Friday, January 12, 2018

SEASONAL FOODS: Persimmon



I am a big fan of what many consider "exotic" fruit -- though nothing is terribly exotic considering that nowadays in New York City, we can find just about anything, from anywhere, if you now where to look. Perhaps it's better to say that some fruits are not yet "mainstream", or "everyday" fruits. Everyone knows what an orange, or a banana, or an apple looks like, tastes like. But the persimmon? There are a lot of people out there who are unsure what a persimmon even is (or if it's a fruit at all), much less how it tastes or how it's eaten. I'm here to declare that persimmons are great eating out-of-hand, but are also a wonderful ingredient in salads, in savory dishes, and for baking. It's worth getting to know these beauties. So, let's take a closer look at the versatile, brilliant persimmon, in season throughout late fall and into the winter.

There are two main categories of persimmons, generally speaking: hachiya and fuyu. The hachiya variety is acorn shaped, usually a deep or bright orange, and should only be eaten when ripe and soft (unripe, these guys are incredibly astringent and seem pretty, well, inedible, thanks to their high tannin content). The fuyu variety is more squat and round, can range in color from a pale orange or more golden hue to the bright orange of the hachiya variety, and can be eaten like an apple when it's more firm, even crisp, as it's much less astringent than the hachiya variety. Much like the tomato, persimmons are technically a berry in terms of botanical morphology, though most people don't lump them into the berry category with raspberries, blueberries and the like. (It's actually amazing how many foods are technically berries!) There is a third type cultivated in Japan, and prized for its rich brown flesh when ripe (instead of bright orange). "Chocolate persimmon" contains dark brown flesh within, the maru variety is sold as "cinnamon persimmon" for its spicy taste, and "brown sugar" is prized for its deep sweetness. A fourth variety, grown in Israel and known as the Sharon ("shah-RON") fruit, named after the Sharon plain in Israel, is the marketing name for the Triumph persimmon, an Israeli-bred cultivar. This variety has no seeds, is very sweet, and can be eaten whole. In Valencia, Spain, one can find a variety that's variegated called the Spanish persimon (one "m"), in Spanish called Ribera del Xuquer or Rojo Brillante. In Italian and Japanese, the persimmon shares the same name: kaki (pronounced more or less "cocky").

As you can probably guess from their varietal names, the persimmon is of Asian origin, native to Japan, China, Korea, Burma, and Nepal. Cultivation of the persimmon extended throughout east and south Asia, and was later introduced to southern Europe and California (they have similar growing climates) in the early 1800s, and to Brazil by the end of the 19th century. In Korea, the matured fermented fruit are used to make a persimmon vinegar called gamsikcho (I'm now obsessed with the idea of this vinegar!), and for hundreds of years, the Japanese have consumed persimmon leaf tea made from the dried kaki leaves. In the northwestern U.S., persimmons are a commonly-found ingredient in pies and various desserts, like persimmon pudding (baked to the consistency of pumpkin pie, but resembles more of a brownie), almost surely topped with whipped cream. And Mitchell, Indiana is the proud home to an annual persimmon festival. As for nutritional value? Persimmons are high in dietary fiber and some dietary minerals, and offer a significant source of vitamin C and iron. They are also, when ripe, high in glucose (that sweetness comes at a cost), so make note.  

Most importantly, how do we use the persimmon as a seasonal ingredient? I love baking with persimmons, in cakes and tarts in which the fruit holds its form and beautiful color, but I also love using its puree in cakes and cheesecakes, and frozen in ice cream or sorbet. You can whip up a great smoothie with persimmon flesh, and it's easy to transform into a jam or mostarda to spread on bread or to accompany a gorgeous cheese plate. But arguably the best way to enjoy the pure flavor of the persimmon flesh is to eat it out of hand -- or rather, by removing the green-brown stem of the fruit (if it's ripe, it should "unplug" to remove easily), and scooping out the tender, sweet flesh with a spoon. It's like a ready-made fruit custard. 

Beyond utilizing the fruit to finish a meal, I also like to incorporate the persimmon into savory preparations, as a counterpoint to sharper bitter or salty flavors. it works marvelously well in seasonal salads, like this Tuscan kale, feta, and persimmon salad with pomegranate and sunflower seeds. Dressed with a white balsamic-pomegranate vinaigrette, this salad hits all flavor and texture notes and is a nutritional fall or winter salad to boot. Move over, avocado toast! Toasted bread with a shmear of fresh ricotta, sliced persimmon, and cracked pepper is insanely good. The fruit even works in highly-spiced dishes, like a curry or a spicy salsa dressing for fish or meat. I love it in a winer ceviche too. Really, it's all about using this seasonal ingredient however you enjoy it most. The important thing is to try it, get used to its flavor, and soon the "exotic" persimmon will become for you, as it is for me, an everyday winter food love affair!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

LIBATIONS: The Pina Colada

If you like piña coladas...

Yes, it's an oldie but a goodie, that song by Rupert Holmes, the one that speaks of getting caught in the rain and having half a brain. But ol' Rupert was onto something. The piña colada is one of my all-time favorite cocktails, particularly when it's prepared correctly. And it happens to have originated in Puerto Rico, a fabulous island that's an unincorporated territory of the United States but has yet to be afforded statehood (and therefore the right to vote in U.S. elections, though I digress)...and PR is an island that happens to have been the hard-hit victim of a particularly harsh hurricane season in the autumn on 2017. 


I adored Puerto Rico when I visited right after New Year's back in 2015. My husband and I were dating at the time, and though we'd taken several trips together, both domestic and international, this was our first tropical getaway to a Caribbean island, a 5-day jaunt to a destination with reveling in sybaritic coupledom as the sole point of the trip. With poolside cocktails, natch. What better place to enjoy one of my favorite refreshing, tropical frozen drinks than in its palm tree-lined place of origin? I'd just worked hard serving up great food and beverages to clients throughout the holiday season, so I was very much looking forward to being served a little bit myself, and relaxing in the sun, when temperatures back home were sub-zero. I prefer frozen cocktails to frozen tushies!


First, a quick primer on the piña colada. The name means "strained pineapple" -- a reference to the fresh pineapple juice in the drink. It's generally served blended/frozen or shaken with ice, though my personal opinion is that you go frozen or go home. Its origin story is still up for debate: it was definitely created in Puerto Rico, but where and by whom is still somewhat unresolved. There is a legend that says a Puerto Rican pirate created the drink in the 19th century to boost his crew's morale, but the recipe for the drink seems to have gone with him to his grave in 1825. 
In the modern era, we have two stories. Story 1: Ramón "Monchito" Marrero Pérez lays claim to have made it first at San Juan's Caribe Hilton Hotel's Beachcomber Bar in '54, utilizing Don Q Gold rum and what was then a new product, Coco Lopez's crem of coconut (developed in '48 in Puerto Rico, hence to Puerto Rican lineage of the drink itself). Story 2: Bartender Ramón Portas Mingot claims to have created the pina colada in 1963 at the Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan -- a claim the restaurant adheres to in the present day. Many say the drink didn't get its name until the 1960s, regardless of who the actual creator was. But the piña colada has definitively been the national drink of Puerto Rico since 1978, and National Piña Colada Day is celebrated on the island on July 10th each year. Fun fact: in one of the greatest movies ever made, The Godfather Part II (1974), in the scenes that are set in Cuba in 1956, the characters are offered Piña Coladas on several occasions, even though the drink wasn't named as such until the 1960s.

Back to Puerto Rico. While I indulged in many a piña colada on our trip to PR, we discovered the most memorable version just before sunset on the evening we were flying back to frigid New York some time around 9:30 p.m. We were having dinner at a wonderful restaurant Santaella (see my review on this blog at http://bluaubergine.blogspot.com/search?q=Santaella), in the neighborhood surrounding a central mercado away from the "strip" by the beach, away from the crowds of tourists and chain restaurants. As I remember, we walked there from our hotel, as we wanted to take in some local scenes, and though the mercado was mostly closed down by the time we got there (it was about 4:00 in the afternoon, so a few fruit and veg sellers were still in the covered market, but crowds were sparse), we did see a vibrant local scene. 

There were kids playing the in plaza, and families sitting outside on patio chairs. fanning themselves from the heat. Behind the market and around the corner, we saw a grouping of tables and chairs, and several older men sitting playing cards and dominoes. Many of them were sipping...could it be...piña coladas? Yes. There was a makeshift bar set up with a single powerful blender, ice in plastic tubs, plenty of rum, and lots of coconuts and pineapples ready to be whirred together into that perfect tropical elixir. I approached the woman making them and asked in Spanish for 2 piña coladas, and asked her how much they cost. For five dollars a pop, we got about 20 ounces each of the most satisfying, delicious, boozy piña coladas we had our entire trip, served up in a large clear plastic cup. Pure heaven.


So as we wind down 2017 and look forward to 2018, let's raise a frosty glass to Puerto Rico and its signature drink, the piña colada. It takes us away to a tropical island "Escape" (the actual title of the piña colada song), even in the dreary cold of a northeastern winter. And, please give anything you can to continue U.S. support to PR, a gorgeous island full of wonderful people who need our help.

Piña Colada
1 ½ oz. aged Puerto Rican rum
1 ½ oz. cream of coconut (like Coco López)
1 ½ oz. pineapple juice
5 chunks fresh pineapple
16 oz. crushed ice
Tools: blender
Glass: hurricane
Garnish: pineapple wedge
Add all ingredients to a blender and whir for about 30-60 seconds until smooth and frothy. I always think a dark rum floater never hurt anybody, and can only improve the drink. 

To help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria, you can always give to the Red Cross, or to the organizations below...

Puerto Rico Real-Time Recovery Fund:
https://www.generosity.com/emergencies-fundraising/maria-puerto-rico-real-time-recovery-fund

Hurricane Maria Community Recovery Fund:
https://connect.clickandpledge.com/w/Form/cb4a3c78-5694-4324-bead-42c8ad94c1bf

Unidos Por Puerto Rico:
https://www.unidosporpuertorico.com/en/


Happy New Year!!!


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

RECIPE: Sufganiyot, A Hanukkah Favorite

Above, sufganiyot I made with my family last Hanukkah: a culinary success but a mess getting my powdered sugar-covered nephew clean!
Hanukkah, the festival of lights, is a celebration of the reclaiming and rededicating (Hanukkah means "dedication") of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE. The oil used to light the menorah in the temple, thought only enough to last for a night, lasted for eight days instead -- hence the festival of lights. Culinarily speaking, this translates to celebrating this oil with lots of fried goodies. Latkes, or potato pancakes -- and really fritters of any kind -- are present on most Hanukkah tables. Sufganiyot, or donuts in Hebrew, are basically the sweet version of fritters. They're delicious, and surprisingly to some, easy enough to make at home. In closing out this year's festival of lights, what better way to top off eight days of gluttonous fried foods than with the ultimate fried dessert?


There is a long tradition among both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews linking fried donuts, in various forms, with Hanukkah. North African tradition melds with the Jewish tradition of associating sfenj (the smaller, deep-fried donuts) with Hanukkah. In Israel, where Central and East European Jews mingled with North African Jews, the Yiddish ponchkes (similar to the German berliner, the Polish paczki, or the Russian ponchik) became part of this tradition.


Angel Bakeries, the largest bakery in Israel, reportedly fries up more than 250,000 sufganiyot every day during the eight-day Hanukkah festival. Local newspapers add to the excitement by sending out food critics each year to rate the best sufganiyah in town. As a result of the national hubbub, some purveyors have elevated the basic filling recipe to an art form. The most basic version is filled with plain red fruit jelly, while more expensive versions are piped with chocolate cream, dulce de leche, vanilla cream, cappuccino pastry cream, and even the Israeli anise-flavored liqueur called araq, and topped with various extravagant toppings, from coconut shavings to meringue and sprinkles and flavored glazes. Even Burger King got in on sufganiyah fever last year with the "SufganiKing" -- a burger with the bun replaced by sweet donut halves, which as BK notes "proves that miracles still happen"!

Here is my basic recipe. Below that I'll post a link to my recipe as published on The Daily Meal a few years ago. You can get creative with both the fillings and the toppings. I like a salted caramel filling with a dark chocolate glaze (or the reverse), a meyer lemon curd filling (with a lemon poppyseed glaze, yum!), a fruit cream filling with various chocolate and candy toppings, or a classic jam filling -- try fig -- topped with a simple dusting of powdered sugar. Whatever your personal palate dictates, one thing we know is that It's time to make the donuts!

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon dry yeast
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 Cup lukewarm milk or water (water for meat meal, milk for dairy meal)
  • 2 1/2 Cups AP flour
  • 1 Pinch of salt
  • 1 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 Tablespoons butter or pareve margarine, softened
  • Jelly (strawberry, raspberry, apricot, etc.) or cranberry sauce
  • Sugar, for rolling
  • Vegetable/seed oil, for deep-frying

Directions

- Mix together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and the milk. Let sit until it bubbles.
- Sift the flour and mix with the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, egg yolks, and yeast mixture.
- Knead the dough until it forms a ball. Add the butter/margarine. Knead some more, until the butter is well absorbed into the mixture. 
- Cover with a towel and let it rise overnight, or at least 2 hours, in the fridge.

- Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut the dough into 24 rounds with a juice glass or any object with a 2-inch diameter.
- Brush the 12 rounds with beaten egg whites. Take 1/2 teaspoon of the cranberry sauce and place in center of 12 rounds. Press down at edges, crimping with the thumb and second finger to seal. Let rise for 30 minutes.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a pan, to about 375 degrees.
Drop donuts into the hot oil, about 5 at a time, not crowding the pan. Turn to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and roll the donuts in sugar.

Here's a link to my recipe on The Daily Meal: 

http://www.thedailymeal.com/recipes/sufganiyot-thanksgivukkah-recipe

Enjoy, and Happy Hanukkah!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

QUICK BITE: Holiday Comfort Foods: Soup Edition


It's pretty much inevitable. In the run-up to Thanksgiving, which is of course the big food-centric opener to the holiday season, I work too much, cook too much, travel on flying petri dishes otherwise known as airplanes, and my sleep suffers as a result of all of this. Aaaand...boom. Suddenly, I'm getting sick. Under the weather. No bueno. But the good news in all of this? Post-Thanksgiving is the perfect time to make and enjoy soup.


I refuse to toss a turkey carcass in the trash unless it's been fully utilized as a flavor-maker by infusing a rich stock, a deeply soothing broth, and the base of a delicious soup. Of course, these soups are not vegetarian-friendly -- perhaps another time, another post. These soups have a poultry base. Right now we're talking about the fact that it's the bones of the bird that make these stocks enriched with collagen and nutrients, so restorative, so...rectifying. While cooking away, their meaty perfume permeates the kitchen (and indeed, the entire apartment or house) in which they're cooked with the smell of another Thanksgiving, and this can't be bad. There's no real recipe needed; this is an act of recycling, a thoughtful using up of scraps and leftover ingredients, cleaning out the fridge in the process. We chefs love efficiency and economy.



So, here's the deal: use whatever remains of the turkey carcass that's been picked clean. Add the neck and gizzards and whatever you've saved from various turkey parts. This year, for instance, I spatchcocked our family Thanksgiving  turkey, so I added the backbone to the stockpot, which added a real flavor boost, along with the roasted veggies over which I cooked the turkey. Then, throw in some celery, carrots, and onion -- in whatever form you have left over. If you don't, a simple trip to the market and a few dollars will give you what you need. Toss in some garlic or leeks or shallots, if you like. Add some black peppercorns, maybe a touch of thyme or parsley or rosemary (or all three). Fill the pot with cold water and set it on the stove to boil. Once it hits the boiling point, turn it down to a low simmer and just let it slowly cook for hours. I'd say 4 hours is the bare minimum for this stock, but 8 will get you a rich, golden stock you'll remember for years to come. 

What now? Well, it's best to cool the stock for an hour or two and then put it in the fridge overnight. This way you can skim the fat the next day when it's congealed at the top. From there, you can layer flavors however you like. That's the beauty of a good stock. Make sure to salt it at the end. 



I had my white bean and escarole turkey soup for breakfast yesterday morning, as I woke up still feeling under the weather, and I knew I'd have to fly. The restorative broth with a bit of a peperoncino kick was just what the doctor ordered. 
Today I continued with matzo ball soup, a.k.a. Jewish penicillin -- I ordered in from Sarge's deli, as they make a good MBS and they're close by and I don't have to make the soup myself when I'm not feeling up to it. That's part of the beauty of living in Manhattan. 


But I make great soups from turkey (and chicken, and vegetable, and beef, and oxtail) stocks all through the winter. You can simply add a starch -- pasta (long noodles, or small pasta like ditalini or tiny shells or Israeli couscous, or tortellini), or potatoes (regular or sweet potatoes or blue). Add any combination of veggies cut small. Add chile pepper in some form (paste, hot sauce, fresh or dried chiles) for kick, if you like, and an acid (wine or citrus juice or vinegar) to cut the richness of the savory broth. And fresh herbs at the end are always welcome. Spices too, if they work with the kind of soup you're making. It's all up to you. But as with most things, in the kitchen and outside of it, it's most important to start with a great base. The rest is just gravy...errr, soup.

Friday, November 3, 2017

MARKETS: Union Square Market, NYC



I have taken a good spell of time off from this blog. I was busy all spring and summer long with work, with planning my wedding and everything that went along with it, dealing with family issues and illnesses and loss. Never have I experienced such a mix of joy and pain in a six month period. So, my writing took a back seat to other life issues. Then, we were overseas for three weeks in early fall, to host a second Italian wedding, do some work in bell'Italia, and to enjoy our Mediterranean honeymoon. 



But now, I'm back. We're back. And what better way to celebrate autumn (my favorite season), and all things New York City, than with a virtual visit to Manhattan's beloved Union Square Greenmarket? Most produce and food markets seem to hit their peak in late summer, when the abundance of summer fruit and vegetables explodes, rendering the markets lush and colorful. And I do love summer at Union Square, and any market, really. But to me, the best time for a greenmarket in The Big Apple is during the best season in The Big Apple: Autumn in New York, of course! I love exploring the collection of pumpkins and squash varieties, mostly edible but with some decorative gourds thrown in. These are the colors of fall, in food form (see photo at right). I love sipping on cider as I stroll through the market aisles -- either cold, when the weather leans more towards Indian Summer, or hot cider, when the air is crisp and calls for a scarf. Union Square in its autumn glory signals the season for me, and I love it.



A brief backgrounder: the Union Square Greenmarket was founded in 1976 with just a handful of farmers selling their goods, but now USQ is the flagship greenmarket in Grow NYC's Greenmarket organization. In the mid-'80s, Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe helped to revitalize the neighborhood, as the ethos of the groundbreaking restaurant was to lift up the farming community local to the New York metro area. Today, the USQ Greenmarket boasts 140 regional farmers (produce and animal), bakers, and fishmongers selling their wares in peak season. Union Square is one of the city's great public spaces, and roaming around the market -- especially on a Saturday afternoon -- the atmosphere is festive and lively, with as many as 60,000 shoppers passing through the market stalls. There are market tours for students, locals, and tourists alike, and there are always cooking demos and book signings happening with the city's local chefs and food experts. Speaking as a professional chef in this city, I can recommend Union Square greenmarket as THE place to purchase quality food products, herbs, and all kinds of edible goodies.




Farms from New York's Hudson Valley, Long Island, New Jersey, and even eastern Pennsylvania set up shop at the market on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and/or Saturdays. They offer delicious seasonal produce, but also top-quality duck and poultry and game (take it from me: ostrich meatballs are delicious, people! And very sustainable). Blue Oyster Cultivation's specialty is not just in a snappy name, but also mushroom cultivation. Flying Pig Farms offers rare breed and heritage pork products, dairy, and eggs. There's Roaming Acres Ostrich. There's Prospect Hill Orchards and Migliorelli Farm and Samascott Orchards -- amazing this time of year for more varieties of apples, pears, and grapes than you imagined possible.
USQ features the Union Square Grassman, serving up wheatgrass and organic microgreen shoots. There's Hudson Valley Duck, for some great breasts, whole birds and various duck products. There's just-caught fish and seafood from local waters, like Pura Vida fish (fresh and smoked), and delicious dairy products. Case in point: I recently bought some mozzarella di bufala from Riverine Ranch, a water buffalo farm in southern New Jersey (go, Garden State!) with some admitted skepticism. I'd just returned from several weeks in premiere mozzarella territory in Campania, Italy where I'd eaten my weight in caprese salads. So imagine my surprise when I tossed some gorgeous grape tomatoes with a chiffonade of basil, arugula, extra virgin Italian olive oil, and balsamic, and paired it with this New Jersey buffalo milk mozzarella -- and found it to be incredibly delicious! (note: I had tried ricotta di bufala from a Vermont producer in the USQ greenmarket a few years back, and was supremely disappointed with its lack of flavor). My mind has been happily changed.

Some of the artisanal producers include Beth's Farm Kitchen for jams, pickles, and the like. There is Hawthorne Valley Farms, She Wolf Bakery, Francesca's Bakery and Las Delicias for baked goods, including gluten-free items. There's Tremblay Apiaries, taking care of our bees and their honey production. Rosehaven Alpacas sells wool and handcrafts made from alpaca fiber. Martin's Pretzels from Pennsylvania Dutch country are a perennial favorite with an addictive crunch. There's Long Island potato vodka and wines from local vineyards, like Breezy Hill Orchard. There are flower and plants and herb sellers like James Durr Flowers and Fantastic Gardens
And of course there are tons of fruit and vegetable sellers, including, sometimes, Terhune Orchards from Princeton, my beloved hometown orchard. Sellers come from within 100 miles of New York City -- proof positive that New York is more than just a world hub, more than just a restaurant and food nexus, more than just The Big Apple. It's pretty much everything you could want in one part of the country, especially if you love things that are fresh, homemade, local, high quality, and delicious. We knew all along that New Yorkers have great taste!












UNION SQUARE GREENMARKET
Monday - Wednesday - Friday - Saturday
8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
https://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/manhattan-union-square-sa


Friday, March 3, 2017

RECIPES: Pasta con Cavolfiore, Sultane, Mandorle, e Molliche

The Italians know a thing or two about parsimonious cooking, about making something incredibly delicious and soul-satisfying out of something lowbrow or unexciting. And the further south you go along the Italian peninsula, the stronger that capacity grows. Sicilian cuisine is the shining example of this modo di cucinare.

A delicious Sicilian pasta dish that highlights the culinary transition from everyday-to-divine is one using a "lowly" cruciferous vegetable, often overlooked because of its pale color, and considered (mistakenly) to lack nutritional content: cauliflower. Cauliflower itself is actually very nutritious, as are all cruciferous veggies (like broccoli and cabbage) -- it's full of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, and a slew of antioxidants and anti-carcinogens that make weekly consumption of the vegetable a real boon to anyone's diet. And with a preparation as delicious as this one, it can become a fabulous staple in a nutritious meal plan. As for its use in this dish, it's enhanced by the agrodolce (sweet-sour) combination of the dried sultanas and toasted almonds -- classic Sicilian. And because even grated cheese is a luxury many in the poorer areas of Sicily can't afford, herbed toasted bread crumbs are used in place of cheese. If you need the dish to be wholly vegetarian, you can leave out the anchovy.

Please note: this dish can be prepared without the pasta, served as a side dish to round out a meal. Tossing it with pasta just makes for a satisfying lunch or delicious dinner, and one that's quite wallet-friendly as well. It's perfect for everything from a meatless Monday meal to a dinner party dish. Buon Appetito!

PASTA CON CAVOLFIORE, SULTANE, MANDORLE, E MOLLICHE 
(Serves 3-4)

1/2 to 3/4 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
400 grams pasta (4/5 pound)
1/2 cup olive oil -- good quality Sicilian extra virgin is best 
3 cloves garlic
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced into half moons 
1/4 white wine
1/3 cup dried sultanas or raisins
1/2 cup slivered toasted almonds
2 TBSP. capers
1 anchovy fillet chopped, or 1/2 tsp anchovy paste 
pinch of dried peperoncino flakes
1/2 cup herbed toasted bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
salt & pepper to taste

- Start by par-cooking the cauliflower in a large pot of boiling water, salted well. Keep the water to cook the pasta in, and remove the cauliflower from the boiling water once cooked until softened, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander or bowl.

- In a large saute' pan, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the whole garlic cloves. After 1 minute of heating up, add the anchovy, onion, and peperoncino and cook until the onion turns translucent, about 3 minutes.

- Add the cauliflower to the saute' pan and the white wine, and cook until the wine has burned off a bit, about a minute. Then cook, covered, for about 5-7 minutes, until the caulifower has softened and begins to break down a bit.

- Toss the pasta into the boiling, salted cauliflower water and cook until just barely al dente.

- While the pasta is cooking, add the sultanas and capers to the cauliflower and cook to brown the cauliflower a bit. Add olive oil as needed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

- When the pasta is just shy of al dente, remove from the cooking water and transfer t o the saute pan with the cauliflower. Add the slivered almonds and the parsley, and toss to coat. Cook for an additional 2 minutes in the pan and at the very end, toss the rest of the olive oil and half of the breadcrumbs in with the pasta, toss to coat.

- Serve the pasta in pasta plates and sprinkle with the toasted bread crumbs. Enjoy!

Friday, January 27, 2017

LIBATIONS: Vin Santo

 
Vin Santo. Its name means "saint wine" or "holy wine" and if you enjoy a good dessert wine -- or good wine, period -- this Tuscan specialty is definitely a drink to explore. To me, this is the essence of Florence, the essence of Tuscany. It's traditionally served at the end of a meal alongside a plate of cantucci, the rock-hard almond biscotti made slightly more chewable by dipping them into the vin santo. The flavors blend wonderfully as well. What are more specifics of the sweet wine itself? It's usually made from white grapes like Trebbiano and Malvasia, though sometimes Sangiovese (the chianti grape) can be used to make the rose' style vin santo called occhio di pernice, or "eye of the partridge." The grapes are dried out on either straw mats (hence the term sometimes used to describe vin santo as a "straw wine") or hanging on racks indoors. The finished product usually ranges from 14-17% alcohol, so stronger than traditional whites but not quite as potent as distilled liquors.

The name itself indicates its likely origin, which was use in religious mass. One of the earliest references to the vino was found in Florentine wine merchants' logs in the renaissance era, as the wine was marketed to Rome and environs specifically for religious ceremonies.  Another theory of the origin of its name states that the tradition of fermenting the wine starting around All Saint's Day and bottling it around Easter lent the wine its "holy" appeal.

Eventually this style of wine was produced on the island of Santorini in Greece when it came under Ottoman rule. Their biggest audience was the east: Greek vin santo was widely exported to Russia and became the standard wine used in Russian Orthodox mass.  

Like other dessert wines, vin santo gets its sweetness from the dessication, or drying process, as mentioned earlier. This concentration of the sugars in the grapes creates its signature sweetness. Sometimes a madre, or mother (starter) is used, taking a bit of previously-produced vin santo and pouring it, with all its wild yeasts, into the new bottling to jump-start the fermentation process.
This is thought to give the wine complexity and a bit of continuity in character from harvest to harvest. The flavor profile of vin santo is heavy on nutty and/or raisin notes, with some cream and honey in the mix as well. Most wine producers in Tuscany tend to produce Chianti for the masses, but they squirrel away a barrel or two of vin santo to enjoy in famiglia (with the family)...Proof again that Italians know a thing or two about keeping the good stuff among loved ones.