Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Leaving with our list in hand, we wandered next door to check out the cheese and meat selections. Truly like walking into a Salumeria in Italy, we were awed by the selections, imported directly from Italy and handselected by Lou DiPaolo. The variety of cheeses, cured meats, pastas, olive oils and other specialty foods left us salivating and wishing we could purchase a few things, but we were on the run and had many hours to go before we could actually refrigerate something.
After a macchiato at the 100 year old Ferrara's, a family owned Italian Cafe operated by the fifth generation. Called America's first espresso bar, it's a bit pricey but the old world atmosphere is not to be missed!
We then jumped in a cab headed over to the West Village to meet our friend Lisa for a glass of wine. With only 25 seats, 'ino on Bedford may be small in size, but big on it's offerings! Owner Jason Denton is a disciple of Mario Batali and has made his mark on the Italian food scene in New York with Bar Milano, 'inoteca and Lupo with 'ino opening in 1998. A great wine list and an amazing array of food selections for such a tiny kitchen featuring antipasti, cheese and meat plates, bruschetta, panini, tramezzini, salads and soups - all delivered in a cozy, friendly environment. We got a great bottle of Prosecco to celebrate Lisa's birthday and a little bruschetta to hold us over 'til dinner. 'Ino is not to be missed!
Needing a walk, we headed on foot back to Little Italy to find some of the wine bars that Sal from DiPaolo's recommended. We ventured into the dimly lit Epistrophy at 200 Mott Street and grabbed the few remaining seats at the bar. With a focus on Sardinian wines, the place feels more like a living room with abstract paintings, shelves full of books lining the walls, cushioned benches and an a antique plush sofa surrounding a low coffee table. Needing to eat something green, we ordered an arugula salad with bresaola, an air-dried salted beef aged 2-3 months and made from eye of round. With a little shaved pecorino cheese and a simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar it was superb! But write down the address, there is no sign outside so you have to know where to find it. And since Sal's choice was so perfect, we decided to try another one of his recommendations.
Needing help with digesting everything we've been eating and drinking, we set off on foot again looking for Il Bagatto, a Sicilian wine bar/restaurant on the lower east side. Unfortunately it was closed on Mondays which forced us to go next door to Il Posto. A bit more polish and pretense than the last two bars, but still a beautiful space and offered a great contrast. Their menu looked delicious so we decided to try a few things and ordered Scaialatielli, a simple dish from Sorrento with freshly made pasta and a tomato basil sauce, and Broccoli Rape e Salisiccie, grilled sweet and spicy sausage over broccoli rape with olive oil and garlic. Paired with an Aglianico from Campagnia producer Fontanavecchia, it was truly delicious and an amazing pairing.
One last note for the night, we went back over to the West Village to our friend Lisa's birthday get together at her friend Reno's flat, a self proclaimed "oldball comedian and political screamer" who's done a good amount of TV and movie work. We needed a bottle of wine to take with us and stopped at a corner store that had a wine from the Etna region of Sicily, one of my new favorite areas. I had never tried the 2006 Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso before, but it seems to exemplify the style of wines coming out of that region. It is lush and easy drinking, with a purity of fruit and hints of dark cherries, tobacco and wild herbs, it has an earthiness and texture reminiscent of Burgundy but is distinctly Sicilian. Made with Nerello Mascalese, a native grape to the region, I believe this wine is available in our market, and if so you will definitely be seeing it on our shelves.
Being serious food snobs, we have been truly impressed by EVERYTHING we've had so far and can't wait for our next outing! More later on the Vino 2009 conference and our amazing experience at Felidia...
Sunday, January 25, 2009
The feeding frenzy started Sunday night as we bundled up (it was 17 degrees!) and walked up and down 2nd Ave in Midtown in search of something to eat that we can't get at home. We hit the jackpot with a little Indian place called Amma on 51st, between 2nd and 3rd Ave. Walking up the stairs to the first floor of a brownstone, we knew it must be good as it was packed with happy diners when many of the restaurants had few patrons on a Sunday night. They gave us a prime table in the front corner where we had a great view of the whole restaurant. They had a $35 prix fixe menu that included a soup, appetizer, entree and dessert. Having once been very intrigued by Indian cuisine ever since my sister adopted my niece Rika from India, I have cooked a lot of it and have been very partial to the flavors of Southern India and Kerala. The curry leaves, Kaffir lime leaves, mustard seeds, dahl and light sauces are a refreshing change from the richer foods of Northern India and this restaurant did it right! If I had to pick a favorite dish, it would either be the toor dahl donut appetizer swimming in all three of their traditional condiments, a spicy tamarind, sweet mint and tangy yogurt sauce or the baked chicken stuffed with paneer and spinach covered in a spicy tomato sauce or possible the cardamom flavored ice cream that left bits the lovely fragrant seed for you to crunch on. Absolutely fabulous!
Yesterday morning started with a giant everything bagel slathered with a fresh onion and chive cream cheese from Tal Bagels around the corner. There is just nothing like a fresh New York bagel, period. We also tried a spinach knish which was a bit bland but just looked too good behind the counter to pass up.
Then we took off to Central Park West to check out a great little Salumeria Rossi, a Tuscan inspired restaurant/grocery. Walking in, you see the deli counter on your left with a wide assortment of cured meats, Italian cheeses, antipasti beautifully displayed with the intention of getting your mouth watering so you can't help but want to sit down and eat. The menu leans toward small tastes, rather than large appetizers and entrees with everything from Cavolini, a dish of brussel sprouts, pancetta and garlic, to Le Puntarella, consisting of Italian wild chicory and anchovies cooked in garlic, lemon, and olive oil to delicious looking meat and cheese boards. But, with our bellies still full from the bagel and lunch plans in an hour, we decided we needed to come back.
Lunch plans took us the offices of the New York Times to meet an old high school friend of Kerry's, Kim Severson. Kim is one of the food critics for the Times, so we knew lunch with her would be an adventure not to be missed. And she delivered with a rustic little Korean restaurant, Cho Dang Gol on W. 35th between 5th and 6th. The owner, Kim Bong Ok was born in a village in the South Korean province of Kangwon known for its tofu. As a child, she learned how to make more than 100 dishes using the tender bean curd and the restaurant is now famous for it and offers more than two dozen dishes with different renditions of tofu. I don't know enough about the cuisine to accurately describe it, so all I can say is that it is definitely worth the trip. And the company was fabulous, thank you Kim!
The rest of the day we focused on Italian food and wine so I'll write about that in my next entry. Right now we've got to get ready to go to the wine conference, the excuse we used to come here!
Friday, January 23, 2009
We conducted our first meeting last night where each twosome was assigned a course and each course was accompanied by their best wine pick. My favorite pairing of the night was the cold starter of mushroom mousse on toast points topped with seared lamb and provencal herbs paired with a 2006 Domaine Les Pallieres Gigondas. The textures of the food, crisp bread, creamy mousse and tender lamb combined beautifully in your mouth with the earthy, dark fruits of the wine adding the perfect compliment. The rich and sweet potato and chipotle soup with bacon and pepper relish worked delicoiusly with the slightly off-dry 2004er Alfred Merkelbach Spatlese, and even though our 2007 Villa Sparina Gavi di Gavi was corked we improvised with a 2005 Louis Jadot Puligny-Montrachet to compliment our whole roasted red fish with panko crusted vegetables and Meyer lemon relish. The most creative dish of the night came from the dessert team who served blue cheese ice cream set atop a slice of fresh pear with a crushed walnut granish accompanied by the J Pear Liqour. The chunks of blue cheese in the sweet creamy base mingled in your mouth with this salty/sweet sensation accompanied by the soft crunch of walnuts and fresh pear was absolutely delightful and bizarre at the same time.
A ridiculously fun time was had by all and we are anxiously awaiting our next underground meeting with a "yellow" food theme, where access is granted only by demonstrating the secret handshake...
Friday, January 16, 2009
On my journey there have been two books that have helped guide me through the maze of Italian wine. I read Vino Italiano by Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch when I want to curl up on the sofa and learn about the Italian wine experience of a particular region. This engaging book explores each region's predominant grapes, winemaking styles, major producers and the history and culture of the region. At the end of each chapter they give recommendations for a tasting of wines from the region, travel tips and delicious regional recipes by Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali to accompany the food.
When I’m looking for very specific information on a certain wine and its producer, there is no other book to reach for than Gambero Rosso Vini d’Italia (www.gamberorosso.it). Published yearly, it is a guide to the best wine production in Italy, a reference book for both enthusiasts and professionals. The guide is an off-shoot of the Slow Food movement founded in Italy by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Slow Food (www.slowfood.com) is an international association that promotes food and wine culture, but also defends food and agricultural biodiversity worldwide. It opposes the standardization of taste, defends the need for consumer information, protects cultural identities tied to food and gastronomic traditions, safeguards foods and cultivation and processing techniques inherited from tradition and defends domestic and wild animal and vegetable species.
Unlike other wine evaluation magazines and publications whose scores represent one reviewer’s opinion, Gambero Rosso uses panels of experts to review the wines and created an evaluation system expressed in “glasses”, from one to three for the best wines of all. The “Tre Bicchieri” (three glasses) label has becomes a byword for quality.
For the 2008 edition, 30 plus tasting panels each comprised of five judges worked for over 2 months blind tasting around 25,000 wines. Just under 10,000 wines were rejected outright and the rest were awarded scores ranging ranging from simple honorable mention to 2 glasses. From that phase 1500 wines were selected for the finals in Rome, and only 305 received the highest award, the renowned Tre Bicchieri® (Three Glasses).
Three sentences at the end of the introduction in Gambero Rosso 2006 provide some wonderful insight as to how Italians feel about wine; “…a great wine, or even just an honestly made one, is more than just something to drink. Above all, a wine is the soul of a territory in the bottle. More often that not, it is a product of the love that binds the winemaker to the local soil.” I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my 2009 edition!
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Here is an interview with Justin from the Farm Aid website:
"A walk on Justin Pitts' heritage cattle farm in Jones County, Mississippi will carry you back 100 years, says the 40-year-old family farmer whose been working the land all his life.
"I’ve been farming since I was able to walk alongside my granddad as a child," Pitts says.
The Pitts family’s farming roots are deep. They’ve worked farmland in the area since 1815. Pitts has staked his claim to 160 acres of rolling woodland and pasture near the county seat of Ellisville. He rents another 160 down the road. The farm is sandy-soiled, but produces good forage for livestock. Pitts markets his heritage breeds of cattle, sheep and goats at farmers markets, health food stores and catering companies in and around New Orleans.
"I can’t raise enough lamb to meet the demand in New Orleans," Pitts says.
His heritage breeds date back to the days when Spain held sway in the region.
"I raise Piney Woods Cattle, some call them Mississippi Woods Cattle. The "Spaniards brought them over. They’ve passed from one generation to the next as far back as anyone can remember," says Pitts. Spanish Goats and native Mississippi sheep, plus a flock of 250 heritage breed laying hens round out the bulk of farm production. For Pitts, whose independent streak is evident in virtually every statement he makes, economic survival depends on being able to work a market niche, but farming is as much about raising good food as it is about anything else.
"I tell the people who buy this meat that I’ve grown it with me in mind. It’s for me first, then everybody else. I don’t want to eat any hormones, or implants or antibiotics in my food, so you won’t find any in my meat. My animals graze. They eat blue stem grass and whatever else is growing up in the woods. I might feed them a little corn every once in a while if I have to supplement their feed, but I don’t like to buy corn because it’s probably all GMO corn."
While consumer interest in locally raised and grass fed meat is growing, Pitts says making a living on the farm is still a tremendous challenge. Sixteen hour days are not uncommon. He regularly drives to New Orleans to participate in the Crescent City Farmers Market and sell to other retailers. He also has to drive his animals to a small, USDA-inspected slaughterhouse in De Kalb, Mississippi to be processed. It’s 125 miles one-way, and with the price of gas going up, it’s getting tougher.
"It’s a pill everyday trying to get something accomplished," says Pitts. "But maybe the government will leave me alone and I’ll make it.""
We talked back then about planning an event together and it's only taken a year, but we've finally got it on the books. This month's Tapas Tuesday will feature 5 different beef and pork products from Justin Pitts exquisetly prepared by Josh Garic of Vega Tapas Cafe (who also prepared the food for our event at the Degas House) paired with our favorite meat friendly wines like Argentinean Malbec, California Cabernets and Petit Sirah, French Bordeaux and more...And we'll have Justin in the house selling his delicious products that you are sure to want to purchase after you taste them! But call if you want to come, this is sure to be a sell out! 504.304.0635
According to the University of California, Davis: “Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals--environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance. Stewardship of human resources includes consideration of social responsibilities such as working and living conditions of laborers, the needs of rural communities, and consumer health and safety both in the present and the future. Stewardship of land and natural resources involves maintaining or enhancing this vital resource base for the long term.” A great and wordy concept however, there are no hard and fast rules that define the term, it’s up for interpretation by the winery as to what procedures and processes they will use to id entify themselves as “sustainable”.
One of our producers, Fog Alley, defines themselves as such and has defined three indicators of Sustainable Agriculture:
1. Environmentally Sound
2. Economically Feasible
3. Socially Equitable
Some specific practices implemented by Fog Alley growers include:
-Natural Biological Control -- encourages natural predators to control rodents Soil Welfare -- by using a variety of cover crops to protect and enhance the productivity of the soil
-Recycling of Natural Resources -- reclaims water used by facility through a series of ponds that is later used to irrigate the vineyards
-Improving Wildlife Habitat -- directs the run-o_ of rain water to the natural wetlands nearby
-Education -- developing demonstration vineyards used for regular vineyard management training and education of customers
Organic farming is very well defined when compared to sustainable agriculture. There are nationally sanctioned organic practices that must be complied with in order to label products as "certified organically produced," making it very clear what certified organic means.
In the vineyard organic means cultivating the soil and planting cover crops, instead of applying herbicides. It means using natural fertilizers, such as composted animal manure, versus chemical fertilizers. As for not using pesticides, the organic alternative is to encourage natural predators of insect pests instead of using poisonous insecticides. Organic farmers promote "biodiversity" and allow plants other than vines to grow in and around the vineyard.
In the cellar, "organic" suggests minimal processing and no use of chemical additives. Organic winemakers pay particular attention to three factors: the use of yeasts, the filtration/fining method, and the use of sulfur dioxide. The need for cultured yeasts in organic winemaking is reduced by the farming practice itself, for wild yeasts remain present, unperturbed by weed killers or insecticides. Therefore their use is limited to difficult weather conditions which would threaten the harvest. The physical treatment of the wine (like filtering and fining) is kept to a minimum. Minimizing the use of sulfur dioxide as an antioxidant is stringently observed. It's rather difficult to make a wine that will keep well without adding at least some additional sulfites to those naturally occurring.
Tablas Creek defines their organic vineyard practices as: "Our organic vineyard practices following the lead of our Beaucastel estate in Chateauneuf du Pape. Like Beaucastel, we use no herbicides or systemic pesticides in the vineyard. We rely on cover cropping, hand hoeing, burning, and mulching to suppress weeds in the rows. Cover crops minimize erosion, host beneficial insects, and return nitrogen to the soil. We use extensive composting, and use compost tea to control mildew in the vineyard and reduce our need for sulfur." All of their wines have been organic certified since in January, 2003.
Biodynamics, goes well beyond the stringent guidelines of organic growing. It's about believing in the self-sustainabilty of the vineyard as well as viewing the practice of biodynamic farming in a holistic manner. Biodynamics mixes sustainability with more celestial beliefs and takes a spiritual as well as mystical approach to conventional farming methods.
The practice of biodynamics views the vineyard in its entirety as a living system. And, it's not just about the vines and grapes. It's also about the soil, compost, insects, and other vegetation and animals that inhabit space in the vineyard, all working in harmony to bring you some incredible tasting wines.
The concept of biodynamic farming dates back to the 1920s and Austrian philosopher, scientist and anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner. In a sense, biodynamics is an extreme form of organic farming, which avoids inorganic substances and chemical fertilizers and relies only on “natural” techniques. Biodynamic farming is associated with practices such as over-wintering manure in cow horns, fermenting flowers in stags’ bladders, or timing procedures with the phases of the moon. But while these techniques sound eclectic and obscure, they’re in fact “a way of life, a philosophy of farming that’s thousands of years old,” according to Bruno Allaire, president of Dynamic Imports, an importer and distributor of wines made exclusively from biodynamic or organically-grown grapes.
But biodynamic farming isn’t just an agricultural method. To Steiner and his followers, it’s a holistic philosophy of life forces that treats all of cosmos as a living system and emphasizes factors like energy, lunar cycles and planetary forces. Basically the idea is that everything in the cosmos—people, plants, animals and stars—are interconnected, influencing each other. While this sounds ecologically responsible but somewhat lofty, the reasons for more and more vintners going biodynamic have to do with the fact that the biodynamic method really brings out the terroir of a wine. And that's what it's all about, right?
So how can Swirl help you make educated choices concerning your wine selections at the shop? Over the next few weeks you'll be seeing a new bottle tag that will indicate whether a winery is applying any of the above practices. Just look for this special tag and you just might find out that one of your favorite wines is already "growing green"!
Thursday, January 8, 2009
We had a very productive trip to the Crescent City Farmers Market last week. Not sure how much winter produce would be available, we were pleasantly surprised to find the most tender and delicious broccoli, dark leafy kale, cauliflower, lots of locally grown citrus and incredibly fresh shiitake mushrooms.
Mushrooms are one of those products I've been thinking about growing at home. There is a lot of information out there about home growing kits and I was surprised to find the vendor at the market not only sold the shrooms, but also the kits. The traditional way of growing shiitake mushrooms is with shiitake grow logs. However, many companies are now using a blend of sawdust and nutrients in a grow bag that can give you 6-7 good crops of mushrooms, around 2lbs., with little work or space, and all for under $30!
Mississippi Natural Products, the vendor at the CCFM, sells the kits online at http://www.naturalmushrooms.com/
or, visit them at the market where you can first buy some mushrooms from them and see what you think! We found them incredibly fresh and tasty and created a wonderful pasta dish. I've tried to recreate the recipe below, but since I don't measure much the quantities might be a little iffy...but you'll get the general idea!
Pasta with Fresh Shiitakes and Bacon
1 T. butter
1/4 lb natural smoked bacon, diced
4 cloves garlic sliced
5 oz. sliced fresh shiitakes
1/4 c. chicken stock
1/2 c. white wine
pasta of choice
1/4 c. pasta water (reserved from cooking your pasta)
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 c. grated piave cheese (similar to parmesan, but younger, softer)
pepperoncini (red pepper flakes)
good quality olive oil (I used the Mandranova oil I wrote about in last blog)
fine bread crumbs
- Put your pasta on to boil with just a sprinkle of salt. I used a whole wheat angel hair for this
- Throw the butter and bacon in a big fry pan and on med to high heat, fry 'til the edges start to brown.
- Move the bacon to the sides of the pan and throw in the garlic. Add a little more butter or some olive oil if the pan seems to dry. Fry 'til the garlic is soft.
- Throw in the mushrooms, and mix them around with the bacon and garlic to coat them with butter and bacon fat.
- Add chicken stock, wine, pasta water, a little sea salt and half of the parsley. Bring it to a quick boil and then reduce to a simmer until the liquid reduces to about half.
- Add your drained pasta to the pan, pepper and pepperoncino and gently mix with the other ingredients.
- There should be a good amount of liquid in the pan, so add some of the bread crumbs to help thicken the sauce. This is one of Lidia Bastianich's tricks that I've been using lately.
- Simmer for another minute. Turn off the heat and add a couple of gulps of good quality olive oil drizzled all around the pasta, and sprinkle with half the cheese.
- Garnish each serving with a good sprinkle of parsley and cheese.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Monday, January 5, 2009
Olive oil is almost synonymous with Italian cooking, and nearly every region in Italy has its own homemade variation. Sicilian olive oil, however, may boast the oldest lineage, dating back to the 5th century B.C. when colonists from Greece were probably the first to plant olive trees in Sicily, starting around 500BC.
Sicily currently has four certified DOP (designation of origin) olive growing regions and is waiting on certification for two other areas. Sicily commits thousands of acres of land to growing olives and the high quality olives produced are a result of fertile, volcanic (in parts) soil. While Carolea, Nocellara, and Biancolilla are the most widely cultivated olive varieties in Sicily, one can also find Crasto, Ogliarola Messinese, Cerasuola, La Minua, La Cavaleri, Tonda Iblea, Moresca, and Castiglione.
The Mandranova Olive Oils come from Southern Sicily, near Agrigento. They focus on preserving the particular quality of each type of olive. Their extra-virgin olive oils are "monocultivar", sort of like single varietal, and their methods of pressing the oil vary according to each variety of olive. An accurate control process of each stage of the productions makes it possible to obtain products of highest quality, which has been recognized by several prizes awarded at both national and international level.
The oils are incredibly fresh, just pressed in October and are absolutely delicious! We are sharing samples of them with a few of our wholesalers to see if they would be interested in bringing them in to the United States for us. Keep your fingers crossed because if you are nuts for great olive oils like we are, trust me, you want these in your pantry!
This is a great video filmed by the Culinary Media Network demonstrating the proper way to smell and taste olive oil from Sylvia di Vincenzo of the Mandranova Estate in Sicily.
Mandranova is also an Agriturismo Resort and is a must visit for any trip to Sicily. Check out their site at http://www.mandranova.it.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
I cooked a shrimp dish using fresh Louisiana Gulf shrimp we bought at the Crescent City Farmer's Market today. The God Mother of Italian cooking, Lidia Bastianich has a recipe from her native Istria called Shrimp Buzara style...it is simple and fabulous with a light tomato and white wine sauce that leaves you scraping the bottom of the pan with anything you can find in the kitchen! Divine! Go to Lidia's website for the recipe: http://www.lidiasitaly.com/appetizers/ap01.
Not the most fabulous pairing ever, but both stood exceedingly well on their own and complimented nicely.
Definitely a wine and a dish for future endeavors!
We also both love to cook and want the freshest, healthy ingredients possible. We are moving back to the old ways when people grew their own food and lived off their land. It's a very "old world" way of life and with all of the turmoil of the present, it seems like a more simple and gentle path.
We also both love wine and are always seeking that perfect pairing that happens when an incredible dish and a delicious wine make the meal sing. We're picky about restaurants and wine lists and most of the time we'd rather eat and drink at home. Great food and wine are important to us and we're trying to find a way to make a living out of it!
So I've created this blog to document those wine and food experiences that you don't want to forget. Be it at home, at dinner party, a little osteria in Italy or a hole in the wall diner in NewYork, I'm in pursuit of the perfect pairing and unforgettable dining experiences. Right now this is just for me, but who knows where it will lead....