With Christmas, New Year and the much celebrated Epiphany now behind us and today being back to work I have finally had time to sit and reflect on the somewhat busy but beautifully family filled festive period that we have enjoyed.
On Christmas Eve it all began when we celebrated at our family home with my husband Emanuele, our 3 children, and our extended family including of course Nonna. This year Nonna Rita arrived armed with the most delicious fresh handmade ravioli. Our family gatherings alternate between homemade tortellini with brodo and homemade ravioli with sugo. This year we enjoyed ravioli which as always goes down an absolute treat with everyone. A comforting dish that covers all generations and has a taste of nostalgia that cannot be equalled on family gatherings.
The soft dough that can only be experienced with handmade fresh pasta was served with Nonna’s speciality “sugo” a light meat sauce that had simmered for hours the day before because it is one of the few things that is better the longer it is cooked. Nonna buys her meat at the local butchers where she has done since my husband and his brothers were children and since then has always asked for the most tender cuts… for the children… an excuse that has spanned my husband’s childhood, adolescents, adult life and extended into his own children’s younger years. The butcher wouldn’t dare to question the age of “the children” over the years however and he still cheerfully puts aside the meat just as Nonna requests!
The fresh ravioli was dropped into the lightly salted boiling water once everyone had arrived and was comfortably sat at the table. The conversation was cheerful with the children’s anticipation for placing baby Jesus into his crib in our family nativity and of course the gifts that would surely follow was clear to see. After just a few minutes the ravioli was ready and everyone tucked in. The very light meat filling inside the soft dough parcels of the ravioli were topped with Nonna’s special Sugo and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. And so gave way to what would be the first of many delicious family meals that carried us through the festive period.
I always appreciate the amazing food and wine that is produced in the Puglia region, it is absolutely my passion but there is something very special about the Christmas and New Year period in Lecce that reminds me and renews my enthusiasm for this fantastic region. The home cooking, the fresh locally produced ingredients and the moments shared in big family moments bring back to me the reason that we embarked on The Italian School business.
With all of this in mind we would like to personally invite you to Puglia this year to join us on one of group tours of the region. To try for yourself all that Puglia has to offer with its food, wines, liquors, spectacular sights and The Italian School team.
Contact us today!
Learning a second language and speaking it regularly can improve your cognitive skills and delay the onset of dementia, according to researchers who compared bilingual individuals with people who spoke only one language.
Their study suggests that bilingual speakers hold Alzheimer's disease at bay for an extra four years on average compared with monoglots. School-level language skills that you use on holiday may even improve brain function to some extent.
In addition, bilingual children who use their second language regularly are better at prioritising tasks and multitasking compared with monolingual children, said Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto.
"Being bilingual has certain cognitive benefits and boosts the performance of the brain, especially one of the most important areas known as the executive control system," said Bialystok on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC.
"We know that this system deteriorates with age but we have found that at every stage of life it functions better in bilinguals. They perform at a higher level. It won't stop them getting Alzheimer's disease, but they can cope with the disease for longer."
In her research, published recently in the journal Neurology, Bialystok looked at 211 people with probable Alzheimer's disease, 102 of whom were bilingual and 109 monolingual, and noted the age at which the patients' cognitive impairment had started. Her results showed that bilingual patients had been diagnosed 4.3 years later, on average, and had reported onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than monolingual patients.
A neuroscientist explains: the need for ‘empathetic citizens’ - podcast
She said switching between different languages seems to stimulate the brain so that it builds up a cognitive reserve. "It is rather like a reserve tank in a car. When you run out of fuel, you can keep going for longer because there is a bit more in the safety tank."
The effect was greatest for people who had to use the language every day and choose between two sets of words all the time. Nevertheless, learning a language at school and continuing to practise it was also useful, she said. "It works best for people who speak two languages every day, like immigrants moving to a new country who speak their own language at home. But every little bit helps."
Bialystock said her team was now researching whether using two or more languages resulted in any physical changes to the brain, in addition to improving cognition. Early results suggest that it may change brain size.
Another study of bilingual people carried out by Judith Kroll, a psychologist at Penn State University, supported the idea that speaking more than one language keeps the brain in shape and bolsters mental function. She found that bilingual speakers could outperform single-language speakers in mental tasks such as editing out irrelevant information and focusing on important details. Bilinguals were also better at prioritising and multi-tasking, she said.
"We would probably refer to most of these cognitive advantages as multi-tasking," said Kroll. "Bilinguals seem to be better at this type of perspective-taking."
Her findings conflict with the idea that speaking several languages confuses the brain and might even hinder cognitive development. "The received wisdom was that bilingualism created confusion, especially in children. The belief was that people who could speak two or more languages had difficulty using either. The bottom line is that bilingualism is good for you."
When speaking to each other, bilingual people can quickly switch between two languages, usually choosing the word or phrase from the language that best expresses their thoughts. But bilinguals rarely slip into a second language when speaking to people who only speak one language.
"The important thing that we have found is that both languages are open for bilinguals. In other words, there are alternatives available in both languages," said Kroll. "Even though language choices may be on the tip of their tongue, bilinguals rarely make a wrong choice."
"The bilingual is somehow able to negotiate between the competition of the languages," Kroll said. "The speculation is that these cognitive skills come from this juggling of languages."
Extract taken from The Guardian Newspaper "Being bilingual may delay Alzheimer's and boost brain power" 18 February 2011.
In Puglia the people give great respect to the land and its produce. Ingredients are respected and new seasons are greeted with enthusiasm for the new produce and flavours that they bring.
Agriculture in Puglia has been the main activity of its inhabitants since the Greeks. In traditional Masseria’s the land is cultivated in respect of the most ancient traditions with most using only organic farming methods.
On 11 November, the Feast of San Martino is celebrated. It is an important anniversary that unites the Christian liturgy with the rural tradition linked to the opening of the barrels of new wine and the pleasures of good food.
The Feast of St. Martin of November 11th is a very heartfelt anniversary in many Italian towns and cities, so much so that even Giosuè Carducci was inspired by this date - which in many areas was a non-working day - to compose one of his most famous poems San Martino.
THE FESTIVAL OF SAN MARTINO
Just as his life between the countryside and the lower classes, the cult of San Martino is closely linked to rituals and customs of the rural tradition.
On the same day of San Martino it falls precisely in a period of great ferment for the rural world.
In these days in fact in the vineyards the barrels open for the first tastings of the "new" wine (hence the saying: "in San Martino every must becomes wine") and in antiquity it was common practice to renew agricultural contracts and hold large fairs of livestock.
November 11th is also known as the Summer of San Martino, since usually in that week of autumn it becomes milder and it is not uncommon to encounter very sunny days.
In short, the Feast of San Martino is an opportunity not only to glorify the saint, but also to celebrate the fruits of the earth and the abundance of good food.
In addition to filling the glasses in fact, in San Martino fill the bellies, especially in a country with a varied culinary tradition like Italy.
Grilled meat and roasted chestnuts, pittule and wine in Salento and typical biscuits in Palermo: the whole of Italy is at the table for San Martino.
The flavours that come from such traditions have to be tasted to be believed. It can’t be argued that good food and good humour go hand in hand.
Join The Italian School family in 2020 to try the finest wines and foods of Puglia in the breath taking scenery.
Each season is characterised by particular and representative colours, smells and flavors. Autumn bids the Summer goodbye, also taking over from it at the table. Stocking up on delicious and healthy foods this season Autumn is officially on the table in Italy.
When the leaves change colour and from the trees begin to fall, the weather gets colder and the sky darkens before, then we find ourselves in Autumn. With the new season means not only that pumpkins, apples and cinnamon-based foods arrive in abundance but the Autumn reserves much more.
The beginning of a new season always fills us with delight at the thought of the new foods it will bring to the table. Puglia being known for it's fantastic food across Italy and further away prides itself on a cuisine based on local seasonal produce.
This season's foods are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, nutritious vitamins for the skin and compounds that reduce stress.
Here are the six best foods to be enjoyed in Puglia this Autumn:
1. Grapes: although the fruit is commonly considered as a food for warmer months, grapes are grown mainly in autumn.
2. Broccoli: rich in fibre, broccoli is the best during the autumn months and is an excellent side dish for meals.
3. Raspberries and pomegranates: acidic and juicy, raspberries reach maximum taste in autumn. Pomegranates are bursting with antioxidants perfect to stock up on before the winter.
4. Apples: they contain pectin, which helps lower blood glucose levels and blood pressure; and are also loaded with vitamins A, E and beta carotene.
5. Chestnuts: they are one of the very symbols of autumn: chestnuts are a real delicacy for the palate and contain many beneficial properties.
6. Mushrooms: low in calories and rich in vitamins, mushrooms are among the healthy "vegetables and vegetables" to include in your autumn meals.
The 19th May 2019 marked a whole day to discover the treasures hidden in the dwellings of the historic city centre that open to the eyes of tourists and visitors between music and shows.
LECCE - For twenty-five years now, the "Cortili Aperti" or “open courtyards” have been presented to a public of enthusiasts who, year after year, follow the event organized by the A.D.S.I. (Italian Historic Houses Association).
Under the careful direction of Alessandra Carucci and Paola Valentini, the beautiful residences of the historic centre of Lecce were revealed to the eyes of lovers and lovers of beauty of antiquity in art, sculptures, gardens and beautiful flowers in full bloom.
The evening was accompanied by music, art and poetic inspiration of the many artists who like every year, have decided to embellish the Lecce palazzo's.
The idea of the event is to encourage the owners to open their "Houses" to the public and to share the hidden beauty of their gardens and courtyards which usually sit behind closed doors.
The aim of the event is to create a bond that unites owners and amateurs bringing them to a common purpose: that is, to protect the expressions of Lecce’s culture.
Italy is a nation rich in art and culture. It is right that the public and private organizations work together to protect art and therefore the beauty that permeates it’s nation and it’s cities.
Open courtyards, for a day, aspires to create this atmosphere around those who decide to take advantage of the occasion. And the people did take advantage in large numbers with the locals of Lecce leisurely walking the winding streets and enjoying its baroque architecture in its full glory.
With the feeling that it is now known that man lives better if surrounded by beauty...and Lecce certainly has that in abundance.
We hope that you too will join us next year for this wonderful event.
Eat well to be happy is the key theme addressed in the tour 'Good health. Intestine, conscious nutrition and biochemistry of joy " which in the following months will stop in the main Italian cities.
At the centre of the show is the precious advice of Dr. Pier Luigi Rossi, an expert in food science and hygiene and preventive medicine. The tour stops around Italy aim to reveal to the population the often underestimated relationship between the intestine, the brain and mood.
The Joy and sadness arise from what we eat:
The first step to being happy is to pay attention to our nutrition. "Joy, happiness and sadness come from what we eat and not only from the psychological, social and emotional conditions that affect us", explains the expert in his latest book 'The intestine. The sixth sense of our body'. He explains how it is fundamental to be aware, not only of the mechanisms of the intestine, but also of the properties of the foods we eat at the table.
To explain scientifically the correlation between nutrition and mood is the presence in the intestine of some cells associated with the production of serotonin, the so-called "good mood hormone".
"Every time we ingest food in our body, a biological event takes place that starting from the intestine involves the entire organism: this process changes the intestinal bacterial composition, the cellular metabolism, the hormonal and the gene profile", explains Dr. Rossi.
What are the 'friends' of good humour?
The foods that, according to the expert, promote good humour are whole grains, plant foods, legumes and oil seeds.
Dr. Pier Luigi Rossi recalls how important it is to know how to properly feed the intestine and with it the 100 billion bacteria that "inhabit" it. The microbiotics, in fact, feed on the nutritive principles it has available and develops molecules capable of influencing the mood.
"The intestine must be known to nourish, because" it is able to modulate the voluntary and autonomous central nervous system, the immune system, the hormonal system and the entire cellular metabolism" recalls the expert.
It is well known that the Italian diet is one of the healthiest in the world but we can all benefit from a little reminder every now and again on the importance of nutrition and good quality food to our physical and emotional well being.
At the heart of The Italian School is the promotion of 0 km, organic food. Recipes that take us back in time to traditional Southern Italian home cooking made with the best seasonal ingredients. Why not join us on one of our Food and Wine Tours of Puglia to learn about the fantastic food and wines of this special region. We believe it really is possible to eat your way to happiness!
Spanning Italy’s south coast, on the heel of its famous boot, Puglia’s warm climate and fertile soil make it the ideal place for farming. The home to hundreds of olive trees dating back as far as 3,000 years Puglia has a rich farming history. It's hospitable residents give Puglia its distinctly rustic charm.
The taste of the food is just as important as it's "genuine" nutrition to the people of Puglia. It's delicious cuisine made from organic, local produce is the most popular kind. The cuisine of Puglia is based around vegetables, meat and fish with a fantastic range of organic wines. This weekend we visited a Masseria near Otranto which was buzzing with local families and Apulian cuisine at it's finest.
The Masseria which homes a working farm produces everything for it's restaurant organically and at 0km within it's attractive grounds. The restaurants set menu boasts the homegrown vegetables in the antipasto to the fruits and meat right down to the wheat that is used in their handmade fresh pasta and the jam in their homemade dessert. It's no wonder Puglia is proving so popular as a holiday destination for food and wine enthusiasts across the world.
The limited-numbers tour is fast becoming the best way to get to know a place like Puglia. With a maximum of only 8 travellers on a tour, our members enjoy a travel experience which is intimate enough to get them into that small family run Masseria's to eat with the locals and the small artisan workshop's not to be found on the main tourist tracks. Experiences that can be enjoyed with like-minded travellers and local experienced guides.
In a region like Puglia, which is best enjoyed by car, a group tour offers the comfort of transport by local qualified drivers who know how to reach the hidden gems down the narrow winding olive tree lined roads without names. Our customers don't only visit locations, they discover destinations, immersing themselves in another culture, indulging in the wonders of the rustic local cuisine and experiencing breathtaking moments in comfort with the added luxury of a local expert to guide their experience. Of course Puglia can be discovered alone but it would be a pity to visit and miss the magical places known only to the locals.
In Italian: È questo il momento migliore per gustare l'uva che é finalmente di stagione. Dolce, Ricca di gusto e anche di virtù salutari, si trova in più colori e molte varietà. Ciascuna con un aroma e una consistenza cararreristici. Tutte tipologie deliziose per il consumo a crudo e alcune adatte a preparare ricette dolci o bevande.
In English: This is the best moment to savour grapes and finally they are in season. Sweet, rich in taste and also good for your health, you will find them in many colours and varieties. Each with its own aroma and characteristic consistency. All varieties are delicious to eat raw and some are adapted for dessert recipes and drinks.
Grapes are a fruit which is largely underutilised in cooking with most people associating them only with wine and simply as a fresh fruit to be enjoyed as a snack or after a meal. Grapes are very tasty in this way of course but there are so many more ways to enjoy grapes. With all of the wonderful varieties that can be found in Italy from the white "Pizzutella" cultivated in the South of Italy and admired for their sweet and salty flavour to the red "Americana" known for their sweet, delicate taste and strong aroma.
But why are grapes so good for you? White grapes are the most consumed variety but the red grapes with rich colour pigments are where you will find the most antioxidants. The vitamins and minerals that they provide are magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus with detoxifying qualities from the levels of potassium. The nutrients that they provide are great heading into the colder months. Not to be overlooked however is their high sugar content and as with everything in life they should be enjoyed in moderation.
So why not celebrate the grape this Autumn as part of a roast vegetable dish with courgettes, aubergines, peppers, onion and tomatoes or in a delicious ciambella cake with ricotta and white grapes?
The blog post today was inspired by the grapes i found this weekend growing out of the wall at Maurizio's house our lovely host and chef in Alberobello. Here is a photo below!
One of the many things I love about Lecce is the constant new discoveries and natural local produce. Just when you think you know the area that you live you come across a wonderful new find. Today for me that was “Formaggi da Rosa” the “cheese by Rosa”. The sign pointed off the little roundabout, where goats often cross the road, down a little winding road near our house.
We decided to check it out. After a little longer than anticipated and stopping off at several wild fig trees along the way for some free organic figs we arrived at a traditional masseria. This was not the sort of high class Masseria that is now so popular with tourists but a rustic, working, family run masseria. There were children roaming around, tractors parked up and linen hanging on the washing line. You really had the feeling that you were wandering into someones home.
To the left there was a little orange building with the “Formaggi da Rosa” sign and just inside Rosa was waiting. We found a wonderful selection of hard and soft cheeses. On Rosa's direction we tried a selection. For me the hard Ricotta was the star of the show. It was salty and delicious. For sure it was going to go perfectly with our figs!
Just as we were about to pay we noticed some fresh eggs on the counter and asked if there were anymore. Rosa said “certo!” and left through the front door. It didn’t take us long to realise that she had gone to take the eggs fresh from the chickens. She returned with basket full of fresh eggs.
There is something so satisfying about buying fresh organic produce from local people. The cheese and eggs that we bought were so fresh, organic and had travelled 0 km. This is something that is prominent in Lecce. There is an awareness of the environment and the health benefits of buying local organic produce. Health and the environment is taken so seriously and the good food is protected by the people.
Zero km food (0 km food) is a concept which first appeared in Italy a few years ago. It indicates the food produced, sold and eaten locally, food which has travelled zero kilometres. It mainly refers to non-industrial fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat and honey which does not go through global trade chains, therefore it does not have the big price margins and quality lost during long storage in international supermarkets.
0 Km food is serious business in Lecce and also has an important ecological aspect which can not be overseen. Since there is no transport involved the environment does not suffer from direct and indirect pollution.
It is wonderful to see the hard work and dedication of the Italian people for preserving and protecting their food sources. Visiting these wonderful places is like stepping back in time, living a simpler life and a welcome reminder that our health and family are the most important things that we have.
This little podcast is going to be a little bit different from the previous one.
It will be actually composed 2 video podcast... The first one is an English version and the second one is the same version but in Italian.
We think it is a good occasion to make some practice of Listening to an Italian mother tongue.
Hope you will like it and as usual if you have any comment we will be very happy to read them..
....and down below you can listen to the Italian version of the podcast