Archive for the ‘Italy’Category

TWL: Prosecco over the line in Friuli

San Simone welcome2 The most rarefied Prosecco may come from the hills between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, as suggested in an earlier post but some superb examples also come from the plains and river valleys eastward toward Pordenone in Friuli. It may be an entirely different political region from the Veneto, yet it’s less than 40 km (25 miles) from Conegliano.

Maglio 1Driving east on the A28, it’s even worth taking a 15-minute detour to the village of Francenigo to see the historic power-hammer smithy — the Maglio di Francenigo — that’s one of the last touchstones of the agricultural heritage. The Pessot family started making tools to till the fields and vineyards, using water power from a falls on the Livenza River to raise and lower the power hammer on the anvil. The smithy was converted into a museum in 2000, and during the summer tourist season, someone is usually around on weekends to demonstrate the forge and mill-wheel powered hammer. During my visit, it was the august 74-year-old Beppe Pessot, who started work at the smithy at age 14, and is seen here at the forge. Nowadays the museum makes a few fireplace tools and other simple fabrications for sale as souvenirs.

Prosecco at San Simone di Brisotto

Seeing the industrial roots of farming in this bucolic landscape was a reminder that however idyllic and rustic the vineyards and farms might seem, there’s a lot of hard and dirty work behind that green facade. My visit to Francenigo was a stopover en route to a glamorous Prosecco house, San Simone di Brisotto (Via Prata 30, Porcia; +39 0434-578-633, www.sansimone.it). Located at the far western edge of DOC Friuli Grave and in the heart of the Prosecco DOC region, San Simone can (and does) make a number of excellent DOC wines. They also manage to make those wines in about as green a fashion as possible. (Antifungals and sulfur have their place in even organic practices.) San Simone is operated by three siblings—Chiara, Anna, and Antonio—who represent the family’s fourth generation in the business. (Anna Brisotto is at the top of this post at the entrance to the estate.)

millesimato bottle2 San Simone makes four different Prosecco DOC frizzante wines (lower alcohol, less carbonation) as well as brut and extra brut versions of Prosecco DOC spumantes, and a Millesimato (single vineyard) brut Prosecco DOC (Perlae Naonis) that is one of the most complex examples of Prosecco DOC brut that I drank during my travels in the region. It was creamy on the palate (great mouth feel), fruity on the nose, with just a hint of toasted almonds in the aftertaste. The acidity gave the wine a real freshness yet enabled it to hold up to a small feast prepared by the winery’s cook staff.

That included, as pictured below, some frico (Montasio cheese grilled until crisp), a fresh asparagus salad with quail eggs, a shrimp risotto, and cheese ravioli in a Prosecco sauce.

san simone food

15

10 2014

TWL: Visiting the school for Prosecco

Prosecco Conegliano

Vineyard of Glera clones at Oenology School.

According to the Prosecco DOC consortium, farmers in the Friuli Venezia-Giulia village of Prosecco began making sparkling wine from the grape now known as Glera around 1600, and it became so popular that it spread to nine provinces in the 17th century. (Those provinces now lie within Friuli and the Veneto, and the symbol of Prosecco DOC is nine wine glasses.) Originally a farmhouse wine, Prosecco would stop fermenting in the fall when the weather cooled, then begin again in the spring, when it was sold as a “frizzante” wine. Antonio Carpenain invented modern Prosecco in the mid-19th century when he began using a pressurized tank for a second fermentation. His adaptation of France’s Charmat process quickly became known as “The Italian Method.”

Prosecco The full history lesson is something you can learn at the School of Oenology & Viticulture in Conegliano — or better yet, at the adjacent Enoteca Regionale Veneta (Via Giovanni Dalmasso 12, Conegliano, +39 0438-455-138, www.enotecaveneta.it). Carpenain established the school in 1876, and it still trains more than 90 percent of the region’s winemakers. It’s also a research center for establishing the characteristics of different grapes and clones of known varietals. (That’s one of the school’s vineyards above.)

While the school does have a Bottega del Vino on the property where you can learn about some of the experimental wines made at the school (and purchase them after a tasting), it is open mainly on weekdays. The Enoteca is for both the more considered drinker, and possibly the partier. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 6 p.m. until midnight with light snacks and the opportunity to taste any of the wines in the library. The collection includes about 500 still wines from the Veneto, as well as about 100 different Proseccos. There are typically a dozen open bottles of chilled whites, about half of them Proseccos. But if something else on the shelves piques your curiosity, you need only ask.

Some technical matters

The street of the Enoteca is named for Giovanni Dalmasso, who proposed the first delimitation of “Prosecco Superiore” around Conegliano and nearby Valdobbiadene in 1936. Finally, in 1969, the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC was created. In 1977, the Prosecco IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica, or “typical of the region”) was established and in 2009, the Prosecco DOC was created to certify IGT producers who met all the consortium’s criteria. Just to confuse things more, the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC is now Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG. Total production varies by year, of course, but in 2013 there were about 241 million bottles of Prosecco DOC and 70 million bottles of Prosecco DOCG.

What does this mean in practice for the buyer at an American wine shop? As a rule of thumb both DOC and DOCG certification indicates that the wine hails from the Prosecco region and is made according to some fairly strict regulations. The main grape is Glera (a rebaptism of the Prosecco grape to stop other countries from making sparkling wine called Prosecco), and there are three styles. The simplest and cheapest is frizzante, which has less than 2.5 atmospheres of pressure. Bubbles tend to dissipate quickly and most frizzante wines are low in alcohol. Prosecco brut (the most popular style in the U.S.) has higher alcohol, tighter and more persistent bubbles, and is bottled around 3 atmospheres. Extra dry, often with less persistent bubbles, is bottled around the same pressure but has more residual sugar than brut.

Prosecco

Vineyards in the rolling countryside of Conegliano.

24

09 2014

TWL: Getting to know Prosecco DOC in Treviso

a-psan marco
Wine is one of the easiest and best ways to bring the taste of travel back home, so this post initiates what we’re calling The Wine List — travels in wine country with a focus on the wines themselves. And we launch TWL with a journey through the beautiful towns and delicious wines of the Prosecco DOC region of the Veneto and adjacent Friuli–all within driving distance of Venice.

a-Zonin prosecco Prosecco is one of those wines that’s almost too good for its own good. The light sparkling wine made from the Glera grape is the signature sipping wine of Venice, and it is synonymous with laughter and indolent afternoons at an outdoor cafe (see above, on Piazza San Marco). The wine is made in a tightly limited area of the Veneto and parts of nearby Friuli, and there’s a lot of good Prosecco DOC to go around. Although many of the members of the Prosecco DOC Consortium are small operations, some (like Zonin) are big enough to slake the insatiable thirst of Trader Joe’s customers. Even these mass-produced Proseccos are very good.

a-Treviso sculture little Venice My Prosecco fact-finding trip began at the Prosecco DOC headquarters in Treviso, a beautiful little city north of the Venice airport. Treviso is sometimes called the “little Venice” because four rivers flow through it and some of them were channeled to power mills. Despite being heavily bombarded by the Allies in World War II, traces of its old mill wheels and mill architecture remain. Dante immortalized the town in a line in the Paradiso dutifully reproduced on the 1865 bridge over the convergence of the Sile and Bottiniga rivers. The charming city makes a good base for exploring Prosecco country. My lodging, the Carlton Hotel (Largo Porta Altinia 15, + 39-0422-411-611, www.hotelcarlton.it) was modestly priced and conveniently located near the outskirts of the city. The center of the city was a five-minute stroll away, yet it was easy to get onto the circumferential highway to drive to the countryside. Future posts will visit specific producers, the wine-making school and vinoteca of Prosecco, and hit on on some of the scenic highlights of the region.

a-making tiramisu at Al FogherOne evening in Treviso, I dined at Al Foghèr Ristorante (Viale della Repubblica 10, +39-0422-432-950, www.hotelalfogher.it), which figures in the origin story of the now-ubiquitous dessert, tiramisù. The grandmother of the current owners, who had a more modest restaurant in the 1950s when the queen of Greece visited Treviso, concocted what she called an Imperial Cup. This link to gastronomic fame (or infamy) serves as a lure to the restaurant, which serves excellent Trevisano food. I caught just the tail end of the local radicchio season and enjoyed a couple of light dishes (including an excellent squid ink pasta with fresh vegetables) with a bottle of Bosco del Merlo Prosecco DOC (about $12 in the U.S.).

Periodically, the restaurant gives demonstrations of making tiramisù and I took furious notes. Here’s my translation into American measure based on a rapid-fire presentation in Italian. It goes very well with an extra-dry Prosecco DOC (which is sweeter than a brut).

TIRAMISÙ AL FOGHÈR

Serves 8

Ingredients

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brandy
4 large egg yolks
12 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 cup espresso
package of ladyfingers or champagne biscuits
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, grated

Directions

Whisk together sugar, brandy, and egg yolks in heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and whisk until well dissolved and mixture reaches 170F (77C) on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and beat in the mascarpone. Reserve mixture.

Dip a ladyfinger briefly in espresso, turning to coat, and place in clear glass serving bowl. Repeat until entire bowl is lined with espresso-saturated ladyfingers. Pour half of mascarpone mixture over them. Then make another layer of espresso-saturated ladyfingers, and top with remaining mascarpone. Grate chocolate over the top and refrigerate overnight.

14

09 2014

Last taste of summer in Tuscany

burrata tomato I just returned from touring vineyards in the Morellino di Scansano DOCG district in southwest Tuscany, and once in a while I had to stop to eat. One of the most memorable meals was at Trattoria Verdiana (Ponticello di Montemerano on the road between Scansano and Montemerano, tel: [011-34] 0564-602-576). It’s open nightly except Wednesday, and uses the produce from a 10,000 square meter garden as the basis for the menu. There, as here in New England, the growing season is coming to a close. So I was surprised and delighted when the amuse-bouche pictured above appeared in front of me. It’s a grape tomato (upside down) cut in half, filled with a dab of creamy burrata and a tiny basil leaf. The whole composition was then drizzled in a great local olive oil. It summed up summer in a bite.

16

10 2013

Italy #6 – Grilled Montasio, prosciutto, and fig

Grilled legends 2 All good things must come to an end, and so too our cache of world-class cheese and ham from the Legends from Europe consortium. We had one 4-ounce piece of Montasio cheese remaining, along with four slices of prosciutto di Parma. And it was time for lunch.

Grilled legends 4 We found a jar of fig jam and some slices of whole wheat sandwich bread in the pantry. Drawing on inspiration closer to home (the fig, prosciutto, and Gorgonzola pizza from Todd English’s original Olives, now Figs), we had the makings of a terrific grilled sandwich. If it were Italy and we had a panini press, it would have been a prosciutto and cheese panino and we might have skipped the fig jam.

Whatever you want to call it, it’s easy and delicious.

04

01 2013

Italy #5 — Parmigiano-Reggiano for dessert

Parmigiano dessert plate 1 Leave it to the Italians to keep dessert simple. With its strong umami flavor (second only to Roquefort cheese in glutamate levels), Parmigiano-Reggiano makes everything around it taste better. Following the Italian example, we like to make a plate with a mix of nuts, dried fruit, and fresh fruit. This fall, for example, we paired chunks of a two-year-old buttery summer milk Parmigiano-Reggiano with lightly toasted walnuts, diced apple, and buttered slices of baguette.

Donnafugata passito The extra special touch on each plate was a small cluster of raisins that I brought home from Donnafugata’s vineyards on Pantelleria. The Zibbibo grape (Moscato di Alessandria) is one of the few things that grows on this windswept rock halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. (The other is capers.) The picked grapes are spread under muslin-topped hoops to dry from the heat and wind. Then the Rallo family presses the bunches to make Ben Ryé, an intense passito wine. When I visited the winery, Giacomo plucked a large bunch off the conveyor belt and handed it to me. “For the flight,” he said, but the grapes were so intense that I saved them for months – until the Legends from Europe presented us with all that delicious cheese.

31

12 2012

Remembering Italy #4 — pasta with prosciutto & tomato

San Daniele pasta with tomato and prosciutto The last time I was in San Daniele del Friuli, I was traveling with the restaurateurs of Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani (GRI) on one of their annual pilgrimages to Italy to research products, find new sources, and generally take inspiration from the regional products. Since we were a fairly large group, we booked a meal at Prosciutterie DOK dall’ Ava (via Gemona 47, tel. 0432-940-280, www.dallava.com, open daily 10-10), one of the town’s full-service restaurants with a prosciutto-oriented menu.

DallavaIt’s a funny place, since it’s outside the main village and near one of the prosciutto factories. It looks like a tourist trap, to be honest, and bus groups stop here. But the service and the food are both terrific and the prices, while not cheap, are pretty reasonable for top-quality prosciutto. We shared lovely plates of sliced prosciutto, prosciutto and melon, and prosciutto and asparagus, and we each ordered a small individual plate. Mine was as simple as it gets – fresh pappardelle tossed with prosciutto and hastily sautéed tomatoes.

Normally I reserve this dish for the summer months when I have a surplus of sweet, fresh tomatoes. I dip them in boiling water and slip off the skins, then chop them coarsely, and sauté in a little olive oil with shredded prosciutto. Tomatoes this time of year are nowhere near as good, so I’ve taken to using the Pomi brand of boxed diced tomatoes instead. A 750 ml box drained and three slices of prosciutto works out just right for two people. (Save the juice for making minestrone.) To make a really easy dish at home, I like to use Colavita brand dried pasta. The rigatoni 31 cooks up nice and plump to support the tomato and flecks of ham.

22

12 2012

Remembering Italy #3 — asparagus & prosciutto risotto

San Daniele del Friuli is a beautiful little community about 20 kilometers southwest of the big industrial city of Udine, located in the hill country where dry-aged hams are a tradition. Making prosciutto is the principal business of the town – perhaps followed by eating it. Even some of the flower planters in town are in the shape of pigs.

Although the Friulani love their asparagus (see my posts from May 2009), the only time I’ve ever eaten asparagus risotto in Friuli, it was made with white asparagus. The Friulani version was silken and smooth and very pale. Oddly enough, I had often been served cold steamed asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and Pat and I wondered why we’d never seen a risotto that combined the two. Since we had some extra prosciutto di San Daniele available, I thought I’d see how the delicate ham would be in risotto with Grana Padano, a more understated grating cheese than Parmigiano. Local asparagus isn’t in season, but I was lucky to get some plump, crisp spears that had just come off the plane from Peru.

We were pleased to discover that as long as neither the asparagus nor the prosciutto is overcooked, this recipe makes a risotto in which all the elements — the prosciutto, the cheese, the rice, the asparagus, and the stock — not only retain their individual flavors and identities, they combine into a delicious, harmonious risotto. We’ll certainly be eating it again.

This is another pressure-cooker risotto, but can be made conventionally by steaming the asparagus for five minutes, and cooking the risotto while constantly stirring and adding liquid for 20-25 minutes. If doing it conventionally, you’ll need another half cup of stock.

ASPARAGUS & PROSCIUTTO RISOTTO

Ingredients

1/4 cup strong chicken stock

1 pound asparagus, cleaned and trimmed

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
1 cup strong chicken stock plus reserved liquid from steaming
4 slices prosciutto di San Daniele, cut into 1/4-inch squares
2 oz. Grana Padano cheese, finely grated (about 3/4 unpacked cup)

Directions

1. Place rack in 3.5 liter pressure cooker and add 1/4 cup chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Place asparagus spears on rack, close pressure cooker, and steam 60 seconds. Quick cool pot and remove asparagus. Cut into 1-inch lengths and reserve. Pour off steaming liquid and reserve.

2. Wipe out pot. Add olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add rice and stir well to coat with oil. Turn heat up to high and add wine, stirring constantly until nearly absorbed (about 90 seconds).

3. Add chicken stock and liquid reserved from steaming asparagus; stir well. Secure lid on pressure cooker and bring up to pressure. Cook for 7 minutes before quick-cooling pot to remove lid.

4. Place pot back on low heat and stir. (The risotto should be soupy and the rice slightly too firm.) Add asparagus and prosciutto. Stir to mix thoroughly and continue stirring over low heat for 1 minute.

5. Remove from heat and stir in Grana Padano, blending well.

6. Divide risotto into two 16- to 20-ounce shallow bowls and serve.

14

12 2012

Remembering Italy #2 with pear and prosciutto salad

The Legends from Europe folks passed along a packet of prosciutto di Parma, the most familiar of the Italian raw hams seen in the U.S. and the one most imitated by American and South American producers. To qualify for the PDO label as prosciutto di Parma, the ham must come from pigs fed a special diet and raised in a defined north-central region of Italy. Additionally, the ham must be cured in the countryside near Parma in Emilia-Romagna. Much of the intense flavor comes from applying just enough salt to keep the ham “sweet” and then aging it at least 400 days. (The photo above shows whole hams hanging in a chilled aging room in Italy.)

Parma prosciutto is the most intense of the Italian raw hams and stands up well to other strong flavors. It is often paired with melon and even combined with Gorgonzola cheese on pizzas. But melon is out of season, so I decided to try the prosciutto di Parma with some gorgeous but firm Anjou pears. I peeled the pears, cut them in eighths, wrapped prosciutto around each wedge, and roasted them for four minutes under a broiler.

Once they cooled, I arranged them on some local red-leaf lettuce tossed with a light vinaigrette and sprinkled on some toasted walnuts and a few crumbles of mountain Gorgonzola. The saltiness of the ham was a perfect foil to the Gorgonzola, and the slight crunch of the lettuce highlighted the crisp edges of the warm prosciutto. In fact, lightly roasting the prosciutto retains the flavor of the raw ham but adds a bacon overtone.

It made a great lunch.

06

12 2012

Remembering Italy — first with Montasio cheese

With the advent of short days and cold nights, menu planning in my house switches from summer vegetables to the heartier foods of winter. So when the Legends from Europe promotional team (legendsfromeurope.com)came through Boston last week and bequeathed me a small cache of Montasio, Grana Padano, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses and a few precious ounces each of San Daniele and Parma prosciuttos, I started recreating some of the great dishes I remember eating in northern Italy. I’m sharing them on the site as a series of four courses. All five products are registered under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) program – a guarantee of regional authenticity. Accept no substitutes! So-called “parmesans” from Wisconsin or Argentina may be tasty cheeses, but they are not Parmigiano Reggiano by a long shot.

Of the products in the consortium, Montasio cheese is the least well known in the U.S. It is a distinctive aged cow’s milk cheese made in the foothills of the Alps in northeast Italy. It hails from the northern section of the Veneto and from the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. I was really pleased to get my hands on some to recreate one of my Friulian favorites, frico con patate.

The simplest way to make frico is to fry grated Montasio until it begins to crisp and serve it as a lacy wafer with a glass of white wine as a snack or an appetizer. But in Friuli, people like to add potato and onion to make a hearty eggless “omelet” like the one detailed below. I served it last week with slices of the last remaining garden tomato that’s been ripening on a counter since I rescued it from frost just before Halloween.

FRICO CON PATATE

Serves 2 as an appetizer

Ingredients

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 bunch scallions, white and pale green portions, thinly sliced
1 medium waxy potato (red bliss or yellow Finn), peeled and coarsely grated
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Montasio cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Add olive oil to a non-stick omelet pan and place over medium heat.

Combine half the scallions with grated potato and add to omelet pan. Sprinkle salt over mixture. Cook, turning frequently with spatula, until potato is cooked through.

Combine remaining scallions with cheese. Sprinkle over potato and cook without stirring over low heat until Montasio melts and forms a lightly browned crust on bottom – about 10 minutes. Loosen edges with spatula and turn over to brown other side about 3 minutes.

Blot excess oil and divide in half to serve.

04

12 2012