November 25, 2009

Butter as Food

Lelio Botteri and Mario Fiandino at Golosario

Often, we think of butter as part of a pantry, to be used for cooking but not really standing on its own as a food. Living in Italy and France, I have had artisan butters which deserve such respect.I was recently asked to participate in a butter "tasting panel" by the Fattoria Fiandino in Cuneo.
I received three "unmarked" butters to try. Made from "rested" cream- panne riposate.

It was really difficult to taste the differences between the three- the butters were unsalted and had had a fabulous mouth feel when they melted in your mouth.

They did not taste like butter, but more like a thick cream. You could taste delicate flavors in the butter, like almonds and hazelnuts. I immediately wanted to use them in the kitchen as the star of recipes.

Some simple ideas when you have artisan butter:

Classics like Chicken breasts in butter and sage

In Italy, especially Tuscany which is a olive oil based cuisine, the use of butter is for special occasions. An after school treat is a slice of bread with butter and sugar.

Rome, where butter is used more, one of my favorite pasta dishes is Cacio and Burro, cheese and butter. When so few ingredients are used, quality is so important.
The hot pasta is topped with butter and stirred until the butter melts and topped with freshly grated pecorino cheese and freshly ground pepper, ( I used smoked paprika on mine for a hot twist.)

One of my favorite appetizers at wine bars is a tiny sandwich on a rich brioche roll, with a slice of butter and a marinated anchovy, at home a large slice of Tuscan country-style unsalted bread with a generous portion of butter- topped with my own marinated anchovies is heaven.

The first sweet I made was a northern recipe for Sbriciolona, a cornmeal and almond, crumbly shortbread.

Another dessert which I love to make when I have great butter is Salami Dolce- a chocolate roll, that when sliced looks like salami, kids adore it, both young and old!

When using artisan butter I don't melt it but whip it at room temp and add to the recipe. Letting it sit in the fridge instead of freezing it makes the dessert almost like a ganache. Try it!

The Fattoria, makes cheeses in the old style, using a natural rennet from a wild cardoon instead of animal rennet and beer! WOW- I admire artisans so much with their passion and creativity-

Mille Grazie Ragazzi!

Their products will soon be available in America too- here is their blog in English.

Fattoria Fiandino

November 21, 2009

Salt- Cured Olives

The olive harvest began a little early this year, at the end of October, many people wait till November 3- something about numbers. When the olives are harvested for oil, some of them are still green, giving the oil here a peppery flavor.

As we get farther into the season the olives ripen to black and that is when I start to check out the trees near my house. This year, we have new neighbors who harvest what was an abbandoned olive grove below my house, so this year I had to buy my olives to cure.
I bought my olives from Francesca, this year I got 2 kilo's, when I see everyone is done with the harvest around me, will go and gather what's left on the trees and make more.

I learned several techniques from the vendors in the San Lorenzo- Mercato Centrale on olives, many of which are cured using caustic soda, did that once and not worth the trouble.The other classic techinique is a salt-water brine, which takes a long time and also gives you an olive you can buy in a store.

What truly caught my fancy was the "dry" salt cure. I adore it and more important my husband loves these olives. Since they are hard to find in shops, it makes them even more precious.

Tuscan Salt- Cured Olives

I layer the ripe black olives in a jar- with coarse sea salt,without additives.
The salt draws out the bitter liquids in the olives which you drain off daily.
When the olives stop giving off liquid they are ready.
It all depends on their size.

Rinse the olives off, removing all the salt.
Dry lightly and then drizzle with olive oil.
This "seals" the olives and prevents them from getting mold.

At this time, if you like, you can also flavor the olives.

Some typical additions would be:

chili pepper flakes
I like to add lemon zest.

It doesn't get any simpler or better than that!

If you don't have sea salt that is inexpensive where you live, use Kosher Salt.
Sea salt here for kitchen use is 60 euro-cents a kilo- 2.2 pounds.

Keep them in a dark place, you don't need to refrigerate.

November 13, 2009

Strange but Wonderful

I adore when the seasons change in Italy, it is present in the colors on the trees, the dropping of the temperature, but most of all in the markets.

This weeks market treat was this strange but lovely Chicory plant, Cicoria, which is a speciality in Rome. I have seen it already cut and cleaned in the market, cut into little matchsticks with a special box with wires. I bought one of these boxes the last time I was down in Rome, but gave it away to a fellow cooking teacher that lived in France. I need to go back to Rome and get another one.

For todays salad I just separated the "fingers" and sliced as thin as I could. Perhaps not quite as delicate and pretty as the version I get in the markets, but fabulous the same.

The chicory is left to crisp in cold water, drained and then dressed simply with an olive oil and lemon juice vinegrette and chopped anchovies are added to the salad.
Almost like being in Rome!

If you are looking for this salad on a menu in Italy, the chicory is called Puntarelle.

There is nothing like anchovies you prepare yourself. I buy them packed in salt and then soak to remove salt. You can use just water or red wine vinegar.

Once softened, separate the fillets from the spine and place the anchovies in a container. Cover with olive oil ( EVO). I add some garlic and chili pepper flakes. It is also common to add salsa verde, a parsley and garlic sauce.

November 8, 2009

13 at the Table

Cinta Senese pigs are not the only ones pigging out in Tuscany

In Italy, thirteen at the table is unlucky as it is the same number Jesus had at the last supper and look what happened to him! However, for me thirteen has always been my lucky number and this week myself and twelve other foodies took on Chianti and were very lucky!

Blessed with good weather all week, except for a morning drizzle in Siena, we cooked, ate and drank our way through Chianti. I adore the planning of these trips. I try to personalize each one, depending on if we will be cooking more or touring more.

This week we alternated cooking days with touring and had a blast. We also visited a Cinta Senese farmer who also had wine and olive oil, this was a real treat.Casamonti is located just outside the town and is a little piece of paradise- happy pigs make happy pork!

Cinta Senese Prosciutto's aging at Casamonti

splendid fall colors in Chianti

What is fun for me too, is that most of the people on the tour share my same passion for fotography too. We had some wild paparazzi moments of everyone snapping away at the incredible views and magical places we visited. I can't wait to see everyone's foto's.

We were lucky that we came off season to see the grapes for Vin Santo hanging to dry at La Volpaia. When the grapes turn to raisins, in about 5 months, they will be crushed and the juices are then put in small wood casks and sugar and yeast added to start fermentation. The Vin Santo is ready 2 years later around Easter. True Vin Santo is a precious liquid, to be sipped and meditated upon!

The week ended and the rains came- time now to plan my winter trips teaching and to also set up next years programs in Tuscany and Sicily. Stay tuned!

I am updating the website and will post when the new calendar is ready.

Join me in January in San Miguel D'Allende at Casa Luna Cooking School, where I will be guest chef- I can't wait.

If you would like to book a custom tour for you and your friends, just let me know!
I love sharing my little piece of paradise.I do 2 to 12 people for custom weeks as well as collaborating with the Villa La Poggiolaia now from April to November.

New programs will be posted soon!

Tuscany in fall is at it's best, the new oil is out now and white truffles are in season. Each weekend has food festivals and we are ready to plump up for the winter cold! Next year join us here and celebrate falls flavors. Not to be missed.