Olive Picking Adventure in Italy!
As the clocks fall behind by one hour on both sides of the Atlantic and daylight shortens, Italian farmers are preparing for the annual olive harvest ritual. The olive groves are abuzz with activity. Farmers spread netting beneath each tree to collect the crop, then either comb or knock the olives from the branches. Olive trees are very obliging and there are plenty of branches to hang onto while combing the branches. A ladder is used to harvest the tree’s upper branches.
Once completed, each net is carefully folded; the olives are transferred to baskets and then transferred to the olive press for extraction of this green gold. The olive oil is obtained through a simple process of pressing chilled olives.
The first pressed olives are crushed and pressed only once, producing the highest quality and purity which qualifies as extra virgin. Extra virgin olive oil contains the most nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins of any other classification of oil. Not to mention the intoxicating grassy aroma and nutty, smooth taste are unparalleled. Fresh olives will produce fresh oil.
Sun, stone, drought, silence and solitude: these are the five ingredients according to Italian folk tradition creates the ideal habitat for the olive tree. We treasure extra virgin olive oil for its nutritional and salutary virtues. The extra virgin olive oil is the most digestible of the edible fats, it helps to assimilate vitamins A, D and K. It contains essential acids which slow down the aging process, helping vascular and intestinal functions.
There are 11 proven benefits of olive oil supported by scientific research:
- Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated oleic acid. This fatty acid is believed to have many beneficial effects and is a healthy choice for cooking.
- Olive oil contains large amounts of antioxidants. This helps fight inflammation and help protect your blood cholesterol from oxidation — two benefits that may lower your risk of heart disease!
- Olive oil has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil contains nutrients that fight inflammation. These include oleic acid as well as the antioxidant oleocanthal.
- Olive oil may help prevent strokes. Several large studies demonstrate that people who consume olive oil have a much lower risk of stroke, the second biggest killer in developed countries.
- Olive oil is protective against heart disease. Extra virgin olive oil has numerous benefits for heart health. It lowers blood pressure, protects “bad” LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation and improves the function of blood vessels.
- Olive oil is not associated with weight gain or obesity. Consuming olive oil does not appear to increase the likelihood of weight gain. Moderate intake may even aid weight loss.
- Olive oil may help fight Alzheimer’s Disease. Some studies suggest that olive oil may combat Alzheimer’s disease, but more research is needed.
- Olive oil may reduce type 2 diabetes. Both observational studies and clinical trials suggest that olive oil, combined with a Mediterranean diet, can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- The antioxidants in olive oil have anti-cancer properties. Preliminary evidence suggests that olive oil may reduce cancer risk, but further studies are needed.
- Olive oil can help treat rheumatoid arthritis. Olive oil can help reduce joint pain and swelling from rheumatoid arthritis. The beneficial effects are greatly increased when combined with fish oil.
- Olive oil has antibacterial properties. Extra virgin olive oil has antibacterial properties and has been found to be particularly effective against Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacterium that can cause stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.
Come join us next season for an olive picking adventure tailored to your needs! We offer this experience throughout the Italian peninsula and its islands, many on small family run properties where you can mingle with the locals.
DONNA FRANCA'S HOMEMADE RECIPES: Focaccia
Our Recipe Of The Week is Donna Franca's Focaccia!
Learn how to make a thick, soft, and fluffy focaccia. It’s not dense or chewy at all. This focaccia has a fine crumb and a tender crust, which makes it a perfect side for BBQs, the perfect bread to go along with hummus, or simply to use for an Italian-style sandwich.
The Latin root of the word focaccia is 'focus' and refers to cooking by a fireplace or hearth Literally a focal point for the family, a place where dough was baked over hot stones, fire and ashes.
A flat bread then which shares a common ancestry with many ancient peoples, from Etruscans and Greeks to Egyptians and the tribes of the Levant.
Interestingly, the flat bread of ancient Sicily was called 'pitu', a variant of the Greek 'pita' and more than likely the word which evolved into 'pizza'.
Nevertheless, focaccia is not pizza and is about 2000 years older, a sort of missing link between traditional flat bread and pizza. Above all it is distinctly Italian.
Or more precisely, Genovese, where the word 'fugassa' in the capital of Liguria means bread and was certainly in use from the 13th century as a reference to the classic focaccia of the city.
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• 1 cup plus 1 tbsp (255 ml) warm water
• 2 teaspoons (5 g) active dry or instant yeast
• 1 ¼ teaspoons (8 g) fine salt
• 2 tablespoons (25 g) olive oil
• 3 cups (400 g) all purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for greasing bowl and pan
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or other herbs)
• A few sprigs of fresh thyme, optional
HOW TO MAKE:
Add warm water to a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and wait until dissolved (30 seconds for instant yeast, a few minutes for active dry yeast). Add oil and salt.
Add roughly half of the flour and vigorously stir with a cooking spoon for about 1 minute. Add the remaining flour and work it in with the spoon. When the ingredients come together, knead by hand for about 8 minutes, either directly in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface. The dough is rather sticky but if possible do not add additional flour, which makes the focaccia less fluffy.
Generously oil a clean bowl with olive oil. Put the dough in and turn it around until coated in oil. Cover the bowl tightly (with a lid or cling wrap) and let it rise until doubled, for about 30 minutes at warm room temperature (in summer). It will take a little longer when colder.
Line a 9x13 inch (33x23cm) pan with parchment paper and additionally grease with oil. Carefully transfer the risen dough to the pan and try to gently stretch it evenly without deflating the dough until it fills the baking pan.
Drizzle the dough with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and evenly distribute it on the surface with your fingers. Sprinkle dried thyme over the dough, then dimple it with your fingers.
Let the dough rise a second time for 20-30 minutes until notably puffed. No need to cover during rising since the dough is oiled and won’t dry out. >> If you want to skip the second rise, see note.
Bake focaccia in the preheated oven at 400°F (200°C) until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool baked focaccia bread for at least 10 minutes before slicing, better a little longer.
Top with fresh thyme if you like and cut into slices. Enjoy!
La Dolce Vita at an affordable price Apericena
Italy is known for its rich cultural, historic heritage, natural beauty, friendly locals, awesome food and wines. One of the country’s favorite pastimes, the Aperitivo, has evolved to the Apericena. Just order your favorite libation, and you will be treated to s sumptuous informal dinner included with your drink This hybrid cocktail time includes various hot and cold entrees, salads, bruschetta, panini, pasta, rice, sweets all included in the price of your cocktail or beverage. If you happen to be near a caffe’ or bar from 4:00PM – 7:00PM, you can experience this tasty new trend with the locals. It is best to ask where the best Apericena is to be found, and suggest you go there early to savor the best selection. Prices vary form Euro 8,00 to Euro 12,00 per person. That gives you plenty of cash for another Italian delicacy, gelato! Buon apericena!
September in Italy is Vendemmia Time!
Ah, September in Italy! The temps are more comfortable, the summer crowds have dissipated, and now it is time for the vendemmia, or harvest! Not just any harvest, the grape harvest! When driving past vineyards during this month, you can almost taste the final product, the pungent, musty smell of ripened grapes permeate the air. This harvest takes precedent over more mundane matters such as politics and soccer matches.
Grape picking is an arduous, meticulous task. Manned with scissors, a basket, sun hat and plenty of sun screen, the farmers and their families meander from vine to vine, carefully cutting each cluster of grapes and placing them in the basket. Once full, the baskets are carried to the tractor’s cargo hold. More modern large scale wineries use grape harvesting machines, however most small vineyards still take the time to hand pick their grapples.
After spending time gathering the grapes, most farmers prepare a massive lunch banquet, many are al fresco under the trees, with antipasti, pasta dishes, roasted meats, vegetable side dishes, fruit, dolce and of course accompanied with plenty of wine!
If you are dreaming about experiencing first hand in a vendemmia, Donna Franca Tours can arrange this for you in different parts of the peninsula or islands, please contact us for details!
Italy’s Summer Opera Festivals
The Italian Summer is known for its pristine beaches, verdant mountains, historic festivals and amazing natural light. The country also hosts numerous summer opera festivals, many are performed outdoors and after sunset in unique venues. Enjoy your summer days experiencing the country’s rich cultural and historic sites, and in the evening soak up some breathtaking opera performances! Here are a few festivals to choose from.
Arena di Verona – this is considered the champagne of Italy’s summer opera festivals. It takes place from June to August every year and is performed in an outdoor Roman Arena from the 1st century, and is considered one of the most well preserved arenas of this era. This festival draws the best in talent and the staging is amazing!
Rossini Festival Pesaro - an annual event which takes place in August in the composer’s birthplace. The performances are held in different theaters such as the Teatro Rossini, the Palasport Arena, and Teatro Sperimentale. The festival has attracted some major singers including Marilyn Horne, Montserrat Caballé, Ruggero Raimondi, Samuel Ramey and Juan Diego Flórez.
Macerata Opera – Held in the unique outdoor Sferisterio Theater built in the late 19th century, this annual festival takes place in July and August. Due to its large stage, this venue performs more elaborate productions, revisiting the classics and interpreting from a different perspective. Laura Morante, Michela Murgia, and Massimiliano Finazzer Flory perform here.
Puccini Festival Torre del Lago – this unique outdoor theater overlooks Lake Massaciuccoli and performances start after sunset. Here you can experience all things Puccini, however suggest insect repellent due to it’s location. The operas are performed every July and August and this festival is celebrating its’ 66th season.
Terme di Caracalla Rome – This annual summer outdoor opera is performed in the ruins of the Caracalla Baths from 216 B.C. and steeped in controversy. The first series of performances went from 1937 to 1940 and was interrupted by World War II. The festival returned from 1945 to 1993 when it again had to close for the vibration from the performer’s voices and orchestra music were damaging the ruins. In 2001 the festival returned once again thanks to advances in stage construction and sound barriers to help keep the ruins safe.
DONNA FRANCA'S HOMEMADE RECIPES: Spaghetti al Chianti & Fava Beans
Our RecipeOfTheWeek is Donna Franca's Spaghetti al Chianti & Fava Beans!
When many think about food and Tuscany, they think: pasta. But a pasta is not complete without the perfect sauce! This seasonal and classical sauce comes from the kitchen of our Tuscany cooking vacation, “Cook in the Heart of Chianti,” and is very much based on the flavors you want (which is why most of the ingredients are “to taste”). So grab a bottle of Tuscan wine to cook with — and enjoy while cooking — and create a fabulous traditional Tuscan meal at home!
• 750-ml Chianti wine
• Kosher salt
• 1 lb(s) spaghetti
• 2 Tbsp olive oil
• 12 oz spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
• 1 shallot, chopped
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
• ¼ cup mascarpone, at room temperature
• 2 lb(s) fava beans, shelled, blanched and peeled
• 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
HOW TO MAKE:
Add the wine, 8 cups water and a handful of salt to a pasta pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti and cook until just shy of al dente, about 8 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and sausage to the hot pan. Cook, breaking up the sausage with the back of a wooden spoon, until almost fully cooked, about 4 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook an additional 2 minutes, stirring often. Using tongs or a pasta fork, remove the pasta directly to the sausage pan. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup of the Parmesan, and toss with tongs to combine. Add the mascarpone, fava beans, rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon salt and about 1 cup of the pasta water. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine, adding more pasta water as needed to form a sauce and coat the pasta. Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.
DONNA FRANCA'S HOMEMADE RECIPES: Mozzarella in Carrozza
Our RecipeOfTheWeek is Donna Franca’s Mozzarella in Carrozza!
This Italian snack is essentially a mozzarella stick in sandwich form: Mozzarella cheese tucked inside plush bread, crusted with bread crumbs (use panko for extra crunch) and fried. In parts of Italy, you might also find anchovies, 'nduja or prosciutto in it, or marinara sauce or pesto served alongside for dipping. But gooey cheese in every bite? That's guaranteed: According to the food writer Emiko Davies, it’s called mozzarella en carrozza, or mozzarella in carriage, because the strands of melted mozzarella that pull from the sandwich resemble the reins of a horse and carriage. For best results, skip the fresh mozzarella and look for low-moisture mozzarella — the kind found sealed in plastic without liquid in your supermarket's dairy section. And try to set out your ingredients just before you begin: It'll help the process go more smoothly.
• 3 eggs
• 1 large garlic clove, minced
• Kosher salt and black pepper
• 1 cup bread crumbs (preferably panko)
• 8 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
• 1 pound low-moisture mozzarella (not fresh mozzarella), chilled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
• Olive oil, for frying
HOW TO MAKE:
In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs, then beat in the garlic, season with salt and pepper and beat again to combine. In another shallow bowl, add the breadcrumbs, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Top 4 slices of white bread with a single mozzarella slice apiece, and trim the cheese as needed to avoid overhang. Top with the remaining 4 slices of white bread and press down gently.
Dip both sides and all the edges of a sandwich in the egg to coat fully, followed by the bread crumbs. Place on a large plate and transfer to the refrigerator to firm up while you continue to work, then repeat with the other sandwiches.
In a large skillet, heat 1/4-inch olive oil over medium heat. See if the oil is ready by dropping a few bread crumbs in; they should bubble gently. Working in batches as needed, fry each sandwich, turning once with a slotted spatula or a fork, until the outsides and edges are golden brown and the cheese has melted, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt, halve diagonally, and serve.
DONNA FRANCA'S HOMEMADE RECIPES: Sbrisolona
Our RecipeOfTheWeek is the Sbrisolona Cake!
The Sbrisolona cake, also called Sbrisolina or Sbrisulada, owes its name to its friability, to the "brise" or large and small crumbs that are formed when it is broken to make portions. The Sbrisolona, in fact, is not cut, but is broken with the hands.
• 200g type "00" flour
• 200g corn flour
• 200g sugar
• 2 yolks
• 140g almonds
• 1 vanillin sachet
• 1 grated lemon peel
• 100g butter
• 100g lard
HOW TO MAKE:
Coarsely chop the unpeeled almonds, set aside 50g for decoration.
Pour the butter and lard into a bowl and add the chopped almonds and cornmeal. Mix the ingredients, add 3/4 of the dose of sugar, vanillin, 4 yolks, a grated lemon peel and flour. Knead quickly.
Butter a 32 cm diameter pan and distribute the dough by crumbling it with your hands, without compacting it on the bottom. Add the almonds kept aside and cover the surface with the remaining sugar.
Bake at 180 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove the sbrisolona cake when the surface appears well colored
DONNA FRANCA'S HOMEMADE RECIPES: Kapunata
Our Recipe Of The Week is Donna Franca's Kapunata!
Kapunata is a delicious vegetarian dish made with bell peppers, capers, eggplants, onions, tomatoes, olives, and garlic. It can be served hot or cold, and is best enjoyed with a thick slice of fresh Maltese bread fresh from the local bakery. This typically-Mediterranean dish holds fond memories for most Maltese people; from long days at the beach to those sweet Sunday afternoons catching up with our grandparents at the kitchen table, the humble kapunata almost always makes an appearance.
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• a few cloves of garlic, crushed
• 4 or 5 tomatoes
• 1 onion, roughly chopped
• 1 eggplant, chopped into cubes
• green, red and orange bell peppers, roughly chopped (yay for colours!)
• a good handful of capers
• salt and pepper (season to taste)
• 2 heaped tablespoons of tomato paste
• olive oil
• chopped black olives
• fresh basil or mint
How to make:
Start with the eggplant and a baking dish. Throw the eggplant in there, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Mix it all together and bang it in the oven until the eggplant is a nice golden color – it’ll just take a few minutes. Grab a decently-sized pot or deep pan and heat some olive oil in it. Add the onions and crushed garlic and cook them until they start to turn translucent. Add the chopped bell peppers and continue cooking for a few more minutes before adding the grilled eggplant and tomatoes. Leave all of that deliciousness to simmer for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are nice and soft; you can add a little water if things start to get a little dry. Throw in the olives and capers before adding at least 2 tablespoons of tomato paste – but feel free to add more if you just really love kunserva.
Add another dash of salt and pepper and continue cooking for a few more minutes. Top it all off with a few fresh basil (or mint) leaves for extra sass. You’re done! Sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor with an ice-cold beer and comforting slice of Maltese bread.
DONNA FRANCA'S HOMEMADE RECIPES: Torta co' bischeri - the pilgrim cake
Our #RecipeOfTheWeek is Donna Franca's Torta co' bischeri: the pilgrim cake!
Imagine a soft cream made with white rice, dark chocolate, pinenuts, candied fruit, raisins and spices in a shortcrust pastry pie. It is called the "Torta co' bischeri" and it's a traditional cake of the Pisa province.
Keep following us for many other homemade tasty Italian recipes!
For the filling
• 1 cups of rice
• 1 cups of dark chocolate
• ½ a cup of pine nuts
• ½ a cup g of cocoa
• ¾ of a cup of black raisins
• ½ a cup candied fruit
• ½ a cup vanilla sugar
• 1 cup of sugar
• 3 eggs
• A glass of Strega liqueur
• Rum to taste
• Cinnamon to taste
For the dough
• 4 eggs
• 1 cup of sugar
• ½ a cup of butter
• ½ a cup of vanilla sugar
• 1 teaspoon of baking powder
• Plain white flour
• Grated rind of one lemon untreated
HOW TO MAKE:
Preparing the filling
Cook the rice in salted water flavored with a little cinnamon. Drain and immediately add the chocolate and cocoa powder and stir vigorously to melt everything well, then cool.
Beat the eggs and add them to the rice mixture, then add the pine nuts, raisins, candied fruit, sugar, some grated nutmeg and the liqueur.
Making the dough
Whisk the egg with the sugar, whisk the yolks and mix with the melted butter in a bain marie, baking powder and lemon zest. Add flour until it becomes the consistency of dough and knead.
Assembling the cake
Roll a thin sheet of dough and line the entire baking tin with it.
Pour in the filling and level the surface. Shape the "bischeri" using the dough around the edges of the cake with a knife to carve the small pyramids.
Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for about an hour and a half.