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General | blog.artofcookery.com

Fiesolana: Tuscan Food Galore

Posted by dynise | Posted in General

I promise that is not a typo for Fiesole.  It is a wonderful restaurant located in the main square of the scenic little town above Florence that I highly recommend.  After three visits I believe it is my favorite restaurant in Fiesole.  It was formerly known as Peposo…that name is still on the door, but they have changed the sign overhead.

Menu:  had all the traditional Tuscan food you could possible crave.  Additionally, they have a daily menu that had some wonderful offerings…I wanted to go for the Lasagne, but knew I would not have room for steak if I did.  Prices are typical for the city, roughly 7-9€ for appetizers and 10-15€ for meat dishes.  The exceptions were the dishes which were capitalizing on the in season Porcini mushrooms which were on display and seem amazing this season…I guess excessive rain is good for some things, yum.

We settled into our table and decided we knew we would be gluttons because it was Saturday night so went for the 1.5l fiasco of house wine.  Perhaps not the sagest idea with only two people at dinner, but sometimes “ya just gotta say….”  He started with a lardo bruschetta and I started with a ravioli in sage and butter.  Mine was very good, but his was heavenly,  FAT TASTES GOOD, and OMG did this taste good.  We both had steak for the entree course…mine with the Gorgonzola.  I did not share…neener neener.

The service was ideal. Friendly without being rushed and allowing for breaks for smokey treats between courses.  Dessert was slighlty disappointing,  I do not recommend the chocolate and pear cake…it was extremely dry.  But, when he told the waiter I could make a better one, the waiter redeemed the situation by telling him he should marry me.

The restaurant has ample seating.  At least a dozen small tables on the sidewalk on the Piazza, two floors of indoor seating and when the weather is good at least 20 tables outdoors in a garden that backs up against the old Roman theatre in Fiesole.  The garden is beautiful and if you are in Florence between April and September this is a DO NOT MISS.  But you may want to go with only 750mL of wine.

Prosciutto di San Daniele

Posted by dynise | Posted in General

Prosciutto crudo is just one of the fabulous pork products that are produced in Italy.  But it happens to be my personal favorite and specifically prosciutto di San Daniele.  If God really did not want us to eat those animals that had the wrong combination of cud chewing and cloven hooves then prosciutto di San Daniele would not exist.  Or maybe it would and it would be the yummiest work of the devil.

The region the produces the wonderfully cured pork is located just south of the Alps and slightly northeast of Venice.  They are permitted to use pork that is raised in all of the surrounding provinces in northern and central Italy that are raised to specifically high standards.  The Consortia have guidelines for weight, feeding, fat content, water content, intramuscular fat…basically everything except naming the critters.  And wow does it pay off.

From a flavor standpoint the guidelines are further developed by use of zero additives.  It is only salt and time aging that create the fabulous flavor that is so characteristic.  One theory is that the unusual technique of leaving the hoof attached to each leg during the aging process is key in that special something that the prosciutto offers.

From a health standpoint the strict guidelines have evolved a meat that has a surprisingly low saturated fat content and surprisingly high monounsaturated fat content, with significant percentages of oleic acid. For a serving of 100g (just a little under 1/4 pound) the meat contains only 159 calories and 5% or less fat content.

And wow, does it work with so many other good things.  A dot of balsamic vinegar, a pairing with Parmagiano Reggiano, layered with veal and sage for a Saltimbocca or the classic serving with cantelope in the warm summer months.  The prices after import can give a little bit of sticker shock, but the meat is so abundant in flavor that just a small amount lends distinction to anything you combine it with.  And with zero guilt for indulging in this devilishly good meat.

Italian Rosé Wine

Posted by dynise | Posted in General

Italian food is great.  Italian wine is great.  Put the two together and you have great meals.  But summer days and full, tannic reds when it is 95 degrees outside aren’t the perfect combination for a lot of people.

Maybe you have been drinking a lot of white wines lately and you are looking for something just a little different.  You want cool and refreshing because, well, it’s hot.  And you want food friendly because, well, you like food.  Try an Italian rosé wine.

Rosé has become increasingly popular in the US over the last 10 years and is now the number one growth category for wine sales.  These wines are definitely not the super sweet wines that many people unfortunately associate with the term rosé.  Real rosés are dry or semi-dry, but with fruit notes.  And the EU decision in June to maintain the standards for appellations in regards to blending was heartily welcomed by Italian rosé producers who wish to maintain the integrity of their product.

Rosés are made by three methods, maceration being the most common.  The juice of the grapes is left in contact with the red skin just long enough to give it the desired color.  Colors range from soft pink to deep salmon depending on the amount of time the skins are left with the juice.  The second most used is saignée, or bleeding the vats.  This technique is used when rosé is a secondary production.  In order to produce extremely intense reds a portion of the pink juice in the must it removed.  The producer gets two extremely different wines from the same grapes, a super intense red and summer perfect rosé.

Blending is only permissable in EU recognized appellations in Champagne.  You will not find blended DOC or DOCG rosés, but there are available blended rosés from IGT producers.  I have done some “testing” on these and found them delightfully yummy.

What foods do they work with?  Almost everything light.  Anything with fresh tomatoes, seafood dishes, egg dishes, fresh fruits and vegetables.  Or for just sipping nice and chilled on a hot summer day.

Balsamic Vinegar

Posted by dynise | Posted in General

True Balsamic vinegar is one of the most expensive condiments in the world.  Italian cooking is known for its use of quality ingredients and balsamic vinegar is no exception.  Those that have tried the real thing and seen its corresponding price tag may have gone into a state of sticker shock.  Why?  Why is a vinegar so expensive?

To begin at the beginning.  Balsamic vinegar starts off differently than other vinegars.  While other vinegars take wine and let oxidation just run its natural course, balsamic starts out differently.  Balsamic vinegar begins from unfermented must that is then cooked and subsequently fermented.  More of the sugar is retained in this process and gives the sweetness that is characteristic of balsamic.

Then comes the process that causes the exorbitant price tag.  Balsamic vinegar can only be made in two towns on the entire planet to qualify for the DOC regulated status, Emilio Reggia and Modena.  It also must be aged for a bare bones minimum of 12 years.  Many are aged for 18 and 25 years and a small number for up to 100.  That is patience.

In addition to the limited regions in which it can be produced, there is also an intense flavoring process.  To give the depth and richness of flavor the vinegar is aged in successively smaller barrels of varying woods.  This gives different notes to the vinegar depending on the order that at least seven different woods come into contact with the vinegar in.  The intensity is increased in the smaller barrels because more of the vinegar is in contact consistently with the wood.

For true balsamic vinegar, aceto balsamico tradizionale, will generally start in the $100 a bottle range for these reasons.  This should be reserved for the dot of flavor that enhances a prosciutto di San Daniele or an aged Parmagiano Reggiano.

The less costly alternatives, condimento balsamico and aceto balsamico di Modena or Reggio Emilia, are perfect for your balsamic vinegrettes and reduction sauces or just drizzled over some spinach and strawberries for a refreshing summer salad.

Sweet Summer Peaches

Posted by dynise | Posted in General

Summer and sweet white peaches.  Besides the fabulous bellinis that are made with them, they make for some fantastic desserts.  In addition to just being eaten solo for their sheer fuzzy, sweet perfection they are ideal on a hot summer day.

They also blend well with any sort of creamy goodness.  But, keeping the creamy goodness under control while you are prancing around in your bathing suit in that hot summer sun is always a good idea.  So here is a recipe for a dessert that feels much more indulgent than it actually is, both calorie and cholesterol wise.

INGREDIENTS

2  lbs peaches

2 small containers plain yogurt (individual serving size)

1/2 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup sugar

1 package gelatin and corresponding water recommendations

fresh thyme sprigs

DIRECTIONS

Wash, peel and cut the peaches in slices, saving one to use as a garnish.  Dissolve 5/8 cup of the sugar in a pint of water, retaining the rest of the sugar.  Stirring until you get a clear syrup.  Add the peaches and four small sprigs of thyme and cook for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, soften the gelatin in cold water.  When the peaches are done cooking, remove the thyme and mix with the gelatin solution.  Distribute between cups or glasses and put in the refrigerator to congeal.  Blend the yogurt with the whipping cream and the remaining 1/8 cup of sugar.  After the peach mixture is set, top the glasses with the cream mixture and garnish each glass with slice of peach and a sprig of thyme.

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