Feature

/Feature

July 2017

The Italian Lifestyle—what makes it so special?

By | 2017-07-19T22:02:35+00:00 July 20th, 2017|Feature, General|

Duomo Firenze- A Toast to Travel.

Many of us have had the fortune of travelling and even living in various parts of the world and yet, for those of us who have visited or lived in Italy, it will always hold a special place in our hearts.  What is it about Italy that has us obsessing over living like a local?

I lived in Italy for many years as a student, intern, professional and an adventurer.  Most weekends, I would travel to various cities and get to know the locals.  I travelled all over Italy while living there and one important lesson stood out:  Italians really know how to live.

It’s not just that the pace can be more relaxing or that you are surrounded by some of the most beautiful architecture in the world (although that really helps), it’s that Italians really enjoy every moment that many of us take for granted.  Take a simple cup coffee—there are so many ways to enjoy it.  Sit outside at a street café, enjoy it at the bar, catch up with friends or even your local barista—any way you drink it, it’s social time for you to enjoy not only your coffee but also your friends, the weather,  a moment to relax and people watch.  The same is true for a glass of wine or prosecco during an aperitivo.  It’s not just about the delicious wine or prosecco.  The aperitivo is time for socializing and catching up with friends; it’s about taking a moment and creating a transition between the work day and your dinner and evening.  It’s much more than just a drink—it’s a ritual.

Furthermore, Italy is all about quality not quantity.  If you people watch (and who doesn’t in Italy!), you will see everyone dressed nicely or at least trying to.  One of the things you will notice is the quality of everyone’s clothing and shoes.  Even if finances don’t permit two closets full of clothes, the Italian will always prefer quality or quantity.  Beautifully tailored jackets, a silk scarf, a nicely tailor skirt or pair of pants are essentials.  Also notice the leather goods—from the shoes to the belts, leather in Italy is beautiful!  Mostly, Italians will always have a nice pair of shoes, belt, watch or a purse.  Italians take pride in their look—not too overdone but definitely full of good taste.

In Italy, it’s the intangibles that really matter.  A strong cup of coffee spent catching up with friends, people watching, feeling good about yourself, feeling connected to others, spending time outdoors, enjoying a delicious aperitivo to transition from day to evening, ending your evening with dinner and wine with a group of friends or family, all are part of the Italian way of life and each, make us so obsessed with living like a local and La Dolce Vita!

June 2017

Visiting an Italian Food Market

By | 2017-06-22T12:01:47+00:00 June 21st, 2017|Feature, food, General, hidden gems, Italy Shopping|

Italian Market
Italian food market

Visiting an Italian Food Market

To really live like a local, you need to shop like a local.  Generally, Italians do not stockpile.  They are generally not visiting a Costco and buying large quantities of food in bulk to store for lengthy periods of time.  Fresh is the name of the game and there’s no better place to find fresh food than at a local Italian food market or “mercato.”

The markets are full of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts, cheeses, salumi, bread and more!  It’s an embarrassment of riches and a way of life at the same time.  The prices are reasonable, goods are seasonal and it’s the perfect time and place to sample the local cuisine.  As you walk through the beautiful market and take in all the scents, sights and people, notice how relaxing the experience can be.  It’s what living like a local is all about.  For an authentic Tuscan experience, visiting a local market is essential.  You can soak up the culture and rub shoulders with the locals.  Watch the many different colorful personalities selling their goods—the local farmers, cheese-makers and artisans come to sell their goods every day.  While at the local market, you usually can enjoy other culinary delights like fresh pasta, desserts and even, sample some wine .

I personally use the farmers market not only to buy fresh produce and cheeses but also to socialize with friends and acquaintances.  It can be an adventure, a time for socializing and practicing or keeping up your Italian language skills.  You can also get the latest on all your questions from the locals—ranging from recipes and the best produce to buy right now to politics and elections around Italy and more. Everyone has an opinion!  Italian food markets are weekly, bi-weekly or even daily.  It depends on where you are located.  Most Italians frequent the food markets regularly as a means of buying their fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, breads and even desserts.  Much of the shopping is done before lunch so that the food purchased at the market can be incorporated into the lunch menu and is supremely fresh.

For me, visiting a local Italian food market is much more than just buying fresh tomatoes, burrata and basil even though I usually make a caprese salad right after my visit!  It’s an essential part of Italian life, shopping with the locals, seeing old friends and making new ones, maybe stopping for a coffee after and generally catching up on life.  It’s a feeling of connectedness that is hard to find in a US grocery store with lists in our hands and little time for enjoying the moment.  I always leave the market with a fresh perspective and a smile on my face.  I look forward to experiencing a local food market each time I am in Italy.  It reminds me of what’s important in life.

We invite you to join us on our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Experience so you can experience Italian food markets, an essential part of local life!

May 2017

A Day in the Life—the courses of an Italian dinner

By | 2017-05-04T09:19:21+00:00 May 3rd, 2017|Feature, food, hidden gems, Wine|

For Italians, mealtime is a social and friendly affair.  Italians love to take their time, savoring each course and enjoying good company and great wine.  Meals can take several hours with plenty of time for socializing and if the weather is nice, soaking up the beautiful sun.  It can be intimidating to understand what all the courses are and the cadence of the meal in Italy.  To help put you at ease, we’ve put together some information on eating dinner like an Italian.

So what are all the typical courses of an Italian dinner?  Well, after you’ve had your aperitivo (more on that in an upcoming blog) where you’ve enjoyed a pre-dinner drink with a few snacks at a bar or café and shared the latest news with your friends over a glass of wine or two (or spirits or prosecco), now it’s time for dinner.

Assuming you are dining in a ristorante (we will also write more on the differences between the various types of places to eat in Italy), generally the courses are as follows:  antipasto, primo, secondo (with contorno) and dolce.  Of course, not everyone orders or eats all the courses and that’s the beauty of it all—the point is to have a great time and enjoy life.  La Dolce Vita!

Now, let’s start with the antipasto (no pun intended).  This is the starter course and it can consist of charcuterie, cheese and bread or it can simply be a beautiful bruschetta made with fresh tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil.  The next course, il primo, is the first course.  Typical first courses or primi (plural for primo) are pasta, soup, gnocchi and risotto.  Portion sizes tend to be smaller than in the US so you should still have room for the main course, il secondo!  Generally this is your meat or seafood course.  Depending on the region where you are dining, you can choose from various seafood or meat options.  In Tuscany, the bistecca alla fiorentina is your best option if you love steak.  It’s tender, juicy and grilled to perfection after having been drizzled with olive oil and herbs.  Magnifico!  Also, Italians normally order a contorno or a side with the secondo and the contorno is usually vegetables (raw or cooked).  I tend to order a salad—arugula salad to compliment the taste of the steak.  I add a little extra virgin olive oil, squeeze a fresh lemon and add a dash of salt to my arugula salad.

The last course is the dolce or dessert.  There are many delicious options to choose from including tiramisu, panna cotta, cake or gelato.  Keep in mind, wine is served during the meal and after dinner, most Italians have an espresso (no milk).  Some Italians will also have a digestivo to aid in digestion after dinner.  Generally, the digestive after the meal is a grappa, amaro or limoncello (depending on the region of Italy).

I hope you find this content helpful in living like a local.  Please feel free to send us any topic you are interested in learning more about and we’ll be happy to write about it.  In the meantime, Buon Appetito!

 

 

 

April 2017

San Giovanni Valdarno

By | 2017-04-11T07:26:26+00:00 April 11th, 2017|Feature, hidden gems, Wine|

It is undeniable that Italy is rich in culture and history and for many, at the top of their bucket list.  Many of its cities are quite well known—Rome, Milan and Florence for example.  All are recognizable by name or landmark.  At the same time, Italy is also blessed with many lesser known cities and towns with their own charm and that also served considerable strategic and historic importance.

San Giovanni Valdarno is one of those towns.  It may be lesser known but its strategic and historic importance cannot be underestimated.  Founded in the XIII century by Florence as a way to consolidate its presence in the Higher Valdarno, that higher ground served as a lookout for and from any impending danger across Arezzo, Florence and Siena, Tuscany.  Located in the valley of the Arno River (“Val d’ Arno” or valley of the Arno = “Valdarno”), the area is divided into the Upper Valdarno (between Arezzo and Siena) and Lower Valdarno (between Florence and Pisa).

Towards the end of the XIV century, San Giovanni Valdarno’s strategic position and in Upper Valdarno enabled a military victory during an invasion by an army led by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the first duke of Milan.  Despite this victory, the town continued to be in the middle of many battles, including the battle between Florence and Naples.  Unfortunately, that battle ravaged the territory.  When Florence finally emerged victorious over Naples, a short period of peace began and restoration projects and architectural progress were made.  Despite this progress, a spreading plague epidemic greatly reduced the population and devastated the inhabitants.

When Lorraine’s Dukes “Lorena family” came to power, the fate of San Giovanni Valdarno changed for the better.  The Lorena family was one of the most notable and famous of rulers who cared for the people and the region.  They were great patrons and brilliant politicians who greatly enhanced the people’s quality of life.  They started significant territorial projects and infrastructure improvements which resulted in economic prosperity and the cultivation of wheat and vegetables.  The resilience of the people of the land helped to shape their future.

Today, San Giovanni Valdarno is home to Villa Barberino (Greek for “broken ground”) where we host our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Experience.  With its strategic position and the role it played in the feuds between Florence and Arezzo, it’s a medieval castle not to be missed!

Boasting of several private rooms (and apartments) located in various historic buildings inside the walls of the hamlet, you can also visit the villa’s museum to learn about all the tools the farmers of yesteryear relied upon to live and make a living.  During our wine tasting experience, we challenge you to find the escape hatch thousands of years old used by the residents of the villa to escape danger in the event of an invasion.  Maybe with enough wine—it will be easier to find!  Running through the hatch, you find yourself in the woods free to run as far (and as fast) as you can.  You might also walk the lush green Italian gardens, visit the vineyards, take in the scent of the surrounding cypress trees or just lie by the pool and sip your Tuscan wine.

San Giovanni Valdarno is a hidden gem and a beautiful canvas for any Tuscan countryside experience.  We welcome you to join us at Villa Barberino to learn how to live, cook, lounge and explore like a local