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ASK Every month we ask experts from the world of Italian food to solve your cooking dilemmas and clear up your queries. Email with your queries. this month’s experts

Laura Faust owns Ciao Laura, a company offering culinary vacations in Italy. The tours have been featured in National Geographic’s Food Journeys of a Lifetime – visit www.ciaolaura. com to find out more.

Becky Ambury loves all things Italian, and has built up an extensive knowledge of Italian cookery over the years. This month she helps to shed some light on one reader’s flavoured polenta dilemma.

Mark Swift is Marketing Manager at De’Longhi UK and has a wealth of knowledge about coffee. De’Longhi makes some of the best coffee machines – to see the range visit


I’d like to go on holiday to Italy in July or August, and would ideally like to go somewhere that hosts a food festival during that time. Can you suggest anywhere and let me know what I could experience there please? Claire Yeates via email

Italy’s food festivals provide a great way to discover new regional specialities.


There is a plethora of food festivals throughout Italy in July and August, so the only problem will be deciding on which one you want to visit. In Italy, a local festival is called

a sagra (sagre – plural), and many villages in Italy will host an annual sagra to highlight such local culinary splendours as truffles, artichokes, porchetta or olive oil – anything that is native to the village. Visitors to the celebrations can usually expect to find a wide variety of customs and traditions presented during the sagre as well. Traditionally, many festivals are also tied to a sporting event and often include spectacular pageantry, such as a joust or palio. One of the best to consider is the famous Il Palio held in Siena on 2 July and 16 August. As I said before, there are many different food festivals in Italy to consider, but some of my favourites at this time of year take place in Umbria. From the middle to end of June is the mercato della Gaite (market of the Gaite) in Bevagna, which offers visitors the chance to see Medieval celebrations and try typical Umbrian produce in markets and beautiful taverns. Or there’s the sagra della porchetta, which takes place in Costano in August and sees the whole town gathering to feast on succulent piglet. Alternatively, opt for the sagra del tartufo in Ripa at the start of July for an uncovering of the season’s freshest truffles. There really isn’t just one festival I can recommend, it’s a matter of deciding what you want to see and experience. Enjoy! Laura Faust


My brother brought me back some goodies from Italy, one of which was a 350g jar of Polenta con Tartufo, which I believe to be polenta with truffles. I have never used polenta before and would like to use it for a special occasion. However, I do not know what to do with it, and I also do not want to spoil the taste of the truffles. Would you be kind enough to suggest a recipe to serve 4-6 persons, I presume it would have to be a starter as 350g doesn’t look like it would go far as a main course? Jenny Alberts via email

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88 TasteItalia June 2010

You have guessed correctly – it is polenta with truffles. Although I must confess that I have never actually tried this combination, I can tell you that 350g will be enough to serve 4-6 people as a side dish. The method of cooking your polenta will depend on whether it is quick-cook or not, but a glance at the packet should advise. If not, presume it requires the longer treatment. Allow

Coffee Corner

about 1.75 litres of water or half water, half milk. Place it in a heavy-based saucepan and pour the polenta in in a steady stream. Add a pinch of salt and stir over a gentle simmer, cooking according to the instructions on the packet or until thick (it can take up to an hour, but will more likely be far less). I’d then stir in a knob of butter, and perhaps a handful of grated Parmesan. You may find this is delicious enough on its own. I’d like this served with a mushroom ragù and an egg fried in butter.

Polenta is a very versatile ingredient – it works well with everything from a scattering of nuts to a mushroom ragù.

The flavours of coffee are very versatile and lend themselves to many different liqueurs and cocktails. Here’s a selection of my favourites for you to try...

Basic coffee liqueur 4 tbsp liqueur or spirit, such as Tia Maria, dark rum, or brandy 4-8 tsp light muscovado sugar 800ml freshly-made espresso coffee 150ml double cream Warm four glasses by filling them with hot water, then drain and dry. Add 1 tbsp of your chosen liqueur and 1-2 tsp of sugar to each glass, according to taste, and top each one up with approximately 200ml fresh hot coffee. Swirl to dissolve the sugar, then slowly pour the cream into each glass over the back of a teaspoon so that it floats – do not stir it. Your coffee liqueur can be enjoyed on its own or used in cocktails.

Mushroom ragù (serves 4-6) 2 tbsp oil 1 onion, peeled, finely chopped 5 rashers streaky bacon or pancetta, chopped 500g mixed wild mushrooms, sliced 2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped 350ml white wine 100ml double cream 4-6 free-range eggs salt and freshly ground black pepper Make your ragù before the polenta cooks. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onion and bacon. Fry gently until softened, then add the mushrooms and garlic. Stir together thoroughly. Add the wine and simmer until reduced. When the wine is reduced by half, remove the pan from the heat and cook the polenta, as above. Just before the polenta is ready, fry the eggs in plenty of unsalted butter – you may need a couple of frying pans – and return the mushrooms to the heat. Stir the cream into the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and serve on top of the polenta. Finish with a fried egg and a little salt and pepper. Becky Ambury

I love liqueur coffee and I’d like to try making my own. Do you have any suggestions or recipes for me please?

Warming Afternoon Coffee Drink 15ml hazelnut liqueur 10ml Irish cream 40ml espresso 50ml whipped cream Mix the hazelnut liqueur, Irish cream and espresso together in a small coffee glass. Whip the cream in a bowl and place a dollop of cream on top of each glass to garnish. Serve immediately.

Espresso Martini 30ml cold espresso 30ml white crème de cacao 40ml vodka CAN WE HELP? Send your questions to Ask Taste Italia, Anthem Publishing, Suite 6 Piccadilly House, London Road, Bath BA1 6PL or email

40ml basic coffee liqueur (see recipe above) Combine all the ingredients in a shaker, add ice and shake vigorously. Strain the martini into a chilled cocktail glass and serve. It should be slightly frothy.

Mark Swift

June 2010 TasteItalia 89

June 2010 Q & A Session  
June 2010 Q & A Session  

Taste Italia June 2010 Q & A session re: Umbria