Tuesday, December 20, 2011

VASGO's Week Off

Ciao everyone!  VASGO is taking a week off so don't be afraid!  He's busy traveling the world to gain more material for all of you to read.  After this week, you'll learn a little more about this place.  Any guesses where he's going?


Friday, December 16, 2011

Guest Post from The Expert

Just doing something a little different today!  I’m VASGO’s expert and I’m
Utterly pleased to be posting here today.  Today is
Something of a special day, you see.
Today is
VASGO’s 30th birthday!
And I was hoping that you would help me wish him a Happy Birthday, Tanti Auguri!
So I ask you, shout out your best wishes in the comments.  I am ever
Grateful for VASGO, my incredible husband, who joined me for this,
Our crazy adventure in Italy.

Auguroni, marito!  I am so glad to celebrate you today!
VASGO could hardly resist kissing his smiling cappuccino.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Histories of Panettone and Pandoro

Attending the Panettone and Pandoro Festival was wonderful because in addition to the samples from all the vendors, a section was dedicated to the history of both sweet breads. 

Feeding my mouth was just as important as feeding my mind. So I’ll do the same.  Here!  Have some panettone.  Now you can read on how these breads came to be.

The Legend of Panettone
Translation by my expert.  Grammatical edits by just VASGO.

Surely the most trusted and interesting story to recount concerning the birth of panettone is a story that goes back a long, long time and speaks of a youth of the name Ughetto.

One narrates that Ughetto, son of the ducal falconer Giacometto degli Atellani, had fallen in love with the beautiful Adalgisa, daughter of a modest baker.

Unfortunately, however, the great social divide between Ughetto and Adalgisa made a marriage between the two of them impossible.

In spite of everything, the two enamored youths continued to see each other in secret.

For Adalgisa’s father, the bakery’s affairs were not well and so Ughetto had an idea to resolve all their problems: he disguised himself, offered himself to Adalgisa’s father as an apprentice and began to vary all the ingredients of bread, transforming it into panettone.

The recipe was a great success to the point that the economic situation of the baker improved.

And it was so that finally Ughetto and Adalgisa were able to marry each other.  Meanwhile, panettone increased in popularity so much that it became a Christmas tradition in the whole world.

The Birth of Pandoro

The origins of pandoro are not certain.  There are those who say it goes back to the Hapsburg Empire in Austria. In fact,it would have been the pastry of the royal house of Vienna, prepared as the “ancestor” of pandoro, later becoming the “Bread of Vienna”, a variation of the French dough, brioche.

Others suggest, instead, it is native to the republic of Venice, Italy in the renaissance when the rich patrician families consumed a sweet called “Bread of Gold”, which was entirely covered in thin sheets of pure gold.

The most certain ancestors seem to be, however, those which bring it back to “Nadalin”, a sweet in the form of a star.  According to tradition at the end of the 19th century, families from Verona prepared this for Christmas.

Probably in the conception of the sweet, there entered also the Austrian pastries, which in these times were largely occupied in the more renowned bakeries of the historic center of Verona, Italy. At the end of the 19th century, pandoro had been the most typical expression of the sweets producers of Verona. Today it is consumed in all of Italy and it became, together with panettone, one of the typical sweets of Christmas festivities.

The name pandoro perfectly describes the color, which characterizes its dough, yellow gold, given to it from eggs. The consistency is soft and smooth, like brioche, from which it is probably derived. The flavor is delicate and smoothly perfumed with vanilla. From the “nadalin”, pandoro still keeps today the form of a star. Its unmistakable truncated-cone structure, large ribs arranged according to a typical design of an 8-pointed star, is obtained using a tall mold in the form of a truncated pyramid, divided in sections of acute angles.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Panettone and Pandoro Festival

Wonder of wonders!  My expert stumbled on some great news right before December hit!  Panettone and Pandoro Festival was being held in Rome the weekend right after Thanksgiving and I had never tried either dolce.  It was also one of the many FREE THINSG TO DO IN ROME which made it even better!

I’d heard of panettone - a dessert bread filled with raisins and other candied fruits.  Pandoro was still a Roman mystery to me.  

The walk inside a conference center near Piazza di Spagna filled my nostrils with sweet, perfumed air. It was like walking into your favorite bakery at 5am when all their pastries were just taken out of the oven.

Once inside, you are overwhelmed with a table of a single HUGE loaf of panettone!  It was ginormous!  That's even bigger than enormous.
There lots of vendors each offering their own Christmas sweet.
Pandoro is the bread on the right.  It has no fruit in it and the sweet dough is soft, chewy and I got hints of light almond and even orange when eating it!
Samples were offered at nearly every table, making the free aspect of attending the event even sweeter.
If you look at this plastic-wrapped star-shaped loaf of pandoro, you'll notice the mold below it.  An even closer view reveals for 200 EURO, you can have both!  Not sure if that's a good deal or not.  But you can trust me when I say the bread was HUGE!
Many vendors offered more than just classic panettone with candied fruit and raisins in it.  This vendor offered varieties such as chocolate, limoncello, pistacchio and apricot!
This vendor decided to focus more on the bread's sidekick, citrus infused white chocolate.
Indeed, it turned out delicious with pandoro.
And then there were other sweets like this candied fruit bread.
Panettone does not usually have serious cake decorations like above.  You might see it lighlty iced and even more common is nothing on it.  But however you find it, give it a try!  Not a candied fruit or raisin lover?  Take a risk and try it anyway.  I usually dislike those in breads but now I'm convinced it is outstanding!

Stay tuned for the fascinating background on how these breads came about in tomorrow's episode.  Same VASGO time, same VASGO channel!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trento, Italy Christmas Market

There’s nothing quite like going to an authentic European Christmas market to get you in the holiday spirit.
Welcome to the Mercatino di Natale - Trento!
This weekend, my expert and I were in Trento, Italia, a lovely 8-hour bus ride from Rome, north to the Alps.  This city has a lot of history, particularly that of the Catholic religion.  Many meetings were held here in the 1500s.  Originally, the plans were to reconcile the relationship between Catholics and Protestants but in a nutshell, the Protestants respectfully declined this offer.  And so the Catholic leaders made their meetings about fixing the internal problems of the Catholic Church at the time.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to see the historical sites in Trento.  Instead, we made this quick trip about the Christmas market and it turned out to be well worth it!

As this mountainous area of Italy used to be part of Austrian territory, many customs and influences have remained over the centuries… including culinary creations!
Like Vin Brulee!  This enormous pot full of purple, foamy liquid is actually warm red wine with spices synonymous with the holidays, such as clove, cinnamon, nutmeg... you get the picture.
They even had raclette!  What's raclette?  Well it's a melty cheese that's heated in a few ways, one of which is above, and the melted part is scraped off to be eaten.  It is a dish with Swiss and French origins according to wikipedia.
This isn't raclette, but it's possibly the largest wheel of cheese I've ever seen! And yes, the samples tasted delicious.
And like yesterday's posted video, many vendors offered polenta made the authentic way.  No instant stuff here!  This vendor offered it with that bubbly dark brown stuff in the farthest vat from this view?  That is indeed tender deer meat in its gravy.  Really wish I would have tried it!
So many hand-made goods, and not enough money in my checking account!
 This absolutely turned into a day of wishing we could buy so much.
 Jams, jellies and preserves!  Yes please.
 I'm pretty sure these aren't commercially made!
Being around so many people while looking through all the hand-made crafts, foods and more, we both felt the buzz of excitement through the crowd.

Christmas markets are wonderful things to attend while in EUROPE, not just Rome.  The influences from city histories are felt through each one we go to this holiday season and those differences are what I look forward to sharing with you all!

Monday, December 12, 2011


A recent trip to Trento, a mountain city in northern Italy, brought my expert and me to a BIG Christmas Market!

Because we arrived back in Rome after an 8-hour bus ride just THIS morning (Monday Dec. 12) at 5:30am, this VASGO is very tired!  I have decided today to make my life easier than usual.  Here's a taste of what we just experienced.  You will definitely be seeing more of this market later!

Sogni d'oro and buona notte!  Sweet dreams (dreams of gold is the literal translation) and good night!  I need to catch up on sleep now!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chocolate Festival

If you were in Rome for the last two weeks, you had the opportunity to attend two different chocolate festivals! These are definitely fantastic to go to when in Rome because it is one of the many FREE THINGS TO DO IN ROME! (if you can hold back from buying something)

My expert and I decided to visit the one in central Rome, located in a popular and touristy neighborhood called Trastevere.
Though we were immediately disappointed to find that there were only about 9 total vendors making this one of the smallest festivals we have ever been to, we were still happy to be out in Rome and seeing what the world had to offer us.
Especially when the world offers us chocolate.
I was impressed with all the creations of the skilled vendors.
So were all the bees as you could tell from the first photo.
 The bees particularly enjoyed cheese- and salami-shaped chocolate.
 So delicious looking.
 Below almost made the first photo for the post!  So many varieties!
 Creative pops.  Lions and monkeys and dogs, oh my.
 Truffles looked amazing! Kind of wish I'd tasted one.  There's always next year!
 And then the fruit filled "bark"looked wonderful.
 I probably would have gone for banana chocolate first if it were up to me.
 Nut barks were also common.
It wasn’t all chocolate either.  It really should have been called Dolce Festival because about 70% of the offerings were devoted to chocolate and 30% were devoted to non-chocolate sweets such as donuts, pastries, cookies, and cannoli.
 The marrons glace were also a favorite of the bees.  how many do you count in the photo?
 Sicilian cookies looked sooooo good.
 Donut master.
 The vendor clapping his hands actually became more annoying than amusing.
We thought the icing on the donut was going to be a strawberry flavor.  Turned out to be pink colored white chocolate.  Guess what?  I still ate it.
 Definitely no chocolate in this cannoli.  But who can pass up a fresh cannoli?

All in all, it may have been a small festival but it was still a wonderful experience.  Chocolate eating is easily considered a fun thing to do and if you are in fact ANYWHERE in the world and hear about a chocolate festival near you, take the opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy the sights, smells and tastes.