Schüttelbrot is a traditional bread of South Tyrol flavored with caraway seeds, coriander, fennel or aniseed, typically served with speck and cheese as an afternoon snack. This savory, crisp flatbread takes its name from the shaping method: after the dough rounds are rolled out and transferred to a baking sheet, the Bäckermeister literally shakes them into shape (schütteln = to shake). The unique flatness of this bread, called pane scosso in Italian, allows for easy storage in a slotted wooden shelf (pictured below), which together with the crisp, fast-drying texture ensures a long shelf-life—the perfect bread for farmers and peasants in the Alpine winter. Though usually around ten inches in diameter, Schüttelbrot can also be made in small, cracker-like rounds (pictured above).
The ‘Hugo’ (or Ugo, as our h-sound-challenged Italian friends pronounce it), sometimes called Hugo Spritz or Alpine Spritz, originated in the northern Italian region Alto-Adige, an area intimately familiar with herbal use in both culinary and medicinal matters, and one where the elderberry plant thrives in summer. From the genus Sambucus, elderberry is a hardy, fast-growing flowering bush widespread throughout Italy and Europe. Sambucus nigra—European elderberry or simply Sambuco in Italian, among other names—bears edible-once-cooked berries used in making jams and sauces; while from their small white flowers a delicious, delicate cordial is obtained—this syrup being the star ingredient in the Hugo Spritz, which I had the fortune to learn about and taste last night at fabulous Borgo San Lorenzo wine bar and restaurant Passaguai, thanks to the knowledge and generosity of a lovely new acquaintance. As she explained, elderflower cordial is not to be confused with (that bottled nastiness known as) Sambuca, similar only in name to sciroppo di Sambuco. To demonstrate her point, she ordered up a Hugo for us to taste (yay!):
As with so many Italian specialties, a touch of rivalry characterizes Hugo’s birth-story, particularly intriguing given that the two barmen in contention for inventor credit both hail from South Tyrol, and neither seems ready to renounce his claim on Hugo. Was it Roland Gruber who, while working in a wine bar in Naturns near Bolzano created the Hugo some 10 years ago? Very possibly, yet apparently Gruber named the Hugo without any particular reason, a fluky bit of inadvertence I find a little dubious, frankly. There’s also some debate as to whether Gruber originally used elderflower or another type of herb cordial. Could it have been Filippo Debertol of the Val di Fassa area, who has said he started mixing elderflower cordial with wine, seltzer, and mint around the same time? Debertol’s story would seem to hold up better under scrutiny: young Debertol named the drink after an elderly gentleman who would visit the family’s Alpine cabin, always bringing with him a gift of his own homemade elderflower syrup. The old man’s name? Hugo, of course.
(An aside: While researching today, I came across a discussion (in Italian) on Wikipedia from late 2013, in which Debertol’s attempts to modify the Italian entry for Hugo (cocktail) were repeatedly removed, with the explanation ‘your changes reflect something completely different from what the sources indicate, and for this reason I have restored the prior text.’ See below)
Italians love their food (and drink) debates, and this one is not going away any time soon, I imagine. No matter. The important thing is someone invented this delightful concoction, which I highly recommend adding to your summer cocktail repertoire.
6 cl Prosecco
6 cl seltzer
3 cl elderflower cordial
fresh mint leaves
Put ice in the glass. Pour in the Prosecco and cordial, followed by the seltzer. Stir gently. Garnish with fresh mint and a lemon slice (optional).
Boznersauce is a springtime specialty from Bolzano in Alto-Adige, the Italian province that together with Trentino forms one of Italy’s five autonomous regions, Trentino-Alto-Adige. Annexed from Austria by the Kingdom of Italy at the end of World War I, Alto-Adige—Südtirol in German or South Tyrol to English speakers—has retained its culturally Austrian identity in the decades since, despite an aggressive Fascist-era ‘Italianization’ program and a significant influx of Italians in the post-WWII period. Officially part of Italy for nearly a century, today Alto-Adige is still comprised predominantly of native German speakers, though Italian and German are both official languages.
The intersection of Italian and Germanic influences in South Tyrol characterizes many aspects of local culture, including cuisine. Further shaped by Viennese and Hungarian traditions, Alto-Adige’s culinary scene has earned a reputation in recent years as a gastronomic mecca, with 23 Michelin stars as of 2016. Interestingly, many non-Italian dishes, items like speck, würstel, strudel, and knödel, have entered the Italian national food canon via Alto-Adige.
The people of the Bolzano area enjoy this hollandaise-like sauce, whose name means ‘of Bozen’ (German for Bolzano), alongside fresh asparagus during Easter Sunday lunch.
2 bunches green or white asparagus
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups water
For the sauce:
4 eggs, hard-boiled
100 ml ‘light’ olive oil or seed oil of choice
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp mustard
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1-2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
3 Tbsp beef broth
¼ tsp white pepper
½ tsp salt
To make the Boznersauce, start by boiling the eggs for 8 minutes and remove from the water immediately. Heat the broth and keep warm.
When cool enough to handle, peel the eggs. Slice them in half and remove the yolks, placing the yolks in a bowl and setting the whites aside. Add the vinegar, mustard, broth, salt and pepper to the yolks. Whisk until creamy (a few lumps are fine). Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking continuously until you have a thick, smooth cream. Add the minced parsley and combine. Chop the egg white to a medium-fine mixture. Add to the egg cream and combine. Set aside at room temp while you make the asparagus.
Bring the water and wine to a simmer. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and cook in the simmering water for 5 minutes and remove promptly. Arrange the asparagus on serving dishes and place generous scoops of the Boznersauce over them. Dust with the chopped chive.
Agatha of Sicily is an early Christian martyr and one of the most highly venerated virgin saints in Catholicism, especially so in Catania (and Palermo), where a festival in her honor takes place in the days leading up to and culminating on February 5, her feast day. Agatha celebrations include elaborate rites and processions, lights, costumes and chants. And feasting, of course. Today, one of the common treats made in honor of Saint Agatha are minne di sant’agata—pretty, oddly anatomically correct cakes shaped and decorated to looked like breasts, Agatha’s attribute, as her various tortures included having her breasts cut off.
(Has anyone else noticed a grim pattern of recreating a tortured saint’s attributes in foodstuffs? Consider as well the fluffy, saffrony lussekatter, whose raisin decorations represent Saint Lucy’s gouged-out eyes…)
Thankfully, the narrative of this particular recipe is less harrowing. One of the many stories about the saint recounts an episode involving olives: fleeing the soldiers of Quinctianus—the Roman proconsul who, failing to win the young virgin’s affections, had her tortured, sent to a brothel, and burnt at the stake—Agatha stopped to tie her shoe (yes, tie her shoe!). While she knelt, a wild olive tree sprouted up before her. The tree concealed Agatha from her pursuers and is said to have provided her with some needed nourishment. Southern Italians remember this miraculous, temporary reprieve bestowed on Agatha with these olivette di sant’agata.
200 grams blanched almonds
200 grams sugar
1 tablespoon rum
2-3 drops green food coloring
extra sugar for coating
Grind the almonds with 100 grams of the sugar in a food processor until you have a fine flour. Set aside.
In a saucepan, heat the remaining 100 grams of sugar with a couple tablespoons of water, stirring frequently, until you have a smooth syrup. Test by dropping a tiny bit onto a plate and then tilting the plate. The syrup is ready if it runs slightly down the plate and then sticks.
Remove the syrup from the heat. Add the green food coloring to the syrup and combine. Next add the ground almond mixture to the syrup along with the rum and combine well (this could take a few minutes). Transfer the mixture to a glass bowl. When cool enough to touch (but still warm), knead until you have a uniform, slightly sticky paste. Form olive shapes and roll in sugar. I used sugar that I’d colored slightly (optional), by adding a drop of coloring to the sugar and grinding briefly in a spice grinder. Leave the olives out to dry for a couple hours before serving.
The recipe can be halved or doubled.
Mugello Marvels explores the flavors and traditions of the Mugello region of northeast Tuscany, with an emphasis on local chefs, restaurants and shops, food fairs, and events.
This latest installment of Mugello Marvels once again focuses on a local establishment near and dear to me—very near in fact, located just down the road in Luco di Mugello—the Macelleria Landi Fulvio. This family-run butcher shop is an area treasure, offering top quality, locally-sourced meats and much more. But it’s the people behind the counter at Macelleria Landi who keep me coming back. Upon entering, I’m always greeted with a friendly smile and quick, professional service from the Landis, who bring decades of knowledge and skill in the butchery arts to their enterprise. Fulvio, having worked at his uncle’s butcher shop as a younger man, started his own butcher business in 1967, in a small space just behind the former post office of Luco di Mugello. Fulvio (pictured below, right) runs the shop with wife Giuliana and their son, Alessio (left) .
A lot has changed in the years since Fulvio first opened, including an expansion in 1995 after the adjacent post office closed and the Landis acquired the space. This change meant a larger counter and proper shop, plus the added advantage of a main street storefront. A small rosticceria also forms part of the business. Roasted meats to go are available, along with other prepared items like lasagne and bolognese sauce, always fresh and homemade.
The Landi family are just the sort of neighborhood butchers one hopes for. Their meats, sourced locally here in the Mugello from places like the Cooperativa Agricola Firenzuola (or occasionally even closer, the farm here in Grezzano), are always uber-fresh and excellent quality. They make their own (additive-free) sausages, too, in keeping with the business motto tutto come fatto a casa.
With their skilled hands, the Landis will clean and prep any cut of meat you like, and they always take the time to give you a few cooking tips on whatever you’ve purchased. You can also choose from the selection of pre-seasoned, never-disappointing items ready and on display in the cold case, such as pork loin, lamb chops, marinated chicken pieces, and so on.
One particularly special aspect of the shop is the impressive assortment of gourmet items, selected by Alessio, who sources providers and contacts around Italy. A visit to this macelleria is never without the welcome diversion of browsing the fresh pasta, gourmet sauces, jams and honeys, cookies, cheeses, truffle products, and more. An impressive selection of wine, beer, and liquors is also on hand, and knowledgeable Alessio is always ready to suggest something.
During the holidays, Alessio brings in a variety of additional artisanal products, such as these beautifully-wrapped panettone cakes:
On weekends Macelleria Landi prepares and cooks roasts and more to order. In fact, on the day I visited them to learn more about their shop and the work they do, Giuliana and Alessio were preparing a traditional family recipe (passed down from Alessio’s grandmother) for roasted stuffed rabbit, which had been pre-ordered by a customer. True to the pleasant and obliging spirit of this place, the Landis offered to share the recipe with me (and you!).
Roasted Stuffed Rabbit, a Landi family recipe
Clean and debone a entire rabbit and lay the meat out flat. Adjust the meat as needed to make sure all is sealed, then salt and pepper well.
Next a thin layer of pork loin is laid on top of the rabbit meat, then a generous sprinkling of chopped rosemary, sage, and garlic, followed by a layer of prosciutto cotto.
Then a layer of frittata is added, followed by another dose of the chopped herbs and more prosciutto. Now the tricky part: carefully roll the entire rabbit closed, lengthwise. You’ll probably need an extra pair of hands to assist with this step, though Giuliana managed it impressively well!
Finally, secure the rabbit tightly with kitchen twine. Insert a few sprigs of rosemary under the twine, and roast for 90 minutes at 180ºC / 355ºF. Let rest and slice into 10 to 12 servings.
I’ll close with some photos of these lovely locals, la famiglia Landi, and my strong recommendation to pay them a visit the next time you’re in Luco di Mugello.
Here’s the mother and son team with their ready-for-the-oven masterpiece:
And father and son in front of their shop:
Macelleria Landi Fulvio
Via Garibaldi, 1
Luco di Mugello
tel: 055 840 1255
for the cream
250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream
2 Tbls sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
3 parts Prosecco
2 parts fresh orange juice
1 part Schweppes tonic or similar
Whip the cream with the orange zest, vanilla and sugar until thick and fluffy. You’ll have enough for at least 4 to 6 drinks. Keep cool while you mix the (cold) liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill the glass(es) and spoon in dollops of the orange cream. Garnish with orange zest (optional).
Today, the feast day of Saint Martin, coincides (more or less) with the arrival of vino novello in Italy, the less fussy cousin of Beaujolais nouveau. Throughout Catholic Europe, Martin is associated with the harvest’s first wine and attendant revelries (à la Bruegel, pictured above). In Italy, the Martin-vino link is cemented in the popular saying A San Martino ogni mosto diventa vino; while in France he is credited with introducing and cultivating Chenin blanc in the area around Tours.
Traditional foods linked to this feast day include roast goose, beef from freshly-slaughtered, fattened cattle (‘Martinmas beef’), and various types of pastries and cookies, often shaped in the form of Martin on horseback and featuring his attributes, a cloak and a sword. This feast day is not as widely celebrated in Italy as in France and other European countries, with the exception of Venice, where San Martino is an important cultural event, a day on which children romp about banging pots and pans, singing for treats from strangers, praising the generous in honor of Martin’s charity, and cursing the miserly.
Generosity and giving, abundance and feasting, helping the poor, exchanging treats and gifts, bonfires and lanterns are all connected to Saint Martin’s feast day. For Catholics, Martinmas marks the beginning of Advent and is traditionally followed by fasting; as such, it’s a counterpart to Carnival and Fat Tuesday, another day of feasting and celebration immediately followed by Lent. In agrarian societies, it was the day agricultural work concluded—hence the celebrations— and farmhands and sharecroppers would move on for the winter season, or perhaps attend market fairs to look for work in the interim. In both religious and secular manifestations, Saint Martin’s day represents a liminal period of seasonal, physical, and liturgical transitions, marked by the kind of feasting and merry-making that so often accompanies rituals of change or passage.
This season is all about the pumpkin. You might not agree with the phenomenon, but you certainly cannot fight it. So here’s a recipe for pici pasta with pumpkin and Camembert to celebrate your submission to the pumpkin forces of fall. Enjoy!
400 grams pici pasta
300 grams circa fresh pumpkin
1/2 (or more) of a traditional round of Camembert cheese
1 small fresh red chili pepper
salt & pepper
You have a couple options on how to prep the pumpkin. Option 1: Roast the pumpkin for about 25 minutes at 180° C /355° F. Let cool, peel, roughly chop, and set aside. Option 2: Peel the pumpkin, chop into large cubes and boil for about 10 minutes or until soft. Scoop from the water and drain but do not turn off the heat. Add salt to the water and use to cook the pici al dente.
Process the cooked pumpkin until fairly smooth (slightly chunky is fine), keeping in mind that the roasted pumpkin will be dry so you might add a bit of olive oil. The boiled pumpkin should not need any additional liquid. Mince the chili pepper and cook for a minute in a pan with olive oil. Transfer the processed pumpkin to the pan. Break the cheese into pieces and add to the pumpkin, stirring occasionally over low heat so it melts. Salt and pepper to taste. Then transfer the cooked pici to the pan and combine well. Serve with fresh thyme and ground black pepper (optional).
Mugello Marvels explores the flavors and traditions of the Mugello region of northeast Tuscany, with an emphasis on local chefs, restaurants, food fairs, and events.
This second instalment of Mugello Marvels looks at another wonderful establishment in Borgo San Lorenzo. Ristorante Gli Artisti, which celebrated its official 100th anniversary last year yet in fact dates to the late 19th century, has long been associated with Mugello area artists—hence its name. Frequented over the years by the likes of Rutilio Muti (1904-1995) and Ezio Cecchini (1926-1984), both from Vicchio, it is located in a tiny piazza named for Angiolino Romagnoli (1834-1896), a painter from Borgo San Lorenzo of the Macchiaioli movement. Perhaps the most illustrious of Gli Artisti’s patrons was Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988), whose encaustic painting of horses on one of Gli Artisti’s walls has unfortunately been plastered over. Just down the street from the historic Teatro Giotto, the restaurant was a favorite meeting place of theatrical companies, known to gather here to dine and discuss the evening’s performance. A true Borgo San Lorenzo institution, Gli Artisti also happens to be the oldest still-active eating establishment in the Mugello.
Last year, two young Italians, brothers Luigi and Nicola Tranchina, stepped into this heady mix of local history and tradition to take the helm at Gli Artisti. Thirty-year-old Luigi, gracious and highly knowledgeable, brings significant restaurant experience with him as Gli Artisti’s new head. He is also an expert sommelier. Chef Nicola has since left the restaurant to pursue other activities. In his place is Rocco Lamorte, a gifted young chef whose skills and accomplishments—at a mere twenty years of age—are astounding. Graduate of the B. Buontalenti Institute with top marks, protégé of noted critic Leonardo Romanelli, student of chefs Italo Bassi and Riccardo Monco of Enoteca Pinchiorri—need I say more about this young man?
I recently had the fortune to sit down with Luigi to discuss his vision for Gli Artisti and the work he and his staff are doing. We covered many topics, from the fundamental importance of quality products and following a seasonal calendar to how the Italian sagra impacts diner expectations (I’ve written before about sagras, but always from the perspective of an outsider observing the social customs associated with this peculiar Italian tradition; hearing a serious restaurateur’s views on them was enlightening indeed). Mostly we discussed their guiding philosophy of ‘tradition and innovation’ and how they approach the challenge of creating innovative dishes that simultaneously reflect and transcend the boundaries of traditional Tuscan cuisine.
A tall order, even more so here in the Mugello, where the notion of ‘Tuscan’ narrows to a few definitive items—crostini, tortelli, bistecca—yet these young men give the impression they would never be content to rest on their laurels. The dishes at Gli Artisti speak for themselves, revealing a perfect proficiency in the classic Tuscan repertoire together with the daring and aplomb that comes with experience. By exalting the traditional and classic through clever twists and touches, inventive flavor pairing, and only the very best ingredients, the team at Gli Artisti has achieved something extraordinary. Have a look at a selection from their menu:
To begin, the classic crostini toscani get a makeover, transformed into a terrine-like pâté served with a loquat mostarda and a crispy pane carasau wafer:
Next is the Fiori di Cipolla, a slow cooked, tender onion served with a D.O.P. Taleggio with hints of hay on a multi-grain puff pastry toast, drizzled with a 30-year-aged balsamic vinegar. Thus, Tuscan staples of bread-and-vegetable become the base for this delicate ‘flower’ of harmonious flavors:
The Intrigo Mugellano is a fusion of two types of fresh pasta, tortelli and pappardelle. A long, potato-stuffed pappardella is twirled on the plate (a symbolic and playful twist on the classic tortelli shape) in a creamed garlic sauce garnished with threads of chilli pepper and dusted with sweet chilli powder, recalling the ubiquitous aglio e pepperoncino. Same ingredients, made over with distinction and flair:
Perhaps no dish reflects the idea of sperimentare senza mai dimenticare la tradizione or ‘experimenting while never forgetting tradition’ as perfectly as Come se fosse un Cantuccio, an ingenious variation on the uber-Tuscan dessert of cantucci cookies and vin santo: a vin santo sorbet served on a cantucci pratesi crumble ‘bed’ topped with a vin santo air—sometimes called foam in molecular gastronomy—that delivers flavor without substance, prepping the palate for flavors to come. Those fond of texture contrasts will love this. By the way, Rocco and Luigi will present this masterful dessert at Expo 2015 next month:
If you go: Take some time to study and appreciate the menu, which changes in accordance with the seasons and typically requires a month to create, plan, and test. Note the ® symbol next to certain items; this indicates a dish of their own unique design. Consider the very well-priced tasting menu to appreciate a broader sampling of the menu. There are several vegetarian options, and vegan dining is possible with advance notice.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Remember that Luigi is a trained sommelier so with regard to wine choice you’re in excellent hands. Moreover, he truly enjoys giving suggestions and seeing his clients happy—a great source of satisfaction, as he describes it, for people so passionate about the work they do. The dream? A Michelin star, someday. It’s early days yet, but I’d wager it will happen.
Ristorante Gli Artisti
Piazza Angelo Romagnoli, 1
Borgo San Lorenzo
055 845 7707
Mugello Marvels explores the flavors and traditions of the Mugello region of northeast Tuscany, with an emphasis on local chefs, restaurants, food fairs, and events.
I’m happy to launch this new category, Mugello Marvels, with a post dedicated to what is arguably my favorite spot in all the Mugello. Vino in Tavola is a convivial Italian bottega-style shop and deli located in the heart of Borgo San Lorenzo, a place locals frequent come the lunch hour to enjoy a panino and a glass of wine at the cozy counter. It’s also popular at the aperitivo hour.
Others come here to fill up hefty vessels with choice vino sfuso (think wine on tap), carefully selected by shop owner and connoisseur of tasty stuff, Andrea Guidotti, or to browse the selection of gourmet products, many of which are rarely if ever found in Italian markets. Which leads me to a digression…
I’ve written elsewhere about the lack of culinary diversity in Italy. Now, before you Italophiles start hollering about regional differences, note that I’m not talking about the various distinct traditions from region to region within Italy. I mean, rather, international cuisine and the foodways of others, about which Italians can be mighty suspicious and even disdainful. You folks reading this from America or the UK might not realize just how much you take for granted when shopping for, say, a specific type of cheese, since your favorite market no doubt offers not only a good selection of French and Italian cheeses but also those made in your own and other countries. Finding a good French chevrè or English cheddar in Italy is akin to a treasure hunt. Seriously, to judge by the paltry selection at large Italian supermarket chains, you’d think Brie was the only cheese France had to offer—a generic, underwhelming Brie at that.
I come from a country where even the most unexceptional of food stores will have an entire aisle dedicated to products from around the world. Where I now live, those items, few and second-rate, are found tucked away in a sad, meter-wide section labeled ‘ethnic’ foods: a jar of Pace brand salsa, some rice noodles, perhaps Worcestershire sauce, a can of Uncle Ben’s beans. In some larger Italian cities, so-called ethnic foods stores do offer more in the way of variety, but at exorbitant prices and erratic availability. Sure, I can get cilantro or lemongrass, if I’m willing to travel two hours to visit one of these negozi etnici. Maybe I’ll pick up a rock-hard avocado that’s travelled from South Africa or Israel, if I don’t mind spending about 3 euros (the avocado is completely misunderstood in Italy). Closer to home, I could get lucky at our local grocery store, if I’m able to persuade the gal stocking shelves that a powder made from dried garlic is not a figment of my foreign imagination. An anecdote: once a French woman on holiday stopped me at the supermarket: ‘Where is the salted butter?’ she asked. When I answered that it was very hard to come by—both of us eyeing the thirty-some brands of unremarkable Italian-made unsalted butter—she thought surely we’d not understood each other. C’est bizarre! A nearby Italian woman chimed in, suggesting a shop that might have salted butter—in another town.
Living in this land of culinary insularity has meant mastering, or at least getting comfortable with, the art of the work-around—growing cilantro and other ‘exotic’ herbs and making buttermilk and drying and grinding garlic for powder—which might seem resourceful but is really a time-sucking drag. Sometimes you need an ingredient that doesn’t require weeks of advance planning, you know? This brings me back to Vino in Tavola.
I wouldn’t call Vino in Tavola an ethnic store. Yet the selection of rare and international items Andrea stocks makes it truly unique among shops. He cultivates relationships with trusted wine-makers and producers well beyond Tuscany, and the results of his research and efforts can be seen in every square inch of his meticulously-kept, quaint, friendly place of business. Browsing the shelves and chatting with Andrea about newly arrived items is always a pleasure. Especially the cheeses.
Vino in Tavola is also great for gifts. You can put together a lovely holiday basket here, choosing from among the excellent Italian and French wines, artisanal beers, and liquors.
And here’s a sampling of other items you’ll find at Vino in Tavola:
I always feel a bit of a thrill when I walk through the doors at Vino in Tavola, wondering what new, tasty item will have arrived on Andrea’s shelves since my last visit. Sometimes I leave the shop with ideas for the blog, such as this post on the ‘purgatory beans’ of Gradoli, which I learned about thanks to a little bag of these storied white beans I spotted at Vino in Tavola. And I always leave with a bottle of wine or two, some butter—French and salted—and a smile.
Vino in Tavola
Piazza Dante, 22
Borgo San Lorenzo (FI)
tel: 055 845 5212