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Articles by: Michele Scicolone

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Salumi, Pizza and Clavesana Dolcetto

     
    I had the best time last Sunday.  Some friends from the Clavesana Winery in Piedmont in Northern Italy were in town, and we decided to have a few people in to taste some of their wines.   There were 4 variations on Dolcetto, red wines made from the local dolcetto variety of grapes.  These wines go with a wide variety of foods and are well priced.  Problem was, I had had a really busy week and not much time to prepare.  So Charles and I decided to keep it simple.

    First we had an assortment of salumi.  There was coppa made from pork shoulder; lardo and pancetta, both made from the belly; and hard and soft salami.   Then we had an assortment of Piemontese cheeses, including 2 kinds of robiola--one with 3 milks: goat, sheep and cow--and the other with 2 milks: sheep and cow.  Both were creamy and mushroomy with a soft texture like brie.  There was Testun made from cow and goat's milk and aged in the must (the squeezed out grapes) used to make Barolo wine; Braciuk, similar to Testun but not as aged and made only from cow's milk; Castelmagno DOP a firm, sharp cow's milk cheese; Bra Duro Stravecchio, an "extra-old" cow's milk cheese aged a minimum of 1 year;  and Toma Piemonte, an unpasteurized cow's milk cheese aged 60 days.
    Some fresh fava beans in the shell went great with the sharp cheeses, plus we had breadsticks, bread and a platter of fresh fruit and raw vegetables.  I cooked only one thing: a homestyle pan pizza, a recipe from my book Pizza Anyway You Slice It. It's a good pizza for a party because it makes a large pie, tastes good hot or cold, and cuts into neat slices so it's easy to eat.  

    The pizzas were a big hit and everybody loved trying the different cheeses, salumi with the wine.  The improbably named D'OH (long story, but makes sense when they explain it) was the lightest, a very easy to drink red that we will enjoy with summer meals like grilled tuna.  Then there was the Dolcetto di Dogliani 2009, which was  a bit richer -- a perfect wine with roast chicken.  Il Clou, with more body still, would be good grilled sausages or chops.  Finally there was the 174 Dolcetto di Dogliani, a wine made with grapes from a single vineyard.  This wine has big flavors and will only improve with age.

    For dessert, we had Nocciolina, a crackly-topped hazelnut sponge cake that Anna had managed to carry to New York intact all the way from Piedmont.  The region is famous for its superb hazelnuts and the simple, nutty cake was a delicious treat with a cup of coffee.

    Thanks to Anna, Tessa, Mario and Marinella for taking time out from their busy travel schedule to visit us. 

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    La Cucina Italiana as Inspiration and Motivation


                 Vino 2011 is known as Italian Wine Week, though for me, one of the most interesting events was the panel discussion entitled “Has the Popularity of la Cucina Italiana Surpassed French Cuisine as the Source of Inspiration and Motivation for Future Chefs?”  

     

                The host was Fred Plotkin, an expert on all things Italian, author of “Italy for the Gourmet Traveller” and numerous articles and books on Italian food and opera, and a popular speaker and lecturer.  Fred introduced the first panelist, Bob Lape, host of WCBS Radio 88’s Dining Diary for the past 15 years, and Emmy Award winning newscaster. 

     

                Bob told us about the amazing growth of Italian culinary influence in this country that he has witnessed over the years in his role as a food and restaurant industry commentator, while French cuisine has declined.  He cited cooks like TV Chef and Author Mary Ann Esposito for introducing the public to the “honesty and simplicity of Italian foods” with her television show, Ciao Italia!, the longest-running cooking show on TV.  Bob surveyed several of the top culinary schools and discovered strong indicators that Italian cuisine is the more popular.  For example, the Italian Culinary Academy is expanding to California and New York’s Institute for Culinary Education current schedule lists 87 Italian cooking classes versus only 28 French.

     

                Ariane Batterberry spoke next.  Together with her late husband Michael Batterberry, Ariane was the founder of two major culinary periodicals, Food & Wine and Food Arts.  Ariane recalled that in 1971 when she visited Menton, France near the Italian border, it was obvious that neither the French cooks nor their Italian counterparts on the other side of the border had any interest in emulating one another.  Today culinary schools teach aspiring cooks French techniques, but those same cooks go on to work in American restaurants with menus inspired by Italian cuisine and ingredients.  Some of the recent examples of menu items Ariane noted in American restaurants include Locavore Crostini with Mostarda, Pesto, Polenta and Pancetta; Seared Scallops with Porcini; Bucatini with Roasted Cauliflower and Pecorino; and Heritage Pork Ravioli.  She said that this shows that Italian culinary concepts are so entrenched in the American kitchen that young chefs today accept foods like mostarda, ravioli and bucatini as American, not foreign.

     

                Steven Kolpan is Professor and Chair of Wine Studies at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and the author of “Exploring Wine”.  He believes that Italian cuisine has risen in popularity because Italian food is recognizable, not overly manipulated, and based on the model of home cooking as opposed to that of restaurant and hotel food.  He also pointed out that French haute cuisine is not food that people can or want to eat every day as evidenced by the fact that France is the fastest growing market for Mc Donald’s, and that the most popular book about French food in recent years is “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat”.  Though Asians still revere French haute cuisine, Steven feels that its influence is declining in favor of other cuisines. 

     

                Darrell Corti, owner of Corti Brothers, a gourmet grocery and wine store in Sacramento questioned the notion of “popularity” of Italian food versus its “inspirational” ability and pointed out that popularity eventually fades.  Italy as a country is only 150 years old, whereas France has been around since the 1500’s.  Chefs today admire Italian cuisine because it uses good sense and simple ingredients.

     

                The final speaker was Arthur Schwartz, known as “The Food Maven”, author of “Naples At Table” and “The Southern Italian Table.”  Arthur pointed out that to predict the future, we should look to the past.  In 2003, he said, Bon Appetit magazine cited Alain Ducasse as the premier chef in America, and few would agree with this today.  While Italian food is popular at the moment, it may not continue to motivate and inspire chefs in the future.  He cited the influences of globalization as today’s chefs seek fame around the world and prefer to startle the public and the press with novelty.  He said that cooking schools report that anything Italian sells, but Italian cooking technique is not taught to professionals who still learn French technique.  He feels that more education is needed but in the end Asian cuisine is winning out.

     

                Summing up, Fred Plotkin pointed out that the Italians have always been creative people.  He said that the most important thing is not to forget the past, and that Italians can learn a lot from the French.  Like several of the other panelists, he credited the Italian Trade Commission and other Italian government agencies for introducing the American public to Italian food and wine.  Italy’s strength is the high quality of the ingredients used in Italian cooking, using the 5 senses in the kitchen, and understanding that we are one with nature. 

     

                I think that American chefs are open to new ideas and love experimenting.  This is a good thing and it’s the reason why there are so many exciting restaurants in this country.  But for most of us, on a day-to-day basis, nothing is more appealing, satisfying, or doable than an Italian meal.  If I was somehow transported to Copenhagen to dine at Noma, recently named the World’s Best Restaurant, where the specialties include radishes with edible dirt, and buttered langoustine on a hot rock, with milk skin and rape seed oil, I might enjoy the experience.  But you won’t find me craving that kind of food, preparing meals like that at home, or going to a restaurant in my neighborhood that serves such dishes. 

     

                Italian food will always inspire and motivate future chefs because it is ultimately what they and their customers want to eat and enjoy the most.   

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    A Neapolitan Pastry Chef in New Jersey


    Last Thursday at Kesté Pizza and Vino, Roberto Caporuscio the pizzaiolo and owner, brought us a slice of La Pastiera, a dessert that is not on the menu.  Also known as Pizza Gran or Grain Pie, this classic Neapolitan cake is made with ricotta, wheat berries, and candied fruits.

     

    “Try this,” Roberto said, “It was made by one of Naples’ finest pastry makers.”  Roberto is not only the best pizzaiolo in America, but he also knows good pastry.  The tender, delicate crust enclosed a light and creamy filling subtly flavored with orange and studded with slightly chewy grains of wheat.  It was sweeter and less dense than most versions I have tried.  Roberto said that it had been made earlier that day by Sabatino Sirica, owner of Pasticceria Sirica in Naples.  Sabatino had come to the States to teach pastry making at A Mano, a restaurant and pizzeria in Ridgewood, in Northern New Jersey where Roberto conducts his professional pizza making classes.   In fact, Roberto suggested, would I like to attend a pastry class at A Mano the following day and meet Sabatino?  There was no need to ask me twice!

     

    A Mano, which means by hand, is located in the center town, a short block from the Ridgewood train station.  Roberto told me that he had helped design the restaurant, which has not just one, but two enormous wood fired pizza ovens that are lined with volcanic stone.  Just about everything, from the floor and wall tiles, to the counters, equipment, tables, and chairs had been imported from Italy.  At the entrance, there is a counter where you can buy homemade gelato, pastry, or have an expertly made espresso.  The high ceilings made the room seem enormous, but the design and wine red color of the walls give it a warm feeling.  It seemed like a piece of Naples in New Jersey.

     

     


    The class was about to start, but first Roberto introduced me to Sabatino Sirica and his assistant, Raffaele Cristiano.  Mr. Sirica has been a pastry maker for over 50 years and appears often on Italian TV.  The lesson of the day was pasta bigné, the pastry used to make cream puffs.  Sabatino brought water to boiling and added butter.  As soon as it melted, he began stirring the mixture and adding Caputo 00 flour, which he said is perfect for pastry.  The mixture formed a ball but Sabatino continued to stir it so that the dough would lose some of the liquid and puff up properly when baked.  Then he scraped the dough into a slowly turning heavy-duty mixer and began adding eggs. 

     

    When the dough was ready it looked smooth and shiny.  The chefs demonstrated how to handle a pastry bag and form the dough into puffs or a large ring.   While the puffs baked, Sabatino gave suggestions on how to vary the recipe and demonstrated how to make crema pasticcera, pastry cream flavored with vanilla and lemon. 

     

    During his 4 day visit, Sabatino also demonstrated how to make the pastiera that I tasted at Keste; two kinds of sfogliatelle--the familiar clamshell shaped riccia and the less well known frolla made with tender pasta frolla, a sweet pie or cookie dough; and baba al rhum, small yeast cakes soaked in rum syrup.  It was a great opportunity to learn about Neapolitan pastry from a true master.


     

    Classes are held at A Mano every few months.  There is plenty to taste and everyone went home with a box of pastry.  


      A Mano is certified by two organizations that assure the quality and tradition of genuine Neapolitan pizza, the Vera Pizza Napoletana and the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli, sometimes called the pizza police.  The restaurant’s standards are exacting and only all natural Caputo flour and San Marzano tomatoes are used.  Mozzarella is made fresh daily in the restaurant’s kitchen.  In addition to its pizza menu, A Mano also has a menu of traditional Neapolitan dishes.   For information on upcoming classes, check their website at www.amanopizza.com or call 201-493-2000.  A Mano is located at 24 Franklin Avenue and is open daily.  

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    "Pesto alla genovese" & The International Day of Italian Cusines


                 All around the world, Pesto alla Genovese will be showcased on January 17 to mark the International Day of Italian Cuisines. Chefs who are members of itchefs-GVCI will prepare and serve this dish according to Italian culinary tradition to promote unity and signify authenticity of Italian products.  Each year since 2008, a different authentic Italian dish has been selected for this honor. 



            

    In anticipation of the event, an industry workshop was held at The Italian Culinary Academy on January 12.  Chef Cesare Casella, Dean of the Italian Culinary Academy and owner of the acclaimed Salumeria Rosi presented a series of seminars and tastings featuring authentic Italian products, some familiar, and some not. 

     

                The first was corzetti, a coin shaped pasta from Liguria.  Chef Andrea della Gatta talked about the history of this pasta as a poor man’s food while he prepared a sauce made with artichokes, zucchini, shrimp, tomato concasse, extra virgin olive oil and basil tossed with marjoram-flavored corzetti that had been imported from Genoa.  He pointed out that the dish was hardly poor man’s food any more since shrimp now cost about $35 a pound in Liguria.   Unfortunately, the corzetti, which were frozen, are not available in this country.

     

                Next up were fish products from Typical Italian Fish Food, or TIFF, a company seeking to establish itself in the States.  TIFF produces fish “salumi” made with salmon, palamita -- a kind of bluefish, and a type of small tuna called alletterati.  These are ground with spices to make salame, or dried and sliced like bottarga, or ground into a fine “flour” for tossing with pasta or seasoning salads. 

     

                Lou di Palo, or Di Palo Fine Foods presented the next items:  two very different extra virgin olive oils, one from Liguria and the other from Sicily, followed by lentils from Norcia, San Marzano Tomatoes, and Grana Padano, a fine aged cow’s milk cheese.  The cheese was tangy and creamy at the same time and would be featured the next day in the preparation of the Pesto alla Genovese. 

     

                Ferrarelle water both sparkling and still, a perfect palate cleanser, was next followed by a demo of kitchen appliances by DeLonghi, a 100-year old manufacturer headquartered in Treviso.  Their food processor has the unique ability to weight the foods added to the work bowl, a real boon to the cook especially when baking.

     

                On January 13, Chef Della Gatta returned to the auditorium of the Italian Culinary Academy to demonstrate Pesto alla Genovese made the traditional way with a mortar and pestle.  It seemed an odd choice of a recipe to demonstrate at this time of year in icy New York, where the temperature outside hovered in the low twenties, but just the thought of a fragrant plate of pasta sauced with fresh emerald-green pesto was enough to get me thinking warm thoughts of sunshine and summer gardens. 

     

                For more information about Pesto alla Genovese and the traditional recipe go to www.itchefs-gvci.com.  For additional information about the Italian Culinary Academy visit www.ItalianCulinaryAcademy.com.  

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Lidia Bastianich Writes a Christmas Story


    Lidia Bastianich is a chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, and the host of one of public television’s most popular cooking shows, the Emmy-nominated and James Beard Award winning Lidia’s Italy.  Now Lidia has a new achievement.  Her latest book, Nonna Tell Me a Story, just published by Running Press Kids ($15.95), is a warm and charming Christmas story for children and the adults who love them, guaranteed to get everybody feeling the Christmas spirit. 

     

     In the book, Lidia, with a little help from her mother, Erminia, known as Nonna Mima, tells her five grandchildren -- Olivia, Lorenzo, Miles, Ethan and Julia -- about her memories of Christmas when she was a child growing up in Istria.  These were the post WWII years and the family did not have much.  The “Christmas tree” was nothing more than a little juniper bush from the forest, and the decorations were fresh pine cones, nuts, small fruits, and homemade cookies.  Lidia and her brother, Franco, would seek out the best juniper for their father to bring home and would make wreaths and garlands from bay leaves and dried figs.  But Lidia’s favorite part was the tiny candies in sparkly paper wrappers that she and Franco would hang from the juniper, although sometimes, the naughty siblings would eat the candies first and replace them in the wrappers with a nut or even a pebble! 

     

     When the time comes to decorate their own Christmas tree, Lidia’s grandchildren, inspired by her true story, decide to make the kind of homemade decorations she remembers from her childhood instead of the store-bought glass balls and colored electric lights that are today’s holiday ornaments.  They bake cookies, make fruit tea, string wreaths, and hang fruits and nuts on the tree.  All of these scenes are charmingly illustrated by the artist, Laura Logan.

     

    The book concludes with a handful of recipes perfect for the holidays, plus a few of Lidia’s decorating ideas.  Some of the recipes, like the Crostoli fried cookies or Fruit Tea are traditional, while others are contemporary.

     

    As I read this warm and delightful book, I felt like rushing to the kitchen.  Let’s bake cookies and decorate the tree!  The easy Cookie Crumbles (Fregolata) are fun to make with kids and perfect to munch on while stringing the bay leaf wreath.  The Chocolate Star Cookies and Simple Sugar Cookies would be ideal to hang from a Christmas tree or just munch on for dessert.  The hot Fruit Tea sounds like just the thing to warm you up on a cold winter’s day.


     

     As Lidia says in her introduction, “The holidays are all about family, food, and love.”  Nonna, Tell Me A Story conveys that message loud and clear.

    “Ugly but Good” Cookies

    Brutti ma Buoni

    Yield: 4 dozen cookies

    8 large egg whites

    Pinch of salt

    2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

    2 cups shelled hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

     

    Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat the egg whites and salt in a bowl with an electric mixer with the whisk attachment until foamy. Continue beating, adding the sugar gradually, until all of the sugar is incorporated and the egg whites hold stiff and shiny peaks. Scrape the beaten whites into a wide, heavy saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Stir in the hazelnuts and cook, stirring constantly, until the batter comes away from the sides of the pan and is light golden brown, about 20 minutes.  (The batter will deflate quite a bit as it cooks)  Remove the pan from the heat. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoonfuls onto the prepared pans. Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove and cool completely before serving. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

     

     

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Cranberry Fig Mostarda: An American Thanksgiving with an Italian Accent


     Soup, roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes.  It all sounds like the typical American holiday meal, but I can't resist adding an Italian accent to the dishes I'll be making.


    My mushroom soup is accented with Marsala (the recipe is in my book 

    The Italian Slow Cooker

    ),and the turkey is roasted with herbs, garlic and white wine.  My turkey stuffing is one my grandmother taught my mother to make.  It's made with sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions mixed with rice.  The brussels sprouts will be roasted with garlic and pancetta while the potatoes are mashed with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano.  And I know Charles has a fine bottle of Amarone lined up to go with the meal.


    Even the cranberry sauce will have an Italian accent this year.  I'm a big fan of mostarda, which takes various forms around Italy.  Sometimes it is made with whole fruits poached in a sweet mustard syrup, while other versions are more like a chunky condiment.  I combined tart cranberries, figs and two kinds of mustard to make a Cranberry Fig Mostarda.  Both tangy and sweet, it has a pleasant crunch from the fig and mustard seeds, and its a great companion to the holiday bird.  It's also good with a sharp cheese such as a mountain gorgonzola.      


    Wishing you all a very delicious and Happy Thanksgiving!  

                                      

    Cranberry Fig Mostarda

     

    Makes about 3-1/2 cups

     

    12 ounce bag of cranberries, rinsed

    7 ounces dried figs, stems removed, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

    1-1/2 cups sugar

    1/4 cup orange juice

    2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds

    1 tablespoon dry mustard mixed with 1 tablespoon water

     

    Combine cranberries, figs, sugar, and orange juice in a saucepan.  Bring to simmer.  Cover and cook 10 minutes or until the cranberries pop, stirring occasionally. 

               

                Add the mustard seeds and mustard paste.  Stir in well.  Cook 5 minutes more.  Let cool.  Scrape into an airtight container.  Cover and refrigerate 24 hours before serving.  This keeps well for at least 2 weeks. 

     







  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Piemonte. Land of Perfection


     Representatives from nine wineries belonging to the the Vignaioli Piemontesi Association arrived in New York this week to introduce a marketing campaign aimed at promoting the region of Piedmont and its magnificent wines. The wines are being featured all week at Eataly, the new Italian market and restaurant complex located at 5th Avenue and 23rd Street.

    Along with a group of restaurateurs, wine buyers and other journalists, I had a chance to sample some of these wines Monday at a luncheon at Del Posto Restaurant, which was recently given a 4 star review in the New York Times. Gianluigi Biestro, director of the Vignaioli Piemontesi Association, gave us a presentation on the current situation in Piedmont. The region, located in northwestern Italy is separated from France to the west by the Alps, and is one of the most prestigious Italian winemaking regions. Mr. Biestro said that “to a Piemontese, the first job of a wine is to be red”, though the region is also know for its excellent white wines.

     

    We began the meal with one of those whites, Alta Langa Spumante Contessa Rosa NV from Fontanafredda. Dry, crisp and sparkling it was a refreshing starter and a delicious match to the first course, Lidia’s Lobster Salad Catalana, cold poached lobster in a spicy tomato sauce with celery and yellow zucchini for a bit of crunch. Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2005 from Cantina di Govone was an alternate wine choice.

    Agnolotti dal Plin, meaning  "ravioli  with a pinch" for the way they are shaped, are the quintessential stuffed pasta from the Piedmont Region.  Typically the agnolotti are served with a meat ragu, or butter and sage sauce, but at Del Posto they were sauced with a bright green puree of ramps,  a kind of wild leek, and butter.  The slight bitterness of the sauce did not overwhelm the delicious meaty filling and with the pasta we drank Dolcetto di Dogliani 2009 and the Dogliani “Il Clou” 2008, also from Clavesana.

    The next course was a classic New York Strip steak with crisp fried potatoes, arugula and tomato raisins, tiny roasted cherry tomatoes with a sweet, concentrated flavor.  With it we sampled four different wines.  The first, was the “Paesi Tuoi”, a 2005 Barolo from Terre da Vino.  Next came my favorite, the Barbaresco 2004 from Vignaioli Elvio Pertinace.  This was followed by the Barbaresco “La Casa in Collina” 2003 from Terre da Vino and Barolo Serralunga 2005 from Fontanafredda.

    Unfortunately, I had to get back to work, so I did not stay for dessert, a Tartufo al Caffe, with Dark Chocolate, Sant’Eustachio Coffee & Cinnamon Croutons which was served with Moncucco Moscato d’Asti 2009 from Fontanafredda.  As I write this, I am really regretting that I had to miss it.

    The luncheon was a splendid opportunity to sample these outstanding wines as they should be enjoyed, with food inspired by the classic cooking of the region.  For me it was a preview of the good food and wine I will be enjoying when I go to Piedmont in a few weeks.  I wonder if I can find that Tartufo in Alba.


  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Piemonte. Land of Perfection


     Representatives from nine wineries belonging to the the Vignaioli Piemontesi Association arrived in New York this week to introduce a marketing campaign aimed at promoting the region of Piedmont and its magnificent wines. The wines are being featured all week at Eataly, the new Italian market and restaurant complex located at 5th Avenue and 23rd Street.

    Along with a group of restaurateurs, wine buyers and other journalists, I had a chance to sample some of these wines Monday at a luncheon at Del Posto Restaurant, which was recently given a 4 star review in the New York Times. Gianluigi Biestro, director of the Vignaioli Piemontesi Association, gave us a presentation on the current situation in Piedmont. The region, located in northwestern Italy is separated from France to the west by the Alps, and is one of the most prestigious Italian winemaking regions. Mr. Biestro said that “to a Piemontese, the first job of a wine is to be red”, though the region is also know for its excellent white wines.

     

    We began the meal with one of those whites, Alta Langa Spumante Contessa Rosa NV from Fontanafredda. Dry, crisp and sparkling it was a refreshing starter and a delicious match to the first course, Lidia’s Lobster Salad Catalana, cold poached lobster in a spicy tomato sauce with celery and yellow zucchini for a bit of crunch. Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2005 from Cantina di Govone was an alternate wine choice.

    Agnolotti dal Plin, meaning  "ravioli  with a pinch" for the way they are shaped, are the quintessential stuffed pasta from the Piedmont Region.  Typically the agnolotti are served with a meat ragu, or butter and sage sauce, but at Del Posto they were sauced with a bright green puree of ramps,  a kind of wild leek, and butter.  The slight bitterness of the sauce did not overwhelm the delicious meaty filling and with the pasta we drank Dolcetto di Dogliani 2009 and the Dogliani “Il Clou” 2008, also from Clavesana.

    The next course was a classic New York Strip steak with crisp fried potatoes, arugula and tomato raisins, tiny roasted cherry tomatoes with a sweet, concentrated flavor.  With it we sampled four different wines.  The first, was the “Paesi Tuoi”, a 2005 Barolo from Terre da Vino.  Next came my favorite, the Barbaresco 2004 from Vignaioli Elvio Pertinace.  This was followed by the Barbaresco “La Casa in Collina” 2003 from Terre da Vino and Barolo Serralunga 2005 from Fontanafredda.

    Unfortunately, I had to get back to work, so I did not stay for dessert, a Tartufo al Caffe, with Dark Chocolate, Sant’Eustachio Coffee & Cinnamon Croutons which was served with Moncucco Moscato d’Asti 2009 from Fontanafredda.  As I write this, I am really regretting that I had to miss it.

    The luncheon was a splendid opportunity to sample these outstanding wines as they should be enjoyed, with food inspired by the classic cooking of the region.  For me it was a preview of the good food and wine I will be enjoying when I go to Piedmont in a few weeks.  I wonder if I can find that Tartufo in Alba.


  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Two New Cookbooks Capture the Flavors of Puglia and Sicily

    Cookbooks are a passion of mine -- I guess that’s why I wrote 16 of them.  I love reading the stories and trying the recipes and I always learn something new.  So when two Italian regional cookbooks published by Oronzo Editions came in the mail, I couldn’t wait to have a look.

    The first book is Puglia, A Culinary Memoir written by Maria Pignatelli Ferrante and originally published in Italian in 1995.  Signora Ferrante focused on the household customs and traditions of the years following WWII, opening  a window on life in Puglia when, as Signora Ferrante says, the man of the house did “the grocery and food shopping, as it was...considered unseemly for a woman to visit a butcher or market.” 

    While the men were out shopping, or working in the fields, the women stayed home to take care of the household chores.  Anyone who thinks doing the laundry today is a chore should read Ferrante’s detailed description of laundry day.  The clothes and linens were washed by hand and it took 3 women to iron a sheet with lu scarfalietto, a coal heated iron, and plenty of skill to avoid burning it and themselves.  During the summer and fall, the women were kept busy preparing pickles, tomato paste, sauces, dried vegetables and legumes for the family to eat during the winter months. 

     Though this portrait of everyday life is intriguing, it’s the recipes that make a cookbook useful.  Here this book excels.  As noted in the Foreword, the editors have adapted the recipes only so far as to reflect “ingredient amounts, times and temperatures of foods that were once cooked on the family hearth” to today’s modern appliances and cooking techniques, so the recipes are appealing and easy to follow. 

    The chapter on “Primi Piatti” begins with an in-depth discussion of wheat and how it is milled, then a description of orecchiette.  Ferrante does not sound hopeful about your success in following her instructions for making Puglia’s iconic pasta, however, when she states “that if you were not born in Puglia and have never lived there, it will be difficult for you to get from the stage where the pasta dough is a simple roll” to the characteristic dimple-shaped pieces.  

    Not to worry, if your results are less than satisfactory, you can always send the man of the house out to buy some, and Signora Ferrante goes on to give 9 different recipes featuring orecchiette.  The first, for those who doubt that Italians eat pasta and meatballs together, is Orecchiette with Meatballs.  No bigger than a hazelnut, the tiny veal and pork meatballs simmer in a wine and tomato sauce spiked with pecorino.  Later, there is a recipe for Reheated Orecchiette, sauced leftovers fried in olive oil so that they are crispy and brown and dusted with more pecorino.  Beyond orecchiette, she includes recipes for Turkey Lasagna, Spaghetti with Leeks, Maccheroni Timbale, and so many others I can’t wait to try. 

    Legumes are at the heart of the Pugliese cucina povera, and there are many recipes to choose from, such as a simple chickpea puree topped with fried bread croutons, bean soups, and pasta with beans.  Early fall would be a good time of year to make  some of the tielle, layered casseroles of vegetables or seafood, such as the Mother-in-Law’s Casserole of potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers baked with mozzarella and topped with bread crumbs. 

    There are a few recipes I will probably never get around to, like those made with horsemeat, or lampascioni, wild hyacinth bulbs, but this book is an intriguing look into a by-gone time in Puglia filled with simple recipes that are as good today as they were back then. 

    Giuseppe Coria, the author of Sicily, Culinary Crossroads, is described as a “legendary gastronome, folklorist, vintner and the author of 10 cookbooks.”   In his preface, which is accompanied by a useful “gastronomic map” referencing places mentioned in the recipes, Coria promises that he has included only “exemplary” recipes that should be rescued from forgetfulness and oblivion. 

    He begins with an in-depth culinary history of Sicily, which readers will find helpful in understanding the unique nature of Sicilian cooking and why it differs from the rest of Italy.  The chapters are arranged according to 4 of the 9 provinces of Sicily on the island’s east coast.  This makes sense if you keep in mind that the original title of the book was La Cucina della Sicilia Orientale (The Cooking of Eastern Sicily).   

    The book is packed with historical and cultural information, and there are extensive notes and sidebars explaining folkloric traditions, dialect names, plant varieties and growing methods, religious customs, and so much more.  I learned that Biscotti Regina, my husband’s favorite cookies, were known as Hen’s Droppings because of their appearance, though some clerics got together and decided to call them Angels’ Droppings instead; that you shouldn’t eat cabbage before September 29 because someone will die; and that the prickly pear, which is a favorite fruit in the spring and summer, did not arrive in Sicily until after the discovery of America.   Coria also lists and describes local wines and cheeses.  

    Some of the recipes are a bit vague.  Quantities of ingredients are often not given and the reader is left to decide which variety to substitute for garfish, for example, or how much tomato sauce they will need for pasta ala Norma, made with 2 pounds of eggplant and 1 pound of spaghetti.  But these problems are easily surmountable, especially for someone with a little cooking experience and knowledge of Italian cooking.

    Recipes I look forward to trying include Ripiddu Nicavatu, Snow-Capped Risotto.   For those that believe Italians do not mix seafood and cheese, this is a risotto made with squid and squid ink, and tomatoes, shaped into a cone and topped with a spoonful of ricotta and a dash of tomato sauce to resemble Mount Etna.   Sand Lance Catania style, small fish baked with tomato, red wine, bread crumbs and caciocavallo, and Jaddina China, a large chicken or other bird deboned and stuffed with meat, rice and cheese are also on my list of recipes to try soon, as are the Stuffed Pork Ribs. 

    Both of the books have soft covers and are beautifully printed with gorgeous color photos throughout.  These editions are part of the Cucine Regionali culinary series, which were originally published by Franco Muzzio Editore of Padua.  Several more books are in the works, including ones on Reggio Emilia, Florence and Venice.  I can’t wait to add them all to my collection. 

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Italian Fancy Food Goes Bio at Il Gattopardo Restaurant

     In the days leading up to the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center we received several different dinner invitations sponsored by exhibitors but the one we accepted was hosted by FederBio, an Italian organization composed of organic and biodynamic food companies.  The dinner was held at Il Gattopardo in Manhattan, one of our favorite Italian restaurants, and we were very interested to have the opportunity to sample the Italian bio products as prepared by a master chef. At the Fancy Food Show, we made a point of visiting the Bio Benessere booth where we saw many products represented by FederBio. 

    A number of items were from Alce Nero (a Sioux name meaning Black Elk) and ProBios, companies that represent organic producers and distribute their foods.  We were not surprised to find an array of Italian pastas, olive oils, honeys and biscuits, among many things, but we never expected to see basmati rice, rice milk, tea and coffee and others, which are not grown or produced in Italy.  The spokesperson explained that some of these products are what is known as Fair Trade, indicating that they have been produced outside of Italy in countries such as Costa Rica, Peru, and India in a socially responsible manner and the farmers or producers were paid a fair price. 

     That evening, we sat in the cozy garden room at the rear of Il Gattopardo.  Our meal began with a sampling of bruschette dabbed with a variety of tomato sauces.  We also tasted little chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano drizzled with balsamic vinegar tradizionale di Modena DOP from Fattorie Giacobazzi.

    A tasting of two pastas followed.  One was an unusual fusilli di Kamut, dressed with pesto rosso, a fresh tasting tomato sauce.  Kamut is a grain similar to wheat.  It has been used since antiquity and, in fact, grains of kamut were found buried with King Tut in his tomb.  Kamut means wheat in Ancient Egyptian.  This grain gives the pasta a unique, nutty taste.

    We also tried orecchiette made from the prestigious Senatore Cappelli variety of wheat.  This wheat, which is grown in the Altamura region of Puglia, is very high in protein and prized for making pasta.  It was tossed with a sauce made from tomatoes grown in Emilia Romagna’s Mezzano Valley inside the Po Delta.  These tomatoes are particularly high in lycopene, a beneficial antioxidant.  In order to preserve their flavor, aroma, and nutritional properties, the tomatoes are processed within 12 hours of harvesting. 

    A delicate extra virgin olive oil dressing complemented the next course, grilled steak “Piemontese” topped with arugula.  A refreshing plate of fruit drizzled with acacia honey was a welcome sight, followed by a rich chocolate filled tart. 

    At the Fancy Food Show, visitors can see and learn about new products, and even sometimes sample them straight out of the package.  At Il Gattopardo, we felt privileged to taste many of these products debuted at the show as they should be served. 

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