February 27, 2006

a Day with Dario

I feel very blessed. When I first came to Italy, I met several people with a passion for Tuscany that changed my life. Burton Anderson, wine expert,who's book on the winemakers and their wines, shows a true love for the people behind the bottle. His later book The Treasures of the Italian Table, did the same for the products near and dear to his heart; Pizza and Coffee in Naples, White Truffles in Alba, Unsalted Bread in Tuscany and more. He then introduced me to Faith Willinger. Faith's book Eating in Italy, was full of fabulous information, one of which was this wild butcher, in the middle of Chianti in a village I hadn't heard of, Panzano. Faith calls the shop "The Uffizi of Meat."

It was love at first site. Dario Cecchini's passion exudes from every pore and is contagious.

Like it the book "The Little Prince" I was the fox, wanting to be tamed and to earn friendship. I would come to the shop, stand in the back and listen to Dario preach, buying something to try from the fabulous preparations in his counter, more like Tiffany's than a butcher shop.

Each time I would come to the shop, I would get a little closer, ask more questions, getting more involved until I was actually working with Dario in the shop.

Dario is an ARTISAN with definite belief's and those are his Bible along with Dante's Divina Commedia which he has learned by heart!

To shop at Dario's is not for everyone. A long wait is mandatory, but while waiting, Dario is more than generous with tastings of his products and wine, which take the edge of the long wait. Friendships are bound during the wait, each of us sharing recipes, favorite restaurants and events not to miss.

The shop itself sets the scene, filled with artwork hanging with salami's and garlic ropes, bookshelves filled with friends books for reference,

Often an unprepared client will come in an make the common mistake of thinking that this is a butcher shop like others and ask to buy hamburger, a small salami or slices of prosciutto for a picnic! Dario screams at them ( all bark and no bite) sending them to the other butcher in the next village for the "Tourists".

If you pass this test, and learn the Cecchini way.. you will be rewarded. Shopping at Dario's is proof of my theory, spend more time shopping and less time cooking.
The time spent waiting in Dario's ( yes it can be an hour!) is less time spent in the kitchen cooking and more time spent with friends and family.

The festive atmosphere is created by Dario's mood and reflected in the music being played. Yesterday was Jazz then Opera.

Dario's Disciples
are bonded together by passion for quality, in what they are buying and in life style. Those who spend the time to search out artisans like Dario are rewarded in more ways than a good meal.

Advice on visiting Dario.

Dario is working and is an artisan.

When entering the shop, always say Buongiorno!
In Italy it is considered rude to enter a shop without acknowledging the people working in the shop, this goes for the girls selling clothing as well as your butcher.

Always ask before taking a foto.
My husband is also ademant about this, taking a foto of someone is an invasion of their privacy and it is a sign of respect to ask first.

Allow a couple of hours to enjoy the experience. This is not a place to rush. Dario may be preparing food for a restaurant order and stop in the middle for a phone call, leaving you waiting. Patience.. please! This is not a grocery store. It takes getting used to the fact that the client can wait. But if you create a bonmd with Dario, you will have a friend for life. He speaks Italian and French fluently and a little English.
His family has been butchers for three generations and this is his life, not just a job. Open yourselves up to a new experience and you will learn. It is fabulous to see an artisan working with such passion!
if you are in a hurry, there are grocery stores in the nearby villages where shopping seems normal. It is fun to visit grocery stores and markets wherever you go and be part of the experience.

Even if you don't have a kitchen, there are things you can buy at the Macelleria Cecchini to take home.

There are some already cooked products for a easy meal picnic, such as the Cosimino meatloafs ( on the left) or the Arista in Porchetta ( on the right) a slow roasted pork roast, as well as pate's, salami ( he hand slices it, so not too thin), a few ragu's already cooked just boil up some pasta. Peposa, a wonderful slow-cooked stew heavy with black pepper and garlic. Tonno di Chianti

I suggest:
Profumo del Chianti, an herb infused salt that is addicting! It comes in jars or nice thin, light vacuum packed bags!

Mostarda Mediterranean Tooting my own horn here as this is my recipe I created while working at Dario's. A Tuscan version of a pepper jelly,which Dario serves on Cosimino, the meatloaf he sells cooked, and it is also fabulous on Pecorino Cheese, and with the grilled pork shoulder chops, Scamerita which are sold with a dry rub of fennel pollen, ready for grilling.

Fiori di Finocchio
wild fennel pollen. Once you smell this..you won't be able to live without it! When one eats out and is knocked over by the food in a restaurant, often the chef has used one tiny ingredient that takes the recipe to another level. Fennel pollen is one of these. When fennel grows, first you have the pollen, then the flower, and finally the fennel seed. The pollen is so intense with a heavy anice, curry-like profume, it suits the fatty pork chops well. It is also wonderful on other fatty foods such as fresh pancetta, duck breast or salmon.

Sunday is market day in Panzano and the first Sunday of the month is the Artisan's Market day and the village is filled with fabulous stands.

A word to the wise!

Now I think you are ready for Dario!

Buon Appetito!

And thank you Dario for existing!

February 24, 2006

Pigs in Love

Just having some fun with the Picasa program.
Looking through some of the silly market foto's I have taken.

Gotta love a Butcher's sense of humor!

February 23, 2006

Market days....Flea market and Food markets

The third Sunday of the month is the wonderful flea market in Siena. It is one of my favorites. Located in the old market piazza behind the Torre di Mangia( city hall) it is easy to find. The covered market ( called the Tartaruga, turtle) has great prices and a huge variety of goods; linens, stamps, prints, china, frames.. and more.

I picked up an old butchers hook for 10 Euro.

Florence's San Lorenzo market is my second home.
There are several bars where I alternate having breakfast, today was with Claudio and Alma. Florentine Soccer fans ( everything is purple at their bar for the Viola ( purple) Fan Club. Here you stand up, read the paper, listen to the market gossip getting the current news by word of mouth.

Alma is very proud of her cappuccino's. Try one!

Sometimes when you are walking through the market something just grabs your eye, and calls our your name. This week it was live with their eggs still attached!

Signora Dolfi... my fish lady!

Pasta with scampi and their caviar!!!
We bought potato ravioli's and served them with the scampi tails.

To prepare the scampi:
We put the in the freezer ( as they were alive) to kill them.
We then cut off the heads ( making a court bouillon for another day, boiling them with garlic, olive oil, salt and white wine)

The tails where then cut in half and quickly sauteed with garlic, olive oil and chili pepper flakes,a generous splash a white wine, a pinch of salt.
Cook until the meat of the tails turns white..and the caviar turns red, approx 4 minutes.

Drain the pasta into the pan and warm together.
NO cheese!

The Tuscan simplcity in cooking!
Build a fabulous rapport with your vendors and you will get the best ingredients that need very little work in the kitchen to show them off!

My Mantra
Spend more time Shopping and less time Cooking!

February 18, 2006

Spring is in the Air

Light showers and sun have brought spring to my house.
The first violets, called mammole, are just starting to bloom as well as the iris.

As winter slips away and spring enters, salads call my name!

The lack of sun in winter is counterbalanced by the arrival of oranges from Sicily.
Tarocchi are the blood oranges from Sicily and are splendid for a typical Sicilian salad with raw fennel.

The first time I ordered fresh orange juice in France, I was brough a 1/4 filled glass with a pitcher of water and sugar.. surely my french wasn't that bad.. but they make orange juice as we make Lemonade, as the oranges can also be tart!

Insalata di Arance e Finocchio

Olive oil

Using a sharp knife, remove the peel from the orange, taking away all of the white pith which can be bitter.

Slice the orange with a serrated knife into rounds.

Layer with thin slices of raw fennel.

Dress with olive oil.

Another salad that has become my signature dish is this Pear and Pecorino Salad

In Tuscany we serve cheese with pears instead of apples at the end of meal.
Inspired by this, I created a light easy salad which is fabulous to start a meal as well. The local cheese of choice is pecorino Toscano,a Sheeps milk cheese.
I use any pear, but change cheeses to match my pear.
If I use a ripe juicy pear, I may want a fresh pecorino cheese, simular to a montery jack and to serve it in chunks in a salad with the pear in cubes.

Today I found a crisp D'anjou pear and served it sliced paper thin on a bed of arugula which goes well with a more aged pecorino, which in Spain is called Manchengo, or a nice dry parmesan shaved on top.

Pere e Pecorino

Aged pecorino Toscano ( the Romano is too salty), Parmesan or Spanish Manchengo
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Salt, pepper, thyme ( optional)
Toasted nuts( pinenuts, hazelnuts, walnuts)

Cut the pear in half, remove seeds and slice the pears thinly and mix with the arugula and shaved cheese.

Toss the salad and dress lightly with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Garnish with toasted nuts.Today I used walnuts, but pinenuts are my favorite.

Drizzle with honey, season with salt and pepper and serve.

We just tore up our herb garden today or I would have put some fresh thyme on the salad, a wonderful touch!

February 11, 2006

Pork Report

I was saddened when in early January, I drove by my neighbors farm and didn't see the pigs anymore.

I was so excited to see the real Nose to Tail celebration and document it.
In past years, I have driven by when the Norcino is there, and they set up a big wooden table outside for the preparation of the pig to pork.

I asked Daniele, the young son, who has now taken over the winery production if I had missed it all. Yes. They slaughter before January 17th... and all the pork was already being aged, and invited me back to see the prosciutto.

Today was the day.

First they showed me the room where they had a Burista hanging with the fireplace lit. Burista is the Blood sausage, seasoned with lemon and the tuscan droghe, an ancient blend of spices, each norcino has his own personal mixture, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardomon being some of the spices used.
Burista is made by grinding pork meat and fat, binding with the blood and then boiling. It can then be kept and eaten in slices. More like a blood pudding.

In another room, they were aging the regular Tuscan Salami, which is made with hand cut larger fat, and also the finocchiona, made with ground fat and seasoned with fennel seeds.

Passing through the home kitchen, where he cut off a pice of the fabulous fresh salami, we headed up to the Guest room at the top of the house.
I could smell a wonderful vinegar infused, herbal fragrance.

The prosciutto's had been taken from their one month rest under salt, and were hanging to age in the guest room. Rubbed with a garlic, black pepper, vinegar paste, these prosciutto's will stay here for at least a year.

When I counted, 9 pieces..I questioned if they had had several three-legged pigs!

They made both prosciutto, from the hind haunches and spalla from the smaller shoulder pieces.

My math wasn't wrong, but they had shared the pigs they had with a friend who helped with the slaughter and preparation, so his share was 3 of the pieces.

I have been officially invited back for next year.

I think I want a whole hog!

This is Daniele's first year of his own wine production.

Az Ag Scarpeto di Sotto
Daniele Tinti

February 9, 2006

Not so Slow!

I have been on a not so Slow food trip!

I attended Gourmet Voice in Cannes,with my friends Kate, Tricia and Rosa.
It was a great conference and very international. You can read more about it on the Gourmet Voice site, Clotide of Chocolate and Zucchini was the official Blog!

Check out this truffled soup at the opening night tasting!

After Cannes, we went to Nice, which is always really nice.. and hit the flea market , had a fabulous ( Nice/Italian) lunch at La Merenda, then spent the night and were off to London!

London, home to Fergus Henderson our Guru! WE had a great lunch at St John's with Fergus himself ( bummer no camera!) and consulted on our panel we are presenting at IACP in Seattle in March.

Being that Florence's airport is closing and I got a great deal flying back into Venice. My husband came to get me and we spent three beautiful but cold days there.

With all this running and flying around, something had to go..and it was my laptop.
So I am waiting with baited breathe to see if it lives..
No crying yet!

Fingers crossed.

More when I am really back online.