Tiramisù

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Need some dessert revelation for Christmas? Why not go the Italian way?
Tiramisù could be defined as THE Italian dessert, known the world over for its creamy texture and comforting flavor. Its origin is mysterious and is motive for many disputes amongst different northern Italian regions that claim the invention of this classic. Tiramisù in Italian means “Raise me up”, probably referring to the highly nutritious ingredients that make it an energetic food. More malicious theories believe it has a sexual connotation that refers to it being an aphrodisiac dish. Energy food or aphrodisiac, to us it remains a favorite, especially for its simplicity in the making. A few simple ingredients and little skills needed. Make sure to use fresh eggs from a trusted source, as they will be served uncooked. Get out your spatula and let the show begin!

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Watch the recipe in a short video: https://vimeo.com/195761067

Ingredients:
Lady finger cookies, ¼ pound
Coffee, 1 cup
Eggs, 4 medium
Powdered sugar, 2 ¼ ounces
Mascarpone, 1 pound
Bitter cocoa powder, 2 ounces
Red berries, as a garnish

Method:
In a casserole, display the cookies to form a layer. Pour over coffee and set aside. Separate egg yolks from egg whites in two bowls. Add the sugar to the yolks and mix until smooth, add the mascarpone and mix until smooth. On the side beat the whites until stiff. Fold whites into the mascarpone cream, gently, trying not to loose the fluffiness. Pour the mixture in the casserole to cover cookies. Sift the cocoa powder over the whole surface. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours. Serve slices garnished with berries.
Buon Appetito!

Panettone

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At this time of the year grocery shops and bakeries all over Italy are filling with stacks of colorful boxes containing all kinds of Panettone, a rich, fluffy, naturally leavened bread cake filled with candied fruit and raisins. Originally from Milano, today it has become a tradition in the Piemonte region as well, where the classic recipe sees the addition of a hazelnut glaze topping. There is another very similar cake, Pandoro, originally from the town of Verona. It is baked into the shape of a star and is without raisins and fruit.

Panettone is a century old tradition, a delicious treat present on all Italian tables during the Christmas holidays. Apparently, the etymology is related to it being, essentially, a large sweet bread: “pane” in Italian means bread and “panettone” literally translates as “large bread”. But there’s also a legend saying that the inventor was a baker called Toni. The phrase “Pan de Toni” (bread of Toni) triggered the birth of the name.

The secret to any good panettone is the choice of ingredients. Renowned bakers use pure butter, fresh eggs, top quality flours and first choice fruit. The yeast must be rigorously a sour dough (called “madre”, mother) essential because it provides a very slow leavening. Some bakers have kept the same starter for centuries, passing it on from generation to generation.impasto_glassaWe recently visited Galup, a baker in north-western Italy that has been using the same yeast starter since 1922. This special colony of bacteria has survived a war, witnessed the advent of TV, computers and indeed quite a number of generations. Natural yeasts add complex flavors and unique nuances which commercial yeasts would never be able to achieve.

Panettone is delicious on its own, as a dessert or even as a snack, paired with a cup of tea or coffee. It even makes for a pretty incredible extra-decadent French toast! On Christmas Eve Italians serve it with a fortified wine custard called zabaione. Here is a quick and easy recipe:

Panettone e Zabaione
Ingredients
1 Panettone or Pandoro
4 egg yolks
¾ cup white sugar
½ cup fortified wine (Marsala or Port)

Method
Start by making your zabaione cream. Separate egg yolks and mix with sugar. Once combined place your bowl in a pot with boiling water (bain-marie). Add the wine and whisk the cream until it thickens to a creamy texture. Slice the Panettone and serve with the zabaione on the side.

Buon appetito!

Orange is the new white

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Orange is the color of fall, so why not taste a glass of this new particular wine that is on everyone’s lips? It’s not made from oranges and it’s not that modern of a process either: way back in Roman times white grapes were commonly fermented this way. A very old tradition, that has seen a rebirth in the late 80’s with pioneers such as Gravner and Radikon who gave birth to the orange wine movement in north eastern Italy. Basically, it’s about making white wines as if they were red. In conventional white wine making the grapes are pressed and skins immediately separated and discarded. Instead in red wine production the skins are left in contact with the must (soon-to-be wine) during fermentation. This same technique is applied to orange wines: the white wine grapes’ skins are kept in contact with the must throughout fermentation. This helps extract color, flavor and natural antioxidants called tannins that help create a stable wine. This is why orange wines are in most cases associated with natural wines – if made correctly they need no intervention at all to maintain their longevity and stability. It is important to clarify a common misconception: orange wine isn’t equal to natural wine, and vice-versa. Natural wine can be sparkling, white, orange, rosè, red and sweet. Orange wine can also be produced conventionally. So what exactly defines a natural wine?

In recent years the movement has really hit, with dozens of natural wine fairs between Italy, France, London, Vienna and Berlin. This year even New York stepped in. All the most vibrant cities across the globe are sprawling with wine bars that focus on these gems, and important restaurants such as Noma (4 times best restaurant of the world) have wine lists that exclusively propose this approach. The term is used to loosely describe the philosophy of winemakers who grow their grapes with no chemical additions, hand-harvesting the fruit and avoiding the addition of industrially produced yeasts, keeping sulphur additions to a bare minimum, if added at all. The whole focus is on the fruit, the land and the vintage. It could be defined as a “zero intervention” approach. Most people don’t know that winemakers can add dozens of ingredients to their wine and apply just as many processes to correct mistakes and standardize flavors, without being required to list them on the label. Keep in mind that wine is one of the few food industries that is not regulated by labelling laws. Modern conventional cellars look more like chemical labs than the romantic ideal we all have fixated in our minds. Today’s industrial winemaking leaves very little to nature. On the other hand minimal intervention or natural wines use no unnecessary chemicals, processes or treatments, resulting in a product that’s more honest and reflective of its region. These wines really tell unique and diverse stories about where they come from and about the style of the winemaker. Honest wines, that are not afraid of showing who they really are.

Taste orange wines with an open mind. Don’t think about them as whites, enjoy their versatility and depth of flavor. They pair amazingly with food, most food in fact. Some of our favorites are cheese, charcuterie boards and poultry dishes.

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Orange wine during skin contact fermentation, Zidarich cellar, Carso Italy.
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Orange wine tasting at Slow Food’s main international fair,  Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy.
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One of the most iconic orange wines of our times, Ribolla Gialla by Josko Gravner, aged in clay vases called Amphora.

Noble Fat, There’s an oil for that!

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It’s olive harvest season! Between October and early December – depending on variety, geographical position and production style – all across Italy the mature fruits are manually picked and taken to the mills. Pressing them as quickly as possible preserves all of their goodness and all the year’s work comes to an end, from tree to bottle. Did you know that 100kg (220 lb) of olives produce just 12.8kg (28 lb) of EVOO? It’s a very expensive extraction, but it’s totally worth the work…

One of the rare cases when something delicious is at the same time extremely good for you. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is one of the most nutritious vegetal oils, an unbeatable condiment, one of the main pillars of the so-praised Mediterranean diet. A noble fat good for flavor and for your health – rich in natural antioxidants as well as vitamins E and K and beneficial fatty acids. When pure and extra virgin, it contains a number of active components that have a protective action towards the cells of our organism, slowing down their ageing process and strengthening their resistance to free radicals (carcinogens).

The olive tree is very unique, it can live for centuries resisting heat and droughts, cold winters and harsh conditions. Naturally, it only grows in specific geographical areas of the globe between the 30° and 45° parallel, basically going from Marocco to France. At the heart of the Mediterranean. Today there are some plantations in other areas in the world with similar climates, such as Australia and South America.

Olives are just like grapes: considering just Italy it counts over 400 different indigenous varieties growing all over the country. Some are more prone to hilly inland conditions, some to steep terraces on the coasts of Liguria and others that reach the furthest northern tip at the feet of the Alps, on lake Garda. We can talk of an actual terroir for EVOO just as we do with wine. There is the right one for every food pairing. For example a delicate seafood dish can’t get overpower by a strong and spicy EVOO from Puglia. One would rather choose a delicate and subtle flavor, like the Taggiasche olives in Liguria. A full bodied and piquant EVOO from Sicily is unbeatably paired with comfort dishes such as brisket or a bean soup.

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Freshly picked Bianchera variety olives

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Olive producer in Sicily, testing the ripeness of the fruit

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The biodiversity of EVOO’s, the perfect fit for each dish

Tips on how to choose your EVOO – make sure to choose Extra Virgin, when it’s just Olive Oil or Virgin it was most probably made using chemical processes, from second choice olives and the natural beneficial properties are just not there! And let’s not get started on aroma and flavor. Also when buying European EVOO’s you can look for DOP certification labels that are an assurance of qualitative standards.

Tips on how to store your EVOO – Being unrefined, it’s a delicate product and some important details must be considered when storing it. The enemies of EVOO are light, air and heat – this is why the bottles of good olive oil are made from dark glass (the darker the better) and why at home, if you are not going through a vast quantity of EVOO, it is better to use small bottles, which minimize the exposure to air. Keeping the bottle close to the stove or in direct sunlight is also not good because of the heat exposure.

Curing is caring

Before the invention and widespread use of refrigeration, people developed a range of methods to help preserve their foods during seasonal scarcity. Drying, salting, curing, smoking and fermenting are all ancient techniques still in use today, giving us some of the most unique and flavorful foods in our diets. Think dried beans, smoked salmon, cured meats, coffee, chocolate, wine, beer, vinegar, yogurt, bread, miso, soy sauce…it’s an endless list. In some cases, these techniques weren’t just sought to preserve, but aimed at making ingredients more delicious or simply edible. If you’ve ever tasted a fresh olive before it being salted and cured you know what I’m on about.

Cured meats are one of the most delicious and fine foods man has come to create. A fresh piece of meat, salted and aged for months, can develop through time incredibly complex umami, savory, sweet and bitter flavors that simply were not there before. What happens? Basically, if the already existing enzymes in the flesh are brought to the right conditions, they begin to break down the meat’s proteins, fats and glycogen. These are transformed into amino acids, fatty acids and sugars. These compounds host all the flavors we love and over time magic happens. There is no cooking technique that can give a piece of meat such depth in flavor.

It is believed that the Celts, a culture that developed around the extraction of rock salt, were the first to experiment with meat curing. Today the tradition is rooted all across Europe. Italy itself hosts hundreds of different regional salumi (Italian for charcuterie). They vary according to climate, regional traditions and family recipes. Starting with smoked speck from the northern mountain areas, to super spicy hot sausages in the Southern regions such as Calabria. Salumi fall into two main categories, those made from a whole muscle such as prosciutto or culatello and those made with ground meat such as salame and finocchiona. To recognize an authentic well made salume there are a few tips you can follow:

  • The aging time is a good indicator, some products just need that time to develop, and cannot be made taking short cuts
  • The origin of the meat: if stated it’s usually a matter of pride, a specific breed, possibly even animals raised free range.
  • No additives
  • Natural casings: when talking of stuffed products, such as salami, the casings must be animal-derived, any synthetic casing does not permit the meat to breathe and age over time

The king of salumi is culatello, the most sought after cured meat made from the large muscle mass in a pig’s rear leg. It can only be made in a specific province in the central region Emilia Romagna, aged in 500 year old cellars for at least 10 month. When visiting this part of Italy make sure to stop by Antica Corte Pallavicina, a gastronomical temple producing what might be the best culatello on the planet, praised and shipped worldwide. They have stylish rooms and a delicious fine dining Michelin starred restaurant. You must of course visit the ageing cellars, which lie underneath the property and are filled with slow aged culatellos, labelled with the names of customers spread all over the world. Including Prince Charles and Alain Ducasse, for example…(http://www.anticacortepallavicinarelais.it/)

The art of curing meat sure is an old world tradition, luckily enough there are some great talents arising around the USA developing their own new styles and using local ingredients. Kevin Ouzts from the Spotter Trotter (http://thespottedtrotter.com/) makes incredibly authentic yet innovative salumi, bringing to Atlanta some real craft flavors. If you haven’t tried it yet make sure to get your hands on their ‘nduja (Calabrese style spreadable spicy sausage), but beware it creates addiction! Their philosophy is to respect the product they make throughout, from the humanely and locally raised pork, to organic spices and locally grown heirloom varieties of chilies! A rare exception of dedication to good food, made respectfully staying true to traditions but not being intimidated by trying new creative combinations.

dsc09035Salami ageing in a traditional cellar in Tuscany mb_food-160209-9-8Prosciutto di Parma slicingimg_4787Prosciutto di San Daniele ageing roomsdsc09602Salumi selection at Antica Corte Pallavicina

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Carbonara is one of Italy’s most traditional pasta dishes, that too often, when prepared across the globe, is not executed following the original recipe. The addition of cream or the absence of eggs (the main ingredient of the dish) can really spoil the essence of such a perfect classic.

The recipe is originally from Rome but a staple for Italian homes across the country. It’s origin is unsure, who invented it remains a mystery. Some legends want it inspired by the influence of American soldiers during WW2, that whilst stationed in Italy, came to cook with ingredients most familiar to them – bacon and eggs.

It’s definitely an easy and quick recipe to fix a delicious last minute meal with little effort. The sauce can be made in the same time you need to cook the pasta, a 20 minute job – classic Italian home ‘Fast Food’. And if you think about it, it’s really an Italian version of eggs and bacon.. just pasta instead of a biscuit or bread! Why not try it out for your next home cooked brunch?

If looking for lighter or vegetarian options follow the same instructions but substitute the pork with crunchy roasted veggies. The traditional recipe requires guanciale, spaghetti and pecorino – these are often substituted with linguine, pancetta and Parmigiano Reggiano.

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Check out the recipe video: https://youtu.be/1CpXblcWPos

Recipe for 5

Ingredients
1 pack (500g – about 1 pound) spaghetti or liunguine pasta

For the Carbonara sauce:
5 Eggs
½ pound guanciale (pork jowl) or pancetta, diced
1 tbs Butter (not traditional but gives an extra creaminess to the sauce)
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano and/or Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper

Utensils needed
Large Bowl
Large pot
Pan
Large Strainer

Method
Fill the large pot with water and bring to boil.
In the mean while, dice the guanciale and cook in a pan at medium heat until crispy.
In the bowl lightly beat 3 whole eggs, 2 yolks, butter, half the cheese, salt and pepper.
Cook pasta in salted boiling water, according to recommended cooking time written on the box.
When pasta is Al-Dente cooked, drain and transfer directly into the large bowl, adding the crispy pancetta. Mix well and fast, so that the egg does not scramble, but evenly covers all the pasta with a creamy texture.
Place pasta in individual serving bowls and garnish with the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Buon apettito!

 

 

Focaccia made easy

Focaccia is an Italian flat bread that comes in many variations throughout the country. Try this easy traditional recipe from the northwestern region Liguria. All you need is a little time.. plan to make it when you are at home for a few hours, like on a Sunday afternoon. We choose to use a whole grain unrefined, unenriched and unbleached flour, stone ground made from only Italian wheat. Whole flours are rich in nutrients and taste and will make a darker and more flavourful bread. Usually local farmer’s markets will offer local good quality, possibly organic wholewheat flours. We also love natural fermentations and love keeping a sour dough starter.. it’s a great excuse to have to make bread, pizza and focaccia at home every week or so. It sounds scary but once you get into the habit, it’s a piece of cake. If this is one step to far for you, fresh yeast will work just as well.

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Yield: Makes a large tray
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking and leavening time: 3 hours

Ingredients
Mother yeast starter, 3 ounce (6 tablespoons)
or fresh yeast from store, if so 2 ounces are enough
Whole grain flour, 1 pack (1 kg)
Luke warm water, 2 ½ cups
Sea salt, 2 tablespoons –
Sugar, 1 tablespoon
Extra virgin olive oil, 9 tablespoons–

Utensils Needed
Oven, oven tray, electric mixer or bowl, tea towel, rimmed baking sheet

Method
Place all ingredients but the oil in the electric mixer or in a bowl and mix or knead until smooth and uniform. Add 4 tablespoons of oil and mix. Cover the bowl with a damp clean tea towel and let sit for about 2 hours, or until the dough has roughly doubled. Preheat oven to 390 F. Grease the tray with a little oil (1 tablespoon). Now knead lightly and gently press into the baking tray, flatten to fill whole tray and obtain a sheet no higher than 1 inch. If the dough is too sticky use some flour on your hands. Drizzle the whole surface with the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of water. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crust looks crispy and light brown.
Enjoy with some delicious spreads, cheeses and salumi (cured meats).

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