The Food Column: Larry Lagattuta will lead you on a food tour of Italy


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Picture this: A trip to Italy during which you learn to cook authentic Italian foods in the cities where they were invented -- and you've got a Pittsburgh baker at the helm of the tour.

Larry Lagattuta, owner of Enrico Biscotti in the Strip District, has traveled to Italy many times with his wife, Maureen. But in the spring, he'll lead his first-ever organized tour for his customers.

Travelers will sample and even learn to cook foods in their cities of origin: mozzarella in Sorrento, pizza in Naples, limoncello in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast.

"We talk about the local food craze, but people in Italy have been doing this for a couple thousand years," he said, describing a small farm his tour group will visit on a mountainside in Italy where the owners raise rabbits and pigs and "cook them and eat them," he said. "You sit at tables outside and look over the Mediterranean while you eat."

The tour idea was hatched when one of his friends, a flight attendant, told him about meeting a priest who serves as a tour guide for Italy trips that are focused largely on religious tourism.

"We sat in the cafe [at Enrico Biscotti] and talked about, 'Wouldn't it be fun if we could do it as a food thing?'" Mr. Lagattuta said.

He sat down with the travel agency, Proximo Travel in Massachusetts, which arranges regular and custom trips to Italy. He picked out his favorite spots in Southern Italy, the area of Italy from which his family hails. He chose little bakeries and cafes and cooking classes -- "a lot of places you wouldn't go as a tourist," but places he knew about because of his family trips.

The group will taste grapes directly from a vineyard and visit a pastry shop that has been in business in Rome for more than 50 years.

He's hoping to keep the trip small -- around 20 travelers -- so it will "feel like your vacation, not a vacation with a bunch of strangers."

While he won't serve as the guide -- "I'm a baker, not a tour guide" -- he will be on hand to "add a little color to the trip." For those who might want to skip Pompeii or another major tourist attraction, he'll be able to suggest a little cafe or to take travelers along on a drive to visit his family members. And he speaks Italian, so he'll do some translation as well.

The tour runs April 26 to May 8. Travelers will be able to see attractions such as the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica and the Pantheon in addition to the food attractions, which will also include a shop that has made artisan gelato for more than a century, a cheese shop selling more than 150 local cheeses, an ancient pasta factory where fusilli still is shaped by hand, and more. In cooking classes, travelers will learn to make gelato, Neapolitan pizza, gnocchi, mozzarella and more.

Cost is $4,699 per person, originating anywhere in the continental U.S. "So if your sister lives in Kansas City and she wants to go with you, she can come for the same price," Mr. Lagattuta said. The trip is open to anyone, though he is actively promoting it to the customers in his shop.

Information: enricobiscotti.com.

Tasty samples

Farm to Table Harvest Tasting: Sample goodies and buy wares from about 70 vendors, including local farms, restaurants, wineries, craft breweries and more. 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Waterfront, Homestead. $35 benefits Grow Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that teaches gardening in urban areas. farmtotablepa.com/harvest-tasting.

Chef's Best Dish: Vote for your favorite from among more than 30 of the region's finest chefs' creations; categories include best dessert, best iconic Pittsburgh, best seasonal, best presentation and best overall. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the Circuit Center & Ballroom, South Side. A portion of proceeds will benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. whirlmagazine.com/chefsbestdish.

Classes/demos

Healing Foods: Rosemary Traill, certified natural health counselor, discusses how to make plant foods the central feature of your diet. 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, at East End Food Co-op in Point Breeze. Free, but reserve a spot: 412-242-3598.

Thanksgiving Sides: Learn to make classic stuffing, brussels sprouts with walnuts and mushrooms, and mashed potatoes. 6:30 tonight at Whole Foods, East Liberty. Reservations: 412-441-7960, ext. 215.

Thanksgiving Event: Learn how to set your holiday table, make centerpieces, get recipes and a planner and more from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at Crate & Barrel, Ross Park Mall.

A timely fundraiser

Filipino Cooking Class: Andrew Alvarez, an instructor at Gaynor's School of Cooking on the South Side, hails from the Philippines and has organized a hands-on cooking class to benefit the American Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Fund. 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, at Gaynor's. $50 per person. 412-325-2703.

Go green

Coffee capsule recycling: Coffee drinkers with single-serve Nespresso or illy IperEspresso machines can keep their used coffee capsules out of landfills by taking them to stores. Sur la Table accepts both brands, while Williams-Sonoma can take Nespresso capsules and send them to TerraCycle in New Jersey, where they're recycled (terracycle.com).

Random tidbit

I was perusing a new cookbook, Christy Jordan's "Come Home to Supper," when I happened upon a tip that has become my new game-changer.

"Looking for a faster way to shred chicken?" Ms. Jordan writes. "Here you go: Place boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a medium stockpot. Add water to cover them and bring just to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the chicken breasts until they're no longer pink in the center, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts from the water while they're still hot and place them in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Run the mixer on low for one minute and then turn up the speed to medium. Your chicken will be perfectly shredded in two to three minutes with no effort at all!"

Why didn't I think of this? For years I have avoided making barbecued beef sandwiches and the like because I hate having to stand there with two forks, or with my thumbs, and tear every blessed shred apart. And yes, I have tried slow-cooking my meat to death.

I tried Ms. Jordan's tip the other night and it is slick. And I'm sure it would work with any type of meat that is cooked in any fashion as long as it's warm, tender and a bit moist.

Pulled pork sandwiches, beef enchiladas and chicken salad, here we come!


Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.

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