Crispy focaccia

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Focaccia, perhaps THE Italian flat bread, comes in so many different variations, from plain focaccia Genovese to regional versions with the richest toppings. You can try this easy traditional summer recipe, 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. This focaccia makes for great party food or the perfect family meal.

Watch video: https://vimeo.com/222813300

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

Ingredients
Mother yeast, 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) – Lievito Madre by Molino Rossetto
00 flour, 1 pound (500g)
Luke warm water, 300ml
Sea salt, 2 ½ tablespoons
Sugar, 1 tablespoon
Extra virgin olive oil, about 7 tablespoons
Datterino or cherry tomatoes, 1 pound
Mozzarella di bufala, ½ pound (regular mozzarella works just fine)
Capers in sea salt, 2 tablespoons
Anchovies in oil, about 10 fillets
Fresh basil, 1 bunch
Fresh arugula, 1 bunch

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

Method
Place mother yeast, flour, sugar, salt, water and 2 tablespoons EVOO in the electric mixer or in a bowl and mix or knead until smooth and uniform. Shape into a ball, grease the surface with a little EVOO (1 tablespoon) a cover the bowl with a damp clean tea towel and let sit for about 2 hours, or until the dough has roughly doubled.

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Preheat oven to 375F. Grease the tray with a little oil (1 tablespoon). Now knead lightly and roll with rolling pin 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 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of water. Chop the tomatoes in half. Garnish the whole surface of the focaccia with tomatoes, torn mozzarella, capers and anchovies.

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Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust looks crispy and light brown. Cover with basil and arugula leaves and sprinkle with some EVOO and sea salt.

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Buon appetito!

Pecorino Love

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Pecorino in Italian translates to “of sheep” indicating the milk used to produce the cheese. It’s a staple across Italy, particularly on the islands and in southern regions. It used to be one of ancient Rome’s most praised foods, it’s consumption recommended to fight tiredness.

Compared to cow and goat, sheep’s milk is far richer in fat and protein – nearly double the quantities – which gives the cheese its creaminess and density. A favorite in Sicily is sheep’s milk ricotta, essential in many traditional dishes such as Cannoli and Cassata.

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When it comes to hard cheeses, the most popular ones are Pecorino Toscano, Pecorino Romano and Pecorino Sardo. If aged under 40 days they are classified as fresh pecorino. In Sardinia, the DOP version is aged for only 2 months while for Pecorino Toscano the ageing period raises to 4 months and to 5 for Romano. All three cheeses have their own set of production rules in order to be classified as the DOP hard cheese we are all familiar with. Try using pecorino as part of a cheese board, served with raw fresh fava beans or peas. It is a custom to use grated Pecorino Romano on pasta instead of Parmigiano Reggiano, and on very popular dishes such as Cacio e Pepe, Amatriciana and Carbonara.

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In recent years a unique native grape variety has come back to life after risking extinction: Pecorino! Yes, there’s a wine bearing the same name of the cheese. Popular in the central regions of Abruzzo Marche, Umbria and Lazio, many think the name comes from the fact the wine has similar flavors to the cheese though the origin is probably another. Apparently sheep would pass by this  varietal’s vineyards on their way to the mountains during the summer “transumanza”, and would love snacking on the fresh fruit from the vines.

So why not plan for a pecorino themed night? Pecorino cheese and pecorino wine!

 

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

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Making gnocchi is easier than making your own fresh pasta, it may sound intimidating but it shouldn’t. There are a few tricks to follow that will make your life so much easier. The first nonna (granny) tip not to undermine is to use the right potato. ‘Old’ potatoes are what you’re looking for, not the newly harvested ones, but those that have been sitting for a while, ideally last year’s harvest, as they have a higher concentration of starch and a lower content of water. This permits us to use less flour, and achieve a nice and fluffy texture. You don’t want to use too much flour, seriously the dough may seem sticky at first if following these proportions, but the last thing you want is to taste flour over potato and have a rock-hard bite. When it comes to consistency using the egg is also an essential part of the recipe. Lastly, peel and mash the potatoes whilst they are still hot; you may burn your fingertips a little but it’s worthwhile. Follow these simple tips and you will master the art of gnocchi making. Here is a simple summer recipe to celebrate the arrival of tomato season, gnocchi are great year-round served with different sauces.

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Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Watch recipe: https://vimeo.com/219109292 
Recipe for 4

Ingredients:
Potatoes, 2 lb
“00” Flour ½ lb, plus extra for working the dough
Egg, 1
Salt, 3tbsp
Garlic, 1 clove
Datterino or cherry tomatoes, 1 lb
Basil, ½ bunch
Mozzarella, 1 ball
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, 4 tbsp
EVOO, 2 tbsp

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Method:
Gnocchi
In a pot of boiling water (2 quarts approx.) cook the potatoes skin on (approx.. 30 mins.). Once cooked through, drain, peel and mash whilst still hot, using a potato masher. Add egg, 1 tbsp salt and flour, mix together into a dough. Roll into cylinders about 2” in diameter and cut into 2” length gnocchi. Make sure to flour your surface and dough throughout, to prevent sticking. Salt the boiling water (2tbsp) and cook the gnocchi for about 3 minutes, or a little after they rise to the surface of the pot.
Sorrentina sauce
In a pan add a tbsp of EVOO and sizzle a peeled garlic clove. Add halved datterino tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes. Once gnocchi are cooked add to pan, season with 1 tbsp of EVOO, fresh torn basil and torn mozzarella. If desired serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

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Buon appetito!

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.