How to Make Bruschetta….Mediterranean Style

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Have you ever wanted to stand behind a traditional Italian chef, pick his/her brain and watch and learn ? Well fortunately for me, Antonio’s dad loves to cook. Last night he was preparing my favorite dish, bruschetta, and I was able to document his every move.

His bruschetta changes based upon the season and what vegetables he has available in the kitchen.

  1. Gather vegetables available. Last night we had tomatoes, purple onion, red pepper and zucchini.
  2. Cut the vegetables and then place in a saute pan.
  3. Add  olive oil, fresh basil, dried oregano and salt
  4. Saute vegetables
  5. Find whatever cheese is available in the fridge: Pecorino grate onto the vegetables
  6. Gather sliced bread in my case Gluten free
  7. Spread the mixture onto each slice of bread
  8. Bake in the oven 10 minutes
  9.  Serve 

Ahhhh………la dolce vita!

Valpolicella and Bardolino

Valpolicella and Bardolino

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I’d heard of Amarone and knew it was “one of the top” Italian wines. Day trips outside of Milan have become a passion of mine (GET ME OUT OF THE CITY!) So heading to the land of Amarone seemed like the perfect plan.

What I soon discovered was that this region is calming and peaceful with water, yet curiously traditional with windy grape lined roads leading into vineyards, wineries and agriturismos.

More excitingly, I discovered my new FAVORITE wine in the world…… Ripasso Valpolicella.

I have never been a wine snob, however after living in Italy for a few years… it’s inevitable it happens and after sipping the ripasso… I knew it was a wine worth remembering.

Valpolicella is located in the Veneto region of Italy. I’ve gone a few times as day trips about a 2.5 hour drive from Milan. It’s situated between Lake Garda and Verona. Bardolino borders Lake Garda and then you are in the Valpolicella area. If I were with family or friends from out of town, I would definitely do a Valpolicella, Bardolino, Verona weekend. One thing that I have found quite different from American wineries/vineyards for example Napa Valley is that you should always schedule reservations a head of time. There are maps and resources that can give you MANY wineries to choose from. Many of them are open… but you just never know it’s best to reserve.

The first time driving to Valpolicella was very spontaneous and I did not have a reservation. Antonio and I drove in the region during the worst time of the day in Italy, 3:00. Everything is generally closed during these hours open before or after. We drove all through the countryside getting lost more than once.

We discovered a wonderful winery that happened to be open.  http://www.boscainicarlo.it/ The family happens to live there as well. This is a family owned generational business starting with the grandfather. The building looks new recently and the vineyard views are exactly what you would expect from a movie rolling hills, classic old Italian buildings, beautiful colors. One of the brothers helped us and he was very polite (spoke English for me). He would switch back and forth Italian and English and taught us about the different levels of wine (like a wine pyramid/family Amarone being at the top).

Valpolicella Classico: This would be like a table wine. This has the largest quantity produced and has a lighter flavor. It is DOC. This can be paired with pizza and pastas. This is served in Verona as a table wine.

Valpolicella Superiore: A little stronger than the classico with a darker color and taste. It has a minimum of 12% alcohol and is DOC. It must spend one year in the wood. This can be paired with meats, pastas and cheeses.

Valpolicella Ripasso: This is a combination of the Classic Valpolicella mixed with the Amarone. The Amarone is made from dried grapes. After 4-5 months of drying, the grapes are squeezed and fermented and left to be made into Amorone. The leftover skins from the amarone (pomace) are mixed with the classic Valpolicella. This creates a stronger flavor with a higher alcohol content. Recently the Ripasso has been called a baby amarone because it’s similar taste, yet it is less expensive than an amarone. I’ve heard it can be similar to a Beaujolais (a french wine). This can be paired with steaks, heavy pastas and cheese. I love it!!!!

Amarone: DOCG The highest level of Italian wine and most expensive. The best grapes that are picked are dried for 5-6 months. They are laid out in a single row on racks and have to have special attention during this time to make sure the grapes do not mold etc. The grapes lose water and the sugar concentrates. They are fermented to give a sweet tastes. The wine must be aged for two years however many wineries age for at least 5 years before the release. The alcohol content is usually 14-16%. This can be paired.

Recioto della Valpolicella:  A dessert wine made from dried grapes.

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Bardolino:

As I mentioned earlier, Antonio and I had arrived in Valpolicella the first time going at the wrong time. Because of this, we spent a couple of hours exploring nearby roads, areas, etc. We discovered a magical little town called Bardolino.

Bardolino is on the southwest edge of Lake Garda. It is surrounded by vineyards. Bardolino is actually another popular DOC wine produced. Bardolino is a very clean city with a very nice walking boardwalk along the lake. It has a beautiful harbor with ducks and swans and the sunsets are amazing.

There are many little streets with cute boutiques and restaurants.

We have been to Bardolino a few times and have always been pleasantly surprised. We stumbled upon the Bardolino wine festival once.

Bardolino Wine Festival

There are many wine festivals that take place throughout Italy. Bardolino’s wine festival is definitely one of my favorite. We arrived and bought a few tickets. This gave us the yellow cup holder with a Bardolino wine glass. You then could do a variety of wine tastings. They were also serving some Valpolicellas and other local wines. During the day there were many wine and food booths set up. At night, there was a band and the city really came to life.

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Bardolino during the holidays

I was pleasantly surprised with Bardolino during the holidays. There were beautiful wooden Christmas booths set up along the boardwalk. An ice skating rink was set up for kids. There was also a holiday train giving rides to children. The town was enchanting for the holidays.

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Nearby Verona

Verona is the land of Romeo and Juliet and requires and entire blog post. I just wanted to mention that it is only 20 km from Bardolino very close. On one of our day trips we wine tasted Valpolicella and then headed to Verona for dinner and a walk in the city.

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Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh la bella vita!!

Matera

Matera

Want to find an unexpected hidden gem in Italy?  Visit Matera.  Want to wander aimlessly through cobblestone streets, never ending stairs, eat and sleep in caverns, pretend like you are in Jerusalem, delve into history, throw your iPhone in the air and take breathtaking photos? This is your place.

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Matera is a city in the region of Basilicata in Southern, Italy. This region is one of the least known for tourists. It is a city that dates back to the 3rd century, Palaeolithic era. It is one of the oldest dwelling cities around in history. The city  is known for it’s “sassi di Matera” stones of Matera.  The city is built along a ravine river named “La Gravina”. The houses are actual cave dwellings that were dug into.  The stairs, rooves, wall, etc. are made of the stones. Many houses are  piled on top of each other. The city has an eerie smlilarity to Jerusalem. Many movies have been filmed here used as the “Jerusalem” setting.  Mel Gibson’s famous movie, The Passion of the Christ, was filmed here.

Matera has been a World Heritage Site UNESCO, since 1993.  It is recognized for “Most Outstanding Intact example of an old settlement”. It was originated by the Romans in the 3rd century. During the 1950’s all of the Matera residents were forced out of the sassi into the new section because of rampant poverty and the spread of Malaria. During this time large families were living without electricity in small one room caves. Around the late 198o’s Matera began to be revitalized. Many restaurants, pubs, luxury cave hotels, and residences are beginning to thrive.  The Italian government along with the funding from assistance of the making of movies aided in the revitalization.

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Antonio and I were driving from Milan to Calabria, where his family resides, and we needed to find a place to stay for the night. After seeing a picture posted on Facebook of Matera, I knew it was a place I wanted to visit so I told Antonio, “Let’s stay here!”  It’s not easy for most people to get to, but since it was somewhat on our route and we had a car, it was easy for us.

We were confused when we first arrived. The new part looks like a typical Italian town. We then parked the car and walked into the main town square which also looked like a typical Italian square. To our surprise, the town square had been transformed into a music festival with many popular Italian musicians.  So much for feeling as though we were in the times of Jesus!

 

As we were heading to our dinner reservation (we found online), I glanced between an alley and over a balcony a glimpse of a lit up city. I shouted at Antonio who didn’t hear me and I ran over to the lights. Sure enough, it was the “sassi di Matera”. I was in utter awe.

 

Luckily for us, the restaurant had the exact same view for us to gaze at that evening.

 

San Biagio Ristorante  www.sanbiagioristorante.it  I highly recommend this restaurant as the location with the view is unbeatable, it’s situated in a restored cave, the service was very personable to us and of course the food was delicious.  We ordered a wine from the nearby region Puglia, a Primitivo which was strong with a full bodied spicy flavor. One glass is almost enough! Our appetizer (antipasto) was the selection/variety of appetizers.  We were shocked when the waiter brought out five different types of specialty appetizers.  We still had our main course!!! Afterwards we joined the rest of the Matera citizens and enjoyed the concert.

 

The next morning we immediately went to the tourist information booth.  We were able to gather a wealth of  helpful knowledge, maps, and must see places to walk and visit. Be prepared for a lot of walking and stairs and wear comfortable shoes.

 

For sure, I will be returning to this charming and mysterious one of a kind city. This trip was a stopping place for the night and day. As I was able to get a feel for the city, I recommend at least 48 hours!  Next time, I would like to go for one of the bike rides that has a variety of intenaries  to see all angles of Matera.  I’d also like to spend more time in the many cathedrals througout the city. The guided walking tours through the caves and paths are highly recommended.  And of course, I ‘d love to spend more time dining with a historic view “La bella vita“.

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Barolo

Barolo

Trust me. I’m not a wine snob… but after living in Italy for a few years, I definitely know the difference between a good wine and a bad one. I’ve also come to understand when choosing a wine the regions are important (you will find the Italian you are with, generally will tell you their region of wine is the best!). So maybe… I am on my way to wine snobbery.

Upon first arriving in Italy, I definitely noticed alot of B’s in the names of wines.  And of course, I knew that a Barolo must be good. Barolo is about an hour and a half drive from Milan (but this is Antonio driving…) in a northern region called Piedmont in the Langhe hills. It is about 40 km from Turin (Torino) and is surrounded by two mountain ranges: The Alps to the North and the Apennines to the South. I told Antonio, “I REALLY want to go to Barolo!”. So… we took a day trip.  And now I am hooked.  I could go back every weekend. And when my sister and brother-n-law visited, we took them.

What I discovered immediately when arriving to Barolo, was that I really do not know anything about this wine or it’s relatives. I have also learned that you need to understand the entire region and it is all quite complex. You also need to understand the history. I have sinced learned quite a bit and am continuously curious and wanting to learn more.

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A few helpful hints:

Immediately, you will find “Nebbiolo, Barolo and Barbaresco” tastings together.  For me this was 3 times as good because I have had Nebbiolo and Barbarescos numerous times in restaurants in Milan from waiters suggestions. What I didn’t understand was how they all go together.

Nebbiolo is the grape. It’s a dark bluish color with a greyish thin skin. It makes the wines Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, Barolo, Gattinara and Ghemme. “Nebbia” is the Italian word “fog” which settles in regularly during harvest time in late October.

Barolo is known as the king of Italian wines. Often times referred to as one of Italy’s best wines. It generally has a strong and powerful taste and scent of tar and roses. It has a bright color that lightens over time. The alcohol content is high. It can paired with heavy meats and pastas. Keywords: rich, deeply concentrated, tobacco, chocolate, dried, fruit, licorice, eucalyptus, plum, herbs. It has high tannins and needs to be aged for quite awhile.  This in itself can be discussed forever. Basically, a Barolo must be aged first two years in oak and then one in the bottle before it is sold as DOCG. In order to be sold as a reserve, it needs to be aged for 5 years three of those years in oak. This certifies a “Barolo”.

Once you buy the Barolo, there are many questions as to how long do you wait for it to age, open and drink. Originally, it has been said to wait 10-15 years before opening the bottle. For example, if you bought a bottle from the year 1995, then it wouldn’t be ready to drink until 2005. That’s alot of patience!!!! However, in the last years this has changed.

There are two types of Barolo vineyards/wineries.

Traditional: A traditional winery will tell you to wait 10-15 years. They will leave the wine in large old barrels for many years.

Modern: A modern winery will leave the wine in small french oak barrels. The fermentation period is different from the traditional.

So to answer the question when to open the bottle? Well it depends on the year, whether it’s traditional vs. modern, how long you plan on cantering it (opening it and letting it breathe), etc. It’s complicated!!

Barbaresco is known as the queen of Italian wines married to the king down the road (Barolo). It is lighter tasting, has less tannins and more feminine. A Barbaresco needs to be aged for two years and for it to be a reserve needs four years. Key words that come to mind: truffle, licorice, roses, tar, violet, earthy, strong dark fruit, hints of cherry, smoky with age. Although the wine is lighter than Barolo, it still needs to be paired with powerful foods: risottos, meats, cheese, pastas.

Nebbiolo. The nebbiolo is actually quite the secret. It does not have all the strict aging requiremnets and can be drank much younger. It has been compared to a Pinot Noir. The price is much less than a Barolo. It’s color is a brick orange color.

Keywords: roses, autumn, woods, smoke, violet, tar. Nebbiolo wines also need to be paired similarly with strong flavors meats, cheeses, truffles and pastas.

Heres a video that I found to be quite helpful abot the difference between Barolo and Barbaresco:

http://winefolly.com/review/difference-barolo-vs-barbaresco/

 

The first time Antonio and I drove out to Barolo we really were just taking a drive to see what the area was like. We decided to stop for lunch and really had no idea where to go. Antonio ran into a tabachi bar and asked a man for a suggestion of a place to eat. He referred us to a neighboring town Montforte d’ Alba. The drive is quite dreamy as it is quite hilly, with rolling fields of vineyards. Although a very famous region, it really does not have any hint of tourism very natural, quiet, and peaceful. Quite honestly, we NEVER would have found this or known about this restaurant as it is hidden up high in a borgo (an old cluster of buildings all connected with narrow alleys).  Ristorante Moda Palazzo Martinengowebsite

This restaurant overlooks the rolling hills and vineyards and has a large outdoor patio. The building has been completely restored with a modern yet historic feel. It’s beautiful. We brought my sister and brother-n-law back with us.

 

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We then took them to a winery, one of the oldest in Barolo. Here we were given a tour in English and were able to learn about the wine making process, both traditional and modern. We were able to  taste Barolo, Nebbiolo and Barbaresco. Here we were also able to ship to America.   www.marchesibarolo.com/en/

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It’s also fun to walk around the Barolo center.  There are many wine tasting shops available. We found a great one where you can sample a variety of Barolos in the back room. website

I definitely will be returning to Barolo many times and hope to learn and write more.  There is also an annual truffle and wine festival in Alba every October that I will definitely be returning to.   White Truffle and Barolo Wine Tasting    Ahhhhh “La bella vita”.

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