Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

I was cleaning out the pantry recently, and there, in a corner where I haven’t looked for years, was a green 5-liter jug with a plastic cap on it. It brought a smile to my face because although I haven’t seen it in many years, it reminded me of a wonderful trip my wife and I took to Italy when we were still dating.
Our first European trip together was to explore Rome, the Isle of Capri, and the Amalfi coast. We stayed at many wonderful hotels, including an old castle, and we made an effort to sample the local cuisine when possible.
At one of our stops, we walked through a small, quaint village and found a local eatery named Da Roketa (The Rocket.) As I recall, the food was homemade and fantastic, the bread to die for, and the homemade olive oil from the family’s own olive trees something you wanted to drown in.
Much to the surprise of the owners of the restaurant, we asked if we could buy their olive oil to take home to the states with us, and we somehow wound up with this massive 5-liter jug, which we carried with us throughout the rest of our trip.
Although this was after 9/11, the limitations about carrying on liquids had not yet been established, so I ducked taped the plastic cap securely, making sure there’d be no leaks, and I placed the jug in a small duffel bag, cushioned by clothing. I carried that bag right onto the plane!
But first I had to get through security…
Placing my duffel bag on the conveyor belt in Rome as we walked through the x-ray machines, one look at the security agent’s face and it was clear I was going to get pulled side.
The female agent asked me what was in the bag and I matter-of-factly told her: olive oil. She didn’t believe me, so I opened the bag for her and there was my beautiful 5-liter bottle, nestled in some “fragrant” dirty laundry. She looked at it, and her stern look morphed into a smile: “It looked like a bomb on the x-ray screen!”
I explained about the amazing food at Da Roketa, and how we were obsessed with the olive oil. She chuckled, shook her head, and let me zip it up and walk away with it.
The rest of our journey, even when we landed at customs in the United States, was uneventful.
I doubt that even now, even if I checked my luggage, I’d be allowed to bring in an un-hermetically sealed container of olive oil into the states the way I did that day.
We used that olive oil every opportunity we had, and yes, we did eventually finish it.

If you do your share of Italian recipes, a common product found in just about any store has many people confused: San Marzano tomatoes. Most good cooks agree that San Marzano tomatoes are some of the best canned tomatoes you can buy.

But unfortunately,  the label can say “San Marzano tomatoes” even if they are not real San Marzano tomatoes.

San Marzano is a region in Italy near Naples and Mt. Vesuvius, and the special combination of climate and volcanic soil make these plum tomatoes world-famous. They have less water, fewer seeds and are picked off the vine when perfectly ripe, then processed the same day.

But San Marzano is a variety of tomato, too…and so you can have a can of San Marzano tomatoes that are not from San Marzano. And to add to the confusion, there’s actually a brand of tomatoes called San Marzano, with tomatoes grown in the United States. Bet your ass the sellers of these tomatoes are counting on you not to know the difference!

Sold everywhere, but not real San Marzanos from Italy. Grown in the USA.

The company has now changed their label, just calling it "SM."

The company has now changed their label, just calling it “SMT.”

Real San Marzano Tomatoes are a very old variety, extremely limited in quantity, grown and produced exclusively in the San Marzano region of Italy. Because production is so very limited, the Italian Government and the European Union have formed a way of protecting consumers from fraud by having San Marzano tomatoes tightly controlled. DOP, or denomination of protected origin, is the mechanism that the government is using to control the production and marketing of genuine San Marzano tomatoes. Labels for DOP products must be individually numbered and manually applied to each can in specific lots and government officials must oversee this application. So here’s the deal: unless you see “DOP” on the label with a hand-stamped number on the can, it’s not a real San Marzano tomato.

Nope. Italian, but not from the region.

Nope. Italian, and the correct variety, but not from the region.

Nope. "San Marzano region," but not necessarily the variety.

Nope. “San Marzano region,” but not necessarily the variety.

Nope. San Marzan "style."

Nope. San Marzan “style.”

Yes! Always look for D.O.P. on the can or jar.

Yes! Always look for D.O.P. on the can or jar.


Porchetta is a savory, fatty, herby, delicious slab of pig that is slow roasted…a favorite in Italy. Porchetta is also the name of a small eatery on the Lower east side of New York City, the baby of chef Sara Jenkins, where they serve this Italian classic almost exclusively, with lines of people winding down the block, waiting for their taste of pig heaven.


Traditional porchetta is made from a hog that is butchered, boned and roasted. Porchetta in New York City takes the pork loin, wraps it with the belly and skin, and slow roasts it in their special Combi oven. The result is nothing short of fantastic.


Both methods are way too big for my kitchen, so I took a page out of one of my favorite cooking magazines, La Cucina Italiana , where chef Jenkins described how a homemade version of porchetta was possible using boneless pork shoulder.
Well, I didn’t have a boneless pork shoulder, dammit! I had two beautiful pork tenderloins…not nearly as fatty, and no pork skin to wrap them with. I knew that I would have to be extremely careful not to totally dry my pork out.




10 small fresh sage leaves
3 fresh small rosemary sprigs, leaves only
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons wild fennel pollen (see below)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 pork tenderloins (2 1/2 to 3 lb total)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine

Heat oven to 250 degrees.

Finely chop the sage, rosemary and garlic. (I place them in a food processor.) Place mixture in a small bowl and add fennel pollen, salt and pepper. Stir together well.

Rub the herb mixture all over the 2 tenderloin pieces. Tie the tenderloins together with butcher twine. (Usually one end of the tenderloin is fatter and the other thinner. Line them up so that one fat end is tied with one thin end, making the pork package of equal thickness.)

Set pork fat side up in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil.

Roast the tenderloins, basting with the wine and pan juices every 15 minutes. Cook until pork has an internal temperature of 140 degrees.



Despite that it came out somewhat awesome, I plan on using a pork shoulder next time. Leftovers make great sandwiches!