Curious Appetite

food and wine

Food and wine pairing- Tagliata steak and Chianti

Before I moved to Italy, I dabbled in food and wine pairing classes in Seattle and in certain ways I feel like it was easier to play and experiment around with food/wine pairing at home than it is here…WAITAMINUTELETMEESPLAIN!

Because in Seattle we have amazing shops that shelf a huge variety of wines including little boutiques that specialize in hand picked small selections and big mega stores that could be the mall of wine for all I know. Which means, international wines. In Florence, you can find everything under the Tuscan sun (sorry, I couldn’t help it) and maybe a few labels from other parts of Italy but a Spanish wine? A Washington wine? Forgettaboutit! I’ve been lucky to find a few international labels in wine shops here, but mostly French. So. Typical. Continue Reading

Homemade fresh pasta and wild boar ragù

A lot of people I know who like Italian food love pasta. It is the cornerstone of Italian cuisine, it is what makes Italian cuisine, at least modern-day Italian. I go through phases of shunning carbs and gluten but during the winter months like January and February- I can’t seem to help myself.

Recently I have had to attend some culinary dinner events which included pasta making top chef-like challenges. So after one weekend of an event I borrow a pasta maker because I’m really curious if I can do it on my own after observing it at these events. All I gotta do is look up a recipe, give me a machine and I’ll figure it out, right?

So I call a pal to see if she is game for an afternoon of pasta making. She trumps my request by adding that we make our fresh pasta with a ragù of cinghiale (aka wild boar ragù). The game is on.

The night before I was excited. I told some Italian friends about my plans for the next day, they seemed impressed and respond by saying basically how weird is it that a couple of Americans are making something that Italians themselves are forgetting about.  Italy is being colonized by the Big Mac meanwhile American foodies teach themselves how to make the traditional dishes their grandparents used to make. Incredible.

After some trials and tribulations of finding wild boar meat in the city of Florence, my trusty sidekick succeeds in finding some from a local butcher and marinates it overnight with garlic, rosemary and wine.

We spend about 3 hours simmering a wild boar ragù– which is basically a red meat sauce starting with a battuto of carrot, celery, onion, peeled tomatoes, red wine and ground marinated cinghiale.

While the sauce is simmering we mak’ala pasta!


Start with 1 cup of all purpose flour and a cup of whole grain flour (believe me the consistency and texture is real nice- plus the fiber will make you feel less guilty for eating pasta! score!) mix it in a bowl with a pinch of sea salt. Pour it on a dry surface and stick your fingers in the middle to form a volcano


Then when you get a deep valley in your lump of flour, crack 4 eggs into it, careful to not let the lava spill quite yet.


Then you put a few drops of olive oil in your egg lava nest and try to whisk the mix without letting it spill of the sides. But if it does, don’t worry. I did and the pasta came out just fine. Once the lava is all mixed, start incorporating flour in little by little with a fork.


Then just say screw it with the dainty fork and just get your hands all up in it and capture all your flour and knead like crazy- pasta dough is very kneady process and needs a lot of kneading care. get it…get it??!!! It’s a PUN!!!! No? Just me? Okay moving on….


Once your dough has got all it has kneaded..(okay, I promise to stop…) Tada! Let it rest, it’s taken quite the beating. For about a half an hour. In the meantime, feel free to eat chocolate, drink coffee and sip on wine. Yep, that’s Italy!


After the rest and by now I hope you’re buzzing and cracked out on caffeine…it’s the perfect time to do something time consuming and somewhat tedious- and that’s rolling out the pasta dough and cutting it! Good thing we were making a slow cooked ragù…maybe that’s why it was discovered! Maybe someone left some meat sauce on the stove while making fresh pasta and it turned into a delicious melt-in-your mouth wonder!

Be sure to keep your surface nice and floured as you are slicing your dough and flattening it out a bit.

When using a pasta machine and making sheets of pasta from the dough, start with the lowest setting and work your way up to your desired thickness/thinness. Once you make flat sheets of pasta, you put it through the cutting attachment as seen here in exhibit: z.

After you cut your pasta, you lay them on a flat plate-object like a plastic sheet or cutting board make sure they don’t stick together by adding a bit of flour, untangling the strands like hair.

And you must have a fun face on while you are doing it. Otherwise, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, in life you must always have a fun face on.

Your slow cooked ragù is almost ready. So boil up a large pot of water, add all your hard earned pasta in and cook for no more than 3 minutes. A spectator in the peanut gallery of this adventure said “how funny that something that takes so long to prepare takes so little to cook.” Deep thoughts about pasta, yes this is Italy.

When your pasta is cooked and drained, pile some on a few plates and dollop a nice ladle of your slow simmered wild boar cinghiale ragù on top. Grate some aged pecorino on top and you got yourself a plate of pasta that will knock Dante Alighieri’s socks off.

Don’t forget to stop and smell. Watch. Drool. Devour.

Don’t forget to pair with some red wine. Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino…heck just make sure you have some goddamn red wine, preferably from Tuscany. Oh and make sure it’s daytime. Drinking during the day is totally okay. Only in Italy can you drink all day and be called a wine expert. Back home we call that a lush or an alcoholic! What a relief to live with real culture!

I think I will use this post as blackmail to get my friends and family back home to come visit. You want this? Then come visit me. Mwahahahaha! I mean, hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket is sooooo worth a lunch like this…and with me- hello! Sheesh. NO BRAINER! See you soon! 😛

BUON APPETITO!

Thanks to Sarah, my partner is cinghiale crime, for the lovely photos. You can follow her blog on her adventures as a movement theater teacher at Helikos in Florence here: http://slianef.wordpress.com/

London calling and foodie missions

It was when I moved to London on a whim with nothing more than a temporary work permit at age 19 that my appetite grew for travel and the desire to move to Italy after a summer weekend getaway in Florence. I remember it like it was yesterday: I was in awe surrounded by beautiful architecture, fresh fish and summer salads. I turned to my travel partner and said:

“I want to live here one day. I want to learn Italian.”

…and I did. 7 years later. So I look back on London very fondly. It was my gateway drug to my expat desires.

Recently, I was offered an opportunity to stay in London for a month for a secret food and wine mission. I accepted. But the critic in me unleashed its analytical wrath within just hours of arriving.

To say the least, I was shocked by a lot of things concerning the British lifestyle. After living in Italy for nearly 7 months now, I was quite excited to go back to an Anglo culture for a little bit. Italy can be tiring for a young, foreign American woman. You think I’m joking, but in Italy I am not really taken seriously in certain situations based on my age and gender. Also, people assume I am a rich American tourist. It could be worse if I were in a developing country, but c’mon this is ITALY. It is a country in EUROPE. I shouldn’t have to make such comparative justifications.

Moving on…..

As happy as I was to be surrounded by so many options in the grocery stores (like a whole section of greek yogurt! In Italy it is the same dinky overpriced Fage. One variety: plain.) I was relieved to be able to speak my language and be respected. And, to find such a variety of international foods, sauces, condiments, spices and organic granola hipster culture food. I was quite tickled when I was able to make this delicious shallow fried tofu and veg green coconut milk Thai curry:

But after a few days, I found that I really appreciate Italian food culture. In London (like in Seattle) cuisine is imported. There is a plethora of fusion but nothing quite convincing of its own. Yes, the Brits have a cuisine and it is very modest and humble. Meat pastry pies, scotch duck eggs, fish, stilton, cheddar truckles, oysters, roasted root veggies…they do indeed have delicious fare. But what they lack is culture in comparison to the Italians.

Please note: the following comments are merely gross generalizations.

I noticed a lot of drinking and not a lot of food pairing. In Italy, it is almost a violation to serve an alcoholic drink without some sort of snack- even if it is a small bowl of chips and nuts. “Happy Hour” in London consist of, not full on buffet bars of lasagna, salami, cheeses and radicchio salads like at an Italian aperitivo, but rather 4 beers for 10 quid. People work hard in London. They live in small flats. By the time you come home after a ten-hour day combined of work + riding the grey, crowded and smelly tube all you want to do is relax with a beer, eat something quick or grab dinner at the pub. And smoke a lot of cigarettes. My diet was at its lowest while I was there. Not because there isn’t good food, but because I was so busy and refused to pay a lot of money on food. Food is to me, a basic human right and should be affordable and good. Good food in London (and in Seattle) come at a premium. In Italy, good food is accessible to everyone. I can get a big bag of local organic farmer market produce at 5-10 euros. It’s not trendy, it is just the way they do it. And no wonder rates of diet-related disease are lower and people seem generally healthy and vibrant.

Romanesco Cavolfiore. In Italy, its filling and cheap. Perfect for Tuscan winter soups and bakes. At Selfridges in London, its a tourist attraction for the privileged at 9 quid a kilo.

In London, I noticed an affluent couple taking a picture of perfectly merchandised Romanesco (a simple cruciferous vegetable related to the cauliflower priced at a whopping 9pound x Kilo). The said vegetable celebrity was paparazzi’d at the food hall at Selfridges ( Hellridges: a pretentious food museum) because the couple had never seen it before and I recall laughing to myself and trying really hard not to scold (judge) them silently for this blatant food voyeurism.

Onion bhajee so good, that I didn’t even notice how pathetic the salad was.

I did however manage to eat delicious samosas and Indian food on Brick Lane. Just walking through the colorful street with spices lining the store counters piled up in the shapes of upside down cones and fresh fried samosas sitting innocently in the windows wafting their savory turmeric and chili aromas deep into your nostrils, so deep that you can almost taste the mushy potatoes, curried lamb and fried fennel seed within those little triangular pockets of Indian heaven. As well as decadent spicy onion bhajee with tamarind.

those yellow globs are pillows of brandy butter.

While I was on my food mission, I discovered a couple true English food gems. Such as: Christmas Pudding w/ Brandy Cream (and Brandy Butter) and mince pie. A mince pie is not what you think I thought (a savory pastry pie filled with minced meat). The mince is actually a sweet pastry filled with a winter spiced apple and dried fruit gunk. Christmas pudding is this gooey sticky fruit cake thing that is soaked in brandy or some sort of booze and is set on fire and served warm with the brandy fat/cream products oozing on top.

I was lucky enough to be in a small beach town in East Sussex with a lovely Brit family that left a wonderful taste in my mouth about the English food culture. 

On Christmas Day, you basically eat everything all day long. Not much different from the rest of the Christmas celebrating world. Port and Cheese is not an uncommon compliment and neither are little sausages wrapped in bacon, homemade cranberry sauce and creamy bread pudding. The food social scientist in me asked a lot of questions concerning food and tradition to the family’s grandmother. She told me that in her school years, domestic sciences were taught where you learned all cooking basics and knitting. Like I imagine home-economics was in American schools. Those classes don’t exist anymore (at least in the U.S.) and no wonder why people of our generation are having to either teach themselves culinary arts as apart of hipster homesteading trends or simply eat processed convenience foods out of ignorance. I notice, that in America unless you come from a liberal, educated family (or a very rich one), your holiday dinners generally come from a box, a can and a cling-wrapped foster farms tortured processed meat product. In England, at least most people from a wide range of socio-economical backgrounds cook from scratch.

After my trip, I realized Italy is the best place on earth. People (Italians) sometimes take for granted how precious their country is. What other country has what Italy has: Rome, Venice, Sicily, food, wine, art, history, music, Milan…the list goes on and on.  Not only is Italy wonderful for its rich landscape and crystal blue beaches but the also the way everyone respects each other, their body and how to eat (and live) a good life. I heard so many Italians on the streets in London and it made me sad because I know why they are there. Young Italians are giving up on Italy and fleeing to more affluent (organized) parts of the world for a “better” life. But what constitutes a better life? To me, I left America and effectively rejected my culture in order to live a better life. In Italy. And this is where I plan to stay until its not fun anymore.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! (:

Eating man food in Florence

Whenever I have guests, I tell them that they must try lampredotto from a banco mobile (food cart) that puts the whole “street food”…”food truck” fru fru scene in America to shame. I recommend it because it is an authentic food experience besides “pizza and pasta.”  And it’s what the general blue collar work crowd can comfortably afford for lunch. I am about to explain. I will use this post to squash some ideas Americans and tourists have of Italians and Italian life. Okay, so we come here like it’s Disneyland, voyeuristic in taking snapshots of the old ladies buying fruit at the open-air markets, or as one of my friends told me- taking snapshots of him buying tomatoes in the store. Which if you think about it, is pretty creepy. How would you like some tourist taking your picture in Trader Joe’s? But the reason people shop at these “open-air markets” that tourists think is so glamorous, is because life in Italy for some is poor and that 10 cent difference between bananas at the market and at the store is worth something that most tourists could hardly fathom.

So my point is, unlike living in the states, life is modest here. I’m not complaining, but most people in Italy don’t exactly have the luxury to eat out expensive meals multiple times a week . I’m not writing this to incite sympathy or pity-  It makes me uncomfortable to talk about money in my sort of public blog but I think people should understand this. And nothing irritates me more than people who think Italians live this life of vespas, ferrari, gucci and cappuccino. The vespa part is kinda right, but because the gas is cheaper for scooters. Gas costs almost the equivalent of 10 dollars a gallon. Cappuccino is also kind of true, but it’s part of breakfast and there is a national “cap” on how much a bar can charge which is not the Stumptown fancy schmancy 4 dollar cup to-go but 1.20 at the counter.

Anyways…do you know what lampredotto is? It’s this:

lampredotto- a Florentine specialty made from the fourth and final stomach of the cow, the abomasum.

Florence and Tuscany in general should be known for la cucina povera which is a cuisine based on peasant food that most cultures have. Tripe, chitterlings, liver “crostini”, tomato bread soup, minestrone, etc- are all cheap and crucial to real Tuscan cuisine. It’s a no-waste philosophy that dates back to when Italy was limited on resources during post-war depression periods. Because Italians are sticklers for tradition- these foods are still as popular as ever. And sadly, Italy has in a sense returned to a depressed economic state. Meno male that la cucina povera never went out of style. :/

So today I had to do an interview with the Cordon Blu culinary school for an article I am writing and I asked the director if they taught lampredotto in the Tuscan cooking courses. She said no, because most tourists and Americans are scared of it and think that they don’t like it. It made me smile that she said they think because picky eaters drive me crazy- how can you not like something you’ve never tried?!

Then it made her smile when I asked her where her favorite lampredottaio “banco mobile” was. She said near the bronze porcellino near Piazza della Repubblica. I didn’t know what the porcellino was, which apparently is the lucky rub-for-luck tourist attraction bronze pig. So I decided for lunch today I was going. I realized I’ve been here for 4 months and haven’t had lampredotto yet AND I didn’t know what the lucky porcellino was. It was a sign.

Panino con lampredotto at Il Trippaio del Porcellino.

This sandwich with a glass of wine will cost under 5 euro. The meat is stewed in a simple broth and then made to order. These innards are then cut up and laid a top a crusty bread roll, doused with salt and pepper.

the meat getting pulled from the pot- made to order!

Then a half of the bread is dipped in the lampredotto stock and topped with a kind of herb paste made mostly of parsley. I chomped on this at the “banco” counter of the food truck, observing the guy make sandwiches and noticing that most of the clientele were men and I was seriously the only woman eating a cow guts sandwich. I felt oddly proud of my “bizarre food” Andrew Zimmern inspired moment.

It was okay. It had a weird fatty consistency and there was too much salt and parsley sauce to really be able to get an idea of what lampredotto tasted like. It was a nice, filling lunch that I think my stomach was confused about how to digest (which enzymes to I make for this thing this crazy lady just ate? lipase or protease?) You could for sure taste that the meat was stewing in a broth yet it was soft and flavorful. And I could see why this would be a pit-stop for the Florentine lunch crowd- especially because there is cheap wine that you should for sure have with it. Why not?

So if you are in Florence or in Tuscany- be adventurous, be curious!  Taste everything! Unless you are a vegetarian or celiac- you can’t knock it till you try it:)

Food and Wine Pairing- Chocolate + Marsala!

I just discovered something a little amazing: dark chocolate and dry Marsala:

 

I’m just about certified in Food & Wine pairing and one of the 1st things I ever learned was: Red Wine and Chocolate is not a good pair. GASP! I’m sorry ladies, it’s true. There is too much bitter clash and the sugar in the chocolate confuses the tannins in the wine. My instructor said it best: It’s like sex on the beach: in theory it sounds like a GREAT idea- but then you got the sand and the rocks…the reality is that it’s pretty uncomfortable.”  I mean, there are ways to pair red wine and chocolate if you really want to. Like with a bitter chocolate with low sugar content and a careful selection of red wine that has some bitterness and tannin to match. But the general rule of thumb is that chocolate pairs best with a fortified dessert wine like port or….MARSALA…

When I was just recently living in the states, the only marsala wine you found was for cooking. And unlike most wine, you don’t drink it as you cook with it. I don’t know, maybe its because how some wine is not imported well that I never believed in a marsala. So recently a friend came and made some veal marsala and left the bottle behind. I asked, what the hell am I going to do with all the leftover wine? I’m not making a tiramisu’ anytime soon. They said: drink it! 

I never would have thought of that, you know.

So I poured some in my snifter, swirled it about and went through the usual motions of analysis….butterscotch, toffee, caramel, vanilla and coconut…and then gulp! Heaven! The nose proved accurate on the palate. Pretty damn tasty.

Together with dark chocolate…the cacao echos…like a nutty hazelnut caramel toasted fairtrade chocolate s’more…

I don’t know if you can get this kinda stuff in the states- but try! The states is always improving the channels of fine imports.

Notes on the Marsala that was left so graciously behind:

Producer: Florio 1833, VECCHIOFLORIO Marsala Superiore Secco (DOC) ’08, aged for 30 months in oak (hence all the toasty toffee notes)

buon dessert! 🙂