BAR MEZZANA Opening 6/1 – Drink these Giannoni wines!

Bar Mezzana (360 Harrison Ave., Boston) – OPENING June 1st!

Look for these wines from Giannoni Selections at Bar Mezzana:

’11 Eugenio Bocchino Barolo “Lu”

’15 Cascina Carrà Rosato “Rosa Thea” (Nebbiolo)

’14 Crealto Grignolino “Marcaleone”

I Clivi “RBL” Spumante

’13 I Clivi Ribolla Gialla

’14 Quantico Etna Bianco

’15 Rado Kocijančič Refosk

’14 Santa Caterina Ligure di Levante Vermentino “Poggi Alti”

 

Ain’t No Ordinary Slice: Pizzeria i Tigli Raises the Bar for Italy’s Food Culture

Located outside of Verona in San Bonifacio, Simone Padoan and his team at i Tigli are working very hard to make some of Italy’s finest pizza. And their version is by no means street food. Guests are invited to sit down to an upscale, well-pressed, red and white kitchen towel in place of Italy’s clichéd, checked (and usually plastic) tablecloth.  Call it “gourmet,” “highbrow,” or “fancy” if you like, this pizza is not to be ignored.  I Tigli’s take on pizza is a slow-rise focaccia that acts as canvas on which to juxtapose a myriad of thoughtful flavors, colors, and textures. Each bite is well-defined and evocative of Italy’s landscape and seasonal bounty, notably coming from researched and sustainable produce of superlative quality.

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Padoan’s mission to create the most superb dining experience is supported not only by the food itself but by the design of the space. It has a way of conveying the level of dining experience the guest should expect. The lines of the place are clean, modern, and inviting with pleasant subtly and transparency, including a kitchen that is just as open, airy, and spacious.

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I always make it a point to order at least two pizzas, one of which is almost always a Margherita. I Tigli handles Italy’s this iconic dish with almost palpable consideration.  Offering four takes on the classic pie, each is defined by texture and type of cheese.  It is the leavening, however, that determines the final result. The options are either “classica,” “soffice,” (soft) “croccante,” (crisp) or “bufula” and the tomatoes are always the preferred San Marzano from Campagna. For the cheese there is a choice of a surprisingly tasty fior di latte from Alberobello (Puglia), DOP Mozzarella di Bufula from Paestum, (a town in Campagna that is known for being home to the nation’s five top producers) or burrata. Provenance is usually noted on the menu, an element that has only more recently become more present in Italy. The staff is also trained to speak to all aspects of the menu, including, of course, their eclectic, natural-minded wine list.

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Quality, seasonality, and a creative spirit go without saying at i Tigli.  Radicchio di Treviso would never appear before the end of November and, likewise, white asparagus would only find its rightful place on the menu at the beginning of March. Along with the intense consideration for seasonality is an appreciation for the colors that various times of the year have to offer. Known for its visually striking pizzas, the featured delicacies contrast color and textures intelligently and tastefully, making it difficult not to notice of their artistic rendering as they are placed on the table.  Also making an impression on the palate are some unlikely encounters of savory and sweet.  In the same bite Padoan isn’t afraid to offend (Italian) customers by mixing fish and cheese or even propose other culinary influences, such as those of Thai or Japanese origin. Nothing is to be taken for granted on (and off) the menu.

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Whether Padoan and i Tigli are truly embraced by their clientele, it’s not absolutely apparent, judging from some of the rather scathing reviews posted online. It’s true that i Tigli is not inexpensive by any standard.  But their prices not only reflect the cost of ingredients and attention to detail, but more their chosen risk to do things a little differently.  In doing so they also petition their customers to think differently about pizza.  Certainly there’s room for fancy pizza alongside the slice joint, right? Given Italy’s lagging economy and its increasingly migrating talent, lamenters should delight in the fact that a food luminary such as Padoan still exists within Italy’s borders and stop complaining about his prices.  Cheap, mediocre pizza is available everywhere in Italy and it doesn’t take much research to find it.

Be sure to call ahead to book a table for dinner or drop by for an impromptu lunch until 14:30 pm.

Pizzeria I Tigli – Via Camporosolo, 11 37047 San Bonifacio (VR) 045 6102606 (Closed Wed.)

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Fasioi: Veneto’s Refined Bean Soup Recipe with Borlotti Beans

Simply named after the word for beans in Veneto dialect, Fasioi is a dish that I make almost every week when temperatures begin to drop because it is just that good. Rich, warming, nuanced and delicious, this is a soup that is at once hearty, healthy, and so easy to prepare. The way that these ingredients unite in symphonic flavor in the final dish is evidence of its refinement—even when the few constituents make up little more than a peasant’s fare. Pay attention to the subtleties of the instructions and you’ll master this dish without any difficulty! See the recipe and instructions below. Buon appetito!

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 Ingredients

  • 2.2 lbs Fresh Borlotti Beans or 500 g dried (soaked overnight)
  • 1 Sprig Rosemary
  • 8 Sprigs Thyme
  • 1 White Onion
  • 4-5 Tbs Olive Oil + a little extra to drizzle when plating
  • Freshly Cracked Pepper to taste
  • Coarse Salt to taste
  • Water

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1.  Remove your beans from the sheaths and give them a good rinse, discarding any that are discolored or sticky. If using dried beans rinse them as well.

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2.  Cover them with 1 ½ – 2 inches of water and bring them to a boil.

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3.  Add your finely diced onion to the pot.

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4.  Let the beans boil for five minutes and then reduce to a simmer (low-medium heat) with the lid partially open. Depending on the beans that you’re using, the overall cooking time could range from 1 ½ hours (if fresh Borlotti) or 2 1/2 hours (if dried). The freshness of the dried beans also factors in as well; fresher beans cook more quickly.  Stir about every fifteen to twenty minutes.

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5.  Prep your herbs for their infusion in the olive oil—the finer the better.  (I don’t recommend using dried herbs.)

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6.  The infusion of rosemary and thyme is to be added just before serving. Heat the oil over low heat for about two minutes in order to extract the flavors and aromas of the fresh herbs.

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7.  Coarsely crack or grind your black pepper. (Usually I use basic Tellicherry peppercorns that are available almost everywhere.) These are to be stirred in at the very end of cooking.

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8.  After the beans have reached your preferred consistency—I like them with a bit of density so I let them cook longer, although more liquid is fine too—add the salt in small doses until it is to your liking. Keep in mind that beans need to be well-seasoned in order to show off their earthy flavors.

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9.  Serve with a drizzle of fresh olive oil—one with a peppery backbone works well in this dish. Pair with a dry, white such as Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, or Pinot Bianco.

Enjoy!

Note:  The finished textures of the versions using fresh beans and dried beans are very different.  Because of the naturally higher moisture content of the fresh beans, I would recommend covering them with only an inch and a half of water at the beginning of cooking process.  The final result is usually brothier and highlights whole, tender beans.  About an hour and twenty minutes of cooking should be sufficient for fresh bean version.  An alternative is to puree about half of the beans and reenter them into the soup in order to achieve a richer, silkier mouthfeel.   The soup from dried Borlotti, instead, requires about two and a half hours of slow cooking.  Towards the end the beans begin to break down and sort of create a puree on their own that yields a denser result.  Because of the extended cooking, be sure to cover the beans with two inches of water (or slightly more) before initiating the process.  Don’t be afraid to add some water midway if necessary.  Adjust the cooking time in accordance with the final texture that you’re looking for.

The Big Chill: Europe’s Cool Summer and How it Effects Harvest 2014

The Festa dell’Uva in neighboring Cormons (DOC Collio) ended its three days of festivities on Sunday, September seventh.   However, many winegrowers here in Friuli are scratching their heads about what exactly they have to celebrate this year. While some producers have already commenced picking—especially those that cultivate Pinot Grigio and Tocai—others have continued to let their grapes remain on the vines, hopeful for few more sunny days to bring up the sugars and lower malic acidity.  From weather forecasts many are weary of the diminishing window of opportunity to bring in this year’s crop and increasingly present are the risks and fears surrounding unripe wines.

At the end of August, Colli Orientali del Friuli’s Consortium convened to attempt to address this year’s climatic shifts that are concerning not just Italian growers but even more those in France, Spain, Germany, Austria and Portugal. Without going into too many meteorological details, it comes down to the inherent location of the Arctic jet stream. Rather than positioning itself around Iceland as it usually does during the European summer, the Arctic jet stream lowered itself to the British Isles. In doing so it inevitably summoned an almost permanent vortex that prevented the high pressure system of the Azores to establish itself properly at the end of June—one that typically presides over Europe’s summer. Unfortunately, presence of this vortex or low pressure system created a continuous collection of humid air in northern Europe that resulted in frequent disturbances including precipitation, thunderstorms, cloudy skies, and overall cooler temperatures throughout the summer. However, June, July, and August weren’t the only months that were atypical this year. Temperatures during winter were a solid three degrees Celsius above average throughout. And, even as a transitional season spring, was dramatically warmer and gave way to bud break of the vines four weeks early. Those advances, however, were reabsorbed by the abnormally chilly weeks that followed.

Not surprisingly, the wine community in Friuli is cautious to draw conclusions and make predictions from this rather anomalous vintage. Growers can merely note this year’s stark contrast to the arid summers that they have experienced since 2003 and consider closely the measures that they undertook to counter the threats associated with such an abnormal year. Does this year mark a sort of climatic recalibration that we are experiencing? Question mark. Nevertheless, there are some bright spots. One is that indigenous varietals are still fairing relatively well this year.   They are not as susceptible to difficulty under less than optimal conditions unlike non-native grapes. Secondly, making good wine is not impossible; rather, it may take more selectivity and work in the cellar. What remains to be seen are which growers will make the difficult decisions necessary to draw upon those bright spots and deliver wines that are still superlative in quality despite this summer’s big chill.

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How Do You Pomodoro?

It’s not by chance that pasta al pomodoro is Italy’s most beloved dish, offered on most menus throughout the country.  When executed properly it is subtle and refined and yet so simple and satisfying.  Sweet, savory, herbaceous, and spicy – it covers an impressive range of flavors.  There are a million variations of this tomato-based pasta, but the one I make is at its best in August when tomatoes are hitting their stride.  I’m not going to lie, I actually shudder when I hear New Yorkers referring to tomato sauce as gravy.  This recipe is the complete opposite of “gravy” or a cooked sauce; it is more of an aglio-olio-peperoncino recipe with fresh plum tomatoes that have been de-seeded and cored.  In this top ingredients are key because they can’t hide behind a heavy garlic/cooked tomato flavor.  This method is all about showing off the quality of the tomatoes.  So hit the farmer’s market!!

Ingredients (serves four)

600 g plum tomatoes

20 leaves fresh basil

2 fresh peperoncini (or chili peppers)

sale grosso (large grain salt)

olive oil

500 g pasta

Note:  Here in Italy I usually use plum tomatoes from Sicily because they have thin skins, less liquid and seeds, and a concentrated, not overly sweet flavor.  Use what you like best or tomatoes that have similar qualities.

Procedure:

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Rinse your tomatoes.

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Slit each tomato so that this incision will become more pronounced with its brief boiling.

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Boil your tomatoes for about two minutes or until you notice the slits becoming more apparent.  (*It is essential to expose the tomatoes to as little cooking as possible so to maintain the utmost freshness of the finished dish.)

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From the boiling pot place your tomatoes in an ice water bath (my ice has melted in this photo!) so to avoid further cooking.

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Carefully remove the skins of the tomatoes, using your original incision to initiate the process.

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Remove all seeds, excess water, and the gelatinous part of the tomato as well as any small stem.  (It doesn’t have to look pretty.)

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Add salt to the tomatoes and then torn basil.  If you have time, refrigerate the tomatoes at this point for about an hour or two to macerate the tomatoes, basil, and salt and then take them out about a half an hour before you use them to let them come to room temperature.

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Slice your garlic thinly and chop your peperoncino, adding both to about four to five tablespoons of oil.  Make sure that your oil covers the contents. Infuse the ingredients over low heat for about three minutes or until you can smell the garlic.  (*A finer dice of the peperoncino will make the finished dish more piccante – also depending on the length of the heating during this step. I try to keep the heating to a minimum so to maintain the freshness of the oil at this stage to keep the flavors light and fresh with just enough garlic and spiciness.)

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My preferred pasta for this dish: Martelli spaghetti from Pisa.  Other favorite pastas:  Setaro, Benedetto Cavallieri, and Rustichella.  (Also De Cecco.  NEVER Barilla.)  Martelli has a ton of flavor on its own – you can taste the sweetness and nuttiness of the grain.  It is toothsome and inviting.

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There is no need to finish the dish over heat in a saucepan – simply combine well the infused oil with the tomatoes and pasta and proceed to plating!  If you can coat the pasta and tomatoes without using ALL of the infused oil, feel free to leave out the remainder if you want to achieve the freshest flavor profile of the finished dish.  At the table be sure to add a few extra leaves of freshly torn basil and a drizzle of olive oil to further enliven the dish.  *Adding a touch of uncooked (uninfused) oil is essential because it gives even more lightness and balance to the dish, perfectly melding cooked and fresh flavors and ingredients.  With one forkful you’ll see that this dish is very much the sum of the quality of its ingredients – fresh, light, and symphonic – so be selective at the farmer’s market!

Eccoci!  Pasta al Pomodoro!  Enjoy it until summer tomatoes disappear!

Natural Resistance – A Film by Jonathan Nossiter

Thank you for voicing what has been unsaid for some time.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Oeso6gNKz1k&feature=share

Synopsis:

“Four Italian winegrowers live a life we all dream of: Giovanna Tiezzi and Stefano Borsa in their converted 11th century monastery and winery in Tuscany find a way to grow grains, fruits and wine that creates a link to their ancient Etruscan heritage ; Corrado Dottori and Valerio Bochi, refugees from industrial Milan in their grandfather’s farmstead in the magical Marches labour for a rural expression of social justice; ex-librarian Elena Pantaleoni working her father’s vineyards in Emilia, strives to make her estate a utopian reality; and then Stefano Bellotti, the Pasolini of Italian agriculture, a radical farmer poet, disrupts everyone’s rules from his avant garde farm in the Piedmont.But these protagonists of a rapidly spreading European natural wine revolution have encountered fierce resistance. Not everyone believes in their struggle for an ecologically progressive, economically just and historically rich expression of Italian agriculture. With the help of their delightfully eccentric film curator friend Gian Luca Farinelli, these very contemporary peasants use the power of fiction films to combat the institutional lies that make any act of freedom today an act of dangerous dissent.10 years after Mondovino, the wine world has changed just like the world itself. The enemy is now far greater than the threat of globalization. It’s everywhere and nowhere. It’s them. And us. But these natural wine rebels against the “New World Economic Order”, offer a model of charmed and joyous resistance. “Natural Resistance” mixes documentary and fiction in the hope of stirring the hidden rebel inside all of us.”

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Bruno Giacosa: The Genius of Nieve?

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Last evening I had the privilege of drinking a spectacular bottle of Bruno Giacosa’s 1978 Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano di Neive.  It’s not everyday that one comes across a wine of this age and caliber.  My friend Ferdinando with whom I shared this incredible bottle had visited Giacosa in the late 70’s, mid-80’s, and again in 2001. On the first two occasions he had the opportunity to speak and taste directly with Bruno after which he purchased a 180 bottles each time. From Ferdinando, it was fascinating to get a more intimate perspective on Giacosa and a broader context of the winery.

He explained that Bruno Giacosa had been bestowed with the title “il Genio di Neive” – the genius of Neive – because of his superior wines and ability to elevate the level of quality far beyond the standards of his peers.  By knowing each of the cru vineyards in the region with great precision, he was able to essentially cherry-pick the finest grapes of the from growers that sold their produce rather than making wine themselves. Since the 1960’s, Giacosa became one of the region’s (and Italy’s) most profound producers of Barolo and Barbaresco.  His meticulous wines were known to be of utmost consistency,  sometimes even sacrificing entire vintages, selling them off as vino sfuso (bulk wine), rather than opting to bottle them.  Additionally, Giacosa was a pioneer for his labels that included the name of the cru, in the tradition of Burgundy producers in France.      

It’s not by chance that relying solely on purchased fruit, he was able to exploit certain factors that came to distinguish his wines.  Relative vine age was one competitive advantage on which Bruno most capitalized; his wines were always made from old vines that were low-yielding and well-tended.  Other producers were subject to the inherent conditions of their sites that they inherited or cultivated.  Giacosa didn’t actually cultivate vineyards until he purchased the Falletto (Barolo) vineyard in 1982 and the Rabajá and Asili vineyards in Barbaresco in 1996.  After these junctures he began to experience the advantages and disadvantages of other growers.  His Barolo vines in fact were rather young for his standards and he therefore struggled to make wines of the quality that he once achieved.  At the end of the seventies, Giacosa noticed increasing property values in Barbaresco and Barolo and an growing scarcity of fruit to which he previously had access.  Farmers were  frustrated at their returns that were glaringly insignificant compared to the prices that the region’s top cru wines fetched.  This was evident already in the late seventies when Giacosa’s ’71 Barolo Vigna Rionda – that which my friend had formerly purchased – was no longer available.

The winery was forced to redetermine its course not only with the purchase of vineyards in 1982.  Giacosa also took on enologist Dante Scaglione in 1990 rather than continuing to craft the wines himself.  Other subtle changes began to take place as well.   Macerations began to shorten in order to produce more approachable wines and French oak began to replace Slavonian.  The winemaking that was once pathbreaking in the region was replaced by an oenological philosophy is described as “updated traditional.”

For me, the bottles of Bruno Giacosa’s ’71 Barolo and ’78 Barbaresco in Ferdinando’s cellar have become even more precious after learning of their dialogue over the years and the changes that the winery has undergone in recent years.  Even if I can only appreciate their relationship from a distance as I admire its not surprisingly vibrant rim, I nonetheless savor each of those coveted glasses and a connection to this once great barolista.

Vintage bottles awaiting uncorking.

Vintage bottles awaiting uncorking.

Fugassa (Focaccia) a Camogli

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It’s not by chance that the image of the focaccia comes first. And THEN the photo of Camogli. I spent the past couple of days tasting focaccia genovese or “focaccia normale,” how it is frequently ordered, in order to both satisfy my craving for this classic Ligurian specialty and solidify my opinions that have been steadily forming since I began coming here in 2003. I visited my top three favorite focaccerie so to rediscover why each had made it into the rankings.

To give you some background on Camogli, the name of the village is evidence of its deep relationship with the Mediterranean and fishing as ca and ‘mogli are derived from the words casa (house) and mogli (wives). More exactly, it became known as the town of wives’ homes because their men were always out at sea, fishing, to support their households. Camogli is located between Genoa and Savona on Italy’s Italian Riviera, situated in the region of Liguria.

Don’t get me wrong, the setting is sublime. But at the beginning of March the sun is rather weak (or non-existent) and for me Camogli becomes more of a food destination than an escape to the sea.

Buone Cose di R. Briasco
Via Giuseppe Garibaldi
Camogli (GE) 16032
0185 772073

As evident in the photo below the blog heading, this focaccia proved to be the highest rising (though difficult to see in this snap) with notably generous olive oil and the deepest dimples. Just out of the oven it was crunchy, chewy, mouth-watering as well as yeasty, salty, buttery.

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This focaccia is why I come to Camogli; it is always my first destination. I will literally schedule my trains around their hours. Not only is it the focaccia that keeps me raving about this unforgettable regional delicacy, it is also the one to which I was first introduced when I came to Camogli initially in 2003 when I lived in Bologna. I have always noticed and appreciated the same faces – confident, attractive, and smiling – behind the counter since the beginning of my relationship with this bakery. This is the top. Make no mistake.

Panificio Rizzo Rocco
Via Della Repubblica 134
Camogli (GE) 16032
0185 770247

This focaccia turned out to be the flattest, blondest, saltiest, and chewiest with a faint anise aroma and flavor. Less salty towards the crust and almost sweet, buttery, and salty in the center, it showed only a modest dimpling.

These results were surprising given their Apulian roots and propensity for a higher rise – in addition to my past experiences tasting their focaccia. That said, it was quite delectable. I’m not gonna lie.

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Panificio Giuffra
Via S. Fortunato 22
Camogli (GE)
0185 771053

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The most savory and earthy of the sampled focacce that offered a hint of smokiness from the oven. This was the darkest focaccia (and the crunchiest!) and the second highest rising. I would describe it as pleasantly salty with moderately deep dimples and a faint yeasty finish.

This focacceria is probably the least touristy and also the friendliest. Their location also dictates this because they are tucked in a steep stairwell across from a fishmonger rather than on the seaside promenade. Locals can easily pick up their focaccia, just caught fish, produce, and meat by walking less than 100 yards rather than venturing down towards the usually busy waterfront.

Sometimes even after some critical consideration, as in this comparison of Camogli’s focaccia genovese, it seems as though it’s inevitable to go back to where it began..in search of Buone Cose.

Primavera a Tavola: Paccheri con Piselli e Basilico

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The ingredients: fresh peas, fresh basil, Pecorino Romano, olive oil, salt and pepper. That’s it. Simplicity is so satisfying – as with this dish!

Procedure:

Remove the peas from their pods. *(Two pounds of peas will serve four to six people)*

Steam the peas for about three minutes over medium heat – check them occasionally to make sure that you remove them when they are still vibrant green. Place in a ice water bath or run under cold water so to stop further cooking/retain color and texture.

Purée 2/3 of the peas with:

– 2 Tbs shredded Pecorino Romano
– 2 Tbs Olive oil
– 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
– 8 leaves of basil

Boil the pasta – I love Paccheri as a shape for this dish because they catch the peas and purée inside the opening.  Be sure to reserve some of the cooking liquid from the pasta.

Dilute the purée
with three tablespoons of the water in which the pasta is cooked, of course only after some starch has been released into the water.

In a saucepan, (towards the end of the cooking of the pasta) heat a small amount of olive oil and quickly toss the remaining whole peas in the oil.

Strain the pasta into the saucepan with peas – a bit of the starchy water should still remain in the openings of the Paccheri so to help bind the purée to the pasta. Toss the pasta with the peas briefly and then add the purée, mixing until it’s fully combined over medium heat.

At the table, finish the dish with a sprinkling of shaved Pecorino, freshly cracked black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and freshly torn basil.

Pair this dish with Tocai Friulano, Verduzzo, or Ribolla Gialla.

Buon pranzo o buona cena!!!

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