Basket of Treats from Italy

Basket of Treats from Italy

The really cool thing when you have an obvious and widely known passion such as mine (and that would be food, I wish you’d pay attention) is that your friends and family know precisely what gifts will send you through the roof in fits of bubbling joy.

Latest example? Laurence and Marie-Laure, two of my closest friends, whom I’ve known respectively for eleven and seventeen years, took a trip to Rome for a few days in late July. Late July? You mean, right around my birthday? Why, yes and lucky me, my two dear friends took it upon themselves to put together a neat assortment of some of the best treats Italy has to offer.

And here is what I had the pleasure to discover, packaged up ever-so-prettily in a little birthday basket, complete with birthday card and picture-perfect, ornamental dried chili pepper.

– Four tiny little jars (which I will carefully save afterwards of course) of Il Mongetto savory preserves : peperoncino farcito (a bite-size stuffed pepper in olive oil), salsa di capperi (capers sauce), salsa di scalogno (shallot jam) and carciuga (artichoke spread). And now, I’ll be on the lookout for the perfect occasion to whip them out as the easiest, most stylish appetizer, spread on tiny little toasts of focaccia. Just you wait.

– A package of Fregola Sarda, which is a small, very pretty, dot-shaped toasted pasta from the region of Sardinia. It is dubbed “the Italian couscous”, and made from semolina grains, rubbed together with lukewarm water in a terracotta pot called a sa scivedda. I had never heard of it, but a little research indicated that it is traditionally served with clams in Sardinia, and can be used in shellfish broth, in soups, or like regular pasta. I had a sudden (and deliciously successful) inspiration to prepare it with eggplant, toasted pinenuts and grated pecorino cheese, but any other suggestion would be very welcome.

– A package of De Cecco Orecchiette, one of Laurence’s favorite pasta (and Laurence, who has lived in Milan for a little while, knows a thing or two about pasta). Those cute little ears of pasta work particularly well with a chunky sauce, as they allow little pools to gather in the hollow of their delicate shape.

– A package of wholegrain, stone-ground polenta with porcini, or as the label insists on putting it, Farina per Polenta Integrale, antica “Macina a Pietra”, Ai Funghi Porcini. I love love love polenta but I had only ever made it in its pre-cooked form (which does have a slight tendency to turn to mush), and this is really something else — no mush to speak of, beautiful color, complex flavor and perfect texture. Comfort food at is earnest.

– And finally, a package of porcini risotto mix (Scotti Risotto riso carnaroli con funghi porcini), the Italian convenience food : “basta aggiungere il brodo!” the package joyfully claims. I had a lot of fun preparing it, trying to translate the instructions. I speak no Italian whatsoever, but I dimly remember sitting through Latin class a few centuries ago, and I do speak French rather fluently, so I thought I was fairly well equipped to decipher risotto cooking instructions for heaven’s sake.

I was puzzled for a while by the part where you have to “Aggiungire il brodo preparato a parte, oppure, per una preparazione più veloce ricoprire con acqua calda e dado quanto basta”, until it suddenly clicked that “dado”, translated into dice, meant in fact a bouillon cube. The only thing it forgets to tell you is how much brodo to add and the cooking time, but that’s probably a common knowledge so deeply ingrained in Italian brains that there is really no need for further instructions, how very un-Italian of me, so I just went with the “add a little at a time until it tastes right” procedure. The risotto turned out to be excellent and very well seasoned, with its fat grains of al dente rice and its large chunks of tasty mushrooms.

And thus ends my little gastro-tour of Italy in a basket, but not before I warmly thank the talented organizers, Marie-Laure and Laurence!

  • vika

    Maybe, like traditional risotto, you add the hot broth a little at a time, and let it cook into the rice, and stop when the rice is silky-soft?

    Sounds delicious. I’m partial to Italy, myself, having lived there and studied the language quite a bit. What a gift!

    I’ll tell you what, though, Clotilde: it’s not by accident that you have such amazing friends. Your blog continues to be a rather constant ray of sunshine in my netlife. :)

  • Adele

    One of my favorite ways to serve orchiette is with brown butter and sage. Melt butter (use as much as you like, but enough to coat the quantity of pasta) until it gets bubbly, then throw in fresh sage leaves. When the sage gets crispy, add in the cooked orchiette and toss to coat. Top with shaved fresh parmesan and ground black pepper. Yummy!

  • h

    I love orecchiette con cime di rapa, that is a green leafy vegetable, something like a crossover spinach-broccoli… Sauté the veggie with diced onions, diced tomato and capperi, toss in the al dente orecchiette…. Oh, I miss Italy…..

  • Michele

    I love your blog. I like the colours, I like the layout and I love the subject matter. You have inspired me. Now, everytime I shop for food, I think of how I can make something fun and tasty.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Laura

    Very nice blog! I live in Italy and I hate cooking, funny eh?! It’s gorgeous to realize that someone could get mad for orecchiette or for polenta. By the way, you should try tu put some mushrooms over the polenta … let me know if I could be of help in translating something from Italian into English! Bye Laura

  • Francesca

    This is one of this posts where I think I should keep my mouth closed, but, I cannot keep it for myself.
    Orecchiette with butter and sage is ahrg… I know everybody should be allowed to its own tastes, but orecchiette are my origin, and I cannot think or something like that!!! Orecchiette is the most traditional pasta from Puglia and cooking in such a northerner way is painful. Orecchiette and cime di rapa are fine, unless you start adding onions, tomatoes and capers…I am sorry, I don’t want to seem a snob.
    I just had the orecchiette Dececco yesterday, it was just a makeshift. Also cime di rapa, in English knonwn as rapini, broccoli raap, are not the same in Puglia, its more “heads” and less leaves, and require salted anchovies in the soffritto. This happen to be a food that if you tried the real think you will know the difference. Sorry, if I am so sentimental.

  • savina

    buon appetito, then, and do come and visit and taste all of the thousands of wonderful different Italian regional dishes (yes, I agree with Francesca, never heard of orecchiette salvia e burro).
    ps “quanto basta” translates as “in the right amount,” quite a Jesuite suggestion

  • Tomoko

    Hello, I am writing to you from Tokyo, Japan to thank you. We received a package of Scotti’s i Risotti del Dr. Scotti Riso Carnaroli con funghi porcini from my parents who visited Italy last month. Neither myself nor my French husband knew how to decipher the ‘dado’ part in the preparazione on the back. I typed in the name of the product and looked for a site in English – et voila! Thank you so much for your wonderful site. (and I agree. There is no mentioning of any quantity in this recipe!) I look forward to visiting your site again!

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