29 September 2013

LIFE: Moda Milano

CHIAVARI, Italy – True story. A few years back, just before the changing of the guard at the American Consulate in Milan, Italy, the wife of the incoming Consul General called the wife of the outgoing Consul General to ask her a very important question.  “How are they?” she wanted to know, ‘they’ being the Italians. “They wear a lot of black,” said the wife of the outgoing Consul General. And that was all the incoming Mrs. Consul General needed to know.
 Moda Milano
It’s no secret that Italians live and breathe fashion, it’s in their DNA. But the Italian fashion scene is changing. There’s less high fashion and more street fashion and today, more than ever before, the two are beginning to mesh.   

Here’s a preview of Italian fashion trends for fall 2013. The photos tell it all. It’s always the most dramatic, eye catching clothes that make the headlines, but you have to look beyond the obvious to what else the photos are showing us – future trends.

There’s a lot of fru fru in fashion and practical looks are far and few between. Here is one of the best of the season. The coat is by Herno. It’s wool with a down filled top (€900/$1,216); turtle neck dress (€1,350/$1,824); striped tights by Miu Miu (€120/$135);
Fashion Trends to Watch: Longer skirts and mix of materials (down filled top/wool bottom coat)

Max Mara, the king of coats is putting his money on camel this fall. The coat is wool and silk with a leather border (€900/$1,216); camel blazer and pants by Max Mara, blazer (€519/$700), pants wool and cashmere (€380/$513).

Fashion Trends to watch: Again the mix of materials, wool/silk with leather, really wide pant legs, shorter coat lengths – to the knee, and shorter coat sleeves. I see a return of elbow length gloves, preferably leather, in the not too distant future. And don’t over look the animal print sneakers. Sneaks are a huge fashion accessory in Italy this year, as are animal prints (again!) and not just for the young crowd either.

In French this black and white pattern is known as pied de poule, or chicken feet.  For the rest of us it’s houndstooth check and it is one of the big fall/winter trends this year.  The coat is by Les Copains in lana boucle, which is also a trend to watch as textured fabrics make a comeback (€600/$800), sweater by Strenesse in angora (€395/$530), jersey pants by Pennyblack (€95/$128), hat by Blumarine (€100/$135).

Fashion trends to watch: The return of boucle and the 1950’s classic, kind of pointy toed pump.

There are elements of almost all the trends you’ve seen so far in this final photo, and no, that’s not an American football she’s holding, it’s a rugby ball. I think that’s what they are called. This look is by Etro. The sweater is 100% angora (€575/$775), the kilt is cashmere (€1,165/$1,574) and the suede Diadora Heritage sneakers  (€155/$210). 

Fashion trends to watch: This look puts together the trinity of fall’s fashion trends - three-quarter length sleeves, longer skirt and sneakers.  It’s got them all.

This picture is a faux fashion shot. While you will see quite a bit of shine in fashion magazines this month, trust me, next year you’ll be stuffing this Mini-metal skirt by H&M (€79.95/$108.00) in the give-away bag.  The mixed wool sweater, (I have never understood exactly what mixed wool is) is by Marella (€159/$215). It’s the wrong color for serious dressing and probably best worn with jeans. Cute though.

Fashion trends to watch: None

As for new fall colors, blue is the new black, or at least that’s what the designers are pushing. Deep, dark beautiful blues, or even more electric blues. This blue trend started creeping in last year and has now come out of the shadows to dominate store racks. Look for the new blues at a store near you.

Fashion Trend to Watch: Blue, blue and more blue.

 Photos: Gioia

26 September 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: Doing the Sugo Salsa

CHIAVARI, Italy - Now that summer is over and I’m starting to think about cooking real food again, I happened to mention to my neighbor that I was thinking about making a fresh tomato sugo. She looked at me and said, “you mean salsa, don’t you?” 

 Think of the Possibilities
I didn’t think so, but then again the whole idea of salsa and sugo has always confused me. According to my neighbor salsa is a sauce, like mayonnaise or BĂ©arnaise, and sugo is juice. “That’s all fine,” I said, “but if it’s true how come they sell sugo di pomodoro in the grocery store with olives and other stuff in it, as ready made pasta sauce? She didn’t know the answer to that. “Some things just are,” she said.

In his cookbook “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well,” (1891), Pellegrino Artusi wrote that a sugo di pomodoro (tomato sauce) is made from tomatoes that are simply cooked and run through a food mill. At the most, he says, you can add a small rib of celery as long as your finger, and a few parsley and basil leaves. Salsa, he claims, is made to accompany food, like the salsa verde (green sauce) often served with boiled meat and the mayonnaise and salsa tonnata (tuna sauce) most often used in veal tonnata, both very popular dishes in Torino and in my house. 

Cherry Tomatoes
While sugo and salsa are often used interchangeably, sugo seems to be reserved for pasta. To add to the confusion there is also ragu', which is a meat based sauce.

When I looked up ragu' recipes on the internet, there was one thing  they all had in common besides the fact that they were all made with meat, and that was they all required a very long cooking time, often up to six hours. And then I tuned into an Italian cooking program called Nonna ed Io, (Grandma and I) and watched Chef Adriana Montellanico teach Adriano Rosa, who in my opinion is not her grandson although I may be wrong, how to make ragu'

 Nonna ed Io

There were a few things she did that surprised me. The first was after she chopped and cooked her soffrito, which is a mix of celery, onions and carrots, she set it aside. Then, in another pan, she began cooking her meat, which was chopped beef. If she added a little bit of olive oil to the pan before she started cooking the beef, I didn’t see it. When the beef was browned, she added the soffrito and mixed it into the meat. Then she added:

- about ¾ of a cup of white wine

- a couple of whole cloves

- and a bay leaf

In the meantime, the (TV) grandson put a can of whole tomatoes into a food processor and whizzed them. That surprised me but when I read Artrusi’s recipes for tomato based sauces, he also suggests putting the tomatoes through a food mill, which does much the same as a food processor but by hand. When the tomatoes were almost smooth Chef Adriana  added them to the meat mix, along with a few basil leaves, saying that the sauce/sugo now had to cook for at least a couple of hours.
 Simply Delicious
I had never heard of cooking the soffrito separately and adding it to the meat after the meat was cooked. I always cooked my meat in the soffrito. Another thing that surprised me was the idea of putting a couple of whole cloves and a bay leaf in tomato sauce, errr, sugo, and adding white wine. I always used red wine, but I was wrong about that. Italians really do use white wine in tomato sauce, not red. But where was the garlic? Where was the oregano? I always thought those two ingredients were the backbone of   meat sauce, but I guess I am wrong again.

There were literally hundreds of sugo recipes on the internet, using all kinds of meat including lamb, duck, pork, veal, pancetta (bacon) and, of course, beef. Some recipes added sugar to the sauce, others did not. I think it depends on how sweet your tomatoes are. And some recipes called for a few tablespoons of tomato paste, something my Grandmother always did and she always used beef and pork, something Artrusi also recommends.
 Penne Arrabiata
But Chef Adriana used plain old ground beef with no sugar, no tomato paste, no olive oil, no oregano and no garlic. Her (TV) grandson said it smelled yummy. I have my doubts about that but who am I to judge. And so once again I end up more confused than when I started.

22 September 2013

LIFE: Across the Street

CHIAVARI, Italy – Crossing the street is such a simple thing. Even a chicken can get to the other side. But for some reason, people still think that crossing the street in Italy is easier said than done.
 Doing the Stroll
To understand this phenomenon you have to know a couple of things about Italians. To begin with, as Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini points out in his book “Italians in Italy”, Italians think obedience is boring. They want to be the ones who decide whether or not a particular law applies to their situation. A red light is the perfect example. While in other parts of the world a red light means stop, here in Italy it is an opportunity to reflect on what kind of red light it is. Is it a pedestrian red? If it is, and at this hour there are no pedestrians, why stop? Is it a red light at an intersection? If you can see in every direction and there are no cars coming, no reason to stop there either.

I finally learned that pedestrians have to apply the same rules of the road when crossing them. Each situation has to be evaluated. How well I remember those early days in Rome, trying to get across the street in front of the white marble “wedding cake” monument to Victor Emmanuel II at the end of the Via del Corso. It was a nightmare. But of course back then I didn’t know the rules.
 Why Go it Alone?
First of all there was the fear factor. I could never muster up the nerve to cross three lands of traffic by myself. With cars zooming around the piazza and taxis swerving in and out of lanes, I would stand there terrified waiting for other people to come along, preferably nuns or ladies with babies. After all, I reasoned, this is Rome, the Pope lives here so these crazy drivers wouldn’t run over a nun, or would they? And with all the fuss they make about Italian mammas, I felt pretty safe with them as well. But even when my selected entourage had gathered at the intersection, I would scoot across to the other side as fast as I could, my heart in my mouth. It was exactly the wrong thing to do.

But now that I have learned the secrets of crossing the street in Italy, I have a great deal of sympathy for my visitors when I take them firmly by the arm as we are approaching a busy intersection. I can hear them gasping as I step them off the curb right into oncoming traffic, and sometimes it is difficult to keep them from bolting. But the trick is to just walk at a normal pace, not to hurry and not to look to the left or the right. It always works but for some reason when we do get to the other side of the street, they always pull away from my grip and say: “What are you are trying to do? Kill me?” Honestly, I’m not. It just feels that way. 

See? Everybody Does It.
One of the major difficulties with crossing streets in Italy is getting used to the fact that the cars are not going to stop. What they will do is go around you. Some may slow down, others may not, but it doesn’t change anything. Your part of this scenario is to just keep walking. However, if you are going to try this on your own, it might be a good idea to remember these few essential tips:

Rule One: Crossing the street in Italy is a lot like skipping rope with two friends. With your friends turning the rope, you have to gauge the exact time to jump in, otherwise it doesn’t work. It is exactly the same with street crossing. Do not step out in front of a car that is going too fast to react to you stepping out in front of it.

Rule Two: Once you start across the street, keep a steady pace. Drivers are adjusting their speed in direct relationship to how fast or slow they see you going. If you suddenly speed up or slow down you throw them off and your chance of being hit increases substantially. So calm and steady is the rule. Remember that traffic is not going to come to a full stop and allow you to cross. The cars will slow down so you can pass in front of them, or they will go around you if traffic allows.

Rule Three: Don’t look at the oncoming cars. Let them look at you. They will do just about anything and everything, including drive up on the sidewalk, to avoid hitting you. This is a truth you have to know in your heart for it takes courage to step off the curb into oncoming traffic. It’s a little like a bull fighter entering the ring without his cape. 

 You Put Your Left Foot In, You Put Your Right Foot Out
Now I'm having second thoughts about advising you to step out into traffic. Maybe it's not such a good idea after all. Maybe it's the kind of thing you have to ease into instead of jump into, I'm not sure. One thing I know is you can’t hang around thinking about rules when there is a lot of traffic, it just doesn’t work, so forget I even brought it up.

19 September 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: Bari's Best - Orecchiette with Pomodorini

CHIAVARI, Italy – I saw a Facebook post a few days ago of an adorable little girl sitting at a kitchen table with pasta and pasta dough spread out in front of her. Her grandmother was teaching her how to make orecchiette. The photo made me smile. It reminded me of a trip I made to Bari a few years back where I saw grandmothers and granddaughters sitting at tables outside their houses in the old city, doing exactly the same thing - making orecchiette.
 Bari, Italy
Pugliese food is simple to make and simply delicious. There are no complicated sauces or techniques needed, just some good Pugliese olive oil, a little garlic and the freshest ingredients you can get your hands on. Right now you can find beautiful, blood red pomodorini –  cherry tomatoes - in the markets across Italy, which makes it the perfect time to make Orecchiette with Pomodorini. 

Orecchiette are a very old pasta that originated in Bari sometime during the twelfth and thirteenth century. The ear like shape allowed them to dry faster, and they could be stored in case of a future famine, an all too frequent problem in Europe in the 1300 and 1400’s.

 It's a Family Affair
Living in Italy these past years, I’ve learned that it’s best to keep fresh pasta in the refrigerator, Fresh pasta has to ‘breathe’ so it’s best not to cover it with Saran Wrap or other clingfilms, or keep it in a closed plastic container. And while paper food containers or wrapping it in cooking paper are both OK, the best way to keep it is on a ceramic plate covered with a clean cotton cloth.

As for cooking fresh pasta, you need plenty of salted water, and it’s important to put the pasta in when the water is boiling. When you drop the pasta in, the water stops boiling so you have to turn up the heat in order to bring it back to a boil. Once the water is boiling again, adjust the heat so it boils gently. It’s not a good idea to cover the pot when cooking pasta as the water will boil over.
 Orecchiette with Rucola and Pomodorini
Filled pasta is another story. It should be dropped in the water just before it comes to a boil, and then cooked with care. If it’s cooked too long, or if the heat is too high, the pasta shapes may break or split open.

 Orecchiette with Pomodorini 

 Serves 4

400 grams of fresh orecchiette  
300 grams di arugula (rucola in Italian/ aka rocket) or another type of bitter green
10 mature cherry tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic  
10 black olives  
1/2 of a hot chili pepper or red pepper flakes
50 grams of aged ricotta  (or pecorino)
Extravergine Italian olive oil
2 tablespoons of toasted breadcrumbs (optional) 

Wash the arugula under running water and dry. Boil it in salted water for about 2 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and let cool. Then squeeze well to remove excess water. Save the cooking water for the pasta.

Wash and peel the cherry tomatoes, cut them into quarters and place in a colander. Sprinkle with coarse salt and set aside. Peel the garlic and dice it, along with the pitted olives.

Heat 4 tablespoons of extravirgin olive oil in a saucepan, add the chopped garlic and olives, the drained cherry tomatoes, chili pepper, stir and cook over moderate heat for about 5 minutes.

Add the arugula, season with salt and turn off the flame. Cook the orecchiette in the same water that the arugula cooked in. When the pasta is cooked, (if you are using fresh orecchiette they cooked rather quickly), drain and put them back in the pot and add the sauce. Mix and cook together for 30 seconds. Turn off the flame. Serve with a grated ricotta or pecorino, a few drops of olive oil and a sprinkle of toasted breadcrumbs.