Learning and Growing in the time of Covid-19, and What’s next…

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Where this all began…
The last week of February, Frank and I traveled back to our fortress in Fivizzano, Italy. I was there to start shooting my new cookbook, La Fortezza Cookbook (Rizzoli, NY), when the virus started to take hold in Milan and the surrounding area. I thought I was safe from the virus’s reach since the fortress is in such a remote area of Italy. However, shortly after I arrived, the local hospital shut down because 2 patients tested positive for COVID-19 and the entire staff was quarantined. After speaking with my family (Frank had left a couple of days earlier), I made the difficult decision to travel back to the United States, putting my cookbook shoot on hold.

Coming back to the United States was a surreal experience. I departed Italy on March 7th, just three days before President Trump closed all travel between the United States and Italy. I had a mask and plenty of Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. The surgical mask was mainly so I would not touch my face. It also gave me a vague sense of comfort. And, we now know now that was a very good decision on my part. On the bus to the plane, a man was standing next to me in a full hazmat suit carrying a briefcase. I was the only other person wearing a mask; me and the hazmat suit guy. I was nervous and filled with a sense of dread.

I wiped down the seat, tucked into my book, and we took off. In Rome, I headed to the Alitalia lounge near my gate. Usually, my husband and I look forward to spending time in this lounge as the food is amazing, and they have a pizza oven. However, this time I was full of anxiety. I had an espresso and washed my hands about a million times until it was time to board.

At the gate, we all filled out a form and had our temperatures taken before we were allowed to board. The flight was long, and I could hardly wait to land. Once we got to customs, I was asked where I had been, a standard question. I replied, “Italy”. The customs agent stamped my passport and said welcome home. That’s it. No temperature taken, no special line, nothing. I was concerned since so many people, most likely some infected just walked through into Atlanta or other destinations. It makes sense how this virus spread so easily in the months before. But I was so dismayed that this was not being taken seriously at the Atlanta International customs terminal entry to the US. What the heck?

I arrived and immediately was on a two-week self-imposed quarantine, as was Frank (his company suggested it since he arrived from Italy, one of the most infected countries at the time. Now England has surpassed Italy’s numbers, sadly). We watched the grave news from Italy, talking to friends in Italy every day—thank God for the internet and WhatsApp! I left on a Saturday, and by Sunday the Italian Prime Minister put Italy into lockdown. They were completely locked down for 2 months.

Back in the US…
After our 2 week self-quarantine, Frank and I remained locked down at home upon our return. His practice shut down, except emergencies. I was worried every time he had to go take care of patients, but that is all part of being a doctor’s wife. He’s careful. I had plenty of time to work on writing my book, La Fortezza Cookbook, and test recipes with Frank as my taste tester. We watched endless reports and lots of old movies. Read books and took long walks every day since our street is beautiful and deserted. Of course, we cleaned the house since our housekeeper was not coming anymore. We walked the dogs, who were endlessly grateful that we were home 24/7. Since I am very organized, I did minimal reorganizing.

Our daughter just moved into a new house, and she was homebound working. She’s a lawyer and luckily was able to work from home, but since her house was empty, she started to look around and realized she needed to get a few things for their home. Lucky for her, so many things were on sale, and she was able to support the economy by taking advantage of great sales. We managed to decorate using emails and Facetime to place things. She’s got a great eye, and she has been doing a great job. Our son, who lives in Austin, is a Data Scientist, so he too was able to work from home. He also just moved into his place, so I did help him as well with placing furniture via Facetime.

La Fortezza Chef Philp and I have been doing Instagram Live La Fortezza Cooking Classes every other week; we have had hundreds of people join us which is so much fun. Look out for more cooking classes coming in the next weeks!

Every Saturday I have cocktail hour (aperitivo) with my Italian and US friends via Zoom.
We talk about our families and still gossip and laugh. It’s been a highlight of the week since we can’t go out. We have ordered in from local restaurants at least once a week. I fear for the restaurants during this time. But somehow we will survive.

Things will be different, but I am an optimist so I always hope for the best. This week I will attempt to cut Frank’s hair; I have been watching loads of tutorials I think I can do this. I have been coloring my own hair which I am fairly good at since I did this for years in Italy until I found a hairdresser I trusted there. I have been writing marketing copy for my book, Italy is My Boyfriend, that releases in a couple of weeks. It should be interesting seeing how book talks and signings pan out. Stay tuned….

Back to Italy…
Many of you wonder when you can travel, and I am right there with you! I hope to return to Italy as soon as it is allowed. Italy is now in phase 2 of opening the country. I am optimistic that I can return to my beloved Italy in a few months to work on La Fortezza Cookbook, and welcome people to La Fortezza in September. That is the goal and the hope. I will continue to keep you updated about La Fortezza workshops. Right now we are a go for late August and September workshops. Of course, we will be very aware that we all want to be safe, so we will make decisions based on safety as we go it will become clear what best steps are.

More quarantine stories…
Please enjoy the quarantine stories from the La Fortezza team this month. Nicole, my web manager, and I thought it would be a fun idea for everyone from the La Fortezza team to tell us how they have been coping in these days of stay at home orders. As the country opens, we hope everyone takes their time and proceeds safely, so we can get back to normal, however that might look… Look for all the quarantine stories this month, and thank you to our incredible team and the folks we work with in Italy for the support in the uncertain time. We love you.

xx

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Fresh Pasta Recipe:: Pasta Puttanesca

La_Fortezza_Kate_Blohm_2019-363 Over the past few weeks, our workshop chef, Philip Meeker and I have been hosting cooking demonstrations on Instagram LIVE. In fact, we had another one last week!

Each lesson utilizes our quick and easy handmade pasta recipe found here. It serves as a great base for any pasta recipe, including pasta puttanesca.

Famously named for Italy’s “ladies of the night” who quickly made it between clients, this fast, easy and delicious pasta puttanesca recipe is an ideal weeknight meal and is perfect for the warmer spring weather that is upon us. It’s from the archives, and trust me, you’ll love it. It calls for lots of jars, including jarred marinara. What’s not to love about that?!

You will need:
– 1 pound fresh spaghetti or linguini
– 2 teaspoons anchovy paste (don’t skip this!)
– 1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
– 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
– 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 jar Marinara sauce
– 1 cup jarred olive tempande
– 2 tablespoons drained capers
– 2 tablespoons dried basil
– Optional 2 tablespoons lemon oil

To prepare:

Cook spaghetti in a pasta pot of boiling water until barely al dente.

While pasta boils, cook garlic, anchovy paste, red-pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and pale golden, about 2 minutes.

Add jar of marinara to garlic oil along with olive tempande and capers and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pasta is ready.

Drain pasta and add to sauce. Simmer, turning pasta with tongs, until pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and lemon oil.

*Note: for a touch of protein you can stir in canned tuna to the pasta.

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Workshop updates + a peek at my next project

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Ciao Everyone,
As many of us are in our homes sheltering, we are slowly seeing things improve all over the world. In Italy, hopeful signs appear every passing day as things are very slowly starting to open, and people are starting to adjust to the new normal.

Today, I am sharing a few updates of my own. Below, you’ll learn the latest with our workshop schedule, more about my book launch and a few happy news items I am delighted to share with you.

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Workshop Update:
I have been in communication with all of our instructors and my friends overseas. They are hopeful that come fall, we will be able to meet again. I am optimistic that we will be able to return to Italy early September and conduct workshops with small groups on our compound in the Italian countryside. We will see and make decisions as we go. As always, I’ll update you here and on Instagram.

Join me:
In the meantime, as you know, I am conducting La Fortezza cooking classes every couple of weeks with our La Fortezza workshop chef, Chef Philip. Most recently, we have been making handmade pasta and focaccia! You can find the homemade pasta recipe here. Check my Instagram for announcements, and always right here on the blog for recipes we have prepared as well as instructions and shopping lists.

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New Book:
As always, there are some very wonderful things happening in our La Fortezza world. Italy is My Boyfriend, my memoir, will be released this month May 26th. I am hoping that you have already ordered your copy and will be enjoying the tale of how we came to renovate and own a 12th-century fortress in the Italian countryside. Trust me, it is quite an adventure. ORDER your copy here.

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Book Launch
As with my past books, I will be doing a book launch for this exciting title. The launch will happen on June 18th at the Atlanta History Center with Betsy Riley, editor and chief of Atlanta Magazine. She will be interviewing me—live or virtually—it is yet to be determined.

Next project:
I am working on my next book, a La Fortezza Cookbook. I feel blessed to work on this project while at home waiting for all of this to pass.

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Big News:
La Fortezza is featured in the May Issue of Elle Décor magazine. It is an issue devoted to Italy giving you a complete virtual vacation. It is on newsstands now. Check out the online feature here.

I am also excited to say that we were featured in Quin in partnership with Lacanche. See the beautiful photos and full spread here.

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Finally, I recently collaborated with Frontgate for an Italian Riviera photoshoot featuring their Italian-inspired summer collection. See the spread and read my interview here.

Again, please stay safe and stay well. We hope to welcome you to Italy in the future.
It will be okay.

xx Annette

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LIVE Cooking Class:: Let’s Make Tortellini

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Ciao everyone! While we are all at home, our La Fortezza chef, Philip Meeker and I are doing LIVE La Fortezza Cooking Classes on Instagram. In fact, so many of you joined us for our last cooking class, Philip and I decided to host another!

We’ll be sharing two recipes using tortellini which are both fantastic for a weeknight meal. The first is topped with walnut pesto. The second is Chef Philip’s bolognese. It’s delightful on any pasta, but we especially love it on woodfired pizza.  I’m posting both of them today, so you have some time to shop for anything you might need. I hope you will join us on Thursday on Instagram at 2 PM EST!

Stay well. x

Greens and Ricotta Stuffed Tortellini with Walnut Pesto
Serves 4

Pasta: For Tortelli Pasta, use the Basic Pasta recipe. Find it here.

For the filling, you will need:

– 3 cups baby kale
– 2 cups  baby arugula
– 1 cup baby spinach
– 1 1/2 cups ricotta
– 8 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
– 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
– 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
– 1 eggs

To prepare the filling:

Fill a 4-quart pot 3/4 full with water. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Bring water to a boil. Fill a bowl 3/4 full with ice water. Add the kale, arugula, and spinach to the boiling water blanch them quickly about  30 seconds to 1 minute. Pull the greens from the pot and plunge into the ice water.

Drain the greens in a sieve and then squeeze the liquid out of them by pressing into the sieve over the sink to remove excess liquid. In a food processor place chilled greens, ricotta, parmesan, pepper, one teaspoon salt, and nutmeg. Blend until a smooth, about 30 seconds. Add 1 egg, and blend. Place the mixture into the fridge until ready to fill the Tortellini.

 

For the walnut pesto, you will need:
– 1 cup shelled walnuts, reserve 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts for garnish
– 1 clove of garlic
– 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan, + ¼ cup for topping
– 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
– 1/4 teaspoon of salt

To prepare the walnut sauce:

Preheat the oven to 350° degrees F. Put the whole walnuts on a sheet tray, and put on the middle rack in the oven to lightly roast them to golden brown, about 3-5 minutes watch them so they don’t burn. When the walnuts cool, chop the walnuts *set aside 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts. Combine walnuts and garlic in a food processor, and pulse about 30 seconds. Add  parmesan, olive oil, and salt, and blend for 30 seconds to a minute, until combined, it should be a loose consistency.

To prepare tortellini: 

Use the directions of the pasta recipe, you should have 4 sheets. Using a  2  “ round cutter to cut the pasta cut our rounds.

Place the filling into a pastry bag. Using the pastry bag place a 1 inch dollop of filling into each circle of dough. When all the rounds are filled. With a finger dip into a bowl of water and then brush water around the filling fold in half press gently to seal, then take the 2 points and pull them to connect press together to form the shape of a tortellini.

Cooking tortellini:

Fill a 7 to 8-quart pot 3/4 full with water and add 3 tablespoons salt. Bring to a low boil over high heat, and then reduce to medium-low retaining the gentle boil. Drop tortellini in the water to cook for 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the tortellini using a slotted. Place them in a 4 quart mixing bowl, toss with the Walnut Sauce. Serve immediately.

To serve:

Spoon the Tortelli onto four bowls, top with grated parmesan.

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Chef Philip’s Bolognese 
Serves 4-6

You will need:
– ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
– 1 lb ground beef (at least 15 % fat)
– 1 carrot, chopped
– 4 ribs of celery chopped
– 1 yellow onion, chopped
– 1 teaspoon kosher salt
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 14 oz can Mutti polpo tomatoes

To prepare:
Place the olive oil in a Dutch over. Add the ground beef to one side of the pan, it should be in
one piece. Chef’s Tip: This allows the ground beef brown evenly and it is less likely to dry out.
Add the carrot, celery, onion, and sprinkle the salt over the top. On medium heat sauté the meat
until it is deep brown and then flip it, making sure to keep it whole, let it brown on the other side.
Meanwhile, stir your veggies to ensure that they don’t burn they will be cooking on the other half
of the pot, sauté them until caramelized. They will be a nice brown color.
When the veggies are cooked, stir in the garlic, and then begin to break up the ground beef with
a heat proof spatula mixing it into the veggies. Once the ground beef is completely broken up,
add the tomatoes with their juice. Break up the tomatoes with your spoon and let them gently
cook down until they’re reduced by half. At this point, you’re Bolognese should be finished
cooking and it’s ready to use on pasta or pizza.

Chef’s Tip: Grass fed ground beef is much better than choice or prime when it comes to flavor.

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Handmade Pasta Recipe + Join me LIVE for a demo

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Ciao Guys! I wanted to post our basic pasta recipe for you all today. While we are all at home, our La Fortezza chef, Philip Meeker and I are doing LIVE La Fortezza Cooking Classes on Instagram. It’s a great way for you to try your hand at pasta making while also giving you something to do. Grab your family and make some pasta together!

Making your own pasta is so worth it. This is a recipe that will appear in my upcoming cookbook, La Fortezza Cookbook, (Rizzoli NY) Fall 2021. I hope you will join us for our first class TODAY on Instagram at 2 PM EST for a demonstration on how to make your own handmade pasta.

Let me know how you like making pasta by hand.

Stay well. x

Handmade Pasta: Basic Egg Pasta Dough
For 4 Servings

You will need:
– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 3 eggs

Directions for the pasta:
Mix the flour and salt in a 2-quart mixing bowl. Add the eggs to the bowl and mix them in to the flour to form a dough. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth, about 5 to 10 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap, and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes to 4 hours before rolling out. Any longer and you risk the dough oxidizing and turning a dark color.

To prepare: 

*Use semolina flour for sprinkling or all-purpose flour for dusting*

To prepare your pasta via a machine:
Set the pasta machine rollers on their widest setting. Cut the pasta dough into quarters. Leave three of the pieces under plastic wrap to keep from drying out. Lightly dust the other piece with all-purpose flour and press it into a rectangle with almost the width of the rollers. You’ll want to maintain this width as you roll. Feed the dough through the machine, fold the dough in half crosswise. Repeat twice. Then without folding, feed the dough through the second widest setting. Repeat on the next thinnest, setting the rollers one notch thinner each time until you roll the dough through on the second to thinnest setting. Trim the two ends with a knife so that they are straight, and put on a lightly floured surface. Now your dough is ready to shape in to many types of pasta.

Note: You can also cut the pasta sheet into strips making Tagliatelle, by rolling the sheet loosely like a jelly roll into a 3 inch roll. Cut into ¼ inch strips, starting on the right side of the log, cut 6 cuts then toss the strips unfurling them into pasta nests, repeat until you have cut all rolls.

Hand cut: Dust a wooden board with 1 tbsp of flour.

Unwrap the dough and flatten it with a rolling pin. Roll out the dough into a thin pasta sheet, to less than 1/8 inch thickness. To cut the pasta sheets into tagliatelle, You can cut the pasta sheet into strips making Tagliatelle, by rolling the sheet loosely like a jelly roll into a 3 inch roll. Cut into ¼ inch strips, starting on the right side of the log, cut 6 cuts then toss the strips unfurling them into pasta nests.

To cook:
In salted water in a 5 quart pasta pot at a rolling boil add the pasta, cook until pasta rises to the top of the pot, pull one out to sample, it should have a bite or al dente. Serve with your favorite sauce or topping.

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