Olive Oil & Bruschetta

Tuscanyoliveoil

La Carraia di Franco Bardi
Podere Carraia n. Petroio 53020 Trequanda SI
PH (39) 0577 665208
oliobardi@hotmail.com
Visits by appointment (Only Italian spoken)

I never tire of meeting people who are passionate about their craft, and Franco Bardi personifies that quality. La Carraia di Franco Bardi is not your grandmother’s olive oil. The first time I saw it I could not believe the color: a deep green with gold hints. Then as Franco laughed at my disbelief, he urged me to try it, so I brought a small cup of this liquid gold to my lips and was blown away. The oil was intensely aromatic and very rich. I looked up, and there was Franco smiling at me with an “I told you so” grin. He did not lack confidence noting his oil was the best, and more or less challenged me to disagree. As much as I like a good debate, I was happy to agree that it was damn good. Evidently, I am not the only one who thinks so. He explained to me that his oil has won the prestigious Sirena D’Oro for the best media frutta or medium-bodied olive oil in Tuscany. Ok, now he was gloating.

La Carraia extra virgin olive oil is made from 14 hectares (33.6 acres) of olive groves and is only from the first cold press of three olive varieties: Moraiolo, Frantoio and Leccino. Moraiolo and Frantoi make up the majority with about 10% Leccino. Franco noted he only uses sulfur and copper in the olive grove, making it for all intents and purposes au naturel, but he doesn’t believe in the moniker of “organic,” noting that the pollution of cars passing the grove and basic realities like acid rain make it an impossible concept. Olio Di Franco Bardi is not imported, at least not yet. In Tuscany it would not qualify as cheap, but it’s a relative bargain when you consider it knocks out many brand-name olive oils that ask for double the price. They are thanking their lucky stars you have not yet tried La Carraia.

 

Bruschetta  (My Version)

Antipasto

Bruschetta is one of the best ways to enjoy great olive oil. Olive oil is generally picked in late October–November, and when fresh, it is intensely aromatic. It mellows with age, the color and flavor becoming less intense, but it does not get better. Olive oil has a shelf life of one year. To that end, top olive oils often mention their harvest date. Thank goodness it is an annual gift!  However, new oil is what you seek, especially for great Bruschetta. Bruschetta is a simple treat, and while it may have toppings, this version is all about the olive oil.

 

Country bread, cut into ½ inch slices

Large garlic clove, sliced in half

Extra virgin olive oil—only the best!

Salt & pepper to taste

 

Lightly toast the bread on both sides

 

While still piping hot, take the flat end of the garlic clove and lightly rub it on one of the toasty sides.

 

Liberally pour the olive oil over the warm bread.

 

The warmth of the bread helps to release the aroma of the olive oil and garlic. Add a pinch of salt—it will bring out the flavor in the olive oil. Serve immediately.

 

Author’s Note: Serve preferably with a Sauvignon Blanc, which is a perfect combination with the garlic. One of my favorite Italian Sauvignon Blancs is La Foa by Colterenzio from Alto Adige in Northern Italy.

 

Olive Oil & White Truffle Hunting in Tuscany

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Fattoria La Selva

Loc. La Selva
PH (39) 0577 662017
FX (39) 0577891 135
www.pometti.it
info@pometti.it
Visits By appointment, follow signs for “La Selva” from Trequanda.

La Selva makes an excellent organically farmed olive oil. I have known the owner Duccio Pometti for more than 10 years. His passion for the earth, good food, and wine are evident to anyone who has spent time with him. His estate is located in the Crete Senese, one of the best microclimates in Tuscany for rich, aromatic olive oil. La Selva Olive Oil is organic. It is a combination of two farms: Fattoria La Selva, just outside of Trequanda, and Chiatina, a few kilometers away, closer to Buonconvento. Both farms are owned by the Pometti family, which has a rich heritage in Tuscany. Duccio, the owner, has formal training as a banker, but he ultimately decided his love was farming, and cultivating his family’s land. In 1979 his grandmother, Maria Ricci Socini, handed over the reins of the Fattoria La Selva family farm to him, which he will pass on to his daughter, Carlotta. Fattoria La Selva has been in the Socini family since the 16th century, a rare legacy and an example of the passion that goes into each bottle.

The majority of olive trees are over 100 years old, approximately 350 meters above sea level. The trees are pruned every 2 years, and only fertilized with local manure (no pesticides)—talk about organic! The olives are pressed immediately after picking. A very low yield (small amount of olives per tree) results in outstanding quality and concentration. The varieties of olives are: Frantoio, Leccino and Pendolino. They are always handpicked and cold pressed the same day. The oil is unfiltered, so the sediment settles naturally. It is a golden yellow hue with a green tinge, and the oil has a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Growing naturally on the Pometti family’s large estate, 15 kilometers from San Giovanni D’Asso, are the rare tartufi bianchi, or white truffles. I am a fiend for white truffles!  Duccio shares my adoration for this rare fungus and recently decided to share his love for truffles with guests of his agriturismo. For groups of at least six people, Duccio will arrange white truffle hunts from October–November, which can be organized along with a home-cooked meal specifically tailored to the product of the hunt. If you are in Tuscany during the fall, you should arrange an excursion—and don’t be shy about inviting me to come along.

 

 

A Culinary Treasure in the Val D’Arbia

Azienda Agricola Santa Margherita
Ville Di Corsano, SI 50010
PH (39) 0577 377101
santamargherita@tin.it

Directions: If arriving from Siena, pass through the hamlet of Ville Di Corsano and look for signs on your left; there will be a steep left turn, then follow signs to the estate.

SantaMargharitaFarmJust south of Siena, the Val D’Arbia is defined by expansive views, farmland, and undulating hills that change color depending on the season and the crop. It is the source of many delicious artisanal foods, including amazing goat cheese, white truffles, and excellent olive oil. There are many quaint medieval hamlets, and a landscape capped with the whitish outcrops of the Crete Senesi. With rolling hills dotted by solitary clumps of juniper and cypress trees, afternoon shadows create a unique panorama that stirs the imagination.

Several years ago my family told me about Azienda Agricola Santa Margherita and the owner, Maria De Dominici. We had been staying in the same house in Ville Di Corsano just outside of Siena for many years, and unbeknownst to us there was a goat cheese farm just up the road. As there were no signs for the farm back then, my parents had just stumbled upon it. It was late in the afternoon, and they recounted that upon their arrival the goats roamed free on this large estate. Shortly thereafter, as the sun set in the early evening, the goats returned to the barn completely on their own, lining up like school children at the bell. The barn had two main sections with individual entrances, and my family watched in disbelief as, incredibly, the goats knew without any prompting on which line they should stand!

After meeting Ms. De Dominici myself a day later, we walked through the barn, and she spoke about the goats as if they were part of the family. She cares for them with maternal dedication, only feeding them natural ingredients organically grown without pesticides. The farm also has chicken and horses that Ms. De Dominici keeps because of her love the animals and sustainable living.  The organic goat cheese itself is remarkable, and comes in many different varieties, including a complex version aged in vegetable ash, and a fresh, tangy variety dipped in toasted sesame seeds. Try them with a steely Sauvignon Blanc. Over the years my family has kept a tradition of enjoying these cheeses with a touch of marmalade before dinner, enjoying the cool breezes and beauty of Tuscany at dusk.

Ms. De Dominici taught herself classic French cheese-making techniques. While goat cheese is not traditional to Tuscany, by infusing many varieties with Italian herbs she has put her own local spin on it. While you can buy cheese at the farm directly, it is not easy to find, but for those adventurous souls who dream of this creamy goodness, it is certainly worth the effort. I can recall my first time in their cantina, and looking at a blackboard on the wall that featured the restaurant orders for the week. It read like a who’s who of the best restaurants in Tuscany. (Enoteca Pinchiorri ring any bells?)  Maria is a passionate artisan, and one of the aspects of what makes Tuscany a foodie paradise. If you are near Siena, you should be sure to stop by. Best to call beforehand.

 

Wine, Salumi, and a Chat with Luca Martini Di Cigala of San Giusto Di Rentenanno

Loc. San Giusto a Rentennano
Gaiole in Chianti, SI 53013
PH (39) 0577 747121
www.fattoriasangiusto.it
info@fattoriasangiusto.it
Visits by appointment

072416_1356I am a longtime fan of San Giusto Di Rentenanno, especially Percarlo, one of the best expressions of Sangiovese in Tuscany. This wine demonstrates a unique balance of power and elegance. The first vintages I remember drinking were the 1985, 1988, and the 1990. The 1990 vintage remains one of my favorites. More recently, the 2004, the 2006, 2007 and the 2008 of Percarlo were some of the best wines coming out of Chianti in their respective vintages.

I spent the morning touring the winery with Luca Martini Di Cigala, the owner and winemaker. The winery was certified organic in 2008; they even make their fertilizer from scratch with manure and compost from the vineyards. Besides the 100% Sangiovese Percarlo, there is a Chianti Classico, a Chianti Classico Riserva, a 100% Merlot with a cult-like following called Ricolma (aged in barrique, a regulation-sized barrel made of oak holding 225 litres or approximately 59 gallons), and a small production of Vin Santo. The Percarlo and Ricolma are pure, structured expressions of their individual varieties, and the Vin Santo has an incredible and rare viscosity with complex flavors of toffee, apricot, and honey. It is one the best Vin Santos you will find and one of my own personal favorites.

I spent a morning with Luca discussing his winery and his philosophy, and tasting his wines along with a large plate of delicious salumi (a variety of dried sausages and salamis). It was enjoyable discussing wine with someone who is humble yet passionate about his subject of expertise. While some vilify the use of barrique because of the strong oak flavor small barrels can impart, they might not know that Percarlo is aged in barrique, albeit mostly used barrels, creating a powerful, but nuanced wine. Beware of extremes and superlatives regarding this subject matter. Luca has not been influenced by critics’ tastes. After speaking with him, I was happy to see that we share the opinion that the choice of wood treatment in aging wine depends on the grape, the vintage, and the terroir.  All these must be considered when judging how a wine will respond to wood.  In other words, there is no single philosophy that is right for every winemaker or wine.

Percarlo is generally aged in a mix of barriques that are 1 year-old, 2 year-old, and new; the ultimate mix changes by vintage but always with a minimum of new wood, hence the wines are never “oaky.” Luca never adopted the fad of using a lot of new oak or the current opposite extreme opinion that barrique is the enemy. The wines’ aromas express the terroir, especially mineral scents imparted from the tufa and sand-based soil. Both Percarlo and Ricolma are structured wines with strong veins of acidity. Even though Luca is generally the last in his area to pick his Merlot, the Ricolma has a rich concentration and good acidity with no overripe, jammy aromas. It shows that a 100% merlot can shine in Italy.

Luca considers Percarlo his flagship wine, and it is always 100% Sangiovese. He feels adding other types of grapes would lessen the varietal character of the wine. It is not a wine made to drink in its youth. It is built for longevity, and in fact the 1990 is still drinking beautifully. Luca is passionate about what he wants Percarlo to express, and neither great nor bad reviews will change that perspective—lucky for him, most people love it.

How Entrepreneurship & Passion Led to the Evolution of the Chianti Brand

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Chianti represents an enormous range in quality and style, making wine selection difficult. There are different requirements for Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Chianti Classico Riserva. Chianti can come from a huge geographical area, while the Chianti Classico DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Guarantita) is from Central Chianti, which extends across the province of Siena and Florence, and constitutes the best vineyards, soils, and exposures with more rigorous yield restrictions. Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG wines are aged for an additional year in wood than the Classico and generally represent the best wines.

Sangiovese must represent at least 80% of Chianti Classico, but the balance can be made up of other approved grapes like the traditional Canaiolo, or international varieties like Merlot to soften it, along with Cabernet or even Syrah to add color and body to the wine. In the dark days of Chianti (prior to 1995), 100% percent Sangiovese was not allowed; instead Canaiolo and even white grapes were required as part of the blend. Top producers, including many of my favorites, decided that was a travesty, so (thankfully) they made 100% Sangiovese-based wines classified as Vino Da Tavola, the lowest designation. These wines were often made wholly from grapes from Chianti Classico, but could not be approved as Chianti Classico.

This new breed of wine was created in a time when Chianti Classico did not have a name associated with quality, and producers were limited by bureaucratic regulations.  Several rebellious producers were inspired by other early Tuscan pioneers like Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta of Tenuta San Guido.  While Tenuta San Guido is not part of Chianti, the estate’s influence on the quality of Italian wine cannot be overstated. Inspired by the similarities in terroir between Bolgheri, Tuscany and Graves, Bordeaux, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta planted Cabernet Sauvignon at Tenuta San Guido as early as 1920, which eventually became known as Sassicaia. The first vintage in 1968 showed the potential of an area not known for wine, and the awesome potential of a grape that was not part of traditional Italian wine.   The Antinori family followed up with Tignanello, a Sangiovese based wine that ignored the requirement to include white varieties. Instead, Antinori added nontraditional grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon to Sangiovese and aged their wine in barrique, rather than the larger “botte.”  Because Antinori and Tenuta San Guido ignored Italian rules, their wines legally were considered “table wine”, the lowest designation, but set new standards of quality in the their respective areas and caused a chain reaction in the Italian wine world.

The success of Sassicaia and Tignanello lead to the advent of the term “Super Tuscan” which helped lead the way for pioneering Chianti-based wines like Percarlo, Le Pergole Torte, and Flaccianello, all made from 100% Sangiovese.  These wines were created by Chianti’s most passionate  (and entrepreneurial) producers who the insisted that the current rules limited the potential to create great wines. The resultant quality and higher prices continued to elevate the aura of Super Tuscans, which became highly sought out by collectors, often fetching higher dollar amounts than their DOCG counterparts. That reality eventually lead to the Consorzio Del Vino Chianti Classico to rethink production guidelines and eventually helped to establish the designation IGT (Indicazione Geographica Tipica) in 1992, as well as the allowance of 100% Sangiovese in Chianti Classico in 1995.

Chianti Classico should no longer be confused with straw bottles and checkered tablecloths, but in many ways Chianti producers still fight that unfortunate association. Many of aforementioned IGT wines have a certain pedigree and brand, so do not expect the wineries to change their names to Chianti Classico even if it is bit confusing for the consumer. Additionally, quality continues to vary, the most important barometer of quality being the producer.  In the next few weeks I will post about some of my favorite wines and wineries.

 

Life Is Too Short For Bad Wine

With that ethos in mind, I present:

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Canalicchio Di Sopra 2010 Brunello

Among the top producers in Montalcino, Canalicchio Di Sopra did not disappoint in 2010. The 2010 Brunello is full bodied with well-integrated medium+ tannin and crisp acidity. The result is a complex, well-balanced wine that while youthful, is also polished, ripe, and elegant. It has excellent varietal character and depth. The intense red fruit aromas, especially red and black cherry, evolve in the glass with perfume-floral quality, along with touches of spice, leather and sandalwood.

Not for sipping alone, this is a wine made to drink with food (and to share with lucky friends). It was a perfect compliment to whole grain rigatoni with pork ragu and fresh ricotta.

Welcome to flavor country!

White Bean Dip with Roasted Garlic & Rosemary

dip4webServings: 4

I love white bean dip. It is a very tasty & healthy treat that is easy to make.  It is a great hors d’oeuvre because it taste even better when made in advance, and is excellent leftover.

Like most Italian fare, the ingredients are the main actors. The quality of the olive oil is of paramount importance. The dip pairs well with crostini and crisp white wine.

I have tried many different iterations of this recipe, and this is my favorite. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

 1 15 ounce jar of white beans (rinse several times)

2 teaspoons minced rosemary

2 ½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon cumin

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves (roasted) garlic

Salt & pepper to taste

Roasted Garlic:

1 garlic bulb

Tin foil

Pre-heat the oven to 400 Degrees.  Remove the papery outside of garlic without taking apart the bulb. Cut-off the top fifth of the bulb, exposing the inside of the cloves. Liberally drizzle with olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil, and seal it closed (be sure to cook inside a pan to prevent any excess oil from dripping). Cook for 40 minutes, or until a fork can easily pass through and the garlic has a light gold tinge).

In a food processor, add rinsed beans, roasted garlic, lemon, olive oil, cumin, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste and pulse mix to a smooth consistency. Transfer to a shallow serving bowl, smooth-out with the backside of a spoon, dress with olive oil and rosemary.

Author’s Note: Sauvignon Blanc pairs particularly well with the flavor of garlic.  Texturally, the acidity contrasts well with the creaminess of the dip.  Thank me later.

 

Dining In Tuscany: Albergaccio

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Albergaccio

Via Fiorentina, 63 Castellina in Chianti, SI 53011
PH (39) 0577 741042
www.albergacciocast.com
posta@albergacciocast.com
Closed: Sundays, and Wednesday/Thursday for lunch.
Directions: From Siena, take the Chiantigiana; as you get in to Castellina look for signs for the restaurant on your left, and via Fiorentina.

North of Siena, just outside of Castellina in Chianti, is the Michelin star award-winning restaurant Albergaccio owned by Francesco Cacciatori and the chef, Sonia Visman. Opened in 1989, Albergaccio is an elegantly restored farmhouse with beautiful views and a quaint interior. It has an expansive wine list of 313 labels, with many of the wines representing good values as well as rare finds. The food is creative and beautifully presented with service that is friendly and professional. The owner, Francesco, is a fixture in the dining room and will help you navigate the menu and excellent wine list. I first dined at Albergaccio with my father, an enjoyable respite from a cold day. Whether it was the rustic charm of a blazing fire during the winter or the bucolic views, the restaurant offered an idyllic setting. There is also an expansive terrace during the summer for dining alfresco. While the atmosphere is lovely, it is eclipsed by the quality of the food.

The following recipe is a delicious and creative take on pumpkin soup that intrigued me. The crispy polenta croutons set off the sweet and creamy goodness of the soup—a beautiful combination.

 

Crema Di Zucca Gialla Con Crostini Di Polenta
Pumpkin Soup with Polenta Croutons
Primo Piatto (First course)
Servings: 4

28 ounces peeled pumpkin, coarsely chopped in to small cubes (1/2 inch)

2 medium size skinned yams or sweet potatoes, coarsely chopped into small cubes (1/2 inch)

1 finely chopped white onion

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 ½ ounces unsalted butter

4 cups vegetable stock

6 finely chopped basil leaves

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Add the olive oil to a deep saucepan, and cook the onion on low-medium heat until soft and translucent, approximately 8–10 minutes.

Add the potatoes and the pumpkin, and cook together with the onion for about 5 minutes, then cover with the vegetable stock.  Add the sugar and the basil leaves. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour on low heat. Stir periodically.

After one hour, add the butter and whisk everything until you obtain a smooth and delicious creamy soup.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with croutons.

 

Corn Polenta Croutons
Ingredients

10 ½ ounces corn meal

4 cups water

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

 

Boil a pot of water. At the boiling point, add the salt and then the corn meal, continually stirring to prevent it from sticking or burning. Stir the polenta continuously until very thick, about 20 minutes, although time varies depending on the corn meal used (you may add some additional water if it thickens very quickly).

Coat a glass ovenproof dish (7” x 11”x 1-1/2”) with the butter. When the polenta is ready, pour the polenta into the dish and spread so it is no more than 1/3 of an inch deep and let it cool for several hours (after it reaches room temperature place pan in the fridge).

Slice the polenta in strips, and then into small cubes, Dust them in flour and deep-fry them in peanut oil (use a deep pot with at least an inch of oil). Cook for 8 minutes or until polenta has browned and become crispy.

Add the warm, fried corn polenta cubes to the creamy pumpkin soup, and enjoy!

Author’s Note: Pumpkin is available only in the fall, but this soup is delicious much of the year. Try substituting butternut squash, which is available for longer periods, and prepare the same way. If you are looking for an appropriate wine, this dish pairs particularly well with an off-dry Gewurtraminer or Riesling from France or Austria. 

Dining In Tuscany: Arnolfo

Arnolfo
Via XX Settembre 50
Colle Val D’Elsa, SI
PH (39) 0577 920549
www.arnolfo.com
arnolfo@arnolfo.com
Closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays.
Directions: The historic part of Colle Val D’Elsa is small and only for temporary parking. It is best to park in the main parking lot at the base of the town. Via XX Settembre is the main drag leading up the hill, with Arnolfo about halfway to the top, allowing you to burn some calories in preparation for the feast to come.

A short drive southeast from San Gimignano is the town of Colle Val D’Elsa, famous for its production of crystal stemware. Much of Colle Val D’Elsa is industrial, but the upper part called Colle Alta retains the original medieval architecture. Also famous for being the birthplace for Arnolfo di Cambio, a well-known sculptor and architect, the town is now known in the gourmet world as the home of Arnolfo, the 2-Michelin-star restaurant owned by the Trovato brothers, Giovanni, the business manager and Gaetano, the chef.

Dining at Arnolfo is an elaborate experience. The dining room has an intimate, elegant feel, and the service is first rate. I went there with big expectations and a bigger appetite, and they fully delivered. When I was faced with deciding between the fish and meat-tasting menu, I was torn. Giovanni suggested the fish menu, offering to replace one fish dish with one of the restaurant’s signature meat dishes, the Suckling Pig. That sounded like a good compromise to me, but then Gaetano, the chef, interceded. He offered to add the Suckling Pig to the complete fish menu—gratis. Who was I to say no?

The one argument I have heard against Arnolfo is that it isn’t truly Tuscan, as it is too fussy. The whole question of haute cuisine versus rustic fare I’ve always found to be of little significance. There is certainly reason enough to love both—it really depends on your mood. Both cuisines have their place in my heart and stomach. Arnolfo isn’t trying to be a trattoria; it is intentionally more refined (and more pricey). He utilizes French cooking techniques, and yes, the food is as much about sophisticated presentation and texture as it is about flavor. But this is all part of the experience, so if you are looking for simple, rustic dishes and laidback service, perhaps this isn’t the spot for you. However, chef Trovato uses local ingredients, putting an elegant spin on many typically Tuscan dishes like the aforementioned signature dish: Suckling Pig with crispy, flaky skin and juicy pork medallions married with slightly spicy, sweet apples. Squisito!

I don’t know whether it was a slow winter day, or whether I look too thin, but the kitchen kept feeding me beyond the already ambitious tasting menu. Besides the addition of the Suckling Pig to the 7-course fish menu, there was often a “pre-this” and a “post-that.” (I only made it halfway through the second dessert before I realized that no matter how tempting the delicacy before me, I had simply reached my limit.) Each dish was created with the purpose of combining interesting flavors and textures, which made the meal theatrical, unfolding surprises not only between each course, but also within each dish. That is part of the charm of experiencing a tasting menu at Arnolfo.

The wine list is extensive with a wide range of Italians as well as French alternatives. To pair with the fish tasting menu, I went with the Sanct Valentin Sauvignon Blanc from the cooler climate of Alto Adige in Northern Italy. Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with many foods, and Sanct Valentin is a perennial favorite. Forgive me for saying so, but I usually will pick a top white wine from Alto Adige or Friuli over a white wine from Tuscany every day of the week and twice on Sunday!

Below are two hearty recipes from Chef Gaetano that are meant to be served together as a creative take on lamb and potatoes using Tuscan ingredients and fragrant spices.

Author’s note:  If you do want to try a local white wine, the only Tuscan white DOCG is Vernaccia Di San Gimignano. Look for the Panizzi label—this winery makes a good quality Vernaccia that is refreshing, flowery, and crisp.

 

Variazione di Agnello in in Salsa Al Brunello Di Montalcino
Rack of Lamb 2 Ways in Brunello Di Montalcino Sauce
Secondo Piatto (Main dish)
Servings: 4-6

2 racks of lamb with 8 ribs each  (ask your butcher to de-bone and butterfly one of the racks for you).

1 cup pitted and finely chopped Tagiasca olives (alternatively use Nicoise Olives)

20 leaves finely chopped basil

2 large cloves coarsely chopped garlic

1 fresh rosemary branch

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Culinary string

 

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium-sized coarsely chopped yellow onions

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 whole 3-inch cinnamon stick

1 whole star anise (alternatively use teaspoon of ground anise)

1 bay leaf

2 whole peppercorns

2 dried juniper berries

1/2 bottle Brunello di Montalcino

2 cups veal stock

 

Mix the basil and chopped olives together. Unroll and flatten the butterflied rack of lamb and spread the basil and olive mix evenly on the inside portion (fatty side facing out). Roll it tightly, and tie with string every 1-1/2 inch.

Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste on both racks and rub the seasoning into the lamb.

Place oven rack on center height, and preheat the oven to 420˚ F.

 

In a large ovenproof Dutch oven (5 quart recommended) fry the onions for 8–10 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the cloves, cinnamon, anise, bay leaf, peppercorns, juniper berries, and star anise along with the Brunello di Montalcino. Cook on medium heat with the pan uncovered, allowing the alcohol in the wine to evaporate and reduce (approximately 5–7 minutes). Add the veal stock and continue to reduce on low to medium heat (additional 10 minutes), or until it becomes more viscous.

Meanwhile, in a separate large frying pan, heat the olive oil with the garlic and rosemary. Sear both rack of lamb on high heat for 2 minutes on all sides, browning the outside. (Discard garlic and rosemary.)

Add the lamb to the sauce, cover the saucepan and put in oven. Cook for 12–18 minutes (12 for rare, 18 for medium for the bone-in rack). Remove the bone-in rack of lamb first, and allow the stuffed rack to continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes.

After removing from pan, let the lamb sit for 5–7 minutes covered in foil before slicing. Meanwhile, pass the sauce through a sieve removing the solids, and pour over the carved meat piping hot. Enjoy.

 

Patate Ripiene Con Tartufi Neri
Double Stuffed Black Truffle Potatoes
Contorno (Side dish)
Servings: 4

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4 large russet potatoes

1/2 stick unsalted butter (1/4 cup)

1/4 cup shaved black truffles

1/3 cup cream

1 tablespoon diced chives

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Preheat oven to 400˚ F and set the oven rack to center height. Wash the outer skin of the potatoes, poke several times with a fork, and cook for approximately one hour. Test the potatoes by pushing a toothpick through the thickest portion of the potato. It should reach the center with little resistance.

Allow the potatoes to cool for 5 minutes. Cut the potato in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp of the potato. In a bowl mix the pulp with the cream, butter, nutmeg, chives, and the truffles (leave enough truffle to dress the potatoes) and roughly mash or “smash” the potatoes with a fork until all ingredients are evenly combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Using a small spoon, re-stuff the potato skins with potato pulp, and bake at 350˚ F for 20 minutes. Dress the top of the potatoes with the remaining black truffle. Serve immediately.

 

Culinary Treasures: Gelato & Olio

North of Siena

Close to the northwest boundary of the province of Siena is the commune and medieval stronghold of San Gimignano. This small town has long been appreciated for its beautiful towers, but currently is acknowledged more as a tourist trap. In fact, a local pointed out to me that nobody actually lives in the town, and if you have been there, you’ll have noticed that almost every store caters to tourists. It is curious, therefore, that located within this mecca for Japanese bus tours is some of the best gelato in Tuscany—a truly unexpected delight. 

Gelato
Gelateria Di Piazza
Piazza Della Cisterna, 4 53037 San Gimignano, SI
PH (39) 0577 942244
Directions: In the Main Piazza.

There is always an exception to the rule. I generally recommend that you avoid any restaurant (or in this case a gelateria) located in a major piazza, and I double down on that statement when it comes to San Gimignano. However, in this case my advice would have been wrong. While even the name, Gelateria Di Piazza, reeks of a tourist trap, this gelateria owned by Sergio Dondoli makes sublime, creamy gelatos from all natural, fresh ingredients with amazing flavor. I tried the pistachio, chocolate, and hazelnut, all of which were superb. The pistachio was especially intense. They explained to me that it was made from fresh pistachios sourced directly from Sicily. Generally, I don’t have a sweet tooth and I don’t eat much ice cream, but in this case I will take two scoops. If you love gelato, you will be well-served to stop and taste Mr. Dondoli’s creations. They are all delectable!

Olives

Olive Oil
Podere Cogno
Castellina in Chianti, SI 53011
PH (39) 0577 740978
www.poderecogno.com
marcomatteigni@tin.it
Directions: About 1 km outside the village of Fonterutoli, turn left onto a white country road following the sign for Caggiolo and Caggio. At the first crossroads is the sign for Cogno, which you will reach in about 1-1/2 km. Visits by appointment only.

Marco Matteigni, the man behind Podere Cogno olive oil, is a salt of the earth kind of guy. I spent a morning discussing with him his olive oil, politics, and life—all before tasting the oil (which by the way is among the top olive oils in Tuscany). He is not the type to brag. He noted that olive oil is unlike wine, suggesting it is a simpler equation. But if you consider the amount of olive oil produced in Italy, the quality of Podere Cogno is anything but the norm.

The Cogno estate includes 12 hectares (2.4 acres per hectare) of organically farmed olive groves, growing Frantoio, Leccio, and Corratina olives. The extra virgin olive oil they produce is intensely green (almost emerald) and rich. Mr. Matteigni noted that the quality of his oil is a result of three factors: the quality of the olives, the picking/milling process (by hand, pressing the same day, keeping low temperature, and preventing oxidation), and careful storage and bottling. Mr. Matteigni told me that the intensity of fruit comes from picking the olives when a third of them remain green. He further noted the importance of a modern frantoio (olive press).  His new press utilizes both nitrogen to protect the crushed olives from oxidation, and blades to macerate the olives, eliciting better extraction of chlorophyll — resulting in the intense green color. Mr. Matteigni also added that he gently filters his oil, a more debatable practice. His reasoning is that whatever backlash could potentially occur from filtering is far outweighed by the stability and longer shelf life of the oil. In the past he found the chemistry of his non-filtered oils changed in only a few months.  In a year they lost a drastic amount of color and intensity. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting—his olive oil is intense, fruity with a rich texture, and has a slightly bitter aftertaste. Exceptional.