1. Maria Grammatico’s Bitter Almonds cookbook
We visited Erice in Sicilia this year after being told by many Sicilians that one of their best pastry chefs lived there and was named Maria Grammatico. Eastern Sicilia is the most famous for the pastries as it the Arabs, who introduced their art of pastry to Sicilia, had the most profound impact there. Later, the convents became the masters of pastry, jealously guarding their secrets as their specialities could not be found elsewhere. Many Sicilian families, particularly the poor ones, felt it advantageous to have a member of the family in the church and it also meant one less mouth to feed. Many children, including Maria Grammatico, were sent to the church to live and work at the age of 10-11 years old. Maria later left the convent, having learned the arts of pastry from the nuns, and set up her own shop in Erice. We bought many of her pastries there, including her famously ethereal Genovesi (shortbread biscuits filled with custard). Bitter Almonds: Recollections and recipes from a Sicilian girlhood by Mary Taylor Simeti & Maria Grammatico Available at www.amazon.com for USD 7.00.
2. A beautiful bay leaf tree
This gift is both functional (you can use the leaves in cooking) and aesthetically pleasing. Bay leaves are used as an aromatic for broth, soups, stews, fatty fish and spit-roasted, grilled, and roasted meats. Truly the gift that keeps on giving.
3. The lost Marsala: Marco de Bartoli
De Bartoli’s Marsala Superiore Riserva 10 Anni is the last remaining artisan Marsala producer creating an extraordinarily complex and unique fortified wine in an area known for industrially produced cooking wine, often doctored with egg cream, coffee or almonds. Drinking De Bartoli’s Marsala is an unique experience with so many flavours on the tongue. At first sip, it put a smile on my face.
4. The food jacuzzi- sous vide
The professional option
The economical option
Ever noticed how wedding food improved dramatically over the past 10 years? It has to do with a little bathtub of warm water chefs have been using to perfectly cook food. The food is kept at a constant temperature for an extended period of time (up to days) so never overcooks or dries out. It also makes cooking less time sensitive as dishes can be cooked and remain in the bath, frozen or reheated later and still be perfectly cooked. Before sous vide machines were very expensive but new technology for sous vide no longer requires the container but makes use of those already in the home such as a slow cooker, rice cooker or just a stock pot. Here are the options for both the professional machine and more economical option.
5. Copper cookware
Everyone loves the beauty of copper cookware. Since cooking is a sensory experience: every sense needs to be used to cook well: sight, smell, taste, feel and sound, using beautiful cookware heightens this experience. I loved this little shop I found in Montepulciano where copper ware is handmade. I have had them ship me a few things since my visit and have been very satisfied with the quality. Some of my wishful indulgences would include a fish steamer, the cecina baking tray and a polenta pot. Available at Bottega di Rame, Via dell’Opio nel Corso, 64, 53045 Montepulciano (SI), Tuscany, Tel: +39 0578 758 753 Email: Bottegadelrame@rameria.com website: www.rameria.com (The prices are good starting at EUR 55 but be careful of customs duty depending where you live.)
6. A Piedmontese hazelnut tree or Barolo vines in the Langhe
This experience combines instant gratification, the warm and fuzzies from a charitable act, an adventure and delayed gratification all in one! Adopt a sheep, goat, Nebbiolo vines, Barbera vines, Dolcetto vines, a beehive, a truffle hunting dog, a hazelnut grove or snails in the Langhe of Piemonte and assist a small artisan producer in financing their small business. In return you get a gift box to start – an adoption certificate with a vase of soil or a vine cutting. Then you will receive updates as to how your project is faring and have the opportunity to visit the producer (transportation and housing not included). Finally you will received the fruits of the artisan’s labour in the form of wine, cheese, honey, hazelnuts, truffles or snails (whatever is relevant to your selection). Cost ranges from EUR 75 to 150. For details see: madeinlangheroero.it
7. The full pig immersion: lessons on how to make Italian salami, prosciutto and other salumi
While Prosciutto di Parma is a marker of quality and provenance, not all Prosciutto di Parma is equal. The most prized part of the prosciutto, the heart of the ham, is reserved for making culatello di Zibello. The best culatello di Zibello, according to L’Espresso awards last year is from Antica Corte Pallavicina. Antica Corte Pallavicina supplies Prince Charles, Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi of Noma and Putin with their salumi. Stay for 6 days at the hotel with full-day classes, tours and tastings of all the products they produce from a pig. Cost: EUR 2,200 including accommodation, meals, tastings, classes and tours for 6 days.