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Street food in Italy. From Venice to Palermo, the mouth-watering tour is signed by Slow Food

Lifestyle / -

iran imm rif national day

Pani ca’meusa or with lampredotto, folpi, piadine, fried stuffed olives Ascolana style or fried pizza. Italy has a wealth of street foods which offer great quality and taste, while being affordable and sustainable. There is nothing better than stopping off at a stand to eat a traditional dish for just a few euros. Slow Food proposes an enticing tour of Italian street food in true “slow” style.

written by Sara Zavagno
In the squares of Padua you can meet characteristic figures ready to serve you their special-ties: the folpari, named for the folpi, they sell, a freshly caught sort of small octopus, found in Chioggia’s fish market. They are served boiled, drained and cut into small pieces, on special earthenware dishes, sometimes with a garlic, oil and salt dressing. Alongside these you can sometimes encounter bovoeti, land snails boiled and served with a garlic sauce, boiled mantis shrimps, mussels, prawns and masenete, small crabs found in Venice’s Lagoon.  Venice’s most famous street food is also fish-based: cicheti (bar snacks), which include fried small fish, boiled mollusks and small crustaceans, anchovies, marinated sardines, salted cod with grilled bread squares and polenta, but can also be beef offal, cotechino pork sausages, meatballs, snails, fried artichokes, hard-boiled eggs and pickles, which must necessarily be enjoyed while sipping an ombra, the glass of wine served at small bars and trattorias.

Tigelle and piadine in Romagna
The piadina is the king of street food in Romagna, a symbol of this area and bulwark of an-cient traditions which tell of fast-working expert piadaiole (women who made piadine) pre-paring the dough at home every day. Nowadays piadine are sold from stands throughout the region and they may be eaten with culatello cured ham (the culatello di Zibello is part of the Slow Food Presidium), salami (such as mariola), mortadella and any type of cheese, although piadina is traditionally served with squacquerone, a fresh and creamy soft cows’ milk cheese which is typical of the region. Piadina can also be eaten in a sweet version, with chocolate spreads or jam. Stands and stalls in Romagna also sell tigelle, little round flatbreads filled with everything you can fit in, and crescioni, (similar to a stuffed folded-over piadina) , traditionally served with foraged greens and herbs and potatoes, but nowadays also with sa-lami and local cheeses. 

In Florence, excellent meat creates excellent offal
Panini with lampredotto, a local specialty of abomasum beef tripe including the reticulum and the rumen, or poppa e matrice (cow’s udder and womb), with tongue, cheek, veal calf leg, veal cartilage, calf testicles, tripe in tomato sauce or served with green sauce, lampredotto in zimino (in a tomato, spinach, onion and garlic sauce), braised cheek, tripe salad, udder and tongue.  The long list shows clearly that Florentine cuisine makes the most of all those parts of meat that are normally discarded but are the main ingredients of a number of other traditional Tuscan dishes, such as the biroldo della Garfagnana, made from pig’s head, heart and tongue, with nothing going to waste, in perfect keeping with the Slow Food style! Alt-hough these cuts are not commonly held in great esteem, Florence’s street food will have you eagerly anticipating it before you even taste it. The meat is normally cooked in large sauce-pans and when the lid is lifted, forgotten aromas stimulate your appetite and overcome the reluctance of even the fussiest eaters. Moreover, Tuscany is renowned for its high quality cattle breeds such as the Maremmana, the Garfagnina cow and the Calvana.

From the stalls to the streets: olives Ascolana style
From the Marches region, here is street food loved by adults and children alike:  Ascolana style fried stuffed olives. Originally, the pitted olives were stuffed with herbs, but by the 18th Century people started to use meat as a filling, as done today. The stuffing is made of minced beef, pork and chicken browned with chopped celery, carrot and onions. The olives are then coated in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs and then deep fried. The ingredients and the recipe are rich and rather complicated, and indeed it is thought that the dish has middle class origins rather than from among the poorer classes, as is the case for much of the other types street food. Despite this, Ascolana style olives enjoy the status of street food for all intents and purposes. The olives traditionally used are those from the tender Ascoli cultivar, which is protected by a producers’ consortium and registered PDO status: to use any other, maybe cheaper variety of olive, is an insult to the quality of these little balls of deliciousness! 

Arrosticini, or rustelle, at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain
Just saying their name whets one’s appetite … arrosticini, the local specialty of Abruzzi lamb kebabs are sold everywhere ,and they are delicious, very cheap and therefore even more tempting. They are also known as rustelle, and are a specialty of the area on the eastern foot-hills of the Gran Sasso, but are also found throughout the region. The high quality meat from local lamb breeds such as the Sopravvisana, is cut into very small pieces, stacked onto wood-en skewers and grilled over charcoal in a long metal trough locally known as a furnacella. They are eaten with bread, oil and pork products such as the salsicciotto frenato (a kind of sa-lami).

Naples. The undisputed home of fried food.
Naples is, first of all, pizza. The dough has to be left to rise slowly, and becomes soft, sweet-smelling and delicious. But street food has a host of other interesting dishes which require frying at some point, almost as a rule: pasta fritters, fried pizza, cuoppo of fried fish, panza-rotti (fried savory pasties)… In the narrow streets of the Spanish Quartier they also serve per e muss (foot and head), also known as musso ‘e puorco or musso d’ ‘o puorco (pig’s head) although the only part of the pig used is the foot, the head is veal. These cheap variety meats are boiled, cooled, chopped into small pieces and served cold, seasoned with salt and lemon juice. Fennel, lupin beans, olives and chili pepper are sometimes added. 

In Apulia bombette di capocollo, puccia salentina, and focaccia barese
If you didn’t come here to eat, what did you come for? Going to Apulia means eating well and, unless you are a real stoic, eating a lot. Even if you don’t go looking for it, good  Apu-lian cuisine will find you, as it is not unusual to come across food trucks and stands serving the main regional street food: bombette di capocollo (such as that from Martina Franca), puc-cia salentina, focaccia barese, pasticciotti, rustici… But you haven’t truly visited Apulia if you haven’t sampled its panzerotti, deep-fried half-moon shapes of dough stuffed with toma-to and mozzarella. The ingredients are few and simple, which makes their quality fundamen-tal. The difference could be made by using Regina tomatoes from Torre Canne or Fiaschetto from Torre Guaceto, both Slow Food Presidia.

Palermo has an unparalleled range 
Last but not least, Sicily. If we had to identify a birthplace for Italian street food, it would in all probability be Palermo. The variety of foods on offer is unrivaled (and indeed an app has been developed to help newcomers find their way around them!): in the markets of Ballarò, Vucciria and Borgo you can still come across buffittieri, the traditional street hawkers who will let you taste their special arancine, panelle (fried chick-pea polenta squares), cicireddu (fried small fry), boiled octopus, pani ca’meusa (bread rolls with veal spleen, lung or trachea fried in lard), cazzilli (potato croquettes), sfincione – a thick, soft pizza topped with tomato, onion and anchovies, but also  caciocavallo cheese such as that from Cinisara cows’ milk, stigghiola (grilled lamb, chicken and kid entrails) and lots more besides.

Jurgen, the distiller of forgotten fruits

Taste / -

Distillatore di radici
© Bruno Ehrs/Corbis

Berries, roots and forgotten fruits become precious spirits in his hands. One hundred pounds of fruit for one and a half liters of pure alcohol. But it's worth it.

When it comes to spirits, immediately grappa comes to mind, made from pomace, the grape residue after processing (e.g. skins and seeds). The distillation procedure, however, can be applied to any type of fruit, berry or root to create perfumed and aromatic alcoholic beverages.

In the Valle Isarco and precisely in Obervintl, there is a green kingdom nestled in the mountains of South Tyrol, the Brennerei distillery. Here Jurgen Theiner has specialized for the past six years in the distillation of what he finds in the woods: roots, berries, wild berries. These include ancient fruits and almost forgotten varieties such as blackthorn and rowan. Among the most popular spirits include gentian root with its intense and "dry" flavor.
Spirits are like a ragout
Jurgen uses a traditional method in two phases, which ensures that it keeps only the purest types of alcohol - and in a distillery there are over 140 - by evaporating the less noble, unpleasant or unwanted substances, such as methyl alcohol which is toxic.

Fresh raw materials, gathered when perfectly ripe, are introduced into the boiler with added dry yeast (as used to produce wine) that trigger the fermentation and convert sugar into alcohol.

The first firing lasts an hour and a half and then there is a second distillation, which heats the liquid slowly, increasing the temperature by two degrees every quarter hour. It is precisely the slowness and the accuracy of the procedure that differentiates the artisan production from most industrial preparations. "It's just like a ragout: it could be ready in ten minutes, but if you cook it for five hours the result is quite different - Jurgen explains passionately  - Thus only the finest types of alcohol and more intense aromas are “saved” for a product that really tastes of the mountain."

At this point Jurgen adds to the distillate fresh water personally drawn from a natural spring situated at 1400 meters above sea level. Thus, he obtains an 85% alcohol from the second distillation that can be drunk once diluted with water for an alcohol content of 40-42% alcohol per volume.

Distillation times vary from ingredient to ingredient: the Williams pear is faster and requires six or seven days, while the gentian root is longer and requires a month of waiting. For a more rounded flavor, the distillate is left to rest in the bottle for about six months.
It only takes one bad apple to wreck everything
But how much fruit is required for these artisan products? A lot: 100 pounds of fruit, berries or roots yield a liter and a half of pure alcohol to be diluted. There is a lot of work involved, but when you put your nose to the glass and take a full sniff with closed eyes, you will be overwhelmed by its natural aroma: it seems just like a basket of freshly harvested fruit right under your nose.
"Distillation is a matter of concentration and attention to the process - said Jurgen - The quality of raw materials is always the starting point. I never use second-rate, imperfect fruit, or fruit that has fallen on the ground: it only takes one bad apple to wreck everything."

Nicola Fiasconaro. The most beautiful gift to make to Pope Francis is a panettone

Taste / -

Papa e Fiasconaro img rif

Twenty-five years ago he had a revelation, fell in love with panettone and decided to bring Sicilian warmth to Milan’s traditional cake. Today his cake shop has become popular with the Vatican every year and offers a gift to the Pope.

When he’s passionate about something, Nicola Fiasconaro does not hold back on his creativity. Born in Castelbuono, a Sicilian village in the Madonie, comes from a family of pastry chefs and learned his skills from his father.
What does the panettone mean for you?
A cake that is good, pure and simple, a symbol of Italy; and above a gesture of generosity, a gift to those who want to do good and to those less fortunate than ourselves. At Christmas there is no Italian home – from the richest to the poorest – that does not have on this cake on the table. With my Sicilian panettone I wanted to prove that Sicilians are good, warm-hearted people, able to create a system and an economy, and to meet other cultures with open arms. When I come to Milan and see the Duomo I get quite emotional.
Why would a Sicilian decided to devote himself to this typically Milanese cake?
I was 25 years old and I took a course in pastry in Sottomarina di Chioggia, Venice. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had a shock and I fell in love the leavened dough in general and in particular with the cake. So I went back to my father and said to him that I would bring the Milanese panettone to Castelbuono where we had a pastry shop.
And what did your father say to her?
He thought I’d gone crazy. At that time in Sicily people only ate industrial panettone from the north. There was no tradition in the preparation of this cake. But in the end my father allowed me to do my own thing.
And it was a success. Today your panettone reaches even the Pope...
Yes it is a thrill and an honor that I cannot quite put into words. I donated one to John Paul II, then one to Benedict XVI and now I have made ​​a gift to Pope Francis.
What did you give him?
It's a special cake, hollowed out like a sort of hut. Inside I carved a nativity in white chocolate, a symbol of purity. He told me that he really liked it.
Among your most famous desserts is your panettone alla Manna. Is it the Manna referred to in the Old Testament?
Yes that’s right. It is an invaluable food, obtained from the sap of the ash. Hand-made incisions are made on the plants and the sap comes out, thanks to the Sicilian heat, and they crystallize like sweet "stalactites". I used the manna in the mix to substitute a part of the sugar because, as a sweetener it gives a unique flavor to the cake.
Your panettone is very popular abroad. Which are the most interesting markets?
Certainly the United States and the United Arab Emirates. For us it is a cake that has a religious significance; for them, it is simply a very good and genuine cake that satisfies the palate. They are starting to enjoy it at breakfast and as a "treat" after lunch or after dinner. It's great to see people of the Muslim faith, with traditions different from ours, really relishing our traditional Christmas cake. Panettone is a product symbol of Italy that knows how to unite cultures, without distinction of creed or religion. A cake that makes you happy, always brings out a smile and brings people together. Not just at Christmas.

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