Plan the Perfect Picnic

As a chef, one of my favorite things about summer is taking advantage of the outdoors, while also enjoying delicious food, al fresco. A summer picnic is a terrific way to leave your phone behind and “digitally detox,” by spending quality time with family and friends. The typical Italian picnic consists of great cheese (chef’s note: I like Parmigiano Reggiano and Drunken Goat), a crispy baguette, some sliced salumi, olives, fresh fruit, and of course, a little bit of vino.  Have I made you hungry yet?  If you’re not sure how to go about planning the perfect Italian Picnic, I’ve included my top ten tips below. I can assure you that if you employ these suggestions at your next outdoor affair, your friends will be impressed, and their taste buds satisfied.

MY TOP TEN TIPS FOR PLANNING THE PERFECT PICNIC:

#1: Think of your picnic as a small party on the go.

Plan, plan, plan. Being prepared is everything, so take time to organize the menu beforehand.

#2: The location.

A picnic on the beach is much different from the one in your back yard. You might want to think about the availability of running water, restrooms, or if location is pet-friendly.

#3: A picnic basket doesn’t always have to be a basket. 

Baskets are fun, coolers are practical, and plastic grocery sacks are inexpensive. Wooden crates are great for lugging around a heavy load. Or a stylish beach bag might be just the thing.

#4. Set the mood.

The red-and-white checked tablecloth for Italian flair, fresh flowers in a bowl, and don’t forget the lighting! A scented lilac candle is a nice touch if it’s going to get dark.

#5 Make it simple. 

Ensure that all of your picnic foods are simple to transport and not too heavy to carry. Opt for paper or plastic plates and cutlery: also easier to carry, and makes for an easy cleanup.

#6. Make it interesting. 

And easy to eat, of courseI like to pack cheese, cured meats, bread, and other finger foods because they are delicious and easy to pack and eat. While I personally may prefer to leave soup behind, you might love to pack a chilled gazpacho for your picnic.

#7. Experiment.

 A dessert picnic is another fun idea. Dessert could be tarts or tiramisu from a local bakery, homemade cookies, fruit, delicious Bauli mini croissants (I love the vanilla custard variety!) or whatever else your heart desires.

#8. Avoid cups. 

Bring bottles of your favorite soda, lemonade or water. Individual bottles means no need for bringing cups, which is nice.

#9. Packaging is important. I like to use a combination of disposable and reusable containers, utensils, and plates for my picnics. Dishes — paper, bamboo, tin, or sturdy glass are nice. Cloth napkins add an elegant touch, but paper napkins are easier and don’t require washing later on.

#10. Have fun! 

Even if the weather lets you down or you forgot something on your way, remember – it’s not that serious! The goal is to relax and enjoy.

I hope these tips get you excited about planning a summer picnic. We live in an age with so many distractions (IPads, Apple watches, IPhones) that is important to make sure we set aside quality time outdoors, and enjoy the beautiful weather before brutal winter returns. For those who might have a little extra time this summer, I also wanted to include one of my favorite Picnic recipes for Strawberry Shortcake. I use Bauli mini croissants to make this dessert an easy, no-bake treat to whip up. Summer is strawberry season, and I like to purchase my strawberries from the local Farmer’s Market – I find that local strawberries are sweeter and juicier than the ones in the grocery store. I hope you enjoy my strawberry shortcake recipe as much as I do – it’s the perfect quintessential Picnic treat!

Recipe: Strawberry Shortcake with Bauli Mini Chocolate Croissants & Whipped Cream

Ingredients

  • Bauli Mini Chocolate Croissants, halved
  • 1 C Heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ C  Powdered sugar
  • 1 t Vanilla extract
  • 1 C  Strawberries, cut in quarters
  • 2 T Lemon juice
  • 1 T White wine (optional)
  • 1 T Granulated sugar
  • Fresh mint

Directions

  • Bring the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla to a volume with a whisk or a stand mixer.
  • Toss the strawberries with white wine, lemon juice, sugar and chopped mint.

Plating

  • Place 2 halved mini croissants on a plate, cover each one with 1 T of whipped cream and finish off with strawberries.

Romantic Valentine’s Day Tips from an Italian Chef: Take the Holiday from Everyday to Gourmet

An Easy Way to Show Someone You Care

February! It’s a month when we bundle up and try to hide from the chilly weather, but it’s also the season for warmth of an entirely different variety. On Valentine’s Day, couples the world over express their love to one another. Whether you’re young and passionate, or older and wise, it’s a day to show your loved one how much you care.

A “Roman” Holiday

It’s a bit of an understatement to say Italians know a thing or two about romance. In fact, the historical St. Valentine was an Italian, spending his lifetime marrying young Roman couples in the days when the Colosseum was still open for business. Perhaps the greatest love story of all time, Romeo and Juliet, even took place in Bauli’s home, the city of Verona in the north of Italy. Fast-forward to the 20th century, and you’ve got Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” Audrey Hepburn taking “A Roman Holiday,” and so many more. It’s safe to say Italy’s always had a special touch in all matters amorous.

verona

Breakfast in Bed, Italian-Style

Chocolates are great, roses will always brighten up a room, and of course everyone appreciates a nice card. The thing is, you can buy these  typical Valentine’s Day accessories  almost anywhere, meaning your special someone is probably expecting a bit more effort. When you really want to express your feelings to another person, nothing is better than something that’s a little out of the ordinary, and that shows you put in a bit of time and thought. Imagine the smile on your loved one’s face, waking up to a home cooked breakfast that can be enjoyed from the comfort of bed!

Even better, this year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday, so there’s no workweek rush to get in the way of some quality time! But what to serve?

Panettone French Toast

Let me clear the air and say I think this should be called Italian Toast. The reason for this is the key ingredient, Bauli Panettone.  Made from the highest quality natural ingredients and with respect for ancient traditions, Bauli’s Il Panettone di Milano is a naturally leavened, oven-baked Italian cake filled with raisins and glazed orange peels. One of the most popular desserts in Italy and Europe, it is easily recognized by its distinctive cylindrical shape. The shape makes it easy to cut evenly, which brings us to the recipe for “Italian” French Toast;

Panettone French Toast

Ingredients

  • 1 Bauli Panettone
  • Powdered sugar and cinnamon for dusting
  • Maple syrup
  • Fresh berries

Step 1

Pre-heat oven to 200°.

Step 2

Trim the bottom crust from the Panettone. Starting at the bottom of the loaf, cut it crosswise into 6 (3/4-inch thick) round slices. (Reserve the top piece for buttered toast!)

 Step 3

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the cream, milk and sugar, and whisk until well blended.

 Step 4

Melt 1 tablespoon butter on a nonstick griddle over medium heat. Dip the Panettone into the egg mixture, turning to allow both sides to absorb it. Grill the soaked Panettone slices until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with the remaining butter, Panettone slices and egg mixture.

 Step 5

Transfer the French toast to plates. Top each with a dollop of mascarpone, and sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Add berries, drizzle with maple syrup, and serve immediately.

Aaaaaand….That’s Amore!

Now comes the part you’ve been waiting for. Speaking from experience there is no look quite like the mix of surprise and excitement in your loved one’s eyes upon being woken up in the best of all possible ways. It will speak volumes that you went to the trouble to make this delicious Italian treat rather than opt for something that comes in a box. And trust me, you will never look at “French” toast the same way after using a Bauli Panettone, with its beautiful soft and supple dough.

As for what comes next, that’s entirely up to you, but we Italians have a saying that’s especially relevant to breakfast in bed; Buon principio fa buon fine. It means “a good beginning makes a good ending.” So, with that in mind, why not take a cue from the immortal words of Italian-American singer Dean Martin, let cupid pull back his bow and say, “That’s Amore!”

PANETTONE_FRONT

Merry Christmas? Buon Natale!

Italian cuisine has never been just about eating. True, food may be the main course, but it’s also an occasion to pass time with friends and family. It’s even a big part of the reason Italians have a reputation as a warm and friendly people the world over. At no time is this more evident than during Christmas, or as it’s known in Italy, Natale.

One Country, Many Cuisines

Italy has a long, rich history, and the varied regional cuisines and traditions reflect it. Sometimes this makes foreigners associate one region’s cuisine with the whole country. For example, outside of Italy, “The Feast of the Seven Fishes,” or Festa dei sette pesci, is probably our most famous Christmas traditions. But the truth is that this is mainly popular in the south of the country. In the North fish is still a part of the tradition, but there’s more focus on pastas and sausages. Ask a Northernor and Southernor what the perfect Natale meal is, and you’ll get two very different answers. Not coincidentally, this variation is the reason Italy is one of the world’s most popular destinations for culinary tourism.

Two Desserts All Italians Love

One thing every region agrees on, however, is dessert. All Italians have a special spot in their hearts—as well as their stomachs—for sweet breads and cakes, and a few stand out above all the others.

Pandoro, or Pan d’ Oro

First, there’s Pandoro, a word that will immediately bring a smile to an Italian’s face. It’s a sweet, yeasty bread that’s been a part of Italian chrismas festivities since the 17th century. It hails from Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, and the name means “golden bread.” Made from the finest flour, butter and eggs availbale, it was originally a delicacy that only the wealthy could afford. The common people had to make due with “black bread,” but luckily this is no longer the case.

Though people eat it year round, Pandoro has a special association with Christmas feasts. This may be because it resembles symbols from the season, typically having a star-shaped baking mold. Being a northern speciality, one popular recipe involves covering the top of the cake with powdered sugar that resemble the snow on the Italian Alps. Others involve hollowing out the centerand filling it with delicious crèmes or fruit.

pandoro luca

Panettone

Pandoro’s main competition in the battle for top Christmas confection comes from Panettone. Likewise a product of the North, Panettone is a speciality of Milan but also popular throughout Italy and the world. Noone knows exactly how old this traditional cake is, but many suspect its origins go back to the sweet breads and cakes of the ancient romans. One thing we do know is that is that its modern form is dates to the early 20th century,  when a milanese baker popularized a method causing the cake’s dough to rise three times. This gives the cake its distinctive dome shape. Unlike Pandoro, Panettone isn’t just delicious cake but contains dried or candied fuits. The most popular versions use dried raisins and orange, adding a citron flavor to the fluffy, golden flour.

The taste for these sweet cakes has caught on in a big way internationally. What was originally an Italian Christmas tradition is considered a normal part of celebrations as far away as Latin America. This shouldn’t surprise us, after all, Italians know their food. You don’t need to be Italian, however, to add a Pannetonne or a Pandoro to your own holiday dinner. It’s a great way to do something a bit different—but  very delicious—this holiday season.

 panettone luca

Luca Manfè

lucaChef Luca Manfè has been in the restaurant business since he was 16 years old, working in a pub in his small hometown in Northeast Italy. When he turned 21, he started to travel the world, working in Italy, Australia, Florida, and New York.  He had the privilege and honor to work with great chefs, experiencing ingredients and techniques from different cuisines. Ultimately, he landed in New York City, in pursuit of the American dream.  Fast forward ten years, and Luca has certainly achieved what he set out to accomplish. Today, Luca is a successful cookbook author, releasing his first cookbook, “My Italian Kitchen,” in May, 2014.  He also runs a small catering company called “Dinner with Luca,” and is the first male (and non-American) to win the title of MasterChef USA.