Nov 29, 2016

Stracciata cheese from Molise

Move over burrata, hello stracciata.

Stracciata is a fresh cheese that owes its name to the Italian verb, "stracciare", for 'to tear'. The name reflects the action of tearing the stretched curd into characteristic elongated and rubbery strands. 

Snow-white and rind-less, stracciata cheese is delicate with an intense milky flavor. It is customarily eaten freshly-made, preferably with prosciutto stuffed between two warm slices of bread. This was the typical Molise antipasto served at weddings.

This traditional dairy product is made only in Molise in the towns of Agnone, Capracotta, Carovilli and Vastogirardi, in the province of Isernia.

I learned of the existence of stracciata during filming of ABCheese. My crew and I traveled to Molise and visited the actual birthplace of this original and rare cheese: the Di Nucci creamery.

After WWII, the Di Nucci family relocated from the town of Capracotta – where they owned a cow farm – to the larger town of Agnone where there were better working opportunities to continue the family tradition of cheese-making. 

Stracciata was born to celebrate this important relocation.

No two strands are alike. Every stracciata, hand-made in the family creamery using the same time-honored technique, is obtained by pouring boiling water over the natural-yeast, raw cow milk curds and pulled from a wooden basin. Every strand is therefore different. 

Generations of Di Nuccis have been making stracciata in the same way since that 1955 journey from Capracotta to Agnone.

Caseificio Di Nucci
Agnone, Isernia – Italy

Opening image & portrait ©Di Nucci, all other ©E.Baldwin

Nov 16, 2016

Ethnic meals in Rome, a Renaissance

What a year this has been. I cannot say 2016 was a good one. Personal and world-changing events have given me sleepless nights.

Only two good things happened in 2016: the Cubs won the World Series, a victory which my Chicagoan dad has been waiting for for the last 85 years; and the international Rome dining scene finally started opening its doors to quality.

The majority of the restaurants in Rome serve local cuisine. Many are below average, some are OK, a few are stellar. For a bit. Then, after the nth plate of cacio e pepe my palate starts begging for variety. That's when I shrug in the face of guanciale, and turn all my attention to papadums.

But while in Milan the situation is improving, Rome residents (mostly US expats) sadly grieve the near absence of quality ethnic cuisine. Accustomed to 24-hour available world meals in hometowns New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, stranieri in Rome had it pretty bad. Always the optimists, they wandered the city in search of a decent surrogate. 

Recently, there's been a growth spurt in quality international cuisine. Finally something to celebrate! When I want to digress from amatriciana, here are some of the places I head for.

Nov 9, 2016

Internet craze apple roses

These super easy "apple roses" are all over the internet lately.

Apple roses –

Everyone's making them, my son and I even crafted some at the latest cooking school session we attended together.

Apple roses –

This got me thinking that I absolutely have to get my baking act together. This recipe is a great way for begginners to approach baking.

The thought that organically followed was, "This classic flaky dough wrapped around apple slices "glued" together with apricot jam can be transformed into fun variations."

In addition to the ubiquitous apple rose recipe, I'm adding a few savory suggestions to up your aperitivo game or your children's merenda snacks.

Internet craze apple roses

Preheat oven to 200° C (390° F)
Cut 2 apples in half and core. Do not peel. As a matter of fact, choose Gala or Red Delicious varieties whose red skin creates a beautiful color contrast with the cream colored pulp.
Slice the apple halves thinly and drop in acidulated water.
Prepare a basic syrup (2 parts sugar and 1 part water) and soften the apple slices in it for 2 minutes.
Dust with 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, toss to coat evenly and allow to cool.
Using a pastry cutter, cut a rectangular sheet of puff pastry into 2-inch strips.
Brush the strips with warmed apricot jam and lay the apple slices on the top half of the strip, slightly overlapping them.
Fold up the bottom half of the strip and starting from one end, roll the strip on itself.
Place each rolled "rose" in buttered ramekins or paper lined muffin molds.
Sprinkle a little brown sugar on the surface of each rose.
Bake in hot oven for approximately 20 minutes.
Dust with confectioner's sugar before serving.

Sweet & savory spin-offs using the puff pastry as a base

  • Use pears instead of apples, and spread white or dark chocolate instead of jam, sprinkle chocolate chips as garnish
  • Use celery slices, spread peanut butter, garnish with coarsely ground peanuts or slivered almonds
  • Strawberries and ricotta
  • Pancetta and smoked cheese
  • Pears and gorgonzola
  • Peaches and nutella
  • Grilled zucchini and goat cheese
  • Salami and stracchino cheese
  • Roast pumpkin and brie
  • Lox and cream cheese garnished with arugula
  • Roast potato and caramelized leek...
I can keep going if you like.

Image © Giorgia Di Sabatino – Elliot Baldwin – 

Nov 5, 2016

48 hours in Sorrento

In the 1800s Sorrento became one of the preferred stops on the Grand Tour. Yet Sorrento has been attracting visitors since ancient times when the Greeks and later the Romans built their plateau settlement on the breathtaking coast just south of Naples. 

Thanks to its romantic views and dramatic cliffs, Sorrento became a magnet for poets, playwrights, composers, painters, writers, historians as well as photographers and filmmakers. Each celebrated the coastal town as the subject of their art, or chose it simply as their vacation place. 

May, June, September and October are the perfect time to visit the Sorrento peninsula. July and August are quite hot, with cliffs exposed to scorching sun for most of the day. This provides for sensational sunsets, but also temperatures that hardly drop in the evening. In summer the heat also contributes to often making the sky a little hazy. None of this happens in early spring and late fall, though. In Autumn the air is crisp and the sky is crystal clear.

Continue Reading ➔ for insider advice on how to make the best of a long, off-season weekend in Sorrento.