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Articles by: Charles Scicolone

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Savoring Mozzarella di Bufala


    In Rome last September, Michele wanted to go to restaurant Obika. This small restaurant in the Centro Storico specializes in mozzarella di bufala from different parts of Campania. We ordered a sampling from Salerno and Paestum. Two of the mozzarellas were fresh, and one was smoked. We also tried a ricotta and a burrata. The mozzarella from Salerno was creamy with a touch of sweetness while the one from Paestum was less creamy and more full flavored. The smoked mozzarella from Salerno had a nice smokey flavor and was creamy inside.  Bufala milk is very rich in fat and protein, so it makes excellent mozzarella. The cheeses were so good; we decided to go to Campania to try them at the source.

     
    We took the train south and knew we were getting close to our destination when we saw the water bufala from the window. We decided to go to Tenuta Vannulo, located near Paestum, because Michele had heard that they make gelato from bufala milk and she was dying to try it. I wanted to see the bufala up close. 
     
    At Vannulo, the bufala wander around in large pens and open areas and were either eating, resting or scratching their backs on a rotating brush device that looked like it was from a car wash. Our guide took us to the dairy area where they were making the mozzarella and they let us taste it just after it was shaped. While the mozzarella in Rome was excellent, it was obvious that getting it so freshly made was even better.  

     
     


    Mozzarella di bufala is porcelain-white in color, spherical in shape with a very thin glossy rind. It has a springy texture and a pleasantly tangy flavor taste with a faint mossy smell. When you buy it in a store, each ball comes vacuum-packed in its own brine-filled pouch. It should taste sweet and milky and not have a sour taste that you get when it starts to age.

     
     
     

    Vannulo has a store where you can buy leather products made from the bufala hide and a café where you can enjoy products made with bufala milk. We had gelato (I had stracciatella, vanilla chocolate chip on a brioche--it was fantastic. Michele had chocolate and loved it), yogurt, ricotta, and butter and of course the mozzarella.
     
     
    No one is quite sure how or when the bufala came to the region but the history of Mozzarella is linked to that of the water bufala. One account claims that it was in the year 596 AD when they were brought across the Mediterranean by the Longobards. Or maybe the Arabs brought them to Sicily. Mozzarella has been made in the Naples area since the 12nd century. It has the right climate for the bufala. Others say the animals
    were not brought to Campania but are native to the region. It is true that most of the bufala in Italy were destroyed by the Nazis as they retreated toward the end of WWII. The Italians replenished the herds with animals from India.

     
     


    Our favorite wine to drink with mozzarella di bufala is Falenghina from Feudi di San Gregorio, a white wine made from the Falenghina grape. This grape was brought to Southern Italy by the Greeks and is mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (d.79AD). It is very popular in Rome at this time. The wine has good acidity with a touch of grass and herbs and undertones of citrus. It combines with the Mozzarella perfectly. I also like Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco made from the Coda di Volpe (tail of the fox) grape.
     
    For a red, we like Gragnano. A light red wine, it is frizzante and can be served slightly chilled. It is made from three ancient grapes: sciascinoso, piedirosso (red feet) and aglianico. It has a good red fruit flavors and aromas that compliment the cheese. Neapolitans love this wine with Pizza Margarita. The mozzarella should be enjoyed on its own but goes great with tomatoes.
     
    To distinguish it from cows’ milk mozzarella, which the Italians call fior di latte, you should always ask for Mozzarella di Bufala. It is made in other parts of Italy, and all over the world, but in my opinion the best mozzarella di bufala comes from Campania.
     
    Obika restaurant has opened a branch in New York City on Madison Avenue. 
     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Making Neapolitan Style Pizza at Home



                             PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA and MORE PIZZA
     
                Over the last month or so it seems like pizza has taken over NYC. New pizza places are opening up all over and everyone is giving their opinion and listing places that make the best pizza. The New York Times, New York Magazine and Time Out all have had their say, along with the many bloggers. Everyone has their favorite pizza place and will defend it to the last bite.
     
                I also have my own opinion.   For me, Neapolitan-style pizza is the best and Pizza Margarita is queen-- there is no king. I have three favorite pizza places. But this is not about where you can go for the best pizza; this is about making your own great pizza at home.
     
    In 1998 Michele and I published our book Pizza Any Way You Slice It; it has gone through a number of printings but is now out of print.  Since then, we have come up with some interesting new ideas for making great Neapolitan style pizza at home and the perfect Pizza Margarita.
     
     Neapolitan-Style Pizza
     
    1 teaspoon dry active yeast
    Pinch of sugar
    11/4 cups warm water
    I cup 00 flour
    3 cups all purpose flour
    2 teaspoons salt
    Olive oil for the bowl
     
     
    Equipment
     
    The Oven
     
     Wood burning pizza ovens in restaurants often reach 800 degrees and it will take anywhere between 45 seconds and a minute and a half to be done. Most home ovens, gas is best, only reach 550.The pizza will take longer to “bake” but this will just make it a little crispier. The oven should be heated for over an hour before it is to be used.
     
    We have found that unglazed clay tiles work better then a pizza stone. They are more durable, cover a greater area and are easier to maintain. The tiles should be placed on a rack in the lower part of the oven. 
      
    We also now have a Hearthkit . This is a pizza stone with sides that fits in the oven. It seems to make the pizza brown better and bake faster. However it is very heavy and more expensive, but may be worth it. A wood burning oven makes great Neapolitan style pizza, if you are so lucky as to have one.
     
    Dough or Pastry Scraper (Bench Knife)
    Either plastic or metal, it is terrific for lifting sticky dough, cutting a ball of dough into smaller pieces and scraping work surfaces for easy cleanup.
     
    Flour Dredger
    A large salt shaker filled with all-purpose flour for dusting the dough and other surfaces.
     
    Pizza Peel
    A large paddle made of wood or metal, useful for sliding the pizza in and out of the oven.
     
    Pizza Cutter or Pizza Wheel- it should have a large cutting wheel, about 4 or 5 inches indiameter.
     
    Large Marble, Wood or Plastic Cutting Board
     
     
    INGREDIENTS
     
    Flour
    Unbleached all-purpose flour
    00 flour -this is the flour that they use in Naples to make pizza it is lower in protein than all-purpose flour and will make the dough easier to stretch by hand
     
    Salt- Kosher or Sea Salt
     
    Olive Oil - Extra Virgin
     
    Yeast - Dry Yeast or Instant Yeast
     
    Mozzarella
    Fior di latte- as it is known in Italy is made from cow’s milk. Buy it freshly made. 
    Mozzarella di bufala –made from the milk of water buffaloes-many pizza makers feel that this mozzarella is better appreciated on its own and not melted on pizza.
    Cut the mozzarella into bit size pieces.
     
    Tomatoes - Use fresh, very ripe tomatoes when they are in season. When they are not, use canned San Marzano tomatoes.  San Marzano is not a brand name. It is a place on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius near Naples. Beware of imposters that use the brand name San Marzano, but are really tomatoes grown somewhere else.
     
    1Can (28 ounces) Italian peeled tomatoes
    4 tablespoons olive oil
    Salt
     
    In a large saucepan, combine the tomatoes, oil, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer.
    Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened ,15 to 20 minutes. Let the sauce cool before spreading it on the pizza dough.
     
     
    THE PIZZA DOUGH
     
    Dissolving the Yeast
    Pour water into a two cup measure. Use tap water that is warm to the touch but not to warm or it will kill the yeast cells. It should be between 105 and 125 F. Sprinkle the sugar and yeast over the water and let it stand for a minute or so until the yeast begins to soften. Stir with a spoon until the yeast is dissolved.
     
    Measuring the Flour
    Dip a dry measuring cup into the bag of flour or container, sweep off the excess above the rim with the dough scraper. Do not pack the flour down. Always keep extra flour within easy reach.
     
    Mixing the Ingredients
    The ingredients can be mixed in a bowl with a mixer, with a food processor, or done by hand. Simply combine the flour with the yeast mixture and mix until it begins to form a ball.
     
     Making the dough by hand in Italian is called fare la fontana – to makea fountain.  I think it looks more like a volcano. To make it, pile the flour in a heap on a counter top. Make a depression in the top of the heap like the crater of a volcano. Pour the liquid ingredients into the crater. Incorporate the liquid into to flour very slowly using two fingers. Do it very gently so “the walls” do not break and the liquid does not escape. Do this until the inside of the crater has been incorporated, so that the liquid is not runny. As the dough starts to form and hold a shape, use the dough scraper to help lift and turn it. Mix the dough until a rough ball is formed. You may not need all of the flour. Some dry dough will remain on the board.   Put the dough aside for a moment and scrape away and discard the dried up bits. 
     
    Kneading the Dough by Hand- the dough should be soft and sticky at this point. It is easier to add more flour than water and a moist, sticky dough produces a better pizza.
    The purpose of kneading is to develop gluten; gluten gives the pizza structure and body.
    Lightly dust the board and your hands with flour. Begin kneading by pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hands, then pulling it back toward you with your fingertips. Repeat the motion, rotating the dough clockwise a quarter turn each time.
    Add a little flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough is ready when it looks smooth, satiny and feels moist. Not dry and floury. It should take 2 minutes if a food processor is used and 10 minutes if kneaded by hand.
     
    Shaping the Dough into a Ball- Hold your hands out in front of you, palms up and fingers together. Place your hands to each side and under the ball. Tuck the dough under, with your insides of your hand, stretching the outer surface smooth. Move the hands back and forth, rotating the ball clockwise.

     
     


    Rising the Dough –
    To rise the dough on a counter top. Sprinkle a little flour on the counter top and place the dough seam side down. Cover the dough completely with a large overturned bowl or plastic wrap. The dough should not be exposed to the air.
    To rise the dough in a bowl. Put a few drops of olive oil in the bowl; place the dough upside down in the bowl. Then turn the ball so as to oil it and place the seam side down.
    Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Leave the dough to rise at cool room temperature. The longer and slower the rise, the more flavorful the dough. When the dough has risen (about double in size ) cut it into four pieces and shape into four balls. Let rise again.
     
    Shaping the dough by hand- Lightly flour the work surface. Keeping the other pieces covered, place 1 ball of dough on the surface, turning it over to flour the top. Holding your fingers flat, press the dough into a disk. Continue turning it, and making it larger. The border should remain slightly thicker than the center. Lift and turn the dough over from time to time. Handle it gently and work slowly to avoid tearing the dough. As it nears its desired dimensions (9-10 inches), drape the circle of dough over your closed fists. Move your hands up and down tugging the dough and stretching it evenly. If the dough does tear, pinch it together to seal.

     
     


    Baking the Pizza –
    Dust the pizza peel with flour. Place the shaped dough on the peel. Shake the peel two or three times to make sure the dough is not sticking. If it is, lift the dough and sprinkle the peel with more flour. Quickly spread the sauce (it should be room temperature) to within a 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch from the conicione, the edge, and add the mozzarella (you can also bake the pie for a minute or two and then add the mozzarella).  Do not use too much sauce or it will make the dough heavy and stick to
    the peel. Do not leave the dough sitting on the peel or it may stick. 

     
     


    Open the oven door and sprinkle a little flour on the tiles to help the bottom of the pizza brown. Slide the peel into the oven. Place the front end of the peel at the end of the oven, tilt it and gently slide the pizza off.  Quickly close the door, it should take about 6 minutes to be ready. Check the pizza and when you think it is done take it out. If the dough came off the peel misshapen, do not worry about it, it will still taste good. Slide the peel or a large metal spatula under the pizza, remove it from the oven, place it on a cutting board. Sprinkle with some torn fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil.  Cut it into wedges with a pizza wheel. Eat and drink with wine.

     
     
     
    Making pizza is not an exact science-if it something does not look or feel right, do whatever it takes to make it work! And practice, practice, practice!
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

  • Life & People

    Monte di Grazia Winery-An Organic Winery in the Clouds



     It was raining on the Amalfi Coast as we left Praiano headed toward Amalfi. We were driving to the Monte di Grazia winery in Tramonti and the traffic was terrible because of the holiday weekend.  We passed Amalfi and the turnoff for Ravello, and then back down to the beach and Maiori and Minori. Here the traffic became lighter as we began our assent toward Tramonti and the Monte di Grazia winery. Up and up we went until we were some 500 meters above sea level--it looked like we were in the clouds.

     

    Laurie Howell of Amalfi Life(www.amalfilife.com) had put us in touch with her partner, Giocondo Cavalieri, who is from the town of Furore. He is also the Slow Food representative in the area and became interested in the Monte di Grazia winery because they make excellent wine and are certified biological (organic cultivation).. Also Sabine Emmy Eller, a friend of Giocondo’s, was with us. She suggested we stop to visit a cheese producer, Anna Dora Campanile whose cheeses are not sold commercially. You have to go there to buy it. There were two large posters on the wall one stating that the place was Caseificio Artigianale and the other simply stating Tramonti -- Il Paese della Pizza. Michele brought Mozzarella Fior di Latte and Provola.  We then made our way to the winery.

     

                    When I saw the hillside vineyards I was taken by surprise. The vines were very old; in fact I have never seen a vineyard with such old vines that were still producing. Some were over 100 years old and most of the others seemed to be more than 50 years old. The vines were planted in the tendone method. This is the traditional method for planting vines in Southern Italy. The leaves are trained to form a canopy that protects the grapes from the sun.  It is like a pergola with an overhead trellis from which the grapes hang down.  In one of the vineyards an old vine looked like it was holding up the whole tendone.  The poles that hold up the tendone are made of chestnut wood from trees in the nearby hills and the vine “branches” are attached to the tendone by willow shoots.

     

      

                    We were met by Alfonso Arpino, a doctor who took over his family’s vineyards as a hobby, though they soon turned into his passion. He took us to his winery, the smallest I have ever been in. The winery produces only three wines and the total production is less than 6,000 bottles.  After a very quick tour, Dr. Arpino took a bottle of his 2007 white wine and said we could drink it upstairs. He led us to a comfortable and modern apartment above the winery that he rents to travelers.  The terrace had a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. Since it was still raining we tasted the wine inside. The white, called Monte di Grazia Bianco, is made from local grapes that are handpicked, like all his wines. Three grape varieties are used:

     

    Pepella has only a few large grapes on the bunch, the rest being the size of peppercorns, though they all ripen at the same time. 

    Ginestra, the name comes from the yellow-green color which is similar in color to the gorse flower.

    Bianca Tenera (Biancolella). The wine had hints of citrus with undertones of pear and almond a very nice mineral character and good acidity. The white, like his other two wines, are fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. 

    I liked the wine so much that I stopped tasting it and began to drink it, and Dr. Arpino just smiled.

     

                    Dr. Arpino invited us to stay for dinner in his home, where we would taste the other wines. His wife Anna prepared farro e fagioli bianchi, a dish of farro and beans, in this case uova di lucertole or lizard’s egg, one of several types of beans that grow in the vineyards. The beans and farro are cooked separately, and then are simmered in a tomato sauce seasoned with rosemary.  It was hearty and delicious.  Dr. Arpino said that the coexistence in the vineyard of both vines and beans improves both. The vines shade the beans and the beans provide nitrogen for the soil which improves the vines.

     

    With the farro and beans we drank the Monte di Grazia Rosato made from 70% tintore grapes which have dark pink juice (hence its name) and 30% mosiro, even more obscure, an ancient red variety from Campania.  This grape also has pink juice, though not as dark as the juice from the tintore, and with a more delicate skin. There was no skin contact in the making of this rose, just the juice from these two grapes to get a dark rose wine with good fruit and hints of strawberries and blueberries. It had good mineral character and acidity with a dry finish and aftertaste.

     

    Anna also had made pizza scarola, a double crust pizza stuffed with escarole, anchovies, olives, capers and garlic.  Michele remembered her mother making the same escarole pie. There was also a frittata di zucchini and local chesses and salami.

     

    The last wine was Monte di Grazia Rosso.  We tried both the 2005 and 2006 vintages made from 90% Tintore and 10% Pedirosso so-called because it has a red triple-branched stem that looks like a dove’s claw.

    The 2005 was drinking very well with red fruit, hints of black pepper and spice. It had a long finish with a great after taste of red fruit and black pepper. The 2006 was very different with more earthy aromas, fruit and only the slightest hint of black pepper.  It needed more time to develop. These wines have the qualities that ensure they will last for a long time.  All of the wines had very good acidity so they are perfect with food. 

     

                    We had such a wonderful time with Alfonso and Anna that we invited them to come to dinner at our rented house in Praiano. Giocando wanted them to see the great view of the sea and Positano. They brought a large assortment of local cheeses and hard bread known as pane biscottato.  Anna and Alfonso showed us how to dip the slices in water to soften it.  It was great with the cheese and salami.  Michele loved the whole grain flavor and texture and even took some back to NYC with her.  She plans to serve it with the first ripe tomatoes of the season. 

     

                    With the meal, we drank the 2007 Monte di Grazia Rosso which has the same characteristics as the 2005 but needed more time and the 2008 Bianco and Rosato.  Meeting Alfonso and Anna was a very special experience.  It has been a long time since I encountered a new winery that has left such an impression on me.  At this point, the only place that you can find the Monte di Grazia wines in this country is at Balthazar Restaurant in Soho.

    www.montedigrazia.it

      

      

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Monte di Grazia Winery-An Organic Winery in the Clouds



    It was raining on the Amalfi Coast as we left Praiano headed toward Amalfi. We were driving to the Monte di Grazia winery in Tramonti and the traffic was terrible because of the holiday weekend.  We passed Amalfi and the turnoff for Ravello, and then back down to the beach and Maiori and Minori. Here the traffic became lighter as we began our assent toward Tramonti and the Monte di Grazia winery. Up and up we went until we were some 500 meters above sea level--it looked like we were in the clouds.


    Laurie Howell of Amalfi Life had put us in touch with her partner, Giocondo Cavalieri, who is from the town of Furore. He is also the Slow Food representative in the area and became interested in the Monte di Grazia winery because they make excellent wine and are certified biological (organic cultivation). Also Sabine Emmy Eller, a friend of Giocondo’s, was with us. She suggested we stop to visit a cheese producer, Anna Dora Campanile whose cheeses are not sold commercially. You have to go there to buy it. There were two large posters on the wall one stating that the place was Caseificio Artigianale and the other simply stating Tramonti -- Il Paese della Pizza. Michele brought Mozzarella, Fior di Latte and Provola.  We then made our way to the winery.

     



    When I saw the hillside vineyards I was taken by surprise. The vines were very old; in fact I have never seen a vineyard with such old vines that were still producing. Some were over 100 years old and most of the others seemed to be more than 50 years old. The vines were planted in the tendone method. This is the traditional method for planting vines in Southern Italy. The leaves are trained to form a canopy that protects the grapes from the sun.  It is like a pergola with an overhead trellis from which the grapes hang down.  In one of the vineyards an old vine looked like it was holding up the whole tendone.  The poles that hold up the tendone are made of chestnut wood from trees in the nearby hills and the vine “branches” are attached to the tendone by willow shoots.

     

    We were met by Alfonso Arpino, a doctor who took over his family’s vineyards as a hobby, though they soon turned into his passion. He took us to his winery, the smallest I have ever been in. The winery produces only three wines and the total production is less than 6,000 bottles.  After a very quick tour, Dr. Arpino took a bottle of his 2007 white wine and said we could drink it upstairs. He led us to a comfortable and modern apartment above the winery that he rents to travelers.  The terrace had a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. Since it was still raining we tasted the wine inside. The white, called Monte di Grazia Bianco, is made from local grapes that are handpicked, like all his wines.

    Three grape varieties are used:

     


    Pepella has only a few large grapes on the bunch, the rest being the size of peppercorns, though they all ripen at the same time. 

    Ginestra, the name comes from the yellow-green color which is similar in color to the gorse flower.

    Bianca Tenera (Biancolella). The wine had hints of citrus with undertones of pear and almond a very nice mineral character and good acidity. The white, like his other two wines, are fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. 

    I liked the wine so much that I stopped tasting it and began to drink it, and Dr. Arpino just smiled.

     

    Dr. Arpino invited us to stay for dinner in his home, where we would taste the other wines. His wife Anna prepared farro e fagioli bianchi, a dish of farro and beans, in this case uova di lucertole or lizard’s egg, one of several types of beans that grow in the vineyards. The beans and farro are cooked separately, and then are simmered in a tomato sauce seasoned with rosemary.  It was hearty and delicious.  Dr. Arpino said that the coexistence in the vineyard of both vines and beans improves both. The vines shade the beans and the beans provide nitrogen for the soil which improves the vines.

     

    With the farro and beans we drank the Monte di Grazia Rosato made from 70% tintore grapes which have dark pink juice (hence its name) and 30% mosiro, even more obscure, an ancient red variety from Campania.  This grape also has pink juice, though not as dark as the juice from the tintore, and with a more delicate skin. There was no skin contact in the making of this rose, just the juice from these two grapes to get a dark rose wine with good fruit and hints of strawberries and blueberries. It had good mineral character and acidity with a dry finish and aftertaste.



    Anna also had made pizza di scarole, a double crust pizza stuffed with escarole, anchovies, olives, capers and garlic.  Michele remembered her mother making the same escarole pie. There was also a frittata di zucchini and local chesses and salami.



     

    The last wine was Monte di Grazia Rosso.  We tried both the 2005 and 2006 vintages made from 90% Tintore and 10% Pedirosso so-called because it has a red triple-branched stem that looks like a dove’s claw.

    The 2005 was drinking very well with red fruit, hints of black pepper and spice. It had a long finish with a great after taste of red fruit and black pepper. The 2006 was very different with more earthy aromas, fruit and only the slightest hint of black pepper.  It needed more time to develop. These wines have the qualities that ensure they will last for a long time.  All of the wines had very good acidity so they are perfect with food. 

     

    We had such a wonderful time with Alfonso and Anna that we invited them to come to dinner at our rented house in Praiano. Giocondo wanted them to see the great view of the sea and Positano. They brought a large assortment of local cheeses and hard bread known as pane biscottato.  Anna and Alfonso showed us how to dip the slices in water to soften it.  It was great with the cheese and salami.  Michele loved the whole grain flavor and texture and even took some back to NYC with her.  She plans to serve it with the first ripe tomatoes of the season. 

     

    With the meal, we drank the 2007 Monte di Grazia Rosso which has the same characteristics as the 2005 but needed more time and the 2008 Bianco and Rosato.  Meeting Alfonso and Anna was a very special experience.  It has been a long time since I encountered a new winery that has left such an impression on me.  At this point, the only place that you can find the Monte di Grazia wines in this country is at Balthazar Restaurant in Soho.

      

      

     

  • Life & People

    A Little Bit of Paradise on the Amalfi Coast



    Praiano. (Campania) How does one describe paradise or at least my idea of it?  Two years ago, Michele and I went to the Amalfi Coast and did not want to leave. We found the perfect town, Praiano, with the perfect view of the sea, the sky, Positano, and Capri.  Praiano is located between Positano and Amalfi and it is a 25 minute ride by bus to reach either of them. It is an ideal location for getting around the Amalfi Coast.

     

    We were concerned that it might not be as good as we remembered, but as soon as we walked out onto the large terrace of the house that we rented and looked at the trees, the flowers and the view, we knew it was just as we remembered it.  Our first order of business was to find a place to have lunch. Michele chose La Gavitella, her favorite restaurant. The walk down to the beach and restaurant is very scenic but it is over 400 steps. Going down is not too bad, but going up…!  



     

       We like to go on Sunday because both the beach and the restaurant are crowded and watching the people is always fun.  I started with sautéed shrimp with salt and pepper that were so good you could almost eat the shells, followed with spaghetti with clams, zucchini, olive oil and basil.


    The clams were small and tasty, the spaghetti “al dente” and the zucchini, the best I have ever tasted. The waiter brought a cart full of fresh fish and shell fish for us to choose from. The crabs were still moving and I picked the biggest one. The chef cooked it in a light tomato sauce and served it with paccheri, a large tubular pasta.  It was delicious.

     

    Michele had a tender octopus and potato salad to start, followed by an unusual dish of linguine with bits of local fish, lots of lemon and hot pepper.  She thought it was great. We had a bottle of 2007 Falanghina from Cantine del Taburno that went very well with the food.

     We began talking with a group of Italians at the next table and found out that they were from Positano.  They had wisely arrived by boat, avoiding the steps.  Alfonso said that La Gavitella was the best fish restaurant in the area. He and his friends came often and knew the names of the waiters and the chef.


    The chef is Tomasso and he had worked in New York City, we found out later. Alfonso kept pouring wine into our glasses and took pictures of all of us. 


    They were very informative, interesting and we were all having a good time. After dessert, Alfonso ordered Berta grappa chardonnay and poured me some. 


    We could have gone on all afternoon, so I declined when he offered again, but he insisted, and I had another, not wanting to offend him. We thanked all of them for a very enjoyable afternoon, ordered caffe, said Ciao and returned to the beach where I promptly fell asleep. Later, on the way up, the steps seemed steeper than usual.

     

    Michele likes this restaurant so much that we returned there three more times and the food was always special. Restaurant Gavitella will pick you up by boat from Poistano or Marina di Praia but from our house high above the restaurant the stairs were the best way. The restaurant was worth every step.

     

     

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Interview with a True "Pizzaiolo", Roberto Caporuscio


    It seemed like only a few moments passed between the time we ordered our pizza Margarita and its arrival sizzling hot at the table.  Light, crisp and full of flavor, Michele said it was the best pizza she had eaten since Naples.   Rosario, one of the owners whom we had met before came by to see how we liked the pizza and introduced us to the pizzaiolo, Roberto Caporuscio.  Roberto, who is a wealth of knowledge about pizza, is from Campania and has a passion for Neapolitan style pizza and trained and worked in Naples.  He has also made pizza in Denver, Chicago, Pittsburgh and NJ, among other places.  He asked us which pizza places we liked in NYC and Naples and we realized that we liked many of the same places. Meanwhile, we had finished eating and Keste was getting busy.  Roberto asked us if we would like to come back to see how he made the pizza from scratch.  We gave him an enthusiastic Yes! And made a date for the following Monday.

     

    Roberto’s experience making pizza in Italy and around the US taught him that despite the common belief, the water did not make a big difference in the finished pie.  The temperature and humidity were more important because these would affect how long the dough takes to rise. He does not use a “biga” starter.  He only uses fresh natural cake yeast that must be kept in the refrigerator.  Dry yeast does not do the job and can leave spots in the pizza. He uses a very small amount of yeast, 1 gram per liter of water, and lets the dough rise very slowly.

    Roberto uses “double zero” Antimo Caputo flour in 55 lb bags.  It is made especially for pizza from seven different kinds of wheat. The wheat is ground very slowly so as not to damage the flour and the nutrients.  This flour gives you dough that is easier to stretch and the slow rise gives you more flavor and makes it lighter. Roberto does not put the dough in the refrigerator but leaves it out to rise for 18 to 24 hours.

     

    The flour, water, salt and yeast are mixed in a special machine that has two arms and moves very slowly. The slow movement mixes the dough without heat buildup. It takes about 20 minutes for it to be ready. The dough remains in the machine until Roberto is ready to transfer it to a table where it continues to rise. When it is ready, the dough is shaped into 9.5 ounce balls.  The shaping method is the same for making mozzarella.  The finished balls are put into plastic boxes to rise. Roberto tried to find wooden boxes but did not like any of them. It takes about 20 minutes to shape the mass into individual balls. The finished dough is so soft, you might expect it to stick to your hands, but it does not. Roberto makes sure every ball of dough is perfectly round because any holes or gaps would prevent the pizzas from lying flat in the oven and they would not bake properly.

     

    When it is time to make a pizza, Roberto takes a ball of dough and with his fingers spreads it into a disk. He rotates the disk by quarter turns--it takes less than a minute to reach its final shape. He makes sure that the pizza is not too thin in the middle, if it is the cornicione or rim will be too thick. I have never seen a pizzaiolo in Naples toss the pizza in the air, but I had to ask anyway. Roberto gave me a look and said that the dough is not to play with, it is food!

     

    Next he puts on the sauce, starting in the middle and working in circles toward the edges-- not too much sauce in the middle. Buffalo mozzarella is then added and some basil and a touch of olive oil. The wood burning oven is 900 degrees. He stretchers the dough a little more before putting it on the peel. I took out my watch and timed it.  A perfect Pizza Margarita was done in only 45 seconds.  From the time Roberto touches the dough and to the time the pizza arrives at your table is less than five minutes!  Like the classic Neapolitan pizza, it is 9-10 inches and has a crust that is neither too thin nor too thick.  It can be folded in half and then folded again into quarters, without cracking or breaking the crust. Only the edge, called the cornicione, is crisp, though it is also chewy.

     Roberto grew up on a farm, and would milk the cows and make cheese. He told us a story of feeding the cows tomato skins so the milk had a pink tinge to illustrate for us that what you feed the cows determines what the cheese will taste like. He loves cheese and uses different types on his pizzas.  He says that he varies his pizza toppings as long as they make sense. Once a customer asked him to make a pizza with pineapple as a topping.  He considered it an insult and refused.   Would you have sushi and ask the chef to put Mozzarella on it?

     

    In addition to the superb Margarita, we also tried Roberto’s Roman style pizza made with thin sliced potatoes, and the Mastro Nicola which is Roberto’s interpretation of the earliest Neapolitan pie, before tomatoes were introduced to Italy.  It was topped with pecorino, herbs and lard. 

     

    With all of the pizzerias here in New York City, we are thrilled to have Pizzeria Keste which is dedicated to making genuine Neapolitan style pizza.  Roberto Caporuscio is a true pizzaiolo and Keste raises the pizza bar in this city.

             

    Keste' Pizza & Vino
    271 Bleecker St
    New York, NY 10014
    (212) 243-1500

     
     

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Eating Well in Piedmonte



    The waitress looked at us strangely when Tom ordered the finanziera.  “Do you know what it is?” she asked, “Are you sure that you want to eat that?”  The dish is a specialty of the restaurant Osteria La Libera in Alba, but few foreigners who visit Piemonte order it.  Finanziera is a rich stew and one of the classics of Piemontese cuisine.  The ingredients include calf’s brains, sweetbreads, spleen, testicles, and cockscomb. Tom enjoyed every bit of it.  My friend, wine writer Tom Maresca and I were in Piedmont for the Alba Wines Exhibition.  He has eaten it a number of times and his answer to both questions was” yes”.  

     

    Piemontese food is not what most people think about when they think of Italian cooking.  The Piemontese are meat eaters and they also eat a lot of game.  Mushrooms, the rare and espensive white truffles, cow’s milk cheeses and hearty pasta make up the larger part of the daily diet.  This food is conducive to great wine, and in my opinion, the Langhe region of Piedmont, is the best place in all of Italy for food and wine pairings. 

     

               

                Tom is very much into the whole “nose to tail” concept of eating.  On another occasion he ordered trippa di vitello, or stewed cow’s stomach.  When we are in Alba, I have two favorite restaurants, l’Arco and La Libera.  Tom can find the foods he likes, but I stick to more conventional Piemontese dishes such as carne cruda, raw veal that is hand chopped and flavored with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. In the fall I like to have shaved fresh white truffles over the meat, a great combination. I love risotto and at Restaurant I’Arco I enjoyed it with asparagus tips and fava beans.  Braised rabbit can be found in restaurants in the United States but rabbit here does not have the same flavor as those at restaurant l’Arco.  Living in New York, I see pigeons all the time, but I only eat them at Osteria La Libera.

               

            II have been going to I’Arco for over 20 years and it never disappoints.  Osteria La Libera has been open for less than two years and I think I have found another favorite. They both have very good wine lists.  At I’Arco we had the 2001 “Sarmassa” Barolo from G Brezza & Son and at La Libera the 1999 “Rabaja” Barbaresco from Castello di Verduno, both were excellent.



     

                Tajarin (Tagliatelle) with meat sauce is served in almost all the restaurants in the area. I think I had it four times during the week I spent in Piemonte. The best was at Ristorante Villa Tiboldi in Canale. The restaurant is in a lovely hotel owned by the same people that own the Malvira winery. The pasta was cooked just right and the meat sauce could not have been better. It was a bit untraditional because the chef placed a few thinly sliced pieces of fried zucchini on the top. The crunchiness of the zucchini added to the texture and the taste.

     

     

          I do not like to have my morning coffee in the hotel because I prefer to have it standing up at a caffe. After many disappointments (which were better than almost anything in this country), I found IL Salotto.  Every morning I would have the same thing--cappuccino and a brioche vuoto (empty).  The women behind the counter knew what I wanted before I walked in. One morning I decided to have a cherry brioche and it caused many comments by the staff. The Italians do not say espresso, they saty caffe, and the caffe at IL Salotto is also excellent. 

     

    I am not a big dessert eater, but every time I had the chance I would go here for a cono at Caffe Brasilera. They have the best gelato in Alba. I always order the stracciatella, which is vanilla with chocolate chips.  At Brasilera, it looks like a little bit of vanilla gelato covered with big pieces of chocolate. The gelato is wonderful and so is the chocolate, it gives new meaning to vanilla chocolate chip.

     

               

    In the hills above Alba in the middle of a vineyard is the Locanda Del Pilone. We had stayed here few years ago and Michele wrote about it for an article in the Wine Spectator.  The food is not traditional but our meal was excellent. I started with warm lardo served with mustard on bread made from black rice. Black rice! I was told by Marinella Chivero from Well Com Travel who was sitting with us that it was an aromatic rice called Venere (Venus). It was originally from China where at one time it was reserved for the emperors because of its nutritional value, rarity and aphrodisiac qualities.  It was called the prohibited rice of Venere. Now it is available in the supermarkets of Alba.

     

                The second course was foie gras in two different styles, served with jelly and sweet maize bread.

    Lastly we had suckling pig with fennel, blood oranges and black olives. The hotel and restaurant is owned by the Boroli winery. We drank the Boroli Barolo 1997 and 1996. It was the perfect meal to end our trip.


    After this great lunch I visited two more wineries and did not get back to Alba until 6:30. Just enough time to have another cono, caffe and una grappa.


    I am now the Consulting Wine Director for Enoteca on Court and Marco Polo Restaurant in Brooklyn.  Hope to see you there.  Michele and I are leaving for the Amalfi Coast on Friday and I will return to the Enoteca on June 15.

     

     

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    The Food and Wine of the Alto Adige


    The drive north from Verona along the eastern side of Lake Garda past Trentino toward Bolzano is one of the most scenic drives in Northern Italy.  Once you are in the Alto Adige, it is difficult to believe that you are still in Italy. The area is also known as Sudtirol or the South Tyrol.  The people call themselves Tyrolians and German is their first language. It is the land of Italy’s majestic northern Alps and thousand-peaked Dolomite mountains, bordering on Austria and Switzerland.

     We were invited by the Hotel & Spa Rosa Alpina (www.rosalpina.it) in the village of San Cassiano, in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomite Mountains for a wine and food pairing in NYC. Our host was Hugo Pizzinini, General Manager and owner of the hotel.


    The menu was prepared by Norbert Niederkofler the Executive Chief of this Relais & Chateaux Hotel. The restaurant in the Hotel is the two-star Michelin St Hubertus, named for the patron saint of hunters. It is not often that I get to taste food from this region and was looking forward to it. Chef Niederkofler prepared a special menu with matching wines.

     

    The first course was speck, the traditional smoked ham of the area, served with horseradish, mustard and bread from the Dolomites that was light and crisp with a hint of anise. What better wine to match this with than the popular red Schiava 2007 from Peter Solva.  Schiava, also known as Vernatsch, is the most planted grape in the region.  Schiava means female slave in Italian.  Native to the Alto Adige, it is one of the most consumed varieties and is looked upon as the own home grown grape. This wine was light in style with fresh fruit flavors and it was served chilled.  Needless to say it was a perfect match with the Speck.

     



    The next course was char, a salmon-like fish cooked in mountain herbs with potatoes and ramp (wild leek) puree. The fish was cooked to perfection and the potatoes with ramps made the dish. It was paired with a 2007 Terlan Terlaner made from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay. This wine was much better with the food than by itself.

     

    This was followed by crisp red mullet on tartar of scallops with sautéed calamari and coconut coriander sauce.  There is a lot going on in this dish but the flavors were subtle and there was just a hint of coconut.   2007 Riesling from Weingut Koferehof was paired with it. This is a very aromatic wine with a hint of pineapple that worked with all of the flavors.


    The next dish was risotto with Dolomite pine needles served with gently cooked breast of guinea fowl.


    I asked the chef about the pine needles and he said that they are only used for risotto. He said that they come from the tender green tips of the low-rowing mugo pine branches, pureed and blended with sweet butter and stirred into the risotto. The dish worked and it was perfect with a crisp 2007 Chardonnay from St. Michael Eppan with good acidity.


    Venison with white asparagus, pea puree and fresh morels followed. The venison was perfectly cooked and the tender asparagus were the essence of spring. This was paired with the Pinot Nero “Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano, from Hofstatter.  I found the wine to be too oaky for my taste and for the venison.

     


     

    For dessert the chef prepared rhubarb soup and warm chocolate pudding and fromage blanc ice cream. I loved this dessert and I loved the wine with the dessert, the 2006 Moscato Rosa “Schweizer” from Franz Hass. It had just the right amount of fresh red fruit flavors and aromas to compliment the dessert.

     



    For more information on the food at this event, see my wife Michele’s blog at www.MicheleScicolone.com.

     

     

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Sicilian Food at its Best

     I just returned from a cruise around Sicily – my fourth trip in the last two years.  (See The Island in the Sun Parts I and Il, April 18 and May 3.) All my grandparents were born there and I grew up in the same house with my mother’s mother. She was from Palermo and came to America as a teenager.  She was a very good cook and made many Sicilian specialties for me. 

     I have a fondness for things Sicilian, especially the food.  It is difficult to get genuine Italian food in this country, but I thought that Sicilian food like my grandmother’s was impossible to find, until I met Salvatore!

    When I was working at I Trulli, Salvatore Fraterrigo was hired as the chef. We became friends, in part because he was from Sicily. Salvatore had owned Il Radicchio, a restaurant in Trapani where he was born. The restaurant got very good reviews in the Italian press. Salvatore and I always talked about Sicilian food and one day I suggested that he come to my apartment and cook a true Sicilian meal for us. Michele does not like to share her kitchen with anyone but after talking with Salvatore she agreed. The meal that he made for us could not have been better if we had been in Sicily.

    Salvatore now is the chef for the Sicilian restaurant Cacio e Vino in Manhattan where we often go for dinner. If you go there ask for Salvatore, he never disappoints. So I decided to ask him why his food is so good and how he keeps it so genuine, just like my grandmother’s.

    Salvatore’s earliest memories are of his mother Candida and his grandmother Vitina cooking. He watched them with great interest and asked them if he could help. Not only did his mother let him help, but she took the time to show him every single step of the dish that she was preparing! He feels that his love of food and cooking comes from those happy days in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother.

    He also has fond memories of large family gatherings and the food at Christmas (fried baccala, peperoni ripeni),  New Years Eve (lentils and sausages, cardi fritti, carciofi repieni, zucca in agrodolce, sfinci with sugar and cassatelle di ricotta fritte) and lunch on New Years Day (caponata, fritture in pastella, sarde a beccafico, baked ziti, falsomagro with Sicilian ragu, and cassata).

    Making Cous Cous, a Trapanese specialty, was a family event with the women doing the cooking and his father buying the fish early in the morning to make sure that he would get only the freshest. Occasionally, he would not get the varieties that his wife Candida wanted and he would never hear the end of it. Salvatore would watch the women cook and if he got up early would go with his father.  Like his mother, Salvatore made it quite clear that the true Cous Cous is only made with fish. Use anything else and it would not taste right. My grandmother from Palermo (which is not far from Trapani) never heard of Cous Cous.

    One of his mother’s favorite dishes was pasta with sardines (pasta con sarde). She would only

    make it using bucatini or malfadine pasta because it worked well with the other ingredients including wild fennel, pine nuts anchovies and raisins.

    His mother made a meat dish I had never heard of. She called it agglassato. braised eye of round beef ( girello) cooked with sliced onions in a covered pot over a slow fire. The sauce made a great pasta dish using bucatini.

    Salvatore (chiamato affettuosamente, “Toto”) soon began cooking for his friends and classmates at informal gatherings and parties and was in great demand. After graduation he wanted to learn more and went to work in a local seafood restaurant. He enjoyed the experience and was offered a job with Peppe Giuffre, a well known chef and owner of a catering company. When Pepe Giuffre opened a Sicilian restaurant in Paris, Salvatore went with him and through these experiences he perfected his technical skills.

    To gain more experience Salvatore worked in restaurants in New York, Washington D.C, Los Angles and London. These experiences brought him into contact with many different cooking styles and philosophies, from food piled higher and higher to dishes covered with foam, and everything in between.

    His cookbook “I Tesori della Cucina Siciliana” was very well received in Sicily and was  in all the stores, when I was there.

    Salvatore feels very strongly about “la Famiglia”.  Cooking and food in Sicily revolves around the family. It is a convivium, cooking and eating with the whole family sitting around the table in their own environment talking and laughing.

    Food, he feels, is like art and follows the fashions of the times. Some inventive chefs use different combinations of food to express what is in vogue. Salvatore feels that while they should express themselves, there is a line that they should not cross. Some of these chefs are like alchemists with their strange combinations of ingredients and techniques. They cross the line when it becomes more art then food.

    Salvatore believes that his mother’s cooking was the best. She used time tested methods, the best and freshest ingredients and traditional recipes. The love with which she cooked was reflected in the love for her family, a combination that is hard to beat.

    Salvatore feels that good coking comes from his family and the good ingredients in the earth. When Salvatore cooks for you it is like being part of his family.

  • Life & People

    Eating Well in Piedmonte



    The waitress looked at us strangely when Tom ordered the finanziera.  “Do you know what it is?” she asked, “Are you sure that you want to eat that?”  The dish is a specialty of the restaurant Osteria La Libera in Alba, but few foreigners who visit Piemonte order it.  Finanziera is a rich stew and one of the classics of Piemontese cuisine.  The ingredients include calf’s brains, sweetbreads, spleen, testicles, and cockscomb. Tom enjoyed every bit of it.  My friend, wine writer Tom Maresca and I were in Piedmont for the Alba Wines Exhibition.  He has eaten it a number of times and his answer to both questions was” yes”.  

     

    Piemontese food is not what most people think about when they think of Italian cooking.  The Piemontese are meat eaters and they also eat a lot of game.  Mushrooms, the rare and espensive white truffles, cow’s milk cheeses and hearty pasta make up the larger part of the daily diet.  This food is conducive to great wine, and in my opinion, the Langhe region of Piedmont, is the best place in all of Italy for food and wine pairings. 

     

               

                Tom is very much into the whole “nose to tail” concept of eating.  On another occasion he ordered trippa di vitello, or stewed cow’s stomach.  When we are in Alba, I have two favorite restaurants, l’Arco and La Libera.  Tom can find the foods he likes, but I stick to more conventional Piemontese dishes such as carne cruda, raw veal that is hand chopped and flavored with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. In the fall I like to have shaved fresh white truffles over the meat, a great combination. I love risotto and at Restaurant I’Arco I enjoyed it with asparagus tips and fava beans.  Braised rabbit can be found in restaurants in the United States but rabbit here does not have the same flavor as those at restaurant l’Arco.  Living in New York, I see pigeons all the time, but I only eat them at Osteria La Libera.

               

            II have been going to I’Arco for over 20 years and it never disappoints.  Osteria La Libera has been open for less than two years and I think I have found another favorite. They both have very good wine lists.  At I’Arco we had the 2001 “Sarmassa” Barolo from G Brezza & Son and at La Libera the 1999 “Rabaja” Barbaresco from Castello di Verduno, both were excellent.

     

               

                Tajarin (Tagliatelle) with meat sauce is served in almost all the restaurants in the area. I think I had it four times during the week I spent in Piemonte. The best was at Ristorante Villa Tiboldi in Canale. The restaurant is in a lovely hotel owned by the same people that own the Malvira winery. The pasta was cooked just right and the meat sauce could not have been better. It was a bit untraditional because the chef placed a few thinly sliced pieces of fried zucchini on the top. The crunchiness of the zucchini added to the texture and the taste.

     

     

          I do not like to have my morning coffee in the hotel because I prefer to have it standing up at a caffe. After many disappointments (which were better than almost anything in this country), I found IL Salotto.  Every morning I would have the same thing--cappuccino and a brioche vuoto (empty).  The women behind the counter knew what I wanted before I walked in. One morning I decided to have a cherry brioche and it caused many comments by the staff. The Italians do not say espresso, they saty caffe, and the caffe at IL Salotto is also excellent. 

     

    I am not a big dessert eater, but every time I had the chance I would go here for a cono at Caffe Brasilera. They have the best gelato in Alba. I always order the stracciatella, which is vanilla with chocolate chips.  At Brasilera, it looks like a little bit of vanilla gelato covered with big pieces of chocolate. The gelato is wonderful and so is the chocolate, it gives new meaning to vanilla chocolate chip.

     

               

    In the hills above Alba in the middle of a vineyard is the Locanda Del Pilone. We had stayed here few years ago and Michele wrote about it for an article in the Wine Spectator.  The food is not traditional but our meal was excellent. I started with warm lardo served with mustard on bread made from black rice. Black rice! I was told by Marinella Chivero from Well Com Travel who was sitting with us that it was an aromatic rice called Venere (Venus). It was originally from China where at one time it was reserved for the emperors because of its nutritional value, rarity and aphrodisiac qualities.  It was called the prohibited rice of Venere. Now it is available in the supermarkets of Alba.

     

                The second course was foie gras in two different styles, served with jelly and sweet maize bread.

    Lastly we had suckling pig with fennel, blood oranges and black olives. The hotel and restaurant is owned by the Boroli winery. We drank the Boroli Barolo 1997 and 1996. It was the perfect meal to end our trip.

     

    After this great lunch I visited two more wineries and did not get back to Alba until 6:30. Just enough time to have another cono, caffe and una grappa.

     

     

    I am now the Consulting Wine Director for Enoteca on Court and Marco Polo Restaurant in Brooklyn.  Hope to see you there.  Michele and I are leaving for the Amalfi Coast on Friday and I will return to the Enoteca on June 15.

     

     

     

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