2018 The year in highlights!

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Wow what a year 2018 has been! It marked the conclusion of the Italian renovation of La Fortezza which was a milestone indeed.

Our second season of the La Fortezza workshops were a huge success. We had the opportunity to delve into our region in Italy more deeply, and we welcomed 40 guests this year.

We also welcomed our new chef, Chef Philip Meeker, to our workshops. We cooked in the kitchen with Angie Moser, preserved, jarred and canned and cooked with Domenica Marchetti and enjoyed showing James Beard Award winning Chef Rebecca Wilcomb our region. We introduced Rebecca, Angie and Philip to some local slow food artisans and purveyors. We harvested our vineyard and pressed olive oil at the local press with students in tow. We seasoned our new pizza oven and cooked with all the local products with locals. We ate every single thing out of our kitchen garden. We hunted truffles and sampled our wine (non stop) it was amazing.

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Testaroli tasting

Testaroli tasting

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Truffle huntiing followed by a 4 course truffle lunch, left us stuffed and sleepy.

Truffle huntiing followed by a 4 course truffle lunch, left us stuffed and sleepy.

We had Steve McKenzie paint with our guests. Lucky for us, he will be returning in 2019 to stay for a month and paint a collection that will conclude in our first ever Art Exhibition at La Fortezza.

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It was a rewarding year, and with rewards naturally come some challenges. After all renovating a 12th century fortress in the Italian countryside can be bit daunting, but if you know me, you know I love a challenge. It’s great fodder for my next book, my third book, Italy is my Boyfriend.

Speaking of books, this was the year my passion project, Cocktail Italiano, was published in April. I was overwhelmed by the support and how much everyone loves the book. We’ve put it up for a Book Award, so keep your fingers crossed, and I will most definitely let you know if it wins. To all of you who came out to various book signings, know I loved meeting all of you, chatting about my favorite subject, Italy, and hearing all of your travels and impressions of my adopted country.

Me with Penny Randolph who illustrated my map

Me with Penny Randolph who illustrated my map

Me mixing up a Campari Shakerato from my book

Me mixing up a Campari Shakerato from my book

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Here’s to hoping that 2019 will be filled with new adventures, and new friends. I look forward to meeting all of you at our workshops, and of course, I am excited to send my 3rd book off to the publishers in the spring.

Happy and healthy new year to everyone, and big grazie to all that made 2018 a perfect year. Cheers to La Fortezza and many dinners and drinks on the terrace with all those we love.

xx Annette

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Festive Dessert:: Italian Almond Cake

Panforte Ice Cream Affogato with Italian Almond Cake | http://annettejosephstyle.com/
Earlier this week, I shared my recipe for meatless lasagna, my ultimate Italian comfort food! If you’re entertaining family and friends over the next few weeks, the lasagna would be a wonderful dish to serve. Of course, all meals are made even more complete with a fantastic dessert. Pair the lasagna with almond cake. You’ll love this recipe for Italian Almond Cake by Alisa Barry.

Grazie Mille Alisa, molto buono! xx

Italian Almond Cake

You will need:

– 7 oz. almond paste
– 2/3 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup almond meal
– 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
– 1 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla
– 6 eggs
– ¾ cup all purpose flour
– 2 teaspoons baking powder
– ¼ tsp. salt

Note: This is one of my favorite (and so easy!) dessert recipes adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook. I like to add locally milled almond meal for flavor and texture, but you can substitute with all purpose flavor if not available. You can also make it gluten free by using more almond meal instead of flour. It will be more dense, but nonetheless delicious! The beauty of this dessert is that it can be made a day ahead of time, the flavor actually improves as it sits.

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

In a food processor, blend the almond paste, sugar and almond meal until finely ground. Add the butter and vanilla . Process the ingredients until creamed. Add the eggs one at a time with the processing running until the batter is smooth. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the food processor and mix just until combined .

Pour the batter into buttered and floured 8 inch spring form pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for one hour or until toothpick is dry when inserted. Remove from the oven to cool on a rack.

Serve with warm or at room temperature.

Photo Credit: John McDonald

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My Comfort Food:: Meatless Lasagna

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This meatless lasagna is something I love to make for friends and family. It’s the quintessential comfort food, especially during cold winter days. If you’re looking for a few easy meals to prepare for large groups in the coming weeks, give this one a try. It’s a crowd pleaser!

Meatless Lasagna
Serves 12-14

You will need:
– 1 package lasagna noodles (you will need 12 noodles)
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 cloves of garlic finely minced
– 2 cups mushrooms cut into thin slices
– 6 cups Spinach
– 1 16.oz ricotta ( low fat is fine)
– 2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese (reserve 1 cup for the topping)
– 1 egg
– 1 teaspoon dried oregano
– 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (reserve ½ cup for the topping)
– 1 16 oz jar prepared marinara sauce (or your own sauce recipe)

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To prepare noodles:

Preheat Oven 400 degrees F

Prepare noodles according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: once the noodles are cooked, I like to rinse them in cool water and then leave them in the water until I am ready to layer the pan, this makes them not stick together.

To prepare filling:

Combine the ricotta, 2 cups of mozzarella cheese, and the 1 cup Parmesan cheese, oregano and egg in a bowl and combine until smooth. Set aside.

In a saute pan, add oil, garlic and mushrooms. Saute until browned, then toss in the spinach and saute the spinach and mushrooms until all the moisture in the pan has evaporated. You want the mixture as dry as possible.

To layer:

Separate the noodles in the water some of them may have stuck together, then drain in a colander. I like to line up my fillings and the noodles.

In a lasagna pan (9”x13)” lay in the layer of noodles, 3 to 4 is perfect. Then add the sauce about (1/2 cup), the spinach mushroom filling, and then dollops of the ricotta filling (about 3 tablespoon dollops), finishing off the layer with a sprinkle of shredded Mozzarella ( about 1/2 cup). Repeat this process 3 times, each time starting with the noodle layer. The top layer should be the noodles, sauce and the 1 cup of Mozzarella and ½ cup of Parmesan make sure to cover the entire top layer.

Bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees F. Let it set up for 15-20 minutes before serving.

xx Annette

 

 

 

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…leaving Italy 2018

 

2018 has been the year of renovation. We switched into full gear this year, renovating the rest of our fortress. We added a kitchen, a lounge area next to the kitchen, 6 guest rooms, a kitchenette and a new outdoor seating area outside the dependence (the out building that serves as 3 guest rooms).

It was challenging in a way I have never been challenged. That is saying a lot as I have built and renovated many residential and commercial spaces, but this one was a beast. It was challenging but not why you think. Our contractor, project manager and geometra (the architect/engineer, that is required for any construction in Italy) were incredible. The electrician, painter, plumber and marble guy were top notch. Mostly, everyone working on the project was really efficient. However, the mere  scope of the project was daunting. Resurrecting a medieval fortress is not for the faint of heart.

I am happy to say that it’s all behind us. It is finished. We still have many projects ahead, but the idea that the majority of the renovation is history is quite frankly the best feeling in the world.

I loved all the workshops this year. The privates were fulfilling, and everyone who attended this year had a special point of view. I loved doing our wedding shoot; it was fun to imagine a wedding at La Fortezza. Frank and I really had a blast with all of our guests and loved showing everyone our little part of Italy.

La Fortezza guest rooms were a hit with all of our guests, too which was especially rewarding after all of our hard work. Everyone loved all the special touches, and it was really fun hosting everyone. All the aperitivi and all the suppers and discussions around the table were exactly how I imagined it would be. It warms my heart that I made so many new friends and got visit with old friends as well. I hope everyone comes to visit us again. Such precious memories make all the work the past 2 1/2 years so worth it!

Many ask if I am sad to leave Italy. I am sad, but being back in the US with my family and friends is great. I will be back next spring and in the meantime, I am enjoying all the peace of not making renovation decisions every day, but I will miss all the group dinners under the stars and the moon. Until next year…

xx I will miss you Italy. cin cin

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Last of the La Fortezza Workshops, end of the season

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I must admit the last 2 workshops in October were amazing. The first workshop was a private group. All I can say is that it was the most amazing group of friends. It was comprised of four ladies that really supported each other and enjoyed each other’s company. I have never seen anything like it.

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Philip and Suzanne prepared a pizza lunch for the group.

We tried a new chef, Philip Meeker, a classically trained chef with tons of restaurant and teaching experience. He was a fantastic addition to the La Fortezza workshop team. He was genuinely enthusiastic about our garden and local vendors like the dairy and the various butcher shops. He loved shopping at the Tuesday local market in the square in Fivizzano, and he became quite the local celebrity as he speaks great Italian and is quite charming, not to mention easy on the eyes.

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His food was absolutely delicious, creative and seasonal. His high regard for great ingredients is exactly what we look for in the meals we serve at La Fortezza – high quality, beautiful and delicious.

Our private group’s organizer, Suzanne Vizethann , is the Executive Chef and Owner of Buttermilk Kitchen. She brought all her best friends with her, and we had an amazing time touring Modena with my sweet friend and stylist/editor Barbara Pederzini. She even gave us the VIP tour of her hometown. As an aside, Barbara will be joining me next year for a couple days to teach the Italian side of styling during my Strictly Styling Workshop 2019; we have lots of surprises up our sleeves, so stay tuned.

We stopped for a bit of power shooppingat Oro Nero a custom design shop in Modena

We stopped for a bit of power shopping at Oro Nero a custom design shop in Modena

We began the workshop with Suzanne’s group with truffle hunting. It was a gorgeous morning trekking through the forest.

Truffle huntiing followed by a 4 course truffle lunch, left us stuffed and sleepy.

Truffle huntiing followed by a 4 course truffle lunch, left us stuffed and sleepy.

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Suzanne treated all of us to her Nonna’s sauce and meatballs at our Sunday supper. Philip rounded out the meal with amazing handmade pasta noodles along with sides and dessert. Private workshops have been very exciting and so fulfilling.T hanks to Katie, Janie and Kristy for joining the adventure and making the dance party so fun.

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For our final workshop of the year, Angie Mosier brought an amazing group of photographers to La Fortezza. We had a wonderful time touring and photographing. Angie is a gifted teacher, and she brought so much energy and expertise to her workshop. Chef Rebecca Wilcomb joined her friend Angie, and we all visited local food purveyors and introduced Philip, Angie and Rebecca to local fare, like panigacci and testoroli. My Italian girlfriends, helped introduce them to all things local in food stuffs. Thanks to Giovanna, local food ambassador, and Federica of China Clementi. We had professional barman Simone join us one night to create cocktails with China Clementi a locally produced Amaro, created in Fivizzano by the family.

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Panigacci made the traditional way on the open fire.

Testaroli being made

Testaroli being made

Me with Giovanna

Me with Giovanna

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Testaroli

Testaroli

Testaroli tasting

Testaroli tasting

We toured the China Clementi Amaro factory earlier in the day, so it was such fun to do a cocktail tasting later that evening for aperitivo with Angie’s group.

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Philip was enamored with our outdoor pizza oven (il forno). He and Rebecca opted to cook a few of our meals in it as well as a pizza lunch for our attendees. It was really an honor to have Rebecca cook in our kitchen, and she and Philip had a blast using fresh local ingredients. Phillip taught handmade pasta to many of our attendees. His charm and ease in the kitchen made him an instant hit with our guests. He’ll be back next year in June to create more exciting meals in our kitchen.

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Roasted in the forno

Roasted in the forno

Wrapping up the workshops with such great people was so rewarding, I am back in the US for a few months. I’ll be on book tour and of course producing a few editorial stories. I will be back to Italy next year. A heartfelt thanks to all who attended. I loved meeting you all and showing you my Italy.

xx Annette

 

 

 

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