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HOW TO ATTAIN LA DOLCE VITA

Crosta
Crosta

As everyone knows by now July 29th is National Lasagne Day which is also often called National Lasagna Day.

Which is the day every year on which we all take time to remember that the name of the popular dish very probably comes from the Greek for a chamber pot.   And the now mass-produced, easily micro-waveable foodstuff should traditionally be kneaded and flattened out by foot before being air dried for fifty days. And roasted rather than boiled, air dried pasta being quicker to cook.

ForteMasso-Barolo-Castelletto-Riserva-2013-full
ForteMasso-Barolo-Castelletto-Riserva-2013-full

And that lasagna should be spelled and pronounced with an ‘a’ and pronounced lasagna if you are referring to more than one sheet to a north Italian or an English speaker while discussing the famous baked pasta dish.

Although, when directing your remarks about the famous baked cheese-topped pasta dish, to someone in or from the south of Italy or in or from the United States or a country which employs American English rather than British English,  you should spell it and enunciate it clearly and unambiguously as lasagna.

lentil-lasagne
lentil-lasagne

These over-heated discussions usually centre upon reminding people that lasagane/a has its roots in the ancient Viking “lankake” dish of sliced bread laced with a meat sauce and which, to be an  authentic south Italian lasagne di carnevale, must be “assembled” rather than made from a minimum of six sheets of durum wheat pasta, incorporating local sausages, small fried meat balls hardboiled eggs and a Neapolitan “ragu” or meat sauce.

On no account, must this ever be mistaken for the north Emilia-Romagna region’s renowned “al forno” with its distinctive bechamel sauce.  Which is sometimes if not at all times green, being made from spinach and other chopped herbs and vegetables like basil, oregano and celery. Although , according to Crysippus of Tyana,  crushed lettuce juice was the original colouring agent.

MENABREA
MENABREA

The Italian are very sensitive and patriotic about both their lasagne and lasagna.

My wife and I fancy ourselves as lasagne scholars.  When we were married we left the church under an arch of tinned tomato cans.

Some pasta acdemics believe modern lasagna dates to no earlier than Nicolas Apparet’s experiments with cans and tinned vegetables in 1804 while others believe 1858 is more likely, being he date when Ezra Warner from Connecticut  first patented a can opener. No one knows for certain when the first tin of tinned tomatoes as sold and opened and used to make lasagna.  But log before Marino Landioro founded “Napolina”. So the recent history of lasagna/e remains shrouded in mystery.

Pasta
Pasta

Some paste (the English translation of pasta) historians believe Marco Polo should receive more credit . While others feel Trabia in Sicily is often overlooked as the port where pasta (in the form of Arabic “irr ) first arrived in Europe. The Americans cite Thomas Jefferson as crucial in the expansion of pasta.

Venice claims the first pasta factory, opened by Paolo Adam in 1740. Parma says it saw the first automatic pasta press. Hungary says Pest did.

If you don’t fancy making sheets, the brands to lookout for are Pro-Fusion Lentil Lasagne, Essential Waitrose, La Veneziane and premium sheets like Barilla Collezione and Garofalo.

Properoni
Properoni

One thing is indisputable. You have to have north Italian Parmigiano Reggiano (PDO) parmesan cheese made in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and parts of Mantua and Bologna where they know what to do with milk, salt and rennet.

Our mutual love of Italian food, especially pizza, intensified during lockdown. We experimented maniacally with pizza toppings,  showering our stone-baked pre-made bases with everything from chicken tikka chunks, sweet potatoes, arugula, pulled pork to bacon bits and peaches. Disillusioned with ricotta, feta, pecorino and mozzarella, we have become creative with cheese like fontina, provolone and Greek graviera.

We also discovered Properoni.

Ridolfi
Ridolfi

London-based pepperoni brand Properoni was created Estom, suppliers of pepperoni to the UK’s leading pizza restaurants since 1968. For self-builds they recommend Pizza Express and Crosta & Mollica ready-made Romana bases.

There is no comfort food like pizza. Even when life is bad, pizza is good.

 

There is nothing else you want sitting in your lap. In crust, we trust

Ridolfi-Rosso-di-Montalcino-DOC-
Ridolfi-Rosso-di-Montalcino-DOC-

Crosta & Mollica (“Crust & Crumb)  “with tipples nibbles” aren’t bad either with antipasti..  They make Parmesan and poppy seed Torinsei  (from Turin!), Venetian black pepper  Bollui,  Tuscan Ovali made with Leccino olives and Puglian fennel seed Tarallini.

As well as  olive wood nutcrackers,  authentic parmesan knives and salami cutting boards,, Seggiano is an excellent one shop for artisanal products like extra virgin oil fruttato, arborio  risotto and black nerone rice, passata, jarred roasted artichokes and tomatoes, their fabulous black kale cavola nero and Genovese  basil pestos, Modena balsamic, Brescian chesnut and limoncello panettone, Siena province chocolate pantorte, Calabrian liquorice pebbles, Sicilian mandarin conserve and baked fig rolls.

Which all must be accompanied by a stiff  Campari, or Amaretto. Or a 240 case of some excellent Italian beer/ premium lager. Like Menabrea Birra Blond ( Est. 1846)

Seggiano-Pesto-Lifestyle
Seggiano-Pesto-Lifestyle

 

August 1st is Spritz Day by the way. For which you need – for a true Venetian spritz- some Prosecco, soda water. A large green olive (with stone) and Select which was founded by the Pilla brothers ( no relation ) in 1920.

 

If you are bored – which you shouldn’t be ( ever= by Pomora Chianti Classico, Amaro and Donna Elvira., The place to find  the best off-the-radar Italian wines  is directly from Italy. Or from Scotland.

Select1-1
Select1-1
Elvira Dmitrieva runs Edinburgh’s Independent Wine Ltd and recommends Ridolfi Fiero 2017, a Super Tuscan blend of Merlot and Sangiovese), Ridolfi’s floral Rosso di Montalcino DOC , produced in the same vineyard as the famous Brunello di Montalcino. Ridolfi was named “The Up And Coming Winery of 2021! by Gambero Rosso, publishers of Vini d’Italia. Gianni Maccar is the winemaker.

 

With a group of the other volunteers Elvira started a grass root charity, Sunflower Scotland, which has already sent over 100 tonnes of aid directly from Edinburgh to cities in Ukraine. “

 

My mum and her parents, three aunts , a cousin and  two nieces are Ukrainian, and I spent all my childhood there. So I still have strong connections and very much worry about what is happening there.” 

 

Other super wines include Francone ‘Patriarchi’,

Barbera d’Alba Superiore DOC, Scagliola Sansi, Volo Di Farfalle ( Flight of the Butterfly) 2019, Moscato d’Asti and Forte Masso Barolo 2015. (DOCG.)

 

More of us are DTC fans now and ordering our wines

On-line and direct from the maker.  One of the best Italian DTC ( Direct to Customer) services is “Italian Wines To Your Door” run by  Andrea Mondrea whose recommendations are worth taking on-board..

 

Castellina in Chianti,in Central Tuscany, is one of three historic communi (communes or municipalities) which form the original core of the world-renowned Chianti Classico DOCG wine region.

Buondonno winery, north of Castellina, was among the first registered “biologico” vineyards in Tuscany.  Gabriele Buondonno’s red wines are deep and intense with aromas of berries, cinnamon, leather, and

tobacco.

Susanna Soderi’s Setriolo is one of the smallest

Chianti Classico smallest farms making preposterously delicious, organically grown Sangiovese and Merlot.

 

Villa de Varda Amaretto liqueur is made from almond skins gathered in the mountain forests of Trentino. The beautiful forests of Val di Non produce a beautiful way to start or finish any Italian meal. And are indispensable to attaining La Dolce Vita. Villa de Varda in the Italian Dolomite Alps also makes dark chocolate pralines with grappa cream!

 

Although she doesn’t make lasagne yet one of the best “maestri pastai” lives in Malton, Yorkshire. Farmer’s daughter and former Project Manager for KITKAT New Product Development, Kathryn Bumby founded the “Yorkshire Pasta Company”.

She hand-makes five different types of durum wheat-free short pasta – “Fusilli “ (spindle shapes, described by Kathryn as “the helter skelter of the pasta world”, “ Conchigile” (shells), Penne Rigita” ( ridged quills), “Tortiglioni” ( from the  Latin , tortquere , to turn ) and  the rare Roman Mezza Maniche”. All are priced at £3.50 for 500g.

What Italy can do, so can Yorkshire. So , when in Rome, do what the Malton folks do.