Fish matters

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Thousands of fishermen, fishmongers, chefs, artisans and fish lovers are getting together this weekend in the old port of Genova in Liguria for Slow Fish. This biannual international event is dedicated to fish and water resources, bringing together the passion for good food and scientific knowledge, at the same time touching urgent topics such as environmental ecology and the safeguard of biodiversity.

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An unmissable appointment if you are passionate about fish, about its effects on health and on the impact fishing has on maritime ecosystems. In addition it is a fun event filled with workshops, tastings, chef demos, movie screenings and it includes a market with sea products from all over the globe. A great example of how we can approach pressing matters in a light and delicious manner.

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Oceans are indispensable to life on Earth with 70% of its surface covered with water. They play a vital role in protecting biodiversity and in stabilising the global climate. Fish is the main source of animal protein for more than a billion human beings and a source of income for millions of families around the world. The intensive exploitation of the marine world by humans is not a recent phenomenon, but in the last few decades it has undergone a brutal acceleration. Extraordinary technological progress and the shrinking of geographic limits have transformed the fishing industry into a great threat to ocean biodiversity. Over the centuries, humans have considered the marine environment an inexhaustible resource. But experts agree that the ocean’s resources are not only limited, they are already in an alarming state of decline. Aggressive fishing techniques and consumption focused only on a few species are having a strong impact on fish stocks worldwide. Understanding where your fish comes from and how it has been caught is of the utmost importance nowadays.
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Maize, mais, corn…

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The domestication of corn begins in Mexico some 7,000 years ago. Since then it has travelled the world to become a staple food for a vast number of populations, the third human food crop after wheat and rice. It is the essential nourishment for millions of people in Latin America, Asia and Africa and is appreciated for its specific flavor and texture in USA and Europe. Being such a large commodity crop its use is not restricted to feeding humans only. Widely used for animal feed it is also one of the main ingredients in processed foods (as corn syrup) as well as bio-ethanol fuels. It’s on top of the list of GMO crops with USA planting 65% of its available acres with GMO corn.

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Maize was introduced to Europe after Columbus’s voyages around the 17th century. It’s popularity was immediate thanks to its high production yields. What the conquistadores failed to take back from the Americas was the technique with which corn was processes, the so called nixtamalization, where the kernels are soaked in a solution of lye water to help make nutrients such as niacin bioavailable when consumed. Europeans missed this detail and suffered greatly from the devastating nutrient-deficient disease ‘pellagra’.

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In Italy today corn is mainly associated with the dish Polenta, a kind of thick corn porridge similar to southern grits.  The main differences are the varieties of stone ground corn used, and the number of times the corn is milled. The end result differs in texture: grits have more of a “mushy” texture, polenta has a more course and toothsome bite. In Italy Polenta is traditional in the northern regions, mainly Lombardia and Veneto. It can be made with white or yellow corn and served as a main dish with meat stews, vegetables, cheese or even just butter. In the Veneto region it is very traditional to serve white polenta together with squid in a delicious red sauce.

We love to celebrate biodiversity and heirloom varieties of plants. With all the standardized GMO corn crops worldwide, opting for different varieties is a great approach. In the South Anson Mills is an amazing ancient mill focused just on that, a great resource for grains and flours http://www.ansonmills.com/.

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Making polenta
It’s a very easy and rustic recipe. Ideally you need a nice copper pot, but a heavy based pot will do just fine. Making it the traditional way takes a little time, but it’s definitely worth it, no comparison with the instant ones.

Ingredients:
Polenta flour, 2 cups
Water, 8 cups
Salt, 1 tbsp
EVOO, 2 tbsp

Method:
Bring the water to boil and add salt and EVOO. Pour the polenta in the water and mix well. Keep stirring every few minutes until cooked. Process takes about 40 to 50 minutes.
Once ready, tip onto a large wooden board, let cool and then serve with desired condiment. If the corn flour you chose is top quality and stone ground, the flavor will be so deep and delicious that you can easily eat it by itself, adding just a little butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. If you have any leftover, slice it up and the next day grill it and melt cheese over it.

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Buon appetito!

Nomadic beekeeping and monofloral honeys

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Bees deserve to be defined as one of the most interesting, intelligent and important insects on our planet. Often only known for their delicious nectar, it’s their societal harmony and organization that never ceases to amaze scientists, as well as their incredibly fine-tuned work procedures, which turn out to be vital for our entire ecosystem. Bees are like chemists, using their own delicate but complicated technology to produce honey. They are also far older than humanity: according to fossil record they have been around for some 50 million years.

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Though most honeys are the result of a mixture of nectars, some 300 different single flower (or “mono-floral”) honeys are produced around the world. To obtain them beekeepers adopt a “Nomad Beekeping” system. Nomad Beekeping moves the hives from place to place according to the position & season of plants in bloom. Bees are naturally attracted to specific flowers, particularly when these are in bloom. It’s as if you had a table filled with boring foods such as plain rice or a steamed potato…and then out comes a delicious looking cake. What would you go for?

A mono-floral honey is so defined when at least 40% derives from a single flower variety. It has very unique, distinctive notes and color as well as texture can vary significantly. The time of year and area in which the honey is harvested also have an effect on taste and appearance. Just like olive oil and wine, honey is linked to it’s terroir.

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Honey can be used in the preparation of a wide variety of dishes, particularly cakes. It pairs perfectly with yogurt, fruit and certain vegetables such as carrots. But the perfect match is undoubtedly cheese, and playing around with pairings can turn into a fascinating gastronomy journey. Here are some suggestions:

Acacia Honey: blue cheese
Eucalyptus Honey: Parmigiano Reggiano
Lavanda Honey: Pecorino
Chestnut Honey: aged goat’s milk cheese
Citrus honey: Caciocavallo
Thyme honey: spicy and aged cheeses

It’s a custom in Italy to start a meal with a beautiful board of assorted antipasti. Try pairing your favorite craft cheeses and fine meats with honey and jams. Garnish with olives, fresh fruit and nuts, playing with different combinations of crostini (a smaller version of bruschetta).

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As far as recipes go, here’s a very original idea for an appetizer which will surely tickle the palate of your guests: Ricotta, walnut and honey crostini.

Ingredients
4 crackers or toasted bread
½ cup ricotta cheese
4 walnut halves
2 tablespoons rosemary honey
Salt, pepper

Method
Top the crackers with ricotta, garnish each slice with a walnut and a drizzle of honey

Buon appetito!

What’s the difference? Parmigiano vs Grana Padano

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First things first – Parm, Parmesan and all other variations with Italian sounding names and Italian looking packagings are definitely not the real deal. We are talking about a traditional production that follows an 800-year old tradition, the King of cheeses that needs time, care and expertise to reach its final complex and rich flavor. Not a rushed and processed ‘cheese’ to sprinkle or melt over any dish… the game is just not on. Our topic of interest is the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano – two Italian cheeses that share a number of characteristics and may seem identical but have significant differences that make them two distinct products.

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AREA OF PRODUCTION
Parmigiano has a more restricted area of production within the region Emilia Romagna – in the provinces of the cities Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna and Modena. It is a little like champagne – it can only be made in a very specific area.
Grana, on the other hand still has a designated area of production but a much broader one that includes the regions Lombardia, Piemonte, Trentino, Emilia Romagna and Veneto.

DAILY PRODUCTION
Parmigiano is made every morning with a blend of milk from the night before and the fresh morning milking. This process makes the fat content rise. Grana can be made twice a day, with one batch of milk. It tends to be slightly leaner thus have a less round flavor. Fat content 2.7% Parmigiano 2% Grana.

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COW’S DIET
The cows that make the milk for Parmigiano can only eat fresh grass or dry hay from pastures. The ones that make Grana don’t have a regulated diet and eat mainly silage – fermented forage that carries fermentation elements that have a negative effect on the quality of the milk.

RENNET
Parmigiano uses exclusively traditional natural veal stomach, Grana can use vegetal or selected bacterical rennet.

PRESERVATIVES
No preservatives of any kind are allowed in Parmigiano. Grana’s regulation is looser and often contains lysozyme.

AGING
Containing less fat, Grana develops faster. Once it reaches 9 months it is ready to be consumed. Minimum aging for Parmigiano is 12 months, up to 36 – 48 months or more in some unique cases, developing incredible flavors, just like a really good vintage of wine.

PRICE
A strictly controlled process and the time spent sitting on a shelf have a cost. Parmigiano is always a little more expensive.

FLAVOR
Parmigiano is more round, complex and umami-like, Grana is milder and lighter.

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Like for everything there is no right or wrong, but there are a number of production standards and details that make Parmigiano a much higher quality and unique product. Parmigiano is a century old tradition, still made following the same knowledge and techniques developing an unbeatable and incredible flavor praised worldwide. Grana is a contemporary response to the need of a cheaper simpler option. Grana is good for cooking with, Parmigiano is the perfect finish to dishes adding a touch of perfection.

Spring Spritz

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Colored, fresh, not excessively high in alcohol, Spritz is the king of Italian aperitivo. Making  it more and more on bar menus across the globe. It’s origin goes back to the late 700’s when the Austro-Hungarian Empire took over northern Italy – Austiran soldiers were not accustomed to drinking wine, found it too strong and started diluting it with water. The name in fact derives from the German word ‘spritzen’ meaning spray or splash. If you travel to the far north east to the region Friuli Venezia Giulia, this is what you will get when ordering a Spritz – white wine and sparkling water. Simple and light, the perfect summer refreshing fix.

Spritz as we know it today with the addition of a bitter component originated later on in the Veneto region, with many variations. All across north east Italy many areas claim their own recipe to be the original. In the city of Padova it’s made with the addition of Aperol and in Venice with a bitter called Select. The Campari version came later.

Padova recipe:
6 cl prosecco
4 cl Aperol
a splash of soda water

Venice recipe:
1/3 white sparkling wine
1/3 bitter (Select)
1/3 sparkling water

Spring spritz
This recipe takes inspiration from original simplicity of this drink, celebrating spring by adding a touch of color from the garden.
Recipe
½ white wine
½ sparkling water or soda water
Mint and wisteria ice cubes

For the ice cubes, place mint and wisteria (any herb and edible flower work), in the ice cube moulds, cover with water and place in the freezer for a few hours or until hard. Fill a wine glass with the ice cubes, pour the wine and finish with a splash of sparkling water. So simple yet so special!

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Cin cin!

Take a trip to LIGURIA

liguria5A boomerang shaped region, facing the Mediterranean sea, filled with some of Italy’s most stunning beaches, unique cuisines and host to a diversity if rare landscapes and architectures.

You might have heard about Liguria thanks to the famous and gorgeous national park Cinque Terre. With no doubt a must see destination when in Italy, magical landscapes and dramatic views overlooking the deep blue sea. A Unesco world heritage, made up of five fishermen villages with ancient colorful buildings clinging on the side of steep cliffs. This paradize is no best kept secret, so beware it’s a very popular destination, it’s good to visit out of high season. To help preserve the landscape and the naturally peacefull scenario, cars were banned a few years ago, and the small towns can be reached hiking, by ferry or with a 19th century railway line.

Cinque Terre aside, this region has so much to offer, many hidden spots off the beaten track, where most tourists don’t make it. Don’t miss out on the intriguing town Genova, once one of the largest maritime republics of the Mediterranean. The region’s coast is divided into Levante (south east) “of the rising sun” where Cinque Terre and the luxurious town of Portofino are located and Ponente (north west) “of the setting sun”, towards the border with France.

Ponente is a destination for Italians on holiday, mainly flowing from Milan and the Piedmont region, where they have been coming year after year. It’s the real deal, where you can explore the simplicity of Italian style summers: lying on the beach under colorful umbrellas, eating gelato and waiting for the fishermen to come back from sea with the daily catch.

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After a few weeks of travelling around Italy, you may feel like all you have been eating is charcuterie, cheese, pasta, pizza and meats. Although that’s not how Italians eat in their everyday lives, it represents traditional and festivity foods and it’s what you ought to get into as a visitor. Liguria will give you a break from all of that thanks to its veggie centric cuisine. It’s all about seafood, legumes, vegetables and EVOO. It’s the land of pesto, one of Italy’s staple dishes, a pasta sauce highlighting the freshness of summer basil with the addition of few other essential ingredients (check out our previous post for the original recipe https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/42191836/posts/1101598313).

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Get into torte salate savoury vegetable quiches and farinata flatbreads made with chickpeas. Don’t miss out on focaccia genovese – fluffy flat bread topped with EVOO or focaccia di Recco thin crust dough filled with creamy fresh cheese, believe me this dish will get you hooked for ever, so simple and so satisfying. Taggiasca olives and pure EVOO will be flowing from all sides, enjoy it while you have it! Being a coastal region, you will sure find some of the freshest seafood ever. Accompany these beautiful light foods with the freshest mineral wines, growing overlooking the sea in incredibly heroic conditions. Ancient terraced vines are very hard to work on, everything must by carried out by hand, with no help of machinery and tractors.

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Where to stay?

Liguria is filled with wonderful hotels and private homes. Here are a few picks: If luxury is what you’re after why not rent a castle? https://www.icastelli.net/it/theme-stay/soggiorni-in-castello/italia/liguria, or opt for breathtaking views from this gorgeous B&B http://laterrazzadicasebastei.it/, or be in the centre of it all at  http://www.hotelpasquale.it/it/.

Buon viaggio!

 

Salt Matters

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Salt, otherwise known as Sodium Chloride (NaCl), is like no other substance we eat. A basic inorganic mineral found in oceans and rocks, an essential nutrient our bodies can’t live without.

The word itself, in most European Languages (Italian – sale, French – sel, Spanish – sal, German –selz), comes from a single Indo-European root. In English many words such as ‘salary’, ‘sauce’, ‘salad’, ‘sausage’ are rooted and correlated to the word salt. In each of these words lies a reason for the correlation: before the invention of refrigerators there were some natural techniques for preserving food such as fermenting, drying, smoking, and salting.Thus the importance of such a compound in ancient times, for instance during the Roman Empire when soldiers were payed with ratios of salt – hence the word salary. Many artisanal foods still use salt as a natural preservative today: just think of all the cured meats, pickles or salami (again, a word rooted to “salt”).  Salt is also a taste enhancer and modifier: it strengthens the impression of aromas in food and suppresses bitterness.

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Roughly 50% of the salt worldwide comes from the oceans while the other half from mines: in the USA for example 95% of the production is mine derived. Since Italy is a peninsula surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, here most salts are sea derived instead. The most renowned salt production plants are based in Trapani, Sicily and in Cervia, Emilia Romagna.

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As consumers we don’t spend lots of time selecting the salt for our everyday use and tend to take for granted that all salts are the same. Artisanal salt production from seabeds is very expensive and labour intensive. Sea water is drawn into large shallow basins and left to evaporate in the sun. No chemical process is involved, it’s just a question of time, sea, sun and wind. The salt is then harvested manually, raked under the boiling sun. This is why globally most salt is produced through artificial, industrialised evaporation, often undergoing refinement at over 600°C. The final product is then sold as table salt, used in industrial manufacturing as well as during winter for de-icing of roads. Unsurprisingly, during this process most of the natural nutrients are lost. Depending on how the salt has been extracted the percentage of sodium chloride varies from 98% to 99.7%. Standard table salt is often supplemented with preservatives, an average 2% of its total weight. Natural sea salt, on the other hand, contains 2% of magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium and many other minerals in smaller quantities. Iodine is naturally present, not added as is the case with Iodised salt.

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Natural sea salt tends to be milder and somehow sweeter than its industrial relative and slight differences in taste depend on where it has been harvested. Try out different natural sea salts in your recipes, and see if you can spot the subtle differences!