Browsing Category

Gourmet food

Food trends, Gourmet food



In Italy there is nothing more autumnal than the smell of roasted chestnuts that fills the air. In the past, before the economic boom of the 60s reached everybody, people would buy roasted chestnuts from street vendors and stuff them in their pockets to keep their hands warm and, of course, to have something nice to snack on. Nowadays street vendors are still there but roasted chestnuts are served wrapped in fancy paper cones and have become a rather fashionable street food.

Legend has it that Italians’ love for chestnuts dates back to Ancient Roman times, when chestnuts were used as a form of currency or trade when there were less crops due to poor weather. Since then, chestnuts have been an important food source and valuable commodity, especially in those parts of the country that were unsuitable for cultivating grains. They used to be ground to make flour for baking an alternative type of bread and making polenta, besides being roasted or boiled.

In contemporary Italian cuisine, castagne (chestnuts) are still processed and cooked according to tradition but they tend to be used also in creative recipes. With a soft, meaty texture and a sweet, slightly nutty flavor, chestnuts are one of the main ingredients of wintery soups and can easily replace potatoes in stews. They are candied or puréed when used in the preparation of cakes like, for instance, the famous Monte Bianco while chestnut flour – mixed with extra virgin olive oil, rosemary and pine nuts – is used to make Castagnaccio, one of the most popular Tuscan desserts. It is not unusual to find them in restaurant menus, served as a food delicacy when roasted and paired with a nice glass of Italian sweet wine.

Available from the end of September throughout the first winter months, chestnuts are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (even after cooking) while being low in fat. They also have a high starch content – hence the nickname ‘the cereal that grows on trees’ – that makes them an important source of carbohydrates. Peeled chestnuts can be frozen at -18/-20 °C for 6-12 months, without altering their nutritional values and distinctive taste.

Food trends, Gourmet food



Famous all over the world for its stunning monuments, art galleries and that lovely feeling of dolce vita, Rome is also well-known to food lovers for three pasta courses that are featured on the menu of any trattoria romana (traditional restaurant) worth that name: Carbonara, Gricia and Cacio e Pepe. Despite their different names, these dishes share the same secret for success: just a few quality fresh ingredients, perfectly combined to create something absolutely delicious.

Carbonara is probably the most famous of all Roman pasta dishes. It is widely believed that pasta alla carbonara was born during WWII with the arrival of the American troops that mixed their canned bacon with local, easy-to-find ingredients such as pasta and eggs; not many people know, though, that the ancestor of Carbonara could be that cacio e ova (cheese and eggs) which used to be prepared in the Abruzzo region to feed entire families with a few, nutritious ingredients. Egg yolks, Pecorino Romano cheese, guanciale (cured pig jowl) and freshly ground black pepper: this is what it takes to prepare the real Carbonara. Cream, garlic, onion, herbs, butter and olive oil do not feature in the traditional recipe. As for the pasta, Carbonara lovers are equally divided between the ones who would have this creamy sauce with spaghetti and those who prefer it with short types like mezze maniche (pasta tubes).

The same ingredients, except the eggs, are used to prepare another much loved Roman dish: pasta alla Gricia. According to legend, Gricia was originally invented by the shepherds coming to town from the nearby mountains: for this reason, it is said that the very first recipe used ricotta salata cheese and not Pecorino Romano which the shepherds preferred to sell as most profitable. The origin of its name is still very much debated but the vast majority of people now tend to believe that it comes from Grisciano, a town in the province of Rieti: this would also explain why some restaurants spell its name “Griscia”. Considered by many as the forerunner of Amatriciana, the famous dish that attracts pasta enthusiasts to the town of Amatrice, Gricia sauce gives its best when paired with rigatoni (tube shaped pasta with ridges on the outside).

An institution in Roman cuisine and a culinary tribute to Pecorino Romano, Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) seems to be the simplest of all four recipes. After all, it takes only Pecorino and black pepper. The truth is that preparing the perfect Cacio e Pepe involves a significant degree of concentration and the insider knowledge of a couple of tricks in order to give the right consistency to the sauce: the secret is preparing it in a glass bowl, mixing finely grated Pecorino cheese with some starchy water taken from the pot where the pasta is being cooked. Al dente, of course.

Food trends, Gourmet food


Gelato, granita and sorbetto: the most popular Italian frozen desserts

Probably created to counterbalance the effects of the high summer temperatures, Italian frozen desserts are rather enjoyable in any season and are now so popular all over the world that it is worth shedding a light on their own distinctive characteristics.

Gelato is undoubtedly the most famous one. According to the Istituto del Gelato Italiano , the association established in 1991 to protect the quality of this Italian excellence, gelato as we know it today was invented in Florence in the 15th century by the architect Bernardo Buontalenti. Prepared with natural ingredients such as milk, cream, eggs and sugar, it is produced in a huge variety of flavors obtained by incorporating in the basic recipe fresh fruit, nuts, chocolate, coffee and nowadays almost anything palatable, as long as it is fresh. In order to preserve its thick and dense creamy texture, gained by churning it slowly to allow less air in the mixture, gelato is served at higher temperatures than commercial ice-cream.

A great alternative to gelato is sorbetto (sorbet), an ancient frozen dessert probably invented in Sicily where, in Summertime, people used to mix the snow of Etna with some lemon juice or almond milk to create a refreshing drink. Made with fruit purée or fresh fruit juice and sugar (occasionally replaced by simple syrup or liqueur), sorbetto is dairy-free and, compared to gelato, also low-fat. Originally eaten as a palate cleanser between courses of large meals, the perfect sorbetto has a light, soft texture with no ice crystals.

A popular “street dessert” when the temperatures are very high, granita is prepared with water, fruit juice and a little sugar (only 25-35%, compared to sorbetto). The secret of its granulated consistency lies in a slow chilling process made possible by keeping the mixture in motion so that the air does not get incorporated and the ice crystals do not become too large. The semi-liquid texture of granita varies according to the city or region where it is produced: in Sicily, where it was invented, it is at its chunkiest on the west coast whereas in the east it is nearly as smooth as sorbet.

Food trends, Gourmet food



Pizza is one of the most iconic Italian foods, a symbol of Italian culinary culture. From its original toppings (tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil leaves) that somehow remind of the Italian flag, to those slices handed out to our dining companions: there is something bonding about pizza that makes it truly special, despite its simplicity.

Italian pizza lovers never fail to recognize pizza napoletana (Neapolitan pizza) as the queen mother of all the other variants that nowadays are prepared and served all over the country. The dough -made with Italian wheat flour, water, yeast and salt – is kneaded by hand. In order to obtain the typical crust, the dough is also stretched by hand because this technique moves the air from the center towards the edge, making it puffier. Neapolitan pizza is baked for 60 to 90 seconds in a wood-fired oven. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, founded in 1984 in Naples, certify pizzerias that use the proper artisan traditions of authentic Neapolitan pizza such as, besides the ingredients and method to prepare the dough, the original toppings: hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte or mozzarella di Bufala, fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil. All the ingredients, of course, must be natural and fresh.

Just like for any other Italian food preparation, countless are the versions of pizza available throughout the country: almost every region seems to put a spin on the original recipe in order to meet the local taste. Pizza Tonda Romana, for example, is very thin and crispy; the crust is flat and usually a bit burnt. Sfincione, instead, is the name given to the typical Sicilian pizza: thick and fluffy, it is usually served in square slices. One of the latest trends that seems to be taking over the Italian pizza realm is called Pinsa Romana.

The word pinsa comes from the Latin verb pinsere, which literally means “push the dough by hand”. So, as trendy as it may now be, Pinsa Romana is not exactly an innovation. Mentioned in the Aeneid (as the first food eaten by Aeneas as soon as he arrived near Rome), pinsa can be effectively considered as an ancestor of the pizza we all know. The Ancient Romans used it as a tray to serve their juicy culinary preparations as the dough, at the time, was far too hard to be eaten alone.

Besides the evident difference in shape (pinsa is oval, whereas the traditional pizza is round), the dough of Pinsa Romana is made from a combination of soy, rice, wheat flour and sourdough. It is left to ferment for up to 72 hours, then baked at a low temperature. Compared with the classic pizza dough, the pinsa one provides a different amount of water (about 80%) and a lower percentage of yeast. The result is a more digestible and less caloric preparation. As for the toppings, choices are countless just like for pizza.

Food trends, Gourmet food



The famous “dessert stomach” was probably invented in Italy because, never mind the three savory courses that form a standard Italian meal, many are the traditional sweet foods that we indulge in at the end of a friendly session around the table.

Starting from the most famous of all Italian desserts, Tiramisù , it is interesting to know that, back in the 19th century, this powerful, coffee-flavored sponge cake used to be allegedly served as a “tonic” to the customers of a local brothel in Treviso. If this were true, it would not come to a surprise then that its other ingredients are mascarpone cheese, eggs and sugar, sometimes spiced up with a drop of liqueur. The name itself, originating from the dialectal expression tireme su (which literally means “pick me up”), would also be lifted to a brand new level of meaning. Despite the prudery that made Tiramisù disappear from recipe books for almost a century, today it is a staple on the menu of many restaurants all over the country.

Moving South, Babà is a delicacy that makes all the patisseries in and around Naples very proud. Its peculiar mushroom shape makes it easily recognizable and so does its taste, very sweet and rich with rum-flavored syrup. This lovely sponge cake is such a symbol of the Neapolitan culinary and cultural heritage that saying to someone <you are a babà> means they are very sweet and kind. Not many people know, though, that babà has Polish origins: babka ponczowa, in fact, was the name of a cake created by Stanislaus Leszczyński, the exiled king of Poland who decided to soften the dough of a typical Alsatian cake with alcohol.

Without a doubt, the queen of Sicilian desserts is Cassata: a fantastic cake that manages to pay homage to some of the best ingredients of the island in just one recipe. Made with sugared ricotta, sponge cake, royal pasta, and candied fruit, it is such a typical Sicilian product that it has been included by the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies in the list of the traditional Italian agri-food products (P.A.T.). Originally created as an Easter dessert, Cassata is now available throughout the year. Its name comes from the Arabic “Quas’at” that means big bowl, the very bowl in which the ricotta cheese was originally mixed with sugar.

Going back North, Monte Bianco is an elegant dessert typical of Northern Italy, namely Piedmont and Lombardy. In the Aosta Valley, close to the border with France, it is known as Mont Blanc. It is very much an autumnal cake because its main ingredient is chestnut. It was created towards the end of the 17th century when chestnut flour – previously used to make bread and help people cope with the famine, following a series of wars – returned to be an additional, non-essential ingredient. Despite having been a signature dessert served at the Parisian tea shop “Angelina” since 1903, Monte Bianco originated in Italy and it takes its name from the Monte Bianco mountain in the Alps which it resembles, when sprinkled with icing sugar.

Food trends, Gourmet food



The full list of Italian cheese excellences protected by the European Union with the PDO mark (Protected Designation of Origin, DOP in Italian) – which certifies that every step of the production process takes place in a specific region – includes 50 different types of cheese. Among them, Parmigiano Reggiano is undoubtedly the most famous one.

Parmigiano Reggiano is produced exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua. Its production is strictly regulated and supervised by the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium which ensures that, for a start, cattle are fed on locally grown forage without using silage, fermented feeds and animal flour. Every day, fresh milk is poured into copper vats: here it slowly coagulates with the addition of rennet and a whey starter. The curd is then broken down by the master cheese-maker into minuscule granules and gets cooked at 55 degrees C until the granules sink to the bottom of the van, forming a single mass. This is then split in half and placed in molds to form two cheese wheels. It takes about 550 liters of milk to produce a single wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Be it matured for 12, 24, 36, or 40 months, Parmigiano Reggiano is characterized by a rich, granular texture, quite firm to the bite. It presents a hard pale-golden rind and a straw-colored interior with a rich, sharp flavor. Being 100% natural, it is low in fat, free of carbohydrates, rich in proteins and also lactose-free, thus representing a tasty and healthy choice even for those people who suffer from some food intolerances.

When grated, it adds its inimitable flavor to many pasta dishes and soups, enhancing even the most simple recipes. It may be served with crackers as an appetizer or on its own a snack. It can also be used to give a well-balanced taste to mashed-potatoes, casseroles, omelets and soufflés. In Summertime, Parmigiano Reggiano shavings are traditionally served on top of thinly sliced bresaola together with some arugula, a sprinkle of lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Alternatively, it pairs delightfully also with fresh fruit, especially apples, pears and melons.

Parmigiano Reggiano is one of our top-of-the-range products. In addition to the strict regulations that preserve its traditional production, for its selection we rely on the experience and expertise of the most popular producers and professional tasters. We also pay the utmost attention to its transportation and shipment in order to deliver its quality at its best.

Food trends, Gourmet food



Italian dry cured ham – locally known as prosciutto crudo – is a high quality product prepared in the most traditional way, respecting the strictest food safety standards. The best varieties are certified with the European PDO mark (Protected Designation of Origin, DOP in Italian) which guarantees that each step of their production adheres to the procedural guidelines of the local Consortium that preserves the original recipe.

The eight types of ham that gained the PDO certification are: Prosciutto di Parma DOP (simply called “Parma” in Italy), Crudo di Cuneo DOP, Prosciutto di Carpegna DOP, Prosciutto di Modena DOP, Prosciutto di San Daniele DOP (simply referred to as “San Daniele”), Prosciutto Toscano DOP, Prosciutto Veneto Berico-Euganeo DOP and the Vallée d’Aoste Jambon De Bosses DOP. Parma and San Daniele are undoubtedly the most famous ones, both in Italy and abroad, however all these hams are considered to be the kings of Italian cold cuts.

One of the first rules that need to be respected in order to produce a Prosciutto Crudo DOP requires that the hogs are born and bred in those specific areas of Italy to which the PDO mark has been assigned. After the hogs reach a minimum weight of 160 kilos, they are butchered and the salting and curing process begins. It takes up to 16 months to make a prosciutto, in some cases even more. Only the hind legs are used and no additives or preservatives are used in making an authentic prosciutto crudo DOP: just salt and sometimes local herbs and spices (like for Prosciutto Toscano DOP). In some cases the hams are pressed (like the Vallée d’Aoste Jambon, that also keeps the trotter) or flattened (as it happens to the Prosciutto di Carpegna DOP which eventually acquires a roundish shape).

The difference in color, taste and fat content depend on local variables such as, for example, the natural ingredients used to feed the hogs or the place chosen for the aging process: this may range from the rascard, the typical wooden buildings of the Aosta Valley, to the aging chambers used for Prosciutto di Parma DOP which are open the local winds that give to the ham its unique taste.

Just like Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto crudo is totally natural and extremely healthy. To fully appreciate its delicious taste, it is best consumed at room temperature.

Food trends, Gourmet food



Although mainly known as a country producing some of the world’s best wine, over the last decade Italy has started to become famous also for craft beers. Up until 20 years ago, the country’s beer reputation relied on major brands which produce tasty beer yet made for mass consumption. Thanks to a handful of visionary men from Lombardy and Piedmont, who decided to fight the cultural bias linked to brews, a brand new movement of Italian craft beer was born: the same one that is now making Italy Europe’s most vibrant beer scene.

Since 1996, when the first microbreweries moved out of private garages and adopted a more entrepreneurial approach, numbers have rapidly increased: in 2010 there were 300 crafts breweries which represented only 1% of the total beer production in Italy, while in 2017 they were already 718 (plus 225 brew pubs), representing 3.5% of the total Italian beer production. The trend keeps being exponential. Most of the Italian microbreweries are concentrated in the North where the brewer pioneers had begun however, as Italian breweries are places where culture and genius merge, they are now to be found everywhere across the country.

Similarly to wine, Italian craft beers are available in an incredible variety of types and tastes, each of which can be paired with different foods and dishes. Their producers have recently come up with creative experiments using local ingredients like chestnuts, spelt, wild honey and seasonal fruits thus giving these beers a distinctly Italian flare. Lately, microbreweries have also been testing wine grape skin-derived wild yeast as well as experimenting with ageing beers in old wine barrels for layered edge and body. Italian craft beers are often unfiltered and double fermented in the bottle, and barley wine – inspired by the British tradition but with that pleasant Italian touch, achieved through the addition of indigenous heritage grains – has become an appreciated novelty.

According to many Italian brewers, their customer base is equally divided between local and foreign consumers which appreciate the quality of the Italian crafts despite their recent history.

Food trends, Gourmet food



One of the pleasures of the Italian food culture is that each meal is treated as a serious matter, following unwritten rules that are meant to add extra joy to the enjoyment of food itself. Slow is the word, especially at dinner time during weekends when the clock does not seem to tick as fast as during work days. If a proper meal is divided into three courses (starter, pasta, main course), its final part is another ritual in itself: first dessert, then espresso coffee and finally a digestive liquor.

Simply put, digestivo is an alcoholic drink served at the end of the meal which over time, in Italy, has become a proper tradition. For this reason, many are the varieties produced all over the country. Just to name a few: Sambuca (originally made in Latium from aniseeds), Amaretto (produced in Lombardy using almonds), Averna (made in Sicily with local citrus and some other top-secret ingredients) and the Strega, produced in Campania using a whopping 70 ingredients.

Among the huge variety of after-dinner drinks available, the most popular one is Limoncello. With an average alcohol content of 30%, this lemon liquor is perfect in Spring and in Summertime because it should be drunk cold but it is so enjoyable that seasonality is a mere detail. Originally produced in the Amalfi Coast, it is an infusion made with the zest of organic lemons, alcohol, water and sugar. Its simple recipe makes it rather easy to prepare therefore homemade Limoncello is a staple in almost every Italian household. Over time, its extreme popularity raised the bar of its production therefore today the quality of commercial Limoncello is always high.

Another famous after-dinner drink is Grappa, a traditional Italian spirit made from the pressed seeds and skins of grapes left to ferment without added sugar or alcohol, as the grape skins are naturally high in residual sugars. After fermentation, Grappa is distilled and it becomes a dry, intense liquor with a minimum alcohol content of 40% and proved digestive effect. Supervised by the Grappa National Institute, only five regions are officially allowed to produce Grappa: Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino and Valle d’Aosta. Besides geographical differences, grappa can be classified by age: it ranges from Grappa Giovane, Vecchia and Riserva, depending on how long it is aged in wood. In recent years, the focus has been on Grappa monovitigno (single-variety): the results are so remarkable that Grappa has started appearing on cocktail menus all over the world.

Food trends, Gourmet food



Famous for being an essential ingredient in Tiramisu, mascarpone is an Italian triple cream cheese prepared with unskimmed cows’ milk. Because of its high perishability, in the past mascarpone used to be produced only during the winter season; nowadays, of course, it is available all year round.

Despite being classified as cheese, mascarpone is not exactly a real one because its preparation does not involve the use of rennet: it is obtained from milk cream to which citric acid or lemon juice are added to help it solidify; the resulting curd is then gently heated until it reaches the perfect consistency. After draining the whey, this specialty is ready for enjoyment.

Mascarpone usually comes in tubs and has an ivory color; its texture is exceptionally smooth and creamy, with a delicate taste. Compared to standard cream cheese that normally tastes more like a savory cheese, mascarpone has a sweeter, buttery flavor; besides, mascarpone has a higher fat content thus providing an important energy intake while offering an unparalleled indulgence.

The delicate flavor of mascarpone naturally lends itself to baking: it can replace sour cream in banana bread and be baked in cheesecakes and muffins. It can also be used – instead of whipped cream – to top a bowl of fresh fruit or as a frosting for cupcakes. On its own, with a sprinkle of cocoa powder and chocolate shavings, is a simple yet very enjoyable dessert.

Thanks to its high percentage of saturated fat, mascarpone is used in savory recipes to add rich texture to many different dishes. It can replace cream to thicken soups, stuff chicken breasts or add extra flavor to roasted vegetables. It goes well with walnuts and radicchio for a healthy salad or it can be simply used as a spread in a sandwich. Its creamy texture makes it the right addition to pasta sauces and scrambled eggs, too. The absence of rennet in its preparation process makes it perfect for vegetarians.

Food trends, Gourmet food



Famous for its mild taste, Stracchino is a fresh cheese produced in northern Italy – mainly in Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto – using whole cow’s milk and raw curd. It usually comes in square slabs, one to two inches thick, that may vary in size and it is always wrapped in paper to keep its natural moisture. Low in calories and in fat, Stracchino is rich with high-quality proteins, phosphorus and vitamins; its nutritional values – together with its enjoyable soft texture and delicate flavor of milk – make it the perfect complement in a healthy meal.

Besides its flavor, what makes this cheese one of the most sold ones is its versatility. It can be added to a risotto for a light creaminess, used on pizza instead of mozzarella or – since it is easily digestible – it can be the light filling of a tart or even a cheesecake. Italian food lovers do not miss to appreciate it on its own as a main course with a side of cooked greens or simply served with fresh tomatoes and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Its consistency makes it also the perfect spread on freshly baked bread just as much as the ideal ingredient for a lovely, Italian version of Cheese on Toast. The variant made using goat’s milk, with a more intense flavor, is excellent to prepare creative cold starters with fresh vegetables and chutneys or to fill a focaccia. True cheese lovers may even enjoy it on its own, paired with a glass of chilled, fruity Italian white wine.

Extremely popular in Italy, Stracchino is not so well-known abroad yet. Its short expiry date makes it a difficult product to be exported in faraway countries: however, since we enjoy new challenges when it comes to promoting Italian food excellences worldwide, here in Alifood we keep investing in R&D in order to implement new IQF technologies that can prolong its shelf-life while preserving all the organoleptic properties and good taste for which this product is famous for.

Thanks to the latest innovations in food preservation, in the next few years Stracchino could easily become a real alternative to other Italian cheeses even in international markets and create, together with mozzarella and burrata, a unique and unrivaled selection of fresh Italian cheeses.

Just like many other fresh cheeses, Stracchino will last for 2-3 days in the refrigerator if sealed in an airtight container; however, it is so tasty and moreish that it is likely to finish the same day it is purchased.

Food trends, Gourmet food



Whether we are entertaining or just looking for a savory snack, cured meats always make for an easy, healthy option to us an Italy. Out of the over 700 varieties of charcuteries available in Italy, there are two that are particularly appreciated by food lovers all over the world: prosciutto and bresaola.

Prosciutto generically means ham in Italian: what is usually called prosciutto abroad is cured ham (prosciutto crudo). Although it has many regional variations – several of which are true food excellences covered by the Protected Designation of Origin (DOP), such as San Daniele from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Cinta Senese from Tuscany – the most popular one is Prosciutto di Parma. The name bresaola refers only to a type of dried salted meat with an IGP trademark (Protected Geographical Indication) that limits its production only to certified master butchers in the Lombardy region, mainly located in Valtellina, an Alpine valley in Northern Italy.

Whereas prosciutto is produced by curing a leg of pork with pure sea salt in order to keep the meat as sweet-tasting and tender as possible, bresaola is one of the few cured meats made of beef therefore it is the ideal choice for those who do not eat pork but do not want to miss the opportunity to enjoy an Italian excellence either. Produced using a very lean cut of beef with almost no fat at all, bresaola gets first rubbed with a mix of salt and the right combination of spices, then air dried from two to four months.

Prosciutto is fairly high in fat but it is an excellent source of protein, potassium, and iron; being made from a single muscle, with any outer fat removed before curing, means that bresaola is leaner (only 151 calories in 100g) and – as a beef product – it is high in protein (32g in 100g), B-vitamins, zinc and iron.

What is really good about cured meats is that they do not require cooking therefore they are perfect for a quick meal without having to resort to fast food. Because of its mild, delicate taste, bresaola gives its best when served thinly sliced with fresh arugula, a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano shavings. It also makes an elegant starter when each single slice is wrapped around a spoonful of Stracchino mixed with roughly chopped walnuts. As for the main course, it is typically used to prepare a Risotto together with Gorgonzola cheese. Prosciutto crudo, which in comparison has a stronger taste, pairs wonderfully with melon, chunks of Parmigiano and fresh figs. It is also the perfect topping for a typical Italian bruschetta and, cut in chunks, it is often sautéed together with sweet peas for a healthy and tasty side dish. Laying slices of prosciutto or bresaola over a pizza that has just been removed from the oven enhances the flavor of these cured meats and that of the pizza as well.

Food trends, Gourmet food



Potatoes, flour and eggs: it only takes a few ingredients to make one of the most loved main courses in Italy, Gnocchi. Shaped like dumplings, their preparation is similar to pasta as they are cooked in boiling water and then served with the preferred sauce.

The information about the origin of their name are rather debatable: some say that the word gnocchi comes from nocca, which means knuckle in Italian; other sources claim that it derives from the ancient Lombard knohha, that used to indicate a wood knot. Although their etymology is still unclear, it is interesting to notice that all the words that are allegedly linked with this delicious preparation always refer to the small, tight, rounded shape that gnocchi still have nowadays.

Their first appearance on our tables dates back to the eighteenth century – well after the Spanish explorers brought potatoes from South America and introduced them to Italian kitchens – but other forms of gnocchi have been known since the Renaissance. In his 1570 cookbook, Bartolomeo Scappi reports a recipe for gnocchi made by pushing through the holes of a cheese grater a dough made by mixing flour, breadcrumbs and water. Eggs were officially introduced a little later to add firmness to the preparation.

Healthy and very much loved as a great alternative to pasta and soups, Gnocchi in Italy are eaten as a primo piatto. Because of their shape and texture, they are perfect when served with thick, creamy sauces like melted Gorgonzola cheese or Pesto Genovese but they are also delicious with a simple dressing of butter, sage and grated Parmigiano. Despite enjoying a rather short cooking time, their preparation may take up to an hour: for this reason, packaged gnocchi are widely available in supermarkets and deli shops, either refrigerated or frozen.

Food trends, Gourmet food



Among all the Italian cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano is probably the most famous all over the world. There is another one though which may be less popular abroad but that definitely plays an important role in the cooking routine of many Italians: Pecorino.

Generally speaking, Pecorino is the name given to all Italian cheeses made from ewe’s milk; its name comes from pecora which in Italian means ewe. Specifically, it refers to three main varieties from central Italy and the island of Sardinia which enjoy the DOP* seal: Pecorino Sardo from Sardinia, Pecorino Toscano from Tuscany and Pecorino Romano from Lazio.

Pecorino Sardo DOP is made exclusively in Sardinia from pasteurized Sardinian ewe’s milk. It has a smooth, thick crust that turns brown as it ages; the paste, rather compact, is pearly white but tends to become straw yellow with the ageing process. The cheese wheels – aged for at least sixty days – weigh between seven and nine pounds. Due to the use of lamb rennet in its preparation, Pecorino Sardo has a strong flavour which goes well with fresh vegetables and fruit – especially peaches and pears – and honey (as in the famous Seadas, local deep-fried pastries filled with Pecorino and lemon zest and drizzled with honey). It is also a good appetizer, accompanied by a glass of chilled Sardinian Vermentino wine.

Pecorino Toscano DOP is also made exclusively from ewe’s milk but, unlike Pecorino Sardo, it can be produced outside Tuscany, in specific cheese factories that respect the procedural guidelines dictated by the DOP certification body. The cheese wheels – weighing on average between two and eight pounds – have a yellow crust and a compact, firm paste. Pecorino Toscano is sweet and delicate to the palate when fresh, more intense when it ages. Both these versions are perfect with dried fruit and nuts which – together with a good selection of local cold cuts and a glass of Chianti wine – make the typical Tuscan aperitivo.

Of all the DOP varieties of this cheese though, Pecorino Romano is perhaps the most popular and distinctly Italian. It is also the “oldest”, as its consumption dates back to the ancient Romans who considered it the perfect food for soldiers. Pecorino Romano is now produced in the regions of Lazio and Sardinia and in the Tuscan province of Grosseto by mixing lamb and calf rennet with fresh, whole ewe’s milk that undergoes a strictly-regulated cooking process. The crust is thin and ivory; the paste ranges from white to straw yellow and it is rather compact. Saltier and higher in acidity than the other two, Pecorino Romano is the one that gets aged for a longer time (at least five months) before being sold, thus resulting in an aromatic, slightly piquant table cheese. Often paired with mature red wines, Pecorino Romano gives its best when used grated to complete traditional pasta dishes like Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara and Amatriciana.

*Denominazione di Origine Protetta, literally Protected Designation of Origin.