The wonders of Tuscia, a hidden gem up north Rome and in the south of Tuscany

PLUS A RECIPE FOR “HAY” PASTA WITH CRUNCHY GUANCIALE, HAZELNUTS AND PEARS

This post is in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce of the city of Viterbo and Italian Stories that took us on a blog tour in October 2018.

WHY “SLOW” TRAVEL IS NECESSARY

If Italy has been in your travel radar lately, or if you’re a resident in Italy with tourism in your radar, you might have come upon some articles in the recent months inviting you to go beyond Chianti, or anywhere in Tuscany when organizing your next holidays in this beautiful country. The truth is that while responsible and well dosed tourism helps keeping communities alive, flourishing local economies and revitalizing the otherwise vanishing cultures, irresponsible fast tourism does the exact opposite; in other words it destroys our favorite, beautiful spots on earth.

It’s time we looked beyond the old classics. Not because they no longer have wonders to offer us, but because in order to preserve those wonders, we need to cherish the treasures of other less know places. Equity; this is the concept of our era, and the tourism industry has neglected it for too far.

THE TUSCIA EXPERIENCE; CULTURE, ART, FOOD

When I first traveled to Tuscia last October, I never imagined to encounter this much richness in history, culture, craftsmanship, art and food. Why did I know so little about a land so close to where I have called home for the past decade (Tuscia is only a two hour drive in the north of Rome, right before the borders of Tuscany)?

The land was home to the ancient Etruscans who ruled in central Italy before (and partly contemporarily with) the Romans. This trail is still visible in the supreme art of ceramics of Tuscia. Many centuries later, the Pope would choose this area for both vacation, and necessary refuge, when he was not safe in Rome. What’s more, Tuscia is also on the last track of Via Francigena; an ancient road and pilgrim route running from France to Rome and Apulia, where there were the ports of embarkation for the Holy Land.

The powerful and wealthy Farnese family — contemporary rivals of the Florentine Medici family during the renaissance — have left breathtakingly beautiful villas and palazzi in the Tuscia area, as well as Rome and beyond. Palazzo Farnese and Villa Lante are two perfect examples of their mind-blowing glory and sophistication.

The Tuscia Experience (which you might remember from my highlighted Stories on Instagram) is a collection of activities and workshops you can do directly with many artisan producers and craftsmen. You can engage in anything from cheese making to bookbinding to ceramic decorations in ancient Etruscan style to ham making workshops and much more. I am leaving the PDF brochure here to download.

PORK, WHEAT, CHEESE AND “MAGIC HERBS”, EATING AND DRINKING TUSCIA

It’s a fascinating experience to visit how the irreplaceably famous cured meats of Italy are made. From prosciutto (which is made in a couple of different ways), to salami, to guanciale, the cured pork cheek so beloved to Romans, and the quintessential ingredient to Roman classics such as Amatriciana and Carbonara.

Regional products of Tuscia

Simonetta and her sister run the Coccia Sesto Prosciuttificio, the ham making factory their father founded decades ago, that now they have successfully expanded. You can visit the process, shop their products and have lunch all at the same place. Apart from their own cured meats, they also serve cheese and other specialities (I was the only one brave enough to try pork’s ears, cooked under a porchetta).

Antonio Brizi runs Il Fiocchino, a sheep cheese making factory somewhere near lake Bolsena. The sheep milk he uses is from the Tuscia area near his factory and in his own words that, plus natural lamb rennet, enzymes, salt and time are the secret ingredient for one of the best pecorino cheeses I have ever tasted.

The fieno pasta is very popular in the town of Canepina, in Tuscia. Fieno literally means hay in Italian, which indicates the thinness and the yellow color of this delicate egg pasta. Not to be confused with paglia e fieno (straw and hay), thick ribbons of pasta similar to tagliatelle that come in two colors of green and yellow. The other name for this typical Canepinese pasta, is maccarone, which is equally curious and should not be confused with maccherone, the thick tubes of pasta made in most of southern regions of Italy.

Guido Fanelli runs a small pasta making factory, and is well known for his exceptionally good fieno pasta, among all the other types. The fieno he brings to restaurants comes in large, delicate packages, as if it was a bridal box holding precious handmade lace.

Antonella runs a farmhouse called Sapori di Ieri, which translates to the taste of the past. She cultivates organic vegetables, fruit and herbs, then turns them into sauces, jams and “magical” mixes. Hazelnuts and chestnuts are that grow abundantly in this area are among her special products.

The Itineris brewery, where master Brewer Claudia makes his craft beer, used to be ceramic factory. Here Claudio has created a small paradise of intese yet sophisticated flavors marry in dark bottles of his many types of craft beer.

Marco Camilli, a for pharmacists, runs a legume farm where he cultivates organic pulses. Surpassingly, Marco does not come from a family of farmers, he chose to change careers and started experimenting with agricultural techniques.


FIENO PASTA WITH CRUNCHY GUANCIALE, PEARS AND HAZELNUTS

This is not what you would call an “authentic” dish, but its ingredients are. The producers I mentioned above kindly provided me with them, and asked me to develop a recipe inspired by the simple, yet intense of flavors of Tuscia. I am quite proud of the result (so proud I ate ALL the pasta I cooked for the shooting in one go).

The fieno pasta on itself is surprisingly flavorful. The fatty touch and crunch of guanciale, beautifully contrasts the sweetness of the sautéed pears. Toasted and crushed hazelnuts bring a pleasant chewy texture to delicate pasta. Everything comes together with sharpness of extra-aged pecorino cheese, and then is brightened by the fresh aroma of the “magic” herbs.

Continue reading

A Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake with Pistachios & Goat Cheese for Virtual Pumpkin Party

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh

Announcement: I am hosting a Persian Autumn dinner in Rome, Trastevere on November 5th to kick start my supper club. Tickets are on sale and they’re selling fast. Get yours if you’re in town. 

The Virtual Family Gathering

When Aimee contacted me a while ago to take part in the huge food blogger round up for a virtual pumpkin party, automatically my mind started searching for something Persian and sweet. But then I remembered I had already posted my favorite Persian pumpkin dessert last year. So after giving it some thought, I knew I was going for an Italian recipe for this orange marvel of Autumn. A savory one. 

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-1

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-14
Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-9

A hearty pasta bake, I thought. (believe it or not, this is my first pasta recipe on the blog!) A baked pasta dish is the heart of an Italian table at Sunday’s lunch. Just think lasagna, cannelloni or other pasta bakes. It’s often cooked by a granny, or a collaboration of aunts. It should be bubbling hot and cheesy, yet with crunchy and crispy at the edges of the pan, just instant before being burnt. That’s what your guest will fight to get, the angles of baked pasta, kinda of like our Persian tahdig (the crust at the bottom of a rice pot).

Try to picture this big family reunion on a Sunday; where you hear that distant hums of everyone chatting in the kitchen while preparing, when you’re chilling on a couch. It’s a crisp, cool day in October, a large number people sit at one enormous table, break bread, chat and share their stories over a meal. 

This round up is a kinda like those Sunday family lunches; we’re in one hundred and eleven! ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN pumpkin recipes, from different places, and different people. You can find the complete list of all the fellow bloggers with a link to their post after my recipe.

Before I let you sit back and enjoy all these beautiful posts, I should thank Sara and Aimiee for “hosting” this party and all the organization. It’s a tough job, we know, and we’re very grateful of all this shared bounty. <3

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-11
Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-13

Tips for The Pumpkin Pasta Bake with a Persian Touch

This pasta bake is extremely simple, and unlike the typical Italian pasta al forno, is not too heavy/oily/cheesy. I have used only parmesan and aged goat cheese. By all means do add besciamella when layering the pasta if you feel like it. I found the saffron pumpkin sauce sufficiently creamy and wet to embrace all the pasta.

The reason I used aged goat cheese is that the pumpkin sauce (since quite simple), is very sweet, so the full and strong flavor of aged goat cheese is crucial to create a balance between the sweetness and tartness of this dish.

I have used whole grain conchiglie (sea shell) pasta, and I suggest you use a short pasta that can absorb all the sauce. Fusilli e penne can also work well. Use whole grain pasta to get more nutritional goodness and fiber. (Also, refined carbs don’t like me much.)

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-5

For this recipe, I cut the pumpkin (I used kabocha squash) in small pieces for roasting the oven, because I wanted to increase the surface of caramelization on the pumpkin, gives a depth to the flavor. But you can just roast the pumpkin  and scoop out the flesh for making the sauce, although in my opinion it will be too sweet this way. The skin is edible and delicious too! Don’t waste it. I also put two mandarines (cut in half) for roasting the pumpkin in the oven, merely for good (holidayish) smell.  Continue reading

2015: Resolutions, Party Food Links & a Squid and Lentil Soup Recipe

This year has been unexpected. The first which post-it resolutions are still sticking to my mirror, despite the notorious moving. And oh, the moving, which cut my 2014 right in half. My twenty-fourteen started with high hopes while riding on steady waters. The embryo of this blog was officially conceived early in February and it took me months to add up the pieces. Meanwhile, at the end of February I got the notice on having to leave my beloved home; A large apartment in a lovely neighborhood of Rome in which I had a tiny-but-pretty room. It was a girls’ apartment. We had fun. I lived there for three years and 5 months. It was my home. New Year's Resolution | Party Food | by Lab Noon

Twenty-fourteen brought yet another reality to slap me in the face; It was the last year of my twenties. It got me scared, got me running around, got me listening to an eternal tick-tock-tick-tock. I wished I had accomplished something, something tangible. I wanted to create something; An establishment, a solidity, a firm piece of ground. Then things got wildly out of hand. Suddenly –and painfully– I realized that somehow most of the things I thought I had desired for a long time were no longer attractive to me. First there was confusion, then recognition and after that came the cold frustration; Of feeling trapped in an establishment, a solidity, a firm piece of ground that no longer fits me but I don’t know if I’m ready to break out of it. Steady is my frenemy. I can’t live neither with nor without it. Twenty-fourteen got me questioning everything I have gathered in my life. I want to get some answers in twenty-fifteen. I want a tiny sprinkle of ease, I want a ton of energy and inspiration, I want a good intuition, I want to remember how to trust my guts again and take the jump. And I want good health to allow me to pursue all that.

And then, for the billionth time: I want to be physically active (again), I want to re-start my yoga and I want running to become my thing in twenty-fifteen. I wanna be one those people who run all the time, no matter what.
I wanna learn how to become an organized person, inside and outside. I’m soon gonna be a 30 year old woman. I just can’t afford to be this messy. 
I wanna read more (this one has been in my new years resolutions for like the past fifteen years).
This might sound surprising but I want to cook more. I haven’t really cooked as much as I wanted to and should have lately. I want to create more; I want to get down to my editorial design activity and create more pretty stuff that are not just food. This was also the original idea of Lab Noon. It’s supposed to be a laboratory at the end.
And, as vain as this may sound, I want to always remember to love myself, most of the times.

It’s usually not my intention to write all types of personal stuff here. I want to be bright and positive in this space. I want this blog to transmit something nice. So, sorry if I didn’t sound so much so in this post. Twenty-fifteen is going to be my moment of truth, you might’ve guessed. I needed this note for myself. So tomorrow won’t be just another night turning into another day for me. What about you? What are your resolutions for the new year? Is there anything that you want to change? Wether you seek deep changes or just minor ones, I wish you a great new year, in which you’ll dream and laugh more, in health and prosperity. Happy twenty-fifteen!

My type of Party Food

Was I planning a New-Years-Eve gathering at my place, I would prepare a lot of finger food, little bites, crostinis, bruschettas and canapés. The idea of having a base such as bread (toasted), or any other base on which you can add a topping, or a spread makes the perfect party food for me. It’s easy and –with the work of planner mind– can be cheap too. The interaction would be another lovely factor. You could prepare the base and prepare toppings/spreads in different bowls and people could serve themselves. Then I’d prepare one huge salad with a carb base, such as rice, bulgur, cous cous, quina etc, with fresh veggies. I never like New Years Eve food to be too much, heavy and time-taking. It’s not Christmas. Actually it’s right before January, the universal month of dieting and getting back to shape.

Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas
Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

In Italy, no matter what type of dinner you’ve had for New Years Eve, you must have some lentils with Cotechino. They say lentils bring you money (c’mon bring on those lentils). Cotechino is some sort of raw salami that is sold in vacuum packs inside boxes around this time of the year. What’s more Cotechino must be the only kind of italian cold cut and cured meat that not only do I not enjoy, but I don’t even touch it either! But heaven knows I can never say no to lentils. So I always try to remove the fat and pieces of Cotechino from my lentils. The recipe that follows is is orange-marinated squids on lentils soup (my version of calamari e le lenticchie). I had prepared it a short while ago but posted it only in Italian (this holiday season was so hard for translating). I think It would make a great simple lentil dish for Capodanno (New Years Eve in Italian). But we’ll get to that later. I have made a tiny collection of recipes from bloggers around the web that reflect and/or inspire what I would make at a pseudo-gathering for the New Year’s Eve. Some of them are new, some of them are not, but they’d all make great party food recipes.

Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas
Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

 And to end the evening the Italian way, and wishing all those lentils bring us money, here’s my recipe of squids & lentil soup. Continue reading