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In this episode of the Find Dining Podcast, Rosetta Costantino, author of Southern Italian Desserts: Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily, talks about the dishes of her hometown of Calabria, Italy. We discuss the Queen’s licorice, the difference between Tuscan dishes and Southern Italian dishes, and the influence of the Swiss and the Arabs.
- Visit Rosetta’s website
- Read Southern Italian Desserts and My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South
- Take a cooking class with Rosetta
- Take a culinary tour of Southern Italy with Rosetta
- Read the San Francisco Chronicle article that launched Rosetta’s culinary career
- Try some licorice from Amarelli
- Market Hall and Berkeley Bowl are great Bay Area shops for Italian ingredients
Food for Thought:
- Q: What nut was brought to Sicily by the Arabs and is now grown on the slopes of Mount Etna?
- A: The pistachio.
Out of the Frying Pan Picks:
- Where you Fly Into Calabria: Lamezia Airport
- Where to Stay in Calabria: Porto Pirgos
- Favorite Chef: Pietro Lecce of La Tavernetta
- Favorite Time of Year to Visit Calabria: September
- Favorite Place for Olive Oil: Dattilo
- Favorite Place for Cheese: Maiorano (try the Crotonese pecorino cheese)
- Favorite Places to go for Wine: Ferrocinto, Odoardi, Statti, Librandi
- Southern Italian Dish for Comparison: Fusilli Calabresi
Seth: This is Episode Number 65 of the Find Dining Podcast. Welcome to Southern Italy. Hello, and welcome to the Finding Dining Podcast. I’m your host, Seth Resler. And this is the podcast for foodies who love travel and travelers who love food.
Here’s how it works, each week we go talk to a culinary expert from a different region and we find out what is going on in the food scene in their region. And before we introduce today’s guest, I do want to say right at the top of the show two things that you could do that could help this podcast out quite a bit. We are going through every effort to make sure that we make all these episodes available on YouTube, so please subscribe to our YouTube channel and share the podcast through your social network, share the YouTube videos.
And second, if iTunes is how you get podcast, head over there, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes and leave a review that helps other people discover the show. So please help us out.
Let’s talk about today’s guest, it is Rosetta Constantino. She is the author of two cookbooks, My Calabria and Southern Italian Desserts. She offers cooking classes in San Francisco which is where she’s based. And she also leads food tours, food tours of Calabria which is a region in Italy. And starting next year, she’s going to lead her very first food tour of Sicily.
So Rosetta, thank you so much for joining us.
Interviewee: Oh, thank you for having me.
Seth: This is great. I’m excited because we actually, believe it or not, have not had somebody come on the podcast to talk to us about Italy so I’m really excited that you’re here.
Interviewee: Oh, great.
Seth: Before we start, I know you’ve got a trivia question for me. What is it?
Interviewee: Okay. Let’s see if you can guess this. What nut was brought by the Arabs to Sicily that grows on the slope of Mount Etna and it’s use in pastries all over Sicily.
Seth: So there’s a nut that the Arabs brought to Italy.
Interviewee: Yes. Specifically to Sicily. In fact, it only grows in Sicily. It doesn’t grow anywhere else in Italy.
Seth: So it’s got to be very unique to the climate and to the culture there.
Seth: And when we say Arabs, what region did they come from originally?
Interviewee: Oh, they think it was brought over from Syria actually.
Seth: Got you. So came from Syria, went to Italy, which is actually – I mean, that’s not that far of a trip.
Interviewee: No, as you guys — you know the Arabs, you know, were in Sicily for a very long time, hundreds of years. So they had probably the greatest influence, especially on their dessert, which I’m sure we’ll talk about.
Seth: All right. So we’re going to come to this. We’re going to find out the answer a little bit later, what nut do the Arabs bring to Sicily. While I’m thinking about that, let’s talk about you and how you got involved in food. First of all, this is somewhat of a family affair for you, right, I mean, your parents were very involved in cooking and food.
Interviewee: Yes, I mean, I was very fortunate I think because of, you know, upbringing. But I grew up in a small town Verbicaro is the name in Calabria and for people who might not know where Calabria is, I just want to let them know, if you think of Italy as a shape of the boot, Calabria is often referred to as the toe of the boot, okay. So it’s the toe of the boot that sits right across from Sicily in the middle of the Mediterranean.
Seth: Right. South of Rome, south of Naples.
Interviewee: Yes, yes. And a small town about half an hour inland from the West Coast of Mediterranean Sea and really an agricultural town. And my parents and my grandparents, I always tell people they literally lived off the land. They had a parcel of land close to the sea, my dad had vineyards and he made wine. My town in the old days was famous for its wine and we had olive trees and all the fruits and vegetables and he was also a master cheese maker. So with his brother shared the business of making cheese and, uh, where they kept the goat. It was a higher elevation. That’s where they grew all things that, you know, tend to grow on higher elevation like wheat, potatoes, corns and so forth.
So when it came to food, they really didn’t buy anything at all.
Seth: Oh, wow.
Interviewee: Yeah. I still remember, you know, we would take the wheat to – it was a community mill in town and we would get flour. And I remember we would, you know, when we would picked our olives, I would just sit there with them and we would sit there until our olives were pressed because we wanted to make sure we were getting our own olive oil. And then I had, you know, two amazing grandmothers who I spent a lot of time with as my parents, you know, would work in the farm and my mom also who were amazing cooks, who really knew how to make the best with what they had.
And, you know, when I talked about it, people say, “Oh, my god,” you know, it’s like, they lived the way we want to live today. They were growing their own food. Everything was organic. They knew exactly where it’s coming from and always whatever was in season. You know, that was their life. And so that’s what I grew up with. And so it’s very fortunate to really know what a ripe tomato, right off the sign, you know, what it tasted like or fruit that is picked right off a tree. And they also allow me to be in the kitchen.
So by the time I was 9, 10 years old, I was actually a pretty good cook. I even mastered how to make, you know, a homemade pasta by hand.
Seth: Now, at that time, did you ever consider going into the family business?
Interviewee: No, no. And, in fact, you know, my parents, we left eventually, you know, in ’74. My parents packed up everything and they moved to the Oakland Hills. And so they started planning right away the following, you know, spring, started planning and all the seeds that we brought in really kept, you know, all the traditions and that’s one thing I’m thankful that they did.
Seth: How does the climate and the terroir here compare to that of Italy?
Interviewee: It’s actually very similar, I mean, especially if you’re on the other side of, you know, the Bay, it can – in the valley, like Walnut Creek, you know and I live in the Oakland Hills and it’s actually probably a little cooler because, you know, we get the fog from the Bay. But on the other side, it’s almost identical, you know, that you get the heat throughout the summer. So we’re able to grow all the vegetables that we were growing in Calabria. So we brought like the – we grew the san marzanne varietal that we had, the tomatoes and we grow eggplant and all the sweet peppers and the hot peppers that we had in Calabria and the zucchinis and, you know, all of them and even during the winter months, we grow the greens that we were growing there.
Seth: So let me ask you, the first time you walk into a grocery store, was that here in America or was that in Italy?
Interviewee: It was here.
Seth: What was that like for you?
Interviewee: Well, I guess I used to watch TV, all that shows were pretty much American shows, not even knowing that I was watching American shows.
Interviewee: So I thought outside, you know, that’s the way it was outside of my town. In my town, there were very few stores, very small, you know, sort of what we call Mom and Pop Shops where there would be, you know, one or two produce or one butcher shop, you know, but nothing like what we would have here. So the first time I saw it, it was like, “Wow,” you know, everything you want in one place. When you’re a teenager and you’ve seen all these things on TV, I think it’s what you want, you know. And they say, you always want what you don’t have.
Interviewee: And I remember it, you know, even as a child, you know, we had the most amazing fruit but when bananas started showing up in my town, I was like, “That’s what I wanted,” because, you know, bananas didn’t exist in my town.
Interviewee: And so that was like a treat. So my mom would, you know, buy me bananas, it was like a treat. And it’s not until you’ll lose something, you know, like when we moved here, I could have had all the bananas in the world, right, and it was like, “No, it’s not what I want. I want that fresh fig ripe right off the tree.”
Seth: Right, right, definitely. And then you went to Berkeley and you went to a career that was actually totally different from that of your parents, right?
Interviewee: Yes. I went to Cal. I graduated with a chemical engineering degree and I started working in Silicon Valley as a process engineer. So my career was actually in the high tech world, but I continued, you know, to cook and it was always my love. It was always something that I enjoyed doing. And even while I was working in Silicon Valley, when I would travel because I would travel all over, I would go to, you know, Korea, Japan, Germany because we have plants all over and I was always interested in the food. I was always trying to find out what did the local’s eat, you know, what is their specialty?
It was really when we moved here that I discover the foods of Italy because I only knew the foods that I grew up with and the food is a very regional, I would say, even local, you know, in Italy. I mean, a lot of people think there are such things as Italian food and I always tell my students, you know, when I teach, there is really no such thing as Italian food. There are a lot of dishes that nowadays you’ll find them all over Italy. I sort of call them those are the national dishes. But the food is very local, it’s even within a region, you’ll see a lot of variations like in my region of Calabria. Work towards the northern part of Calabria, the food is very similar to the region with border, you know, Basilicata and also Campania because we’re close to Naples.
But as you go to the very tip toe like in Reggio, Calabria which is right across Sicily, Messina, the food is very similar to Sicily. So when I came, when we moved here, we had neighbors who were from Genoa and neighbors from Lucca. To me, it was like all the new foods that I never heard before. Believe it or not, I never had pesto before. I learned about pesto here in this country because our neighbor was from Genoa, she would make it all the time. And so I really got interested in learning their food.
And then I met my husband and my husband is from Palermo and their food is very different than the rest of, you know, the mainland.
Seth: So let me ask you, when you come to America as your parents did and they obviously found an Italian community and other Italians that they connected with, but did those Italians tend to be from all different regions in Italy here in America?
Interviewee: There’s a large population from my town that settled in San Francisco, probably the largest in the country in San Francisco. And a lot of our other friends are from Southern Italy, I would say, from Puglia and Campania. And in Oakland, there’s a large population, there were some Italians that also came from Northern Italy, as I was mentioning, our neighbors were from Genoa and Lucca and Piamonte
Seth: So in many ways, you discovered other regions of Italy here by running into other Italians who were from different regions of Italy.
Seth: What is it that makes the different regions of Italy produced different foods? Is it different climates and different ingredients or is it just…?
Interviewee: The climate has a lot to do with it but it’s also the history behind it, you know, who was there, when and what they brought, you know. We talked about like the beginning, the Arabs being in Sicily. The Arabs were in Sicily but they were not in, let’s say, Tuscany.
Interviewee: So the influence of the Arabs on what they brought, let’s say, the rice, the citrus, the saffron, you know, they stayed and the Arab, eventually they moved, you know, as people, you know, move and travel but they settled there. And then the Spaniards, you know, who’s settled and were in Southern Italy for a very long time also, they brought the foods from the new world. So that’s why you see the tomatoes, you know, in Southern Italy and you don’t in Northern Italy. Now, the climate also has something to do with it because, you know, tomatoes love heat, so of course, they thrive in the Mediterranean or the eggplant, you know. Both of those play into, the climate and of course, as I said, really the people who settled there.
Seth: How does the Italian cuisine that you have encountered here in the Bay Area differ from the Italian cuisine back in Italy?
Interviewee: I have to be honest with you. It’s very difficult to find many places that are very true authentic to the way you would in Italy. A lot of dishes have been Americanized or what I would call…. You know, you find a lot of Italian American or here in the Bay Area, I would call it California Italian. You know, there is the influence of the California cuisine and they’re making it Italian dish.
Seth: What does that mean though? Is that a change in ingredients? Is that a change in preparation styles?
Interviewee: It’s preparation I would say because a lot of the ingredients are available.
Seth: And I’ve heard that, you know, for example, one of those techniques is just there’s a lot more sauce here in America, is that true that we just dump sauce on things?
Interviewee: Yeah, that is one thing. You know, when I teach classes, I always try to show my students this is the way it’s done in Italy and this is the way you should do it and they’re like, “What?” And so I tried to keep the sauce away, you know, after we’ve finished dressing the pasta and the cheese and they all want to reach for, you know, put half a cup more sauce or a quarter cup more cheese. And I tell them, you know, don’t do it because you’re eating sauce you’re eating too much cheese that they’ll be salty. That is a common thing that you find.
Seth: So tell me how you begin teaching?
Interviewee: In 2004, I decided I wanted to do something fun. I really felt that nobody knew about the cooking that I grew up with or the dishes that I grew up with. People really didn’t know this region of Italy. I mean, I still remember when we moved here in the ‘70s and people would ask me, you know, where I was from and I would say Calabria and many people would say, what country is that. And I think we went through a phase here where everyone thought, you know, there was nothing to Italy other than Tuscany and especially in the Bay Area. A lot of the restaurants are more Northern Italian.
I think we’re seeing a change in the Bay Area where there are more Southern Italian restaurants. But really in the ‘80s, I would say, most of the restaurants were focusing on Northern Italian food. And I almost had gotten to the point where I was even cooking, you know, Tuscan foods for my friends because that’s what I thought they wanted, you know. I didn’t think they wanted my food.
Seth: And what are some of the Tuscan dishes that you wouldn’t find in Southern Italy, for example?
Interviewee: Like the te ragu pappardelle, you know, with the ragu. The pasta will be different because it would be an egg-based pasta rather than in Calabria, the traditional pasta that are all hand shaped by hand wouldn’t have any eggs. So it was just the flour and water, again, with the different sauce. And so I felt like, you know, people really need to know that we have amazing foods and not just in my region in Calabria but all over Southern Italy.
And so I decided, I say, you know, the best way is for me to teach some cooking classes and share the foods that I grew up with and bring ingredients that they’ve never had. And so that was the idea is to bring what I have in the garden or ingredients that you wouldn’t be able to buy. At least, you know, I thought if I exposed people to it, then they’ll be interested in finding out more about it. So I started that I was going to teach those two classes just for fun, sorta test the water.
And there was an article that was written about it that talked about, you know, the traditions that we have kept and used some of the recipe and she asked me — this was actually my co-author of the first book, Janet Fletcher, she asked me if I wanted to list the two classes I was planning on doing. And I sort of hesitated. I said, “You know, I don’t think anybody will show up.” I said, “Everybody wants me to teach Tuscan cooking classes,” I said. And she actually convinced me to list it. She said, “You know, this is the Bay Area,” she says, “There are a lot of foodies,” she says, “You never know.” She says, “Either you’ll find that they’re interested and if they don’t,” she says, “Then now you’ll know.” But she said, “You’re the expert on this area.” She says, “There are so many people that teach Italian cooking or Tuscan cooking and have never ever even been to Italy,” she says, “You know, give it a try.”
So she convinced me to do it and I listed those two classes and she did an amazing article that ended up being like three pages on the San Francisco Chronicle and they just went wild as we would say today, went viral. The article went all over the world and I was inundated with emails of people who were just writing to thank me that finally an article had been written about this region of Italy and that finally they had access to some recipe, that they remember, you know, their grandmothers or grandparents cooking these dishes that they never had anything written down.
So I ended up, I had 250 people who wanted to come to those two classes.
Interviewee: Yeah. Had I, but oh, my god, what have I done. So I ended up doing 10 classes. I took in 200 people, so I do 20 per class. And I was also concerned I was going to run out of peppers and tomatoes and the menu was based on, you know, using vegetables from the garden.
And after the first week, people said, “Oh, you have to do more.” And I was really overwhelmed and surprised by the interest and how many people were connected actually, you know, that have written to me to the region of Calabria. And it was really, at that time that I started thinking about my kids’ kids and I said, “You know, my kids’ kids will be like these people that are writing to me.” I was getting third and fourth generation people that were writing to me. I said, “They’ll have no recipes. They’ll have no idea how I grew up or what their grandparents did or how we ate.” And I said, “I really need to get these recipes down,” because they were all in my mom’s head, she didn’t have anything written down.
And also, with my career, I’ve been so busy. You know, there were a lot of things I wasn’t doing like I wasn’t making the bread, I wasn’t making the knitting needle pasta. You know, she would do those things and we would eat, you know, on Sunday usually, she would do the big meal. And I felt like I really need to get these recipes down, I need to save them for the next generation.
And so I kind of set a mission, I said, “You know what, I’m going to get these recipes down and I’m going to introduce this region to America and so finally Calabria will on the map, so people will know where Calabria is.” And I put a proposal together, again, thinking it wasn’t going to sell and it was unbelievable, you know, the interest and Norton bought it in 2005 and five years later in 2010, the book was published.
Seth: Wow, congratulations. And this is your first?
Interviewee: Thank you. And that was my first book. And I’ve been teaching all along and it was during that time also, you know, when the book was published year 2010 that I did my first tour because lot of my students kept on asking me, you know, “Will you please take us there. You know all these places. Where can we taste some of these ingredients?” Because I would bring ingredients also to class and I still do that you can’t really buy them in this country because I traveled there a lot. Usually, I’m there twice a year so I bring things back.
Seth: Got you. And so you take groups of how many?
Interviewee: 20 max.
Seth: Where are you taking them?
Interviewee: I tried to give them, you know, a feeling of what the region is like and try different specialties. So I’m not covering all of Calabria. So we were both on the eastern side and the western side of Calabria. We have to go up in the mountains, so get to taste some of the foods there. I take them to – I don’t know if you know this, but Calabria is known for the best licorice in the world.
Seth: I did not.
Interviewee: Yes. I did an interview last week. This guy was from England and he said it’s the only licorice that the queen will eat. I’m going, “Oh, all right,” I said, “She knows our licorice.” But there is a company that’s called the Amarelli, a company that makes the licorice. It’s a root actually, it grows wild in Calabria and they pull it out because it’s a weed and then they use the root and so this is pure licorice, not licorice as we know it here, you know, the gummy stuff. And so that’s one place that we visit.
Seth: All right. Well, we’re going to dig in to Calabria in just a second here but let’s come back and do that and we also got to get an answer to your trivia question and then we’re going to play a game called Out of the Frying Pan. That’s all coming up in just a moment.
Before we get back to Rosetta, I do want to let you know about a couple of things that we’ve been working on here at Taste Trekkers. First of all, we’ve been hard at work cleaning up our YouTube channel, making it all nice and spiffy for you. So we’ve got all of these podcast episodes up on the YouTube channel so that you can just pop open a window, pop open a tab in your browser and they’re all in a one nice clean playlist called the Find Dining Podcast and you can just listen to episodes over and over while you’re cleaning your house, while you’re at the gym, whatever it is. Just hang out and listen to some podcast episodes.
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And finally, go check out our Pinterest boards. We’ve set up Pinterest boards around food scenes in a number of cities and we’ve set up a board around the 2013 Taste Trekkers Food Tourism Conference. So you can find tons and tons like dozens of photos from that conference up on our Pinterest page. That’s easy to find, it’s just TasteTrekkers.com/pinterest, also TasteTrekkers.com/iTunes and TasteTrekkers.com/YouTube. You can find all those channels. Thanks so much for listening.
We are talking to Rosetta Constantino. She teaches Calabrian cooking classes up in San Francisco. She is also the author of the cookbook My Calabria as well as her new book Southern Italian Desserts. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about this region of Southern Italy. You had a trivia question for me. What was it one more time?
Interviewee: The trivia question that I asked you was what nut was brought by the Arab to Sicily that grows on the slopes of Mount Etna as is use in pastries all over Sicily?
Seth: All right. So there’s a nut that was brought by the Arabs to Sicily. Roughly, when was this?
Interviewee: Well, the Arabs were there as early as 827 AD.
Seth: So a long time ago.
Interviewee: And they were there almost until the 1100’s.
Seth: All right. So I don’t feel bad about not remembering it. I’m going to guess it’s the almond.
Seth: Well, the good news is my perfect score is still in tact.
Interviewee: Well, I have to tell you, almonds grow in Sicily and yes, they also I think that the Greeks actually brought them because they were there. But the Arabs use them a lot and a lot of people think that the almond paste and the marzipan is really, you know, the Arabs that having brought also the sugar to Sicily, how we got it to Sicily. But the nut that grows on the slopes of Mount Etna in lava rock, it’s unbelievable to see them how these trees grow out of almost no soil is the pistachio.
Interviewee: Yes, and there’s a town, Bronte, that is famous and, again, it’s known as these are the best pistachios in the world. They’re very, very green.
Seth: You know, important note here, because I grow up calling it a pistachio but if you’re in Italy, you want to call it a ‘pistakkio’, otherwise, you’ll look like a tourist, right?
Interviewee: That’s right. It’s pistachio.
Seth: So the Arabs brought that over and you said they also brought sugar over?
Interviewee: Yes. They were the ones who planted sugar in Sicily. So actually, Sicily was the first place where sugar was brought over and they had sugar for a very long time.
Seth: So if people enjoy your cookbook, they really need to thank the Arabs because, you know, without pistachios and sugar…
Interviewee: Oh, and everything else, I mean, the citrus and all that, yes. I mean, when I was doing this book, you know, I was doing a lot of the research really – because it’s one of the questions a lot of people always ask, why Southern Italy and why they have always these amazing sweet desserts, you know, versus Northern Italy. And a lot of it I think, as you said, we need to thank the Arabs. They were the ones who introduced sugar to Sicily.
Seth: Now, you also talked about the influenced of the Swiss in your book. Tell me a little bit about that.
Interviewee: Yes. Something that I think a lot of people are not aware of it, there are a lot of desserts that you find now in Southern Italy in the pastry shop that have butter and pastry cream and that, again, you know, you wouldn’t expect them. And I have to tell you the first time I went to Palermo when my husband – for our honeymoon, all the pastry shops in Palermo said, pasticcerias sussia which means Swiss pastry shop.
And I asked them, I said, “Why?” I said, “I’ve never seen this anywhere else and you didn’t know.” He says, “I don’t know.” He says, “It must be the Swiss or something,” he says, “But it’s just the way it is here.” Some are never thought of anything and it wasn’t until I started doing the research for the book that I found out that in the late 1800’s, believe it or not, there was high unemployment in Switzerland, we would never think of Switzerland as being, you know, high unemployment country, and they moved. They settled in Southern Italy and they settled really in a lot of the cities where a lot of the aristocrats lived in Naples and in Palermo and then they also opened up in Catania and also in Puglia.
And the one that gets a lot of the credit is the Caflisch family and, in fact, one of my husband’s uncle used to work for the Caflisch Pastry Shop in Palermo. So they really were the ones who brought the butter, you know, and the cream, the ingredients that were not – that really were foreign to Southern Italy because we don’t produce butter or cream. Really, we have mainly, you know, sheeps and goat. It’s more popular, you know, in Northern Italy to find those ingredients.
Interviewee: So all the beautiful pastries that you see that are sort of – a lot of people would say, “Oh, they’re like French pastries,” right?
Interviewee: They were brought by them. Because if you really look at the traditional dessert even in Southern Italy, you find a lot of desserts have ricotta and it all makes sense because they didn’t have refrigeration in the old days so they wouldn’t have been able to even use pastry cream. But with the ricotta, once it’s baked, it can stay, you know, it can last a few days. You don’t have to worry about refrigerating.
Seth: And when we talk about desserts from Calabria, are we talking primarily about pastries or are there other types of desserts as well?
Interviewee: Are we talking about just Calabria or as we talking about all over Southern Italy or…?
Seth: Sure, all of Southern Italy.
Interviewee: Well, the book – I tried to have a little bit of everything. I tried to, you know, put in recipes from the pastry shops, from shops that are sort of reinventing, you know, recreating new desserts and I also try to put in, you know, the Nona’s, the grandmother cookies. So you find a little bit of each. I mean, nowadays, most people will go to the pastry shop to buy all the fancy dessert. The ones that are made home, I would say, or you traditional desserts for the holidays like at Christmastime, those are made at home and those are traditions that are, you know, being passed on from generation to generation.
And a lot of the cookies are very simple because, again, traditional old cookies were made with very little – I mean, sometimes not even sugar, you know, they would use honey as a sweetener because they didn’t have sugar or they would use whatever was available, you know, local nut. So they’re still found in the homes of people.
Seth: And are there different desserts associated with different holidays?
Interviewee: Oh, yes, very different. It’s like at Christmastime – and it’s very common throughout Southern Italy, it’s typically a sweet dough that is fried and coated with honey. And one thing that I found is that it will change the name or the shape but it’s basically the same thing that really dates back to the Greek, you know, because the Greeks were there for a very long time especially in Calabria and Sicily as they were part of the Greater Greece. So those desserts go way back to the Greek.
And, again, simple to make because most people had fire and a pot with some olive oil, you know, you could fry the dough and then they would use either honey or the other two sweeteners that I included in the recipes in the book that are still found today but not too many people make them and one is made with grapes smashed which is when you press the grapes to make wine, you take the juice and you cook it down and reduce it and you’ll get this amazing syrup. And the other one in Calabria is very popular is made with figs. So, again, you take ripe figs and the water, you cook them down, you reduce it and you get this amazing fig syrup. And I included those recipes in the book because I wanted people to be able to make them and taste them because they’re difficult to find even if you go in Italy, there are not that many people that still make those.
Seth: So everything for your cookbook, I’ve already got in my kitchen.
Interviewee: Yeah, I know. I made sure I included also recipes that, you know, you could buy ingredients. I have resources in there. There are some that I included the recipe because they’re not as easy to find. You can definitely find them online. Like I included recipes for all the pastes like the almond paste, the pistachio paste, the hazelnut paste and those are used a lot in Southern Italy and in a lot of different desserts. But you can them all online but you can’t walk to your supermarket, you know, and get hazelnut paste which is just pure hazelnut. So I made sure that I included recipes.
Seth: When you do your grocery shopping here in America and you’re looking for some of these hard to find ingredients, where do you go?
Interviewee: Actually where I live, there is a shop that carries a lot of these products. In fact, I listed them in the back of the book, so their website is it’s Market Hall, that’s right by the Rockridge Bart Station. I live in Oakland.
Interviewee: And they import a lot of these ingredients especially for the dessert book, like the sour cherries, the almond paste, the candied orange peel, even the fig syrup, they have it. So that is a great place. Another place that I have close by where I live is Berkeley Bowl. Berkeley Bowl also has a lot of ingredients.
Seth: Well, thank you very much. Are you ready to play a little game?
Seth: All right. This game is called Out of the Frying Pan. Here’s how it works, I’m going to ask you for a series of rapid fire recommendation and you’re just going to tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Are you ready?
Seth: And I’m going to ask you about Calabria in case we want to plan a trip there. First of all, if we’re heading into Calabria, how are we getting there? Like where is the plain landing?
Interviewee: There is an international airport and it’s called Lamezia, so it’s right in the middle of the region.
Seth: And from there, where do you suggest that we stay? Do you have any favorite places?
Interviewee: You just want one or I can give – there are two that are very close to each other. We stayed actually both at them. Well, one is called Porto Pirgos and the other one is called Panta Rei. So there would then a couple of blocks of each other.
Seth: And when I come in, do you have any favorite chefs that we should check out?
Interviewee: Oh, yes. One of my favorite chefs is Pietro Lecce and he owns the restaurant La Tavernetta which is up in Le Silla in the mountains. The town is coming at El Lucignano.
Seth: What kind of stuff does he do there?
Interviewee: Oh, well, if you love porcinis as much as I do, the wild mushroom, this is the place to go especially this time of the year. Again, he does whatever, you know, it’s in season, there so in the fall you’re going to find the best dishes of wild mushrooms and he uses local cheeses. It’s the only place in Calabria actually that we have cows. So they have this cheese, the caciocavallo cheese that you find there. And even the cow, it’s a breed that’s not found anywhere else. It’s called podolica and he uses that beef there. So very, very local.
Seth: Speaking of time of year, is there a best time of year to go?
Interviewee: Best time of the year to go there, I would say, September.
Seth: Weather is nice.
Interviewee: Weather is nice and as I said, it’s the peak for porcini. I mean, Calabria is actually the largest producer of porcini. Most people don’t know that that they grow everywhere in that area.
Seth: What about olive oil, is there a great place to go for olive oil in the region?
Interviewee: Pretty much all over Italy you’re going to find, you know, great olive oil but there is one farm, it’s (inaudible) you can actually there and they also have a restaurant, they make a wonderful olive oil. It’s called Dattilo.
Seth: What about cheese, where do you go for cheese?
Interviewee: Well, typically when I’m there, I go to the local shepherd. You actually get the best cheese especially if you want fresh ricotta, but there’s one place near Crotone that they make an amazing Crotonese, it’s a sheep’s milk cheese and the company is called Maiorano.
Seth: How do you find great places when you’re there? I mean, how do you discover, oh, this is a place that I want to try? Do you go online somewhere or is it just word of mouth?
Interviewee: It’s word of mouth. It’s like you — when I did the research for the book, I made, you know, different contacts and I would go and I would say, I’m looking for cheese or I’m looking for something and they send you a place. And then you just keep on going to different places and then, you know, you decide which one is the best.
Seth: Are you at a disadvantage if you don’t speak Italian?
Interviewee: Yes, you would be.
Seth: So bring a friend.
Interviewee: A lot places, I mean, you know, especially the younger generation, they all pretty much communicate in English.
Seth: What about wine, is there a great place to go for a wine?
Interviewee: Oh, there are some amazing wineries in Calabria and, in fact, I have quite a few listed in — on my website and in the back of the book. But one that I really like that was not listed in my book that I found later on and I take my tour to it, it’s called Ferrocinto is the name of the winery. But the others that I have listed in the book that are easier to find here, there’s Statti, there is Librandi, that one is very easy to find. Odoardi is another one that you can find some of the wines here. There are lot of small ones that unfortunately we don’t get in here yet.
Seth: All right. And last question, is there sort of a baseline signature dish, like is there something that I want to go from place to place to place and find out how different people do it and what different picks are on it? What is the dish that I should order at different places?
Interviewee: Well, okay, I can think of — I mean, the traditional dish — the traditional is really pasta al Calabria which is the knitting needle pasta, it varies throughout the region. I was under the impression that it would be the same throughout the region and I what I found is that it stands slightly different, the shape and the length and also they’ll use a different sauce. The traditional recipe is really with goat meat that’s braised in the sauce or with pork but especially if you’re going to restaurant, you’ll find that with sauces that varies and the shape also, as I said, varies across the region.
Seth: All right. Great. Well, thank you so much for playing and thank you so much for coming on. People can find your cookbook on Amazon.com. You’ve actually got two, one is My Calabria and the new one is Southern Italian Desserts. And your website is CookingWithRosetta.com, so people are in the Bay Area, they can come take your classes as well, right?
Interviewee: Yes. I actually have a dessert cooking class that is coming up on December 8th, so we’ll be cooking for the new cookbook.
Seth: Great. And if people want to follow you on social media, are you on Twitter or Facebook, anything like that?
Interviewee: Yes. I actually have a Cooking with Rosetta fan page and also on Twitter, it’s Cook with Rosetta.
Seth: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming on and talk to us about all this.
Interviewee: Well, thank you for having me.
Seth: My name is Seth Resler. This is the Find Dining Podcast. A couple of show notes before we go, one, you can find links to many of the things that we mentioned in this podcast on our website at TasteTrekkers.com/podcast. While you’re there, you can, like I said, subscribe to our YouTube channel or subscribe to our iTunes feed. Please leave a review in iTunes, it helps us out quite a bit. Also, share our YouTube videos over your Facebook pages and Twitter and so on and so forth. That helps people find the show as well.
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