The Tale of Ancient Bread of the Lunigiana

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Once upon a time, there was a region in Italy far to the north of Tuscany called Lunigiana. This beautiful place of rolling hills, green land, of olive groves and chestnut forests was remote and magical. The folks living in the region were very creative and clever with what the land provided.

They harvested and sold olives and the oil extracted from the olives. They kept the chestnuts for themselves to live off of and use in many incarnations. The chestnuts were fired on a low burning fire dried to be milled into flour. The leaves used in the kitchen as parchment.

The low constant fire also gave way to utility by way of cooking on low fire. Large covered cast iron pans called “testa” were put on the low fire and used to cook many staples like bread while the chestnuts dried.

Last week our workshop chef, Philip, and I went to observe a loaf of local bread being baked in this cast iron vessel over the open fire. My friend Cornelia, invited us; she and her family own Podere Conti an Agriturismo in Flatteria about 45 mintues from our place. Cornelia is passionate about food and very passionate about local food. She was preparing to be part of the regional slow food competition presented in Parma at the famous cooking school, ALMA

We were lucky enough to watch her practice with her assistant at her beautiful location. The process is very specific. They had been testing variations on proportions of wet the dry ingredients for weeks. Finally, after several attempts, they came up with the perfect ratio for a moist and light bread. Careful not to give away too many secrets, she simply had us watch as they heated the testa pans in the open fire and then gently placed damp chestnut leaves onto round wooden boards. While the bread rose, we enjoyed the beautiful grounds and talked about her sheep and the olive harvest last season.

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Cornelia dampens and then presses the leaves between heavy boards to flatten, before using it as natural parchment for baking the bread.

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Dried Chestnut leaves, picked at the waning of the moon. Cornelia believes in Luna harvesting technique. https://www.gardeningbythemoon.com/

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I’ll let you know how they did at the competition, but after tasting everything, I think we have a winner. Their entry for the competition: bread baked in the testa with chestnut leaves toasted and rubbed with sweet garlic, local head cheese, local Pecorino cheese, homemade persimmon jam, and their own fresh pressed Bio olive oil. These offerings should surely garner first prize. It was certainly a gold medal experience for Philip and I. Thank you Cornelia for your warm hospitality and friendship.

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Podere Conti’s Bio- Olive oil.

Living in the Italian countryside has certainly opened my eyes to a whole new lifestyle, new foods and ways to harvest and cook in season, but mostly to some very dear friends.

xx Annette

 

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Our fall workshop instructors are amazing

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I’m so excited about our La Fortezza fall workshop instructors roster. It just keeps getting better and better, I swear!

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Starting in September, I will be guiding a slow food experience The Lunigiana Slow Food Experience~ September 4th-9th. I am so excited to make this food forward retreat the most exciting foodies’ retreat yet. Harvest in our vineyard, make handmade pasta, meet all my foodie friends, make tomato sauce, jams, and pickled vegetables from our kitchen garden. Relax, do yoga, and enjoy all that the Italian countryside has to offer; we will pamper you and you will leave refreshed, rested and inspired.

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September 11th- 16th Antiques and Merchants of Italy-  You know how much I love cooking, but right up there is shopping. Since living in Italy, I have loved attending monthly antique fairs, and perusing the local flea markets, and shopping with local bespoke artisans in nearby towns. I’m so happy Antiques Expert Lisa Burnett of Inner Pieces Inc. will be lending her expertise. Lisa and I have been friends for 20 years, and she’s my go to person if I am buying antique pieces. She will be my co-leader and guide to all things vintage, antique and stylish. We will shop private vendors, my go to flea markets, and we will take you shopping in various towns that feature store after store of art, handmade clothing and accessories. Of course there will be beautiful food and wine, and lots of Aperol Spritzes, Lisa’s favorite cocktail. Join us and shop ’til you drop!

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October 9-14th Lifestyle Photography Workshop~ William Abranowicz, world renowned lifestyle and interiors photographer, with beautiful coffee table books to his credit like his latest book America Originals . He will work with students as a group each morning with one on one instruction throughout each day.  Participants will be taught to simplify the technical aspects of photography, understand light and composition to create well executed, emotionally impactful images, and to edit to form a concise visual articulation of what we see and hope to say. This is a once in a lifetime experience. Honestly I can hardly believe he said yes when I asked him to come teach at La Fortezza. Bill is a gentleman and a scholar – spending days with him creating will be an amazing experience. Spots are limited, so grab your spot before they are all gone. I am beyond thrilled to welcome Bill and all attendees to this special creative retreat.

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October 16th-21st Her Dark Materials Old Masters Still Life Photography Workshop~ I have been obsessed with “her dark materials” unique photography for years. I literally am bringing her to La Fortezza to watch her work. Her sense of composition is like nothing I have ever seen. True that Old Masters still life photography is all over the place, but Ros’s approach is both gorgeous and leaves me breathless. I told her that if no one signs up for her workshop I will be the only student, so I don’t care if anyone shows up I selfishly want her to myself… Ros Atkinkson, the photographer behind @her_dark_materials and a still life and food photographer who has achieved international recognition for her Old Masters style set ups and lighting will take students through the process of creating an Old Masters scene. Learn as she teaches you how to choose the right camera setting, capture the light in the best possible way and style using props and local produce. You’ll be guided in how to capture the scene, from tiniest details to the whole frame while using camera settings to maximize the use of light and shadow. I am SO excited to welcome Ros to La Fortezza this year…I am hoping it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and she comes year after year.

xx Annette

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Fall 2019 La Fortezza Workshops Launch

I am beyond excited to announce our roster of fall 2019 La Fortezza workshops in Italy. I have really listened to the feedback of past workshop attendees, and I think that fall simply put, “nails it.”

We have a variety of workshops that speak to everyone. There will be food-forward workshops, shopping excursion workshops and photography workshops with incredible talents and professionals. We want to make our workshops the best they can be, so thank you to all who participated last year and gave us such great advice.

Ready to see what’s in store?

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September 4th – 9th

First off is my Preserving Italy Workshop. We will dive deep into the region I call home, the Lunigiana. I feel passionate about sharing this unknown, and in some cases untouched, region. The people of this region work the land, live off the land and truly live seasonally. I like to say that I learned about the seasons here since we live season to season year after year.

The food artisans, the farmers, the vintners, the cheese makers and the fresh olive oil producers are a way of life. It’s the most authentic life I’ve known. We will be cooking throughout our workshop with Chef Philip and with locals too. I will share it all with you at our beautiful location, La Fortezza, overlooking mountains, vineyards and villages. I am thrilled to show you my secret Italy.

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September 11th – 16th

This one is all about shopping. If you follow me on Instagram , then you know how much I love shopping flea markets in Italy. How would you like to come along and shop with me? This workshop is geared toward the flea market shopper although shopping at this retreat will be peppered with plenty of artisan finds including handmade handbags and bespoke seaside markets.

Coming along to lend her expertise is professional picker and antiques expert Lisa Burnett of Inner Pieces. She will be leading the group and sharing her incredible eye with all of us. This is the perfect girlfriend retreat because of course there will be cooking classes and great food, lots of wine and Aperol Spritzes, Lisa’s favorite Italian Cocktail, and a little yoga as well. I cannot wait. These spots will be snatched-up fast, so don’t think about it; just do it!

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October 9th – 15th

I can’t believe he said ‘yes” when I asked him, but one of my all time favorite photographers is coming to teach lifestyle photography at La Fortezza. I think I jumped up and down for 10 minutes when he agreed. William Abranowicz is an icon in the photography world with many books under his belt. He has shot for every single magazine in the world. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I cannot tell you how much you will learn seeing the world through your lens with Bill as your instructor. He will be able to work with you one on one since the class is small. Imagine working with a world class photographer! Well my friends, you no longer have to imagine it. Just grab your place, and you can. I am beyond excited that we will be hosting Bill. This workshop will sell out fast, so don’t hesitate come to Italy and up your photography game. This is a “pinch me” experience, believe me!

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October 16th – 21st

Ros Atkinkson, Her_Dark_Materials on Instagram, will host our final workshop of the season. I invited Ros and selfishly told her I don’t care if it’s just she and I because I want to learn from her, and I want to walk around in her brain (I know I sound obsessed…and I am). Her still life photography moves me because the emotion and incredibly complex composition makes my heart sing. I was so pleased when she agreed to come and teach at La Fortezza. Apologies for all of the gushing, but I have a serious girl crush on Ros.

Come play with us! If you’re a fan of composition, food styling, photography or beauty in the highest form, please join us. Like I said, I’m happy if you can join us, and fine if you don’t because sharing Ros and her talent is going to be tough for me. There will be plenty of food, and wine and inspiration.

Who’s joining the fun in fall 2019? Book your spot today! 

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Sunday Supper:: Sausage and Peppers

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This easy sausage and peppers one pan dinner is the perfect one pan meal. It’s especially wonderful for a weekend after hosting friends and family (hint, hint – if you’re hosting Easter brunch, I’m talking to you!). You put everything on one dish, pop it into the oven and forget about it.

If you’re not hosting this weekend, tuck this recipe away for the future. This comfort food favorite is a great Sunday Supper option as it’s easy to prepare, delicious, and serves a crowd. Add some crunchy bread and a salad, and you’re all set.

Here’s my recipe from Picture Perfect Parties, my cookbook. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Sausage and Peppers One Pan Dinner
Serves 8
You will need:

– 6 Italian sausages
– 2 red peppers sliced
– 2 hot banana peppers sliced
– 1 jalapeno pepper minced
– 2 green peppers sliced
– 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
– 4 cloves of garlic minced
– ¼ cup olive oil
– 1 teaspoon salt

To prepare:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice the peppers and the sausage into bite size pieces. In a large bowl toss all the ingredients and mix well. Place mixture into a ceramic baking dish. Bake for 1 ½ hours and serve warm. Garnish with assorted herbs like rosemary, parsley, oregano, or chives.

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Savory Mushroom Soup

Can you believe this week wraps-up Juice January? Congratulations for cleaning-up your routine and getting a great start on 2019! You did it!

Over the years, I’ve gone from a strict juice regime to incorporating healthier meals. I hope you’ve enjoyed all of the recipes this month and that you’ve found a few favorites to add to your repertoire. This savory mushroom soup might be another great recipe to add!

It’s a fantastic recipe for chilly winter nights. You will love it. It’s hearty and homey. I like to add a dollop of plain yogurt and chopped chives to top off this rich luscious soup.

Savory Mushroom Soup
serves 4-6

You will need:
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 teaspoon of sea salt
– 1 shallot chopped fine
– 3 stalks of celery chopped
– 2 large carrots cut into coins
– 3 small zucchinis cut into bite sized pieces
– 2 pints mixed mushrooms, like shitake, and portabellas, enoki
– 2 bulbs of garlic roasted whole
– 1 1/2 cups brown lentils
– 1 quart chicken broth or vegetable broth
– 1/3 cup chopped parsley
– 1/4 cup of plain yogurt
– chopped chives
– roasted garlic*

To prepare:
Chop vegetables, shallot, celery, carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms. Place in a large cast iron stock pot. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and saute over medium heat until transparent and wilted. Add the roasted garlic by squeezing the roasted garlic cloves into the pot and stir to combine all the ingredients. Add parsley, lentils and broth. Simmer over low heat for 2-3 hours. Serve.

I like to add a dollop of plain yogurt and chopped chives to top off this rich luscious soup.

*To prepare roasted garlic: place whole bulbs of garlic wrapped in aluminum foil in the oven on 325 for 1 hour until garlic is soft and fragrant.

Photo by me

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