Articles by Author
From dining on a romantic island in the Venetian lagoon to feasting on handmade pasta in Bologna, northern Italy’s gastronomic capital, this list guides you to the best places to eat in Italy’s northeast. Award-winning food writer Carla Capalbo has spent more than 20 years eating her way around Italy and has uncovered its best-kept secrets, from new-wave pizza to the elegant restaurant of one of the world’s top female chefs. She’s brought together great food for every budget, from take-away noodles to three-Michelin-star refinement.
With this list as your guide — the first of a series — you’ll have a fabulous eating holiday in Italy — whether you go in person or just dream from your armchair.
More from Zester Daily:
Main photo: At Venissa restaurant in Venice, fresh squid is served on a bed of black risotto. Credit: Copyright 2013 Carla Capalbo
Before the advent of TV’s “MasterChef,” master chef Michel Guérard was already on the gastronomic front lines. He was one of the key activators of the nouvelle cuisine movement in France in the 1970s, which refreshed France’s culture of heavy, rich dishes, and has been pushing for light, healthy, seasonal food ever since.
Today, he continues that commitment in the cooking school he’s recently opened on his estate.
Teaching chefs to cook for health
More from Zester Daily:
At Les Prés d’Eugénie, Guérard also runs several hotels, restaurants and a treatment center.
Food as a cure for what ails us
Guérard has always believed that we truly are what we eat, and that food — fresh, light food — can cure us from many of the illnesses that beset the modern world.
The cooking school is aimed at professional chefs and at people preparing food in schools, hospitals, homes for the elderly and for others with special dietary requirements. It brings together current knowledge on key medical problems – such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease — and proposes eating plans for each. The teaching focuses on cuisine that is both healthy — with reduced calories, fats and sugar — and pleasurable, in what Guérard calls cuisine minceur.
“You must never compromise on flavor,” says Guérard. Situated in a luminous, state-of-the-art kitchen overlooking the gardens of Les Prés d’Eugénie, l’Ecole de Cuisine de Santé offers professional courses for groups of up to 10 cooks for one or two weeks.
Beyond a diet of grated carrots
“When I started observing what the patients who came for the thermal cures were eating, I too was depressed by the heaps of grated carrots that were placed before them, topped at the last moment with improvised dressings,” Guérard says.
“I saw an opening for a new kind of healthy cuisine that could inspire people with special needs in their diets to look forward to eating, and to make profound changes in their eating habits that would remain with them for life.”
In his spiced crab on grapefruit jelly with citrus mousse, Guérard demonstrates some of his core principles: that seafood and meats can be cooked without fats, butters or creams to produce vibrant dishes. Even dishes on the three-star Michelin Grand Table menu are cooked with natural flair and a light touch. For example, fresh herbs and citrus notes add zest and flavor to shellfish without leaving the diner feeling heavy.
Slimming cuisine based on research
Cuisine minceur is not achieved by simply reducing fats, sugars and calories. It is based on experience and nutritional research. After Guérard published his first book on the subject in the mid-1970s, “La Grande Cuisine Minceur,” he was approached by the Nestlé group to help them develop a line of frozen foods that would reflect the healthy approach of his new cuisine.
“I was fortunate to continue this consultancy for 27 years, and thus to have access to the latest scientific research into diet, nutrition, physical exercise, thermal treatments and every aspect of this discipline,” he says. “And throughout, I never lost my conviction that pleasure must always play an important part in eating, no matter what the calorie count!”
You can eat dessert on a diet
The desserts at the restaurant and in the cuisine minceur cookbooks have also been overhauled. (No surprise there, for Guérard is a master pastry chef who won the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, which honors the creative trade professions, for pâtisserie in 1958). Each dessert recipe comes with a calorie count that varies depending on which sweetener has been used, be it sugar, honey, fructose, xylitol or aspartame. Most three-course meal combinations total less than 600 calories, so they are well suited to those who are cooking for the popular 5:2 diet (in which people are limited to 500-600 calories for two days out of seven). For those who want to learn more about Guérard’s cuisine, his seminal cookbook has recently been translated into English. “Eat Well and Stay Slim: The Essential Cuisine Minceur” offers full instructions for dozens of his delicious dishes.
A dynamic and lasting legacy
Guérard has never abandoned his commitment to lighter, healthier food, as the new cooking school attests. Today, his philosophy is bearing fruit as the word about cuisine minceur and its methods spreads within the food community in France and beyond. It’s a fitting legacy for such a dynamic grand master, whose revolutions in the kitchen continue to impact on our eating habits, every day.
Main photo: Chef Michel Guérard. Credit: Copyright 2015 Carla Capalbo
It’s almost dinner time at Shelter From the Storm, an inspiring and unusual homeless shelter in Central London. Delicious smells of home-cooked food fill the large, open-plan living room where a string of round tables topped with brightly colored cloths is ready for service. At 6:30, the guests start to arrive, hurrying in from the chilly evening. Some help themselves to mugs of steaming tea or coffee; others take a quick shower before the food is served.
More from Zester Daily:
In the kitchen, a handful of young volunteers set out the cutlery and a stack of 50 plates needed for the meal. When the food is ready, the guests come to the counter for it before joining one of the communal tables. That’s Shelter From the Storm‘s most important rule: Here, everyone sits together to eat and share their experiences of the day. Those might be holding or looking for a job, sitting in a public library, or being out in the streets. The shelter operates from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.
“Homelessness is on the increase in London, though it’s hard to put a number to it,” says Sheila Scott, who co-founded and runs the live-in shelter that houses a maximum of 48 guests, many whom stay for more than a month.
“Unfortunately we turn away about 20 people every day that we just don’t have beds for. We try to help as many people as possible to find work, because without work it’s almost impossible to find housing. But some are just not able to and have lived here with us for several years.”
There are some happy outcomes, though. She proudly quotes a 40% success rate in finding work for shelter guests. (Finding lodgings is more difficult.)
Tonight’s menu is basmati rice with a fragrant chili — in meat and vegan versions — that’s been cooked by Andrew Hardwidge, a modern dancer better known for his avant-garde work with choreographer Tino Sehgal. He’s one of the regular volunteers who cook at this shelter. The volunteers are from all walks of life, and include professional chefs, financial workers and art students as well as former guests at the shelter. And the emphasis is on real food.
“You won’t find processed food or even soups here,” Scott says. “We’re nothing like the stereotypical soup kitchen. For us, food underpins a life in which people are members of a community, where they can feel safe to share and resolve their problems.”
In the beginning, they relied on handouts and supermarket food that otherwise would have been thrown away. Now most of the shelter’s food is either bought by them or given by loyal suppliers who understand their needs. “After all, you need fairly large quantities of each ingredient to feed 50 people at each meal,” she says. The chili started with crates of fresh red peppers, zucchini, eggplants and onions donated by a local greengrocer.
The shelter’s residents receive three meals a day, 365 days a year, for free. Breakfast is taken before 8 a.m., when the guests leave for the day; lunch is usually a sandwich provided by a London supplier; dinner is always a cooked meal, eaten at the shelter.
Shelter From the Storm is located in an unprepossessing industrial warehouse in the hinterland behind King’s Cross Station, in what was once a rough, no-go red-light district. Today the area is being gentrified, and new luxury apartment blocks are springing up within the maze of train tracks, canals and through roads.
“We were lucky to find somewhere so central, but soon this area will be financially out of our reach,” Scott says.
In the meantime, she spends her days fund-raising and providing the guests with free legal aid and counseling.
They come from all over the globe and all kinds of situations.
“We’re an independent charity, so we can accept people who are fleeing domestic abuse, ‘honor’ killings, trafficking and slavery as well as those who have fallen into homelessness through job loss, illness or substance abuse.”
The shelter began eight years ago as an emergency night center, and referrals for the 20 women’s and 24 men’s beds come from the police, Red Cross, social services and other agencies.
As for the food, it’s prepared with fresh produce and enough care to accommodate the guests’ diverse cultural, religious and health needs.
“We no longer use pork here, and always offer a vegetarian option,” says Olivia Fairweather who, with her partner Haydn Appleby, runs the Tuesday night cooking crew. “We’re attentive to people with diabetes and other food-related conditions that are often exacerbated by life on the streets. But we’re free to cook whatever we want, from lasagne, gumbo and moussaka to curries, fish pie and stews.”
Scott finds a deeper significance in the cooking process. “What matters is the symbolism of the fire that transforms the work of people chopping raw ingredients in the kitchen into nutritious food,” she says. “Feeding people well is integral to the healing process.”
The guests agree. “I never imagined how important it would be to me to eat a hot meal at a table again,” says a young man from the Basque part of Spain. “I was lost when I came here, a month ago, but with their care and support and great food I am beginning to find my way in the world again.”
Main photo: A delicious cooked dinner is served to the guests every night at Shelter From the Storm. Credit: Copyright 2015 Carla Capalbo
Nordic chef Poul Andrias Ziska offers a fresh way from the Faroe Islands to prepare spring lamb. The tangy carrots give the lamb a nice lift. Ziska, of KOKS restaurant, in the Foroyar Hotel, above Tórshavn, reflects the trend of many Nordic chefs, who are working with the home-fermented vegetables that were once a Scandinavian staple in the days before refrigeration. The vegetables are usually made in big batches and keep well in the refrigerator. But they take at least a week to prepare. For a quicker, easier version of this Faroe Islands recipe, use store-bought pickled or fermented carrots. They’re available from some health-food stores. This recipe also calls for Faroese lamb, but fine organic lamb can be substituted.
Faroese Lamb Fillet With Fermented Carrots,
Wild Herbs And Lamb Bouillon
More from Zester Daily:
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
3 cups lamb bouillon (use liquid bouillon rather than a stock cube)
1 tablespoon elderflower or other delicately aromatic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 lamb fillets
2/3 cup fermented or pickled sliced carrots
a handful of edible flowers and leaves, such as oxalis (wood sorrel), cuckoo flower (cardamine pratensis), violets
1. Preheat the broiler.
2. In a small saucepan, bring the bouillon to the boil and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced by half. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar. Taste for seasoning. Keep the sauce warm while you cook the lamb.
3. Broil the lamb fillets for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, turning them 2 or 3 times. The meat should be medium rare. Remove from the pan and allow to stand for 5 minutes before cutting it into thick slices.
4. Divide the lamb slices between 4 shallow serving bowls. Arrange the carrot slices on top, and scatter with the wild leaves and flowers. Spoon the sauce over the lamb and serve.
Main photo: Faroese Lamb Fillet With Fermented Carrots, Wild Herbs and Lamb Bouillon. Credit: Carla Capalbo
Unspoiled, undiscovered and unusually beautiful, the Faroe Islands combine breathtaking scenery with a unique food culture. Situated in the North Atlantic, far above Scotland, these islands were colonized by the Vikings and for centuries isolated from the rest of Europe. (Officially, they belong to Denmark but have a quite separate history.)
More from Zester Daily:
Until recently, the islanders survived by eating sheep, fish and sea birds. Almost no fruits or vegetables — apart from potatoes — were cultivated on the Faroes, so the meat and fat of the whales they caught provided a life-saving source of vitamins. Unlike other parts of Scandinavia, the Faroe Islands rarely freeze in winter, so the islanders’ only way to preserve these precious meats was to hang them to dry in the moist, salty air — away from insects — in a process of natural fermentation. To the non-Faroese, their distinctive, pungent flavor may be an acquired taste, but it’s an integral part of the islands’ culinary identity.
The fresh seafood found in the pure ocean waters around the islands is undoubtedly some of the world’s finest. Faroese langoustines, mussels and crabs are without rivals for their sweet, tender meat. Salmon is farmed in the spacious fjords and complements the wild fish that’s featured in local restaurants. Some of these have taken an active role in the new Nordic cuisine that includes wild and foraged local ingredients. So the Faroes are an exciting destination for foodies, especially those who like to hike, fish or go kayaking surrounded by puffins and seals.
For the rest of the story, please follow the slideshow below.
Main photo: The cluster of 18 Faroe Islands is situated in the North Atlantic, between Britain and Iceland. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, they don’t suffer from very cold winters. Credit: © Carla Capalbo
Sicily is famous for its distinctive wines and native grape varieties, particularly those that grow on volcanic soils. Nerello Mascalese, today’s most talked-about Sicilian red grape, only flourishes on the slopes of Mount Etna, Italy’s largest active volcano. The lesser-known Malvasia delle Lipari grows instead on the volcanic Aeolian Islands, where it’s made into a delicious and unique dessert wine that also goes wonderfully with cheese.
More from Zester Daily:
Malvasia delle Lipari Passito DOC is made from sun-dried grapes in several versions, from very sweet to drier. It offers orange and floral notes, toasted nuts and rich apricots to the nose and, at its best, enough acidity in the mouth to balance the sweetness and keep it lively and long. The volcanic soils often confer exciting, salty minerality.
The Aeolians are the archipelago that sits between Italy’s “toe” in Calabria and Sicily’s northeastern corner. You reach them by ferry from Messina. The cluster of eight small islands, known as Isole Eolie in Italian, was named for Eolo, the god of wind in Greek mythology. No wonder: The Aeolians are subjected to winds from all sides. The islanders’ rudimentary lifestyle of fishing and agriculture was dramatically captured in “Stromboli,” Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 black-and-white film starring Ingrid Bergman. It was set on the island of Stromboli, another of Italy’s three active volcanoes.
Islands at a crossroads of culture
Contemporary vine-growing takes place mostly on two of the other islands, Lipari and Salina, but the archipelago has long been linked to wine, as professor Attilio Scienza, Italy’s foremost viticultural historian explains:
“These islands played an important role in the history of wine. As Phoenician and ancient Greek ships traveled the Mediterranean, they stopped off here to stock up on food and this allowed for important cultural exchanges.”
Scienza was speaking at Sicilia en Primeur, the itinerant Sicilian wine event that this year was held on the island of Vulcano.
“We know that grapes were grown and traded here: Grape seeds from 6,000 years ago have been found in archaelogical digs on Lipari. Later, in the 6th century, an unusual sweet wine became famous on the islands. It was made when very ripe, sun-dried grapes were heaped into a high mound whose weight naturally pressed the juice from the berries. This wine was known to keep — and therefore travel — well and its fame spread throughout the Mediterranean.”
The family of vines called Malvasia grows throughout the Mediterranean, but the Malvasia now found on the Aeolian islands has a DNA very close to that of the original Greek Malvasia. Despite facing extinction after the phylloxera attacks of the early 20th century, today Malvasia is being made in sweet and dry versions by a score of producers on the islands.
“Mediterranean peoples have a different, more cyclical, history than other Europeans,” Scienza says. “Life on these islands has hardly changed in 3,000 years. Today, this archaic, heroic viticulture can teach us a lot about how to make wine while maintaining the landscape sustainably.” Malvasia vines are often still grown as free-standing bushes, ad alberello, in steeply sloping vineyards. Their long roots reach deeply down; it rarely rains on these islands.
A much-favored vacation destination
The Aeolians offer some of the Mediterranean’s most sought-after holiday destinations, so if you want to explore their viticulture peacefully, it’s best to avoid the August crush. Winemakers have more time in spring and autumn to show their vineyards and organize tastings. Book your visit ahead, as these tiny estates are usually worked by the owners.
I recently visited seven top Malvasia producers, most of whom are situated on Salina. I made my base at Capofaro, the luxurious resort owned by the noble Tasca d’Almerita family whose historic estate, Regaleali, is located in central Sicily. The hotel is surrounded by vineyards, and you can enjoy their fine wines at Capofaro’s restaurant.
The name most often associated with Malvasia delle Lipari is Hauner‘s, who was the first to revive this traditional wine. Carlo Hauner makes fine Malvasia in sweet and dry versions.
Like Hauner, Fenech and Nino Caravaglio are artisanal Malvasia producers who supplement their incomes with the other plant that loves these arid conditions, the caper bush. Their tiny, salted capers — the plant’s flower buds — are famous throughout Italy. You can sample and buy these producers’ delicious wines and capers from their small cellars. Barone di Villagrande is another enterprising estate on Salina that also makes native reds on Etna.
If you go to Vulcano island, make an appointment with Paola Lantieri to visit her lovely house and vineyard. She makes her passito from grapes sun-dried on the vine and on cane racks. The latest addition to the Aelioan wineries is Castellaro, a large, ambitious project on Lipari. Their state-of-the-art cellar and expanding vineyards promise well for these ancient islands’ continuing viticulture.
Main photo: Malvasia vineyards and bougainvillea at the Capofaro estate on Salina. Credit: Carla Capalbo