Thursday, February 28, 2008

Vintage Considerations, Victory for Parmigiano, and More: Being the 144th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings, and apologies for being late. Again not much to report on the Italian Wine Review, though I do have something to say here. On Italian food, a reader's question about pheasant resulted in a quick collection of recipes, together with instructions on how to ripen (can one ripen meats?) feathered game.

Chianti, Nobile, and Brunello: Vintage Considerations

Returning to Cosa Bolle, I spent last week at the vintage presentations of Tuscany's three major appellations, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino. As is always the case at these events, the number of wines presented was much greater than I could properly address in the time allotted, so in tasting I picked and chose, selecting some wines because I'm familiar with the winery and wanted to see what they've done this time, some because someone was whispering admiringly about them, and some because the name of the winery (or the wine) caught my eye.

Chianti Classico is an especially serious offender in this regard -- the table the sommeliers took their samples from looked to be about a hundred yards long, and it was solid bottles. On the other hand, Chianti Classico is a big appellation, and it was very nice to see the variety of wines available: 2006, 2005, 2004, and 2003 Chianti Classico D'Annata, and 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2001 Chianti Classico Riserva, for a total of 316 wines. Actually doing something with all that variety in the 2 days we had is another matter, and I decided to concentrate on the vini d'Annata, or vintage wines, the wines that are, in theory, made to be set out and enjoyed upon release or shortly thereafter. Not quite quaffing wines, but certainly not the sort of thing one sets aside to return to and meditate over years later.

Unlike some appellations, which encourage producers to release their wines after a set time, Chianti Classico allows quite a bit of leeway, producers who prefer a younger, fresher style can release their wines the spring of the year following the vinification (2006 in this case), while those who prefer a more mature style can hold the wines longer -- many opt for 2 years (releasing 2005s this time) and some wait even longer.

I was pleasantly impressed by the 2006 vintage: it was a nice summer, and this translated well into the grapes, which produced wines that are quite drinkable, with nice balance and pleasant richness of fruit backed up by good structure. As a group they tend to be nimble on their feet, and even though some are rather tannic, they have sufficient fruit to balance the tannic richness, and are bolstered by bright acidities that again keep the wines on their toes. Quite nice, and I found myself scoring them highly; they'll also drink very well with foods, everything from hearty minestrone and ribollita through red sauced pasta dishes and on to grilled meats and light stews. In short, versatile, and if you have friends over don't be surprised if the bottle empties long before you get to dessert.

The rich frutiness of the 2006 also bodes well for the 2006 Chianti d'Annata that will be released next year, and the 2006 Riserve now in barrel and cask.

The 2005 Chianti D'Annata released this year didn't fare as well. Last year I summed up the vintage, which was wet and cold, with the word "tart," adding that many of the young wines had a certain brambly grace to them. Alas, many of the wines that spent another year awaiting release emerged considerably dulled, with the fruit faded in intensity and brightness, and the tannins clearly drawing from oak, which steps in to help the fruit along in a way that would be unnecessary in a better vintage. As is always the case there were some exceptions (brilliant ones, even) to this dreary picture, but when buying wines of the 2005 vintage you'll have to be much more careful than you will when buying the 2006 vintage.

There was also a fair number of bottles of the 2004 vintage; it was good last year (and 2 years ago) and continues to be quite nice now, with the bottles presented this year displaying considerable poise and grace. It was, and continues to be a vintage well worth looking out for, and I also greatly enjoyed the few Chianti Classico Riserva 2004 wines I tasted.

2005 Nobile di Montepulciano

Wednesday evening we all headed south, to spend the night in Chianciano Terme, and transferred to Montepulciano Thursday morning to discover the 2005 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Given my experience with the 2005 Chianti Classico I wasn't particularly optimistic, but that changed in a hurry with the wines: Montepulciano is warmer and drier than Chianti Classico, and it was drier enough and warmer enough (and probably sunnier enough) that the 2005 wines I tasted were much richer, with pleasing fruit and nice underlying structure bolstered bouquet good acidities that kept them from settling. Not quite as bright as the 2006 Chianti Classico, but more in that direction, albeit with more structure behind them

I do have to admit that my tasting was incomplete: There were a number of barrel samples, and since a barrel sample only gives a limited indication of what the wine will become -- many nuances develop in the bottle -- I decided to return to Montepulciano this fall to taste through everything when it is a bit readier. But the initial impression of the 2005 Nobile di Montepulciano was quite positive. I was less pleased by the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Selezione wines that were also presented; these are for the most part vineyard selections (many from 2004), and with respect to the basic 2005 Nobile they were all much more heavily oaked, and in many cases with much softer, riper fruit. Now it's true that oak will with time fold in, but the softness and the ripeness of the fruit seems to be going in a different direction than that followed by the 2005 wines, which are much more vibrant and (to me at least) interesting.

Last year I said there appeared to be two currents in Montepulciano, one that favored deft, vibrant tightly knit wines, and the other that sought greater concentration and ripeness, but was also much softer and laxer, and I see that continuing in the contrast between the 2005 Nobile and the Nobile Selezione wines.

2003 Brunello di Montalcino

2002 was probably the coldest, wettest, most difficult vintage in the past 20 years, but the searing, parched 2003 vintage wasn't much if any easier, and given the disastrous experience I had with the 2003 Barolo this spring I approached it with considerable trepidation.

I wouldn't go so far as to say I was pleasantly surprised, but the experience wasn't as bad as I had feared it would be. The wines were, taken as a group, big and alcoholic, and many have vibrantly green tannins of the sort that denote drought-related ripening problems (and led fellow journalist Kerin O'Keefe to say she thought the vintage was worse than 2002), but I didn't find many wines that were wildly overripe. There was plum, and there was prune, and sometimes candied fruit, but there were also many wines with the more normal berry fruit flavors one expects of a red wine.

The combination of ripe berry fruit and green tannins was a bit of a surprise, until I remembered that Italian wine law allows what is called a taglio migliorativo, in other words a "blend to improve:" the winemaker can add up to 15% of a different vintage of a given wine to the wine in question, and I would not be at all surprised if many winemakers took advantage of this provision to balance the overripeness of the 2003 wines. In other words, many 2003 Brunellos have a great deal of cellar in them. Many but not all; those whose vineyards are a little cooler (and therefore less good in normal vintages) made out better, as did those who correctly guessed what was in store early in the summer (it was already hot by late May) and planned their vineyard managements accordingly.

And what does this all mean for the consumer? To be frank, 2003 is not a good vintage -- on a scale from 1 to 5 I'd give it 2.5 -- and its timing was especially bad for producers coming off an equally difficult 2002 vintage; had 2002 been better I suspect many would have channeled most of their 2003 wine into Rosso di Montalcino, which would have been a more appropriate place for it. Because even the better Brunello from the 2003 vintage is atypical, lacking (with one or two exceptions) the easy grace and elegance coupled with power that is the hallmark of Brunello, and the reason it's the flagship of Tuscan, if not Italian wines. In purchasing 2003 Brunello select with care, keeping in mind that many of the best vineyards are also those that were hit hardest by the summer sun, and therefore some of the wineries one normally considers a sure bet won't be this time.

I'm sorry to come down hard on a second consecutive vintage, but a person unfamiliar with Brunello who buys a bottle of the 2003 vintage will likely come away with a distorted view of what Brunello is all about, and this is a shame considering that some of the older but still available vintages, for example 1999 and 2001, are developing beautifully and easily explain the comment made by Baron Bettino Ricasoli, the man who developed the Chianti blend in the mid-1880s: When invited to lunch by Ferruccio Biondi Santi, the father of Brunello, he took a sip from his glass and said, "I can't make wine like that." 2004, to judge from 2004 Chianti Classico Riservas I have tasted, should be much, much closer to the mark, if not dead on.

Parmigiano: A Victory for the Cheesemakers!

When I was in college in the States we occasionally had spaghetti with meatballs or lasagna, which were inevitably accompanied by shaker cans with a horrid, rather acrid cheese "product" that the label on the can claimed to be Parmesan. Of course it wasn't, but there was nothing the makers of Parmigiano Reggiano could do about the appropriation (in translation) of their name.

Nor, until recently, could they do much about the German appropriation of the word Parmesan for a significant fraction of their cheese production. Quite the contrary; they sweated bricks when German cheesemakers applied for DOP (product of protected origin) status for their Parmesan, and heaved a collective sigh of relief when the food people in Brussels turned down the application. At least the knockoff wasn't an officially recognized knockoff, and at that point the producers of Parmigiano Reggiano, with the help of the Italian government, went before the courts in Luxemburg to have their name protected in translation too. The Germans at this point flip-flopped, arguing that Parmesan is actually a generic term that everyone should be allowed to use (if so, why did they try to register it?), but the court found with the Parmensi, and ruled that only cheese made within the Parmigiano Reggiano production area following the rules set forth in the Parmigiano Reggiano production code can be called Parmesan within the EEU.

The ruling is a major victory; it clearly establishes that only the traditional producers of a food have the right to profit from their good name and the reputation they have built for themselves. Copycats from elsewhere cannot. However, it's also an incomplete victory: The court ruled that a product's gaining DOP status does not automatically protect it from copycats and imitators. Rather, it's up to the country where the DOP product is produced (in this case, Italy) to seek injunctions against those who infringe upon the DOP products. In this case, the Consorzio del Parmigiano Reggiano has to actively seek out German imitators and take them to court, and I do not see that as being positive at all. The Court in Luxemburg should have said that it's flatly illegal to infringe upon DOP product names and required the countries where the products are made (and, one assumes, labeled) to prevent name grabbing.

And the Parmigiano people do have their work cut out for them; in addition to Parmesan, the makers of the fake stuff use many other Italian-sounding names, including Pamesello, Rapesan, and Pasgrasan in Europe. These should all in theory be relabeled something else that doesn't invoke Parmigiano Reggiano. We'll see if they are.

The other hollow point of the victory is that it only applies to Europe. A significant percentage of what is sold as Parmigiano Reggiano/Parmesan/Similar outside of Europe is counterfeit, and mostly poor quality industrially produced cheese, and since the producers of this stuff will never export it to Europe, they have no incentive whatsoever to change the name.

Artisan cheese makers who use the method used to make Parmigiano where they happen to live might, on the other hand, decide to rename their cheese, because Europe is a huge market, always interested in new things, and a good cheese will always sell, no matter what it's called.

Want proof? Corzano e Paterno makes spectacular wines, but they also make cheese. One day when they were still learning the ropes a batch came out looking decidedly odd and smelling worse, but was too much to throw out. So they set it aside, during which time the skins of the forms became gray and warty. When they got around to tasting a piece, however, they discovered that it was WONDERFUL, with a creaminess reminiscent of Taleggio. So they figured out what they had done wrong, did it again, and when the next batch came out the same as the first called the cheese Buccia di Rospo, or Toad's Skin, because that's what it looks like. Not exactly an inviting name, but it's extremely popular, and you can find it in Florence's finest restaurants.

Winding down, the conventions used in establishing DOP status can lead to some surprises. For example, at Montalcino this year we were given cold cuts and other pork dishes made from the Cinta Senese breed, which is one of the oldest Italian pig breeds -- the word "cinta" means band, and indeed the pigs are black with a white band that goes up one arm, over their backs and down the other arm -- appearing in Lorenzetti's Effetti del Buon Governo in Campagna, painted in Siena's town hall in the late 1330s.

The people serving the foods were also giving out little booklets entitled "Pleased to meet you. Suino Cinto Toscano (Genetic Type Cinta Senese) DOP. In other words, the pig is being called a "Banded Tuscan" of the Cinta Senese genotype, and some of the Sienese eating lunch weren't happy about this: "The damn Florentines don't have a pig of their own so they steal ours," the guy next to me muttered.

It turns out the name is dictated not by the Florentines, but by the EEU bureaucrats who oversee the concession of DOP status: You can't register a breed, because a breed can be raised anywhere. So you tie it to a place -- the Banded Tuscan Pig -- and then specify the breed, Cinta Senese. Makes sense, if you think about it.

I've heard this time's proverb in more than one region: La gatta frettolosa fece i gattini ciechi - The hurried cat has blind kittens.

A presto,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at

PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com,, and older ones at

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day, and More: Being the 143rd issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! Not much to report this week on the Italian Wine Review, though I hope to put some thoughts on Marsala up soon. On Italian food, the major new things are rundowns of the Barolos from Alba Wines that impressed me the most, which I divided into two groups -- 2003, which consists of fewer wines than I realized when I was taking notes and marking those that impressed me, and 2001 Riserva, which is a completely different kettle of fish.

Why so few 2003 Baroli? Because it was a very difficult vintage, even more difficult than the sorry, wet, cold 2002 vintage in some respects. While one often hears that hot dry summers are good for wine, it's also true that there can be too much of a good thing, and when this happens -- 2003 was the hottest, longest, driest summer in many, many years -- all sorts of things can happen: the grapes can overripen, or the ripening can just stop; the acidity can go through the floor, the tannins can remain as green as well-watered grass, sugars can go way up, leading to problems in fermentation and excessive alcohol, and so on.

People who work well, and are lucky, can mitigate the effects of all this, and produce good -- even very good -- wine despite the pitfalls Mother Nature scatters over the landscape. But the vast majority, those who worked well but had Luck frown at them, and those who simply made the wrong decisions, made dismal wines. That's just the way it is.

2001 was, on the other hand, an absolutely beautiful vintage, and I was greatly impressed by quite a few 2001 Barolo Riserva wines. They're pricy, and very young, but are the sorts of wines that one can buy and set aside with confidence, to enjoy for a special occasion 10, or even 20 years from now. You'll find what impressed me most here.

San Valentino
Returning to Cosa Bolle, San Valentino is rapidly approaching. You may not know who he was, or why people would associate a Catholic priest with Love. According to Jacopo Da Varazze, the Archbishop of Genova who compiled La Leggenda Aurea (The Golden Legend in English; it's the most important medieval Lives of the Saints) in the mid-1200s, Valentino was invited to renounce God and worship idols by the Emperor Claudius II in 280 AD. When Valentino refused, the Emperor had him locked up in the Provost's house, where he prayed that God illuminate the house, that those living there know God was the True God.

The Lord did, in the process restoring the sight of the Provost's blind daughter, and the whole family converted. Claudius was not pleased, and had Valentino beheaded. At this point Jacopo stops. Popular tradition holds, however, that Claudius had the entire family executed, starting with Valentino, and that on the eve of his execution he wrote the girl a letter, signing it "from your Valentine." After his death, tradition continues, a pink almond tree, symbol of abiding love, blossomed near his grave.

There is more, however. As is often the case with old Christian Holidays, San Valentino replaces a pagan festival, and more specifically a much older Roman fertility rite called the Lupercali, in which the men and women who followed the God Lupercus would meet in mid-February in the cave where the She-Wolf fed Romulus and Remus, put their names in an urn, and have a child draw several couples at random. The couples thus formed would live for a year as husband and wife, doing everything husbands and wives do until the next Lupercali, and in doing so guarantee fertility for the world.

As you might guess, the early Church was not at all happy with the Lupercali, and in 496 Pope Gelasio suppressed the holiday, decreeing that from then on people would celebrate Valentino instead. He was the perfect choice; in addition to writing the note to the Provost's daughter, he is said to have performed the first mixed marriage, between a girl named Serapia and a centurion named Sabino; the family refused when Sabino asked for her hand because he was a pagan, but Serapia had him talk to Valentino, who agreed to baptize him so they could marry, and also talked to the family. Alas, while this was happening Serapia caught consumption. Valentino hurried to her deathbed, where Sabino begged him to marry them, so he did (after baptizing Sabino), and as he raised his hands to impart the Blessing the betrothed fell into a blessed sleep from which neither awoke.

Valentino was also known for his love of children, and would let them play in his garden, which was much safer than the streets (some things never change). Come evening, he always gave the children flowers to take home to their mothers, knowing that if they carried flowers in their hands they'd hurry straight home, and that giving the gift would increase their love and respect for their parents. Thus comes, tradition says, the custom of giving loved ones little gifts.

Having said all this, a couple more ideas for Valentine's Day, or any other romantic occasion:

Bruschetta in Giallo - Bruschetta in Yellow
Bruschetta is, at its simplest, toast rubbed with garlic and seasoned with olive oil and salt, and it's a wonderful way to start a meal. However, you can do much more with a slice of toast, including this light snack. To serve 4:
  • 8 slices toasted bread, ideally Italian
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • A walnut-sized chunk of butter
  • 6 ounces (150 g) cooked shelled shrimp (canned will be fine), drained
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives, or more to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Toast the bread and keep it warm.

Beat the eggs with the cream. Heat the butter in a non-stick pan, add the eggs, and stir them about to scramble them, adding the shrimp as well after a few seconds. Continue to cook until the eggs reach the degree of doneness you like, and season them with salt and pepper.

Arrange the toast on four plates, spoon the egg mixture over them, sprinkle the chives over all, and serve at once, with a dry white wine. A Ribolla Gialla might be nice.

Spaghetti alla Cipolla Rossa Con Acciughe Sotto Sale - Spaghetti with Red Onions and Salted Anchovies
This might not be romantic in the traditional sense, but it is a rather lusty, zesty dish that will heighten the senses. Red onions are a little sweeter than white onions, and make for a slightly richer dish. To serve 4:

  • A scant pound (400 g) thick spaghetti (or even bucatini).
  • 2 salted anchovies, headed, boned, rinsed, and crumbled
  • A pound of red onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • 3/4 cup salted ricotta, grated
  • A bunch of parsley, minced
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) extravirgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Set pasta water to boil, salt it when it does, and cook the pasta. In the meantime, heat the oil in a broad fairly deep skillet and add the crumbled anchovies. Stir over a gentle flame for a couple of minutes, until the fall apart completely, and add the parsley. Stir the mixture about and add the onions, which will separate into rings. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover, and simmer over a low flame for about 10 minutes, by which point they will have softened. Uncover the pot, stir in half of the cheese, and turn off the burner.

When the pasta is done drain it, turn it into the skillet, and cook over a brisk flame for about 2 minutes, and serve it at once with the remaining grated cheese. A wine? White, and I might be tempted by the refreshing directness of a Colli Albani.

Finally, something strictly for Valentine's day:

A Cuore Fondente, or Melting Heart

While a heart-shaped baking tin for two is not a requirement, it does add to the presentation. You'll need,
For the crust:
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, broken into bits
  • An egg yolk
For the filling:
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces (100 g) baking chocolate
  • 2 more tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Good quality milk chocolate and powdered sugar
Using a mixer, beat the flour, sugar and butter until the mixture looks like crumbs. Beat in the yolk too, and when the dough forms into a ball warp it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a half hour.

Roll the dough out to about an eighth of an inch thick (3 mm), and use it to line a heart-shaped pan whose midline is between 4 and 5 inches (10-12 cm). Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork and chill it for 20 minutes. While it's chilling, heat your oven to 360 F (180 C)

When the time is up, line the dough with oven parchment, fill it with dried beans, and bake it for 20 minutes. Remove the pan, remove the beans and the parchment, and let the baked crust cool.
In the meantime, break the chocolate into chunks and melt it over a double boiler with the cream and the butter, mixing well. Let the mixture cool, pour it into the pie shell, and chill everything in the refrigerator for 4 hours. Come time to serve it, decorate it with shavings of milk chocolate and powdered sugar.

To make a bigger pie to serve 6 you'll need:
  • 2 cups (200 g) flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup plus a tablespoon (80 g) sugar
  • An egg and a yolk
  • 1/2 pound plus one ounce (250 g) baking chocolate
  • 3/5 cup (150 ml) heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • A 10-inch (25 cm) diameter pan

Winding down, a couple of modern proverbs:

Il cuore ha le sue ragioni e non intende ragione
- The heart has its reasons, and doesn't listen to reason

Non baciarti mai davanti a casa... L'amore é cieco ma i vicini no - Never kiss on your doorstep… Love is blind, but not the neighbors

A presto & Auguri!

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at

PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com,, and older ones at

Friday, February 01, 2008

Foods For When things Are Tight, Thoughts About Varietals and More: Being the 142nd issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! This week I've been thinking about Bollicine, Bubbles, which those in Franciacorta would like to have us associate exclusively with their sparkling wines, but that can actually be applied to just about any kind, including Prosecco and Gavi. On the IWR I've just posted my complete tasting notes for the bollicine I tasted this fall at Spumantia, a fascinating event held in Viareggio (on the Tuscan coast). On Italian Food, a variety of recipes, which are mentioned in the blog entries from the home page,

More about Italian Incomes
Returning to Cosa Bolle, Scott, who is trying to compare Italy and the US in light of the income figures I gave last time, sent me a note asking about taxation. I'll have to do a bit of research, but the quick and dirty answer is that the figures I gave are net, after taxes.

As for taxes, if the worker is a dependent they are withheld (from what I understand; I am not a tax person); professionals instead have to make payments, and the primary income tax, which is called IRPEF, is on a sliding scale, ranging from 23% for those earning up to 26,000 Euros, to 43% for those earning more than 75,000. If you are a dependent worker the company you work for also makes payments into INPS, the pension system (the payment for dependent workers is about 9%, and is detracted from taxable income). I'm not sure how pension plans for professionals work, nor what the percentage they pay is, but they again pay directly.

The other thing self employed professionals have to do is take out a an IVA (value added tax) number and include the IVA in every bill they emit, paying what they have collected quarterly to the State (people can and do get squeezed if the billee hasn't paid yet by the time the VAT comes due). VAT is collected for anything that's paid for, and varies depending upon what one is paying for; for most foodstuffs (and primary non-luxury homes, among other things) it's 4%, for many necessities, including electricity, it's 10%, for most professional services it's 20%, and it's higher for luxury items, for example jewelry or villas. The bottom line, a friend who does PR work for wineries as an independent professional (with IVA number) told me, is that if she wants to take home 5 she has to charge 10.

There are some local taxes, for property, garbage, watershed protection, and so on, but they are relatively low, certainly much lower than the State income taxes one has to deal with in the US. And then there is the gasoline/kerosene tax, which I shouldn't mention but will because it affects everyone: Much of the roughly 8 dollars a gallon of gasoline costs in Italy goes to the government. A percentage of this windfall is earmarked for the road network, but I'm not sure anyone knows where the rest of it goes.

One thing we don't have which Scott counted as an additional expense, is health insurance: Italy has socialized medicine, which means part of our tax bite goes into the Ministero della Sanità, and we get care back. When we have needed the system it has worked fine, and I will stop now before I become polemical.

Foods For Tight Days
As if the news week about how little the majority of Italians bring in every month weren't enough, yesterday ISTAT, the State's statistics office announced that the salaries of dependent workers have stayed just about flat for the past 6 years. Since prices certainly haven't been flat over the past 6 years, this means that most people's purchasing power has declined drastically, and this brings us to Olindo Guerrini (1845 - 1916), who is best known for a collection of poems entitled Postuma (Posthumous) that he published under the pen name Lorenzo Stecchetti in 1877, attributing them to a cousin who'd died of consumption. The book comments scathingly upon the political issues of the times, such as sending farmers to struggle and die in Colonial Africa rather than practice agrarian reforms at home, and casts a penetrating glance at the social customs as well. It raised a scandal and was immediately attacked as erotic and blasphemous; more recently people have decided it's enjoyable. If you're curious, you'll find the text several places, including

But Postuma isn't why we're here. Rather, shortly before his death in 1916 Olindo Guerrini finished a manuscript entitled L'Arte di Utilizzare Gli Avanzi della Mensa (The Art of Recycling Leftovers), which was published under his own name in 1918. He covers all the major kinds of foods, some of which he felt more promising (as leftovers) than others. For example, he's enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by leftover firm-fleshed boiled or grilled white fish, but thinks leftover small fish, especially when stewed, for example Alla Livornese (with a zesty tomato sauce) is best suited to becoming "the joy of the cat."

One of the best represented foods is beef, and specifically boiled beef. Mr. Guerrini justifies this by saying, "the habit of eating soup, which some say is responsible for the decadence of the Latin races, makes broth necessary, broth that can only be obtained by boiling meat… families driven by need or taste to consume broth frequently are condemned to a lifetime of boiled meat."

The word I translated as "need" is actually hygiene in the Italian, and is a reference to the fact that doctors commonly prescribed broth for those with weak constitutions. I used need because the other reason (which Mr. Guerrini doesn't mention) behind the commonness of boiled meat a century ago was economic: meat was a luxury, and the most those who weren't well off could afford, especially if they wanted to eat meat more than once a week, was the cheapest cuts, which included those from older, tougher animals suited to boiling.

A Few Suggestions, but first a couple of words:
Mr. Guerrini's recipes are by modern standards incomplete; he goes largely by eye and assumes the reader will have a good enough cooking sense to bridge the occasional gap or jump in his instructions. On the other hand, when one is cooking with leftovers, one works with what one has. I have filled fleshed things out some, but feel free to adapt the recipes as you see fit.

Lesso col Risotto
Clean gristle and fat from 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of boiled beef (if you also have roast beef, so much the better) and cut it into pieces the size of a walnut. Heat a half cup of unsalted butter and 2 ounces of finely chopped cured lard [if you cannot find cured lard use fatty pancetta] in a deep saucepan. Peel an onion, quarter it, and cook it, turning the pieces about in the fat until they are nicely browned but not burned. Remove and discard them, and add the boiled beef. Stir well and simmer the meat for 15 minutes in the drippings, stirring occasionally. Pour 1 1/2 quarts (1.5 liters) of boiling broth over the meat, and stir in a pint (2 cups, or 1/2 liter) of good rice [he doesn't say which; I might go with Roma or Rive rather than a really short-grained rice]. Cover and cook, taking care lest the rice stick and burn, until the rice is done, by which time the dish will be almost dry.

If you want, you can add a little saffron, a grating of fresh nutmeg, or some freshly ground pepper to the rice as it cooks. And, come time to serve it, Mr. Guerrini says to sauce it with meat sauce, or tomato sauce, or whatever else you prefer -- he doesn't say how much, but you'll want at least a cup, and perhaps more -- and then to add a handful of freshly grated Parmigiano, and mix well.

Lesso Colla Crosta (Au Gratin) - Boiled Meat with Crust
Here you'll need a serving dish that can stand up to heat, because you'll be serving the meat where you cooked it.

Heat thin slices of pancetta sufficient to line the bottom of the serving dish (you don't want to really fry them, rather just heat them) and line the dish. They will serve to grease the bottom of the dish and add flavor to the drippings. If you don't have pancetta, make due with a bit of broth, or some butter and a little water. Coarsely chop some fresh mushrooms, or steep and chop some dried mushrooms, and sprinkle the pieces over the bottom of the pan, together with finely chopped onion and parsley, and -- if you like it -- garlic. Cover the mixture with finely ground dry bread crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper, and lay slices of boiled beef (I'd figure 1/4-1/2 inch or 3/4-1.2 cm) over the bread crumbs. Cover the slices of beef with another layer of pancetta, mushrooms, bread crumbs, and so on, and moisten everything with a little broth to which you have added some white wine or rum, if you like. Heat over a gentle flame, and when the dish is heated through well run it under a broiler to brown the top.

Note: Mr Guerrini, who was writing before broilers (even now they are uncommon in Italy) says to cover the pot and put hot coals on the lid to apply heat from above. This technique of applying heat from below and above, called fra due fuochi (between two flames), was common and you often find it in older Italian cookbooks.

Fritto di Avanzi di Manzo Lessato - Fried Leftover Boiled Beef
"This is a variation on many other recipes, but I include it because of its simplicity," he says. Slice and onion and sauté it in butter in a sauce pot. Cut your leftover boiled meat into pieces the size of a hazelnut, add them, season everything with salt and pepper, and continue sautéing for 15 minutes. Serve piping hot.

If you want a more flavorful dish, add several blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes, some hot wine, rosemary needles, sliced boiled potato, etc, at which point you'll have roughly a fritto alla cacciatora, which will want to be well peppered and should not be swimming in liquid. If the beef is too firm, marinate it before adding it to the pot.

Lesso Fritto Con Le Cipolle - Boiled Meat Fried with Onions
This is quite similar to the above: Slice two or three onions, and sauté them in butter over a gentle flame until golden. Add the beef, finely sliced, a clove of garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cook over a brisk flame, and when the meat is heated through and steaming finish it with a good dusting of minced parsley and some lemon juice.

This dish has many variations. You can use lard or olive oil instead of butter, and can also add potatoes, wine, or other herbs and spices. It is also more flavorful if you add a few blanched, peeled chopped tomatoes, before you add the meat because they take longer to cook than it does to heat.

And finally, something summery:

Lesso Freddo Alla Giapponese - cold Boiled Meat Japanese Style
What this has to do with Japan is beyond me, but that's what Mr. Guerrini calls it:
Simmer a number of peeled potatoes in broth until a skewer penetrates easily, slice them, and season them while they're still hot with olive oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar, followed by a half glass of strong wine. Dice your boiled meat and put the pieces in the middle of a serving dish, arranging the potatoes in a ring around them. Finely slice a truffle over all, let the salad rest for a few hours, and serve it chilled.

"It's obvious," he says, "that in this recipe and others that call for them are not a requirement, though they do a fine job of adding class and flavor to leftovers."

If you omit the truffle the last recipe will be frugal, as will the others, and given the times this is a good thing.

Varietals Lost, and Varietals Found
Winding down, some thoughts on varietals. If you're interested in agricultural history, you probably know that wine as we know it now was almost wiped out in the mid-late 1800s. Not intentionally; Europeans have always taken vines with them when they travel, and brought them home as well. So long as the travel within Europe this was good. However, in the early 1860s a shipment of American vines was delivered to the banks of the Rhône, where they were planted and did very well. Then, a curious thing happened: Nearby European vines sickened and died.

The blight spread inexorably, quickly where soils were moist and more slowly where they were sandy or the climate dry, until all of Europe was under its pall and somewhere between 60 and 90% of the vineyards had been wiped out.

Botanists soon understood what was wrong -- the roots of the American vines were infested by a lymph-sucking aphid called phylloxera, which they were able to tolerate, but that was fatal to European vines. Devising a solution, however, took time.

The simplest, to replace the European varietals with American varietals, was unacceptable because the wines made from American grapes are very different, and (to European palates) vastly inferior. Then a French botanist had an idea: Why not graft the vulnerable European vines onto American rootstock that's immune to the bug?

The idea worked, and now, with a few exceptions, all the grape vines in Europe (and most everywhere else) grow on American rootstock. Of course it didn't happen overnight, and this brings us to Predappio, in Romagna: I was having dinner with several other journalists at the Vecia Cantin D'La Pré (which I heartily recommend), when we were joined by Giuseppe Nicolucci of the Azienda Casetta Dei Mandorli. We were talking about the differences between Tuscan and Romagnan Sangiovese-based wines when he said, "Of course you know just about all Tuscan Sangiovese is actually Romagnan."

I looked at him -- I may not be Tuscan, but I live in Tuscany, and the faces of a great many Tuscan producers proudly discussing the merits of their "strictly autochthonous" Sangiovese flipped through my mind.

"Yes," Mr. Nicolucci continued, saying one of the first Italians to learn how to graft European vines to American roots was a Romagnan named Angelo Sansoni, known as Esciop, the gun, because he was so quick with his hands: With the help of a couple of assistants, who handed him the materials, he replanted vineyard after vineyard in Romagna, and also worked extensively in both Chianti Rufina and Chianti Classico, planting cartload after cartload of Sangiovese vines from Romagna.

This was of course several generations ago by now, and has faded from memory. However, if the vines gave good results they, or cuttings propagated from them, are still there. In short, the pedigree of some of the finest Tuscan Sangiovese vines may not be as pure as we think it is.

Hearing about Esciop set me to thinking: Italy now boasts more grape varietals than any other country in the world. Some are outstanding, e.g. Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, some are excellent supporting actors who complement the stars (and are called uva complementari for this reason, for example Canaiolo, Colorino, or Negrara), and the vast majority are simply there, growing untested and unevaluated in old vineyards. Some of this unevaluated majority may be superb, and some may not, but it was all good enough that someone in the distant past thought it worth grafting onto American root stock.

I can't imagine how rich and varied the Italian ampelographic (a fancy word meaning the classification of grape vines) panorama must have been before phylloxera wiped almost everything out. Actually, I take that back:

During my trip to Romagna we visited La Sabbiona, a winery not far from Faenza that is bringing back from the brink of extinction a varietal known as Sauvignon Rosso. Not Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, but a red Sauvignon that survived the phylloxera outbreak thanks to a guy known as Centesimino, who liked the vine enough to plant it in a pot on his balcony. There it survived, until the folks at La Sabbiona heard about it, and were intrigued enough to try propagating it, grafting it onto American rootstock, and planting a vineyard of it. Since the name Sauvignon Rosso is used as an alternate name for some other Italian varietals, they registered it as Centesimino, and now some other wineries are beginning to take an interest in it as well.

And well they should; La Sabbiona's first few vintages were variable, with some wine that was very good and some that was nondescript, and then they realized that the good wines came from cold falls and tried cooling the must during fermentation, a practice used to maintain the freshness of the bouquet that's more generally associated with white wines. The result is most impressive:

La Sabbiona Sauvignon Rosso IGT Ravenna 2006 is deep ruby and has an eye opening bouquet that unleashes an extraordinary blast of black currants and gooseberries mingled with black currant jam and some strawberries. It's got the same sort of impact one gets from a Rosenmuskateller, combining great power with seductive grace. On the palate it's rich, and fairly sweet, with powerful black currant fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that gain direction from some India ink and graphite bitterness, while the finish is long and clean. It's an extraordinary discovery, of the sort you'll be happy to serve friends who don't mind conversation grinding to a halt and people concentrate on what's in their glasses.

This wine is aged in steel. There's also a Centesimino that goes into oak:
La Sabbiona Rifugio Ravenna IGT Rosso 2004 is deep black cherry ruby with brick rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with black currant fruit supported by cedar and airy sea salt with some greenish vegetal notes and spice. Very nice, though it doesn't have the explosive impact of the 2006 Sauvignon Rosso -- If I hadn't tasted the other first I would have been very impressed, and as it was I was nodding my head. Grows nicely in the glass, too, with the fruit gaining in intensity. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful black currant fruit supported by deft sweet tannins that gain direction from India ink bitterness, and flow into a rich black currant finish. Most impressive, and perhaps a little better balanced on the palate than the unoaked wine, which is instead more opulent. But both are captivating and fascinating, and well worth a detour if you're a wine lover and happen to be visiting Romagna. For that matter, La Sabbiona also has a nice agriturismo.

Bottom line: In Italy, we think we're rich, enologically, and we undoubtedly are. But we don't know what we lost thanks to phylloxera. Nor, for that matter, do any of the other European countries with longstanding winemaking traditions.

This time's proverb is from Bassano Romano, in Lazio, and is earthier than some: Pe' cchi nun se ccontenta da' zzinna da' vacca, c'è quilla do' toro - For those unsatisfied by the cow's udder, there's always the bull's (ahem). In other words, be happy with what you have.

A presto,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
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