Mezzelune – Schlutzkrapfen – Spinach Ricotta Ravioli from Sudtirol

mezzelune-private-italy-walking-toursDuring many of our walking tours or cycling adventures, when we visit a small local restaurant catering to non-tourists, I am called upon to translate the menu. This is a particular challenge in Alto Adige, where the menu is just as likely to be in German as Italian. One wonderful traditional dish of the region, with a name that can evoke a chuckle from guests, is Schlutzkrapfen.

schlutzkrapfen-private-italy-walking-toursSchlutzkrapfen, called Mezzelune (“half moons”) by the Italian speaking natives of the region, are semi-circular stuffed pasta, similar to ravioli.They are also known as Ravioli della Pusteria, after the Pusteria valley. The dough is usually made of white flour, sometimes mixed with rye or buckwheat flour, mixed with eggs and milk. The fillings may vary, but the most typical is ricotta cheese and spinach. These would often be served during days of abstinence, as a meat free first course. Similar types of pasta found in Northern Italy are the beet stuffed casunziei from the Dolomites area, casoncelli in Lombardy, and cjarsons in Friuli.

mezzelune-sheet-private-italy-walking-toursI adapted this recipe from a cookbook put out by the Sudtirol Tourism agency, Alpine Flavors: Authentic recipes from the Dolomites, the Heart of the Alps. Here, they introduced yet another name for this dish, the Ladin name Cajinci t’ega. The Ladin people are an unique ethnic group in northern Italy. Their native language is Ladin, a language related to the Swiss Romansh and Friulian languages. The Ladin people constitute only 4.5% of the population of South Tyrol, but their influence has played a role in the culture, history, and traditions of this region.


Cajinci t’ega – Mezzelune Pasta

Makes about 60 mezzelune

For the dough:

1 1/2 cups wheat flour
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons milk

For the filling:

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon butter
4 ounces of cooked, pureed spinach
3 ounces of ricotta cheese

To serve:

grated Parmigiano Reggiano
melted butter
finely chopped chives

How to make the dough:

Place the flour on your counter in a mound. Make a well in the middle. Add the eggs, water, milk and salt. Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs. Gradually start incorporating the flour from the sides of the well. Eventually the sides of the well will collapse, at this point use a pastry scraper to work the rest of the flour into the dough.

Knead the dough for about 15 minutes, working a bit more flour into it when it gets a bit sticky. The dough should be very smooth, silky, and very elastic.

To roll out the pasta using a pasta machine, divide the dough into 4 – 6 pieces. You will roll out one piece at a time, while rolling keep the remainder covered with plastic wrap so it does not dry out. Lightly flour the machine rollers, the work surface around the machine, and the first piece of dough. Set the rollers at the widest setting. Flatten the dough into a disc, sprinkle with flour, then feed the disc into the space between the two rollers. Feed the dough through with one hand, while holding the upturned palm of your hand under the sheet emerging from the rollers. Keep your palm flat to protect the dough from punctures by your fingers.

As the sheet emerges from the rollers, guide it away from the machine with your palm. Pass the dough through the rollers five to six times, folding it into thirds and flouring it each time. Then set the rollers at the next narrower setting and pass the dough through three times, folding it in half each time. Repeat, passing it through three times at each successively narrower setting. Repeated stretching and thinning builds up elasticity making especially light pasta. If the sheet becomes too long to handle comfortably, cut it in half or thirds and work the pieces in tandem.

Don’t worry if at first the dough tears, has holes, is lumpy, or is very moist. Just lightly flour it by pulling the dough over the floured work surface. Take care not to overdo the flouring, or the dough may get too stiff. As you keep putting it through the rollers, it will be transformed from slightly lumpy and possibly torn to a smooth, satiny sheet with fine elasticity.

Different machines have different numbers of settings. These ravioli use the thinnest setting on a machine, which will be thin enough for you to see color and shape through it; this is perfect for lasagne and filled pastas. If it is so thin that the dough tears easily, however, stop at the next to last setting.

Place the pasta sheets on a floured sheet pan, separated by deli paper or plastic wrap. Cover the pile with a slightly damp towel.

How to make the filling:

Saute the onion in a skillet with the butter. Place the onion, spinach, ricotta, and salt in a food processor. Pulse to mix thoroughly.


Cut discs of pasta from the prepared pasta sheets using a round cutter about 2 inches in diameter.

mezzelune-cutter-private-italy-walking-toursOn half of each disc place a teaspoon of filling, fold over the other half and press the edges together well.

Cook the cajinci t’ega in boiling salted water.

Remove with a skimmer and drain, then dress with the melted butter and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano and finely chopped chives.


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Accordini Winery – Walking through the Best of Valpolicella

accordini-view-private-italy-walking-toursThere is no better way to appreciate the terroir of a wine than to walk through it. On our private walking tours in Italy we typically plan a day to do just this – choosing a route that brings us through the countryside and vineyards to a winery where we learn how they create amazing wines from their picturesque surroundings – the soil, the vines, the climate, the grapes. This season we spent a day walking up in the hills of Fumane, part of the Valpolicella Classico zone, to award winning wine producer Accordini.

accordini-tasting-private-italy-walking-toursGaetano Accordini, helped by his wife Giuseppina Bertani, opened the winery in the early 1900s when he purchased 5 acres of land in the town of Negar. HIs son Stefano continued the business, producing Valpolicella wine for the local market. Stefano’s sons Tiziano and Daniele continued the business through the 1970s, when lower quality Valpolicella wines flooded the market, and the business struggled to remain profitable. Daniele remained committed to producing quality wines, planting new installations of Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara, decreased yields per hectare, and modernizing the cellar and wine production process. Today the fourth generation is carrying on the family tradition, with Giacomo overseeing viticulture, Paolo caring for all stages of vinification, aging and bottling, and Marco currently a student of Agronomy and Enology.

accordini-vineyards-private-italy-walking-toursIn 1999, the family purchased an additional 10 acres in the hills of Fumane, in the village of Cavalo. The most favorably situated vineyards in the classico zone are located in the Monti Lessini foothills, where the grapes ripen at altitudes between 150–460 meters. The vineyards of Accordini are located between 500 and 600m, making them the highest vineyards in the area. The higher elevation means lower temperatures, concentrated sun exposure, and a large temperature differential between night and day.
Strong sun exposure in high elevation vineyards causes grapes to develop a deeper color, strong tannins, and a thicker, tougher skin – all great qualities to develop for age-worthy appassimento style wines. The large temperature differential means this same grapes ripen more slowly than the counterparts growing in the valley, producing more sugar and more complex flavors.

accordini-terroir-private-italy-walking-toursAfter a lovely walk up through the vineyards to the winery above Fumane, we enjoyed a private tour of the cellars. Alessandra warmly greeted us, then introduced us to the unique terroir of the region, showing samples of the various soil types, from morainic gravel near Lake Garda to more dolomite residual gravel with alluvial deposits. Alessandra tells us how many areas have tried to cultivate Valpolicella’s most important grape, Corvina, but the results have not lived up to the quality achieved here.

accordini-drying-room-private-italy-walking-toursThen we  moved to the drying loft, our late September tour the perfect time to visit as it is during harvest and we see how the grapes are layed out on pallets and stacked to dry. The grapes destined to become Amarone dry for 3 months, for Recioto, 4. DOC regulations dictate what percentage of grapes can go into Amarone, typically 50% in a good year, like 2015. In 2014, a bad year with too much rain, only 35% of grapes could be used.  During the drying process, the grapes loose 35 to 40 percent weight. One bottle of Amarone requires 5 kilos of grapes, over 10 pounds!

accordini-steel-tanks-private-italy-walking-toursOff to the cellar, where we learned the different processes for each wine. The ‘basic’ Valpolicella is produced in typical red wine fashion – harvested grapes are pressed, yeast is usually added, and the juice and skins/pulp sit and ferment. Fermentation continues until the sugar in the grapes is converted into alcohol and CO2, the skins/pulp (called lees) is removed, and the wine is placed in either stainless steel tanks or wood barrels – or both – to age. For the Valpolicella Classico, a fresh wine meant to be enjoyed young, it is aged in stainless steel tanks, with an additional two months in the bottle.

accordini-drying-corvina-private-italy-walking-toursFor Amarone, the best grapes are picked, then dried in the loft for 3 months, which concentrates the sugars. The grapes are pressed, yeast is added, and fermentation occurs. The higher sugar content means more alcohol is produced, and a special strain of yeast must be used, to withstand the higher alcohol content. After this maceration, which lasts about 35 days, the juice is the filtered off from the lees, then off to the aging rooms. The Amarone is refined in new French oak barriques for 24 months, then in bottles for a additional 8 months.

accordini-vinification-private-italy-walking-toursThe lees from the Amarone are not disposed of quite yet. Instead, they are put to use in yet a third style of dry red wine made in this region, a Valpolicella Ripasso. Some of the Valpolicella wine mentioned previously is pulled off, placed on the leftover lees from the Amarone for about 10 days, allowing a second fermentation occurs. The Ripasso is aged in barriques of French Oak for 12 months, then six other months in bottle. The resulting wine offers a bit more structure and complexity than the Valpolicella.

accordini-harvest-private-italy-walking-toursFinally, the Recioto dessert wine – this is produced using the same method as the Amarone, but the fermentation Is halted earlier, after only about 20 days, when some residual sugar still remains. The Recioto is refined in barriques for 4 months, then in bottles for 3 months.

accordini-barrels-private-italy-walking-toursFinally, the moment we’ve been waiting for – the tasting! We tasted all four of the aforementioned wines, three from their Acinatico line. Acinatico is ancient Roman name for wines of this area. The first reference to this wine goes back to the 5th century A.D. in a letter of Cassiodoro, minister of king Theodoric, who was looking for red “Acinatico” for the royal meals. This was a red wine made during the winter months with wilted grapes; it was very difficult to get, at least in large quantities and was produced in the hills around Verona.

Tasting notes:

Valpolicella Classico D.O.C.

accordini-classico-private-italy-walking-toursBright ruby red with hints of violet. Very fresh and fruity, cherries and berries. Medium body, it should be enjoyed while young to appreciate it at its best. A versitile food wine, it is recommended with first courses and soups.

Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Acinatico D.O.C.

accordini-ripasso-private-italy-walking-toursCorvina Veronese (60%), Corvinone (15%), Rondinella (20%), Molinara (5%).

Intense ruby red, with aromas of vanilla and spice. Flavors of ripe cherries, dried fruit and tobacco. Warm and full-bodied, it pairs well with roast meats, stews, braises and aged cheeses.

Amarone Classico della Valpolicella Acinatico D.O.C.G.

accordini-amarone-private-italy-walking-toursCorvina Veronese (75%), Rondinella (20%), Molinara (5%)

A dense, deep garnet red, with rich aromas of vanilla and dried fruit. Great structure, complex, creamy and elegant, with flavors of dried cherries and berries, tobacco, and nuts. This wine is traditionally served with game, grilled meat, braises and aged cheeses. It is also served between meals, a “wine for meditation” as they say in Italy.

Recioto Classico della Valpolicella Acinatico D.O.C.G.

accordini-recioto-private-italy-walking-toursCorvina Veronese 75%, Rondinella 20%, Molinara 5%

A deep purple ruby red. Aromas of dried fruit, with floral notes. Smooth, elegant, with flavors of dried fruit, and some acidity to balance the sweetness. Enjoy with dry cakes, pastry and desserts of the Veronese tradition, such as Pandoro, sbrisolona, Torta Russia and, of course, dark chocolate.

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Focaccia con Rosemarino – Focaccia with Rosemary

focaccia-private-italy-walking-toursWho doesn’t love focaccia? A leavened flat bread with seemingly unlimited variations, everyone can find a favorite. This season as we visited Vicenza on a cycling tour and later on a walking tour we made focaccia with a true Italian chef. Prep took 10 minutes max, two hours to rise, then bake and we had ourselves a real treat, focaccia fresh from the oven, topped simply with rosemary and olive oil.

Focaccia bread originated thousands of years ago in Ancient Rome. Called panis focacius, it was a leavened flat bread baked on the hearth, or focus. The basic recipe is thought by some to have originated with the Etruscans or ancient Greeks.

cinque-terre-private-italy-walking-toursToday focaccia is found throughout the Italian peninsula, but it is primarily associated with Ligurian cuisine, as the olive oil in the bread helps keep it from spoiling quickly in the salt air and humidity of this coastal region. As we enjoy a walking tour in Cinque Terre, we visit many small towns that dot the coast of Liguria, each isolated and each with their own variation this flat bread. Focaccia Genovese is the most common, topped simply with a mixture of olive oil and water, and salt. It is enjoyed throughout the day, for breakfast with your cappuccino, as an afternoon snack, or in the dinner bread basket.

focaccia-rosemarino-private-italy-walking-toursSome versions are fluffy and cake-like, thanks to a bit of potato in the dough. The other extreme may be the Focaccia col Formaggio (“focaccia with cheese”) from Recco, near Genoa. This version bears little resemblance to what we know as focaccia, consisting of a cheese filling sandwiched between two layers of paper-thin dough. It is being considered for European Union PGI status.

manitoba-flour-private-italy-cycling-toursBelow is the recipe we made with Luca in our cooking classes (here is a link to Lucas’ web site.) I like to discuss with our Italian chefs the differences between ingredients we find in Italy and those we’ll find back in the US, so our guests can recreate the experience back in their own kitchen. Typical Italian flour “00” is made from softer wheat than our all purpose flour, and is very fine. It is not ideal for bread. In Italy, the best flour for bread making actually comes from Manitoba, Canada. Luca points out that the importers of this product seem to think, however, that Manitoba is in the US, as they call it Farina d’America and package it in red, white and blue stars and stripes. Back home in the USA, it turns out quite well with either all purpose flour or bread flour.

rising-focaccia-private-italy-cycling-toursFocaccia con Rosemarino

1 package dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon of sugar (optional)
1 cup of warm water
2 cups of bread flour
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

In a big bowl, dissolve the yeast and the sugar in the warm water. If you have not used your yeast recently, you may want to test it to make sure it is still active – to do this, dissolve it in just a couple of tablespoons of the water and allow to sit for 10 minutes or so. If it is bubbling a bit at the end of the 10 minutes, add the rest of the water and continue. If not bubbling, you need new yeast!

Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour and 1 tablespoon of the salt into the bowl, and with a strong wood spoon, mix the water into the flour.  Continue to mix for about 1-2 minutes.

Add the other 1/2 cup of flour and mix to form a stiff dough. Knead the focaccia dough in the bowl for about 3 minutes, mixing very well.  Add 1/3 cup of olive oil to the dough.  Using your hands, squeeze the olive oil into the dough for about a minute. Any extra oil a the bottom of the bowl you will later pour on the top of the dough.

Make a ball with the dough, and put the dough in a sheet pan lined with a sheet of parchment paper.  Spread the dough with your hands into rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick.

Using your fingers, make little indentations all over the dough – this is what they do in Genova! Pour the rest of the olive oil on the top of this, the oil will pool and fill the small holes you made with your fingers. Cover with plastic wrap and let the focaccia rise for about two hours.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

I sometimes repeat the poking of the dough after the rise, if the indentations have disappeared during the rise, and perhaps add a bit more olive oil. Sprinkle with the remaining salt, the rosemary, the oregano and the pepper. Bake for about 30 – 40 minutes, until nicely golden brown.  Keep your eye on the bread so it doesn’t over bake and turn into a rock. Enjoy!!

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Lebkuchen – Gingerbread Cookies from Sudtirol

lebkuchen-plate-private-italy-cycling-toursLebkuchen is a traditional German baked Christmas treat, similar to gingerbread. It is a classic Chrismas treat in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy, reflecting the area’s history as part the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until after World War I.

The ancestor of Lebkuchen was the “honey cake”, and its history can be traced back to the oman empire. At that time, honey was the only sweetener widely available, and was valued for its magical and restorative powers. Honey cakes were also worn as a talisman in battle or as protection against evil spirits.

ebkuchen-private-italy-cycling-toursThere are many traditional German recipes for this treat, but I worked with several specifically from Sudtirol. The main source for this recipe is a book put out by the Sudtirol Tourism Office entitled “Alpine Flavors – Authentic recipes from the Dolomites, the heart of the Alps”. Not only does this have recipes from some of my best-loved regional dishes, but there are plenty of wonderful photos of this spectacular area, a favorite destination for both our cycling tours as well as hiking tours.

val-venosta-private-italy-cycling-toursIn addition to this source recipe, I found several other versions from Sudtirol that call for rye flour. Rye is native to the northernmost regions in Italy, from the Valtellina valley in Lombardy, near Alanga in Val d’Aosta, and is still used extensively in Trentino-Alto Adige, thanks to the regions Austrian heritage. The valleys and farmsteads of this region are found at relatively high altitudes and rye was the grain that adapted best to these conditions.

lebkuchen-cherries-private-italy-cycling-toursThe many recipes I researched called for vastly different amounts of flour, ranging from very wet batters that are spooned out onto little non-stick paper disks to dough that is rolled out and cut with cookie cutters. This recipe is the latter; rye flour is low in gluten and makes a sticky dough. Keep the mixer on low speed so the strands of gluten you do get don’t break. I’ve suggested a range of flour amounts, start low and add flour until you get a consistency that you can roll out. The final amount will depend upon the size of your eggs, the type of rye flour, and the relative humidity.

lebkuchen-close-private-italy-cycling-toursAccording to “Alpine Flavors”, “Christmas Eve is an excellent time to enjoy the lebkuchen with a Moscato Rosa: the wine will glisten in the glasses at least as brightly as the Christmas tree decorations or every child’s spellbound eyes.”  When Prince Henry of Campofranco moved from Sicily to Caldaro in 1851, he brought cuttings of Moscato Rosa along with him. Today, this grape is used to produce a full-bodied, aromatic, and complex dessert wine with its intense perfume of roses. Moscato Rosa is temperamental to grow and produces only minimal yields of naturally sweet grapes that are fermented like a red wine, producing a bright naturally sweet rose wine when the grapes are ripened appropriately.


Ingredients for 25 – 30 cookies

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 1/2 – 2  3/4 cup rye flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cloves
grated zest of 1 lemon
a little milk

To serve:

peeled almonds
candied fruits (I used Luxardo cherries from Italy)

Mix the eggs, sugar and honey until smooth and creamy. Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour, baking soda, spices and lemon zest. Mix the ingredients until they become compact and form a smooth, slightly sticky dough.

Cover and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/4 in. on a floured work surface. Use round, heart or star-shaped cookie cutters to cut shapes. Glaze with the milk and decorate with almonds or candied fruit.

Arrange on an oven tray lined with parchment paper. Bake the lebkuchen for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove and cool on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Store in a closed container.

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Canederli Pusteresi su Insalata di Capucci e Rucola – Canederli Dumplings with Cabbage and Arugula

canederli-fork-private-italy-cycling-toursOur favorite evening during tours through Alto Adige is the one we spend exploring the unique cuisine of Sudtirol with Chef Michael Seehauser. This season he introduced us to a new version of the traditional South Tyrolean dumplings, called ‘canederli’. Michael attributes this version to the Puster Valley, Val Pusteria in Italian. This is a valley in the Alps that runs in an east-west direction between Lienz in East Tyrol, Austria and Mühlbach near Brixen in South Tyrol, Italy. There is a scenic bike path that runs the length of this valley, a great destination for our cycling tours and hiking adventures.

dolomites-hike-cycle-tour-italyA dish of humble origins, there are numerous variations as a wide range of seasonal ingredients are used, and they can be served as a first course, side dish, or even a dessert. Legend has it that the dish was invented by an innkeeper’s lady to satisfy passing mercenaries. She kneaded the few remaining ingredients from her pantry to form balls of dough that she boiled in water. In the country homes South Tyrol, canederli were always part of the weekly menu although speck and wheat flour versions were Sunday and feast-day specialties.

making-canederli-private-italy-cycling-toursThe version Michael showed us incorporated a very interesting local cheese, Graukäse. A cheese of ancient origin, a sort of primordial cheese as described by Slow Food, it belongs to the family of sauerkase, the acid coagulation cheeses that do not involve the use of rennet. Graukäse is made between June and September, with the milk that has been skimmed for the production of butter. This was traditionally made using raw milk, and as cheese production has moved to larger dairies which use pasteurized milk and ferments, this cheese has become hard to find. The Slow Food Presidium of Graukäse of the Ahr Valley wants to promote the recovery of this craft cheese, and resume the original traditional technique which produces a single cheese a day, using raw milk from local farms. The traditional technique includes aging for 2-3 weeks on fir shelves, then a cold aging period of 12 weeks, during which the cheese develops a coating of grey-green mold, giving rise to the name Graukäse, or grey cheese in German.

graukase-private-italy-walking-toursThis recipe for canederli, unlike most versions, uses potatoes as well as bread, making for nice and moist dumplings. Of course, here in the US I could not locate authentic Graukäse, so I substituted a lower fat cheese that came as close as I could find to the strong flavor and powerful aroma of Graukäse.

seared-canederli-private-italy-cycling-toursCanederli Pusteresi su Insalata di Capucci e Rucola

Ingredients for 6 people – 12 canederli

1 cup onion, finely chopped
4 tablespons butter
10 ounces small cubes of stale bread
7 ounces strong cheese
3 eggs, beaten
3 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cooked and riced
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons flour
1 small cabbage, thinly sliced
2 small bunches of arugula
white wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Saute the onions in 1 tablespoon of the butter until soft and lightly browned. Add the bread and mix well. Cut the cheese into small cubes and add to the bread mixture amd mix again. Add the eggs, potatoes, milk and flour to the bread mixture, then stir until all ingredients are combined evenly through the dough. Form the dough into 12 round, flat dumplings.


Saute the dumplings in butter in a hot saute pan, turning to brown on both sides. Bring a large pan of water to a full boil, add salt, then poach the dumplings for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the cabbage with the arugula. Season with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and divide between 6 serving plates. Top with 2 dumplings, garnish with a bit of grated cheese.


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