Monday, December 15, 2014

#Lucca: Spaghetti and Pioppini Mushrooms; last sweet tomatoes in Tuscany...thanks to this strange weather!

Spaghetti Pioppini Mushroooms Sauce
On sunny Winter days, when you go out for a walk and the cold tickles your face, nothing's more beautiful than going to the fruit and vegetable Market. Sometimes I go near my house, to San Giuliano Terme Market,  others I go to Pisa, in Piazza Vettovaglie and then I can not help but make a leap to my University Faculty of Political Sciences, which is right near there and where I spent the most beautiful five years of my life.

Today I did a small tour to the Market of Vecchiano and I could not help but buying some great "pioppini"; who knows how to call them abroad?
They are mushrooms that grow at the foot of the poplar trees (hence the name) and can be both cultivated or wild.

The wild ones, in principle, are light in color; while those cultured have a long beige stem and a dark brown small chapel.
In my opinion they're almost different kinds of mushrooms, both delicious, much different in the taste.

During these days you can find just cultivated "pioppini".
Yes I know it's December, but here in Tuscany you can still find delicious
and sweet tomatoes... are just the last ones :( 

Anyway I wan't lose my "tomato vice"...Fifty jars with "pummarola" (Tomato sauce which I made in August) are waiting for me for the forwarded Winter...alè!
Pioppini mushrooms are delicious with a
"white" sauce, but I love them with tomatoes, because my grandmother prepared them in this way and when I remind my childhood, there is nothing to do, I give up and follow the memories. 

And this is the way I teach to prepare them during our Cooking Classes in Tuscany and my students are always satisfied about their "yummy" lunch or dinner.
What is the most suitable pasta for Pioppini? 
Surely Spaghetti, though Vermicelli, with their pulpy "thickness", are in my opinion the ones that give more satisfaction.

Spaghetti Pioppini Mushrooms Sauce

Recipe by Erika Elia
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes

  • 13 oz Spaghetti or Vermicelli
  • 14 oz Fresh Tomatoes (Piccadilly, Pachino, S.Marzano))
  • 1,1 lbs Pioppini mushrooms
  • to cover the pan bottom Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • to taste salt
  • 2 springs calamint or thyme
  • 1,5 garlic clove
  • small bunch parsley
  • 1/2 glass white wine
Cooking Directions
  1. For the Sauce:
  2. Clean the mushrooms by removing the final earty part of the stalk
  3. soak in a bowl for about 3 minutes and dry on kitchen paper
  4. Cut the tomatoes (after passed them under water) in small pieces and leave on the skin
  5. put them to drain in a coliander and salt them a bit
  6. cut coarsely the mushrooms on a cutboard, helping you with a big knife
  7. pour the Evo oil in a large pan with the minced garlic and the calamint
  8. as soon as you hear the sizzle, pour in the mushrooms
  9. mix with a wooden spoon and pour the wine, waiting for the wine smell to go away
  10. add the chopped tomatoes and mix again
  11. wait around 30 minutes, stirring occasionnaly
  12. taste and season with the salt
  13. pioppini mushrooms are ready when the stalks are soft and not crunchy under your teeth
  14. If you need Pasta Cooking Directions go directly here at the end of this post.
  15. when Pasta is ready
  16. drain it in a coliander and pour in the pan when you cooked Pioppini, high fire, about 1 minute
  17. sprinkle with fresh minced parsley just before to serve

Thursday, December 4, 2014

#Unknown Tuscany: San Giuliano Terme... History and Art meet Quality Food and Hospitality

I moved away from Tuscany for a period of four years, and the lack I felt for the smells, the sights and especially the lifestyle of this Italian region, has always been really huge, year after year.
I was born in the magical Tuscan Maremma, far away from these  windy and green
lands, in a context of sun and sea that I thought never to abandon. Yet, for more than 10 years, I live here, in the territory of San Giuliano Terme, 8 km from Pisa, in the Tuscany of the North hosting towns and masterpieces of Nature unknown till today.
With my blog and my work I try all the time to study and make known to tourists and travelers the authentic Tuscan reality, comparing those who have prejudices on this land, and the effective reality that they belong.
The spirit in which I left for a Blog Tour in my life zones was precisely to convey to others my knowledge on a place that I live every day ... yet ... as the hours passed, I realized that I as the "daily living" environment often would render granted what for someone else is a masterpiece of nature.
My renewed spirit is therefore enriched by the comparison with other Bloggers and Instagramers who, like me, are available to discover this area.
With them I have tried to learn the essential meanings for which it is really worth visiting this town of Northern Tuscany and its surroundings, so neglected by the common tourist guides.
During our weekend tours and visits in these areas, it became more and more mine the vision about the Travel according to Stephen Littleword:
A trip is always a discovery, more than the discovery of new places is that one about what new places make to your mind and your heart. Traveling is always, in some form, explore yourself. 
And when you talk about what you live, and when you love what you live, may not otherwise be.
In the green plain between the rivers Arno and Serchio, on the slopes of Mount Pisano is located in San Giuliano Terme.
The main assets of the town of San Giuliano Terme is its vast territory, full of history and resources, often unexpressed. A heritage that, in a particular microclimate, develops from the Pisan Mountains to the sea, surrounded by two major rivers (Arno and Serchio) and, now, enriched by a beautiful Regional Park Protected of 24 thousand hectares.
These areas are home to historic villas, hot springs, an incredible network of historical-naturalistic trails, Romanesque churches and medieval ...
Unlike areas such as Chianti or Senese San Gimignano and Pienza, these
"Tuscan" environments  have been preserved throughout the years. Perhaps it is for this reason that agriculture is the main economic activity, while the friendly tourism still has great potential for development.

Perhaps it is for this reason that in these areas the quality of Tuscan cuisine has a huge importance and if you want to taste local and seasonal ingredients cooked by expert hands, well in my opinion you're just in the right place, one that, not surprisingly, has gave birth to my idea of job (Cooking Classes and Private Dinners) and Blog.
IMG_7289 And on the evening of our arrival we were lucky enough to enjoy dinner at Locanda Sant'Agata, one of the local restaurants where the food and wine quality is the protagonist.
The Chef and Patron Luca Micheletti delighted us with several courses of starters and exquisite flavors.
Then we pass to first and second courses traditional revisited in a very personal way, but never depersonalizing the dish. I especially enjoyed a "Pappa col Pomodoro" (Tuscan tomato soup) with burrata flake that can not wait to taste it again.
Concerning the desserts, the chef has dedicated us a Show Cooking, while hosting in his kitchen, late hour.
We found out the ingredients and procedures of "mise en place" about the most successful desserts at Locanda Sant'Agata: Chocolate Mousse, Castagnaccio, Tiramisu and Millefeuille with chestnut mousse and persimmon sauce ... they are no longer a secret for anyone noted Chef Micheletti's tricks.
Late at night, me and my fellow traveler Beatrice Ghelardi, "Il Servito Buono", headed to Molina di Quosa direction, on the old road to Lucca; there, in the village of Rigoli, a few meters from Villa Corliano, on the right side of the Statale Abetone road, we could see standing out on the hill, very elegantly, the charming residence where we stayed for the weekend: Villa Alta.
IMG_7273  It is one of the historic villas of Lungomonte Pisano, we have reached by car climbing the gently rolling hill, to enjoy once you get, a view of nothing short of breathtaking. Pietro Studiati, one of the former owners wanted infact to rebuild it so that his wife could even see the islands!
This elegant and charming Bed and Breakfast is the ideal destination for those who love beauty immersed in Art and History.
Right here at Villa Alta, in 1872, was born the recipe for Perfect Wine, or the CHIANTI, after over 30 years of research and experimentation. 
Baron Bettino Ricasoli infact, stared the formula in a famous letter addressed to the Doctor Pietro Studiati.

In 1996 the house was restored by the actual owners renovating it completely, with an intervention that has helped to bring to light and original splendor most of the frescosIn Villa Alta can be found all the warmth and hospitality of a family environment, accompanied by the care of every detail as shown by the beautiful "Sala dei Fiori", "Sala Paradiso", "Sala degli Angeli" and "Sala della musica".
It's not so simple to find an elegant place which retains all the warmth of a family, well, this is in my opinion one of the characteristics of hospitality here at Villa Alta.
In the morning, barely awake, I opened the small window of my room and I was struck by the splendor of the view. Just come downstairs for breakfast, one of the owners, Raffaella Cecchetti, welcomed us in the beautiful frescoed hall and while enjoying an excellent cappuccino and brioche, told us of the legend of the Villa.  
Well, for the uninitiated, all Historic Villas of Tuscany have one; this is one about Villa Alta:
It seems that during the Second World War, the Villa Alta owner had a love affair with a waitress, once tired, he pulled her a shot and killed her. Before she died, she left an imprint on the wall with her bloody hand. Even today, though try to whitewash the wall, the "slap" always resurfaces from the wall ......
For those who like to relax with a good book or still idle the time away in an intellectual way, I found very interesting the Italian garden right next to the Villa, where you will experience all the scents of nature combined with the peace that only a place so "high" can have.
A curious historical heritage of the Villa is a Rosace (coming from the Church of San Martino) dedicated to Blessed Bona, the patron of the flight attendants and operators of tourism.
Santa Bona, towards the end of 1.100, accompanied the pilgrims to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela (Portugal) and till today historians wonder why this Rosace about Beata is in these areas.
Well, working in tourism, I must say I was very pleased to being protected by the Blessed Bona for a few nights.
Having a holiday in these places means always being in touch with History and Art. To know and discover the wealth of these places, without being misled by the prejudices and clichés, maybe makes us travelers, rather than tourists. 
And it's with spirit belonging to a person who always seeks excellence in its work, (according to the traditional rules), where it represents quality and authenticity, that we visited the Frantoio del Rio Grifone, next to the medieval town of Vicopisano. 
Here come to press the olives many manufacturers of Lungomonte Pisano that with courage and will, unconcerned of the new trends and benefits pro-wine, are still devoted to the cultivation and harvesting of olives.
Here is made an oil that once tasted is impossible to forget, but we'll discuss in a future post in few a days, because the intensity of this Blog Tour weekend, is told slowly.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Trip to #Wiesbaden, much more then what you expect

The Bridge and the Promises
The trip, the thrill of the new, the unknown, the discovery ... everything goes beyond the boredom and routine ... travel is not just an escape, but a kind of learning while you're having fun.


There are two sayings that I can not forget about the trip, the first is by J. Kerouac and the second is an African saying, both embody what for me is the deep meaning of the trip, joined with what this experience is for me:
- Our suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had some way to go. But no matter, the road is life (Jack Kerouac)
- You'll find
what you've never seen where you've never been (African saying)

Ours, perhaps, is a sui generis family; we do not have much time to be together ... I mean free time, and all 4 of us have many interests ... in short the journey, for us ... is to be together without thoughts. Usually we do a tour during the school holidays (ex. Halloween) and this year we went to Weisbaden, a wonderful town where lives our friend Ciprian.

The "Crag" Church
We left Pisa airport in 7 people (us 4 plus 3 friends of us) and there we joined Ciprian, who was our  Cicero, showing us all the wonders to discover and see.
We flew with Ryan Air to the modest sum of 50 each and we stayed in Wiesbaden, in a junior suite at the Dorint Pallas Hotel (5 stars) for just 268 (3 nights !!) ... thanks !!
Once arrived we went to visit the museum of minerals and precious stones, where you can see artifacts from Brazil, Africa and the most distant lands, from the German mines abroad.
Federica made me a gift, she bought a copy of the three monkeys: I don't see, I don't hear, I don't speak ... Absolute my favorite!  
A nice walk to Idar Obestein where we visited the famous "Crag" Church 


Obviously we couldn't miss an amazing lunch, this time at the Cafe Haus Ratsstubchen the best place ever for eating German traditional and tasteful food.
We visited in Wiesbaden not certain in sunny days, on the other hand we always talk about the end of October, but in my mind I see those places as bright, brilliant ... who knows, maybe it's the spirit of joy and being together.


After walking along the Reno river, we arrived to a big bridge where lovers leave their memories and their love promises; it's a nice place, go there to Stadtteil Schierstein, Wiesbaden, Assia and enjoy the Crepes!
Wiesbaden is a charming town, in the maincenter you can find fountains that give off hot water ... 26 hot springs has spread around the world from the time of the Romans, making Wiesbaden the health center for excellence. This alone can make you fall in love and intrigue. What about the huge Cuckoo Clock ringing at midnight? So fun!

Cuckoo Clock
If you are lucky enough to have a rental car, you have to enjoy the surroundings of wiesbaden, because there are magical places you can't even imagine.

Ciprian has brought us to Eltville, the town of the Roses, to the Johanninsberg castle ...  where they make the famous Riesling Wine

And why not? Take a walk and a ride in a chairlift at Bingen am Rhein, where you'll see the famous Niederwald Monument which has a very great importance in German history.


We all loved this trip so much! 


Thanks Ciprì, thanks to my special family and thanks to my friends! 

I'd really like to go to Hungary the next year...and I really hope to spend my time with you once again!!
Never forget that "You'll find what you've never seen, where you'll never been"