Tag Archives: artisan

From necessity to art form.

Coppa, delicious on an antipasto platter

Italians are very proud of their centuries-old tradition of curing meat, especially pork. The practice especially provided a way of making full use of the meat of the pig, traditionally slaughtered in the autumn, given that the fresh meat had to be eaten within a short time. Preserving the meat by salting and drying it into hams, sausages and other products not only extended the period over which it could be consumed, but created different tastes and textures to be enjoyed. Continue reading

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A bitter sweet affair.

The Italians have a love affair with lemons. They are grown pretty much all over the country, from north to south. Along the northern shores of Lake Garda, the ruined greenhouses, or lemon gardens, are reminders of the 18th century heyday of citrus growing here, to which the town of Limone sul Garda owes its name. In Amalfi lemons grow in the terraced gardens all along the coast, hang for sale in tied bunches from walls, doors and windows, and flavour the drink that finishes almost every meal here. In fact lemons helped to make Amalfi rich – between about 1500 and 1800 the major market for its lemons were northern European navies and ship owners, who bought the fruit by the millions in an attempt to protect their sailors against scurvy. Today it is Sicily, not Amalfi, that is Italy’s most prolific lemon grower, and was probably its first, as it is generally believed that the Arabs imported lemon trees there from India. It wasn’t long before the cultivation of lemons had spread all over southern Italy, where the climate provides the ideal growing conditions. Continue reading

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Ooh, now this is nice.

Now and again we come across a product that makes us all just say ‘yep’. No further question or debate, it’s in. Here’s one such. It’s crema di parmigiano reggiano – and it pretty much does what it says on the jar. A creamy paste (a cross between a sauce and a spread really) of excellent quality parmigiano combined with good Italian butter, and not much else. Yes, it’s indulgent. Yes, it’s quite rich. But it tastes fantastic!

We like to spread it on crostini or crackers, or use as a stuffing or simply stir it through pasta or risotto, with some pepper and perhaps some parsley, for a quick and simple supper. A jar of this in the fridge and you’re pretty much sorted for everything from quick snacks to last minute meals or even gourmet dining.

Producer Amerigo is based in Emilia. Their products are the fruit of more than 70 years of family experience, many of them born in the kitchens of their Michelin starred trattoria, Amerigo 1934. Originally this crema di parmigiano reggiano was supplied by them to make parmesan ice cream. Ever tried that? It might sound odd but it’s truly delicious. Why not order a spare jar and have a go at that too?!

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Watch out, they’re stripey!

Opinion is divided at Just so Italian HQ. You see, whilst every product we stock is tried and tasted by us before it gets anywhere near our customers, it’s not always a unanimous decision. Take these striped pasta bows, or farfalle, in fetching shades of the Italian flag. Some of us love ’em and some of us don’t.

“They’re not very authentic”, says Danilo. “But they’re fun”, says Alison. “I’m not sure”, says Alex. “They’re popular”, says Tony.

We’re all right, of course. They’re different, unauthentic, a novelty and actually lots of our customers like them. But here’s the most interesting thing. They are made by an artisan pasta maker in Piemonte, using only natural ingredients: durum wheat semolina and water and, for the colouring, spinach and beetroot. They’re made using traditional methods and dried in the best way – slowly at a low temperature. So for an apparently novelty product, these farfalle are actually very good. And they taste good too. Try them with simple pasta sauces, or even just some olive oil and good cheese.

Meanwhile our debate will rage on (you know what we Italians are like when it comes to discussing food). What do you think? Love’ em or loathe ’em? Email us your stripey opinions to alison@justsoitalian.co.uk.

(That’s Danilo’s not very authentic doodle, by the way.)

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Just having a ball!

Today is the start of this year’s Venice Carnival. Exciting, romantic, busy, tourist-filled. We won’t be there. November and January are the times we like to visit La Serenissima, when the campi and calli are deserted, the vaporetti less crowded, and even Piazza San Marco seems to breathe a sigh of relief. It may be dripping and damp or crisp and cold, but it will be quiet. Restaurants that are usually rushed off their feet have more time to serve you, and to talk. One of our favourite Venetian treats is… can you guess? Coffee at Florian’s? No. A ride on a gondola? No (not at those prices!). Private motoscafo from the airport to the city…well, of course! But really I meant a foodie treat… Continue reading

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We’re game if you are…

I’ve increasingly noticed fresh hares for sale in good butchers in this country over the past couple of weeks. The display of their pink, lean, muscular frames, considerably bigger than the wild rabbits sold alongside, reminds me of the macellerie or butchers’ shops in Italy, where hare is both plentiful and popular. As the Italians are very precise about such things, you may see hare – lepre – on a menu in Italy also variously described as leprotto (a young animal), lepre dell’anno (a year old), or leprone when more mature. In any case, the meat is delicious, either roasted or marinated to tenderise and slowly braised to make a ragu. Continue reading

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It’s aromatic Monday. Say cheese.

One of the very nicest things about the days we work in our little warehouse, picking and packing products to send out to our deli customers or our online shoppers, is the aroma that fills our cold store: the sweet earthy smell of good salumi and fine cheeses. Because we stock all our cheeses and salumi in the piece and slice and cut to order, the old cold store door gets opened quite a lot, and with each opening a little delicious pungency escapes to tempt us. The best days of all are those when fresh deliveries of cured meats and cheeses arrive, because then we get to spend time unpacking, checking and putting everything in its rightful place on the shelves. And, of course, sniffing!

Today was a cheese day. We like cheese days. Here’s Danilo casting his experienced eye over a whole pecorino sardo: a lovely mature sheep’s milk cheese with a hard texture and an earthy flavour. But our favourite today is the delicious taleggio DOP which we source from our selected producer Ciresa, in Lombardia, a cheese-producing family since 1927. Continue reading

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Shortbread. But not as we know it.

Some like it hot: the Italians like it sweet. Throughout the country the tradition of visiting la pasticceria – the pastry shop – is alive and kicking. In the morning people drop in for a pastry and maybe a coffee if the shop is a bar pasticceria, in the afternoon and evening, for sweets and biscuits. And a few pastries or biscotti are commonly bought as a small gift, or token of thanks. We sell a small range of the kind of things you would find in an Italian pasticceria in the Everything Sweet section of our online shop.

Now we’ve discovered a biscuit maker in the south of Italy who is producing some wonderful products using purely natural ingredients. When we were there recently we were like, well… kids in a biscuit factory. (It was a bit like a scene from Willy Wonka!) Continue reading

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The happiness of the long distance eater.

 

"Now that pasta producer we heard about might just be down that road..."

“So, how do you find all the producers that supply your wonderful products?” one of our customers recently asked us. At first we were surprised at the question. You see, for us, there’s only ever been one way to track down the products we choose to sell, and that’s to travel Italy, meet the producers face to face and taste, taste, taste! (Nothing gets into our shop unless we’ve tasted it.) It means many miles on the autostrade, even more on roads that twist through chestnut groves or past vine-covered hills or over snow-capped mountains, getting lost in towns, getting lost out of towns, and much exploring, and talking. But we’re pretty sure it’s the only way to find the best products from the best producers.

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