Friday, October 20, 2017

Pappardelle ai Funghi Porcini e Tartufata Bianca

Wild mushrooms are considered a true delicacy in Italy and the Porcini reigns supreme during Autumn's much anticipated mushroom season. Famous for its meaty texture and rich earthy nutty flavour, Porcini work well in stews, sauces and most notably in mushroom risotto or pasta ai funghi. The season varies a little from year to year depending on the weather and the region of Italy, however mid September to late October is prime Porcini mushroom season in Tuscany, Umbria and Emilia-Romagna. Traditionally found at the foot of chestnut and pine trees, mushroom hunting is a favourite pastime for locals during the season who either pick them for themselves, sell them to markets or directly to restaurants who feature them prominently on their Autumn menus. Driving back from Perugia one afternoon, we picked up a crate of fresh porcini from a local farmer selling them on the side of the road and proudly brought them back to our villa to be used in countless dishes over the week, including this delicious Pappardelle ai Funghi Porcini. An explosion of scents and flavours, I enhanced the pappardelle with a prized jar of Tartufato Bianco, made with mushrooms, cream and white truffles. A sensational ready-made sauce that we found at our favourite Coop super-mercato in Orvieto, it was so delicious that I packed half a dozen jars to bring home at the end of the month.

The fabulous Antica Bottaga Toscana in Arezzo

With the very best quality dried pasta, pecorino, breads and salumi, 
we always make sure to stop by this shop in Arezzo for as much as we can carry

Tartufata Bianca

Our mushroom guy selling crates of fresh porcini mushrooms each day 
on the Strada Regionale near Pietraia in Umbria, which is where we bought 3 kilos of the beauties

Pappardelle ai Funghi Porcini e Tartufata Bianca
Serves 4

1/2 lb fresh porcini mushrooms
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 oz Tartufato Bianco
1/2 cup pasta cooking water
1 lb good quality dried pappardelle 
2 cups grated pecorino

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Using a pastry brush or paper towel, carefully dust the fresh porcini free of all dirt, then thinly slice and set aside. In a medium size sauté pan, heat the olive oil. When hot, add the sliced mushrooms and season to taste with Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sauté until the mushrooms are a rich golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. Cook the pasta until it's tender yet al dente, then deglaze the sauté pan with white wine. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Place the drained pasta in the sauté pan with the porcini and add half of the reserved pasta water, or as needed. Toss the pasta with the cooked porcini, and heat for about 30 seconds, then add all of the tartufato bianco and mix well to combine. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and add a handful of the grated pecorino, mixing gently to combine. Serve the pasta in warmed bowls with some extra grated pecorino on the side for guests to serve themselves as desired.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guy's Homemade Casa Boronia Pizza Margherita

One of the most romantic notions of renting a villa in Italy for the month is the vision of making homemade pizza in an authentic wood fired oven every day. Blessed with quite possibly the most handsome pizza oven in Italy, our destiny was set: to prepare the dough using tipo '00' flour, water and yeast, then allow it to proof until the magic moment. Using dried twigs and some pages from 'La Repubblica', a small fire was started in the oven an hour or so before lunchtime, then augmented with small logs, graduating to larger ones as the fire took hold — a process that takes about 20-30 minutes. With an internal temperature of about 800°F, it was time was roll out the dough, slice the buffalo mozzarella, lay out the lovely plump Italian anchovies, chop the garlic, and ravage our basil plants. Pouring a glass of Prosecco to get the culinary juices flowing, we were ready to create the perfect pizza. Using our own pizza peel, the Pizza Margherita was placed into the wood fired oven, shimmied onto the hot surface and cooked for just a minute or two. The dough was perfectly crisp and chewy, the melted buffalo mozzarella divine and the flavour mouthwateringly sublime. With enough dough for 2 more pizzas we uncorked a splendid Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso and toasted our success, just as Piccola, a kitten who had recently adopted us, come by to see if we had perhaps dropped an anchovy or two.

Fresh local ingredients for the perfect Margherita Pizza with our own homegrown basil

Gradually adding wood to the fire for about an hour, the pizza oven is almost ready

The rose garden beside the pizza oven was in bloom and wonderfully fragrant

Beautiful view over the swimming pool, olive grove and Umbrian countryside 

Our favourite Prosseco while we were in Italy — we collected a lot of corks!

Tiny bubbles, wonderful flavour and elegant flutes — meraviglioso

Guy's Pizza Margherita on the portable peel we brought from home, 
ready to go into the wood fired oven

Two or three minutes later — pizza perfection

Placed on a chopping board by the herb garden beside the pizza oven, 
Guy's Margherita is lovingly sliced and served 

A lovely sunny warm afternoon, a bottle of my favourite wine and Guy's homemade pizza

"Well hello there...anything for me?"

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Harry's Risotto ai Funghi with Fresh Umbrian Porcini

Visiting us in Umbria for a week with his Japanese girlfriend, Harry took full advantage of the 3 kilos of fresh porcini mushrooms we bought on our way back from Perugia, to make an outstanding Risotto ai Funghi. Arriving during porcini season, we saw local farmers selling crates of fresh porcini and chanterelles on the side of small country roads the entire month of September, and stopped on the Strada Regionale near Pietraia that afternoon to 'seal the deal'. Plump, firm and some the size of my hand, Harry only used about half a pound of the funghi for his risotto, leaving another six pounds of the prized mushrooms for other culinary creations during their visit. 

Our mushroom guy selling crates of fresh porcini mushrooms each day 
on the Strada Regionale near Pietraia

Almost 7 pounds of fresh porcini mushrooms for just 65 euros

Harry creating his Risotto ai Funghi on the villa's fabulous gas stove

Gradually adding hot chicken stock about half a cup at a time, until the rice is tender and creamy and yet still a little al dente

Harry added some butter and grated pecorino at the end

Harry's outstanding Risotto ai Funghi Porcini 

Garnished with a little extra grated Pienza pecorino just to "gild the lily"

Valeriana and laitue salad with a Spello olive oil and Maldon salt

A bottle of Cantina Di Negrar Ripasso Valpolicella to enjoy with our risotto

Risotto ai Funghi Porcini 
Serves 4

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups hot chicken stock
1/2 pound fresh porcini cleaned and thinly sliced
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for sprinkling

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Once the onions are translucent add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine to the toasting rice, and then ladle in the stock about 1/2 cup at a time and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed. Continue adding the stock a ladle at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Just before adding the last of the stock add the freshly sliced porcini. Cook until the rice is tender and creamy and yet still a little al dente, about 15 minutes. Stir in the butter and cheese until well mixed. Divide the risotto into 4 warmed serving plates, with a bowl of additional extra cheese for guests to help themselves.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Deruta: Grandi Maioliche Ficola

Famous for producing pottery and ceramics since the 14th century, the small town of Deruta reached its zenith in the 16th century with much of its pottery drawing inspiration from the Renaissance and from painters such as Raphael, who came from nearby Gubbio. There are more than 300 ceramic firms in Deruta today and it is still possible to visit the artists at work in some of the smaller shops, and also one of the larger businesses such as Grandi Maioliche Ficola, a small family run business designing, fabricating and selling top quality wholesale ceramics, terracotta decorated pots and volcanic stone tables that can be shipped worldwide. All of Grandi Maioliche Ficola’s creations are hand-made, designed and produced in the historic town of Deruta following centuries-old ceramic traditions. Customers can choose from many designs in their catalogue, or can customize the shape, size and designs and therefore getting unique pieces of art. I love Italian ceramics, and have collected pieces from Positano to Orvieto but my favourite place to now shop for Italian ceramics is Ficola. Arriving early to explore Deruta, we made an impromptu detour to the factory and showroom and were overwhelmed by the enormous selection and quality of hand-painted ceramic dinnerware and serving pieces, and thus gave Deruta's other shops a wave goodbye. Greeted by Paul, a charming and interesting Anglo-Italian relatively new to Ficola but with great knowledge of the history, unparalleled quality and workmanship of their products, we realized we had found maioliche heaven.  

One of the ladies at Ficola who hands paints each table, made of volcanic stone, 
which is then fired in kilns at about 1000°C

Named for the Renaissance painter Raphael, Raffaellesco is one of the most popular and enduring Italian ceramic designs with the central motif of a stylized sea dragon

One small part of Grandi Maioliche Ficola expansive showroom in Deruta, a family run business selling top quality wholesale ceramics, terracotta decorated pots and volcanic stone tables

Every piece is hand made and can be customized to whatever the customer wishes

A unique piece weighing tons, this hug bowl is on display outside their showroom

Monday, October 16, 2017

Chiusi National Etruscan Museum and Tombs

The origins of Chiusi date back to 1000 B.C. and was one of most powerful cities of the Etruscan federation. Perched high on a hill, Chiusi occupied a strategic position overlooking the Val di Chiana and still preserves remarkable Etruscan and Roman remains, making it an important archaeological centre for both Italy and the world. With one of the finest collections of Etruscan artifacts outside of Rome, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Chiusi is a treasure of great significance for the town and surrounding area once known as Etruria. Many Etruscan tombs and settlements have been discovered over the years, which contain well-preserved items now displayed in the museo. Established in 1871, the museum moved to its current Neoclassical building in 1901, where many rare and precious finds are displayed, crossing the entire development of the Etruscan civilization from the Bronze Age to the Villanonova culture, Lombard and Roman eras. Great attention has been given to the preservation and conservation of the displayed materials, most of which came from private collections during the 19th and 20th centuries and from archaeological excavations. One of the most important museums in its field, the National Archaeological Museum of Chiusi is considered a singular point of reference for archaeologists, historians and lovers of antiquities alike. Typical characteristics of the Etruscan civilization around Chiusi are represented by canopics on a throne, laminated bronzes, buccheros with “cilindretto” and imprinted decorations, statues and reliefs made of sulphurous stone as well as sarcophagi and urns made of clay and alabaster, used as burial vessels for millennia. Time permitting, it's great to sign up to visit the Etruscan tombs with a guide, which is included in the admission price of the museum, as they are located less than a mile outside the city walls, and well worth the effort.

Original catalogue of the Etruscan Museo Chiusino from 1832 documented each item in the museum

Pienza cinerary urn from 700 BC

Oinochoe (wine jug) from 700 BC

Etruscan canopic urn on a throne from Dolciano, made of bronze and earthenware 
from the second half of the 7th century BC

Mosaic of a wild boar hunt from a Roman villa from 1st century BC

Marble female head with a diadem from the Augustan age, about 43 BC to 18 AD

Lion head waterspout from the 2nd century BC

Etruscan canopic urn: clay ossuaries typical of the Chiusi area, are humanized vessels containing the ashes of a deceased, from the 7th century

Bronze buttons, razor and fine chain from the 8th century

Sculpture of Giovanni Paolozzi who donated his entire collection of excavated treasures which fundamentally forms the core of the museum

Paolozzi's personal notebook documents each of his excavated treasures

Pigeons having a bath in the park fountain across from the museum

One of Tuscany’s oldest churches and across from the Museum, the Chiusi cathedral dates to the 6th century, although it has been expanded and renovated over the centuries

The central nave and the apse were painted, imitating the mosaic visual effect, by Arturo Viligiardi from Siena at the end of the 19th century, inspired by the mosaics of Ravenna

View the beautiful Val di Chiana from the hilltop of Chiusi

Discovered during road works in 1928, the Pellegrina Tomb was dug from natural sandstone and consists of a long corridor with 4 small burial recesses and three chambers - a typical layout for Etruscan tombs 

The Pellegrina Tomb was in use during the 3rd and 2nd century B.C. by the Etruscan Sentinates family

Anyone can sign up to visit the Etruscan tombs with a guide, which is included in the Museum ticket price, however we explored on our own

Avenue of cypress leading up to a private villa outside of Chiusi