The Fruits of Our LaborBy Ilyse Rathet
April 11, 2021
Our journeys to Italy are always much anticipated. We embark with a mixture of small and varied projects to complete, and a desire to “re-find” the smells, tastes and feeling of the “real Italy”. To re-find the places and people who inspired and motivated us to start Ritrovo over 15 years ago. These journeys allow us time to soak up Italy’s eased pace, more ritualized mealtimes, and deep social sensibility. Our journey made richer as we are guided by our many friends and contacts there.
Though we are working, and constantly discussing Ritrovo concerns, we can’t resist a stop at a piazza for a glass of Lambrusco, a walk through the millennia-old streets of Matera, or a break to taste local Provolone del Monaco in Campania. Our suppliers have become our close friends and they are eager to share the sights and food and wine, and the daily rituals they know and love. We walk, eat, and work beside them and form even stronger bonds. Occasionally while connecting with us, they meet each other and many times, new ideas are born.
Recently these interconnections with our producers evolved into further interweaving amongst them. We were all inspired to collaborate and create new and innovative products.
At sunset one evening, we were visiting the new warehouse remodeled by Mirko DiCrescenza of Fior di Maiella in Abruzzo. We decided to stroll along the green orti or family gardens that skirt his new neighborhood, to stretch our legs before a special evening meal. While ambling along we began chatting about how we were impressed by our visit to the gluten-free Bioalimenta pasta facility in the nearby hills at Fara San Martino. While our stroll was languid and easy, our ideas flowed in a long-awaited exchange with Mirko. He excitedly spouted off the names of interesting non-wheat and gluten free grains he had seen among his contacts in Italy. Of those, we were intrigued by Riso Gigante Vercelli, a large-grained rice variety cultivated by only one northern Italy grower. We decided then and there that, Riso Gigante Vercelli will become the next Ritrovo grain selection from Fior di Maiella!
A day later, we were picked up in Abruzzo by Gianni Schiuma of Ultimo Forno, Matera. He and Mirko and Nicola of Casina Rossa exchanged their local specialties: Gianni hoisted a fresh 5 kg loaf of pane di Matera into Nicola’s car while showing off some of his latest sott’olii, and Mirko promised some risottos and grains to Gianni.
As we drove towards Matera we chatted with Gianni about our Abruzzo adventures. Soon the talk turned to how delicious Fior di Maiella’s mozzafiato spices taste on good durum wheat pasta like Ultimo Forno’s Rigatoni. That evening, when we were visiting the new bakery of one of our Ultimo Forno bakers, Patrizia, we were inspired by a bag of their rustic breadcrumbs. With Mirko’s amazing blend of sun-dried tomato, sweet pepper, dried herbs and garlic mixed into breadcrumbs from one of the worlds most noble breads, we could create an amazing flavored bread crumb that also could be used to top pastas and soups. Upon our return to Seattle, Gianni and Mirko were in touch at our urging and prototypes of a new mozzafiato flavored Matera breadcrumb are in the works.
An even more unlikely joint venture was also born during our travels along Ritrovo’s regional Italian network: Giacomo Cinelli of Maletti has been searching for the right pasta sauce producer to make a great pasta sauce with Maletti balsamic vinegar. Within days of our arrival in Italy, samples were sped from Modena to Roccascalegna – two regions’ distance away, and test batches of sugo were being hand prepared for Maletti and Ritrovo. We can’t wait to taste test them.
As our trip wound to its bittersweet end, RItrovo’s US-based work began to beckon. We had to wrap up our Italy projects, and move ahead with the many inspirations from the trip. Thus, we lingered ever more wistfully over strong cups of espresso on those mornings at our last stop in Sorrento. With our espresso and light, fresh-baked cornetto pastries, we sat overlooking the bay. We savored the view and the fresh squeezed spremuta made with pulpy citrus juice from local lemons and oranges. Recalling that our travels had begun near Modena, it suddenly became easy to envision the next regionally-inspired balsamic to follow our organic apple: organic citrus with fresh lemon. We called Giorgio Regnani, our supplier, that morning. Amazingly, before our time in Sorrento ended, enologist-balsamic artist Nicolo Verrini had created the first tastes of a new organic citrus balsamic; delicately blending aged white grape must with lemon and orange.
As always, we will keep you posted on these and other fruits of our labor. So until these new delights arrive, we leave you with a Sorrento-inspired appetizer using Ultimo Forno baked friselle, tuna, fennel salt and pollen, lemon juice and Casina Rossa lemon olive oil. And, once it arrives a few drops of our new Organic Citrus Balsamic Vinegar drizzled on this crostino will be heavenly!
Friselle Crostini with Fennel-Scented Tuna Pate and Lemon
One fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
One 6 oz. can water-packed tuna
1/2 tsp. Casina Rossa Fennel & Salt
1/4 tsp. Ritrovo Selections Fennel Pollen
1 lemon, sliced in half
In a food processor, blend until smooth the tuna, Fennel & Salt, Fennel Pollen and EVOO with lemon. Set aside.
Place friselle on a plate and squeeze the juice of half a lemon onto them.
Top the friselle with the tuna spread. Place some of the shaved fennel atop each.
Drizzle with more lemon oil or the new Organic Citrus Balsamic, as desired. To taste, you can also sprinkle more fennel pollen over the top.