Attending an authentic sagra: a good enough reason to visit Italy!

Throughout spring and summer, posters adorn Italian walls with the word ‘sagra’ clearly taking prominent position in the advertising, so what does this word mean?

The literal translation is festival, but the definition of sagra is a local fair and celebration connected with food and local produce; for example, the town of Baone, in Veneto, hosts an annual Sagra dei Bisi (festival of the green pea). During the event, the streets are filled with people dressed in medieval costume and local residents prepare different dishes that must include the peas within the recipe. Among a number of traditional recipes, the most famous is definitely Risi e Bisi (a delicious risotto with peas). After all the tastings, every evening culminates in a music show with Italian live bands.

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Actually, almost every town in Italy at some point during the year will host a food festival. This year for example is the 80th Fish Festival at Chioggia, Venice. The sagra lasts for ten days and attracts over 100,000 people each year; music and theatre act as a backdrop as visitors sample fish dishes, fresh from the Adriatic sea, such as stuffed clams and mussels, griddled sole, pickled cockles and mixed fried fish. Attending a sagra is the perfect way to immerse yourself in Italian life. Add to this the opportunity to sample local cuisine as you sit at long communal tables to eat with the local population and you get a real feel for how Italians come together to celebrate.

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Fish Festival, Venice

Finding out about a sagra is very straightforward as most of the posters follow a similar format: the main heading will tell you where the festival is held and the date; these are mostly in bold typeface and large enough to read from a passing vehicle. Once you’ve found one that interests you, the poster will give you the start time, destination and other events that will be staged. You don’t have to be a local to attend and most towns welcome outsiders and tourists to their celebrations. The lines of parked cars stretching out of the town will indicate that you have arrived at the right place, and those who arrive early are usually the last to leave due to the sheer volume of traffic attending! In fact, some sagre (the plural of sagra) are so popular that the towns have a coach service to ferry people in and out of town to keep the streets clear for dancing.

Sagre take place throughout the year, with many taking place in the summer, so during your holiday to Italy this year, keep a keen eye on the local posters and find a local sagra, and for one evening become an honorary Italian and enjoy all the hospitality the town has to offer!

 

How Italians drink coffee

As a non-Italian, the two biggest challenges you may face in discovering the Italian culture and cuisine probably are: cooking “pasta al dente” and preparing a true, authentic, Italian coffee (everywhere known as espresso).

Essentially, there are two to make an Italian coffe: with the traditional three-chambered aluminium pot, like the famous Bialetti’s Moka, known as Macchinetta or Caffettiera, or with an espresso machine.

In both cases quality is, however, quality is of the absolute importance. No faked products here! The same goes, of course, for the quality of the coffee. Only choose Italian brands that have been roasted and ground especially for espresso machines or moka machines.

Italians themselves claim that the quality of their coffee ultimately depends on the purity of the water. So, unless you lives in Naples (the Italian city where supposedly they make the best espresso), we suggest you use bottled instead of tap water.

Even though the investment is much higher in case you decide to opt for an espresso machine, it is also relatively easier to select one that will make you good espressos.

It may be difficult to find a good traditional coffee machine, better if you choose for a good brand right from the start (not necessarily the most expensive one!). The coffee brand is also crucial to prepare a good espresso. An important advice is to take great care of your coffee maker and to replace the filter and the rubber ring as often as needed. Never (never!) clean your coffee maker with detergents or harsh chemicals. Just rinse it with care after each use.

TYPES OF COFFEE SERVED IN ITALY

When we think about Italian coffee, espresso is the first word that comes in everyone’s mind. In Italy it is not just a kind of coffee; when you order un caffè in Italian, you will automatically be served an espresso.

Here are the typical coffee drinks you will find in Italy:

  • caffè (espresso): a small cup of very strong coffee, the typical espresso (20 to 25 ml)
  • caffè doppio: 2 espresso served in one cup
  • caffè ristretto: en even more condensed version of an espresso (less than 20 ml)
  • caffè macchiato: an espresso with a drop of milk. You can order either a macchiato caldo (drop of steamed milk with froth) or a macchiato freddo (drop of cold milk)
  • caffè Americano: weaker than espresso and served in a large cup or a mug but still stronger than American-style coffee. It consists of an espresso to which hot water has been added after the brewing process (about 80 ml)
  • caffè lungo: where more water (about double) is let through the ground coffee, yielding a weaker taste (about 40 ml)
  • cappuccino: it is not just an espresso with steamed milk. To prepare a cappuccino properly you have to pour the steamed milk very carefully as to add 1/3 of steamed milk before the final topping (of about 1/3) of foamy, frothy milk. Italians usually drink cappuccino only in the morning, never after lunch or dinner. The name Cappuccino comes from the resemblance of its color to the robes of the monks of the Capuchin order.
  • caffè Hag: also more and more called un deca, a decaffeinated coffee. Can be combined with any of the version above
  • caffè corretto: an espresso with a drop of liquor
  • caffè borghetti: an espresso with a drop of borghetti liquor
  • caffè freddo or shakerato: espresso shaken with ice and sugar and served in a glass, usually in summer
  • caffè latte: not really a coffee drink, as this is basically hot milk mixed with coffee and served in a glass.

Do you know that the “gnocchi” recipe come from Middle East?

The Italian word gnocchi translates to dumplings, but it is thought the name may have come from the word nocchio which means a knot in the wood or possibly from nocca which means knuckle. It should be noted that the word gnocchi is plural and refers to several gnocco (singular) however, the singular word is hardly ever used and the word gnocchi is often used in the singular.

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making gnocchi, credits to gingerandtomato

Origins of Gnocchi

The original recipe is thought to have originated in the Middle East and although no one can be sure when Italian gnocchi were first made, the earliest written mentions appear in 14th century Italian cookery manuscripts.

Gnocchi became a staple dish in Italy and was gradually introduced by the Romans to other countries in Europe during their many conquests and over time, many countries developed their own type of small dumplings from the earliest gnocchi recipes.

Moreover, gnocchi were introduced to South America by Italian immigrants during the early 20th Century and quickly became integrated into many South American cuisines including in Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela and most notably in Argentina where today the 29th of every month has been designated Dia de Ñoquis (gnocchi day). The 29th was chosen because it was usually the last day before pay day so many people had run out of money. Gnocchi was the perfect meal as not only was it cheap but it was also filling. It was customary to place a coin under the plate whilst eating to encourage prosperity.

Similarly, Italian migration to North America saw an increase in Italian restaurants, many of which would have had a favorite gnocchi recipe on the menu.

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credits to Cooking@home in Dubai

Today

Gnocchi can be made by a variety of ingredients, such as pumpkin, bread and semolina flour. They can be made and served also with spinach, saffron and even truffles. They are boiled in water or broth, like pasta, served with many sauces such as pesto, tomato, butter and cheese.
Other types of traditional gnocchi are Gnocchi alla Romana (from Rome), made with semolina flour, topped with cheese and baked in the oven, or Gnocchi Gnudi, from Tuscany, made with ricotta and spinach.
Today, gnocchi are mainly made from potatoes, and has become a traditional dish in Italy. Despite the long description, the dumplings are very easy to prepare. They can be served with different sauces, but are especially good with pesto sauce, amatriciana sauce, meat sauce, four cheeses, butter and fresh tomato sauce or simply with butter and sage. They are also one of the most refined dishes, worthy of the most sophisticated menus.

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credits to saleepepe.it

Mercato AE: an Italia Kitchen Group successful project!

Mercato is the last Skelmore Hospitality Group’s concept (the one of Roberto’s Restaurant & Lounge in DIFC) which opened in Dubai last May 2016.

Their motto is “We don’t just like food, we love it”.

“It perfectly shows!” we could answer them.

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Mercato restaurant and retail 

The restaurant incorporates a retail space featuring fresh pasta, including roasted coffee beans, cured meats, bread, pastries and an open kitchen which let the clients see with their own eyes the baker and the chef making bread, pizza or pasta from scratch. The chef takes great care in selecting the best quality ingredients.

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Mercato’s kitchen: an Italia Kitchen project and realization

As you enter Mercato, you are welcomed by a fragrance of fresh bread, vibrant colors, and a vivid atmosphere inspired by Mercato Centrale in Florence, an historical place to buy groceries that has been renewed and it has become a meeting place for food lovers and gourmets. That is exactly what Mercato is.

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Open Kitchen at Mercato with Italia Kitchen equipment 

For all these reasons, it was an honor for Italia Kitchen Group to be part of its project and realization.

We asked to Mercato’s manager, Mrs. Grazia, what he think about the work that Italia Kitchen’s project manager and technicians made for Mercato:

Time that Mercato project’s born, we immediately thought of relying on someone with great experience and seriousness that could provide us support in any emergency situations, requirements found immediately in Italian Kitchen Group…THANK YOU !

So if you haven’t already, visit Mercato to experience deliciously prepared dishes and the best customer service in town!

                                                                                                                                    by Martina Bettella

How to create the perfect Food Menu

One of the hardest challenges when opening a new restaurant is creating and modifying your menu. The menu is what brings customers in and pays the bills, so it is essential to balance room for trial and error with the perfect variety of dishes. If you are creating a menu (or changing your existing one) and need some help getting it right, the following tips will help to bring you in the right direction.

1. Start with your environment 

The first step to menu planning is to think about the location of your restaurant, café or eatery. What are people looking for in your area? What is currently popular and where are there niches? What are the socioeconomic considerations in the area? These factors should all play a part in the creation of your menu. Are you surrounded by fish and chip shops? Perhaps look at some fresh, gourmet eats for your menu. Find something your audience will find exciting and enticing. Take a holistic approach to your menu and consider the location and type of clientele and how this fits with your menu.

2. Focus on a theme

Every restaurant has a style, theme and atmosphere that are important to match to your menu. A coherent menu is essential: you don’t want to confuse or discourage potential clientele. Although it is good to be different, everyone likes the classics so try to find a balance between the two. Remember, your customers have a lot of control as to your success, pleasing them is just as important as doing what you love.

3. Be flexible and change often 

Your first menu shouldn’t be your last! Make sure what you create, even if it seems perfect, has room for change. You want to be able to change things that don’t work and try new things to see if they could be successful. Regularly changing your menu is not only a great way to find out what works and what doesn’t, but also a way to build excitement for your guests. Try to find a regular schedule for change and stick to it. When it comes time to change the menu, remember that you don’t have to change everything, just keep the best and mix up the rest!

4. Keep it small

No one likes a huge menu with too much to choose from. Research has found that more choice causes indecisiveness and could even result in a guest leaving. While you may think lots of choice is great, it can make it confusing and frustrating for the customers. A simple, small menu is easier for everyone. Your guests will like it, you won’t have to buy as many different kinds of produce and your chefs will be able to focus on quality over quantity.

5. Use specials to test menu items

Specials are a great way to test and learn for a restaurant. They give you the opportunity to see what clients like without making them a permanent addition. This is a great way to make smart choices on your menu and make the most profit.

6. Have a ‘signature’ dish

Your signature dish should be the golden egg on the menu: it is a special dish that showcases your chef’s talents and your restaurant’s style. It is what draws people to your establishment and what they walk away talking about. It should be the star, but remember to make all your dishes worthy of remembering.

7. Price your menu accordingly

There are many factors that come into play when pricing menu items. Try to consider all of the things that could affect your profit margin and make sure these are covered. Public holidays, equipment, utilities, rent, produce and prep, breakage, staff pay and any incidentals are all outgoing costs. You may need to do a bit of trial and error to figure out how to cover them all. Consider price points and look at your competitors and clientele and remember you may need to mix up the menu when it comes to cost. Not all dishes will equal profit, some will be in the positive, some won’t reach it. By balancing this you should be able to maintain your overall food cost goals.

8. Make your menu attractive and engaging

The design on your menu can have as much impact as the dishes do! Where you place things, the shape and feel of the menu and what kind of colours and visuals you include all affect how a guest uses it. Smaller menus are a tick and items at the start and end of the menu are usually the most memorable. A4 books are great, particularly for pubs and similar venues, as they are easy to read and hold and can be stood up on tables.

Italia Kitchen Big Opening day

We have been waiting for it so long and finally the great day has come!

Sunday, September 18th, we inaugurated the new headquarter of Italian Kitchen Dubai that, last April, has moved from Deira to Al Quoz, a central area of the city, where companies are mix in stores, banks, luxurious shops and hipsters clubs.

Precisely, the office is located in Al Quoz 3, in front of the showroom Natuzzi (here you can find the location map).

Thank to all the participants the day was a great success, but a special thank goes to our partners who have supported us for years in the most interesting events in Dubai and beyond. They are Rosario Scarpato, Aira Piva and all the chefs of Italian Restaurant Consulting and Electrolux, our well-known supplier that, in addition to the cooking line and the Air-O-Steam Oven, “brought” the Italian Chef Silvano Costantini and some  students of ICCA , the famous cooking school based in Knowledge Village.

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 The Italian Consul of Dubai with the Chefs of: Bice, Bice Mare, La Bussola, Lounge Cafè Italiano, Carnevale, Casa Mia, Eataly, Frankie’s, Margherita, Per Te, Positano, Prego’s, Roberto’s, The Artisan, Trattoria Toscana, Vivaldi, Galeries La Fayette Le Gourmet, Jumeirah Golf Estates.

The new headquarter, like the old one, has a special feature that differentiates us from other professional kitchens providers in Dubai: the training room.

Italian Kitchen’s training room is a kitchen with all the professional equipment you can find in the best restaurants: pizza oven, dough mixer and moulder, manual machine for fresh pasta, freezer, chiller, blast chiller, ice-cream machine, soft ice-cream machine, ingredients to make ice cream and coffee machines. All from the best brands: Electrolux Italforni, Sigma, Aikhon, Baldassare Agnelli, Tecnoinox, SPM, SAB Italy and much more. Now that is fully and well equipped, our new kitchen is available for hire on a part-time basis, or by the hour. What we offer is a modern, practical and professional space for training sessions, cookery workshops, team buildings and tastings.

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Italia Kitchen’s Training Room

The restaurants and the chefs who will participate at the upcoming Italian Cuisine World Summit (to be held in Dubai, November 7th to 17th) have delighted us with some of their specialties like grilled shrimps, beef with polenta, pizza, cannoli siciliani and a lot of Italian dishes.

Those who have accepted our invitation have all let us feeling very happy and satisfied… of course also the good food attracted them greatly!!

During the afternoon, the new Consul of Dubai, Mrs. Valentina Setta, has honoured us with her presence. We wish her good luck for the new assignment.

We really hope that the new office will be the beginning of new projects, new contacts and new business for Italian Kitchen, a reality that is not only Italian, but who has been in the UAE for almost 15 years and in some way has contributed to the growth of this stunning city.

And again, thank you very much!

Essential Tips for Keeping your Restaurant’s Kitchen clean

A clean kitchen reflects your restaurant’s responsibility to excellence and food safety. With a lot of things happening all the time, from oil flying out of the fryer to strange items being found in the back of the refrigerator, regular cleaning can seem unbearable if you don’t have a system in place.

To help you maintain a clean and hygienic professional kitchen, here is a list that outlines how to keep your restaurant kitchen shining.

Some jobs have to be done many times a day, while others need to be done weekly or monthly. Regular cleaning is essential for food safety and can help reduce food waste.

Items to clean during every cooking

  • Brush grill between cooking red meat, poultry and fish
  •  Switch cutting boards
  • Change sanitizing water and cleaning rags
  • Empty trash bins
  • Wipe down the line and preparation areas

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Items to clean after each cooking change (breakfast, lunch, dinner)

  • Brush the grill
  • Empty sanitizing buckets
  • Put all cleaning rags in dirty laundry
  • Put all aprons and chefs coats in laundry (not with cleaning rags)
  • Wash and sanitize all surfaces (cutting boards, reach-in, line, prep tables)
  • Empty steam table and clean
  • Wash meat and cheese slicer after each use
  • Cover all bins in reach-in cooler with plastic wrap
  • Wash floor mats
  • Sweep and mop the kitchen floor
  • Sweep walk-in refrigerator

Daily Restaurant Kitchen Cleaning List

  • Clean out grease traps
  • Change foil linings of grill, range and flattops
  • Wash the can opener
  • Run hood filters through the dishwasher

Weekly Restaurant Kitchen Cleaning List

(Each of these duties can be rotated in the week.)

  • Empty reach-in coolers and wash and sanitize them
  • Clean coffee machine
  • Clean the ovens.
  • Sharpen knives (okay, not cleaning, per se, but needs to be done)
  • Oil cast iron cookware
  • Use drain cleaners on floor drains

Monthly Restaurant Kitchen Cleaning List

(to rotate throughout the month)

  • Wash behind the hot line (oven, stove, fryers) to cut down on grease build up
  • Clean freezers
  • Empty and sanitize the ice machine
  •  Calibrate ovens
  • Calibrate thermometers
  • Sharpen the meat and cheese slicer
  • Wash walls and ceilings
  • Wipe down the dry storage area
  • Change any pest traps
  • Restock your first aid kit

Yearly Restaurant Kitchen Cleaning and Safety List

There are also other important things to do each year, to make sure your kitchen is clean and safe. Most require the help of a professional. It’s good to schedule them during slow seasons.

  • Check fire suppression system
  • Check the fire extinguishes (this may need to be done twice a year, depending on where you live)
  • Clean the hoods twice a year. There are many professional companies that specialize in hood cleaning. Better use one rather than doing the job yourself (very messy and time consuming)
  • Clean the pilot lights on any gas kitchen equipment (Be sure to follow the manufacturers instruction)

A beauty secret by Sophia Loren

“Everything you see

I owe 

to spaghetti”.

SOPHIA LOREN

Polenta: a taste of Italian tradition

Many of Italy’s more traditional dishes were born as food for the poor: in Italy, we call it cucina povera and every region, from Veneto to Sicily, knows it. Just as people of the South achieved the most of their energy from pasta, people from the North would eat mainly polenta, a dish that has a very long history.

ORIGINS OF POLENTA

Polenta has been called by some “Italian grits” and there are similarities to the homonymous dish so popular in the Southern United States. In this way polenta and grits share a common link as the food of poverty. However in ancient times, what would later be called polenta started out as one of the earliest and simplest foods made from grain. Made from wild grains and later from primitive wheat, farro (a popular Italian grain), millet, spelt or chickpeas, the grain was mixed with water to form a paste and was then cooked on a hot stone.

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A current way to eat polenta: with mushroom and melted cheese

HISTORY OF POLENTA

In Roman times, polenta (or as they knew it, pulmentu) was the main food of the Roman Legions and was eat in a porridge or in a hard cake like form, much like today. By this time, milling techniques had greatly improved and the course grind favored for pulmentum had mostly been replaced by farina, a flour. However, even though bread was widely available in Ancient Rome, the legions and the poor preferred the simplicity and tastiness of their polenta. For the next few centuries, nothing changed in the history of polenta, as well as the living conditions of those who ate it most, poor people. However things would slowly improve for polenta, if not the peasantry, the first being the introduction of buckwheat (the Italian saraceno wheat)into Italy by the Saracens.
This nutrient grain is still popular in Tuscany for making polenta and adds a characteristic flavour that was preferred for centuries. Buckwheat polenta would finally loose its popularity when a crop from the New World arrived in Italy more or less in the 15th or 16th centuries known as maize. The new crop was a perfect match for the farms of Northern Italy, where landowners could grow vast fields of corn for profit, while forcing the peasantry to subsist on cornmeal. This new form of polenta was abundant, but seriously lacking in nutrients compared to earlier forms of the dish. However cornmeal polenta is very tasty and filling, and therefore continued to be predominant when the conditions of the poor were improved. From then on most of Italy’s polenta consumption was made from corn, which ranges in color from golden yellow to the Veneto’s white polenta.

MAKING POLENTA

Much of Italy’s polenta is still made the tedious old-fashioned way using a round bottom copper pot known as paiolo and a long wooden spoon. The process to make a soft polenta involves a 3 to 1 part of water to polenta and constant stirring for up to 50 minutes. Today in a modern kitchen with a good heavy pot, polenta preparation is not so tiring, but it still does need attention. Cooking polenta using a double boiler method is even easier. When finished, the polenta can be served in this soft form or poured out onto a slab and allowed to cool to form a cake.

by Martina Bettella