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Herbs Invigorate Italian Cooking

“Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme . . .” are more than just familiar lyrics from Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” – these herbs make our dishes come alive! Fresh herbs are the fundamental element of all our cooking at i Ricchi – sauces, meat, fish, salads and vegetables. Fresh is always better and growing herbs is quite easy. But in a pinch, dried herbs can be used, in different proportions of course. In Italy, fresh herbs are easily found growing wild in the fields or along stone walls. All Italian cooks have hearty rosemary and sage bushes growing at arm’s length. It also is probably safe to say almost every Italian household will have fresh basil growing in their summer garden or in a pot on their kitchen windowsill.

The absolute king and queen of Tuscan cuisine are rosemary and sage (rosmarino e salvia). It is hard to think of a classic Tuscan dish that does not have at least one of these herbs as a crucial element. Rosemary can be very powerful, so use it with restraint. It is particularly delicious used to flavor roasted and grilled meats. Oven roasted potatoes take on an Italian flavor by simply adding its needles to the roasting pan along with a few crushed cloves of garlic and some sea salt. We also use rosemary, the epitome of Tuscan taste, to flavor our homemade schiacciatta (focaccia). Sage is a more gentile herb, especially good with poultry, pork and seafood. (See a picture of our Spiedino di Mare above.) It definitely reigns supreme in our Tortelloni al Burro e Salvia. Another very easy way to impart a Tuscan flair to any pasta is to gently warm butter and fresh leaves of sage with the addition of parmesan and freshly ground pepper. Try it at our Palio Party on the Piazza, Thursday, August 16 at 7 pm in our Arrosto Senese allo Spiedo: Grilled skewers of pork loin, chicken, sausage, Tuscan croutons, bay leaf and sage. Get tickets now

Italy’s most popular herb, from north to south, is without a doubt, basil (basilico). Who among us could take a whiff of it without envisioning the joys of summer eating – tomato, mozzarella and basil (Caprese) coming first to mind. Join us during Restaurant Week, Monday-Thursday, August 13-18 to try two different types: At lunch our Casarecci Caprese – Chilled house-made extruded pasta, local tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, olives and basil or at dinner our Pappardelle Caprese: Hand-cut homemade egg pasta ribbons, local cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and basil pesto. Make reservations here or call (202) 835-0459. Another absolute personal favorite is Pesto alla Genovese, frequently served here as a special during the summer. Tender fresh basil leaves are blended with pine nuts, garlic, butter, olive oil and parmesan to make the most fragrant green paste. *A little secret to keeping that beautiful emerald color is NOT to heat it – simply add it to hot pasta or steamed vegetables and toss briefly.

Another mainstay of fresh, clean Italian cooking is parsley (prezzemolo). We use it by the case! I am old enough to remember when it was difficult to find Italian flat leaf parsley in grocery stores. Admitting to using that old curly version is like admitting to once owning a Princess phone. (I did and was oh so proud of it at the time.) Some Tuscan recipes call for a “soffrito” of parsley and garlic as a starter for a sauce, but many times it is best to add parsley at the very end of a preparation to maintain the crisp, grassy flavor and color.

Other fresh herbs featured on our menu include: oregano (origano): to flavor our very popular Tomato Schiacciata pictured above; thyme (timo); mint (menta); bay leaf (alloro); chive (erba cipollina); and tarragon (dragoncello). When I can get my hands on it, we even use a version of catnip (nepitella) to season our braised mushrooms.  Read more about these herbs

Indoor Italian Street Food Party

Enough with the rain already – we are tired of being forced to stay inside. The Italians would say “piove da morire” (it’s raining to death), and certainly the lack of sunshine can make us feel depressed. So . . . we’re throwing a party INSIDE this Thursday. Come to our Indoor Italian Street Food Party August 2 at 6 pm, and taste the freshness of traditional Italian ingredients as well as beloved Florentine fried favorites for just $39 (all inclusive). It might be wet outside, but I guarantee you’ll feel the warmth of the Tuscan sun in our dining room. Buy your tickets now and also enjoy a complimentary glass of frosé.

Pizza will be on the menu of course, but “al taglio” the kind that is prepared in large sheet pans covered with various toppings and sliced into large squares. Piadina Romagnola is a well-known, thin sandwich from Emilia Romagna, most notably found at the beaches of the Adriatic. It is made with soft, tart stracchino cheese, prosciutto and arugula folded into a flatbread pocket. Florence is known for its wonderful fried foods – many of which can be found in the city’s “friggitorie” fry shops. We’ll be serving samples of this Tuscan tradition including: Pollo Fritto, fried chicken; Scagliozzi, polenta chips; Bocconcini di Mozzarella, fried mozzarella; and Coccoli, Florentine fritters.

Gelato and sorbetto can be traced as far back as 3000 BC to Asian culture who flavored crushed ice. Florentine Caterina de Medici was known for having introduced gelato to the French in the 1500s when it was used as a palate cleanser between courses as well as a sweet indulgent ending to the meal. Read more We’ll be serving our own sweet lemon sorbetto. When it gets really hot in Florence, the most popular way to end an evening is to join your friends to eat ice cold cocomero – watermelon – at a stand along one of Florence’s streets.

In recent years, Italians have gone crazy for street food. There are two kinds of street food – the food that is cooked in the street, and the food that is sold in shops but consumed on the pavement. In Florence you’ll find pizzerie that weigh it and sell slabs of pizza by the slice and friggitorie that specialize in everything fried. People will crowd these storefronts and stand around, many times with a glass of local wine, and the next thing you know it’s a party.  Party with us Thursday!

Homemade Holiday Gifts You Can Create Now

Some of the nicest gifts you can give are handmade ones – even better if it is something to eat and better still if it is something that relays the tastes of summer. Memories of living and learning to cook in Italy revolve around learning to can, preserve, and infuse. Late Spring and Summer were full of lessons on how to preserve the flavors of the season to be enjoyed throughout the year or gifted at holiday time. There were artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes under oil, pickled vegetables, tomato sauce, nocino and limoncello, peach and wild blackberry jams and certainly some of my favorites were preserving fresh and dried fruit under alcohol. You could use straight alcohol or grappa, vodka or brandy (Cognac, if you really wanted to splurge).

Ciliege al Brandy or Brandied Cherries were very popular at Trattoria i Ricchi and very easy to make. Because of the alcohol content, you didn’t have to sterilize the jars – merely wash well and rinse with very hot water and let dry. Wipe the sour cherries with a damp cloth (do not submerge in water), and cut the stems to about 1/4 of an inch. Layer in the jars, sprinkle with sugar, insert a cinnamon stick and a few cloves (adding a vanilla bean is optional), and then cover with the brandy until they are totally submerged. Close the jars, shake to dissolve the sugar and – now comes the hard part – store in a dark room or pantry for about two months WITHOUT opening, shaking on occasion to infuse the flavors. These are exquisite eaten alone or served over gelato. You can use the boozy liquid to flavor sponge cake and pastries as well. Add a hand-written label to your jar and you have an exquisite handmade gift for the holidays. Measurements are not exact – most of our cooking was done by eye or as they would say in Italian: q.b. – “quanto basta.”

500 grs sour cherries (=/- 1 dry pint)
150 grs sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 gloves
1 vanilla bean (option)
brandy (or Cognac) as much as is need to cover.

Join Our Sizzling Summer Nights

The threatening stormy weather may have forced us indoors, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm on the night of our Cena Bianca last week. There was a good mix of veterans and first timers, and I was tickled to see how everyone warmed up to the strangers sitting next to them. As I visited each table I was greeted with an enthusiastic “Chris, come and meet our new friends.” We welcomed Summer in and are ready to continue this feeling of festive camaraderie with more events this week and during the month of July. There will be something for everyone – from a Tuscan olive oil and Chianti dinner to an informal cocktail and wine tasting on our Piazza to a cigar smoker and even dinner with our four-legged friends.

We have an unexpected surprise for you this Thursday, June 28 – when we will be hosting Francesco Marcocci, olive oil guru from Dievole estates in Tuscany. I have designed a dinner featuring their extraordinary olive oils and Chianti. Get tickets now for our Dievole Tuscan Olive Oil & Chianti Dinner at 7 pm, and enjoy extra virgin olive oil in every course from grilled swordfish steak, fresh herb Dievole olive oil salsa, potatoes mascé alongside Dievole, Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 to an olive oil, coconut, mint, Nutella cake!

To start July well, cool off with a tasting of the distinctive wines of the Pacific Northwest during our Sizzling Summer Cocktails, Cool Northwestern Wines Tasting, Tuesday, July 10 from 6-7:30 pm.  We will serve three cocktails and three wines including Partner Cherry Vermouth Negroni, Whip Saw Rye Pompelmo and Firesteed Willamette Valley Pinot Noir all paired with creative Italian savories.  Buy tickets

Relax on our Piazza while sipping pleasing summer cocktails and smoking a cigar during our Spirits Tasting & Cigar Smoker, Wednesday, July 18 from 5-10 pm. Join us for the first in a series of Summer events like this.

For all the pet lovers out there, we are welcoming you to bring your pet along for an outdoor dining experience, Thursday, July 26 from 5:30-10 pm during our Pets on the Piazza (date change due to weather).

Come join us for one of our Summer events, enjoy some good food and make some new friends.

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