In My Well-travelled Kitchen

The cheeses, salumi, olive oil and wine have been stacked away, but on my kitchen table are more products (pasta!) we brought back from Italy. Garfagana is noted chestnut country – hence the chestnut pasta made with chestnut flour. But, it is also a territory where a particular type of farro is produced – emmer wheat rather than the usual spelt.


Of course, mushroom season was under way. Did you know there were different classes of dried porcini? There is a first class and a second class – easy to spot the difference with the broken bits and a higher percentage of darker stem in the second class and lovely slices of creamy dried mushroom cap in the first class. I suspect the second class dried porcini is the stuff that is commercially exported. Feeling very chuffed with my large packet of first class dried porcini!


Of course, you can’t go to chestnut country without acquiring chestnut honey. It is dark and has a strong taste. I’m not overly fond of it slathered on my morning toast, but it is divine drizzled on pecorino cheese.


It is also possible to track our progress home via produce purchased in the brilliant motorway services that usually have a prodotti tipici regionali section. Ligurian pasta: spindly twisted Trofie and round stamped Croxetti (or sometimes spelled Crozetti). Both of these pastas are eggless, but the croxetti are an oddity that I’ve never seen outside of Italy. Apparently they are a speciality of Genoa and served with pesto (naturally!), a walnut or mushroom sauce. Even the ornate stamp has a function – to provide ridges for the sauce to adhere. Our local supermarket used to stock trofie, which I would buy regularly, but it seems to be a thing of the past. I guess we’ll just have to travel back to Liguria to stock up.


Further north in the Peidmont, we stopped overnight in the small town of Ivrea. Walking into the centre of town from our B&B, we spotted a lovely Frutta e Verdura shop. We stocked up on local pears and apples for that day’s journey that would take us up to the Val d’Aosta, through the Mount Blanc tunnel and into France. On the shelf of that Frutta e Verdura were jars of homemade jams – produced at the same farm where most of the local produce in the shop came from. I couldn’t pass up a jar of confettura di mirtillo, blueberry jam.


On our last leg of the journey, we stopped just outside Dijon – obligatory mustard purchases.


Back home again, I’ve been dropped into the deep end, dealing with the garden’s fruit bounty. I made damson cheese from some of the pulp I froze just prior to leaving for holiday (see my post Damson Glut). The quinces were ripe when we returned home – more membrillo, possibly. But, since there is still membrillio in the refrigerator from last year’s batch, it is more likely to be cakes or tarts, or even more jam. Still pondering possibilities.


The garden also yielded lots and lots of tiny yellow crabapples. They are packed with pectin. It is easy enough to extract: simply cook your cleaned and de-stemmed crabapples with about 500ml water per kilo of apples for 30 minutes or so until the apples are reduced to mush. Strain the thickened pectin liquid using a cloth lined colander; squeeze as much of the pectin out and discard the pulp. It can be “canned” (or as the British say, “bottled”) into vacuum-sealed jars for future use in jams and jellies. So, you can probably guess what these crabapples have been made into!


A monthly IMK (In My Kitchen) post. Check out the fabulous Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who lists all of us IMK bloggers, writing about what’s been happening in our kitchens each month. A chronological listing of my In My Kitchen blog posts can be found on a separate page, just click the link or look under the heading of Diaries in the Menu bar above.


    • I had to look up leatherwood honey – sounds interesting and I notice it made it on the ark of taste list. I bet it would be nice drizzled on some local Tasmanian cheeses. I love the contrast between the sweetness of the honey and the sharp creaminess of the cheese.


    • As you know well enough, if you’re interested in food, it become one of the souvenir you pick up in your travels. I remember all the lovely things you brought back earlier in the summer. Yum!


  1. Lovely to see a sample of the goodies you picked up on your journey Deb. I remember the fabulous food in the service centres along the Italian motorways. They were such a surprise. Nothing like that here! I’m interested to know more about the chestnut flour pasta, and i think you’re right about the B grade dried porcini being exported. They still taste good though…


    • I thought of you when I picked up the chestnut pasta. However, we were told that to make it, you need to have a 2/3 percentage of plain flour (or Italian 00 flour) because it needs the gluten to hold the dough together. I wonder if one could experiment with GF flour with xantham gum to get the same effect – or for you, you might try spelt flour with the chestnut flour. I’m eager to try the pasta, of course made with a creamy porcini mushroom sauce! And I now have class A mushrooms! We loved the Italian motorway services – the food is nothing like those here in the UK. My husband is now eager to go back… (so am I!)


  2. You are so fortunate to be able to drive down to to Italy ( through France also) and come back with such glorious treasure. I imagine if I lived in Europe or England I might be permanently on the road. This post makes me yearn for the Garfagnana, the farro and the chestnut honey especially, one of my favourite areas to visit in Italy.
    It will be god to see your bottling efforts on the home front. And the Membrillo too.


    • You are absolutely right. It is so easy to get the car train through the chunnel and a grand adventure driving through France and Italy. Who knows…we might even drive to Greece one day! However, we will certainly be returning to Garfagnana. We both loved the people, the area and the food. Will be posting soon on the quince situation.


    • We have a shopping list for next time… Couldn’t exert myself to get the cheeses and salamis from the frig, the litres of oil and cases of wine from the basement, so they didn’t make it into the pictures. Enjoying our produce!


  3. The most delicious kitchen this month!!!! I miss fresh roasted chestnuts… and all that lovely produce looks amazing! Thanks for sharing!!! Liz x


    • I really love the produce of Tuscany. Of course, chestnuts are a speciality of the northern part of the province, although most of it is made into chestnut flour. Yes, you are right – there is something special about fresh roasted chestnuts!


  4. What fabulous goodies you have brought back from your trip. I miss being able to do that. Lucky you to have the first class porcini, I just checked a packet I have here (in Sydney) and lots of broken bits and stems! Very envious of the blueberry jam.


    • I never knew that about porcini and was quite surprised when I kept seeing dried mushrooms stacked in different bins with labels clearly stating 1st and 2nd. The price difference also wasn’t astronomical. Haven’t yet opened this jar of blueberry jam, but we did have homemade blueberry jam with fresh ricotta cheese once while we were there – absolutely wonderful!


  5. Debi, what a bounty you’ve brought back from your travels. I love the coin pasta, and I didn’t know about grades of porcini, although I’m not surprised. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the really good stuff here. I wish we grew crabapples, we make crabapple jelly although we usually only make pectin from green apples – crabapples are too precious! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • The Croxetti were very strange and needed constant stirring to prevent them from sticking together in the cook pot. But I’m glad we got them as they tasted delicious with a creamy mushroom sauce. I, also didn’t know about the different grades of porcini and was quite surprised when I saw them separated into two bins in the shops. The things you learn when you travel and shop! I might try crabapple jelly next year. My grandmother used to make apple butter from crabapples, so I might try that as well.


  6. What a wonderful post. I have got to track down those Croxetti, and since we’re not going to Italy anytime soon, I’ll have to brave the crowds at Eataly, New York’s Italian food mall/madhouse. I’m curious also if they’ll have first-class dried porcini. I did not know about that!


    • I hope you can find the croxetti. They were interesting, but you need to pay attention while cooking them – more so than other pastas since the flat sides will try their darnedest to stick together. I’d be curious, too, to find out if Eataly carries different classes of porcini. I didn’t know about it either, until confronted with it in the markets in Garfagnana.


  7. What a fabulous haul, Debi – and there are more wonders, un-photographed. Sigh. Interesting about the porcini. I am due a little stop at Borough Market on Friday and will look for fresh as well as check on the status of the dry. Love the pectin syrup you have made. And if you do a WordPress tag search for quince or pedlars, you will find lots of recipes!


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