Spring in the Italian Countryside

Winter is a wonderful season to explore Italy's cities, when crowds disappear and the weather is conducive to leisurely afternoons in the shelter of museums and churches.

primavera-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

With spring, however, it's time to head back to the countryside. You'll find the hills covered with lush fields and flowers, the fruit trees just beginning to bloom, and the vineyards and olive groves coming back to life.
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Italy’s Best Charcuterie: From Prosciutto Crudo to ‘Nduja

Of Italy’s iconic foods—pasta, olive oil, truffles, and wine come to mind—perhaps the most humble yet noblest among them are gli affettati, the vast array of cured pork charcuterie that unite everyone from gruff workman, pausing mid-morning to revive themselves with towering pane e prosciutto sandwiches, to chic urbanites, relaxing over an evening aperitivo accompanied by the same prosciutto elegantly wound around thin grissini breadsticks. Read More...

Autumn Treasures: Alba’s White Truffle Festival

Of all the wonderful seasonal food one can savor in Italy in autumn, perhaps the most sought after (and certainly the most luxurious) is that homely yet princely tuber, the truffle. Found across central and northern Italy, its penetrating, earthy (its flavor suggests loamy woods and wild mushrooms and crisp autumn days and burning leaves all rolled into one) aroma graces a number of fall dishes from Le Marche to Piedmont, regions where tartufai kitted out with a bisaccia (a traditional leather truffle bag) comb the woods come September hoping to uncover nature’s buried treasure. Read More...

In Season: Five Italian Fall Foods

If you are planning a fall visit to Italy, keep a lookout for these five terrific seasonal specialties on menus and in markets across the country: Read More...

In Season: Sunflowers

Summer means Sunflower season. Read More...

In Season: Italian Easter Bread

italian easter bread easter antipasto
Image © Concierge in Umbria

For the past few weeks, Italian food stores, sweet shops, and bakeries have been overflowing with Easter goods.

It’s hard to walk a few blocks in any Italian city without being blinded by the sheer amount of plastic wrap keeping all the goodies hidden away until Easter Sunday.

But besides egg-shaped chocolates (yes, they are popular in Italy as well), there are a whole host of savory and only slightly sweet breads that characterize the holiday season for Italians.

Some are typically made at home, while others are almost always sourced from a local baker. Try your hand at making them for your own family this spring.

While the recipes vary a bit by region, here are some of the most common Italian Easter breads.

Colomba Pasquale


italian easter bread easter colomba
Photo by Flickr user Nicola since 1972

Think of a colomba (which also means dove) as the Easter version of panettone.

While the latter has found its way to the U.S., colombe are just starting to show up stateside.

Apart from its shape, which is meant to look like a dove, but looks a bit like a cross, colombe are primarily different from panettones due to their filling – there are typically raisins and less candied fruit – and topping. On colombe, you’ll find a thin layer of meringue topped with whole almonds and sugar pearls.

Colomba Pasquale Recipes

Pane di Pasqua or Gurrugulo (Easter Bread)


italian easter bread
Image © Concierge in Umbria

A sweet bread with a consistency not unlike challah or brioche, this bread is braided, typically in a circle, with eggs nestled into the braid.

Many parts of Italy claim this as a traditional food, though its real origins are quite obscure. Pane di pasqua is also commonly eaten in Greece and many areas of the former Ottoman Empire.

The Italian version has a light anise flavor and brightly colored eggs. You can actually use whole raw eggs if you don’t cook and dye them first. They cook perfectly while the bread bakes.

Pane di Pasqua Recipes

Torta di Pasqua or Torta al Formaggio (Savory Easter Cake)


italian easter bread easter antipasto torta di pasqua
Image © Concierge in Umbria

While the term torta di pasqua is also sometimes used for colombe, it also refers to this rich, savory version.

This bread draws its nickname torta di formaggio or “cheese bread” from the hunks of pecorino cheese buried in the dough that impart a rich, creamy taste. Just the thing you need after abstaining from rich foods during Lent.

Though it’s most associated with Umbria, torta di pasqua is also served in Le Marche and other parts of central Italy. It is traditional to have a slice for breakfast on Easter morning.

Torta di Pasqua Recipes

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

In Season: 5 Italian Spring Foods To Welcome the Season

italian spring foods flower field
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Spring is not only a time to appreciate the first tender flower buds and new leaf shoots signifying nature’s awakening from its winter slumber. It is also when Mother Nature challenges us to her great food scavenger hunt.

In Italy, most of all.

Fluffy fronds of fresh fennel provide a frilly backdrop to newly sprouted daisies. Spindly shoots of segmented, bamboo-like asparagus hide in ditches beside roads or in weeds among olive groves. Explosions of piercing blue star-shaped borage flowers lure you in while the tough, nettle-like stems tease you away.

Spring’s first plants, the most delicate shoots carrying the most subtly verdant flavors of the year, are rapidly springing up around the country, waiting for those food lovers with the patience and perseverance to capture them.

Whether you find yourself in Italy or at home this spring, take advantage of these short-lived spring foods if you can.

Fava Beans | Le Fave


italian spring foods favas with pasta
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Fava beans come in a large, unappealing package, requiring layer after layer of peeling to reach the part worth eating. But believe us, it’s worth the wait. Known also as broad beans for their gargantuan (as far as beans go) size, favas are best in their early youth, while they are still tender enough to be eaten raw, dipped in salt or with a slice of Pecorino cheese.

One of the more interesting fava preparations we’ve encountered was this fave con la barbotta (fava beans with friend pig cheeks).

Fava Bean Recipes

Wild Asparagus | Asparagi Selvatici


italian spring foods wild asparagus pasta
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Like the elusive truffle, wild asparagus foraging locations are a guarded secret. Enthusiasts descend on their favorite spots as early as possible to beat out the competition. Related, though distinct from their cultivated cousins, wild asparagus must be eaten young and small, lest they become woody and inedible.

Though often saved for light, delicate preparations, such as lemon-scented risotto, wild asparagus can hold its own even in meaty dishes, like one of our favorite spring pastas at Ristorante Cesarino in Perugia, Rigatoni “alla carbonara” with sausage and wild asparagus.

Wild Asparagus Recipes

Borage | Boragine


italian spring foods borage flower
Photo by Flickr user cvanstane

Each part of the borage plant – the star-shaped flowers, the herby leaves, and the prickly stems – has a flavor and use in the Italian kitchen that dates back to Roman times, when the plant was prized for its cucumber flavor.

Raviolis stuffed with a mixture of the whole plant are a March delicacy in Liguria, but you can make some parts of the plant last throughout the spring by candying, preserving or juicing the flowers.

Borage Recipes

Beet Greens, Rape or Broccoli Rabe | Bietole


italian spring foods beet greens
Photo by Flickr user [http://www.flickr.com/photos/notahipster/]Stacy Spensley

A cousin of the beet (barbabietole in Italian), bietole greens are found among the weeds of a garden left wild for the winter. Packed with iron, fiber, and calcium, they’re a tasty add-on to many recipes, such as spinach gnudi or pasta with sausage, and even stupendous when simply sautéed with garlic.

Though the bietole you find wild in Italy aren’t quite broccoli rabe or sugar beet greens, those are the most likely substitutes you’ll come across in the U.S.

Bietole Recipes

Wild Fennel | Finocchietto Selvatico


italian spring foods wild fennel
Image by Aldo Messina for Concierge in Umbria

While the fronds of cultivated fennel are often ignored in favor of the crisp, flavorful bulb, the situation is quite the reverse with wild fennel, prized for its greens.

Like dill, bits of fennel fronds can flavor pickles and other savory preserves, and like bietole, the greens make an excellent flavored addition to your pasta, upping nutrients while adding flavor.

Wild Fennel Recipes

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

In Season: 5 Flavors of Italian Winter Soup

italian winter snow in florence
Image: © Concierge in Umbria - Elvira Politi

When you sit down to a meal in Italy, you may start with an antipasto like some sliced meat and cheese, or some seasoned olives and a glass of wine. But the primo - the course that simply goes by the Italian word for “first” - is where things get going.

Pasta may be the stereotypical (and most popular) primo, but in winter, Italians turn to soup. Warm, hearty, and filling, soups help combat the malaise of short winter days, perking you up after a long, cold day.

And while soup is a winter constant, every region, province, and town has its own favorites and small variations. In soup season, you’ll find these Italian favorites in one form or another all over the boot:

Ribollita


italian winter soup tuscan ribollita
Image by Flickr user Tuscanycious

Most associated with Tuscany, ribollita (Italian for reboiled) is an old peasant dish based on minestra or minestrone, vegetable soup. In winter, Italian wives used to cook up a big pot of vegetable soup and serve it three different ways over the days, first as vegetable soup, then soup over toasted bread, and finally a sort of vegetable porridge as the bread dissolved into the soup, thickening into the now characteristic ribollita.

Ribollita Recipes

Jota


italian winter soup jota
Image by Flickr user ilovebutter

Found throughout Italy’s northern regions, jota features ingredients that may seem out of place in a traditional Italian dish: sauerkraut and poppy seeds. A tasty and surprising relic of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s long hold on northern Italy, jota is a staple in Trieste, but you’ll find various versions throughout Fruili and across the border in Slovenia. Wherever you find it, jota always features a hearty base of potatoes, beans, and smoked pork.

Jota Soup Recipes

Tortellini in Brodo


italian winter soup tortellini in brodo
Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Fresh Italian tortellini are a heady concoction of diverse meats, (beef, veal, and/or pork) cuts, and cures (in Bologna, they add prosciutto and mortadella). Every mama has her recipe. And it’s typically a highly guarded secret. While tortellini in brodo is a staple dish throughout Emilia-Romagna, in Bologna, the top tortellini shops charge up to $20 per pound. A simple but soul-warming broth with a healthy sprinkling of Parmesan cheese is the best complement for fresh tortellini. It's the soup to serve on Christmas.

Tortellini in Brodo Recipes

Pasta e fagioli



Image by Flickr user Arnold Inuyaki


Pasta e fagioli transcends the two main ingredients from which it draws its name – pasta and beans – into the pinnacle of Italian vegetarian (a.k.a. peasant) cuisine. In the U.S., it’s commonly known by its Anglo-Neapolitan name pasta fazool, as popularized by Dean Martin in his hit song “That’s Amore.” But like its many names, you’ll find endless variations. Cannellini beans here, borlotti (or cranberry) beans there. Curvaceous macaroni or miniscule ditalini. (Though in our house, we like to use leftover scraps from making fresh pasta). N.B.: As many people today add pancetta, be sure to clarify the ingredients if you’re vegetarian.

Pasta e Fagioli Recipes

Lentil Soup


italian winter soup lentil soup
Image: © Concierge in Umbria
Lentils have been a human staple for over 10,000 years, finding their way into iconic soups around the world from spicy Indian dal to the buttery, oregano-finished Turkish mercimek corbasi. The Italian version remains as simple as its name, zuppa di lenticchie, but the taste depends on the lentils you use. Umbrian lentils in particular are famous, especially those from Castelluccio di Norcia. High in protein and lightly seasoned with a soffrito base, bay leaves, and rosemary, Italian lentil soup is the ultimate comfort food – especially when paired with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a side of toasted bread.

Lentil Soup Recipes

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy