapon to turn a white meat, crustaceans or any fish-based meal into a symphony of citrusy, salty notes, which is basically the Mediterranean itself.
Lavender, Oregano Or Rosemary?
I am thinking about mixing salt with fresh lavender flowers or maybe some dried oregano or rosemary. A favourite at Tuscookany is a mix of rosemary, sage and garlic and coarse salt placed in a food processor and ground down. Place it in a jar and use it whenever you feel like it. Sprinkle it over your roast vegetables before putting them into the oven or sprinkle over your roast meat or steak or just add to your soup. You can rest assured that your neighbours will suddenly pop into your house, finding whatever excuse to spend time in your culinary sanctuary. It happens all the time at our Tuscookany villas, and the aroma is to blame! It attracts people like a magnet. It’s simply irresistible.
Spice and Mix It Up
Here is where is gets funny. Go crazy. I am serious - just open your fantasy. Chili pepper powder with rosemary and salt? Someone told me Simon and Garfunkel used to make aromatic salt with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme… but I haven’t checked yet. Quite simply, you cannot go wrong, as long as you make sure you are using salt and not sugar. That would be bad. Now, are you still thinking salt is bland? No? I knew it!