Bringing Food and Wine Souvenirs Back From Italy

You’ve traveled through Italy, enjoying the art and culture, trying out your newly-acquired Italian phrases on the locals, slowing down over a cappuccino or drinks in the piazza, and—most memorably—savoring some of the best meals of your life. It may be hard to recapture the Italian vibe at home, but you can try to recreate some of the Bel Paese’s iconic dishes. The easiest way, of course, would be to bring a sample of Italy’s excellent quality food back to the US with you, but it’s a good idea to be aware of which foods can and can’t be imported to avoid confiscation or hefty fines at the border. Read More...

Harvesting the Olives in Italy

Just a few weeks after the last grapes are harvested for the annual vendemmia, the countryside in central and southern Italy is a-buzz again the sounds of the olive harvest.

From October through December, olive groves from Liguria to the southern-most tip of the peninsula are carpeted with netting to catch the precious fruit as it is either hand-picked or, in the southern regions, falls naturally to the ground. 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: 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

brian maria gabriella signature

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

Fresh Pressed Olive Oil

olive grove
Image: © Concierge in Umbria

When a bottle arrives at your dinner table filled with a deep green, cloudy, viscous liquid with a piquant, zesty, grassy, spritzy, peppery aroma . . .

That’s not your everyday olive oil.

It’s fresh-pressed olive oil. And this is its season.

You can use olive oil right after it’s pressed (typically October-December). But the flavor reaches its peak two or three months after pressing, making January the olive oil season.

Fresh-pressed vs. Extra Virgin: What’s the Difference?


freshly picked olives
Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Olive oil is at its tastiest and most healthy when it’s young. Both the flavor and nutrients begin to fade after six months and fall flat two years after pressing.

Fresh-pressed olive oil or olio novello is oil less than six months old – the sweet spot. Typically unfiltered, it’s extremely high in polyphenols, a group of antioxidants that are believed to protect cells and prevent diseases such as cancer.

Any type of olive or pressing can be olio novello. It’s not a qualitative designation like extra-virgin, which refers to low acidity oil produced purely through mechanical extraction like stone oil mills (as opposed to chemical extraction, which produces refined oil). While producers will label their new oil olio novello, the only way to tell that it’s still fresh when you get your hands on it is to check the harvest date printed on the bottom. All Italian oils should have a harvest or best by date listed.

Even though all fresh-pressed oils share certain characteristics that differentiate them from older oils, there’s a huge variation in flavor. Some are bold and assertive, others nuanced and delicate.

Using and Storing Fresh-pressed Olive Oil


spaghetti with tomato basil olive oil
Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Fresh-pressed olive oil is not for cooking. Heat breaks down its polyphenols, causing it to lose not only flavor, but also health benefits. Ambient heat and light can have the same effects, so only buy olive oil that is bottled in dark glass bottles and kept in a cool place away from direct sunlight.

When you bring your oil home, also keep it somewhere dark and cool, though not necessarily as cold as the refrigerator. By all means, don’t keep it in a clear glass bottle by your stove or on your table any longer than necessary for cooking and serving.

A drizzle on top of soup, a hearty dose over carpaccio, salad, or pasta, or the perfect bruschetta flavoring, fresh-pressed olive oil should be enjoyed as a topping or finishing agent.

Here are some great uses for fresh-pressed olive oil from our Italy del Giorno blog:

goat cheese
truffle oil
cannelloni bean salad
lentil soup
(read more about lentil and other winter soups in this week’s In Season column)

brian maria gabriella signature

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