Saturday, June 30, 2012

'A Pasta -Part 2 - Il Ragù Times Three

Il Ragù.  The classic Neapolitan pasta sauce that is served with the traditional family Sunday lunch.  So what was I doing in Gragnano on a late Saturday afternoon trying not one, not two, but three different ragu sauces?. I was attending a discussion on the big red led by Maurizio Cortese of Gazzetta Gastronomica.  Cortese began by quoting a popular film Sabato, Domenica, e Lunedi, starring Sofia Loren.  A classic which I have seen several times.  There is a scene in particular where Sofia is at the butcher shop one Saturday afternoon waiting to purchase the right cuts of meat for her traditional recipe.  A heated, and somewhat comical, debate begins between Sofia and the other housewives shopping for their recipe.  Which cuts to buy, which town has the true recipe, the best recipe etc.
So here I was, the Chiostro di San Leone, with Cortese and three cooks who he had invited to share their stories, their ideas, and their sauces that Saturday late afternoon.

First, Riccardo Scarselli.  Scarselli, owner of Il Bikini in Vico Equense swears he is not a chef.  He considers himself a bagnino, a beach attendant. Ok, but one who back in 1994, out of curiosity, decided to play around with ingredients to make his ragù sauce.

Riccardo Scarselli
After trial and error, he believes that he has found the right combination which includes meats, braciole (rolled thin slices of pork), pork ribs and cheek.  The perfect onions-white ones from Montoro, a town in Avellino. And the right pot-it must be copper. He makes his own tomato concentrate using San Marzano tomatoes. Scarselli uses lard in addition to extra virgin olive oil.
Elisia Menduni (Gazzetta Gastronomica) warms up  Scarselli's  sauce

Then the careful eye, patience, and experience for this slow cooking sauce to reach the right point.  Il ragù secondo Riccardo, Ragu according to Riccardo.  He likes his sauce thick, dark red/almost brown. He likes it when the  meat and sauce have pratically become one.
Riccardo's ragù
After a bowl of Riccardo's sauce, served with a thick slice of bread, it was time for Cortese to introduce Signora Angelina Ceriello of E' Curti  in San Anastasia (Na).  Signora Angelina, who, Cortese informed us, will celebrate 60 years of service in her restaurant's small kitchen on the 12th of Septmenber.  Soft-spoken Signora Angelina, small herself, brought a large pot of ragù cooked just the way she likes it, and her customers as well.

Signora Angelina and Mauriio Cortese

Angelina's sauce

In Angelina's sauce, she also sticks with pork pieces such as the muscle, pancetta, and gallenelle, the part above the thighs.  She uses her hoemade tomato sauce, no onions, and extra virgin olive oil.  During cooler months, she adds more meat such as sausages, and cotiche, stuffed pork skinsThe aromas that came from the pot were amazing.  And when served in a bowl with a piece of bread and a tender piece of slow cooked pork?  Hard not to imagine this sauce with a plate of pasta cooked al dente, firm.

Cortese was ready to present his final panelist.  One whose sauce he knows very well, a sauce prepared by his wife Cristina Lontananza.  Cristina learned the basics of her recipe like many other Neapolitans, from her mother.  Then over the years added what she wanted and deleted what she didn't.
Cristina Lontananza
Lontananza's ragù

Lontananza also believes strongly in what meat she chooses for her sauce.  Braciole, stuffed with pine nuts, uvette (dried grapes) parsley, garlic and cheese is a must.  Then cotiche, pork ribs, and sausage if she has some on hand.  In her version she uses canned San Marzano tomatoes, onions, extra virgin olive oil, and experience, patience and care.

By the end of the afternoon, we had tasted three sauces, heard three stories.  The stories, like the sauces, were special, different, and unique.  Just like the three people who presented them; Riccardo Scarselli, Angelina Ceriello, and Cristina Lontananza.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Pane and Prosciutto - Irpinia with Chef Francesco Spagnuolo

Rocco Plati and Francesco Spagnuolo
I pulled into Radici Resort late Wednesday morning knowing good and well that Morabianca Ristorante was closed for the day.  But I wasn't concerned. Actually, it was perfect. Perfect because I had an appointment with Chef Francesco Spagnuolo.  I wanted to learn a bit about the prodotti tipici in the area and Francesco invited me to tag along with himself and Morabianca's Maitre D Rocco Plati on a shopping trip Irpinia style.

Off to Venticano, about a 10 minute drive away.  Destination?  Ciarcia....a prosciutto lovers heaven on earth.

 I assumed this was just a large delicatessen, but as the doors opened, and the aroma of aged ham hit my nostrils, I knew I was in for something extraordinary.  3 floors of extraordinary and Nicola Ciarcia who gave us a tour of the facilities starting with the bottom floor.

Spagnuolo and Ciarcia
From where the pork enters, to where it exits, and every point in between.  And though this facility has only been around since 2002 and is stocked with the lastest technology and conviniences.  The family has been producing prosciutto since 1930.  Tradition meets technology...

On the main floor, there is even a tasting room where clients can taste all kinds of specialties.  We tried the culatello irpino, Italian pork thighs.

But prosciutto wasn't the only thing available here.  Irpinia supports its own. Wine, cheeses, pastas from all over Irpinia and Campania are also on sale.

For our prosciutto and cheese, we needed some bread...and Francesco makes his from scratch.  Time for flour shopping.   Off to Bonito, 10 minutes away to La Porta, a flour mill that still grounds grain the old fashioned way.  There we met Sabatino who gave us a quick tour of the facilities...
Sabatino with Plati

What impressed me the most about this particular shopping trip was that I spent the afternoon with Irpinia's youth.  Professionals who love what they do, love their traditions, and love their culture.  In a society who is always looking to move ahead, it is refreshing to find those who are proud of their past.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Good Afternoon Gragnano - 'A Pasta Part 1

'A Pasta was a 2 day event put on by Gazzetta Gastronomica.  I decided to divide this weekend celebrating the pasta from Gragnano (Na)  into three seperate blog posts.

Ciao Giuseppe!  How are you? It was late afternoon when I arrived at the Chiostro di San Leone  in Gragnano, a small town about a half hour from Naples.   Giuseppe Di Martino  had flown in from Germany on his way back from Vancouver and Washington D.C. just a couple of hours earlier, but his face didn't show that he had been up for the last 24 hours.
Giuseppe Di Martino

Di Martino, owner of two pasta factories in Gragnano, is used to travelling the world talking about pasta and Gragnano.  On this particular afternoon, he was programmed to be the guest speaker in a small corner room  accompanied by a bag of  wheat, a bag of grain,  a bag of flour, and a bag of pasta. A small corner room with a soft gentle Gragnano breeze.
He began by discussing the history of pasta making in Italy in general, dating back to the Roman Empire.
He spoke about grano duro, durum wheat. Wheat grown in hot dry areas, some even sporting long black bristles...
 He spoke of harvest periods, how they differed depending on the area where wheat is grown...starting from North Africa, Southern Italy, and then Northern Europe.   How pasta made with this wheat was easier to asciugare, dry. And how it as the wheat used to make the first lasagne oh so many years ago.

He spoke of grano tenero, soft wheat, grown in the areas north of Rome.  Where the climate is a tad bit more humid. So it is understandable that this wheat that produces pasta dough that is more elastic, perfect for making handmade pasta.

And then he spoke of the history Gragnano, his hometown and why it is the perfect place to produce pasta.  They have been doing it industrially since the mid 16th century.  But why here?  There aren't any fields of grain.  No, but there is Gragnano unique location surrounded by mountains three sides, with a passionate breeze, vento maestrale, coming in from the sea.  Gragnano's Via Roma was designed back in the 1800s to take advantage of the sun, the wind, the air.  Back then, nearly 100 different pasta makers would hang their pasta out to dry during the day.  That was then, pasta production is now done inside, in modern facilities.This, along with fresh well water and their wealth of knowledge and experience have made Gragnano one of the most famous places for pasta today.

Di Martino wasn't through.  He wanted to highlight a few things. Like how important which type of die is used tn pasta production.  And on  the table, next to the wheat, grain, flour and pasta he had a bronze die...
Many companies in Gragnano use this particular die because it gives their pasta a rough feel to it.  Perfect for the many varieties of pasta sauces to cling on tight.  Teflon coated dies, on the other hand, prouduce pasta with a smooth surface.  Something to take note of the next time I read a package of pasta.

There were many things to take note of that good afternoon.  How Di Martino feels about spaghetti with clams (linguine s better) and spaghetti bolognese ( a definite NO !!the sauce is just too heavy).  The right cooking time for pasta, the right utensils when eating.  He continued, sharing his passion and love for pasta with the 20 or so who decided to spend an hour of their afternoon with Di Martino that afternoon.
In a small corner room in Chiostro di San Leone...with a bag of wheat, a bag of grain, a bag of flour, a bag of pasta...
and a gentle Gragnano breeze...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cool Recipes for a Hot Summer - Savarin di Riso by Chef Angelo Guida

Lunchtime at Dolce e Salato is always an opportunity to try something delicious.  Like this savarin of rice and tomato sauce prepared by Chef Angelo Guida.  And after a few bites, I had to have the recipe.  The chef happily obliged.

For the filling
Carnaroli rice 1 kg, small peas 150 gr, 4 hard boiled eggs, grated Parmesan cheese 100 gr, mozzarella cheese 200 gr, breadcrumbs 200 gr
 For the meatballs
300 gr of ground veal and beef, 150 gr of stale bread soaked in milk, 1 egg, grated Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, clove garlic, minced.
 For the ragu
200 g of tomato concentrate/paste, 1 liter of tomato sauce, 300 gr of onions, carrots and celery, 500 gr of pork ribs, 350 gr of crumbled sausage, 1 dl of olive oil, 1.5 dl of red wine, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper to taste
First prepare the ragu sauce by browning the mirepoix with the olive oil over low heat in a large pot. In another skillet, brown the pork sausage and  the pork ribs then remove any residual grease. Then add to the mirepoix along with  the red wine and  let evaporate. Add the tomato sauce and  then continue with the tomato paste and herbs and cook for at least an hour.  Then take out the meat and continue to cook the sauce for another 15 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the meatballs by mixing all the ingredients together shaping them into small meatballs,  and then sear in a pan.
Cook the peas and cut the mozzarella into cubes. Once everything is prepared,  start preparing the risotto the traditional way by toasting the rice ian a pan and adding  white wine.  When it is halfway cooked,  add the tomato sauce and peas. When cooked, remove from the heat where it will be whisked  with butter and Parmesan.
Then grease the traditional savarin dish well with butter and bread crumbs.  Fill it halfway with rice. Add the meatballs and half of the mozzarella, Parmesan, and  boiled eggs which have been cut into wedges.
Fill the dish  with more rice and sprinkle with Parmesan and  bread crumbs. Brown in the oven for about 30 minutes, then unmold and serve with various toppings.

Sweet Moments in Marzipan Modelling with Yasmina Baouia

Yasmina Baouia

I arrived the second hour of the second day.  The second day of a first of its kind course on cake design held at the Dolce and Salato Scuola di Cucina in Maddaloni (Ce).Yasmina Baouia of  Eating Art was in Italy for the first time to show a full house her techniques modeling with marzipan.  When I arrived, you could of heard a pin drop.  Yasmina, from Serbia, is not fluent in Italian.  So she spoke in French and English, and used an interpreter every now and then.  But speaking wasn't necessary...Because Yasmina spoke with her hands...

her talent...

her patience...

Baouia with cake designer Teresa Doria

and her smile...

Baouia with chef Peppe Daddio

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cool Recipes for a Hot Summer - Octopus Salad with Creamy Potatoes, Anchovy Sauce and Green Beans by Chef Paolo Gramaglia

This finger food was hard for me to resist . Chef Paolo Gramaglia of Ristorante President in Pompei passed me the recipe.

Ingredients for 4 people:

-  1 large potato
- juice of 1 large lemon
- Anchovy sauce
- Extra virgin olive q.b.
-  1 octopus
-  10 green beans
- Salt and pepper to taste.


Boil and mash the potato, then whisk together with  extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and drops of anchovy sauce.
Boil the octopus, put aside the tentacles and toss with the marinade of extra virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper
Boil the beans and toss with the marinade of extra virgin olive oil, lemon and salt

In a tall shot glass, place the cream of potato  in the center, place the octopus in plain view on top and garnish with green beans. Add drops of marinade and serve

Friday, June 22, 2012

Vineyard Hopping - Salza Irpina (Av) - Cantine Di Meo

Roberto Di Meo
It was only last January when I put a face to the name.  I saw Roberto Di Meo, president of Assoenologi Campania, a leading enologist association and one of the top winemakers in Campania, for the first time - in person. I was sitting in a small theater during Taurasi Vendemmia 2008  and Di Meo was there, discussing   Taurasi's macroareas, the climate, the terroir.  An informative evening that led me to present myself to Di Meo that evening at dinner.  The usual exchange of business cards and a silent promise to myself to visit his winery soon ish...

A silent promise that I repeated in March when I stopped by Cantine Di Meo's booth in Verona at Vinitaly. Right after tasting Di Meo's Fiano Di Avellino...right after Di Meo mentioned that he had a couple of older vintages waiting in the vat back home in Salza Irpina..

So one late afternoon I went to fulfill that silent promise.  Contrada Coccovoni, 1.  Cantine Di Meo. I buzzed the gate...

Ciao, Sono Karen....

Ciao...vieni in fondo...Come to the back...

I'll be with you in a just a moment...Di Meo was a little behind schedule, but no problem.   I took the golden opportunity to walk the grounds with Tonino Della Porta, who filled me in a little bit of cantina news.  We walked past Fiano vinyards ranging in age from 2 to 15 years old.  Some with the vecchia sysem, but slowly being replaced by newer vineyards whuch would challenge the vines, challenge the grapes to give be all that they could be...quality, not quantity was the key here.  Tonino showed me a cantina in progress..a new facility which was being built on site so that Di Meo would have more space for his custom made stainless steel vats, his barrel room, bottling facilities, and futre offices.  This was a winery who was expanding...and rightly so  We continued past olive, apricot, and mulberry trees.  We continued our stroll, our passeggiata down the road until we reached an 18th century renovated farm house...and Roberto Di Meo

Di Meo unlocked the door and led me into a casa...a home.   On display, a variety of older bottles with mixed in with the new ones.  Old classic labels fused in with Di Meo's new sleek bottles.  Back in 2003, Di Meo decided to change the bottles...simplify them.  F for Fiano di Avellino...G for Greco di Tufo...etc, etc.   An idea that he hoped would help his wines stand out on the shelves, particularly in the international market...

But of course, the true test is not what's on the label.  It's what's inside. Time to taste a few wines in the dining room seated at a large wooden table.  Two glasses...Italian classics by Pavarotti and Boccelli on the stereo. Ready, set, go...
C is for Coda di Volpe. We began with Coda di Volpe Campania IGT 2011 made from three grapes...75 % Coda di Volpe...15 % Fiano di Avellino and 10 % Greco di Tufo.  I believe Di Meo choose this fusion of Irpinia whites to give this wine not only the intense aromas, but the flavor balance that he is looking for.

F is for Fiano, so Di Meo, a self confessed fiano fanatic poured me a glass of his latest Fiano Di Avellino DOCG 2011.  A wine made from the vineyards that I had seen earlier surrounding this comfortable tasting room.  This wine spends time in stainless steel only before bottled.  Light straw in color...fresh...flavorfull.  Perfect for lazy afternoon lunches, light summer dinners.

Time to move on to the next Fiano...Di Meo's Colli dei Cerri Fiano di Avellino DOC 2005.  

Color here was an instant indication that this Fiano was different than the first.A deeper color due primarily to 12 days or so macerating with the grape skins...8 to 10 months on the lees.  Di Meo lets this wine spend about 10 months in barrique as well.  All to produce a Fiano elegante.  Perfect for those meals that call for a white wine, but one with a little more structure.

Di Meo had two more Fianos for me to try...his samples from the vats...his older vintages.  Sono grezzi...he tells me, rustic.  These wines have been in progress for awhile, one since 2000 and the other 2001.   Each spent about two years on the lees, have been transfered a few times, and the basta...  Non c'e fretta, says Di rush.   He just wants to see where this Fiano will go. I fell in love with the aromas of apples and apricots... I was impressed by the the freshness in each glass. 2000?  wow.

R is for rosato. In this case, Di Meo's Aglianico Rosato Campania 2011 made with Aglianico grapes.

Notes of light fruit and florals...grapes from Mirabella Eclano chosen to give this wine the freshness Di Meo wanted.   And as warm as it gets over the summer, this rose' is the perfect red that can be paired with light summer meals such as pasta, fish, and white meat. It would also work well as an aperitif...with cheeses and salamis, which by chance happened to be on the table.

Di Meo's caciocavallo cheese that spends a month in bathing in his red wine.  Then it patiently rests for three months (Non c'e' fretta...) before receiving daily massages in the family's extra virgin olive oil and Taurasi.  Every day for 30 days then left to age...Light to the touch...with a powerful punch when tasted...

A is for Aglianico. Aglianico Campano IGT 2008. 

Imagine the evolution I experienced in my glass over the next serveral minutes.   Aromas that were opening up after a year of wood (barriques and large barrels), then time in stainless steel before maturing in the bottle. Intense at first, but then slowly opening up. Imagine what I experienced when I tried my next glass...

T is for Taurasi, and in this case, Taurasi Riserva DOCG 2004.  Grapes from the family's vineyards in Montemarano 650 meters above sea level.  A young riserva...young because it still was slightly tannic, but not overpowering.  2 years in Slovenian barrels and French oak barrique, though Di Meo did mention that he likes to leave a little in stainless steel to maintain that freshness he is looking for.  I could imagine what this wine would be like in a few years...

Next I was given a spoon...a tiny spoon so that I could try crema di ratafia.  A spoonfull of this rich spread made with chocolate and ratafia, the Di Meo family's liqueur. A liquer which I had a chance to try next...

Il Ratafia di nonna Erminia...made with Taurasi wine, aged 6 years in wood before it hits the bottle.  Intense flavor, spectacular aromas.

Speaking of aromas, Roberto took out the last two tasting was coming to an end.  But we weren't going to taste...just smell.

Two napkins, one spray each of Di Meo's Taurasi and Fiano perfume...This was an unexpected surprise.  And I was obviously full of questions, like when and where could I find theses products.

Non c'e' fretta...No rush...Just little experiments to satisfy his curiosity while at the same time peaking mine.

Another silent promise...

Cantine Di Meo
Contrada Coccovoni 1,
83050 Salza Irpina (Av)
39 0825 981419