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.

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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