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Gingerbread Mince Pies

Gingerbread Mince Pies

It’s no secret I love Christmas fruit mince pies, and while I love the classic version, I’m happy to experiment and try other flavour combinations.  Last year I made Chocolate Mince Pies using a chocolate pastry paired with my mother’s rich fruit mince filling (link below), […]

Blueberry Pie

Blueberry Pie

This recipe will give quantities for one 9-inch (24cm)  blueberry pie baked in a deep pie dish.  I have used these quantities to make 6 individual portions in ramekins.  Once you have the filling and pastry ready, the choice is yours.  Blueberry Pie Pastry 250 […]

CASTRONI – A gourmet International food institution since 1932

CASTRONI – A gourmet International food institution since 1932

Per la versione Italiana: The Way Magazine – Fine Living

CASTRONI

The first time I walked into CASTRONI, I felt like Charlie Bucket the day he stepped inside Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory after winning his golden ticket.  I was overwhelmed with joy as I took in the sight before me.   I was inside their flagship store on Via Cola di Rienzo, and at the time I didn’t know that CASTRONI would one day become my daily stop for my morning cappuccino or my afternoon macchiato!  Walking into CASTRONI is like taking a walking speed food tour around the world, and all expats who live in Rome know the sheer heart warming joy that occurs when you find that food from your home country or find that ingredient that is impossible to find anywhere else.  Most foreigners who live in Italy, if they have to visit Rome, will almost always make a CASTRONI visit a must in their otherwise busy itinerary.  A true foodie will find visiting CASTRONI just as important a priority as visiting the Colosseum. 

 When you walk into the store,  it’s the aroma of coffee that first welcomes you, it embraces you and invites you to investigate further.  Sweets and chocolates share the limelight with the coffee, but I really can’t begin to summarise the more than 5000 food products that are sold here.  Think tea, Jams, honey, and biscuits (cookies) from all over the world.  Herbs, spices, wine, (some prestigious bottles costing €220.00 and another €650.00) Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar (the most expensive is a small bottle aged 100 year that costs €250.00 ), boutique pasta brands, American breakfast cereal and a selection of Coca Cola flavours that I didn’t even know existed. There is one section dedicated to varieties of salt, (who knew there were so many types of salt!) another dedicated to gluten free products, and they sell Vegemite!  The Asian section is vast and one of my favourite places to visit.  I put that down to the fact that most of the ingredients there were impossible to find when I lived in Tuscany, and also so many are still such a mystery to me, and it reminds me there is still so much for me to learn.  Special holidays sees whole walls of Tea and Jams disappear to make room for a stunning selection of Easter Eggs or Panettone and Pandoro for Christmas.  Christmas also brings the arrival of English Christmas Puddings, brandy butter and fruit mince pies.  Thanksgiving means cranberry sauce, canned sweet potato and creamy Libby’s pumpkin – and dare I mention the refrigerated products that include specialty foie gras, smoked salmon and even jars of goose fat! (Think perfectly roast potatoes ).

  

CASTRONI on Via Cola di Rienzo, in the Prati neighbourhood of Rome,  opened it’s doors in 1932 when Umberto Castroni bought the 90mq  store space after selling his ‘kiosk’ that was located ‘lungotevere’ – along the Tiber river.  He continued to sell drinks and fruit juices, and during the war he listened and responded to people’s needs and ‘caffè di cicoria’ became a best seller.  Cicoria Caffè was a coffee surrogate during the war years when coffee was either impossible to find or too expensive for most to afford. It is a healthy, bitter beverage that doesn’t contain caffeine, and is known to have digestive and detox properties.

Humble beginnings.

Umberto’s siblings entered into the business, they were four women and two men.  The youngest was Marcello, he had a keen eye for business and in 1955 opened the second store virtually around the corner in Via Ottaviano, close to the Vatican City.  It was after the opening of the second store that the family began to divide – in a business sense, and CASTRONI at this point boasted six stores around Rome.  The strong and close family bond is the main reason for Castroni’s  past and present prosperity and it’s this ‘secret’ that guarantees their success for future generations.

Marcello remained at the Flagship store and his clever intuition lead him to begin selling International products following requests from the many Embassies and Consulates based in Rome.  CASTRONI then began roasting and selling their own brand coffee and it was aptly named ‘Augusta’ after their mother.  One of the coffee blends they began roasting was the secret  ‘Miscela Bar’ blend that is served at their bar every day and is also sold to the public.  This is the coffee I enjoy every day, either at Castroni’s bar or at home, yes – we also drink Caffè Castroni at home, buying it freshly ground.

Roberto & Fabrizio Castroni

CASTRONI continued to grow, expand and enjoy increased popularity rapidly over the next ten years.  Marcello’s  two sons,  Fabrizio and Roberto joined the company, and brought with them a fresh, young and new enthusiasm.  Ethnic food items and specialised foreign ingredients became important merchandise to sell especially with the high number of foreigners visiting or living in Rome.  CASTRONI was the first to bring Japan to Rome for example, and sells ingredients that are otherwise impossible to find.   CASTRONI expanded to a floor space of 200mq, then to 400mq. The other CASTRONI stores enjoyed the same success and expansion and by the time the fourth generation entered the business, CASTRONI had 13 specialty International food stores in the Eternal City.

I often wonder how CASTRONI find many of their products.   Roberto Castroni explained to me that he has invested over 30 years in foreign travel  researching speciality food items and over the years they have created a network of International contacts, collaborators and even friends that assist in assuring CASTRONI always has it’s finger on the ‘foodie’ pulse.

 

CASTRONI is synonymous with family unity and pride. This philosophy hasn’t changed since Umberto Castroni began his Empire.  The family takes an active role in the business and you’ll always find a family member in each store.  You’ll find more than one actually – just think there are 30 family members working amongst all the store, and at the Via Cola di Rienzo store they have 44 staff – 8 of which belong to the Castroni family.   Employees who aren’t directly related to the Castroni family remain loyal for years, there is always a warm atmosphere when you walk into CASTRONI and their commitment to customer service never wavers.  Roberto says his employees are happy because they are treated well. He says that his father Marcello taught both he and Fabrizio that to ensure their staff worked well, they must be treated well and looked after – as much as is possible.  In fact, Castroni employees always receive their wages regularly on the 27th of each month.  (Not always a guarantee in Italy today).  They also receive benefits that aren’t common in every workplace in Italy, such as health insurance and monetry incentives for productivity etc.  80% of Castroni employees have worked at Castroni from 10 to 30 years, and  after 25 years, employees benefit from a generous long service bonus for their loyalty.  One employee will be retiring soon after 35 years of service. 

Lovely Antonio has worked here for 32 years.

One thing that is surprising is that bar prices are not inflated, and are in fact kept very competitive.  My daily cappuccino costs €1.10 and a caffè (espresso) costs only €0.90 ! And considering all the pastries and sandwiches are made freshly on site daily, sandwiches costing from €1.90 – €2.80 and pastries only €0.90; Castroni offers quality at a price that’s hard to find in Rome.  This is especially true in a neighbourhood that borders on the Vatican City and is otherwise known as a neighbourhood for the wealthy and elite, not to mention the daily tourists that pass on their way to the Vatican, every day of the year.    Roberto told me that this is actually a historic strategic decision.  The bar not only brings people into the store, but it also creates  a constant circulation of clients inside.  Castroni is also famous for their gelato and especially the coffee “granita” during the hot Roman summer.

Umberto, one of my favourite baristas takes his job very seriously!

For me CASTRONI has become much more than just the International food store across the road from home.  CASTRONI is my morning caffeine fix, served by Rome’s most adorable baristas who haven’t forgotten what old fashioned good manners and personal service is about.  CASTRONI is my go to place for every-day and gourmet ingredients.    CASTRONI is also my ‘pick me up’ when I’m having a bad day.  It’s  where I go for a little chat and a guaranteed smile. I have a wander through, enjoy a coffee, say hello to staff that now feel like life-long friends, look at the many shelves taking in all that is on offer and see if I can spot anything new.  I may not have ‘needed’ anything when I walked in, but you can bet I don’t often leave empty handed (I mean without that famous yellow Castroni logo shopping bag.

 

Today CASTRONI also offers an online shopping service and shipments are made daily throughout not only Italy, but all of Europe.  Castroni’s coffee can also be shipped to Canada and the U.S.A.  Their website can be visited in Italian or English.

CASTRONI’s success surely lies in setting trends and not following them. Our shopping high streets are so often filled with chain stores offering an impersonal service that it’s refreshingly comforting to have a store like CASTRONI in the neighbourhood.   The name CASTRONI has not only become a household name in Rome but it’s a name that will always be associated with excellence, from its humble beginnings to the incredible family business that it is today. 

Make sure you include this on your itinerary for your next visit to Rome.   

Always a smile from Roberto Castroni

 

Christmas Custard Cookies

Christmas Custard Cookies

These cookies are so delicious, it’s difficult to stop at just a couple and impossible to eat just one.  It is a variation of a shortbread recipe.  I had every intention to bake the recipe my mother and Aunts would use every Christmas (they made […]

Baked Camembert with Sweet Fruit & Nut Chutney

Baked Camembert with Sweet Fruit & Nut Chutney

While I could eat this all year round, I am going to use the fact that Christmas is just around the corner and we all need something impressive to serve when we start entertaining for the festive season as my excuse to make this as […]

Buccellatini

Buccellatini

This recipe ties to the last recipe I posted, Buccellato Siciliano .  You may not want to make a large wreath and maybe prefer to make some biscuits instead.  These are called Buccellatini and they are made using the exact same ingredients.  I’m adding a separate post though because although the ingredients are the same, the end result is quite different. They resemble a ‘Fig Newton’, are often decorated with simple white icing and hundreds & thousands and I remember my Calabrian Nonna making something like these during my childhood..  I decided to make Buccellatini when I realised I had some leftover pastry and filling, and I hate to waste good ingredients!

Please note, the quantities of the ingredients are exactly the same as for the Buccellato, so be aware that you will make many Buccellatini! 

Buccellatini

PASTRY

  • 500g plain flour
  • 150g white sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 100g lard
  • 3 eggs
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Sift the flour and add to a food processor.  Add all other ingredients and mix until a dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured work bench, knead gently and roll into a sausage-like shape.  Cover in plastic kitchen wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

FILLING

  • 500g dried figs, chopped
  • 300g jar fig jam
  • 100g almonds
  • 100g hazlenuts
  • 50g walnuts
  • 50g pistachio nuts
  • 50ml ‘Zibibbo’ wine or Marsala
  • 300g mixed candied peel
  • 100g dark chocolate, grated
  • 50g suet (or vegetable fat i.e. Crisco)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 beaten egg (to brush on pastry)
  • Orange Marmalade, glacè cherries, ground pistachio  and candied orange peel to decorate
  1. Chop the figs and candied peel into small pieces.
  2. Place nuts in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
  3. Add figs, nuts, fig jam, Zibibbo, candied peel, lemon zest, suet, cinnamon and ground cloves to a large saucepan. Heat on low heat, and mix all ingredients well for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow filling to cool completely.
  4. Mix grated chocolate through filling.
  5. Shape the piece of pastry dough into a rectangle, then roll the pastry out onto a lightly floured board and cut into a rectangle shape.
  6. Spoon or use a piping bag to pipe the fig filling in a strip down the center of the pastry rectangle. Brush one long edge of the pastry with beaten egg and fold the pastry over the filling, aligning the edges. Press down on the seam to close it. Refrigerate for 10 – 15 minutes.
  7. Using a sharp knife, slice filled pastry into cookie size you desire and transfer to a baking tray lined with baking paper.
  8. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  9. Repeat process utilising all pastry and filling. (You can prepare a whole tray, refrigerating as they are prepared and bake them all at once).  Use pastry tweezers or crimpers if you wish to pinch the pastry 2 – 3 times on top. Position them close together on the baking tray.
  10. Bake Buccellatini for 15 -20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.  Allow them to cool for 5 minutes.  Heat orange marmalade in a saucepan over low heat and once warm, use a pastry brush to coat the surface of the Buccellatini.
  11. Transfer to a wire rack, decorate with ground pistachio and candied orange peel and then let cool completely.

BUCCELLATINI

Questa ricetta  è legata all’ultima ricetta che ho postato, il Buccellato Siciliano.  Se non vuoi fare il Buccellato, ma ti piacciono gli ingredienti, può essere preferibile realizzare alcuni biscotti, cioè i ‘Buccellatini’, che sono fatti usando gli stessi ingredienti.  Sto aggiungendo un post separato, però, perché anche se gli ingredienti sono gli stessi, il risultato finale è molto diverso. Assomigliano ai ‘ Fig Newton ‘, un tipo di biscotto americano e sono spesso decorati con una semplice glassa e le codette colorate. Mi ricordo che mia nonna calabrese faceva qualcosa molto simile durante la mia infanzia.  Ho deciso di fare i Buccellatini quando ho visto che avevo degli avanzi di pasta frolla e di ripieno,  e io odio sprecare buoni ingredienti!
Notate che le quantità degli ingredienti sono esattamente le stesse per il Buccellato, quindi verranno fuori molti Buccellatini!
INGREDIENTI 
pasta frolla
  • 500g farina 00
  • 150g di zucchero
  • 100 g di strutto
  • 100g burro
  • 3 uova
  • pizzico di sale
  • 1 un cucchiaio di miele

Mettete in un robot di cucina la farina setacciate, e aggiungete tutti gli altri ingredienti. Impastare tutto e avvolgete con la pellicola e fate riposare per almeno un ora o per una notte in frigo.

Ripieno

  • 500 g di fichi secchi tagliati piccoli
  • 300g barattolo di marmellata di fichi
  • 50g strutto
  • 100 g di mandorle
  • 100 g di nocciole
  • 50 g di noci
  • 50 g di pistacchi
  • 250ml vino zibibbo
  • 100 g di cedrata
  • 100 g di zuccata
  • 100 g di bucce d’arancia
  • 100 g di cioccolata fondente
  • scorza di 1 limone grattugiato
  • 1 cucchiaino di cannella
  • ½ cucchiaino di chiodi di garofano macinati
  • 1 uovo sbattuto (per spennellare sopra il buccellato)
  • Marmellata d’arancia, ciliegie e arancia canditi, pistacchi macinati per decorare
  1. Preriscaldare il forno a 180 ° C.
  2. Tagliate a mano i fichi e i canditi in piccoli pezzi.
  3. Mettere  noci in un robot da cucina e pulsare fino a tritarli.
  4. Aggiungere i fichi, noci, marmellata di fichi, Zibibbo, canditi, scorza di limone, strutto, cannella e chiodi di garofano macinato in una pentola grande.  Scaldare a fuoco basso e mescolare bene tutti gli ingredienti per circa 5 minuti.  Togliere dal fuoco e lasciare raffreddare completamente.  
  5. Aggiungere il cioccolato grattugiato. 
  6. Stendere la frolla sopra una tavola leggermente infarinato e tagliatelo in una forma rettangolare.
  7. Utilizzare un cucchiaio o una sac a poche e mettere una striscia di ripieno al centro del rettangolo della pasta frolla. Spennellare un bordo lungo la frolla con l’uovo sbattuto e piegare la frolla sopra il ripieno, allineando i bordi. Premere sulla cucitura per chiuderla. Refrigerare per 10-15 minuti.
  8. Utilizzando un coltello affilato, affettare pezzi circa 3 cm e trasferirle sopra una teglia da forno foderato con la carta da forno.  
  9. Ripetere il processo utilizzando tutta la frolla e il riempimento. (è possibile preparare un vassoio intero e cuocere tutti in una volta.  Farle riposare in frigo mentre prepari gli altri).  Utilizzare le pinzette di pasticceria se si desidera pizzicare la pasta frolla 2-3 volte in cima. Posizionarli vicino insieme sulla teglia.
  10. Cuocere i Buccellatini in forno preriscaldato per 15 -20 minuti o fino a quando sono dorati.  Lasciarli raffreddare per 5 minuti.  Scaldare la marmellata di arance in una pentolina a fuoco basso e utilizzare un pennello da pasticceria per rivestire la superficie superiore del Buccellatini.
  11. Trasferirli sopra una griglia, decorare con pistacchio macinato e arancia candita e poi lasciare raffreddare completamente.

 

 

 

Buccellato Siciliano

Buccellato Siciliano

Buccellato is a traditional fragrant and sweet Sicilian pastry which starts appearing in December and is usually associated with the Christmas holidays.  Dried figs, spices, sweet Sicilian wine called Zibibbo and nuts such as pistachio, walnuts, almonds and dark chocolate are encased in a sweet […]

Shortbread

Shortbread

My English grandmother would make shortbread and she comes to mind whenever I eat it.   I think it was one of the first things she taught my sister and I to bake.  Last week I spotted a beautiful Nordic Ware snowflake baking pan, and […]

Individual Fig & Date Puddings

Individual Fig & Date Puddings

These little puddings are very similar to the Sticky Toffee Pudding that I was known to make to end many a dinner party during my single years.  It is an easy recipe and a sure crowd pleaser.  I always made my sticky toffee pudding in a square cake tin, and then cut squares to serve it, but this time I just had to used my recently purchased Nordic Ware cake tin.  I made this recipe for two reasons. Firstly because I had many dried figs and some dates left over from making this year’s Christmas Cake , and secondly because after coveting the Nordic Ware bakeware for almost two years, I finally indulged and bought myself one.  The hot toffee sauce can be used for other cakes or even made to pour over ice-cream.

Fig & Date Puddings

  • 135g chopped dried dates
  • 200g chopped dried figs
  • 310ml boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 English breakfast tea bags
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 155g soft brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour

Toffee Sauce

  • 50g butter
  • 200g soft brown sugar -muscovado
  • 300ml thickened cream
  1. Preheat oven to 160°C
  2. Combine the dates, figs, boiling water, bicarbonate of soda and tea bags in a heatproof bowl. Set aside for 10 minutes to soak. Remove and discard tea bags.
  3. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined. Stir in the flour and date mixture.
  4. Use a piping bag to pipe cake mixture into individual cake cavities of mini cake tin.  (I used a Nordic Ware 6 cavity cake pan).  You can also use a well buttered 18cm (7″) square cake tin.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 30 – 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and set aside for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
  6. Meanwhile, to make the toffee sauce, combine the butter, sugar and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the butter melts, the sugar dissolves and the sauce thickens slightly.
  7. Serve puddings warm or at room temperature with hot toffee sauce, and why not…… also a big generous scoop of good quality vanilla ice-cream!

Pudding di Fichi e Datteri con Salsa Calda al Caramello

  • 135g  datteri secchi, tagliati
  • 200g fichi secchi, tagliati
  • 310ml acqua bollente
  • 1 cucchiaino di bicarbonato di soda
  • 2 buste di tè ‘English Breakfast’
  • 125g burro, ammorbidito
  • 155g zucchero muscovado
  • 3 uova
  • 225g farina autolievetante

Salsa Caramello

  • 50g burro
  • 200g zucchero muscovado
  • 300ml panna fresca
  1. Preriscaldate il forno a 160 °C
  2. Unire i datteri, i fichi, l’acqua bollente, il bicarbonato di soda e le buste di tè in una ciotola. Mettere da parte per 10 minuti, poi rimuovere e scartare le bustine di tè.
  3. Utilizzare una planetaria per battere il burro e lo zucchero insieme finché non si ha un composto pallido e cremoso.  Aggiungere le uova, una alla volta, e mescolare finché sono incorporato bene.  Aggiungere la farina e la miscela di datteri e fichi.
  4. Utilizzare una sac a poche per riempire gli stampi individuali.  (io ho usato un stampo Nordic Ware).  Inoltre è possibile utilizzare un stampo quadrato 18cm di diametro se preferite.
  5. Cuocere in forno preriscaldato per 30-45 minuti o fino a quando uno spiedino inserito nel centro esce pulito.
  6. Rimuovere dal forno e mettere da parte per 10 minuti prima di invertire il stampo.  Lasciare le torte sopra una griglia per torte per raffreddare.
  7. Nel frattempo, per fare la salsa al caramello, unir
  8. e il burro, lo zucchero e la panna in una pentola sopra il fuoco medio-basso.  Cuocere, mescolando per 5 minuti o fino a quando il burro si scioglie, lo zucchero si dissolve e la salsa si addensa leggermente.
  9. Servire caldo o a temperatura ambiente con la salsa di caramello caldo…. e perché no, anche gelato alla vaniglia!.

 

Il Giorno in cui Anna Moroni fu Mia Ospite

Il Giorno in cui Anna Moroni fu Mia Ospite

  Il giorno in cui Anna Moroni fu mia ospite Forse lo avete già potuto vedere dal link del video che ho messo in rete, ma fatto sta che il mese di ottobre mi ha riservato una grande sorpresa: avere ospite a casa Anna Moroni, […]