Italy's Street Food: Porchetta

Italy is not a street food sort of culture. Here, meals are strictly sit-down affairs, with families gathering around the table twice a day to enjoy long, multiple-course lunches and dinners steeped in local culinary history and culture.

porchetta-umbria-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

In central Italy, however (especially Tuscany and Umbria), the king of all street food is porchetta. Read More...

Cappelletti...A Christmas Feast

There are a number of traditional dishes served during the holidays in Italy, which tend to vary from region to region. One of the most common, forming the centerpiece of Christmas lunch in most of the central and northern regions, is cappelletti (also known as tortellini). 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: 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

48 Hours: Firenze (Florence)

In a city with more than 70 museums and 2,000 years of history (much of it concentrated in the just under 2-square-mile centro storico UNESCO World Heritage Site) forty-eight hours is just enough time to get a taste of Florence’s charm . . . and start plotting for your return.

FRIDAY


48 hours in florence duomo
Image © Concierge in Umbria

4:00 p.m. Greatest Hits


Start in the Piazza del Duomo, where the sheer mass of the cathedral and its Renaissance engineering masterpiece, the largest brick dome constructed to this day, dwarf the surrounding medieval streets. Continue down Via dei Calzaiuoli and work your way through Piazza Signoria to the Arno River and back east to the Basilica of Santa Croce.

6:30 p.m. Stop and Smell the Vino


Rest your feet and feast your eyes on the Florentine passeggiata, the evening stroll in one of the many medieval tower houses that’s been converted into a wine bar. Where to begin? We’re partial to Antinori’s wines and their restaurant outside the city, and their in-town Cantinetta Antinori is an ideal spot to sample both.

8:00 p.m. Dine like Dante


You’ll find that beyond all of the art and architecture, one of the best things about Florence is its residents. Trattorias showcase both traditional local fare – think pasta with rabbit sauce, 30+ oz. steaks, and hearty vegetable soups – and a vibrant swath of the local population. We love Trattoria I’ Parione, where we had one of our favorite meals of 2011.

SATURDAY


48 hours in florence palazzo pubblico
Image © Concierge in Umbria

7:30 a.m. A Café with a View


At Rivoire, founded by the personal chocolatier of the Savoy family when Florence was the capital of newly united Italy, you can grab a signature hot chocolate or a café and pastry and soak up the local gossip and the singular view of Piazza della Signoria, a site which has hosted the rise and fall of Florentine regimes for centuries.

8:15 a.m. Medici Morning


Dive in when the doors first open to get Florence’s famed Uffizi Gallery more or less to yourself. The museum is organized chronologically and grouped by artists, so it offers the perfect chance for a morning’s education on Florence’s pivotal role as a setting for Renaissance artistic development. And what better setting than the place these great artists learned their craft! During the early Renaissance, the Medicis invited artists to study and work among the collection to hone their skills.

48 hours in florence arno river
Image © Concierge in Umbria

11:00 a.m. On the Wild Side


Though it’s just a one-minute walk across the Ponte Vecchio, the Arno’s south shore, the Oltrarno (beyond the Arno) is largely overlooked by tourists. Grab lunch in one of the great-value, locals-oriented trattorias or piadinerias (like a pizzeria for flatbread). Walk it off touring some of the artisans plying ancient trades on the back streets, from bookbinders to furniture makers to stationers. Begin your second Medici encounter of the day at the Palazzo Pitti, Florence’s answer to Buckingham Palace. After all the opulence, treat yourself to a well-deserved respite in the ducal gardens attached to the palace, the Boboli Gardens, or the adjoining, recently reopened Bardini gardens terraced on the hillside.

5:00 p.m.: A Sunset fit for a King


Michelangelo’s David (or at least one of the four versions displayed around the city) enjoys the best view of the city from Piazza Michelangelo in the Oltrarno. As the day cools off, you can reach this spot via car, bus, or foot – the steep steps up the riverside to the piazza are not for those out of shape – for a picnic or aperitivo as the sun sets on the River Arno.

7:30 p.m. Dinner Theater?


No other spot in Chef Fabbio Picchi’s Cibreo empire can compete with Teatro del Sale in terms of pure entertainment value. The dining room is itself a theater, and a performance – from circus acrobatics to lyric opera to stand-up comedy – ends every dinner. But the show is only half the show. Dinner itself, announced with a verbal drumroll from the windows of the adjoining kitchen, is like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. Only after gorging yourself on the buffet of vegetables, salads, and grilled meats does the soup begin, followed by course after course after surprising course.

SUNDAY


48 hours in florence vista
Image © Concierge in Umbria

9:00 a.m. Small Blessings


Begin in one of Florence’s smaller museum gems. Just behind Piazza Signoria, the Bargello (open the 2nd and 4th Sundays of every month), named for its former function as a prison, is a wonderful alternative to the Accademia with its broad range of sculpture including works by Donatello and Michelangelo. The Museo dell’Opere del Duomo, which houses all of the original art and sculpture from the cathedral, offers an opportunity to get up close with a version of Michelangelo's Pieta. For fashion lovers, Museo Salvatore Ferragamo tells the story of how one man's quest to make perfect custom shoes launched an empire.

11:00 a.m. Sweet Rewards


Reward yourself for an early morning among the maestros with a café and pasta (pastry) at one of Florence’s top bakeries in the eastern part of the city. Try I Dolci di Patrizio Corsi on Borgo Albizi or Dolci & Dolcezze in Piazza Beccaria, home to one of the city’s remaining eighth-century gates.

12:00 p.m. Spoil Yourself


Stroll back through some of the city’s best boutiques on Borgo Albizi as you make your way back to the center of town and Florence’s supreme shopping around Piazza Repubblica, particularly on Via Tornabuoni, home to the family palaces and fashion houses of the Puccis, Guccis, and Ferragamos.

2:00 p.m. Arrivederci Firenze


Refuel on some light fare like the legendary sandwiches at nearly-130-year-old Due Frattelini before bidding your final adieu to the city from its premier panorama spot – the top of Brunelleschi’s dome.

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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

A Tuscan Cooking Class with a Noble Twist: Cooking with the Contini Bonacossis

Anybody can sign up for a cooking class in Tuscany. But how about learning to cook with the private chef of a count and countess and then sitting down to lunch with the whole family . . . eating the food you just made?

The Contini Bonacossi Family


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

In Tuscany, and especially Florence, the Contini Bonacossis are best known for their art collection. The previous count, Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi (1878-1955) – friend of Simon Guggenheim and a Senator to the Kingdom of Italy – amassed one of the most important collections of the 20th century. Now housed in the Uffizi, the collection was donated to the state in 1969.

Today's generation of Contini Bonacossis are best know for their food and wine. The family is one of the top producers of Carmignano wine, a wine that dates back 3000 years and in the 14th-century was one of the most valuable commodities in Europe. Carmignano is produced by only 13 estates, and when you visit you’ll see the family’s dedication to keeping this craft alive.

Arriving at the Contini Bonacossi Estate


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

In the morning, depart from your hotel and climb the leisurely hills outside Florence with your driver. The Contini Bonacossi estate lies a half hour outside Florence in Tenuta di Capezzana.

On the sprawling grounds – you’ll get an excellent view from the hilltop villa – the family maintains large orchards of grapes, olives and lemons, which are raised in terraces called limonaie that transform into greenhouses in the winter.

After driving through the vineyard to reach the house, you’ll dive into your cooking lesson with the family chef Patrizio, who has been with the family for more than twenty years.

Cooking Ancient Tuscan Food


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Contessa Lisa Contini Bonacossi founded this cooking school in the 1980s to share traditional Tuscan cuisine based on ancient recipes with her guests, so you're in for a treat beyond the usual Tuscan dining experience.

Though they may include some of today's typical Tuscan menu items, such as ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, and bistecca alla fiorentina, Patrizio also teaches particular regional dishes like stracotto alla Carmingnano (Carmignano-style pot roast) and baccala alla livornese (Livorno-style cod) and dishes based on local ingredients, such as penne ai tre cavoli (with three cabbages) or crostini di cavolo nero (with black cabbage).

At the end of your course, the Contini Bonacossis will also give you a bottle of wine or olive oil so you can recreate your meal at home.

Eating with the Family


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Dust the flour off your clothes, wash your hands, and sit down for lunch with the count, countess, and their whole family. Naturally, the contessa will don her pearls, but the family is quite laid-back, so you’ll do just fine.

After your meal, one of your hosts will escort you around the estate, including the wine cellars where they age their famous DOCG (the highest quality designation available for Italian wine) Carmignano wine. Once you’ve had your fill of the noble surroundings, your driver will cruise you back through the rolling hills into town.

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