June 14, 2010
Summer begins on June 21 but we are already in the throws of seasonal summer produce which can be eaten on its own or blended with cheeses and used in pasta. One of the great cheeses that work well with all of this summer produce is Pecorino.
It comes from sheep’s milk and is made in a host of regions in Italy including Sardinia, Sicily, Tuscany and Lazio. The cheese tastes slightly different in the various regions. Pecorino can be made into a fresh style cheese or into an aged or “stagionato” one. Sometimes peppercorns or truffles are added to the cheese to enhance the flavor. Pecorino can be a flavorful cheese or can be somewhat mild, it depends on the aging and the style of cheese you are buying.
Pecorino Romano is the most ubiquitous in the United States. It is quite salty. Much of the Pecorino that is made in Tuscany is made by Sardinians who emigrated there.
Pecorino can be used in salads, eaten on its own at the end of a meal, eaten with pears or used instead of Parmigiano on pasta. Pecorino is an extremely versatile cheese and a good one to keep in the refrigerator at all times.
By Susannah Gold
May 24, 2010
The Spring season brings thoughts of gardening and planting. Many peopke plant herbs to grow and nothing is easier or more fun to have in the garden than Basil. Basil is used quite often in Italian cooking but also in Asia cooking, although it is a different cultivar. Italian basil is usually called sweet basil as opoosed to Thai basil or lemon basil.
Basil is usually added at the last moment because if it is cooked to long, the delicate flavors are destroyed.
Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto which is usually served on pasta or occasionally with bread. You can also use pesto as a way to garnish soup.
The most traditional pesto recipe is called Pesto alla Genovese. Here’s a fun youtube video of a chef explaining how to make pesto, a very easy recipe.
Pesto has a few main ingredients and then some alternatives. Some pesto recipes call for adding potatoes and green beans, others do not. The mainstays of pesto are olive oil, pine nuts, basil and pecorino cheese.
Pesto is perfect for the spring and summer and is a great way to feed many people at a party. It goes very well with Italian white wines such as Vermentino, Pigato and some Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige.
If you have no desire to make pesto, you can buy it at the Alta Cucina Store.
April 27, 2010
Food is a topic that is on everyone’s mind and these days what is genuine Italian is a hot topic. This evening, three owners of Italian Specialty shops in New York city will share their secrets and talk about smart shopping. The lecture is part of a series of six educational lectures organized by Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo’ and the Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani.
The panel includes Lou DiPalo of Dipalo’s Fine Foods whose family originally hails from Basilicata. DiPalo’s family opened its first shop in 1910. Today’s store is much larger than any of its previous incarnations and Lou’s son has opened his own wine shop next door.
The second guest at the lecture will be Louis Coluccio Jr of DColuccio & Sons in Brooklyn. Louis Jr. is very entertaining and passionate about food, especially those that his family has been importing for decades.
The third speak is Antonio Magliulo of Buonitalia in the Chelsea Market. Buonitalia is very well known in New York restaurant circles and many order directly from his wholesale business. There is also a lovely cafe’ within the premises and many consider it to have some of the best espresso in New York. All told, the evening should be exciting with tidbits and new information. I’m looking forward to going.
March 16, 2010
Most people have heard of the famous thin bread from Sardinia known as Pane Carasau or Carta Musica. You can find it in many places in the United States as well. This bread is the traditional flat crispy bread that one associates with Sardinia and is made from Sardinian flour, yeast and water. The dough is left to rise for half a day and then it is kneaded again and left to rise again, like Lazarus. The dough is then split into balls and rolled ou thinly. It is left to stand for several hours and then is baked.Once it rises, the bread is taken out of the oven and is cut horizontally through the middle. The new halves are baked again.
The bread can be stored for up to one year. In addition to Pane Carasau, Sardinian bakeries make Pane Pintatu which is a tad thicker and Pane Guttiatu, a bread flavored with olive oil and salt. This website gives recipes for a variety of interesting Sardinian breads.
Many pastas are also made in Sardinia. The most famous or well known is fregola made from durum wheat semolina but gnocchetti sardi and malloreddus are other pastas which shouldn’t be forgotten. Despite the fact that Sardinia is an island, the cuisine is not particularly seafood based but is more of a mountain cuisine. Traditionally, many Sardinians lived in the interior and have worked as shepards and the like, tending to a flock of sheep, hence the long tradition of pecorino cheese, roasted lamb and pork.
Getting back to pasta, Malloreddus, is a small, gnocchi-like pasta with some saffron in the dough. Traditionally it is cooked with a tomato or meat sauce. Another speciaty is their version of ravioli called culingiones, which is oval or round and stuffed with spinach and pecorino cheese. Still another dish which abounds is spaghetti with bottarga. Bottarga are dried roe of the grey mullet or Mediterranean tuna. The Sardinian version is a bit different than the Sicilian. Both are delicious but can be an acquired taste.
January 7, 2010
Italian cheeses are almost as numerous as indigenous grape varieties. Few of these cheeses, however, have received the prestigious denominazione d’origine protetta (DOP) designation. One of that has is the Canestrato Pugliese, a hard cheese from Apulia made with goat’s milk in the entire province of Foggia and parts of the province of Bari.
The cheese is usually aged for two to four months and can be enjoyed with fruit, vegetables or jams. One great pairing is with marmalade such as that of Moreno Cedroni offered at the Alta Cucina Store this month in a special promotion. Moreno Cedroni is an acclaimed Italian chef who has received two Michelin stars for his work. Cedroni has created a unique line of preserves to pair specifically with cheese. Young Canestrato pairs well with white wines or Rose’ as long as they are still dry wines.
After Canestrato is aged for two to four months, it is bathed in olive oil and can then be aged for a further eight to ten months. Aged Canestrato works very well with dishes from Apulia such as Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe. In this case, the dish could be paired with a heartier wine from Apulia such as a Salice Salentino.
The cheese gets it name from the baskets in which it is created. These reed baskets are known as Canestri. The cheese forms generally weigh anywhere between 7 to 15 kilos. On the palate, this cheese is quite aromatic when aged and a bit more delicate in its younger version.
November 10, 2009
Grana Padano is one of Italy’s most loved cheeses. Grana Padano is usually used in salads, with carpaccio and most often with pasta sauces. Grana Padano is also delicious as a snack or antipasto.
This antique cheese began its history in the Middle Ages when monasteries were flowering throughout the Po Valley. It is said to have been created at the Chiaravalle Abbey outside of Milan in 1135. Much of the land there was used as a dairy pasture for cows. The excess milk that these cows produced was used for the production of hard cheese which could age and maintain many of its nutritional characteristics.
Grana Padano’s name refers to the fact that the cheese is quite different than other cheeses in terms of its texture and composition. Grana is “granular” and is not “uniform” like other cheeses. Padano refers to the area where it was first created, the Pianura Padana.
Grana is made from partially skimmed milk. The milk is cooked very slowly. The cheese comes in three versions. The first is aged 9-16 months before being sold, the second ages 16 to 20 months and is called Oltre 16 mesi while the third is Grana Padano Riserva which ages for over 20 months.
Grana is a semi-fat hard cheese with a white or yellow thin rind. Grana has a very delicate taste. It is less salty and nutty than Parimigiano Reggiano in terms of its flavor profile.
Initially, Grana was made in the area between the Po, the Ticino and the Adda rivers. Today the area where Grana can be produced also includes areas in the provinces of Venice, Treviso, Vicenza, Verona Padua and Rovigo.
Grana Padano is a Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP) product or one that has received a special designation because of its particular characteristics.
Grana Padano shouldn’t exceed 40 kilograms and must be around 40 centimeters in circumference. Grana is widely available in the United States. Di Palo’s in New York City is a great location to find this versatile cheese.