November 29, 2016

It is Truffle season!

A recently purchased White Truffle from Savigno, in the Province of Bologna. 
One of the things I love about living in Italy is that everything has its season and there is always something to look forward to. In late autumn- early winter we see the arrival of Truffles, among other long awaited items butternut squash, several types of pumpkins, many radicchio varieties, apples, pears, quince, nuts, etc., etc.

There are many varieties of white and black truffles and as of October 1st, the most prized variety of white truffles has hit the market! The white truffle grows wild in Piedmont, the Appenine Mountains of Emilia-Romagna (ER) and also the area around Marche-Umbria. The Alba white truffle is probably the best known but Savigno (Emilia-Romagna) and Acqualanga (Marche) also have fabulous white truffles.

At the end of this post you will find a partial listing of types of truffles.

What exactly is a truffle? A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean fungi; spore dispersal is accomplished through fungivores, animals that eat fungi. Almost all truffles are ectomycorrhizal and are therefore usually found in close association with trees. There are hundreds of species of truffles, but the fruiting body of some (mostly in the genus Tuber) are highly prized as a food: Brillat-Savarin called them "the diamond of the kitchen". Edible truffles are held in high esteem in French, Spanish, northern Italian and Greek cooking, as well as in international haute cuisine.
From Wikipedia

Truffles in the kitchen:
A traditional way to serve truffles is to serve them with freshly made egg pasta and butter. In the case of the white truffle, it is shaved directly over each diner’s pasta. If ordering this at a restaurant, be sure to ask for the price of the truffle before you order to avoid any surprises (the white truffles can command over 4,000€ per kilo!).

*Watch this video to see some of the ways you can prepare truffles.

How to choose a Truffle?
When purchasing fresh truffles, consider that truffles, especially white truffles are very perishable and need to be consumed within 2-3 days of purchase. A fresh truffle should have a strong smell vs a weak smell the scent gets weaker as time passes. Another sign of freshness is it should be fairly soft when you slice it. If its dry it is not fresh. If it shows any sign of mold or smells moldy; it should not be eaten.
*A word to the wise – watch the following video of a US show that looks into people passing off the Chinese truffle as French and at French prices! MUST WATCH VIDEO

How much truffle to buy?
Well that depends on whether you want a touch of truffle or a lot of truffle! Having said that, plan on 5-10g of truffles per serving for a first or second course.

How to conserve your fresh Truffle?
Wrap it in a piece of clean paper towel or napkin and put in a plastic bag, tie it closed so it will not dry out. Do not place in rice as it will cause your truffle dry out and/or mold.

How to clean your truffle?
First remove as much dirt as you can with a medium soft brush (toothbrush or nailbrush) and no water. If you have purchased the truffle, there is most likely a small amount of dirt on it.

There are different opinions as to how to proceed:
1. One person says wet a medium soft brush (toothbrush or nailbrush) and use it to brush the truffle clean, when completely clean, rinse quickly under cold water and pat dry immediately.

2. Another person said to use a soft brush and brush the truffle clean under a thin stream of cold water. When completely clean, pat dry immediately.

3. Still another person says you should only use a soft brush and brush the truffle all over until you remove all of the dirt. If necessary use a toothpick to remove dirt that is stuck in crevices and then continue brushing until you reach the light ivory color of the truffle.

What they all agree on is that the truffle should only be cleaned right before before using. That the truffle should not be soaked in water.

This is a list of the popular types of truffles found at Tartufi Unlimited. I will add more varieties as soon as I finish my research.

Italian White Alba Truffle | Tuber Magnatum Pico

The Italian White Alba truffle is most expensive truffle sold today. The Italian White truffle has a smooth "felt-like" surface, and ranges in size from that of a marble to that of an American basketball. The combination of the Italian White truffle's rarity and strong perishable nature, causes this truffle to fetch the high prices it does. The Italian White truffle has a strong cheesy-garlic aroma, but to many, smells like that of a turnip. The Italian White truffle should only be purchased after mid- September, because before this, can have a large presence of fly larvae inside the truffle. The Italian White truffle's flavor is destroyed with heat and should not be cooked.

Italian Black Summer Truffle | Tuber Aestivum

The Italian Summer truffle is found in abundance throughout Europe, however more commonly is found in Italy. The Italian Summer truffle, also known as "Scorzone" in Italy, has an almost alligator skin texture, and tastes much like hazelnuts. The Italian Summer truffle ranges in size from that of a marble to that of a softball, however is most commonly found around the size of golf balls. The Italian Summer Truffle is found between May and August, and has an immense amount of flavor for its price.

Bagnoli Black Truffle | Tuber Mesentericum

The Bagnoli Truffle is a common European truffle, resembling the Summer truffle, however is not widely known in the U.S. for its aroma resembles phenol and what is best described as a sharpie marker. However if the Bagnoli truffle is placed out in the open air, or warmed slightly when cooked, its flavor can change to that of the Summer truffle, a hazelnut, earthy taste. The Bagnoli truffle can reach to the size of American Basketballs, and is often used in truffle products, throughout Europe.

"Bianchetto" White Spring Truffle | Tuber Borchii

The Bianchetto Spring truffle is a white truffle that grows in Italy. Its exterior is much darker than that of the Italian White truffle, however has an excellent flavor, resembling the same cheesy-garlic attributes. The Bianchetto truffle has an even shorter shelf life than that of the Italian White Truffle, but is a perfect substitute to the high priced winter cousin.

Chinese Truffle | Tuber Indicum or Tuber Himalayensis

I would like to add this truffle to the list as the Chinese Truffle has made headway into the truffle market. Follow the link below for an in-depth list and photographs that will help you distinguish the various types of Chinese truffles. Read THIS before you buy!

Remember these names and remember to always read the label to know what you are buying!

April 27, 2016

Just like Nonna makes it!

Although I am not a nonna yet (and certainly do not feel like one!) I am actually looking forward to having some little people running around again. In the meantime, I keep cooking like my Roman grandmother taught me, like my friend's mothers and many other mamme taught me. I in turn, teach you, all those little secrets that are NEVER in the cookbooks but that make all of the difference.

Here is a brand new article by a blog: High Heels and Backpack called "Just like Nonna; Learning To Cook in Italy's Foodie Capital". I hope you enjoy it. Click on the title.

October 27, 2015

We Are Still Around!

Hello everyone,

I know it has been awhile since I wrote anything here. We have been SO busy teaching in September and October that writing has fallen by the wayside. But that will change soon as things slow down a bit. Soon you will be seeing some new articles about food in general and what is happening in and around Bologna.

As anyone interested in food has already found out the World Health organization just came out saying that they've put processed and red meats on the carcinogenic list. I wonder how this bit of news will impact Italian life in general and specifically my region, Emilia-Romagna known for its marvelous salumi : prosciutto crudo, mortadella, salame di felino, culatello, ciccioli and many other meats.

I am afraid that the Bolognese will not change their way of eating... I will keep you posted as I hear people's opinions.

July 7, 2015

NEW: We Are Open in July and August!

All photos by CTFisher 2015
Yes, this year we guarantee cooking classes throughout July and August, contrary to many cooking classes in Bologna.

Seeing that we are one of the few, if not the only one, to offer cooking classes in July and August, we encourage you to book soon as bookings for  cooking lessons in August are already filling up!

In case you need to be convinced, below is a just published article written about Taste of Italy by Tortellini & Co.:

As well as the latest review written on TripAdvisor by one of our students:

“La familia cooks in Bologna”
5 of 5 stars      Reviewed July 1, 2015NEW
All photos by CTFisher
Five stars and a "Bravo" to Joanna & Maribel of Taste of Italy for offering a very pleasant casual cooking experience in the heart of Bologna.
My wife and I and 2 teenage boys were in Bologna for just two days towards the end of our 12 day tour of Italy. We thought, what better way for our Italian-American family to experience the culinary capital of Italy than a cooking class. After a cursory review of options on Trip Advisor, we emailed Taste of Italy because they seemed to offer more options to customize the class to what we wanted. With two travel-weary teenage boys, we needed a fun and casual activity. I was already pushing our luck just asking them to participate if you know what I mean. Taste of Italy seemed to fit our idea perfectly.
I contacted Maribel via email late on a Wednesday afternoon and was quickly confirmed for a Friday morning class. The morning of our class, we were introduced to Joanna at a café near Piazza Maggiore where we discussed menu preferences. Our requests were challenging. We asked her to teach our two boys how to make pasta from scratch while my wife and I wanted to learn how to make white sauces (as opposed to Bolognese or ragu which we already knew). Joanna suggested an appetizer and two desserts, and, just like that, we had signed on for a 5 course lunch!
Joanna walked us through the local market where we found all the stores to be very clean and maintained. You can feel the pride of the store owners in the Bolognese market place. Joann explained the tradition of the market and the origins of many of the local area products. Our ingredients included many of these: cheese, bread, figs, tomatoes, pancetta, walnuts eggplant, cream, eggs, flour, water, oil, wine, etc.
The actual cooking occurs in Joanna's kitchen which was clean and prepped for the class. We dove right into the pasta making – something my wife and I had both done many times with our own parents. Joanna put everyone to work (also just like our parents would have done). By the way, Joanna’s speaks English better than most Americans as well as fluent Italian. Communicating with her is a breeze. I like that she explained the tiniest details of her recipes and gave a few suggestions for variations that we can try at home. I have to admit, at a certain point in the class, all I wanted to do was just sit down and start eating. As an Italian myself, I know that cooking is a labor of love more than it is a combination of ingredients. Effort and attention to detail are equally important, and Joanne conveyed that in both her style and approach. That’s how you know she’s authentic!!
So what did we create??? The appetizer was towers of grilled eggplant, parmigiana reggiano, tomato, basil with olive oil/balsamic drizzle. We made farfalle, penne and fettuccini pastas which was served in a cream sauce of gorgonzola, fig and walnut. The same pastas were served in a second cream sauce with pancetta, shallots and peas. For dessert, we created homemade tiramisu and a chocolate chip “semifredda” which is like a gelato cake.
The entire class took 6 hours and was worth every penny in terms of the family experience and the knowledge transfer. Plus, we didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!!! Highly recommended.
Visited June 2015

June 17, 2015

Food + Science = Equilibrium

Have you ever wondered why some of the simplest recipes turn out to be the most delicious? Take, for example, prosciutto and melon. This Italian springtime favorite is about as simple as they come. Maybe we can give some credit to the theory of Claudio Galeno. The second century Greek medic studied the composition of food and how finding the equilibrium of ingredients, however simple, can result in a successful dish.

According to Galeno, every product can be described as hot, cold, humid or dry. Ideally, a dish should combine ingredients from each of these categories. Think again about the prosciutto and melon. The combination of the moist, cool melon that contrasts with the dry, warm prosciutto achieves what Galeno describes as equilibrium. The salty/sweet combo pleases tastebuds. Yes, it seems strange to think about foods in a scientific manner, how tastes mix and ingredients combine to deliver smiles and happy palates.

Another example that comes close to equilibrium, a staple in the Italian kitchen, is pasta. Think about how dried pasta and water, thrown together on the stove until the boiling water brings the pasta to the desired cooked, moist consistency reach equilibrium. The simple combination of the ingredients and elements results in an age-old dish.

According to Massimo Montanari, a leading expert in Food and Culture History and professor of Medieval History at the University of Bologna, pizza baked in a wood burning oven, 'nel forno al legno' could be seen as a dream combination of ingredients and elements to achieve the Italian favorite. The moist, freshly tossed dough with your hearts' desire of toppings thrown into the wood burning oven results with a generally crispy crust with a chewy, cheesy center.

Next time you are experimenting in the kitchen, think as Galeno did. Ponder each of the ingredients' qualities and how the best bet might be to pair them with ingredients who have opposite qualities.

Have fun and...Buon appetito!