By Carmela Fiorica
ICC’s International Bread Baking student
I always wanted to attend culinary school. I remember walking down Broadway and passing the school back when it was The French Culinary Institute. I’d tell myself “One day I’ll get there!”. But, life takes over, things come up and I worked in Healthcare for 20 years. But the thought of attending the school was always in the back of my mind, until finally opportunity knocked, I opened, and my “some day” finally came, and here I am!
Now I’m making bread, not just any bread, but the best! I’m being taught by an incredible chef, chef Johnson, a true master at this beautiful craft. My weeks at ICC are going by so quickly – time flies when your having fun! However, what’s going by even quicker than this, is the year. I seriously cannot believe Christmas is in just a few days!
This holiday season I decided to make and gift something edible. I thought of the ultimate, most delicious ingredient that I respect second to my family – the king of the pantry, OLIVE OIL! I’m making infused olive oil. Oh my deliciousness, this is one of the best things in life!
I grew up in a very traditional, big, loud, nutty Italian household, where food always played a big role. From the moment the day begins, we’re trying to plan our dinner menu during breakfast. Our ways of eating where a little different than those of my American friends. While our neighbors ate pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs, my mom served snails in tomato sauce, Riso con patate e cozze (rice with potatoes and mussels), or spaghetti frittata. Today we still cook our traditional recipes, but most importantly, we make sure we bring everyone to the table. Every Sunday we gather with my parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins and whoever else wants to eat over.
I was born in Bari, Italy. My mother is from an adorable city in Bari named Bitonto, and my father is from Catanzaro, Calabria. These two regions produce some of the most delectable foods. Every year when I go back, I feel like I enter the food heaven, as if I take my first breath all over again.
Bitonto is a very medieval city with a lot of history. Known for its focaccia with mortadella, fresh seafood (that we eat directly out of the ocean), and orecchiette with broccoli rabe, just to name a few of their specialities. It’s a city surrounded by almond trees, fig trees, and embraced with an abundance of beautiful large olive trees that are hundreds of years old. In fact, Bitonto have been given the nickname “La Citta’ delle Olive” – “The city of olives.” The aroma they give off is so ridiculously addicting, I just want to bottle it up as perfume. The smell alone indicates that this is going to be some good stuff. The color is of a beautiful dark green.
They say that the way to test if the oil is of good quality is to take a few sips of it, and if it goes down smoothly and leaves you with a tingling feeling in the back of your throat then it purely 100% olive oil.
Calabria is south of Bari, it’s one of the oldest regions in Italy. People of Calabria raise pigs and sheep in the mountains, catch fish along the coastline, and grow lemon trees, orange trees, prickly pears, and olive trees. This region is also known for its pepperoncino (hot pepper) soppressata (salumi), and Cippola Rossa (sweet red onions) from Tropea.
Calabria is also well-known for its olive oil which is distributed to America and all of Europe. Here in New York City, there is an Italian specialty store where my family and I have been shopping for years; they carry this delicious olive oil from Bitonto, and it’s the only one we use. My mother always says “Food is a way of life, and if you’re gonna cook, cook right, use the right olive oil and your food will sing”!
For my Christmas gifts, I purchase some cute, inexpensive glass bottles, and I fill them up with various herbs. This year I infused with rosemary, thyme, basil, and lemon zest. Then I cover the herbs with oil from Bitonto and I let the bottles rest for about 2-3 weeks. After that time, the oil has absorbed the aromatics of that particular herb and it’s ready for use. Put a bow on it, bag it up and you’re good to go!
Drizzle it over your salad, use for cooking with fish or meats. Sprinkle over baked potatoes, or even use as a dipping oil with some crunchy bread.
I would like to wish you all a Buon Natale, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! May they be filled with lots of love, laughs, good food, good wine and the best bread and olive oil you can get your hands on.
Thanks for reading,