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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jewish Museum in Venice to Be Restored

To mark its 500th anniversary, the Jewish Museum in Venice will undergo a $12 million restoration project focused on the museum and three of the Jewish Quarter’s five synagogues, to be completed in 2016. The Venetian Heritage Council announced the project on Monday, supported by its chair Joseph Sitt, vice chair Diane von Furstenberg,and director Toto Bergamo Rossi.

Venice’s Jewish Quarter dates back to 1516, when the Republic of Venice forced Jews to move to a certain area of the city, and residents remained confined to the area until Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797. The result, a rich history and culture, has survived for 500 years, but the Jewish Ghetto and its structures have fallen into disrepair.

“This is a project long overdue and hugely important to European and Jewish identity. There are 500 years of cultural and religious importance residing within this community and it’s imperative that we revive and revitalize it,” said Sitt.

During the project, overseen by architect Renata Codello, the superintendent for architectural and landscape heritage of Venice, the buildings’ walls and structural elements will be repaired, and decorative elements such as gilded, Biblical wood carvings will be restored. The restoration will also improve traffic flow in the museum.

“In addition to the structural revitalization of the synagogues, we are vastly improving and upgrading the museum space, adding space and streamlining room-to-room flow to accommodate the incredible interest in this piece of history. This is a huge component of European culture and it can’t be ignored,”  Rossi explained. -- Elaine Murphy 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An Ode to Sfogliatelle and Other Neapolitan Pastries

Whenever I travel to Naples and the Amalfi Coast, I always have to take into account a bit of extra baggage on the return trip. I’m not, sadly, talking about the extra baggage you get to check, but the extra baggage that takes a bit longer to unpack and makes your jeans just that much tighter around the middle.

Umbria, my home for the past twenty years, is a land of simple yet excellent food. Pork charcuterie, sheep cheese, heirloom legumes, forest treasures like mushrooms, truffles, and wild asparagus are all daily treats on the Umbrian table, and it’s easy to become inured to the quality and flavor of these local dishes.

The one category where Umbria falls short is dessert, unfortunately. A landlocked region, Umbria hasn’t had centuries (if not millenia) of contact with foreign trading ships stocked with exotic spices, sugar, and cocoa. A mountainous region, Umbria doesn’t have the climate for citrus, dates, almonds, and other base ingredients of many of the Mediterranean basin’s best delicacies. A poor, rustic region until recently, Umbria traditionally cooks with olive oil and water, not butter and milk.

All this adds up to a meagerly sum in the dessert column. Hard tozzetti cookies dunked in wine, dry crostate tarts baked with olive oil, a rather sad version of strudel...nothing that leads you skipping down the path of perdition, in other words.

But Naples! Ah, Naples...Naples is a siren of sweets, tempting you with a thousand years of delicacies that Umbria has been denied. One of the most important ports in the Mediterranean since Roman times, Naples has been unloading ships stocked with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, sugar, dates, rum, and cocoa for generations of pastry chefs. The much more tropical climate means that the area is rich in lemon, orange, and almond groves, the heat makes it easier to dry and candy figs and other sweet fruit, and the herds of grazing cattle along the fertile plain give milk enough for an army hungry for sweet ricotta. 

In Naples, I am happy to do my part to maintain this rich gastronomic history and tradition...all in the name of culture, of course. I make a bee-line for a promising pasticceria (you can tell the good ones by the crowd of customers), order up a small (ahem, medium) tray of local delights, watch as they wrap it up in paper and ribbon like the gift it is, and guard my precious cargo until I find a quiet spot to savor my goodies while watching Naples frantically get on with being Naples.

Here are a few of the most classic Neapolitan pastries you should try on your next trip, but make sure you’ve packed a pair of roomy pants: 

Sfogliatelle: Though her crown is often challenged by babà au rhum (see below), for me the divine sfogliatella will always reign supreme. There are two versions of the sflogliatella: riccia, or ruffled, and frolla, or shortcrust. 

My favorite is the riccia, which is also the more elegant and classic version. Here a sweet orange-infused ricotta filling is enclosed in a delicate pastry made of countless parchment-thin layers, which separate out into ruffles or leaves (from which the name sfogliatella is derived) as they bake, crispen, and form a golden, shell shaped pastry. They can be bite-sized (my favorite, with the perfect pastry to filling ratio), or as large as a lobster tail (overwhelming, even for a die-hard sweet tooth).

In a pinch, I have been known to enjoy the frolla version, generally preferred by Neapolitans (probably because it had also be made at home). Here the same ricotta filling is enclosed in a short crust which forms a small ball and baked; these can also be various sizes, but are most commonly a bit smaller than a tennis ball. 

Neither of these are first date foods—at the first bite, both shatter in a shower of pastry flakes or short crumbs covering your cleavage and lap, and are almost impossible to eat with cutlery—but a bit of unseemly collateral damage is a small price to pay for the pure pleasure of this local specialty, invented on the Amalfi Coast and wholeheartedly adopted by Naples in the early 19th century.

Babà au rhum: Just as there are cat people and dog people, so are there sfogliatelle people and babà people, and it’s not easy to broker a peace between them. Babà is an airy sponge cake (most commonly baked in individual portions, so shaped like tall muffins) made with eggs, milk, and butter and, once cooked, soaked in a sweet rum syrup. It made its way through Europe from Poland to France in the 1800’s and finally to Naples, where it was adopted with much relish and is now one of the most beloved of “local” pastries, and the source of much strife in sfogliatelle vs. babà debates around dinner tables throughout the city.

Zeppole: If you happen to be in or near Naples around the feast day of Saint Joseph (La Festa di San Giuseppe) on March 19th, you’ll be able to feast on “le zeppole di San Giuseppe”. These are deep fried fritters, dusted with sugar and filled and topped with piped custard and a candied cherry. They are roughly a gazillion calories each, so eat one and then go light a candle and pray to Saint Joseph to help you burn it off.

Pastiera: At Eastertime, Neapolitans make pastiera to serve at the holiday meal with family. This is a deeply traditional tart (indeed, said to have pagan roots) with a shortbread bottom crust, a rich filling of ricotta, eggs, boiled wheat kernels, candied citrus, orange water, and spices, and a latticed shortbread top crust. It includes symbolic ingredients representing rebirth and fertility, which happily are also delicious baked together, and is prepared no later than Good Friday to be eaten on Easter Sunday. Once made almost exclusively by the nuns in local convents for the city’s wealthy families, now it is often homemade or bought the few days before Easter at Neapolitan pastry shops.

Any of these delicacies can be found in the city of Naples, Sorrento, or further south along the Amalfi Coast. Unless you have a heroic sugar tolerance, you’ll probably have to pace yourself over a couple of days: these are not light desserts. Plan at least an overnight, staying at one of the area hotels listed on ItalyTraveller.com and walking off your daily indulgence exploring this beautiful area of southern Italy. -- Rebecca Winke

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Pizza School in Naples Italy

Even *I* learn something from the pages of Dream of Italy! Though many of the story ideas and articles are conceived and written by me, I also hire the best travel experts to help uncover more Italian gems.  

I first read about master pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia and his Naples pizza school when guest editor Barrie Kerper handed in the first draft of the her list of best cooking schools in Italy. I had a trip to Napoli coming up and bingo, last week I had a once-in-a-lifetime lesson with Enzo (with the red scarf below) and his team!



That's the value of Dream of Italy and our two special issues on Italy's Best Cooking Schools - the second part/issue on schools from Molise to the Veneto came out last month. You can immediately access these two issues (covering 80 great cooking schools) as well as 115 other incredible back issues when you SUBSCRIBE NOW. And guess what, we're giving $15 OFF all subscriptions.

Meanwhile here's more on Enzo's school:

Pizza Consulting by Enzo Coccia
(39) 338 9997840
www.pizzaconsulting.com
Prices: Start at 700€ for a one-week amateur class
Where better to learn the art of pizza making than in the city where pizza was born? Master Neapolitan pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia and his staff have been training hundreds of students from all over the world in the art of pizza making for many years. Three classes are offered: a week for amateurs, a master class (an individual course for the professional pizzaiolo; length and price determined after an evaluation) and professional (100 hours divided into 20 days, 2,800€; for those who have never worked as a pizzaiolo and want to learn the profession).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Let's Get Cooking in Italy

http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/Italy-Cooking-Schools-Italian-Cooking-Classes-in-Italy.cfm
Looking to take a half-day cooking lesson or even attend a longer cooking program? We've got you covered with our list of Italy's Best Cooking Schools - more than 80 schools that were featured in our August and September issues! Learning to cooking in Italy isn't just a fun activity, it is a cultural experience - a way to truly experience daily life in Italy.

Here are some of the highlights of our list:

Abruzzo: Enjoy a 7-day cooking extravaganza with time in the kitchen and visits to producers all over the region.

Amalfi Coast: Get down to the business of cooking with one of the most popular mamas in all of Italy!

Basilicata: Learn the art of pasta making at the palazzo that Francis Ford Coppola renovated in his ancestral hometown.

Bologna: Half-day lessons in all the local specialties from ragu to gelato making.

Emilia-Romagna: Learn the ins and outs of butchery from "The King of Culatello" at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Friuli: Learn dishes featuring the area's prized San Daniele prosciutto.

Molise: Go on a truffle hunt with a man and his dog and then cook up some of the tasty tubers!

Naples: Attend professional pizza school with a master piazzaolo in the heart of Napoli!

Palermo: Cook with a real duchess in the palazzo once owned by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the seminal work The Leopard.

Rome: A special class just for kids to learn to cook with Nonna (grandmother).

Tuscany: Be trained by one of the world's most famous butchers - Dario Cecchini - when you're a butcher for a day.

Umbria: If a day or two of cooking and eating isn't enough for you, join our friends Bill and Suzy for Cucinapalooza!

Venice: If there's ever a place to learn to prepare seafood, this is it and you can do it in style in a beautiful palazzo - but shop for ingredients at the Rialto Market first!

Verona: Join Giuliano Hazan - son of famed cookbook author Marcella Hazan - and his sommelier wife for a week of "Italian food, wine and life."

SUBSCRIBE NOW to read all of the above including two full issues on cooking schools as well as immediately access 115 back issues and receive 10 new ones over the coming year! Oh and did we mention that we're currently offering $15 OFF all subscriptions?

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Finding Serendipity with A Venetian Artist

In Venice for a too-quick two-day visit in late June, my husband and I struck up a conversation with an architect and artist named Adrian Tuchel. He was in Venice for a short stay also, completing some artwork for a show that is running right now. Deep into a conversation sharing our love for the city, he offered to walk us around to see a few places he'd discovered that are not on the well-worn tourist route.

First we took the #2 vaporetto over to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, where we toured the incredible Giorgio Cini Foundation complex. This international cultural center grew from one man’s desire to honor his deceased son by restoring an ancient monastery and rehabilitating a neglected island. It now has, aside from priceless artwork and illustrious symposiums, an ultra-modern, multi-disciplinary research library that must be seen to be believed.

Among the 150,000 art books, its largest collection and most significant focus, is Dr. Andrea Palladio’s First Book of Architecture, dated 1581. Guided tours, no reservations required, are offered on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 5pm.
Weekday tours require a group of at least 12, and a reservation. We walked next door to the beautiful San Giorgio Maggiore church, designed by Palladio and built between 1566 and1610. Its tall tower provides some of the best views of Venice. We made sure to catch the elevator down before the bells started to peal.

After lunch at the restaurant Al Redentore on the Guidecca, Adrian walked us down an alley that dead-ended at worn door. He knocked, and the Rossi gondola boatyard (read more about these boatyards) was revealed. Not sure anyone can just walk in, but they were very welcoming.

Along the way, we had the privilege of watching Adrian sketch, and he showed us some of his completed watercolors. I recommend a visit to the exhibit if you are so lucky to be in Venice now through the 28th of September, or a click on his web site, to see and perhaps purchase a wonderful image of the beloved Serenissima.

Minimalist Venice: Adrian Tuchel’s Pen &Ink and Watercolors
Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti
Campo S. Stefano
San Marco 2842
Vaporetto lines 1 and 2, Accademia stop
September 6 to 28, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Adrian Tuchel’s work results from many years of gifted artistry combined with architectural accomplishment, fuelled by his passion for the city and people of Venice. Through his research into minimalism in drawing, his highly personal style materialized, particularly observing transparency and light. Where better to focus on transparency and light than in Venice? His drawings and watercolors capture well-loved views, often from unusual angles. Favorite places are discovered and rediscovered, through the eyes of this talented artist and architect.

Exhibit #1: San Marco and the Dorsoduro

The paintings of San Marco and the Dorsoduro marks the most recent phase of Tuchel’s architectural itinerary of the city, which he continues every second year during the Architecture Biennale. In 10 years, he will have covered all of Venice and its lagoon. The works honor great local architects and include a series of miniatures that show the day-to-day life of the city through its bars, ice cream parlors, markets, shops and hotels.

Exhibit #2: Portrait of an Iconic Hotel

This series of paintings honors one of Venice’s most treasured hotels, which has recently undergone an extensive restoration. As part of the re-opening celebration, Tuchel was allowed unusual freedom. Taking advantage of that liberty, he painted views that guests see from the windows of their suites. His commission also enabled him to illustrate many architectural details, from the rooftop’s views of the Salute church to interiors of the prestigious suites, bars and restaurants and the wonderful terrace lounge and restaurant that guests have always loved to linger in, watching the ordinary and extraordinary pass by on the Grand Canal. -- Ann Cochran

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Go To Coffee School at Illy in Trieste

Our August and September issues are devoted to Italy's Best Cooking Schools. Here's another kind of gourmet school - coffee university!

Trieste is home to a handful of legendary caffès, notably Cremcaffè (Piazza Goldoni 10), Caffè San Marco (via Gesare Battisti 18) and Caffè Tommaseo (Piazza Tommaseo). So it seems natural that the city is also home to both L’Università del Caffè and Raccolta Illycaffè, the first a coffee course and the second a little museum, both at the headquarters of illycaffè (via Flavia, 110), founded in 1933.

Fred Plotkin, author of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, writes that the coffee course is not a promotional tour for Illy: “What I learned about the history, cultivation, harvesting, blending, roasting, grinding, brewing and tasting of coffee would apply to any cup you might have in front of you.” 

The university was established in 1999, originally in Naples and moving to Trieste in 2002 (there are also 24 branches around the world). Its aim is to promote, support, and communicate the culture of quality coffee worldwide, and since 2000 more than 127,000 students have attended the classes.

While the majority of those students enrolled for professional reasons, more than 5,000 of them took the ‘Discovery Courses,’ which are for coffee lovers and connoisseurs – Illy welcomes anyone who is a coffee enthusiast! These classes include ‘Coffee,’ ‘Tea,’ ‘Chocolate,’ ‘Cappucino,’ ‘Aromas From Out of This World,’ ‘Barista for an Hour,’ ‘Coffee Connoisseurs’ (in Italian only) and ‘Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate Flavored Dinners’ (also only in Italian). 

Most are two hours long and also include a guided tour of the illycaffè plant. Visitors who may not be interested in a class but want to tour the facility can arrange a tour anytime Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Reservations may be made online at www.unicaffe.comhttp://www.unicaffe.com or by calling toll-free within Italy at (800) 821.021. -- Barrie Kerper

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Jazzy New Year's Eve with Music and Markets


Music and Markets Tours presents the best of live jazz from Umbria Jazz Winter in hilltop Orvieto, remarkable food and wine, and the unique winter beauty of Tuscany and Umbria.

Revel in a jazzy New Year's Eve, stroll Tuscan lanes, visit an olive farm, marvel at postcard perfect vistas – join us!

Complete details on our Web site, or call (703) 675-1529

(This is an ad.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Experience Mona Lisa's Florence


When I heard that author Dianne Hales (who has previously written for Dream of Italy) had a new book out about Mona Lisa, I immediately contacted her to find out if she could write a related travel article for us.

Her article on Mona Lisa's Florence will be in our October issue. It turns out Dianne is also developing a walking tour around the same theme. The tour will officially launch in 2015 but Dianne wanted me to let Dream of Italy readers know that if you're in Florence between October 1st and 9th, she will be giving special preview tours. See Florence through the eyes of Mona Lisa.

Get more information at  www.monalisaflorence.com or email info@monalisaflorence.com