Tag Archives: mozzarella

Travel: Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast

In mid April, I traveled with my daughter, Gretchen to Castello di Spannocchia (www.spannochia.com ) – an educational center based on an organic farm in Tuscany, 1,100 acres of forests, pastures, and crops of which 900 acres are harvested for forest products; 130 acres are cultivated for grains, legumes, and animal pasture; and 15 acres are dedicated to grapes, olives, and fruit. In addition to maintaining 800 olive trees and a large vegetable garden, Spannocchia raises local heritage breeds of farm animals and produces regionally-recognized salumi (salt cured pork) products. We were there with 20 others to attend a two-week oil painting workshop led by Stan Mohler (www.stanmoeller.com), our favorite local Seacoast artist. Most of the participants stayed in the Villa, but because Gretchen’s partner Daniel and her five-year old daughter Avery were accompanying us, we opted to rent one of the rustic farmhouses on the property.

We prefaced our workshop by spending three days in Rome to explore Italian history, culture and cuisine. Rome was very crowded and although it was early in the season, there were a lot of tourists and groups of school children everywhere. Notable sights we saw were the Roman Forum, where Caesar and other Roman diplomats conducted business and lived, the Pantheon, actually a place of worship but also an architectural marvel with its unsupported domed ceiling, the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican and the Coliseum, where the gladiators fought with each other and with animals (apparently it had sawdust on the floor to absorb the blood from these battles).

When we left Rome, we rented a car and drove to Spannochia where we spent the next two weeks receiving instructions in painting techniques from Stan before spending the day outside in front of our easels attempting to capture the magic of an Italian landscape with a brush and a palette of colors. I was by far the least experienced artist there, but it was inspiring none the less. Daniel watched Avery during the day while Gretchen and I painted. They visited the donkeys, pigs, and chickens, shopped for groceries, took walks and naps. We returned to the farmhouse each day to a fabulous meal that Daniel had cooked!

At the conclusion of our workshop, Gretchen, Daniel and Avery headed to Florence and then to the Italian Rivera to explore. I flew down to Naples to meet Craig just as his flight was arriving from Boston. He had been unable to join me on the Amalfi Coast when I did my culinary arts internship in 2007. I was eager to show him the area, where I had lived and worked and to do some hiking, in particular the Sientiera degli Dei, or Path of the Gods, along the cliffs above Positano.

During our two-week stay in Positano (dubbed citta verticale because the city is virtually built on the side of a mountain) we hiked, took a cooking class and visited a buffalo farm where mozzarella is made. Bufala mozzarella is the best in the world and the buffaloes were treated like royalty! They had “showers” each morning, like the veggies in the supermarket are sprayed with water, got massages, listened to classical music, slept on rubber mats and got itchy backs scratched with large brushes like you’d see in a car wash.

Craig and I really enjoyed the cooking class, which was taught by the chefs at our hotel restaurant, Buca di Bacco (www.bucadibaco.it ). We made eggplant parmesan, gnocchi (potato dumplings) with fresh pesto, homemade tomato sauce, pizza, and an almond cake. Then we got to eat lunch and they provided wine and champagne.

One of our hikes was up hundreds of steps to the top of Positano and another was through a valley where there were remains of paper mills.

The city of Amalfi used to be world famous for its rag paper and it was the primary industry in the area. When all the paper mills closed, the area shifted to raising lemons. The Sfusato di Amalfi lemon is h-u-g-e – like a grapefruit and is more fragrant than the lemons we have in the US. Most of it is used to make a liqueur Limoncello, which is served ice cold.

The last hike that we did was 7.8 miles along the ridge of the Lattari Mountains overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. The hike took us 6 hours and ended with 1700 steps down to the beach and back to our hotel.

It was an amazing trip!

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The Cheeses of Campania

Basil and Tomatoes

The region of Campania in southern Italy is known for its cheeses and yogurt made from the milk of the water buffalo.  Water buffalos were originally brought to Italy by the Goths during the middle ages. The water buffalo milk is not used for drinking and is reserved only for cheese-making. Mozzarella di bufala and ricotta di bufala are mild, creamy cheeses that are not allowed to ripen but rather are used when they are freshly made.

The milk is brought in, curdled, and then drained to eliminate the whey. After this the curd is cut into small pieces, and then ground up in a sort of primitive mill. At this point, reduced to crumbles, the curd is put into a mold and immersed in hot water, where it is stirred until it takes on a rubbery texture. The cheese maker kneads it with his hands, like a baker making bread, until he obtains a smooth, shiny paste, a strand of which he pulls out and lops off, forming the individual mozzarella (mozzare in Italian in fact means to lop off). These in turn are put into cold water and then soaked in salt brine. As the cheese absorbs salt, it firms up. The end result is a shiny white orb with elastic consistency— so that if poked it springs back to its original shape. Mozzarella, prepared in the evening is ready the next morning, oozing with freshness and rich flavor. When the mozzarella is sliced, it should have a grainy surface and appear to be composed of many layers, like an onion. If the cheese is fresh, milky whey should seep out when you cut into mozzarella.

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The authenticity of Mozzarella di bufala is identified by the wrapping printed with the name “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana” and the brand of the Mozzarella di Bufala Association with the relevant legal information and authorization number. The Mozzarella di Bufala Association was founded in 1993 and now represents 95 producers. The Association monitors the production and marketing of the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana in compliance with the production rules for the DOC (Certified Origin Brand) as set forth by the European Union agriculture policy.

Green Bean, Mozzarella and Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. green beans

2 c. small fresh mozzarella balls

1 c. Grape tomatoes

1 can tuna, drained or ½ lb. small salad shrimp, steamed and peeled

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

2 T. fresh basil leaves, sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Steam green beans until tender. Remove from heat and plunge into an ice water bath to stop cooking and retain bright green color. Cut into 2 inch lengths. Combine in a large bowl with mozzarella, tomatoes, and chunks of tuna or steamed shrimp. Add basil and dress with extra virgin olive oil. Chill until ready to serve.

Borsa di Melanzana (Eggplant Bundles)

Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise

½ c. extra virgin olive oil

1 ½ c. ricotta cheese

4 T. fresh parsley, minced

4 oz. proscuitto or thinly-sliced ham

4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese

2 c. tomato Sauce

1 c. fresh parmesan cheese, shredded

Directions:

Fry thin slices of eggplant in olive oil until tender.  Drain.  Crisscross slices on counter top.  Blend ricotta and minced parsley in a small bowl.  Place a bead of cheese along each slice of eggplant.  In the center, where the two pieces of eggplant cross, place a slice of prosciutto and a chunk of mozzarella.  Fold over the eggplant “flaps” to form a small bundle.  Place seam side down side by side in a baking dish.  Top with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Serves 6.

 

Insalata Caprese

This traditional Italian salad is even better with marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red tomatoes and avocado slices!

Ingredients:

4 vine ripened tomatoes, sliced

1 pound fresh mozzarella , sliced

2 avocadoes, peeled, pitted and sliced  into wedges

2 jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained

1 jar roasted red peppers, drained

4 c. baby arugula

½ c. fresh basil leaves

¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Add one cup of baby arugula to each of four individual plates. Arrange alternating slices of tomato topped with slices of mozzarella on each plate.  Add slices of avocado, marinated artichoke hearts and strips of roasted red pepper. Stack and roll basil leaves into a cylindrical shape (like a cigar) and slice into thin strips.  Sprinkle on each salad. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Makes 4 servings.

 

Tropical Caprese

Ingredients:

1 Ripe mango, peeled and sliced lengthwise

1 ripe papaya, peeled, seeded and sliced

1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced

Fresh mozzarella

2 c. Baby spinach

Lime

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 T. fresh cilantro, minced

Directions:

Place about 1/2 cup of baby spinach leaves on a plate.  Add a slice of mango and top it with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a slice of avocado. Arrange wedges of papaya around the edges of the plate.  Squeeze fresh lime juice over the salad and then drizzle with olive oil.  Garnish with fresh cilantro.  Serves 4.