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Spoiled in Italy: A Delicious Lunch in Montepulciano

Erica Berman was lucky enough to spend a couple months in gorgeous Genoa, Italy, this summer. She met up with HiP Paris friend and contributor Steve Brenner for a leisurely lunch in the historic town of Montepulciano before touring some villas in Tuscany. After reading his mouth-watering account of their meal, we couldn’t keep ourselves from sharing it with you here! -Geneviève

A square in Montepulciano (Stefano Piemonte)

Yesterday I drove up to Montepulciano to meet (in person) Erica Berman of Haven in Paris and her friend Mattia after literally years of email and skype exchanges.  I’ve guest blogged on her popular HIP Paris blog, and we list a few of her flats on Cross-Pollinate, but we’d never actually met in person.

Bagno Vignoni near Montepulciano where Erica was staying for a night (Elena Vataga)

She was coming from Genova to Bagno Vignoni (above) to see some flats in Tuscany for her site, so we decided to meet nearby.   I checked my trusted Osterie d’Italia published by Slow Food Italia, which has NEVER let me down, and we placed our bet on Acquacheta in Montepulciano.

Giulio Ciolfi, owner of Osteria Acquacheta

They were very insistent on us being there at 12:30 sharp. They will only accept reservations at 12:30 or 2pm, and they were passionate about giving us only one glass per person for both wine and water (per tradizione, apparently). The food was good – started with some amazing pecorino cheeses, one aged in walnut leaves, one with black truffles.  Without a doubt, the closer you get to Pienza, in Tuscany, the better the pecorino. Continue Reading »

Posted in Food, Italy tips & suggestions | 7 Comments »

Italian Food Tastes Better in Italy: How to Cook Like an Italian Mamma

Steve Brenner and his wife Linda Martinez moved to Rome with the dream of opening an eco-friendly hotel and indulging in delicious Italian food. Here, Steve shares his tips for getting our attempts at Italian cuisine to taste a little more like what comes out of an Italian mamma’s kitchen…-Geneviève

Pasta Carbonara (no cream!) and garlic: two Italian staples (Ghirson; Sivandsivand)

Everyone agrees – Italian food tastes better in Italy. Part of this is due to the superiority of the ingredients when bought locally.  When you buy mozzarella in Naples or Gaeta olives in Gaeta or pecorino in Pienza, you are partaking in an experience that will not be the same even just an hour or two away.  In Australia or the US, or any other really big country where things are produced to last long distribution distances, even people who live near the source are eating something made to withstand days of transport.  A tomato in California or an orange in Florida tastes the same as they would in Montana.

Spaghetti Vongole; A typical Italian doorway (Erica Berman)

Yet there’s another reason Italian food tastes better in Italy  – it’s the cooking techniques that are not easy to adopt elsewhere. It’s not about precision and elaboration.  Instead, it’s about knowing what to leave out and how to combine a few simple, but seriously tasty, things for maximum flavor.

If you read non-Italian language cookbooks in an attempt to find these secrets, look out – you are being deceived.  Perhaps it’s a conspiracy by Italian grandmothers to keep the uniqueness of the Italian kitchen from being too accurately reproduced outside the boot, but the truth is (and I may be at risk with the food police for spilling this information) Italian recipes are not reproduced faithfully by English speaking writers.  Italians would almost never use 1 whole onion in a pasta sauce (and Italian onions are about 1/4 the size of an American one).  Two tablespoons of oil?  Ha!  I guffaw when I see a recipe that asks for 2 tablespoons of oil.   I go through about a liter of oil a week.

Orecchiete con Broccoli and Parmiggiano (Sarah Maternini; Anne@74)

An example of this can be found in a quick search for the Pugliese dish – orecchiette with broccoli.  A Google search of “orecchiette with broccoli recipe”  in English and a search of “ricetta orecchiette con broccoli” in Italian turn up two very different recipes – the English one calls for 2 tablespoons of oil and 4 cloves of garlic, while the Italian recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of oil and one glove of garlic.

I learned to cook in my early 20’s because I was living in Italy with no money. If I wanted to eat cheaply, I was going to have to fend for myself.  So I asked lots of questions and kept my eyes open and found that Italian cooks are very willing to share their “secrets”, because there aren’t many actual secrets. They make things the way they’ve always made them, true to tradition with subtle varieties based on location and availability.  When Italians ask their Mamma, who learned to make orecchiette from her Mamma, how much garlic or oil needed to make the dish, she would say, “poco e tanto”.  If I asked my mother, she’d email me the recipe. Continue Reading »

Posted in Food, Italy tips & suggestions, Travel | 14 Comments »