June 18, 2010
One of my closest friends works in a lovely wine bar in NYC – Cellar 58. So as I love to see my friend and drink some good Italian wine, (in Italian we call this “Prendere due piccioni con una fava” which basically means “To kill two birds with one stone”) I go to visit her as often as possible. Needless to say I have elected my favorite dish on the bar menu: the porchetta sandwich. Porchetta is a succulent pork roast, typical of the traditional cuisine of Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Tuscany (Cellar 58’s menu has been inspired by the cuisine of these regions). The exact location of where porchetta was first conceived is still a culinary mystery. People from Ariccia, in Lazio, claim paternity of the original recipe, while in Umbria it is told that Norcia, town known for pig farms since the times of the Ancient Romans, is the culprit. Apparently even the people of the Marche have claimed to be the originators…
Porchetta is a tender and juicy hunk of pork encased within fatty, crispy skin (crackling) made by cooking together rosemary, garlic, fennel, sage, salt and pepper and spreading them over pork loin. The meat is then rolled up before being tied with butcher’s twine and roasted (usually for about two and a half hours). The pork is so flavorful you really do not need any other accompanying ingredient. There are however regional differences: tradition calls for two basic ways to season porchetta. In southern Tuscany, southern Castelli di Roma and in other areas of Central Italy, it is seasoned mainly with rosemary. In northern Lazio, Umbria and Marche it is seasoned mainly with wild fennel which gives it a unique taste and aroma.
The Porchetta sandwich is not commonly eaten during a meal, but between meals as a “snack” or as a craving after a long night out (drinking and dancing). It is usually eaten warm, sliced and stuffed into fresh bread (ciabatta is a fave) on the street (from special trucks), outside a nightclub, during concerts, open air markets, town sagre and sporting events. Porchetta needs to be eaten right away, there is no time to waste. The most flavorful parts are those with equal parts of fat and lean meat that are marbled with stuffing. The crispiness of the skin best indicates the freshness of the meat.
In Tuscany or Umbria, street sellers are called porchettai, while in the Castelli di Roma area they are known as porchettari. NYC is still porchettari-free so when in need of this special sandwich going to Cellar 58 is the best solution. (One can also stop by Porchetta, where Chef Sara Jenkins makes porchetta sandwiches to takeout).
By Natasha Lardera
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
April 26, 2010
Whenever the munchies overcome my weak will power and I feel like something tasty but not too heavy that is authentic Italian and reasonably priced, one of my favorite destinations in NYC is Bocca. An elegant eatery in Gramercy, a neighborhood packed with culinary heavyweights, Bocca is a Roman restaurant that offers culinary specialties for every palate. Executive chef David Buico has designed lunch and dinner menus that feature the most savory old time Roman classics, like Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe, home made pasta served with precorino romano and coarse black pepper, Maccheroni alla Gricia, bronze casted and slowly dried pasta served with guanciale, coarse black pepper and pecorino di fossa, Maialino al forno e carciofi alla romana, slow roasted suckling pig with roasted fingerling potatoes and artichokes, and many other favorites.
But that’s not all – something else is worth mentioning, something that many restaurants don’t really pay too much attention to: the bar menu. At the bar it is possible to satisfy any craving and the crowd’s favorite is Supplì al telefono (Fried rice balls “on the phone”).
Filling yet smooth, Supplì al telefono is a dish that is very popular in Rome and it’s not unusual, when making risotto, to make some extra on purpose in order to make these delicious rice balls using the leftovers (common belief is that when the rice is older it holds together firmly so that the balls do not break during the frying process). The name comes from the dish’s visual effect, meaning that when you bite into the supplì the melted mozzarella that is hiding in the flavorful rice flows out in long strips, somehow resembling the cord connecting a telephone handset to the hook. Arborio and/or Carnaroli rice is perfect for making supplì.
Supplì can be seen as a variant of Sicily’s arancini or Naples’ palline di riso or as a kind of croquette.
By Natasha Lardera
September 1, 2009
Farro, a form of wheat that has its’ husk intact, is making a splash in the United States. A grain that is traditionally eaten in Tuscany, Abruzzo and Lazio, Farro may just be the new orzo, another grain from Italy that has become a mainstay on many menus.
Farro is arguably more rustic than orzo. It is darker in color and has a delicious nutty and firm flavor. Tuscans use farro for soups, as an alternative to pasta or as a side dish. Much whole wheat pasta is made from farro as are many desserts. Farro can also be used in salads instead of other grains such as quinoa.
Farro is also extremely easy to make and is generally cooked in the same way that you would make rice or orzo. It is supposed to be chewier than rice so it can be cooked for a shorter period of time. In it’s easiest form, it is delicious with some fresh tomato sauce, basil and pepperoncino (macerated red pepper).
Farro is an ancient grain which first came to light in the Middle East. From there, it spread to Italy where it has been grown for centuries. It is somewhat harder to grow than other forms of wheat and therefore has been less popular in other areas of the world.
In Italy, you can generally find farro both in the main supermarkets and in health food stores. Farro is considered to confer healthy benefits and has very low cholesterol. In the United States, you can find farro is some high end Italian grocery stores or online at a variety of websites.
It is unlikely that we will see farro on every menu any time soon which is too bad because the nutty flavors go very well with fall meats, wines and vegetables. A healthy soup of farro and legumes is perfect for a cool fall evening with a glass of sangiovese. While one doesn’t want summer to end, farro reminds me there are some lovely fall foods and farro is one of them.