Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Monday, July 25, 2011

How to Open a Bottle with a Sabre, Barrachi Vineyards

I've seen this done before, but have never tried it myself, so when Benedetto Barrachi asked me if I wanted to learn of course I said yes!  My first attempt didn't go so well, but my second was a success (!  Thanks Benedetto, we had a wonderful time and Barrachi was absolutely stunning!  I'll do a post on our visit later as it was one of the highlights of the trip!

If you double click on the video it will take you to you tube where you can view it in a larger format.

Cooking Like Locals

One of the things we really enjoyed about our recent trip to Italy was cooking the local fare at our villa using only the freshest ingredients as all good Italians do.  On the Amalfi Coast seafood is king and you eat in every which way from raw to marinated, grilled or stewed, it is the star of every meal.  So much so that we got a little meat craving one night and decided to cook at home.

Enoteca Cuomo, one of our favorite stops.
 Not wanting to do anything that would take too much time, we stopped at Enoteca Cuomo on our walk up from one of our forays to da Adolfo.  They sell many different cuts of meats and meat products, so we opted for their house made sausage and also some parmigiano cheese and a few bottles of wine.  Next stop was the alimentari (small neighborhood grocery) where we picked up fresh veggies for our insalata and some locally made pasta.

Fresh veggies brought in daily at the alimentari
Now for the most important ingredients we had to look no further than the garden at the villa.  Chiara and Giuseppe, the wonderful owners, have a beautiful vegetable garden that they allowed us to pick from for our meals. We gathered up fresh San Marzano tomatoes, lots of basil, lemons and lemon leaves for the meat preparation.  I had decided to try to make a version of a typical southern Italian dish, meatballs wrapped in lemon leaves. I didn't have a recipe, but kind of pieced on together from different versions I found and was very happy with the results.

San Marzano tomatoes in the garden
One of many lemon trees in the garden
One of the things that made this work was the simplicity of the sausage; it was only pork, white wine, salt and white pepper, so I'm not exactly sure how it would be with our version of Italian sausage, but it is definetly worth trying to find out!  Also, since I didn't have a recipe, these are not exact measurements, but it would be pretty hard to mess up if you follow what I did...

I also made a fresh tomato sauce using one of Lidia Bastianich's tried and true recipes that was absolutely delicious and very quick once you peeled the tomatoes.  This recipe will follow the meatballs.

Meatballs on Lemon Leaves
Serves 6

2lbs Pork Sausage casing removed
1 egg lightly beaten
2 1/2 handfuls of plain breadcrumbs (I grated some day old ciabatta bread we had left over)
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1-1/2 handfuls of grated parmigiano cheese
salt & pepper
2 T. chopped parsley
24 lemon leaves washed and dried completely
olive oil

-Pre-heat over to 350 degrees
-Combine sausage, egg, bread crumbs, lemon peel, cheese and parsley, mix with your hands until everything is well incorporated.
-Heat a little olive oil in a pan and make a small patty to test for seasoning (the amount of salt you add will depend on the saltiness of your cheese and sausage).  Quickly fry it, taste and adjust accordingly.
-Roll the mixture into small cigar shaped patties, wrap with a lemon leaf and secure with a toothpick.
-Brush the leaves with olive oil and put on a baking sheet.
-Bake for 20-30 minutes, check at 20, you want the meat to be moist but not pink.

Fresh Marinara Sauce
Serves 6

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled
3 pounds ripe fresh plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded (click here for instructions on peeling fresh tomatoes), or one 35 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), seeded and lightly crushed, with their liquid
Crushed red pepper
10 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Parmigiano cheese for garnish
1lb cooked pasta

-Heat the oil in a 2- to 3-quart nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Whack the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife, add it to the oil, and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
-Carefully slide tomatoes and their liquid into the oil. Bring to a boil, and season lightly with salt and crushed red pepper. Lower the heat so sauce is at a lively simmer, and cook, breaking up tomatoes with a whisk or spoon, until sauce is chunky and thick, about 20 minutes.
-Stir in the basil about 5 minutes before sauce is finished. Taste sauce, and season with salt and red pepper if necessary.

More Figs Anyone?

I just couldn't resist.  My last run in Cortona took me past Frances Mayes' house, the infamous villa from Under the Tuscan Sun.  On the road right near her house was a wild giant fig tree and since I have been wanting a cutting from Cortona to add to my collection, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get one.  A quick snap of a tiny branch and I was on my way down the hill with a little piece of Tuscany in my pocket.  I hope I am as successful with this as I have been with the Sicilian cutting, that as you can see by my photo below, has started to produce some deliciously sweet figs.  I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day Tripping to Brunello di Montalcino

Kerry and Antonio picked up our rental cars this morning and we hit the road for our first winery visit. But this wasn't just any visit, as we were heading to one of the most famous wine regions of the world, the gorgeous hillside slopes of Brunello di Montalcino.

Our host today was Count Alberto Marone Cinzano, current owner of one of the largest landholding estates, Col D'Orcia. Having run into some major traffic jams on the route, we showed up more than a bit late and were quickly whisked off to the large tasting room by Nicola, the property manager. The count himself guided us through the tasting of 8 wines that included a red blend from his Chilean estate, a super Tuscan, 2 rosso di Montalcino, 3 Brunellos, and their single vineyard cabernet and merlot. From the softer juicy light summer style reds to big powerful riservas, it was an impressive lineup thoroughly enjoyed by all of our guests.

Next up was lunch, in their beautiful reception room where we were treated to a variety of dishes made mainly with products grown on their property. Panzanella salad, bruschetta,prosciutto, freshly made pasta from their own wheat, lamb, fried peas and fresh veggies from the garden accompanied by their estate made olive oil. And of course bottles of each of the wines were set out for us to try with the different foods.

As do most producers in the region they also make 4 different grappa, as well as a beautiful dessert wine, that were also brought out for us with a delicious apple tart for dessert.

At this point, most had over indulged a bit, so we kept the tour a little short. As this would normally take place before the tasting our late arrival mean switching the order of things. But we did go to the barrel room where Nicola poured us each a sample of the very young 2010 Brunello.

We said our goodbyes and loaded everyone in the cars to explore the hilltop towns of Montalcino and Pienza, famous for it's pecorino cheese production. The most gorgeous ride back took us through the sepia toned Tuscan countryside, dotted with fields of olive trees and grape vines and beautiful villas as we winded our way back to Cortona for dinner.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Exploring Cortona

Wanting to keep the pace of this trip a more relaxed, New Orleans style experience, we scheduled a lot of time for just hanging out and exploring different areas.

In front of our little apartment.

Having done some serious toasting and celebrating the night of our arrival, everyone had the morning to do what they what they wanted. Some went to Sunday mass, others slept in and hung out at the villa, I went for a run and and had a little breakfast at the apartment Kerry and I are staying in just up the hill from the villa.

The villa is a 16th century home, that is also a historic landmark in the town due to the fact that the famous Renaissance painter, Petro Berrittini, was born there. It has a huge, beautiful garden over looking the valley where we are serving our meals. Today we had freshly made spinach and ricotta ravioli that Antonio sautéed in butter and sage, salad, mixed cured meats antipasta platter and fresh fruit served with a few bottles of delicious sparkling Franciacorta wine.

We spent few hours in the Etruscan Museum, as Cortona was one o the original Etruscan settlements with it's origins dating back to pre Roman times. Afterwards, veryone then went off on their own, visiting the great small shops, ducking in and out of little hidden alleyways and streets, seeing the many churches, and of course we continued our afternoon gelato and espresso tradition!

Tonight's dinner was at Trattoria Dardano, owned by the Castelli family, who serves meat and game from their own farm. We dined on bruschetta, fresh made pici pasta with a duck ragu, a platter of freshly grilled rabbit, pheasant and duck, insalata and the most delicious rosemary potatoes, cooked in the fat of all of those meats on the platter. An array of desserts was accompanied by owner Paolo's incredible house made bay leaf amaro.

As we walked ourselves up the very steep hill to the villa, everyone was completely stuffed and ready to fall into bed. No late night parties tonight as all needs to awake early for our trip to Montalcino and be ready to drink the famous Brunello wines of Col D'Orcia....
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bellisimo Cortona

Coffee this morning is in one of the many enotece in the beautiful Tuscan hill town of Cortona. The views here are much different than those from Positano, but none less breathtaking! The photos below are from my jog this morning.

This is the "work" part of the trip where Antonio Molesini and I have arranged a wine and cultural tour of Tuscany for 8 of our customers, using his home town of Cortona as a base.

We'll be visiting wineries, beautiful hilltop villages, museums and traveling around this stunning countryside while immersing ourselves in the food, wine and culture of the region.

Today is an easy day exploring Cortona, while tomorrow will be a trip to Montalcino and their famous Brunello wines. I can't wait!

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Another fabulous view...

We have arrived in Cortona! Wifi access won't be quite as easy, but I'll try my best!

A presto!

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Friday, July 15, 2011

5 Reasons to Eat at Ristorante Da Adolfo

When I told importer Marco di Grazia that I was coming to Campania he said that I had to go to his friend Sergio's restaurant, the best on the whole Amalfi Coast. While I haven't eaten at enough places here to make that claim, I can tell you that Da Adolfo has been my favorite so far, and for many reasons other than the delicious food!

Reason #1 -  access from the road to the restaurant is difficult, so a handsome, suntanned Italian guy picks you up in a little wooden boat at the dock in Positano and takes you a few coves over and drops you on the tiny beach that Da Adolfo shares with a hotel.

Reason #2 - you sit in an open restaurant right on the beach, so the dress code is about as casual as it gets, bathing suits!

Reason #3 -since there is no storage, seafood is brought in by boat daily and you are served platters of the freshest mussels, clams, octopus, the catch of the day plus all locally produced

cheeses, wines, fruits, pasta and vegetables prepared simply with traditional recipes of the region.

Reason #4- no menus, just let the crazy Italian guys who work there pick for you. Trust me, you couldn't go wrong with anything they bring you!

Reason # 5 - when you are finished eating you have to wait for the handsome Italian guy to take you back in the boat and since you are dining in your bathing suit, you step down to the beach and take a swim in the crystal clear, sea foam green waters. Kids, adults, tourists and locals hang out, snorkel, swim, jump from the rocks and enjoy the moment.

Kerry and I snuck off by ourselves here the other day, so today, sadly our last, we're bringing the other girls. I can't wait!!

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dinner at Trattoria Il Ritrovo

This time we all took a motorized vehicle to Monte Pertuso, as the next item on our agenda is dinner at Il Ritrovo, one of three restaurants near the tiny piazza. Recommended by slow food's guide, "Osterie & Locanda d'Italia" it was the only restaurant in the vicinity they felt truly captures the areas cultural and culinary traditions.

Located high on the mountainside above Positano, they make it easy for you to get there by sending a complimentary car to pick you up and take you home from the restaurant. This allows you to drink copious amounts of wine and still safely make trip down the winding twisty roads to your villa!

Far away from the nice but touristy places on the beach, Salvatore and Teresa Barba's trattoria is casual and humble with most of the vegetables and white meats come from their own land, farmed by father Domenico. Chiara's brother, Francesco, is the wine guy and we had a great conversation about local wines while I was waiting for the girls to come up on the bus earlier that morning.

They have a few set menus with multiple courses at varying prices and amounts of food or you can or items alla carte. Francesco recommended the $35 euro per person menu, so we all decided on that and I asked him to pick all local wines based on the menu.

I can't tell you how much I've been enjoying the white wines from the region! Refreshing, clean with great minerality from the volcanic soils and mouthwatering acidity, they beg for the fresh regional seafood dishes! Tramonti is one of the local doc's so we began with that; a blend of falanghina, biancolella and ginestra by Colle Santa Marina.

We had this with the antipasti, three platters full of grilled tuna and octopus;

fresh tomato bruschetta with fried shrimp and;

an assortment of different vegetables from their garden.

Next up was Francesco's favorite Greco di Tufo by Benito Ferrari paired with our primi piatti,

platters of freshly made pasta with porcini mushrooms, langoustine tails, housemade ravioli in a fresh tomato sauce and their local clams in butter and garlic.

Lastly we had the Bechar Fiano di Avellino that has by far been my favorite wine of the trip!

And our secondi was a beautiful local redfish poached in a light tomato and garlic broth.

Then there were the two platters of house made desserts accompanied by local liquors also made in house, but by this time I've eaten so many things that I can't even remember what we had!

Needless to say, we rolled out of the restaurant and back into the van that picked us up, miserably but deliciously full, and fell into bed!

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