Bear knows that one of my complaints about living in the U.S. is a lack of authentic Italian food. Typical Italian products are scarce or extremely expensive (hello Whole Paycheck, aka Whole Foods, which seems to be the only place I can sometimes find quality Italian products). My prayers for quality, authentic Italian ingredients have been answered by Nonna Box, which features artisanal products from a different Italian region each month accompanied by recipes and stories from a local Italian nonna.
I was so thrilled to receive a complimentary Nonna Box from Piedmont. This region is especially meaningful to me because I spent a semester abroad in Torino, in the heart of Piedmont. It’s been over 8 (!) years since I last visited my beloved Torino, so I was over the moon to take a culinary journey back to Piedmont in my own American kitchen.
I want to give a warm thank you to Guido Pedrelli, the founder of Nonna Box, for creating my dream box that so perfectly aligns with my own mission of honoring my Italian heritage through culinary traditions. The Nonna Box is more than just quality authentic Italian food products; it is an experience that brings family together across generations to share a culinary experience together around the table. My mother grew up with relatives from Italy, and even though they have all passed on now, the sense of “Italian-ness” still lingers on in my family, especially in our joy of family togetherness around the table.
I have always loved eating Italian food, but I became passionate about cooking after returning home to the States from my semester abroad in Torino because it was a tangible way to share my experience with my family and recreate all of the delicious Italian cuisine that I missed. At first I was shocked that many “Italian” dishes in America are not actually Italian! But it was a pleasant surprise. Italian food is so much better than what I knew growing up in the States. I want Americans to know how good Italian food actually is. I mean, like most Americans, I used to think that Olive Garden was authentic Italian food. (Hanging my head in shame).
A few years ago, my mom, dad, brother and I took a family trip to Italy. It was my dad’s first time there, and he loved Italian food just as much as I do, so much so, that we even bought a pizza oven after returning home. While dreaming of our next trip to Italy, we have been living vicariously through our tastebuds, and that’s why we were so thrilled to have the generous opportunity to try Nonna Box.
My Nonna Box came elegantly wrapped in dark blue paper. Initially, I unwrapped it slowly, taking care to keep the paper in tact (perfectionist that I am). Then, I couldn’t contain my excitement anymore so I ripped it with childish enthusiasm. The contents were placed neatly with care, all of the glass products carefully bubble wrapped and in tact. The products were accompanied gorgeous cards describing the significance and history of each product, Nonna Maddalena’s story, and some of her favorite recipes.
Products from the Piedmont Nonna Box
Elderflower soda: I have vaguely heard about the medicinal properties of elderflower, although I have never tasted it before. This Italian spuma is light, refreshing, and soothing without being cloyingly syrupy like many American sodas. Its flavor reminded me faintly of ginger ale, one of my favorites.
Foglie di mais corn cookies & zabajone al moscato cream: It’s no secret that I have a major sweet tooth. While I have a fondness for all types of deserts, nothing compares to my biscotti obsession (Oreos, no thank you, but Italian biscotti, yes please!). I love the Italian penchant for sweet breakfasts because it gives me a legitimate reason to sneak in a few cookies at breakfast with my coffee (joy of all joys). If I had to describe a perfect cookie, it would be these foglie di mais: light and crispy, subtly sweet, and fragrant with vanilla and honey. These cookies are made with pure ingredients (that you can pronounce and find in your kitchen!), such as flour, butter, and eggs. You can spread a little zabajone al moscato on top of your biscotti for delicate and velvety sweetness.
Acacia honey: Although I love sweets, I try to limit refined sugars. Honey, or miele della vita, as it is called, has become one of my go-to sweeteners. The accompanying info card recommends drizzling some olive oil and honey on a piece of toast. If I can’t eat cookies for breakfast, I usually eat toast, mostly with avocado. But olive oil and honey toast is my new obsession!
Porcini secchi & Carnaroli rice: I’ve never used dried mushrooms before, but they retained a fresh, mildly earthy flavor, and were so easy to use. If you want to make risotto in the States, the most widely available rice is Arborio. I actually had no idea that there are other varieties, such as Carnaroli, for making risotto! Apparently, Carnaroli is creamier than other varieties, and won’t overcook.
Porcini Risotto Recipe*
*Adapted the from Nonna Box recipe, with Bear’s special touches, and attempted in my American kitchen (with photos from Bear’s Italian kitchen because I made the novice mistake of running out of room on my memory card).
Last time I was in Italy, Bear made me Risotto alla Sbirraglia, a traditional Venetian risotto with chicken. I was a little nervous to make risotto on my own, but Bear was my virtual sous chef, walking me through each step. I have to say, my arm got a pretty good workout from stirring the risotto for 30 minutes non-stop (which I didn’t mind because exercise that doesn’t seem like exercise is my favorite kind).
Risotto really is Italian comfort food, perfect for a cozy winter’s night. I absolutely love the creamy texture of risotto. It gives the satisfaction of creaminess without all of the heaviness of cream. My family and I try to eat dinner together as much as possible, but with everyone’s busy schedules it’s not always possible to eat at the same time. We made it a special occasion to sample the Nonna Box products together and enjoy a delicious risotto dinner. I think what I enjoy even more than cooking is sharing something I created with love with the people I love over great conversation, making beautiful memories.
Wine pairing: Freisa, or Teroldego. Unfortunately I couldn’t find either of these wines at my local grocery store, but I’m going to keep looking for them at other wine shops!
- 500 grams or 17 oz. of Carnaroli rice
- 40 grams of dried porcini mushrooms
- Half a white onion, finely diced
- 1 32-ounce box of vegetable broth
- 4 cups of water
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- Parmigiano reggiano
- 1 glass of white wine
- Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in lukewarm water (the package said 30 minutes). Drain the mushrooms, preserving the water (to add to the risotto later). Strain the mushroom water through a cheesecloth to filter out any dirt from the mushrooms.
- Add the water and vegetable broth to a large pot and bring it to a boil while you sauté the onions and mushrooms and toast the rice.
- Finely dice the onion, and then sauté it in butter over medium heat (which Bear stubbornly refers to as “frying” because he can’t believe we use the French terminology and frying actually means submerging something to cook in a copious amount of hot oil :p) .
- Add the mushrooms to the onions. If necessary, add some water from the mushrooms to prevent the onion and mushroom from burning.
- And now, Bear’s secret to a good risotto: toast the rice. While sautéing the onions and mushrooms, toast the rice in a separate pan over high heat. Continually stir the rice so that it doesn’t burn, and remove from the heat when rice is hot to the touch, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the rice to the pan with the onion and mushrooms, mix everything on high heat, and then add the glass of wine. Let it evaporate.
- Start adding hot broth and water mixture to the onions, mushrooms, and rice.
- Cook until the rice becomes creamy yet al dente, and nearly doubles in volume (around 30 minutes).
- Remove the risotto from the stove, then add some butter and parmigiano reggiano and mix it until it’s all melted.
- Let the rice rest for 4-5 minutes, covered, then remove the lid, give it another stir, and serve. mantecatura.
- Mangia! Serve with parsley, salt and pepper to add to taste.
Buon appetito, Goldilocks & Bear
Let us know in the comments:
- What’s your favorite kind of risotto?
- Have you tried Nonna Box? Check out nonnabox.com to have your own authentic Italian culinary experience and follow them on Instagram to learn more about Italian regional cuisine!