Italy recipe: how to make & use Pesto

Basil & Pine Nut Pesto  (Photo from recepty.cz)

Basil & Pine Nut Pesto
(Photo from recepty.cz)

“Pesto” normally refers to Pesto alla Genovese, made from fresh basil and pine nuts.

It is commonly served coasting pasta and being a dish that can be prepared in advance and then served either warm or cool, it is a staple item in many an Italian fridge throughout Spring and Summer.

Whilst it can be bought from the supermarket, for the most part it is either homemade or bought fresh from a local delicatessen.

The classic Pesto recipe involves throwing around 8 handfuls of fresh basil leaves, ½ cup of pine nuts, 3 peeled cloves of garlic (or more or less to taste) and a good pinch of salt into a food processor. Start blending slowly, drizzling in extra virgin olive oil in through the little hole at the top of the blender. Stop once you have reached a slightly runny consistency. Then, add in about ½ cup of quality grated Parmesan cheese.

Stir well with a wooden or plastic spoon. Basil tends to react with metals so using wood or plastic stops the pesto from turning black. If it does turn black, the taste is still the same so it’s only really an aesthetics issue.

Store the pesto in a glass jar with a layer of olive oil over the top so it stays nice and fresh. Whilst it will be good for some months, you can also freeze it in ice cube trays for winter usage.

Pesto with pasta is a simple and delicious Italian recipe that is super easy to make. Once you have coated the pasta with pesto, you may need to add an extra drizzle of olive oil to stop the pasta drying out.

You can add in a few diced up cherry tomatoes and/or some fresh mozzarella cheese to jazz it up a little more.

In Siena, they cook some chopped tomato and then add in the pesto. The pesto ice cubes are good for this purpose.

There is also Pesto lasagna – simply take your fresh pasta sheets and line with pesto in between for a great summer lasagna recipe.

You can spread it on crostini or sandwiches. Use pesto as a dip for slices of carrots, cucumber and other summer vegetables as a starter dish.

 

Learn more about local food on our Italian Food Tour in Florence.

To learn to make delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

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Rome Restorations: Trevi Fountain

Trevi Founder works underway  (Photo from www.forque.com.au)

Trevi Founder works underway
(Photo from www.forque.com.au)

Like many an aging beauty, one of Rome’s most fabulous must-see sites, the Trevi Fountain, is having a little work done.

Nothing major, of course, just a few discreet interventions.

There is going to be some work on removing blemishes from the marble façade and clearing up of a couple of dark spots by way of new lighting. Implants of new pumps will be also undertaken.

And to keep away the crows pigeon feet, there’ll be some lifting of deterrent barriers.

The water, from an aqueduct that is said to have quenched thirsts of the ancient Romans, has been drained to allow for the works, whilst most of the fountain is under scaffolding.

The Trevi Fountain works are being covered by the Fendi fashion house as part of an Italian government project to allow companies to sponsor works in exchange for advertising space.

All up, this restoration is going to cost around 2.2 million euro and take just under 1.5 years.

Given the fountain is 252 years old, that’s really not so long.

And if you’re travelling to Italy during this time and upset about seeing this great place to visit in Rome covered in scaffolding, hopefully a nice gelato or delicious glass of wine can go a little way in cheering you up.

Until restorations are complete, our Original Rome Walk Tour will be skipping a visit to the Trevi Fountain.

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Slick Snack: Italian Garlic Bread Recipe

Garlic bread is a traditional side dish served in many Italian restaurants… just not those actually in Italy.

In Italy, you may find instead it’s leaner and lighter cousin, Bruschetta.

What is commonly – albeit erroneously – called Bruschetta abroad (i.e. toasted bread with tomatoes) in Italy is actually called Bruschetta al Pomodoro (a.k.a toasted bread with tomatoes).

The traditional Bruschetta recipe rather is made around harvest time when the just-pressed olive oil is greeny-gold and peppery. It is intended to allow one to taste the quality of the olive oil.

In Tuscany, this slick snack goes by the name of fett’unta, a term coming from ‘oily slice’.

So, how to make traditional garlic bread?

Cut your bread into slices then toast either on a barbecue or straight on the oven rack (but never under the grill).

Once each slice is nice and golden, take a peeled clove of garlic and lightly rub it on each piece of the bread.

It may seem like not much garlic is going on each slice but if you rub too much on, you’ll end up with a very spicy end result. However, since garlic is good for cholesterol,  infections, ulcers, high blood pressure and for warding off the common cold (and of course, vampires), if you have need for excessive garlic, go hardy.

Next, drizzle the bread with quality olive oil. Then, sprinkle with a pinch of salt to taste. Serve hot.

Yep, Bruschetta is pretty much just really classy toast.

So now you know how to make it. But how do you pronounce Bruschetta? With your best Italian flair, try saying ‘brew-sketta’.

Yep, it’s not ‘brew-shetta’. Since the Italian alphabet doesn’t have the letter K, ‘ch’ is used to make the K sound.

Bruschetta is not a dish to serve alongside a meal, but rather either is presented as a little snack upon arrival or occasionally together with an antipasto platter.

One of the most simple and tasty recipes that takes just minutes to prepare. Well, if you don’t count growing, harvesting and pressing your own olives!

For great insight into the best places to eat in Italy, ask the locals! You can meet lots of foodie locals on our small-group Italian Food Tour in Florence.

To learn to make delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

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Italy in August – we’re all going on a summer holiday!

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Summer is a great time to travel to Italy. The flavoursome tomatoes make it worth the journey in themselves! Then there is the gelato, the crisp white wines, the festivals, the divine weather… One tip though for anyone planning a … Continue reading

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Michelangelo’s art in Italy: Praise & Parody

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Michelangelo may not have been well-known for his social skills, however he certainly knew how to express sensibilities in his artwork.

Our Florence art historian guides call Michelangelo’s David the most important artwork ever created, whilst my high school art teacher called that small gap between Adam and God’s fingers in the Sistine Chapel “the most important space in art”.

Many people on our Original David Tour in Florence and Vatican tour, in Rome are regularly bought to tears by the site of our favourite nudes, David and Adam.

Michelangelo’s works even inspired one of our guides to quit their day job in their native country and move to Italy to study art history.

The works also continue to inspire others in creating copies, sketches and a few parodies.

We’ve already shared a few inspired-by’s for Michelangelo’s David.

Now here we have compiled a small selection of Sistine Chapel take-offs.

And speaking of sensibilities, we left out the pull-my-finger one…

***

See the real deal with us! We bring the history of David to life on our Original David – Accademia Tour.

Visit the Sistine Chapel with our best Rome and Vatican tour, guides on our small-group skip-the-line Vatican tour.

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Venice – sights, sighs & splashes

It’s not just the stunning sights in Venice that have the power to take your breath away like no other city.

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There are also the many stairs to get up and over the bridges crossing the waters of the Venetian canals.

These bridges are just one element of Venice’s unique relationship with water.

There is the distinctive and colourful buildings contrasted with the serenity of the canals. The sing-song way in which the locals speak, seemingly in tune with the lapping of the water. The inimitable façade of San Marco Basilica, it’s pieces having come from many shores by merchants descending upon Venice. Market stalls held on boats bobbing along the shoreline sell fresh produce direct to passers-by. Garages hold boats instead of cars, with locals running their errands in a little run-about that buzzes along the waterways. Lovers kiss mid-bridge, standing in the middle of each overpass to gaze as longingly into each other’s eyes as along the canals before them.

And then there are the gondolas.

It all combines to make a visit to Venice a must on any decent bucket list.

Then there is the regular flooding of the high waters that the locals just take into their gumbooted stride…

Seeing this city during high waters is truly a wonderful and quite peculiar experience. Waters rise up several times throughout the  year, flooding the charming streets, the must-see main piazza of Venice – St Mark’s Square – and even the St Mark’s Basilica therein.

At these times, platforms are put up around the city to serve as walkways, turning each well-dressed local into a catwalk model sashaying – or should that be, splashaying – in glamorous Wellingtons through the water.

Artviva: offering great small-group tours in Venice and Venice_Private_tours.

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The simplest Tuscan fish recipe: baked sea bass

Delicious Italian fish recipe

Delicious Italian fish recipe

Cooking in Tuscany comprises making delicious traditional Tuscan recipes using a few simple and fresh ingredients.

One great example is baked sea bass – Branzino. This simple recipe is great for dinner parties as it can be prepared ahead of time, makes very little mess, looks impressive and tastes delicious!

There is also no need to make a separate side dish as it’s all-in-one.

Preheat your oven to 180° Celsius.

Take one fillet of branzino per person. Lay the pieces on a piece of baking paper large enough to wrap the fish into a parcel.

Onto each fillet, lay a few thinly sliced rounds of fresh zucchini, some cherry tomatoes cut in half, a few capers (rinsed to get rid of the vinegar or salty taste according to how they have been preserved), a slice of lemon, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil plus salt and pepper to taste.

Fold up the paper to make little parcels. Place them in the oven and cook for around 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked and the vegetables are soft.

You can either wiggle the fish onto plates or even serve the parcels directly so diners can open their little dinner presents themselves.

Italians normally eat a pasta or risotto dish as a first course, so this is a perfect light main to follow. If you’re not carb-ing up with pasta or risotto, then you may wish to serve with a side of potatoes cooked with chopped tomatoes (to add a splash of colour).

Buon appetito!

For great insight into the best places to eat in Italy, ask the locals! You can meet lots of foodie locals on our small-group Italian Food Tour in Florence!

To learn to make delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

Artviva: tours of FlorenceTuscanyRomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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Travelling Italy: a beautiful Basilica in Rome

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A great place to visit in Rome is the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs (Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri).

Located in Rome’s Piazza della Repubblica, it is just a short distance from Rome’s main train station, Roma Termini. Owing to its unusual history as well as the unique artworks and artifacts housed there within, it is one of the best churches to visit in Rome.

The Basilica was built in the 1560s where once stood the Baths of Diocletian – a Roman cold bathhouse which was appropriately known as a Frigidarium. Building the Basilica in the baths also served as a symbol of Christian triumph over paganism.

Even Michelangelo lent a hand in the reconstruction, working to enclose a section of the baths to form a unique series of spaces within the church.

Three centuries later, upon the unification of the Kingdom of Italy in 1870, the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli was declared the official state church. This means that important services, such as the funerals of Italian soldiers who lost their lives in battles abroad are often held here. Indeed, the commanders said to have won World War I for Italy are even entombed here.

What you may not expect to find in an Italian catholic church is a dedication to Galileo Galilei, in the form of a tall bronze statue having been placed there in 2010 (well, technically it is housed in the courtyard… but still…), in a design by 1957 Nobel laureate Tsung-Dao Lee.

This is not the only homage to science. There is also the gnomon of Bianchini.

(For those few readers who do not spend much time talking about sundials and meridians, a gnomons is the sticky-outy piece whose shadow indicates the time.)

The southern exposition of the Roman baths now ensures the Basilica has excellent sun exposure. This was put to good use when in the early 1700s Pope Clement XI commissioned Francesco Bianchini to build a meridian line – similar to, but way more impressive than a sundial.

45-meters long and made of bronze set in off-white marble, it runs along the meridian line that traverses Rome.

Given the height of the walls, there was space to permit a long line of sun exposure for this purpose, the calibration of which would also not be disrupted by any settling of the building given the age of the original structure.

Pope Clement XI’s motivation was to create a meridian line to rival (and hopefully even better) that recently built in Bologna. He also wanted a clock that was in alignment with the recently imposed Gregorian calendar that could also be used to determine the date of Easter each year.

Sunlight comes in through a hole high up on the wall of the cathedral, falling on the meridian line. But as if that weren’t clever enough, there are also holes in the roof that allow one to read the moving of the Sirius, Polaris and Arcturus stars above.

The sun, stars and science all housed within the walls of a Roman bath-cum-Catholic basilica, this is certainly a must-see site in Rome, Italy.

———-

When in Rome, Italy….

We have a great sightseeing Rome Walk Tour including a visit to the Coliseum and the must-see sights of Rome.

On our small-group Vatican tour, our groups are amongst the very first to enter the Vatican, whilst our expert Vatican guides bring the history of the Vatican to life!

There is also our Rome in One Glorious Day discount tour package.

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HUNCHBACK CARDI RECIPE: Italy’s ugliest & tastiest vegetable

HUNCHBACK CARDI RECIPE: Italy’s ugliest and tastiest vegetable

HUNCHBACK CARDI RECIPE: Italy’s ugliest and tastiest vegetable

 

The poor ol’ “cardi gobbi” – the hunchback cardoon – is perhaps one of the ugliest vegetables around.

But it can be easily turned into one of the yummiest served with the below “bagna càuda” (warm sauce) simple vegetable recipe.

Coming from the Piedmont region of Italy, the cardi gobbi is a cardoon that has been termed ‘hunchback’ due to its shape. To survive through the colder months, it grows partially underground, the leafy bits peeking out from the earth to seek the warm rays of sunshine. As a result of this cultivation, the form becomes curved and hunchback-esque.

The freshest cardi cobbi can be identified by their whiteness. All the stalks will also be close together.

This recipe is from Slow Food’s Vegetable Cookbook and is a really easy vegetable recipe, perfect as a unique side dish.

Bring to the boil a large pot of salted water. Peel off the toughest of the outer leaves of the cardi gobbi, but keep them aside to use in soup recipes if you’d like. Just as with celery, you can also ‘skin’ the stems of the fibery strands. Cut into 5 centimetre pieces and add into the boiling salted water to cook for around an hour or so.

Whist cooking the cardi gobbi, you can make the bagna càuda sauce. You’ll need a two heads of garlic, peeled. Simmer these in milk until soft (around 20 minutes) then mash with a fork. Take 3 salted anchovies and mix into the garlic. Pour in two cups of extra virgin olive oil and add the mix back into the pan to cook for around 10 minutes. Taste the mixture and if you want more salt, add it. :)

Then, once the cardi cobbi are nice and tender, strain and serve on a plate. Drizzle the bagna càuda sauce atop.

Share especially with anyone you are planning to kiss. And enjoy!

 

For great insight into the best places to eat in Italy, ask the locals! You can meet lots of foodie locals on our small-group Italian Food Tour in Florence!

To learn to make delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

 

Artviva: tours of FlorenceTuscanyRomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

 

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The best bookshops in Italy – come in, cool off, warm up, read on….

Where to buy books in Italy.

Where to buy books in Italy.

When travelling in Italy, a great thing to buy is a nice book.

In the day of electronic devices allowing you to read, take photos, check your email and what not, there is still nothing like a good ol’ fashioned page-turner…with actual pages.

And you never have to worry about the batteries running out.

Reading a book certainly helps pass the time on public transport (the best way to travel around Italy). Seeing what someone else is reading provides a great conversation starter– and offers a great excuse to end unwanted approaches.

Besides the ever-helpful travel guides such as Rick Steves or Lonely Planet, travel stories and even locals’ biographies provide excellent insight into the places you are visiting.

Art books from your favourite museum make great coffee table books that provide excellent conversation starters (“Oh, that – I picked it up at the Vatican”).

For avid foodies, we suggest cookbooks-cum-souvenirs from travels around Italy. Traditional Italian cuisine changes not only region by region but also even within each town or village area at times, with recipes based on the fresh local produce combined with traditional ways to cook Italian recipes.

Books make great gift ideas to bring back to family and friends. A copy of their favourite-ever book published in Italian or even a book bought at a famous book fair or second-hand book stands at one of the great markets around Italy makes for a unique thing to buy in Italy.

But what are our favourite bookstores in Italy?

We asked around our guides in FlorenceRome, and Venice to create this list of the best places to buy books in Italy.

In Florence, we love the Paperback Exchange for a great collection of English books. This charming bookstore, right in the heart of Florence on street away from the Florence Cathedral (Il Duomo) not only has an extensive range of new and used books (they also –as you may have guessed from their name- exchange books), but it is also a lovely place to just browse around as you cool down in the summer or warm up in the winter.

paperback-exchange-florencePaperback exchange bookstore florence

If you’re hungry not only for food for thought, but also food for feeding, then try Brac. The entry on Via dei Vagellai, 18 is hard to spot but once you find it, you’ll love it! They have a great menu of café-style food. It’s all vegetarian, but so delicious even the most devout of meat-eaters may not notice.

libreria brac firenze tableslibreria brac firenze

In Venice we are head-over-heels for Libreria Acqua Alta as much for it’s great selection of books as for it’s unusual décor. The books are kept in old gondolas and a bathtub – plus occasionally even on the shelves – in what may be one of the world’s only flood-proof bookstores. The cats who live here are very happy about that. Libreria Acqua Alta can be found at Sestiere Castello, 5176/B, 30122.

Libreria Acqua Alta VeneziaLibreria Acqua Alta Venezia fire exit

Looking for books in Rome? Then try Libreria Fahrenheit 451 in Campo de’ Fiori. It’s a stunning little bookstore decorated with local artists’ artworks. This may be one of the trendiest bookstores around, offering not only books but also a great place to mingle with the cool kids of Rome.

libreria Fahrenheit 451 Roma

Around Italy there are also book carts including across the road from the main train station of Rome (Roma Termini) as well as just off Via del Corso (also a great shopping street in Rome!) and in Piazza Strozzi in Florence you’ll find a great selection of used books on wooden carts for some book browsing al fresco.

libri_bancarella photo from www.passionelibri.it

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