Last week, our son, Lucas had friends coming over and he was thinking creatively about a special snack... no more pretzels and juice boxes for this teen. His Family Consumer Sciences class at the end of the school year made Monkey Bread, but he wanted to make it even better at home by modifying my basic pizza dough recipe into a sweet bread dough. Good idea. He went to work.
Warm water was increased to 1 - 1/2 cups. We added 1/2 cup of whole milk. Instead of the honey, we added 1 tablespoon sugar to the yeast when proofing, and an additional 3 tablespoons sugar to the flour in the mixing bowl. For flour, we used only bread flour--about 3 - 3-1/2 cups until you get a rather sticky dough. When mixing the yeast and flour in the bowl, we added 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, melted. Melt the other 1/2 stick of butter and set aside for the cinnamon coating.
Other than that, make the dough as you would in my Basic Pizza Dough recipe. After the dough rises, use olive oil to coat the insides of a non-stick cupcake or muffin pan.
In a medium sized bowl, mix the 1/2 stick of butter with a cinnamon-sugar mix... about 1 cup should do. If you don't have cinnamon-sugar, use 1/3 cup cinnamon and 2/3 cup sugar. If you like, you can add another spice... a touch of allspice, perhaps.
Turn out the dough onto a well floured work table, then cut 2" thick "ropes" and roll them thinner to about 3/4 - 1" thick. Cut them into 2-3 long pieces. Coat them with the cinnamon-sugar and butter and place them randomly in each compartment of your pan... pile them just over the top of the rim.
When done, you can either spray the top with a butter spray, or place a couple of small dabs of butter on top. When done, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for about 1 hour.
When doubled in size, bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 35 minutes or until nicely browned and when a cake tester comes out clean.
These are best when served warm. If making the day before, wrap in foil and re-heat in a 350 F oven for 15 minutes.
When you hear the word Pecorino, if you're like most people, you think of cheese. And since pecora means sheep, the best Pecorino from Italy is always made from 100% sheep’s milk (sadly, poor American imitations are made from cow's milk.) We fell in love with Pecorino cheese when visiting Pienza in Tuscany. Pecorino is king there. It's taste is nutty, sweet and creamy on the tongue, even if well aged. Pecorino dates back several thousand years, when people first started making cheese from sheep's milk.
But there is another kind of Pecorino--a variety of grape and wine.Pecorino is a light-skinned grape used in Italy's Marche and Abruzzo, along the east coastline. The classic Pecorino is dry, a bit floral and straw colored, often with a bit of anise flavor.
Even thought it has been cultivated for hundreds of years, the typical low yields caused it to be mostly replaced by other more productive varieties. Many thought the Pecorino grape had fell into obscurity or possible extinction. But in the 1980s, a Marche producer discovered some forgotten vines in an overgrown vineyard. Cuttings were taken, propagated, and wine was again produced in the early 1990s. Since then, the variety has grown and gotten a strong following. Pecorino is now grown in Marche, Abruzzo, Umbria and Tuscany. The Pecorino grape grows best in higher altitudes and has a high acidity along with a high sugar content. The sugar helps create a high level of alcohol, with the acidity balancing it all out.
In the end, Pecorino still means both--wine and cheese--so you can have a double dose. Both go very well together, proven by the fact that historically, the Pecorino grape was also allowed to grow wild in the hills so sheep could enjoy the fruit as snacks...
The story goes that coffee was discovered by some unknown goat herder who noticed that his goats were more jumpy than normal after eating some seeds from a bush. This supposedly happened in Ethiopia, but it was in Yemen on the Arabian peninsula that coffee was first grown as a crop.
Muslims drank it instead of wine for a "high". Many boasted its medicinal properties for all sorts of stomach ailments. In the middle ages it was it was introduced to Italy through the trade port of Venice. At first, people wanted this Muslim drink banned, but in 1600 it was given a Papal seal of approval. In England Tea is Queen, but in Italy coffee is King.
Italians drink a lot of coffee. But coffee isn't just a hot beverage, it's a religion, a way of life. It was love at first sip in the sixteenth century when it was introduced from the Muslim world. There's as much protocol and tradition in drinking coffee in Italy as there is when a Japanese has a Tea Ceremony. The huge, overly sweet, overpriced cups at Starbucks are a world away from caffè Italiano.
Coffee is part of a personal style statement for Italians. How much sugar you take, how much milk or even if you drink it amara (black), it's part of one's personal statement about their personality. If you don't drink coffee, especially after dinner, you'll be shunned as being pazzo or being under a curse. In Italy you don't just meet someone for a drink--you meet for coffee. It sharpens the senses for discussing business, politics or love. And if you ask someone to meet for coffee, offer to pay, even if you have to argue about it. Arguments are part of the dance--part of a day's rituals. And remember, the last thing an Italian wants to drink is a fancy, caramel flavored latte. They want--and need--coffee and only coffee. In fact, try and order a latte and you'll be given a glass of milk.
Typical "Bar" with espresso, pastries, & sandwiches
Here's an important fact that most people miss entirely when visiting Italy (I know we did). Bars in Italy are akin to a cafe in France or America. In Italian bars, coffee is consumed, and they have an assortment of cornettos or other pastries and some basic menu items for snacks or lunch. (I wish I had know than when lunchtime rolled around and all the restaurants were closed). Bars are a meeting place--and a place to jump start your day.
The Iconic Moka. Lisa's new toy.
As for making caffè, there are many ways, but none so Italian as the iconic moka macchinetta. Basically, the moka is a percolator, made of aluminum for bringing caffè up to temperature very quickly. Introduced by Bialetti in the 1930s, this little machine is seen in virtually every household in Italy, and more than likely each cucina has more than one. Unlike the American style percolators that our grandparents used, the moka does its job under pressure. After loading it up with water and coffee grounds (not too finely ground), you screw the top to the bottom. Most moka pots are smallish so place them carefully on your smaller burner and watch out for the handle. When pressure builds it forces the steaming water up through the conical jet in the center which sprays the steam down through the grounds. It's much more forceful than a typical peculator. You don't really need a huge espresso machine to make a simple, great cup of espresso.
A French Press, close but not Italian.
Milk foam maker
Plain, Nutella, Apricot jam... all great.
How to Order
When ordering coffee at a bar, you're expected to pay first, get a receipt, then hand the receipt to the barista making the coffee. Baristi are well thought of in Italy. It's a job that commands respect and honor. Before they fill your order, they'll put a little tear in the receipt so you can't use it again. For an American, it seems odd to have to tell someone everything you want first, pay, and then go and pick everything up. They even do this in airport and train station snack shops.
If you want espresso, don't ask for espresso. Ask for "una caffe, per favore". You'll get a small cup of espresso. When standing at a bar, drink your coffee fast (even if it's hotter than hell). Italians never sip. Sure, you can sit at a table like a tourist, but you'll be charged an extra couple of Euro for a cover. Italians are furbo (crafty), so they keep the two Euro in their pocket and stand to drink. By the way, you might get a small glass of water with your coffee, or you'll see glasses and a pitcher of water on the counter. If you do, it's not typically used for cooling or watering down your espresso. It's for cleansing your palette. In any event, do not try and sit for hours to drink coffee. Drink it fast or you'll be scorned as the Ugly American Tourista. And if you want to add a sugar free sweetener, don't ask for Sweet n Low, ask for Dietor, an Italian brand name.
Try to remember... never, never call a cornetto a "croissant"! Croissants are French and fairly soft (they're made with lots of butter), while a cornetto is very Italian and has a crunch (made with lard or olive oil)-- perfect for dunking. In Italy, a typical breakfast is a caffè and a cornetto or other pastry. That's it. No one eats a big breakfast. They save up their appetites for large meals during extended lunchtime (2-3 hours long). Coffee is a big part of the morning ritual.
Different Ways to Order Coffee
Caffè: espresso, always a small cup, many Italians add a sweetener.
Caffè Americano: watered down espresso, but still stronger than American coffee.
Caffè Doppio:Double espresso
Macchiato: a small cup of espresso with a splash of milk
Marocchino: small cup of espresso with some cocoa powder and dash of milk
Ristretto: a strong shot of espresso made with the normal amount of coffee but half the amount of water.
Caffè corto: short espresso
Caffè lungo: long espresso
Cappuccino: espresso with steamed milk on top (with breakfast) NEVER after 11am, and NEVER after dinner
Caffè Lungo: Literally, long coffee.This is a large cup of watered down espresso.
Caffè Corretto: Not for breakfast, this is an espresso laced with a shot of liquor, like Grappa.
Caffè Freddo: Chilled and shaken with ice, served in summer.
Granita di Caffè: in summer--a coffee slushy.
Caffè Latte: Milk flavored with coffee, served in a glass.
Caffè Deca: Decaff coffee. "Deca" can be used with to order other decaffeinated coffee types, for example, "Cappuccino Deca".
Now, if you really want to spend big money, you can get one of those dedicated (and huge) cappuccino machines. But you don't really need this just to make steamed milk for your cappuccino or macchiato. All you need is a small container to shake bubbles into your milk. Then you would heat up the milk in a microwave and spoon it on top of or into your coffee. If you use a coffee press to make your brew, there is a similar device to make bubbles in milk.
Making coffee Italian style is a fairly straightforward thing, once you understand the nuances, that is. Get yourself a Moka pot, look for a blend that suits you and start brewing.
For Moka pots: Do NOT tamp your grounds. This is a technique used on high pressure pro machines... the Moka is a low pressure device. Just fill your Moka chamber to the top with loose grounds and screw it shut.
Saverio Finzi. That's was--and still is--my Dad. He was called Sal by most, Sally Boy by his buddies growing up, mistakenly called Xavier on his immigration papers, Daddy by my 3 sisters, but I just called him Dad. As he got older, once in a while I'd call him Pop, but he said he didn't like it. It made him sound too much like an old man (he was in his eighties at the time). I always thought it was cute the way he referred to other people his age as "those old people".
He was always a man of the "dirt" as he called garden soil. He taught me how to love and appreciate Home Grown Tomatoes. I still grow Heirloom tomato varieties every year and my son Lucas already knows how to start seeds in the cellar in February, how to plant the young plants deeply for strong roots, and how to prune side shoots off the plants for bigger fruit. Dad taught me a lot about gardening. Some day I plan to have a grape arbor like he had in our little city back yard growing up.
Guess who taught me how to swim?
He loved nature too. As he got older he loved to sit on his patio and just "watch the boidies" (as he called them) at his bird feeder. He was the one who started bringing home box turtles from "The Lake" when we were kids. At one time we had 15 or them in our little back yard. He loved dogs and cats and rabbits, too. He had a rabbit hutch that he kept his pet rabbits in... one was a huge lop-earred bunny with a powerful kick. And Lord, did he love the trees and the flowers. He once said to me "I love plants, I love trees, I love the sky, I love the birds... but I hate people". He wasn't a man who ever hated anyone, but I knew exactly what he meant. Nature was pure and simple. People can be overly complicated.
He loved to fish and go crabbing. We used to break through the fences and trespass onto the old piers on the Hudson River where I grew up. He'd catch a bucketful of "Jersey Blue" crabs, as he called them, those colorful treasures the East Coast is famous for. He fished with a pole, surely, but he also used a simple string drop line, with a little screw-springy-bell gizmo that he'd screw into the wood at the edge of the pier. When an eel was "on" the line, the jingle bell would ring and he'd pull up the string line by hand. He prepared the eel Pugliese style... fried in olive oil and served in cut up little chunks with lots of lemon, like little oily fishy sausages. One day he caught a huge crab on the drop line and a big "Mama eel" (as he called the huge ones) in the crab net. I'll never forget that. He also caught the biggest catfish I've ever seen come out of Oak Ridge Lake, where we used to go when I was young.
He always caught crabs
Putting on the drag for his Senior's Center
Dad was more Italian in his ways than I realized when I was young. He knew how to speak the Southern dialect of Molfetta in Puglia, but never spoke it at home. But one time he ran into a "girl" that he grew up with in Hoboken, New Jersey--hadn't seen her in 50 years. It's amazing that they recognized each other in an instant. The Molfettese dialect flowed like thick honey from his mouth as they spoke.
He also had a habit of eating only de-constructed sandwiches--that is, he preferred to tear pieces of bread and eat the cold cuts, cheese and tomatoes laid out on a plate--and this was a deli man who made great sandwiches at work. He loved glasses of cheap or home made wine--often drank with ice cubes or even with some 7-Up added to mimic Prosecco. He told stories of his own father making wine and keeping the large damigiana (a "demijohn" is a very large teardrop shaped bottle) in the cellar while it fermented and aged.
He is the one who taught me how to make polpette (meatballs) bigger than my fist, and baked Virginia ham at Christmas and how to make roast turkey and roast beef. He always loved a "nice piece of meat", as Italians do, all on its own on a plate. He loved his ice cream and would eat out of the box--as I still do.
He was a simple man with simple pleasures. He love saving little sayings and poems out of books and newspapers... I found a bunch of his clippings in his wallet after he passed away. As he got older, I'd go over and spend Saturday afternoons with him--Mom and Dad and I would sit at his picnic table a peruse books or magazines on gardening, cooking, old National Graphic magazines about volcanoes or exotic far off places... we'd look at the pictures, talk, have a soda and a peach for a snack and dream of going to Italy someday together.
Loyal until the end--married 52 years to the love of his life, Marie Vetri
Dad never made that trip with me... No. He was with me, and Lucas and Lisa. He was the reason we went on our Grand Voyage. Lucas and I blessed ourselves in his honor in the waters in his home town of Molfetta. I remember saying "Dad, we made it." I felt him right there next to us...
Thank you for being my Dad, Sally Boy. And on this Father's Day while I look at my beautiful son, Lucas, I know that I wouldn't have learned how to become --as Lucas calls me--"The Best Dad ever", if you didn't hold the same title before me. He was more than my father. He was my best friend.
We miss you, but you are with us in everything we do in life.
Classic Italian Coca Cola... pigeons and birdseed in Venice
In 1894, Coca Cola opened it's very first bottling plant. The first Cokes were sold to the public in 1886 at the soda fountain of Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States.
In Italy, in 1927, Romana Acque Gassose opened the first Coca-Cola manufacturing and bottling plant in Italy. This was followed in the 1930s by the bottling companies SRIBEG in Genoa and STIB in Leghorn, and by FAMIB in Milan, which manufactured and marketed soft drinks under The Coca-Cola Company trademark. The independent bottling companies subsequently multiplied to the point where they were in a position to distribute Coca- Cola products all over Italy.
In 1995, The Coca-Cola Company, global leader in soft drinks boasting 4 of the world’s 5 biggest brands (Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola light, Diet Coke, Fanta and Sprite), decided to handle its Italian operations directly and accordingly bought the 11 bottling companies located in the north and center of the country... by 1998 there were 16 such plants.
When we visited Italy, Coke was everywhere. For me, I drank Fanta Aranciata... in Italy, a totally different drink than Fanta here in the States. In the U.S. it's a bright, artificial orange color with an overly sweet, chemical taste. In Italy, it's actually made with orange juice. It's fresher and more natural tasting--imagine orange juice and seltzer. I loved it.
But for my boy, Lucas and wife, Lisa, once in a while they needed a Coke fix. Lucas loved Coke Zero... he said it tasted the same as here, but Lisa said it was less sweet. In general, sodas in Italy are very different... and they usually are less sweet. Italians like more fruity, sour flavors--bitter too. But make no mistake about it... you'll find Cokes everywhere in Italy.
Experience the Italian lifestyle, heritage, cuisine, art, music, language and traditions, while learning how our own Grand Voyage to Italy affected our lives back at home--per sempre--forever. Andiamo, take a Grand Voyage with us...