Archive for November, 2011
I love Thanksgiving. It is MY holiday-the day that I have the most family & friends gathered at once and I want the day to be wonderful for all who visit. When I am planning my Thanksgiving meal, there are many important things to consider but first and foremost is that I want my guests to be relaxed and glad they came. In order for that to be happen, I must also be relaxed. I keep things simple but elegant. The simple part is my Stress Free philosophy of relying on authentic Italian ingredients that do not require a lot of fussing. The elegant part also comes from the quality ingredients as well as my being well prepared by planning ahead and using my favorite things for serving. A few days before the occasion, I pour a glass of wine, put on some music, and enjoy the ritual of getting things together to make sure that I have everything I’ll need on the day of the party. You don’t want to be climbing on step stools looking for special glassware while your guests are arriving. Spending a few hours one evening before the event will allow you to enjoy the delicious food & wine that you are serving.
It’s also essential to shop early. I rely on authentic quality ingredients from my favorite Italian Specialty Store. If you don’t have an Italian Specialty Store in your area, you can order on line from my favorites, www.dipaloselects.com; www.igourmet.com; www.todarobros.com; www.murrayscheese.com,www.forevercheese.com; or check your local grocery store. Italian cuisine is America’s favorite and I find that grocery stores now offer an ever increasing variety of authentic Italian ingredients.
When guests are arriving, I greet them with a glass of Sparkling Italian Prosecco from the Veneto Region. Bubbles make any day special and Prosecco is not only reasonably priced at about $15 per bottle, but easy to drink. It has a light, dry, fresh, crisp flavor profile that will compliment the variety of flavors that Thanksgiving brings. I keep the appetizers simple. I’ll check my favorite Italian Specialty Store for the authentic ingredients that will help me create a wonderful antipasto. An assortment of Italian cheeses with different flavor profiles and textures is a good place to begin.
Cheese Platter 101
Use different textures
Try a soft or semi soft cheese such as a Taleggio – sweet, nutty, & tangy or Italy’s super blue- Gorgonzola Dolce Molto Cremoso. Add a soft to medium hard cheese such as Asiago – there are Asiago cheeses that are aged for different lengths of time and will range from soft and buttery to more complex as they age.
Add a hard cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano. These are the legends of Italy. Parmigiano has the sharper flavor while Grana is slightly sweeter, but both are wonderful at the table or grated.
Add some condiments to make it special and heighten the flavors of the cheeses. Condiments can range from Italian Balsamic Vinegar Aceto Balsamico, to fruit mustards Mostarde (Sharp on the tongue, crunchy when the candied fruit hits the palate, releasing spicy essences mixed with honeyed sugar. To the taste-buds the sensation is unique and unmistakable. Try a Pear or Fig Mostarda! ), to Marmelatta (jam containing bits of fruit, most commonly oranges), olive paste, Italian Almonds or Mandorle, Pesto (pesto can be made from basil as well as sun dried tomato and more), Honey or Miele such as Thousand Flower Millefiori and Sunflower Girasole or wine jelly, just to name a few.
Marinated vegetables such as Mushrooms or Sun Dried Tomatoes, and olives are also a nice addition. Add a cured meat such as Speck Alto Adige PGI (lightly smoked and spiced), Prosciutto di Parma or Prosciutto di San Daniele (salt cured & air dried). When making my selection I always look for the Italian seals of authenticity so that I know I am getting the genuine flavor of Italy!
Finish your offering with a simple Focaccia! I make my dough first thing in the morning and 30 minutes before guests arrive it has risen beautifully and can be put in the oven.
This recipe can be used for Focaccia or pizza. Using the food processor makes quick and easy work of the kneading process—and it’s almost foolproof!
- 1 1 / 4 cup tepid water – using a meat or candy thermometer, the water should measure 110-120 degrees.
- 1 package or 2 1 / 4 teaspoons dry yeast (Rapid Rise is not necessary)
- 3 1 / 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for your work surface
- 1 hearty pinch of fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for coating the dough during the rising process
- Additional sea salt & extra virgin olive oil for garnish
- Food processor with steel blade
- Half sheet pan or 9 x 13 pan
- Large bowl for rising dough
- Plastic Wrap for rising
- Towel to cover bowl while rising
Mix yeast in tepid water. Let stand 5-10 minutes until foamy.
Set up food processor with steel blade (an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook also works well). Place flour and salt into food processor. Pulse 2-3 times to mix salt and flour well.
Add yeast mixture and process until a ball forms inside the work bowl. Add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Process 2 minutes.
Dough should not be sticky. It should feel as soft as a baby’s bottom. If you haven’t achieved this texture, add more flour. Add the flour 1 / 4 cup at a time until dough is no longer sticky and does not stick to your hands.
Remove from work bowl and place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and towel and set in a warm place to rise. Dough should double in size within 1or 2 hours. Note: The longer the dough rises, the lighter the dough.
Punch down and let rest for 10 minutes.
Drizzle half sheet pan or 9 x 13 pan with enough extra virgin olive oil to spread evenly. Place dough on pan and flatten. With your knuckles, make indentions in the dough. Sprinkle with additional extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Let rise another 30 minutes. At this point, preheat oven to 375.
Bake until golden, approximately 20-25 minutes. Cut into small squares and serve.
The moisture content in your flour and the atmosphere in your kitchen can vary greatly each time you make this dough. The best way to judge the dough is by the feel. It should feel smooth and not at all sticky.
You can make this dough ahead and either let it rise all day in the refrigerator or freeze it. A longer rise will yield lighter dough. Barbara Seelig Brown
The Thanksgiving meal is the largest meal that most Americans will serve during the year but with quality ingredients and a plan you can have a wonderful time with your guests and enjoy the day as well!
I invite you to join me for more Stress Free Holidays Italian Style in future blog posts. Buon Appetito!
About Barbara Seelig Brown:
Barbara Seelig-Brown is the host of Stress Free Cooking on PBS and Foodytv.tv and the author of the companion cookbook. An Italian-American, who cooked with her mother and grandmothers, she wants to share the joys of cooking for family and friends with her viewers and readers. Travelling to Italy as often as possible, she brings her appreciation for authentic Italian products back to the American kitchen. Barbara invites you to “Put on your bunnyslippers, pour a glass of wine and cook a great meal with me.” Visit her Facebook page Stress Free Cooking with Host Barbara Seelig-Brown, her website www.stressfreecooking.com, or follow her on Twitter @stressfreecook.
“A drop of oil is a drop of history, of legend, of myth and religion,” says Gioia Pinna, who lives in Trevi, in Umbria. There she presses from the fruit of her own groves the olive oils called Gioia di Trevi and Principe di Mascio. They are extra-virgin olive oils—EVOO, for short—and they seem to win awards every time out of the box, or, I should say, bottle. A dozen in the last three years alone.
Agricola Mascio, near Trevi, where Gioia Pinna presses her splendid oils in Umbria, the region of St. Francis.
Olive oil is, Gioia continues, “one of the foundations of Mediterranean Civilization as well as the Mediterranean Diet. It has been food, medicine, cosmetic and fuel for lamps. It touches three great religions. In Genesis, a dove bears the olive leaf to tell Noah ‘the waters were abated from off the earth.’ Jews light their Hanukkah menorahs to recall the miracle of one night’s oil burning for eight nights instead. The Koran says the light of Allah is like ‘a lamp kindled from a sacred tree, an olive’.”
Gioia’s oils, most other Italian EVOOs, are also DOP. That is, they carry the blue-and-yellow seal of Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,
The DOP seal to look for
which certifies that the olives were grown in a specific region according to requirements that control everything from the grove to the bottling line. These disciplines, as Italians call them, have helped combine ancient agricultural values and practices with science and technology. The result is that a traditional peasant product has developed into an international business worth well over $10 billion a year. It’s a vigorous business, rife with competitive elbowing and eager for expansion.
Bona Frescobaldi is among the eager ones. She is also the wife of Vittorio Frescobaldi ,of Tuscany’s Marchesi di Frescobaldi family, mother of four and president of Promoliva, which is determined to do something about the fact that “olive oil dresses only three or four percent of the world’s salads. Although ancient, it is for many people still something new.” Americans sousing their greens with Green Goddess Dressing fire her with missionary zeal, as do those Britons addicted to the bottled horror known as salad cream. Olive is what well-dressed greens should wear, this season and next, now and forever; such is her gospel. I speak advisedly, for “gospel” literally means “good news,” and that’s what olive oil is.
That’s because it is wonderfully healthful stuff: cholesterol-free, easily digested, a balm to scalp and skin—not to mention sports and mathematics: The ancient Greeks oiled up for Olympic events (and, in fact, wore nothing else), and Archimedes, going a step further, discovered the principles of geometry by using his fingernails to trace figures on his lubricated skin.
Olive oil is fruity to buttery to robust in flavor (often with a peppery kick), with colors from poison green to bottled sunlight. Its fragrance is perfume. But beware! There are snares for the unwary. Don’t, for example, judge an oil by its color. That says nothing about taste, freshness or quality. Color comes from the olive variety or blend of varieties used (at professional tastings oils are sipped from black or cobalt-blue cups so tasters won’t be misled by pretty hues). And if you think olive oil is too heavy in taste, read the label—and try one labeled fruttato (fruity) instead of robusto. But if robusto is what you crave, go all the way: Instead of the brilliantly clear oils most consumers favor, try a rich, murky, mosto.
In oil, the word mosto means ‘must,’ the pure liquid straight from the press, just as it does in wine. (Indeed, unfiltered wines are gaining in popularity with more sophisticated consumers.) Mosto oil is not filtered but it is decanted: it’s rested in large terra cotta jars until larger bits of matter settle to the bottom and any residual water floats to the top. Then it is racked off for bottling.
Settling ‘jars’ are huge. These are about the size of those Ali Baba used to dispatch the Forty Thieves
Pass on anything labeled Light or Lite. That designation doesn’t mean low-calorie (all vegetable oils are calorically equal and cholesterol-free) but that all its flavor has been stripped away by chemical cleansing.
Don’t expect a bargain price. Pomace Oil may be cheap, but it’s also the lowest grade, chemically processed. And avoid supermarket gallons. Almost all of them are 98 percent non-Italian oil, mostly from Greece, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey and elsewhere. In Italy, bulk-packers add two percent Italian oil, opening a legal loophole that allows them to brand their gallons “Product of Italy.” (That’s how Italy became the leading oil importer and leading oil exporter simultaneously. At retail, look for a bottle no larger than 25 ounces or as small as six ounces. And it almost certainly won’t have an Italian flag on the label: that, like the name Lucca on supermarket gallons, hints of trickery.
Store your oil carefully: heat and light are its great enemies—air, too, so don’t use one of those open-spouted pizzeria cans unless you pour as freely as a pizzeria does. I’m likely to have two or three bottles of various oils open at one time, so I keep them fresh with a Vacu Vin device. It works with wine, why not oil too?
Vacu Vin Wine Pump Protects Olive Oil too, and costs little
The olive belongs to all of the Mediterranean, but it’s Italy that rules the oil trade, and it does so with top quality, marketing genius and relentless myth-making. Tuscans created the extra-virgin standard (perfect fruit must be cold-pressed without chemicals within 24 hours of harvest and yield oil of less than one percent acidity); being master self-publicists, they spread the belief that their oils are the best and only oils. Yes, they are magnificent–Laudemio and Monte Vertine, Volpaia, Poggerino, all of them–but the region’s cold winters put a peppery bite in the finish, sometimes a fierce one. If you object to it, as I do, seek the more delicate produce of Liguria (readily identified by its traditional foil-wrapped bottles), or of Lake Garda or Apulia. Fred Plotkin, author of “Italy: A Guide for the Gourmet Traveler” and “Recipes from Paradise,” says “I unabashedly assert that Ligurian olive oil is the best,” and I agree, and not merely because Liguria is in my genes. Fred and I are slaves to the light, golden Ceppo Antico and L’Albero dei Sapori; to Calvi, Pietrantica and Rosmarino Farm. Alain Ducasse, on the other hand but still choosing from the same region, is devoted to Terre Bormane.
We keep open minds and palates, however. Sometimes a Tuscan EVOO is just the thing, or one of Gioia Pinna’s Umbrians, or Sicily’s Rapitalà and Planeta. Apulia is a major producer and it seems to have the biggest and oldest trees: they’re wild, haunted-looking things like the ones that snatch at Hansel and Gretel when they’re lost in the forest at night in a Disney cartoon. (An envious Tuscan one said to me, “Have you seen those trees? They’re not trees—they’re buildings!”)
One of the legendary olive ‘buildings’ of Puglia
And then there’s Argiolas of Sardinia, which makes oil as good as its wine; I have drunk both, I confess, greedily. From the bottle.
As for the production processes, there are two, both simple and fast. After the olives are harvested they go to the mill of frantoio, where they’re washed, crushed and pressed. Some mills still crush with traditional stone wheels several feet in diameter; the resulting paste is then spread on round mats of plastic or natural fibre. These are stacked on a central spindle and the press comes down from above, squeezing out the oil. Modern mills crush in stainless-steel hammermills and use centrifuges gleaming with knobs, buttoms and lighted dials to spin out the oil.
Partisans fiercely argue which method is the better, but if you want to take your pick on a visit to a mill some day, you’d better hurry, because
Castello di Volpaia hews to tradition: Stone wheels crush the olive as of old, but this crusher is a modern three-wheel
EU bureaucrats will decide the issue for you. The homey and traditional stone crusher, folkloric and charming, is on its way out, getting the bum’s rush because the EU talks a good artisanal game but actually has a deep-seated loathing for artisanal methods, which it considers unsanitary. It hates unpasteurized cheese; hates old olive presses; hates wooden wine fermenters; hates everything that is old and slow and proven by centuries of use. It loves only sterility, has the power to impose it, and does
Some Novembers ago I joined a huddle of Tuscan farmers at Santa Tea frantoio. It was a dreary, wet, bone-cold morning and we all were grimly silent as we waited for the crush to begin. A small fire cowered in its grate; such warmth as we got came from blowing on our fingers and stamping our feet.
Just-rinsed olives move toward their destiny by conveyor belt; left over leaves and twigs will be removed by vacuums and blowers
Then a load of fruit was dumped out of the back of a truck—one of those noisy, slow little three-wheeled rattletraps called an Api(Bee). It went from hopper by conveyor belt to be washed and then went by belt again, this time to the crusher. A few minutes later the fruit emerged as the first oil of the harvest. It poured from the spigot, thick, green-gold and fragrant.
At Santa Tea frantoio, the first filo d’oro or ‘golden thread’ pours forth
Then there were growing murmurs of pleasure as chunks of bread appeared from every pocket and sleeve. We dunked and tasted and tasted again, united by ritual and history and miracle, grinning and grunting, too stunned to talk.
Now I suppose it’s possible that similar scenes mark the first crushing of the year’s corn and rapeseed and sunflower crops at the gigantic industrial mills out in the stainless-steel heart of Archerdanielsmidland-land. On the other hand, perhaps not.
Bill Marsano’s PouredwithPleasure.com is a blog devoted to his insights, laments and bizarre opinions on wine, spirits, food and almost anything else that crosses his mind and keyboard at the same time.
On a crisp autumn day in New York that just happens to be the perfectly symmetrical 11-11-11, italianmade.com thought to momentarily divert your attention to recall the carefree whimsy and delight that only a sun kissed summer day followed by a brilliant sunset can so effortlessly kindle. As we gear up for upcoming Fashion of the Vine Events this fall, we fondly recall events featuring Italian Wine, Gourmet specialties and Italian Lifestyle and lest we forget all the wonderful people who enjoyed these perfectly paired elements and each others company this August in two of the US’s lauded summer settings the Gold Coast and Saratoga Springs.
The Grandeur and beauty of the Gold Coast, historic Seacroft Estate and residents were matched only by the exceptional Italian Wine Menu presented in collaboration with Fashion of the Vine Project by the Gold Coast’s very own celebrated Resident Importer Banfi Vintners at the Great Gatsby Party. Guests chose to begin or conclude the night with Rosa Regale Bracchetto d’Acqui which was enjoyed both as an aperitiv and “just dessert” wine. As the evening progressed so did the wine tasting . Guests sampled and learned about San Angelo Estate Bottled Pinot Grigio, the BelnerO Proprietor’s Reserve Sangiovese di Montalcino and finally the esteemed Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino from Banfi Vintner’s Roberto and Michelle Strollo.
Please see the tasting notes below on the wines featured:
Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui, Estate-Bottled, Vigne Regali
Aromatic with a hint of rose petals and raspberries, a unique sparkling ruby-red wine – Delightful as an aperitif while especially well suited to desserts, particularly chocolate.
San Angelo Pinot Grigio, Estate-Bottled, Castello Banfi
Intense, fruity aroma, followed by a clean refreshing taste – the characteristics that distinguish this unique Tuscan Pinot Grigio from its northern counterparts.
BelnerO Proprietor’s Reserve Sangiovese di Montalcino, Castello Banfi
Belnero has an appealing bouquet of violets and cherries followed by voluptuous dark fruit flavors with hints of cedar and spice.
Brunello di Montalcino, Estate-bottled, Castello Banfi
Rich, round, velvety and intensely aromatic, Brunello di Montalcino possesses an intense ruby-red color, and a depth, complexity and opulence that is softened by an elegant, lingering aftertaste.
I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it – overripe as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands.”
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Much to the delight of epicureans and oenophiles, the Italian Trade Commission returned to NIAF’s EXPO ITALIA this Saturday, October 29th. At the kind invitation of the National Italian American Foundation, the Italian Trade Commission presented the ITALIAN LIFESTYLE LOUNGE; switching gears from its recent seminar format to an open daylong format to accommodate all visitors this year at the EXPO ITALIA. Throngs of guests visited the lounge intent on exploring the many facets of MADE IN ITALY excellence presented there.
The lounge program featured a walk around wine tasting modeled after the Italian Trade Commission’s popular seminar series “Perusing the Peninsula” coupled with the presentation of Italian PDO cheeses and specialty products. Representatives from Atalanta Corporation, Banfi Vintners, International Cellars and Wine World Wine were on hand together with enthusiastic NIAF volunteers to discuss the array of products hailing from all over Italy including Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy, Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo and Puglia.
Aniello Musella, Italian Trade Commissioner comments “We are so pleased to feature an Italian educational experience in a relaxed lounge setting. We really enjoyed the opportunity to interact with consumers and spark their interest in new wines, cheeses and specialty products. Consumers just need to experience the products first hand and learn about them to know that MADE IN ITALY represents quality.“
The lifestyle format of this year’s program was especially timely as Thanksgiving fast approaches. Lounge visitors were eager to discover new wines, specialty items and gifts to enjoy with friends and family. Many if not all left with a new found special Italian wine, cheese or product that they were anxious to share during these upcoming holidays.
To make the Authentic Italian Lifestyle experience even more special; the lounge exclusively featured music from Italian rock star Zucchero’s celebrated cd Chocabeck which will be on sale. A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the Chocabek cd at NIAF will benefit a WINES OF ITALY study purse. Laura Savini’s warm smile greeted guests to the listening section of the lounge and spoke a bit about what inspired the Chocabek CD. It was wonderful to see people of all ages connect with Zucchero’s soulful music and lithe lyrics.
Finally, staffers from La Cucina Italiana Magazine were on hand to share their holiday product picks and consult visitors on all things Italian sure to contribute to one’s very own version of LA DOLCE VITA- including wine, travel, gastronomy and more. Lounge visitors really enjoyed their one on one La Cucina Italiana Lifestlye consultations and especially loved learning about Bormioli glassware and keys toproperly pairing glassware with wine and spirits.
Education was of paramount importance at the Italian Lifestyle Lounge.Visitors were encouraged to ask questions and learn about the many facets of Made in Italy in an especially festive and celebratory setting.
Another special treat later on that evening, President Obama visited and spoke at the NIAF Gala dinner recognizing the wonderful relationship the United States shares with Italy and the wonderful influences and contributions Italians and Italian Americans have made to America. It was a wonderful way to conclude a most delightful day at the Expo Italia.