Peddling truffles with Simon Friend

Tagliatelle with truffles at Cafe DiStasio in Melbourne, Australia
When I researched the Robb Report story on Australian truffles, I had the pleasure of meeting Melbourne-based Simon Friend and his partner Bryan Burrell. They do business as Friend & Burrell (friendandburrell.com.au), but they might as well be called The Good Tastes Guys because they’re Australia’s go-to suppliers of gourmet mountain hams from Spain, Giaveri caviar, and big tins of Iranian saffron. The two former tennis professionals are also major distributors of black truffles from the Australian Truffle & Wine Company.

Simon Friend with trunk full of truffles As the Melbourne Truffle Festival was about to start last July, I joined Simon Friend on his sales and delivery rounds in Melbourne. The state of Victoria has its own truffle industry, but production is dwarfed by the Manjimup farm, a four-hour plane ride west. We stopped at the airport to pick up a shipment and headed straight to Queen Victoria Market. Two newspaper articles about black truffles had appeared that day. One of the gourmet produce dealers had called to say that Friend was right: He should have ordered more truffles a few days earlier. Could Friend bring some by?

Simon Friend selects truffles We puttered around the busy market until a parking space opened up and we could dash in with a box cooler, a gram scale, and an invoice book. When Simon opened one of the plastic boxes in the cooler, the vendor and I both let out involuntary grunts of appreciation as the aroma wafted out. Each truffle was rolled in a fresh paper towel to absorb any excess moisture, and as Simon unwrapped them, the produce man approved each with a nod. They were small truffles, perfect for selling to chefs more interested in taste than appearance. Friend selected seven that weighed out at 156 grams. He promised to return a few days later with a new batch of bigger truffles that Melbourne foodies would be requesting once the festival publicity hit.

We spent much of the morning popping in kitchen doors to schmooze with a few chefs and talk about their truffle dinner plans during the festival. Finally, we came in through the kitchen to have lunch at the bar at Café DiStasio (31 Fitzroy St, St. Kilda; + 61 (3) 9525 3999; distasio.com.au), one of Friend’s very good customers.

Simon eating tagliatelle with truffles at Cafe DiStasio in Melbourne “A couple of bowls of pasta,” Friend requested. “And here’s a truffle to shave over them,” he said, pulling an unpretty but highly aromatic small truffle from his pocket. The waiter suggested a glass of Barolo each, and we concurred. By the time the dish arrived, so had Mallory, one of the two owners, who insisted that we have a green salad as well. Then she topped up the glasses. The tagliatelle were perfect, just slightly toothy and sauced with an emulsion of cooking water and superb Australian butter. The truffle was sliced so thin that it was translucent.

“That’s the key,” said Friend. “You want to maximize the surface exposure to get the best aromatics.”

And it doesn’t hurt to smother the pasta with those paper-thin slices of gustatory heaven.

Here’s my version of the dish pictured at the top of the post:

TAGLIATELLE WITH BUTTER AND TRUFFLE

Makes 2 generous servings

2 cups all purpose flour (plus extra for kneading and rolling)
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons butter
20 grams thinly shaved black truffle

Mound flour on the counter and make a depression in the middle. Place salt and olive oil in depression. Break eggs into depression. Using fingers—or a long-tined fork and a bench knife—combine the ingredients until the eggs are fully incorporated. Knead briefly until dough takes on texture of an earlobe. Divide into six pieces and roll out to desired thickness with hand-cranked pasta maker. Cut into 1/4-inch noodles.

Cook noodles in boiling, salted water for about two minutes until al dente. Drain and toss with butter in bowl, adding a little pasta water to make sure noodles are moist and well-coated. Divide into two bowls and top with shaved truffle. Enjoy with a glass of Barolo. Or two.

21

05 2015

Bordeaux is just the beginning for Lafite

Lafite wines at The Palm Boston Château Lafite Rothschild is legendary for its red Bordeaux, many of them too expensive for all but special occasion meals. Fortunately, the parent company, Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) (www.lafite.com), has been spreading Lafite’s winemaking skills around the globe to create more affordable wines. And back home in Bordeaux, they’ve developed a series of soft, ready-to-drink red and white wines under the Réserve Spéciale line. We had the chance to try several of the different branches of Lafite at a wine dinner at The Palm Boston, and we’re happy to say that the Lafite junior lines show that good wine can be made at a good price.

We started by drinking the Lafite Réserve Spéciale Blanc 2013. White Bordeaux, especially from the Entre-deux-Mers district, doesn’t get a lot of respect but this Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc combination had just enough fruit to complement its pronounced acidity. The minerality made it a fine aperitif wine while our palates were still fresh. It nicely complemented a course of seared sea scallops. Wine shop price is $13-$15.

Los Vascos Chardonnay Among the white wines, Los Vascos Chardonnay 2013 stole the show. In 1988, Lafite became the first French firm to invest heavily in Chile and the reward for their boldness are the Los Vascos wines. They are distinguished among bargain Chilean wines (about $7!) for the cleanness and clarity of the fruit. The chardonnay character is well-rounded and the full mouth feel makes it a real contender with strongly flavored seafood and even soft-rind cheeses. (Yes, it’s the perfect arts reception wine with a wheel of Camembert.) At this dinner, it more than held its own paired with a roasted beet and arugula salad that had been dressed with a quite tart champagne vinaigrette.

Bodegas Caro We also drank two reds that demonstrate Lafite’s flexibility. Lafite isn’t the only Bordeaux name to team up with a top Argentine wine producer, but Bodegas CARO (a Mendoza partnership with Nicolas Catena) is one of the most successful, at least to our taste. We drank a Bodegas CARO Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec 2010 with a powerfully beefy serving of braised beef short rib. Harvested from old vineyards at very high altitudes, the two grapes were fermented separately and underwent malolactic fermention separately (15 percent in barrel, 85 percent in stainless steel). The blended wine was aged 18 months in French oak from Lafite’s Bordeaux cooperage and allowed to mellow in the bottle for a few years before release. The resulting wine has the hairy-chested bombast of great Malbec with the tuxedo elegance of superb Cabernet—just about perfect with an intense beef dish. Retailing at $60-$65, this wine is worth planning a meal around.

Lafite Pauillac We also drank a Lafite Réserve Spéciale Pauillac 2011. It was a classically balanced light Bordeaux—almost a throwback to old-style claret—redolent of nutmeg and cedar cigar box. It’s Bordeaux as winemakers used to make it for the English market. Soft Bordeaux calls for a lower-profile meat, at least to our taste. The Palm served lamb, which was a good choice, but we thought the aggressive spice rub overpowered the wine a bit. At about $40 per bottle, it’s a pleasant Bordeaux for everyday drinking—if you drink $40 bottles every day.

At the end of the night, we enjoyed a sip of Sauternes (Château Rieussec 2009) with apple strudel. It’s a classic pairing, but the wine wasn’t quite ready. Unctuously fruity, this Sauternes needs more time in the cellar to marry the intense sweetness with the full-bodied Sémillon fruit. It’s retailing around $35 for a split, $55-$70 for a full bottle. Buy it now and lay it down for five years.

19

05 2015

Australian black truffles upend the seasons

First page of Robb Report Australian truffles story
I did not realize how successful the Australians have been in cultivating black truffles until I had the pleasure of visiting Manjimup in Western Australia to see for myself. The Truffle & Wine Company‘s truffière in that little town two hours south of Perth is quite simply the most productive black truffle farm in the world. I was visiting on behalf of the Robb Report, where my article on the subject, “Move Over, Monsieur,” appears in the May issue. You can also read a copy here on the “Some Articles” page of HungryTravelers.

I’m happy to report that there’s now a reliable pipeline of supply from Manjimup to the U.S., and some of the country’s top chefs have discovered the joys of pairing fresh black truffle with fresh summer produce. (The more-familiar European black truffles arrive December to March, also known as “root vegetable season.” ) The supply line is mostly for chefs and fancy food distributors, since black truffles have a very brief shelf life, but individuals can also order at the web site, www.truffleandwineusa.com.

I brought one home to experiment, and later this month, as the Australian black truffle season gets into gear, we’ll be posting some summertime black truffle recipes.

06

05 2015

The Palm serves a mean shepherd’s pie

The Palm Boston exterior
The Palm Boston (www.thepalm.com/Boston) got a new lease on life when the iconic steakhouse moved from Copley Place in Back Bay to the swank One International Place Tower at the edge of the Financial District. Now that the weather has warmed, the restaurant can show off one of its greatest assets: the outdoor seating looking out on the new Seaport District just across Fort Point Channel.

Over the winter, regulars gathered in the glittering interior for wine dinners. We enjoyed the Lafite Wine Dinner that paired a number of wines from the legendary Bordeaux house’s farflung empire with some classic Palm cookery, including seared sea scallops with a pea and truffle purée, ancho- and espresso-rubbed lamb chops, and braised short ribs with a wild cherry drizzle. But The Palm isn’t all expense-account cuisine. Just as the restaurant happily served some of the bargain Lafite wines (like Los Vascos from Chile), chef Karen Mitchell hides a comfort-food heart behind her fine-dining credentials. One of the dishes for which she’s locally famed is the humble North American casserole of meat and vegetables topped with mashed potatoes known as shepherd’s pie.

And like many fine-dining chefs, she’s found a few ways to make the home-cooking classic her own—notably through the superb beef, the splash of hot sriracha sauce, and the cheese that’s melted into the potatoes. And if you didn’t think shepherd’s pie was fit for fancy company, you’ve never seen The Palm serve it in finger-food-size pastry shells as a hot passed appetizer. Here’s Chef Mitchell’s recipe:

KAREN MITCHELL’S SHEPHERD’S PIE FOR THE PALM


Palm shepherd's pie Serves 6-8

4 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup diced onion (1/2″)
1/2 cup diced celery (1/2″)
1/2 cup diced carrot (1/2″)
1/2 cup fresh yellow corn kernels
4 smashed garlic cloves
1 1/2 lb. good quality ground beef (The Palm uses ground prime beef)
1 cup white wine
2 cups beef or veal stock
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons sriracha sauce
2 tablespoons A-1 sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon paprika

For mashed potatoes
3 large Idaho potatoes
3/4 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup shredded cheddar
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
salt (about 1/2 tsp)

Directions
1. Sweat onion, carrots, celery, garlic cloves, and corn in canola oil on medium-low heat until tender. Add ground beef and sauté until all pink is gone. Add wine and reduce by three-quarters. Add stock, bay leaves, and sriracha, A-1, and Worcestershire sauces.

2. Cook on medium low heat for about 12 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chopped parsley, salt, and pepper at the very end.

3. Strain the mixture and reserve the juices.

4. In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or hotel pan, evenly spread the ground beef mix and put aside.

5. Make whipped potatoes. Boil or steam peeled Idaho potatoes until tender. Heat milk and butter together in a saucepan until combined. (There’s no need to boil the milk mixture.) Add cooked potatoes and, using a stand or hand power mixer, whip the mixture. Add the cheddar, rosemary, and salt to taste.

6. When smooth, spread the potatoes evenly over the ground beef.

7. Sprinkle the paprika over the mashed potatoes. Place pan under broiler for a couple of minutes until the mashed potatoes brown slightly.

If you want to make gravy, use the reserved juice from the ground beef mix, a little more stock, and enough flour to thicken. Ladle over each serving.

24

04 2015

Tortellini in brodo is a Modena treat

tortellini en brodo at Hotel Ristorante Pizzeria Parco in Palagano
Before I visited Modena, I kept seeing references to the city as the home of stuffed pasta. It made little sense to me, but when I arrived, I discovered that the signature pasta of the region are those diminutive stuffed crowns known as tortellini. Tortelloni and tortellini(They also serve tortelloni, which are much bigger and go better with tomato sauce.) Specifically, the classic dish of Modena is tortellini in brodo: the little pastas served in a strong chicken broth. Every home cook has a family recipe for the broth—and most people just go to the market and buy terrific fresh tortellini from local producers like Doremilia (www.doremilia.it).

I got a chance to see Doremilia’s pasta factory in the hill village of Monchio di Palagano, about 45 minutes west of Modena. Alas, because I couldn’t risk trying to bring a fresh meat product back to the U.S., I wasn’t able to bring home any of the splendid, handmade tortellini. But I did have lunch with one of the owners at a wonderful restaurant in the larger hill village of Palagano, Hotel Ristorante Pizzeria Parco (Via Aravechhia, 27, +39 333 594 8124, www.hotelristoranteparco.it), where we proceeded to enjoy some tortellini in brodo as one of several courses. I recommend you do the same if you’re ever in the neighborhood. Palagano sits on the Dragone river in the foothills of the Appenines, and the area is crisscrossed with scenic hiking and cycling trails. It’s also well within the district for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, so you get lots of great flavors with the natural views.

chef Tagliazucchi Chef Vittorio Tagliazucchi did Doremilia proud, serving a special batch of the tortellini that had been made with 36-month-old Parmigiano Reggiano in a clarified, very intense roasted chicken broth. While I couldn’t bring any of the products home, I did manage to pick the chef’s brain about his broth and got Massimo Ceci, the pasta company owner, to give me a rough idea of how to make the tortellini filling. It took a little practice, but here’s a fairly authentic tortellini in brodo to make at home.

TORTELLINI IN BRODO

Makes 6-8 servings

Tortellini filling
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces lean ground pork
2 ounces prosciutto, finely diced
2 ounces mortadella, finely diced
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 large egg

In a large sauté pan, heat butter and oil over high heat. Add ground pork and lightly brown, breaking up pieces with a spatula. Add diced prosciutto and mortadella and continue cooking a few minutes, stirring to mix thoroughly. Remove from heat and let cool.

Add nutmeg and black pepper to meat mixture and process with steel blade in food processor until the mixture is very finely ground (about 2 minutes). Add grated cheese and process about 30 seconds until mixture is well blended. Add egg and process until smooth.

Pasta
2 1/2 cups (350g) all-purpose flour plus extra for kneading area
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Place flour in a heap on the counter and make a depression in the middle. Crack eggs into the depression and add oil and salt. Using a long-tined cooking fork, stir the flour in a folding motion until eggs and oil are absorbed into a sticky dough. Knead for 3-4 minutes, using extra flour as necessary to keep from sticking. When ball has texture of an earlobe, divide into eight pieces.

To make tortellini, roll a ball of dough out one notch thinner than you would for fettucine.

Lay out flat dough on counter and using a knife or rolling cutter, cut into 2-inch (about 5cm) squares.

Place a slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon of filling mixture in the center of each square.

Make tortellini by folding pasta corner to corner to form a triangle and pinch edges to seal in filling.With one corner pointing up, roll bottom up one-half turn. Using tip of little finger in the middle, fold over one corner. Then fold over the other, tucking point underneath into center area. Remove little finger and pinch to make sure ends stick. Here’s a really good video of the process on YouTube.

Set tortellini aside and cover with dish towel to keep from drying out. Repeat process until all the pasta is used up. If any filling is left over, freeze for another day.

For broth
3 pounds (1.5kg) chicken necks, backs, and wings
2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced on diagonal
2 stalks celery, diced
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon salt
6 cups water

serving tortellini en brodo Set oven to 450°F and arrange chicken parts in shallow pan. Roast 30 minutes until browned.

In stock pot, place roasted chicken pieces and remaining ingredients. Bring to boil and lower temperature to simmer. Cover and simmer 2 hours. Let cool and strain, discarding solids.

To serve, boil tortellini in salted water for about 10 minutes or until done to taste. Heat broth separately. Spoon tortellini into bowl and spoon broth over. Pass grated Parmigiano Reggiano to sprinkle on top.

18

04 2015

Why Parmigiano Reggiano is king

Wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano
The king of Italian cheeses is Parmigiano Reggiano, which is head and shoulders above the various imitators sold as “parmesan” in the U.S. and Canada.

2-cows I had always wondered why the D.O.P. product was so clearly superior, and a visit to Caseificio Poggioli (+39 059 783 155, http://poggiolicoopcasearia.it/en/) on the Via Montanara in Spilimberto outside Modena helped me understand. The new €6 million facility is a cooperative of four dairy farmers of Modena province and was built, partly with public financing, after the May 2012 earthquake that destroyed so many of the region’s cheese factories and aging warehouses. Yet to be tested by seismic events, the facility is equipped with state-of-the-art controls for the time-honored process of making Parmigiano Reggiano.

3 - bales of hay Under the D.O.P. regulations, all the milk must come from herds within a prescribed geographic area in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Mantua on the right bank of the Po river, and Bologna on the left bank of the Reno river. The rolling plains between the rivers are covered in rich grasslands, and all the feed for the cattle, both green pasturage and stored hay, must also come from the region. The cattle are not allowed to eat silage because—unlike most other Italian grating cheeses, such as Grana Padano—Parmigiano Reggiano is not pasteurized.

4-fresh curd In many ways, the cheese production proceeds as it always has. Milk from the evening milking is placed in shallow steel trays overnight and is partially skimmed in the morning before being placed into copper-lined cauldrons with an inverted bell shape. It is topped with whole milk from the morning milking to bring the volume up to 1,100 liters. Rennet is added and the mixture is heated to promote coagulation of the proteins. The new equipment at Poggioli stirs the curd, allowing the factory to make a lot of cheese with very few cheesemakers. When the cheese reaches a texture determined by the cheesemaker, he or she will cut the curd in half. Each piece will be cradled in a linen cloth and lifted from the whey.

Fresh curd begins its transformation into Parmigiano Reggiano The bulbous masses go on a line to drain and be transported to another room, where each one is lifted into a plastic form. Each form has a band that imprints the place and date and numbers each wheel separately. After sitting in a seawater bath for about three weeks, the wheels are cleaned and dried and placed on wooden shelves to begin aging.

6-cutting By regulation the cheese must age for at least 12 months. In practice, Parmigiano Reggiano is rarely sold until it is at least 24-30 months old. At that stage, the cheese begins to develop protein crystals that give it a slight crunch. As it continues to age, the umami flavor becomes ever more pronounced. At 36 months, most wheels begin their decline as they become too dry.

From just four farms, Poggioli makes 18,000 wheels of cheese per year, which is a lot of sprinkles on top of pasta. The aging rooms contain more than 50,000 wheels at a time. The photo below shows just one row of one room of the warehouse. When the last earthquake hit, wheels went flying off the shelves. If another big one strikes, they should stay put, thanks to giant shock absorbers.

The cheeses from Poggioli are exquisite. You can buy them by the piece at the factory in sizes from half-kilo chunks to entire wheels. It’s also available at the public market in Modena.

aging Parmigiano Reggiano in Poggioli

15

04 2015

Pomodorina belies canned tomato image

Spaghetti with Pomodorina and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese Pomodorina is tomato sauce rethought, and it’s my most unexpected find on a recent research trip to Modena. We’ve already written about “What to buy in an Italian grocery store,” but here’s a product I’d definitely add.

Pomodorina has been the best-selling product of one of Italy’s best food factories, Menù, since it was introduced in 1967. It’s made only during the roughly six-week tomato harvest season and combines freshly harvested and cooked tomatoes with celery, carrots, onions, fresh basil, and some olive oil. Menù sells it as a base ingredient for sauces, but I discovered that some restaurants consider it good enough to sauce pasta on its own. That’s spaghetti sauced with Pomodorina above, and it was delicious.

Pomodorina sauce can Menù (http://en.menu.it/) is based in Medollo near Modena and launched as a salami factory in 1932. In 1941, the company branched out to make a ragù meat sauce and moved into a variety of ready-to-eat foods for the catering industry by the mid-1950s. Today it sells more than 450 items from its catalog to more than 30,000 customers that range from small catering companies and restaurants to large institutions like school systems, corporate cafeterias, and restaurant chains. Pomodorina is shipped to the U.S. for the food trade but not for retail sale. But in Italy, home cooks can have it too. You’ll find Pomodorina on the shelves of supermarkets, sometimes in the can (pictured here) and sometimes in a glass jar holding 750 milliliters, or about 28 fluid ounces.

I brought home a can and one night when we were in a hurry for dinner, I heated up the contents with absolutely no additions, tossed in some freshly cooked pasta, and served (as above) with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It was good enough that I’d serve it to company.

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07

04 2015

Recognizing real balsamic vinegar of Modena

La Vecchia Dispensa tasting bottles

La Vecchia Dispensa tasting bottles

Few culinary terms have been so abused in recent years as “balsamic vinegar.” A generation ago, the only people who knew true balsamic vinegar were either wealthy gastronomes or members of old-fashioned families in the Modena and Reggio Emilia districts of Italy’s region of Emilia Romagna — best known even then for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Parma.

Simone Tintori of La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro, Modena “It was a traditional family product,” explains Simone Tintori (left) of La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro di Modena (Piazza Roma 3, +39 059-790-401, www.lavecchiadispensa.it), a fourth-generation commercial producer of the two controlled types of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (aceto balsamico di Modena). “And everything you have been told about it is probably wrong.”

The two categories of protected Modena vinegar are IGP and DOP, and it’s helpful to understand the differences so you get what you pay for. The Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP must be made from wine vinegar and grape must (from any of seven grapes, but usually Trebbiano) and must be aged in wood in the province of Modena and bottled there. Furthermore, it has to pass taste tests by the consortium of traditional producers and must be sold in a traditionally styled 100ml bottle that cannot have any reference to age on the label.

The other protected type is Aceto Balsamico de Modena IGP (without the “Tradizionale”). The IGP is a geographic designation under European Union law. The permitted ingredients are wine vinegar and grape must, but the producer is also allowed to use grape must concentrate and to add caramel coloring. The vinegar also must be aged and bottled in the province of Modena and pass a set of laboratory tests before it can be bottled with the IGP label.

modena 1 The mechanics of making balsamic vinegar are not particularly complicated. Grape must and wine vinegar are combined. The most expensive products may have as much as 70 percent grape must with just 30 percent vinegar, while the cheapest could have as little as 20 percent grape must. The mixture is aged in wooden barrels—usually a sequence of increasingly smaller barrels for the DOP product and usually in large wooden casks for the IGP. Over time, some vinegar evaporates, concentrating the vinegar that remains behind. The barrels are used repeatedly over decades, so little flavor of the wood is imparted to the vinegar. The best of the products become almost syrupy in their viscosity, as the sugars from the original grapes become more and more concentrated.

While Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP tends to be fairly consistent from producer to producer (and generally costs $75-$200 for a 100 ml bottle), Aceto Balsamico de Modena IGP bottlings vary a lot in both quality and price. The least expensive use grape must concentrate, which is a little like making a marinara sauce using tomato paste but no fresh tomatoes. It’s tomato-y, but not the real sugo. That said, it can be a tasty and useful vinegar—just not the gustatory powerhouse of a DOP or a better IGP vinegar.

With a deeply concentrated mix of fruitiness and complex spice, the DOP vinegar is principally for use as a drop or two on a steak, roast, or hunk of incredible cheese. For salads and cooking, most of us are happy with the modestly sweet and tangy IGP product—if we can get a good one.

Modena 4 After visiting La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro (old castle), I went a few kilometers down the road to visit Antichi Colli in Castelnuovo, or “new castle” (Via Rio dei Gamberi, 2, +39 059 533 1332, www.antichicolli.it). A complex of vast stainless steel tanks with an attic of aging barrels, this large firm mostly produces IGP vinegars. Interestingly, they only use concentrated grape must in the lowest grade, which retails at about $10 per 250ml bottle. Their IGP vinegars go up in price to around $120 per 250ml bottle.

So what should you look for? First, look for the IGP insignia or the DOP seal. Second, reject any product stamped with the number of years it has been aged (if it has the seal and a claim of years of aging, it’s a fraud). Third, if you’re looking for flavor complexity, skip any vinegar that lists “concentrated must” or caramel coloring as an ingredient. They are legitimate, but usually lower-quality. Finally, taste it if you can. For salad dressing and the like, we use a Whole Foods-branded IGP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena that’s both reasonably priced and versatile in the kitchen (and is made with concentrated must). We keep the DOP for drizzling on really old Parmigiano Reggiano cheese….

Aging barrels at Antichi Colli, Castelnuovo, Modena

Aging barrels at Antichi Colli

25

03 2015

Carrot mac & cheese for grown-ups

closeup of carrot mac & cheese
We encounter a lot of great food when we work on researching and updating our Food Lovers’ books about the New England states. But a simple and delicious plate of carrot mac & cheese from Daily Planet in Burlington (15 Center St., 802-862-9647, www.dailyplanet15.com) stuck in our minds. We ate it one chilly night at the bar of this bohemian downtown favorite with a moderately priced contemporary locavore menu and wondered why we had never thought of it ourselves.

A quick Google search revealed that a number of cooks had thought about such a dish. But most of the recipes we could find used either grated carrot or puréed cooked carrots and seemed designed to fool the kids into eating a vegetable. The Daily Planet version was more elegant. The carrots gave the dish a pale golden color and a subtle earthy flavor that had not been smothered in an excess of cheese.

We never got around to coming up with our own version, but this cold and snowy New England winter had us craving comfort foods. One day in our local Whole Foods, we took a look at the fresh juices and had an inspiration. Did Daily Planet substitute carrot juice for the milk while making the base bechamel sauce? It would certainly explain the fresh carrot flavor and the grown-up texture.

We gave it a try, and found the following recipe makes a good carrot mac & cheese that doesn’t taste like Gerber puréed carrots.

CARROT MAC & CHEESE

Serves 2combining carrot mac & cheese

Ingredients

6 oz (1 cup) elbow macaroni
2 teaspoons butter
1/3 cup fine bread crumbs
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
14 oz. (1 2/3 cups) carrot juice
1/2 medium onion, finely minced
pinch of paprika
bay leaf
1 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Set oven at 350°F. Grease deep 1-quart casserole dish. Set a large pot of water on high heat to bring to boil.

2. Cook elbow macaroni per directions until al dente.

3. While macaroni is cooking, melt 2 teaspoons butter and add to bread crumbs. Stir until crumbs are well-coated.

4. In a large saucepan, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter and stir in flour until well-mixed. Whisk in carrot juice and stir in minced onion, paprika, and bay leaf. Let simmer, stirring to avoid sticking on the bottom, until bechamel thickens.

5. Stir in 1 1/4 cup grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Add macaroni to cheese sauce. Place half of mixture in casserole dish and sprinkle with half of remaining cheese. Spoon remaining macaroni mix into dish, and sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Cover with toasted bread crumbs and bake until crumbs are lightly browned (about 30 minutes).

18

03 2015

Irish whiskey tells the country’s tale

Boston Globe, March 15, 2015 - page M2 Judging by the job posting at Teeling’s Whiskey, the first new Dublin distillery in 125 years is finally getting ready to open its visitors center. The job? They’re looking for fluent English speakers with at least one other language to give tours. The center, located on Newmarket Square in the Liberties section of Dublin (that’s Dublin 8 for those who understand the city’s postal codes), will be open daily 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Exactly when it first opens for business is still unannounced.

Meantime, Dublin hardly lacks for whiskey attractions, some of which we outlined today in a story in the Boston Globe travel section, “Even its whiskey tells an Irish tale”. The story includes the new Irish Whiskey Museum (inaugurated in January) at 119 Grafton Street (+353 1 525 0970, irishwhiskeymuseum.ie) as well as the Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street in Smithfield Village (+353 1 807 2355, www.jamesonwhiskey.com). Perhaps our favorite stop of all was the Palace Bar, an institution in its own right and one of the finest places to drink whiskey in all of Ireland. The Palace’s own whiskeys — a 7-year-old named The Fourth Estate to honor the journalist patrons, and a 14-year-old finished in sherry casks — are both made for the bar by Teeling. Here’s hoping they will be included in the tasting at the end of the tour.

15

03 2015