Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Valentine's Day, the Lost Ravioli & More: Being the 174th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! I am still doing administrative things on About Italian Food, and also adding a few recipes. In other words, doing things that aren't necessarily obvious, but that add depth to the site.

On the IWR on the other hand, I've posted tasting notes for R, a wine made by the father of one of Daughter C's classmates, and also notes on several Emilian wines sent me by Paola Rinaldini of the Azienda Moro Rinaldini -- A Lambrusco Rosato, several inky Lambruschi including one that is bottle-fermented, and also some still wines made with the grapes used to make Lambrusco. Quite enjoyable, and a refreshing change of pace with respect to Sangiovese, which I taste a lot of as it's the major Tuscan red varietal.

Moving to Cosa Bolle, Valentine's Day is a time for sweets and confectionery and whatnot, and at Florence's Fiera del Cioccolato, which is -- how convenient! -- taking place this week in Piazza Santa Croce, you will find all sorts of delights that make fine gifts for that special someone, from chocolate truffles to candied orange peels dipped in chocolate, to white chocolate mice that drew a crowd of photographers, all clicking away. There are about 40 chocolatiers, and it was a fun event that will, I expect, take place again next year too.

The other upcoming travel-food related thing of interest is Pitti Taste, a food festival that will take place in Florence's Stazione Leopolda (between Porta al Prato and the entrance to the Parco delle Cascine) from March 6th through March 8th. You'll find excellent foods, fine wines, and more, and the Stazione, a superb example of mid-19th century industrial architecture that is now used to host all manner of shows and events, is well worth visiting in any case.

Insalata di Aranci e Finocchi, Orange and Fennel Salad

The goal of a Valentine's day meal is to set the stage, as it were, for dallying with one's Significant Other, and for said dalliance to be enjoyable, it's important that one not weigh one's self down. Bulb fennel and oranges are both light and refreshing, and work quite nicely in this salad.

  • 2 fennel bulbs
  • 2 heads of Belgian endive
  • 1/3 cup (about 80 ml) plain unflavored yogurt
  • 2 succulent oranges
  • 8 walnut meats, halved or quartered as you prefer
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Begin by washing the fennel bulbs and discarding the outer ring of leaves if they are dinged or discolored. Cut the fennel bulbs in half lengthwise and finely slice them crosswise, separating the rings.

Wash and pat dry the endive, and slice it finely crosswise too.

Peel the oranges, removing all white membranes, and slice the oranges crosswise, separating the cut sections into pieces.

Combine the fennel, endive and oranges in a salad bowl.

Mix the yogurt, mayonnaise, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad. Add the walnut meats, a good grind of pepper, salt to taste, mix well, and serve.

Portafogli di Viterllo - Veal Wallets

Portafogli are similar to involtini -- both are made using cutlets, veal in this case, but whereas the involtino is spread with a filling and rolled up, the portafoglio is simply folded over the filling, making a wallet. These will be a nice variation in a family meal, and could also -- if you halve the recipe -- be nice for a romantic occasion.

  • 4 lean boneless veal cutlets weighing about 3 ounces (90 g) each
  • 4 slices prosciutto (if you must, you could use good cooked ham, but prosciutto will be better)
  • 4 thin slices of Fontina cheese
  • 4 small pickles, chopped
  • A strip of pickled bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • Breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon paprika, or more to taste
  • A lemon
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter or oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Toothpicks

Begin by putting the cutlets between two sheets of oven parchment and pounding them with the flat of a broad-bladed knife to thin them.

Beat one of the eggs in a bowl, squeeze the lemon into it, mix well, and add the meat, turning the pieces to coat them uniformly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate the cutlets in the egg for 4 hours.

In the meantime, hard-boil the egg, remove it from the water, and when it has cooled enough to be touchable, peel it. Mince the pickles and pickled pepper, and cop the egg. Mix the three together.

Come time to assemble the wallets, drain the slices well and lay them on a flat surface. Put a slice of prosciutto on each, and then a slice of cheese, and then spread the chopped pickle mixture over the cheese. Fold the wallets up, using toothpicks to hold them shut, and dredge them in the bread crumbs.

Heat the butter or oil in a skillet large enough to contain all four wallets in a single layer. Cook over a fairly brisk flame for 5 minutes, flip, and cook the other side for 5 more. Darin the wallets on absorbent paper, Dust them with the paprika and serve.

The wine? White, and I might be tempted by a lighter dry bubbly here, along the lines of a Prosecco.

The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken

Laura Schenone and I follow the same food list on the web, and at some point she mentioned the book that grew of her search for her family roots, which revolve in a fascinating way around ravioli.

Her great grandfather Salvatore was a uomo delle montagne, a dirt-poor resident of one of the craggy mountain villages above Genova, where if the ground isn't sloping up it's sloping down, and too steep to plant much of anything while her great grandmother Adalgisa was from Genova, and a free enough spirit that she married the mountain man rather than the husband her family had hoped for. But times were tough, and with little in the way of opportunity in Liguria he headed for North America, and when it became clear that he was staying, Adalgisa got on a boat and joined him.

This Laura knew, and also that Adalgisa had made, as a specialty, meat-filled Ravioli, and she knew about the relationships of the more recent generations, but she wanted to know more about the beginnings, and began to call elderly relatives, both to find out about Adalgisa and Salvatore, and to find out about the ravioli. Calls led to visits, which resulted in recipes and making ravioli, and also resulted in her wanting to know more, so she went to Liguria to find out how Adalgisa's recipe compared with what was made in the old country.

Not as much as one might have expected; Adalgisa used raw meat, whereas the Ligurian tradition for meat-filled ravioli is to use cooked meat, and Adalgisa used cream cheese, which is foreign to Liguria. Once home she tried to duplicate what she had learned, and as one might expect things didn't turn out right in the first try -- as with all manual tasks, it takes a while for the muscles to learn what they must do.

And in the meantime she continued to talk with relatives, do research in libraries, and think about her family and her past, returned to Italy with her husband and children, moved to a smaller house, came to an understanding with one of her sisters, from whom she was to a degree estranged, and made ravioli. Lots of ravioli, and by the time you finish the book you will have a wonderful understanding of her and her family, all woven in and around ravioli. One wouldn't expect the concept to work, but it does, and very well.

Recipes, you wonder? The last 50 pages, and Laura assumes that when you're starting out you have about as much experience as she did. So she begins by walking you through the process of making pasta dough and rolling it out (both with rolling pin and pasta machine), and then presents a number of recipes for ravioli stuffings, beginning with a simple ricotta filling "for beginners" and going from there to her grandmother's filling, a rich Ligurian Christmas filling, a simple every day greens filling, and more. And since one cannot live just upon ravioli (though it might be nice), she explains how to make tagliatelle and trofie, a traditional Ligurian pasta, and gives recipes for other Ligurian specialties, from pest sauce though Pandolce.

Highly recommended.
Practical things:
The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken
Laura Schenone, 2008
W.W. Norton & Co
New York, N.Y.
On Amazon

This time's proverb is from the Valle D'Aosta: Quan la rosà reste gran ten su l'erba l'est segno de be ten - When the dew lingers on the grass, it means good weather.

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review

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 them on the IWR site, through

Friday, February 04, 2011

Tuscany, Sediment & More: Being the 173rd issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! To begin at the beginning, I have been doing administrative work on About Italian Food -- splitting up overly long categories of recipes and whatnot. Not exciting, but with thousands of pages on the site I do have to manage things or they will be impossible to find. The latest on the Italian Wine review is a new feature, the weekly photo (click on the image and you will see a larger version), while the latest IGP post is a look at a fine restaurant in Livigno, from Stefano Tesi.

A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany

A while ago -- longer than it should be, and I apologize -- Beth Elon sent me a copy of her book, A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany. She, like me, was bit by the Italy bug, though differently: She and her husband chanced upon an abandoned farmhouse in the foothills of the Appennini towards Pistoia, bought it, and gradually and casually restored it (too casually, she says in the introduction: "when you don't add a fireplace to the living room it never gets done.") And in time discovered the village just above their house, which had been a tenant farmer's podere in the midst of his lands, and became part of the village, learning to do things the traditional way -- canning by the phase of the moon, for example. Eventually the house stopped being a summer home, and became their permanent residence.

She is blessed with a beautiful way of stringing words together and a keen eye for detail, and her book, which is subtitled "Exploring & Eating off the Beaten Track," is a great deal of fun. And apt; she avoids the parts of Tuscany in which one is most likely to meet a foreigner (Chianti, for example), rather going up into the Casentino (the craggy highlands between Florence and Arezzo) and the Alta Valle Teverina, or to the Valle Del Serchio (behind Lucca), which is as wild and steep-sided as any valley you'll find in the Alps. The closest she comes to Florence is Montelupo, a town once known for its spectacular ceramics, but that many modern Florentines associate primarily with the Manicomio criminale, or Home for the Criminally Insane.

Of course Beth doesn't discuss the Home; rather, she starts out by noting that Montelupo is still a hotbed of ceramicists, and says it's her favorite place to buy wedding gifts, and after discussing several artisans, takes us along the winding back roads to San Miniato, a town whose stature as a white truffle capital rivals Alba's, and whose history is simply fascinating. From there we go to Montopoli Val D'Arno, which is now much sleepier than it once was, though there are flashes of elegance, and on to Palaia, another one of those pretty towns of the kind most people stumble upon (with joy) when they make a wrong turn and follow the road to see where it goes.

But there's more to the book; each itinerary is followed by a section dedicated to local specialties, and since San Miniato is a truffle capital we get to tag along as she accompanies a truffle hunter who is training a young dog to find the elusive tubers. And then there are notes on restaurants, and the dishes most noteworthy, with... Recipes.

All sorts of things, from mushrooms packed in oil to gnocchi with hazelnut sauce to risotto with apples and shrimp. And this is just one of the ten itineraries!

It's a beautiful book to read, and even if you're not planning to get into a car and drive (public transportation is not an option here) you will very much enjoy it. And, who knows? You may find yourself planning an unexpected trip...

Practical things:
A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany

Exploring and Eating off the Beaten Track

By Beth Elon, © 2006
The Little Bookroom

1755 Broadway, Fifth Floor

NY NY 10019
ISBN-10 1-892145-36-7

On Amazon

Thoughts about Sediment in Wine

A few years ago I visited a winery near the eastern boarder of the Chianti Classico region, and, since it was near Christmas, I asked the cellermaster if he had any Riserva left. He said no, then hesitated. "Well, I do have last year's, but I don't know if you'd like it - we've had lots of people return it to us."

It turns out that he doesn't filter his wines, and for some reason that vintage gave off more sediment than usual. He must have seen something in my expression, because he ventured, "I can let you have it at 5 Euros per bottle - all sales final, you understand."

I tasted it and bought a case.

The sediment? Well, to be honest I'd almost rather that a well-aged red wine have some - it's a natural byproduct of the aging process, a mix of tartaric acid crystals and other chemicals that settle out as the wine matures. An old wine with no sediment at all would make me wonder what has happened to it that has kept it from developing in the bottle.

Has it been filtered, perhaps? Filtration will improve clarity, but at the expense of body, color and bouquet. Or has it received some other insult - a shot of sulfur dioxide? The compound works as a preservative, but can make the wine smell like a burnt match. Better to have a little bit of sediment, which indicates that the wine is still alive.

Note the word little - if there's a lot, there may well be something amiss. Also, the wine above the sediment should be crystal clear, not cloudy.

Returning to sediment, it is true that finding a dark deposit in the bottom of your goblet (we are talking about an aged wine here) is a bit off-putting. To avoid this, simply decant the wine.

Though the procedure looks complicated, it's easy to do: A day or two before you plan to open the bottle, stand it upright to give the sediment a chance to settle to the bottom. At opening time you will need a decanter (crystal or clear glass is best, because it reveals the color of the wine, but you could even use a pitcher if you had to) and a candle.

Remove the metal capsule and uncork the bottle gently. Light the candle and slowly pour the wine into the decanter, holding the bottle in front of (not over) the candle, and watching the candle flame through the neck of the bottle. When the sediment reaches the neck of the bottle it will appear as a dark stream silhouetted against the flame; at this point stop pouring. With practice, you will be able to pour all but the last half-inch or so before the sediment gets there. The trick is to be gentle. And then, enjoy!

Tartino al Cioccolato e Arance

Valentine's Day is nearing, and one of my favorite sweet combinations is orange and chocolate. Chocolate covered orange peel immediately comes to mind, but orangy chocolate tart will also be quite nice.

  • 1 5/6 cups (220 g) flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) unsalted butter
  • 1cup (100 g) powdered sugar
  • 3 eggs and 4 yolks
  • 2/3 pound (300 g) baking chocolate
  • The zest (orange part only) of 2 oranges, organically grown if possible -- that from one grated, and from the other cut into thin strips
  • 2/5 cup (1 dl) heavy cream
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/2 pound dried beans or chickpeas

Dice the butter and whir it briefly in a blender with the flour, half the sugar, the grated zest of one of the oranges, and a pinch of salt. Add the egg and continue whirring until the dough forms a ball. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for a half hour.

Preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C).

Roll the chilled dough out to a thickness of 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) and use it to line a round 9-inch (22 cm) cake pan or crostata pan (they're a little lower sided than cake pans). Cover the dough with oven parchment and fill the pan with the dried legumes. Bake the dough for 15 minutes, remove the legumes and the paper, and bake it for 10 more.

In the meantime, melt 3/4 of the chocolate over a double boiler. While it's melting beat the remaining eggs and the yolks with the remaining powdered sugar, to obtain a sweet frothy mixture. Add the cream and the melted chocolate and mix gently. Turn the mixture out into the pie shell and bake for 30 minutes at 320 F (160 C).

Let the tart cool. Decorate it with thin strips of orange zest and chocolate shavings made from the bitter chocolate you did not melt.

Happy Valentine's Day!

This time's proverb is Tuscan: Ama chi t'ama, e chi non t'ama lascia - love those who love you, and leave those who do not.

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Guide to Italian Food

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 them on the IWR site, through