Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Dates

Tapas, little food samplers, are taking over our tables nowadays. It is a lot of fun to be able to create your own version of these small culinary delicacies. I personally enjoy this way of eating a lot, because it gives me an opportunity to try different local flavors on a variety of plates. It also enhances the chance to socialize with one another, without having to eat a full meal. One particular tapas that really hit the spot was something I tried a few times, without ever being disappointed: Stuffed dates wrapped in bacon.

 It is true that bacon can make just about anything taste good. The combination of the savory bacon, smooth creaminess of the goat cheese, and the sweetness of a date are a true winning combination. These dates are SO simple to make, and they are totally delicious! I love them because it's easy to make lots for social gatherings, and they can be assembled ahead of time.


18 pitted Medjool dates
 4 oz. goat cheese
 9 slices of bacon drizzle of maple syrup

 To start with, heat the oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating, start stuffing your dates. Slice open the top of each date, and stuff it with 1-2 teaspoons of your favorite goat cheese. Then take a half of a strip of bacon. Wrap the half strip of bacon around the date, and secure it with a toothpick. Arrange all of the dates on a parchment paper lined backing baking sheet. Bake the dates for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then turn them over to brown the other side. Bake them for about 5 more minutes. At this point the dates are ready to eat, but I prefer them a little more golden brown.

So, what I like to do is drizzle them very lightly with a little maple syrup, then turn the broiler on for a few minutes. Keep a REALLY close eye on them, as they can become overdone quickly. When they reach your desired golden brown color, remove from the oven, and serve right away. They are also tasty at room temperature, but I prefer right out of the oven. They are wonderful with a glass of your favorite red wine. Enjoy!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Costicine al Lambrusco


When I visit Italy back home, I always want to take a day or two to visit my friends in Modena. They are special people, with a good heart and a great " joie de vivre". Maybe because they are surrounded by incredible food or some of the best sport cars in the world. Or maybe because they can go to the "Trattoria Il Fantino" any time they please, while I just have to settle down for drooling memories of my recent visit. This place was a wealth of surprises from the moment we stepped in. I learned throughout my life that when it comes to restaurants, lavish looks can be deceiving. But the moment you enter this place, there is a domestic, familiar feeling to it, like I was visiting some family members or close friends. The owner and his assistant are very simple, pleasant, friendly people, that welcome you with a warm, genuine smile. We were of course there for the traditional Gnocco Fritto and Tigelle, which came in abundance, accompanied with any sort of heavenly cold cuts and rivers of  Lambrusco, you can only find in this city. My young son, not a big fan of Tigelle or cold cuts, was somewhat disappointed so we asked if there was anything else that we could have to please his young taste. And that's where the pleasant surprise arrived. A warm oval plate of steaming baby ribs, slowly simmered for two hours with onion, celery and carrots  and plenty of Lambrusco. The end result was that my son, being the meat eater he is, was finally ecstatic, and we had to order another big full plate, since we realized that that everyone at the table was eyeing the first plate with envy and desire. Obviously, the owner, chef, being the simple, humble and incredible guy that he is, took me in the kitchen, and after a few minutes of lively soccer discussion he decided to share the simple recipe with me.

a rack of baby back ribs, cut into individual parts
2 carrots finely chopped
2 celery stalks finely chopped
1 onion finely chopped
sprig of rosemary finely chopped (optional)
1 bottle of lambrusco
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup beef stock, additional if  liquid needed.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil until very hot. Add the chopped onion, carrot, and celery and saute until somewhat golden. Next, over high heat, add the ribs, and give them a nice golden brown seer all over. Add salt, and a little broth.  If you want to add a little rosemary, do so now. Next add the whole bottle of lambrusco, it should cover the ribs completely. Over medium low heat, allow the ribs to simmer in the lambrusco until the wine is all evaporated. Stir occasionally, they will probably need to simmer for a good two hours.  The lambrusco will develop into a delicious sauce for your absolutely tender delectable ribs. The ribs should become so tender, they will be pulling away from the bone. Serve with some nice oven roasted potatoes, and a bottle of the best lambrusco you can find. The results are sure to be delightful.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gramigna con la Salsiccia

Emilia Romagna is known in Italy for its strong culinary tradition. This dish exemplifies all that is delicious about the region, and it's rustic comfort food. It is most typically found in or around the countryside of Bologna. Gramigna literally means "little weeds", it is a curly looking kind of egg pasta that is not easily found outside of the region, but you can substitute dried cavatappi or casarecce with good results if you need to. The nice thing about the sausage ragu is that it can easily be prepared in advance and reheated. Perfect for a cold winter evening, it never disappoints.

1 lb. gramigna or 1lb. dried cavatappi or casarecce

For the sauce:
1 1/2 - 2 lbs. sweet Italian sausage
3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 carrot minced
1 clove minced garlic
 2-3 sage leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 lb. roma tomatoes chopped or 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes with their liquid
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

In a large skillet, brown the sausage meat which you will remove from its casing. As the sausage is browning, break it apart into small pieces as you stir with a wooden spoon. This should take about 15 minutes. Then, remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave the drippings in the pan. Next add the olive oil to the skillet keeping the heat to medium. Add the carrot, onion, garlic, and parsley, and saute for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to brown and become golden.

  Next, add the sausage back into to pan with the sage, stir for a few minutes. Then, add the tomato paste and the wine. Bring to a low boil, stirring often for about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and leave the sauce mostly unattended for another 10-15 minutes. Stirring  occasionally. Finally, add the chopped tomatoes (either fresh or from a can), and bring the sauce back to a boil. Return to simmer and stir often for about 5-10 minutes. You probably don't need to add salt, but do taste to check for seasoning.

  While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a strong boil. Drop in the pasta, and cook according to package directions or desired doneness. It should be al dente.  When pasta is done drain it in a colander. 

Once the sauce is ready, Add the pasta to the skillet along with about half of the grated parmigiano reggiano cheese. Toss to combine completely. Then serve your pasta family style in a large serving dish, or in individual pasta bowls, with the remaining cheese dusted on top. Serve with a nice warm baguette to enjoy with any remaining sauce, and a nice bottle of red wine such as a sangiovese or chianti.
Buon Appetito! Enjoy!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Zucchine ripiene

This recipe is somewhat hard to define,because it contains meat and vegetable and it could either be an antipasto or an excellent main course. Zucchini is another incredibly versatile vegetable. I can think of at least five or six different ways of cooking them in an exquisite and tasty way. You can obviously fry zucchini, saute   them, you can mince them and make an incredible risotto, the possibilities are endless. I wanted to introduce this specific recipe because I thought that the combination on vegetable and meat has always given me great satisfaction.


5 medium size zucchini
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg
10 ounces of mix of ground veal and pork
3 tbsp of fresh Parmesan cheese
1 whole boiled potato

For the tomato sauce:

1 can of crushed tomatoes
1 onion
1 tbsp oil of olive

The first step is to hollow the zucchini with a sharp knife. Make sure to make the hole inside a good size, so the meat filling can fit well. Then, in a bowl, combine the ground veal and pork, eggs, boiled potato, Parmesan cheese, grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Next we will stir the mixture. Meanwhile you need to prepare the tomato sauce in a pan. First  put a little olive oil, then add the finely chopped onions and the chopped tomatoes. Season with salt. Th final step is to stuff the zucchini with the mixture of meat and add it to the skillet with the tomato sauce. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Spaghetti alla busara

It's no mystery, by now, to whomever reads this blog , that I love seafood. Seafood is, for the most part extremely healthy. It is also very versatile, in the way that it can be prepared in a multitude of ways with different combinations and  ideas, according to everyone's creativity. I'm also a big fan of shellfish and I like the fact that you can find different kinds of seafood in different parts of the world. It gives us a nice excuse to travel around. ( I know TV is already saturated with food adventurers and travelers of every sort..) This particular pasta I'm introducing finds its roots in the Adriatic Sea. There are a lot of different varieties of shellfish, but the best scampi were to be found on the Dalmatian coast in the past 100 years, specifically on the waters adjacent the city of Fiume, once Italian now belonging to Croatia, named Rijeka. We settled for a more modest quality of scampi, but the process and the different ingredients are a perfect combination to give this delicious plate a variety of flavors, whether is summer or winter.

Ingredients :

2 lbs of fresh scampi ( frozen , imported are also okay)
2 cups of fresh tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
1/3 of a cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of parsley finely minced
1 cup of white wine
1 box of spaghetti

Start by letting the oil simmer in a large pan and add the two garlic cloves, until they get golden color. Add the scampi one by one. Let them cook slowly for ten minutes, gently moving them from side to side. At this time it is also a good idea to put the pasta to boil on a separate pot. Make sure you read the cooking time for the pasta, to avoid having overcooked , mushy spaghetti. When the scampi reach a nice pink color, you can add the wine, slowly pouring it around the whole pan. Let the wine evaporate gently for about three minutes. Then, sprinkle the breadcrumbs around the scampi and next the parsley, always trying to spread it evenly. The last step is to add the tomato sauce with a large spoon. After the sauce with the tomato has simmered for five minutes, it is now time to add the spaghetti, which should have been already cooked and strained. Mix gently the pasta with the scampi and sauce and serve with a nice chilled white wine.

check out the video of this recipe on our youtube channel !
  Spaghetti alla Busara

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Risotto al nero di seppia

Risotto has always been a very interesting dish to cook, because as in many other Italian dishes, one can be very creative in using different ingredients and combinations. My "comfort food" type of risotto has always been risotto with peas, easy to make and very tasty. However, since I came from a traditional seafood oriented city, there are a lot of variations that are worth mentioning. Many restaurants located along the Italian coast create incredibly tasty seafood risotto. The beauty of it is that you can use the fresh seafood locally found and use it as a main ingredient. Some of these restaurants have been doing it for such a long time that they have a long tradition. Trying to replicate their recipes is virtually impossible. It is worth mentioning that this particular staple is relatively new to Italy, where in asian countries rice has been grown and consumed for about 7000 years and is still nowadays one of the major components of asian cuisine. Today I 'd like to introduce an interesting variation of risotto, made with cuttlefish and squid ink, hence the black coloration in the final result. The black ink doesn't give out significant flavor to the final product, but the cuttlesfish tastes really good and pleasing for those who are really into seafood.

Ingredients :

1 and 1/2 Onion
1/2 Carrot
1 pound of cleaned cuttlefish (you can use calamari instead)
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 packets of squid ink available at fish markets or specialty stores
1 and 1/2 cups of arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

Before beginning to cook the risotto, bring about 3 quarts of water to a boil, and and drop the peeled onion and half carrot inside. This is to serve as the broth you will use to cook the risotto. Let it continue to boil as you prepare the rest of the ingredients. After about 20 minutes, reduce it to a simmer.

To make the risotto, in a large saute pan, heat the olive oil. When the olive oil is nice and hot, add the diced onion and stir it occasionally until the onion is soft, about 5-10 minutes. Next, add the rice to the onion/olive oil mixture, and let it brown for about 2 minutes, stirring nearly constantly. At this point you are ready to add the two packets of squid ink and the pound of cuttlefish, which you will have cleaned and cut into strips a little less than a centimeter wide. Stir to combine.

Now you will add the cup of wine to the mixture, along with the broth you made with the onion and carrot. Ladle the broth into the mixture until the rice is just covered. Continue stirring pretty much constantly for about 15 minutes. As cooking liquid is absorbed, add more broth as needed. Continue stirring and cooking until the rice is soft, but not mushy. It should be al dente. When the rice is nearly done, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the butter and parsley. Your risotto is now ready to serve. This dish pairs particularly well with a nice prosecco, or other dry sparkling wine you prefer. Buon Appetito! Enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Olive Ascolane

Olive ascolane are deliciously stuffed green olives which are breaded and fried. They are originally from the Le Marche region of Italy. Thankfully, they are widely found all over Italy, and are easily made at home. In Italy, I would mostly enjoy them as an appetizer at a pizzeria. Olive ascolane are a great crowd pleasing appetizer. All the work can be done ahead of time, so they can just be quickly dropped in the fryer when you're ready to eat and enjoy. While the ideal olive to use for this recipe is the original from Ascoli, they are not available where I live. I have found success with this recipe using other kinds of green olive. I usually try to find a jar of nice, large, green olives. The ones I find are usually from Spain. If they have a pit, of course you need to pit them. I usually end up buying the ones that are stuffed with pimiento peppers, and then I just easily take those out, and the olive has a nice cavity ready to fill.

Ingredients for about 100 olives:
I large jar of green olives
canola oil or other oil for frying

for the filling:
1 carrot, diced
1/2 onion diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/4 lb ground beef
1/4 lb ground pork
1/4 lb. ground chicken
salt to taste
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 egg for filling, plus 2 or more for coating olives
2 pieces white bread, crust removed, torn into small crumbles
extra virgin olive oil

to coat the olives:
bread crumbs

To make the filling, first make a soffritto, by finely chopping the carrot, onion, celery and onion in a mixer. Saute the mixture in extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet until it is soft. Then add the ground beef, pork, and chicken. When the meat is browned, add salt to taste, then add the 1/2 cup of white wine. Stir often over medium heat until the wine has been absorbed.  At this point remove the meat mixture from the heat and let it cool.

Once the meat mixture has cooled, put it in your mixer and pulse it until it becomes homogeneous. Then put it in a mixing bowl, and add the egg, parmigiano reggiano cheese, and the two pieces of bread that you have crumbled into pieces. Stir the ingredients until they are thoroughly combined, and then leave it rest for about 30 minutes.

Get your olives ready to be stuffed. Remove pits, or any peppers, etc. the olive may have had. Prepare three small bowls to coat them first flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs. Start with two eggs, and beat them with a whisk. You may need to put more egg later, depending on how many olives you are making.

Fill each olive with as much filling as you can fit inside of it, I find a demi spoon and fingers work best. Dip each stuffed olive first in the flour, then in the egg, and finally a generous coating of the bread crumbs. After all of the olives have been coated in bread crumbs, let them rest for about 30 minutes. Then, I recommend giving each olive another egg and bread crumb coating. This will make them extra crunchy and tasty. If you are short on time, you can just do the one coating, but it's better to do them both.

Finally, heat your oil in the fryer until it is nice and hot, about 360 degrees. Drop the olives in the oil in small batches, and fry them for about 2-3 minutes, until they have a nice uniform golden brown color. When they are done, remove them and set them in a dish lined with a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Serve them hot, and be amazed how quickly they will disappear as your guests enjoy them. They are really versatile, and taste great with beer, wine, or any other favorite beverage.
Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Brasato di Manzo al Sangiovese

Brasato di manzo simply means braised beef in Italian. Nothing can be more comforting or satisfying than a delicious piece of meat that has slowly tenderized after hours of simmering. This is the perfect meal to enjoy on a chilly winter day, or any time you have a need for rustic cuisine. When I prepare this dish, I like to braise the meat for about 3 hours, until it is perfectly tender and delightful. And while I look forward to the meal to come as the cooking aroma fills the house, just as wonderful as the main course is the leftovers to follow.  I usually serve the short ribs with some oven roasted fingerling potatoes as a side dish. Luckily, there is always lots of sauce/braising liquid left over at the end. For a future meal, you can reduce the braising liquid to a nice consistency for a pasta sauce. Cut up any leftover short ribs into small pieces, and add it to the sauce. Serve over a nice egg pasta such as pappardelle with a generous dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano on top. Can't be beat!

4 large short ribs, about 10 inches each, cut half into 8 smaller pieces
1 onion diced
1 carrot diced
1 celery stalk diced
1 28 oz. can crushed or chopped tomatoes. I prefer crushed.
1 bottle Italian red wine, a Sangiovese works well.
1 sprig fresh rosemary
32 oz. beef stock
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

Before cooking, generously season your short ribs with salt and pepper. In a 5.5 quart skillet, or other similar size cooking vessel, heat the olive oil until very hot. Brown the short ribs on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes. Once ribs have a nice sear, remove them from the skillet, and set aside.

In the same sauce pan, keep the heat high, and add the diced carrot, onion, and celery. Stir often until they soften and begin to take on a nice golden color, probably about 5 minutes. When they look ready, add the can of crushed tomatoes, the bottle of wine and the rosemary. I chop the rosemary finely. Stir well, being sure that all the ingredients combine. When sauce comes to a boil, I often choose to add a little bit of sugar, maybe two tablespoons, to take away any unwanted acidity from the tomatoes.

Next, return the short ribs to the skillet, and pour in the beef stock until the ribs are just about covered. Once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cover the skillet and allow the ribs to simmer for about three hours. Stir occasionally.  The meat should become very, very tender.

Once the meat has cooked for the necessary amount of time, remove it from the skillet and set aside. Then, leaving the sauce uncovered, turn the heat up, and allow it reduce to a nice thick consistency. Right before serving, return the ribs to the sauce for a few minutes to reheat. Then serve the short rib on a plate with a generous helping of sauce on top. As I said, roasted fingerling potatoes are a great accompaniment. Also, a nice baguette is perfect for sweeping up any remaining sauce. Don't forget to treat yourself to a nice bottle of red wine to go with. You could stick to a nice Sangiovese, or go for a nice Brunello di Montalcino.

Most importantly, once the meal is over, and the leftover sauce is cooled, put it away and save it for your future meal as a sauce over pappardelle.

Enjoy your meal. You are in for a real treat. :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Seppie in umido con polenta

Seafood had always been a passion of mine and a costant presence in my family cooking. Besides being, for the most part, healthy and fairly simple to cook, seafood allows a certain degree of creativity and versatility. One element of cooking that I particularly value and enjoy is the simple ingredients and the way of cooking them. This finds its root in very poor generations of families during war times and other periods of economic depression, where families had to use ingredients found locally at a very cheap price. By default these ingredients had to be extremely fresh. These two elements, in my opinion, happen to be two golden rules of successful and delicious recipes, fresh and local ingredients. This is particularly true with the recipe I chose today. In fact I found it very "interesting" for a lack of a better word, how traditional poor people food, so tasty and authentic, got so "glamorous" and "trendy" in so many restaurants worldwide. Cornmeal should not be very expensive at all, but call it "polenta" and it assumes a whole different connotation. I think this phenomena has affected the wine culture as well, where something so simple and enjoyable, became "trendy" and, as a  consequence, more expensive.
One other interesting but fun challenge I came accross lately is the generalization of some food, seafood in this case. I used cuttlefish for this recipe, but many friends were suggesting that squid was what I needed, where in fact "seppie" and "calamari" are very distinct types of fish, even if they belong to the same family :)
In many Venetian restaurants seppie are very popular prepared grilled, cooked with risotto with black ink ( coming soon here) and, of course, with tomato sauce and polenta.


1.5 lbs of cuttlefish
1.5 lbs of chopped fresh toamtoes
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/2 onion diced
1 garlic clove
extra virgin olive oil

For the Polenta:
500 grams of corn flour
8 cups water

After having cleaned the cuttlefish, cut them into strips no larger than half an inch thick. In a large pot simmer the oil together with the garlic clove finely minced and the onion, until both are of a  golden color. Next add the cuttlefish and let them cook covered at a medium temperature for about 5 minutes, until they release some juice. Add the white wine and let it simmer for another two minutes. Finally, add the tomatoes and let it cook for another 15 minutes. If the sauce dries up fast, add the a little water, but the consistency at the end should not be too liquid.
For the polenta, many people reccomend the white one. I chose the yellow one, because I like the taste and it adds a nice color contrast to the presentation.
The traditional method for making polenta involves cooking it slowly on the stovetop until it thickens to the appropriate texture. This method requires constant stirring to avoid having the polenta stick to the pot.
Start by boiling water in a deep pot, pouring a spoonful of salt. Next drop the flour stirring constantly with a whisk. When everything is dissolved and homogeneous, cook stirring constantly for about an hour with a special wooden stick and lifting the polenta from the bottom up. The polenta is cooked when the edges begin to peel off. If it becomes too thick during cooking, add a little boiling water. Pour the cooked polenta into the appropriate platter and serve hot. You can also buy ready made polenta at the store and the mixing process would be much faster. Pair up with a nice white wine of your choice.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Melanzane alla Parmigiana

Very few areas in Italy, and probably around the world , have such a rich culinary tradition like the Emilia Romagna region. Every city, every little "Borgo" or "Villaggio" is an incredible and exquisite concentration of wonderful people, romantic landscapes and, of course, pure, simple gluttony. I had the privilege of going to college in the city of Bologna, called " La Grassa" (the fat) for obvious reasons. I was lucky that having to study and being under stress for a long period of time, I was able to counteract the countless number of calories I was indulging on a daily basis. From mortadella to piadine, continuing on to tortelloni and ragu' of every kind. From this perspective, the city of Parma is a valid and strong contender for the title of food capital in this splendid region. Some people might ignore the origins of very well known food such as the Parmesan Cheese (the real Parmigiano Reggiano) and the famous Prosciutto di Parma, not to mention the incredible variety of mushrooms and truffles which are abundantly found in the hills adjacent Parma and equally used in different pasta recipes. Thus the name"food valley" where famous chefs such as Mario Batali found inspiration and glory. A recipes that is equally famous, but very often misrepresented around the world in the Melanzane all Parmigiana or Eggplant Parmesan. Very often this recipe is mistaken with the Parmigiana di Melanzane, which is typical of the Campania region and where the eggplants are fried, giving a quite different end result, but never the less equally delicious. The melanzane alla parmigiana is a simple light, tasty vegetarian entree that I believe can be presented in every season and during different occasions.


1 1/2 lb of eggplants, sliced
1 oz. of butter
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
half onion diced
1 1/2 oz. of prosciutto crudo
1 1/2 pound of crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup of fresh grated parmesan cheese

Slice the eggplants by length about 1/4 inch thick. Boil them in hot, salted water for 2 minutes. Then put them on a tray and let them dry in a warm oven. Meanwhile in a large skillet,  heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, onion and the butter. Add the prosciutto cut into little cubes,  and finally after a few minutes of simmering, add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and let it cook for at least 20 minutes.
In a glass baking dish create a layer of eggplants, cover with the tomato sauce and sprinkle abundantly with grated parmesan cheese. Continue to layer until you used all the ingredients. At the top layer, add a little bit of butter and Parmesan cheese to cover the dish. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes and serve in the same baking dish. Pair up with a nice red Cabernet or Pinot Noir.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Napa Valley, California

Very few places in the United States, and maybe worldwide, are so rich and charming when it comes to food and wine culture. One of the things that I miss the most since I moved from Italy and relocated to California is sometimes the lack of appreciation, or maybe knowledge, of traditional cuisine and food culture in general. I was somewhat disappointed on how the fast food industry was able to establish itself as the mainstream choice, maybe due to convenience, when it comes to enjoying a meal. On this perspective, Napa Valley represents a gem . This incredible viticulture area dates back to the nineteenth century and it is really remarkable how some of the original wineries still fully operate today with success.It wasn't without struggles throughout this long period of time that Napa Valley came to be what it is today. Prohibition certainly didn't help and a lot of wineries were forced to close during that period. NapaValley can also pride itself on being able to be preserved as an agricultural area, while neighboring counties such as Sonoma and Solana have allowed more extensive commercial building through the last few decades.
The first time I went to Napa Valley, the immediate impression was of disbelief of how such a view looked and felt so familiar, in such a remote place away from home. The hills on both sides of the main road are gently sloping down, reveling an endless patters of vines that continue from hill to hill, making almost impossible to define where a winery property starts, and the next one begins.
I also really enjoy the distinctive scent of grapes that permeates the entire valley, from the small city of Napa at one extremity, to the most upper little charming town of Calistoga where I usually stay, home of a nice looking Geyser, worth a visit.
Right between Napa and Calistoga, there is St. Helena, a very cute and small town with little shops and nice walks. It is also probably the most expensive, if you are looking for a place to stay in the valley.
So, since you most probably come here for food and wine, I 'd like to mention a few places that in my opinion stood out during my three trips.
The winery that more than other got my attention is Hess. Their varietal of wines are very enjoyable, especially the reds , and the locations is absolutely beautiful, right in the middle of Mount Veeder. It takes a good 20 minutes of meandering roads to reach the location, but once you get there , you are in for a treat. The building is a mix of modern and traditional architecture and it blends perfectly with the surroundings. The staff is very friendly and professional. Inside the building there are also three floors dedicated to an extensive art gallery, where the exhibitors change quite frequently, something really remarkable  that I have not found in any other winery I visited. The wine is really good, so good that I decided to subscribe to their wine club and receive their monthly shipment at home. This is probably the best and only way to get their Mount Veeder Block Cuvee, definitively my favorite among reds.

Another winery that I liked for the combination of quality of products and scenery was Sterling. The interesting part is that in order to get to the winery, you can choose to go on a small gondola ride, worth it just for the spectacular view which is only a preview of what it will be revealed once you are up the hill. The tasting area is really cozy, on a small patio, where you have a nice view on the north side of the valley. You can also go on a self directed tour, following the well indicated path to follow and see different steps of the wine production, to end up in a beautiful terrace with a 180 degree view of the South side of the Valley ( this is where you want to take your pictures.)
Their variety of wines is also really good. I highly recommend their Chardonnay and Cabernet.
Next I'd like to mention a couple of restaurants. I'd like to point out the fact that I'm a little bias toward Italian food , which I consider one of the most satisfying and complete cuisines worldwide ( but I'm open for a debate..)  .
I really enjoyed a place called TraVigne ( among vines in Italian) located in St Helena. The food is really good traditional Italian and the ambience is really nice with an inviting outdoor area and a side building or "pizzeria" dedicated just for pizza. I really enjoyed their home made mozzarella and the sage infused pappardelle with rabbit ragu'.
Another place that's worth mentioning is Mustard's Grill. As soon as you enter the restaurant the scent of burning oven will hit you right away. I love that, because it remind me of a lot of Trattorias in Italy. Don't escape a drink at the bar. I love the bartender laugh, loud and thundering ! I enjoyed the grilled hanger steak, It was cooked to perfection.
It is really hard for me to sum up in a few paragraph such an incredible place and mention only couple of wineries and restaurant, because, seriously, it is very hard to go wrong once you're up there !!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Piadina romagnola

The piadina is an Italian flatbread which comes from the Romagna region of Italy. It is sort of like an Italian version of fast food, as they are often sold at kiosks or roadside stands. They somewhat resemble a tortilla or pita bread, and are filled with a variety of delicious ingredients. Traditionally, it would be filled with prosciutto, salame, tomato, squaccherone cheese, the possiblities are endless . The piadina dough is quite easy to make, and then it can be cooked on a griddle or on a stone. Piadine lend themselves well to entertaining, because it fun to spread out a variety of toppings, and let your guests try different combinations. As the host you'll have to keep them coming for a while, but the magnificent aroma that will fill the air, and the happy diners with be worth the while. I suggest you serve them with a nice dry Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna. Just when everyone is just about full, it is time to break out the Nutella for the final dessert piadina.


4 1/4 cups of flour
2 tsp of salt
1 tsp baking soda
6 tbsp. high quality lard (I make my own, you can substitute olive oil if you want, not the same though)
1 cup warm water

Your favorite cold cuts, soft cheese, or tomato, arugala as accompaniments.

A note about lard. Some people don't like the idea of eating or cooking with lard, but it really is an essential part of the piadina. Since in the United States it isn't so easy to find high quality lard, you are best off making your own ahead of time. Just get about a half pound of bacon, and cook it in a saute pan until it is crisp. Take the bacon grease it has rendered and put it into a small container. Let it cool, refrigerate if you wish. You will have delicious lard.
I use a stand mixer to make the dough, but you can certainly do it by hand. Combine all of the dry ingredients into your mixing bowl. Crumble the lard into chunks, and knead a little bit by hand. Next add the water, and combine the ingredients with a paddle attachment or a dough hook. The dough should be smooth and elastic. At this point you want to put your dough into a bowl, and cover it with a kitchen towel. The dough needs to rest for at least 30 minutes. If you are making it ahead of time, you can refrigerate it for a few days, but be sure to let it come to room temperature before rolling out.
When you are ready to make the piadine, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll teach piece into a ball. Then with your rolling pin, roll out the dough into a round shape, about 7 inches in diameter.

I usually end up cooking my piadine on a griddle. It is best to let it get nice and hot, at least about 10 minutes over medium high heat. Then cook each piadina for about 45 seconds on each side. If it becomes too crispy, then your heat is too high. It should remain pliable, not hard. Serve immediately, and keep them coming. You may want to have multiple griddles going simultaneously, depending on the number of people you are cooking for.
As soon as the piadina is done, fill it with your favorite accompaniment, like prosciutto and mozzarella, or bresaola, brie, and arrugala. The possibilities are endless. ENJOY!!!!
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rocciata umbra

Rocciata is a traditional round pastry dessert typical of the central regions of Umbria and Marche. Its name can vary according to different areas of these culturally rich regions. For example, around the mountain of Foligno is known as ntorta. Its origins, like most of the culinary traditions around this area, find its roots in old times. Some might speculate that the Rocciata, may have been brought by the Longobards' influence from North Europe, thus the strong similarity with Austrian Strudel. Today this dolce is mostly known around the Foligno area. It is usually made around the beginning or during the fall season, when the walnuts, a major ingredient, are harvested.

3 apples
3 pears
1 banana
5 dried prunes pitted
3/4 cup of walnuts
1/2 cup  of raisins
1/4 cup of pinenuts
2 tsp of cinnamon
3 tb sugar
1 tsp dried anise seeds
1 tb cocoa powder
4 ounces milk chocolate cut in little pieces
1 zested orange peel
1 zested lemon peel
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry thawed at room temperature (you can also make it fresh from scratch)

Prepare all the ingredients in little fine pieces and let them marinate in a large bowl for 45 minutes. Meanwhile take the two puff pastry sheets and roll flat on parchment paper with a little bit of flour to avoid the stickiness. Use one sheet of puff pastry and gently put the filling in the center, paying attention not to put too much. Once the filling is laid, gently wrap the puff pastry around it. With care, shape each section of filled puff pastry into a half circle, and join them at the ends to make a ring shape. Keep the pastry on the parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and carefully transfer the pastry onto a large baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes until it turns lightly brown on top.

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