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Mineral Water: Secret To Better Vegetables And More Image

Bottled-at-the-source mineral water is delightfully refreshing, and with no calories or chemicals, is a drink that’s good for you and a base for many make-your-own sparkling beverages. It’s also ideal for cooking, with countless ways to improve basic recipes.

Vegetables

Add some sparkling water to make this cauliflower with orange marmalade glaze. Credit: Courtesy of "Shakespeare's Kitchen"

Add some sparkling water to make this cauliflower with orange marmalade glaze. Credit: Courtesy of “Shakespeare’s Kitchen”

For bright green broccoli and vividly orange carrots, cook them in sparkling mineral water. “Boil vegetables in sparkling water to preserve color and vitamins. Mineral water decreases oxidation and the loss of chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments, and keeps vegetable’s bright colors,” says Rino Mini, CEO of Galvanina natural spring water, renowned since ancient Roman times. “Sparkling mineral water also softens vegetables so you can reduce cooking time, better preserving the vegetable’s vitamins and nutrients. It lets you skip the step of plunging cooked vegetables in ice-cold water to retain their color.”

Tempura and fritters

Use sparkling water for better batter. Simply mix flour with sparkling water, dip your favorite vegetables, seafood or fish in the batter and then lightly fry. The sparkling water will make anything you fry extra crunchy.

Sparkling iced drinks

Instead of buying sodas, make your own. Sparkling water creates festive thirst-quenchers but without the added calories of bottled drinks. Combine sparkling water with lemon or other fruit juice for your own homemade natural fruit drinks.  Add it to your favorite brewed tea or coffee for natural sparkling iced tea or coffee. “Use sparkling water in your coffee-brewing machine. Not only will it make chemical-free espresso or coffee but it has the delightful added advantage of keeping your machine from building unpleasant residue,” says Mini.

Cake, waffles, crepes and pancakes

Add sparkling mineral water instead of water or other liquids in cake recipes or cake mixes. The sparkling water makes it rise nicely and results in a fluffier texture. Great too with waffles: substitute one part of the milk for the water and follow the recipe as you normally would. Try it in your favorite crepe and pancake recipes. Replace half of the milk in the recipe for fizzy spring water for a improved texture. You’ll be thrilled with the delicious light and airy crunch.

Angel Food Cake

Add sparkling water to cake recipes for a fluffier texture. Credit: Courtesy "Opera Lover’s Cookbook"

Add sparkling water to cake recipes for a fluffier texture. Credit: Courtesy of “Opera Lover’s Cookbook “

Recipe courtesy of Opera Lover’s Cookbook (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Prep time: 5 minutes

Baking time: 35 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

12 large egg whites, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sparkling spring water, such as Galvanina

1 teaspoon vanilla or maple extract

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup cake flour

3/4 cup superfine sugar

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Generously butter and flour a Bundt or tube pan. Reserve.

2. In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer set on high, whip the egg whites, salt, water, extract and cream of tartar until the egg whites form soft peaks, about 5 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add the cake flour and sugar until just combined.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake until golden, about 35 minutes.

4. Carefully invert the pan onto a wire rack and allow it to cool upside-down for about an hour, which prevents the cake from falling. Run a knife around the edges to remove the cake.

Main photo: Combine sparkling water with fruits to make your own natural fruit drinks. Credit: Courtesy of Galvanina

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Fire, Fish And Fresh Herbs For Divine Summer Dining Image

The summer grill party is one of the most beloved of summer gastronomic experiences. On the Fourth of July we fire up the grill, people gather round impatiently, and on go the hamburgers, the hot dogs, the pork spareribs, the chicken breasts, the steaks. But why not take your grilling game up a notch this year?

Taking on a challenge can mean grilling something you don’t usually try, working with a theme, or grilling something big that needs attention and then to be carved, such as a whole half turkey breast on the bone with its skin. There’s an amazing taste if you’ve never tried. It comes off the grill and you slice it like a big ham. One could go the non-simple direction, such as stuffed roll-ups of veal scallopini or spit-roasted meat.

For a themed meal, grill something from a particular cuisine, or paired foods, or something historical, or foods of the same color or cut, or mixed grills. In the recipes below the theme is three kinds of fish steaks and three kinds of fresh herbs. Choose three kinds of firm fleshed fish steak and pair them with a fresh herb for grilling. Here are three that work.

Grilled swordfish with fresh orange juice and fresh thyme

Grilled swordfish in fresh orange juice and thyme. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Grilled swordfish in fresh orange juice and thyme. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

This preparation is inspired by the way they would cook swordfish in Sicily. Swordfish is very popular in Sicily as they are found in the Straits of Messina and elsewhere around Sicily. The firm flesh of swordfish is perfect for grilling.

Prep and cooking time: 1 1/4 hours

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 2 oranges

1 bay leaf, crumbled

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Two 5-ounce swordfish steaks, 3/4 inch thick

3 tablespoons fresh thyme and thyme sprigs for garnish

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill on high for 20 minutes.

2. In a ceramic or glass baking pan, swish the olive oil, orange juice, bay leaf, and garlic until mixed. Place the swordfish steaks in the marinade and coat with the thyme and salt and pepper and leave for 1 to 2 hours.

3. Grill the swordfish on the hottest part of the grill and grill until almost springy to the touch, 6 to 8 minutes in all, basting with the leftover marinade and turning carefully only once. Remove from the grill and serve.

Grilled fish with oregano, chile and olive oil

If there is one thing I miss since I moved to California, it’s bluefish, which we can’t get here. Bluefish is a dark-fleshed Atlantic fish when raw that is excellent grilled over a hot fire for a few minutes. When the “blues are running” as they say in New England or Long Island, grills come out and people make all kinds of things with bluefish: bluefish balls, bluefish fritters, bluefish pate, bluefish grill. If you’re elsewhere in the country, then you’ll want to use mackerel, bonito, yellowtail, mahimahi, or angelshark. Note in the recipe that you are using fillets, not steaks, and the fillet needs its skin on.

Prep and cooking time: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste in a mortar

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves

1 dried red chile, crumbled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 1/2 pounds bluefish or bonito fillets (about 3/4 inch thick)

Directions

1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat the gas grill on high for 15 minutes.

2. Lightly brush the grill with some olive oil. Stir together the remaining olive oil, garlic, oregano, chile, salt and pepper. Coat the bluefish with this mixture and lay skin side down on the grill.

3. Grill for 5 to 6 minutes while basting occasionally. Carefully flip the fish with a spatula and grill another 5 to 6 minutes, basting some more. Remove to a platter and serve.

Grilled salmon with tomato relish and mint

Grilled salmon with tomato relish and mint. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Grilled salmon with tomato relish and mint. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

The grilled salmon gets a treatment of salsa cruda, a raw sauce made of tomato, garlic and mint that can be made quickly in a food processor, which whips it into a froth very quickly. Serve the sauce on the side or spooned on top of the salmon.

Prep and cooking time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

6 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and drained of water

1/2 cup loosely-packed fresh mint leaves

2 garlic cloves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 1/2 pounds salmon fillet, in 4 pieces

Directions

1. Preheat a gas grill on high for 20 minutes or preheat a broiler or prepare a charcoal fire.

2. Place the tomatoes, mint leaves, garlic, and olive oil in the food processor and run until the salsa is frothy, 30 to 45 seconds. Season with salt and pepper and stir.

3. Season the salmon with oil, salt, and pepper on both sides and place skin side down on the grill. After 4 to 5 minutes, flip with a spatula and grill for another 3 to 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Serve immediately with the salsa.

Main photo: Grilled fish with oregano, chile and olive oil. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

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Simply Perfect Grilled Chicken, Surefire Summer Fun Image

It’s hot, you’re busy and company’s coming for dinner. Nothing’s easier than tossing some chicken on the grill. Am I right?

Not at all! Think about it: When was the last time you had a properly cooked piece of chicken from somebody’s backyard grill?

“Never” is my guess — even from your own. Don’t take it personally. The fact is that hardly anybody knows how to grill chicken that isn’t coal-blackened or outright charred in some places or practically raw in others.

The trouble is the chicken. While it’s a favorite choice for grilling, especially in summer, the how-tos are not obvious. Chicken is nothing like burgers or hot dogs, pork chops or rib steaks; it’s tricky to deal with the fat under the skin that drips onto the fire and causes flare-ups. What makes matters worse is marinade, which causes the grill to smoke heavily, turning your chicken gray instead of enticingly browned.

On top of that, it’s tough to determine when chicken is done all the way through; it always seems to take longer than it should. So you pull it off too soon and end up with (gulp) pink, undercooked chicken.

So who am I to give advice? Well, I wrote a cookbook all about cooking every cut of grass-fed beef, and now I’m tackling poultry. Listen, I’ve had my own share of chicken troubles in the past. The worst was when I served underdone chicken to a Muslim exchange student who told me that it was against his religion to eat it. That low point kicked off a self-improvement project: learning the techniques for grilling chicken right.

Top 5 grilling tips

Crispy, juicy grilled chicken with pesto. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry

Crispy, juicy grilled chicken with pesto. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry

1. Use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces. Grilling experts highly recommend thighs, and I agree that they are the moistest, but legs, breasts and wings also benefit when the bones and skin are left intact, as they help to insulate the meat from overcooking — and they make it taste much better. (However, if you’re committed to boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the techniques you practice with the remaining tips will help you master those, too, with practice.) Pasture-raised chickens, especially those from heritage breeds, are not only tastier but also more sustainable than factory-farmed birds, so seek them out in your area at the farmers market or local grocer.

2. Season the chicken well with salt and save the marinades for after cooking. Most people make their first mistake before they even fire up the grill: They don’t season the chicken enough. With your best-quality kosher or sea salt, sprinkle all sides of the chicken pieces as if you’re dusting them finely with confectioner’s sugar. Everyone loves marinated chicken, but submerging your chicken in any sauce — even barbecue sauce — will bring you more cooking complications, not more flavor.

3. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat and control those flames. Unlike other foods that respond well to intense heat, chicken calls for moderate or medium-high heat (between 350 F and 400 F). Whether using a charcoal or gas grill, test the heat patterns by placing your open palm about 5 inches above the grate. If you can hold it there for 5 seconds, you’re in range. Also note where the heat is less intense. In the event of a flare-up, immediately move the chicken to these cooler parts of the grill to prevent charring.

4. Brown chicken pieces skin side down for longer than you think you should. Always cook the chicken skin side down first and plan to leave it there until it is nearly all the way cooked. Why? You’ll end up with crispy and beautifully browned skin (remember, it insulates the meat), plus the chicken will be cooked evenly to the bone. In general, it takes at least 30 minutes to cook bone-in chicken at this temperature, so aim for cooking it skin side down for three-quarters of the total cooking time — 20 to 25 minutes — before flipping and finishing it on the second side.

5. Use your grill like an oven. After laying the chicken pieces on the grate, put on the lid. Now your grill will radiate the heat above as well as below, which is exactly what chicken needs to get cooked all the way through. The lid also controls air flow and keeps the flames on a charcoal grill from getting out of hand. Dripping fat will likely incite flare-ups, so monitor the cooking and move the chicken away from flames to those cooler areas of the grill whenever necessary. If you’re at all uncertain that the chicken is done, insert the tip of an instant-read thermometer close to the bone or just cut into the center for a visual check.

Foolproof finishing strategies

Once your chicken is seasoned and fully cooked to an enticing golden brown, let it rest near the heat for 15 minutes or so. Grilled chicken doesn’t need much embellishment, although cilantro pesto, peach chutney or avocado salsa — or any other fresh and tangy sauce — will liven it up.

But what about those pesky marinades? Think wings, which are first deep-fried and then tossed with sauce. The same principle applies to grilled chicken: Cook it well first, then brush or toss it with any homemade or bottled marinade or sauce. Let it warm-marinate until ready to serve or put it back on the grill for a few minutes to marry the sauce to the chicken as it reheats.

Now you’re the expert.

Main photo: Grilling the perfect bird. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry

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Christo’s Floating Piers Connect Food And Art In Italy Image

Italy’s beautiful Lake Iseo is the venue for artist Christo’s latest project, “The Floating Piers,” a 52-foot-wide, 2.7-mile pathway on the water from the town of Sulzano to the Monte Isola island, continuing along pedestrian roads from Peschiera to Sensole, then reaching to San Paolo Island. The project runs through July 3.

Floating piers

Christo’s saffron-colored “The Floating Piers” connects islands and the mainland on Italy’s Lake Iseo. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wolfgang Volz for Christo

Christo’s saffron-colored “The Floating Piers” connects islands and the mainland on Italy’s Lake Iseo. Credit: Wolfgang Volz Copyright 2016 Christo

The artist describes the sensation of strolling along the floating piers as “walking on the back of a whale” and, yes, it is a long walk indeed.

If you are lucky enough to experience this, you’ll probably be hungry after your walk. There are many osterias along the lakeside promenade where you can enjoy the traditional dish of manzo all’olio di Rovato, or Rovato beef in oil. (Rovato is a small town located in the Franciacorta hills, close to the lake.)

At the time of the Republic of San Marco, the meat market in Rovato, in northern Italy, was the most important one on the route from Venice to Milan. Merchants coming from Liguria used to bring the typical products of their land, such as oil and anchovies, which are central to this beef dish.

The dish can be accurately dated to the second half of the 16th century, when the recipe was written down by a noblewoman, Donna Veronica Porcellaga. It has been a family recipe for five centuries, handed down from one generation to the next, so that each family has its own version. It consists of three basic ingredients: olive oil, anchovies and the lean meat called cappello del prete (priest’s hat), usually used for bollito misto. Garlic, bread crumbs and some vegetables are also added. According to experts, the trick is to sear the beef quickly on the sides so it cooks slowly and remains tender, keeping all the juices in.

Rovato beef reinvented

Vittorio Fusari’s version is served with broccoli, spinach, cicory, baguette-shaped polenta, green sauce, fresh anchovies and pressed olives. Credit: Copyright 2016 Masaka Zukurihara

Vittorio Fusari’s version is served with broccoli, spinach, chicory, baguette-shaped polenta, green sauce, fresh anchovies and pressed olives. Credit: Copyright 2016 Masaka Zukurihara

Just like art, this 500-year-old recipe can be made in the traditional spirit — or it can be revisited with an innovative twist, as Christo does with his projects.

Three local top chefs have different takes on it.

Stefano Cerveri from Due Colombe in Borgonato di Cortefranca keeps alive the family tradition and remains faithful to Granma Elvira’s cooking, a classic version dated 1955 and enriched with a spoon of acacia honey.

Matteo Cocchetti from Dispensa Pani e Vini Franciacorta serves a slightly nontraditional dish, a beef filet cooked at low temperature with dried lake sardines and parsley sauce.

Finally, Vittorio Fusari, born and raised between the Franciacorta wineries, is a true philosopher when it comes to local cuisine. At magnificent Palazzo Lana Berlucchi, he serves an innovative version, vacuum-sealing the meat and slowly warming it up to 125 F, then taking off the packaging and slowly cooking it in his own extra virgin lemon-flavored olive oil at 150 F. The meat lies over a green bed made with broccoli, spinach and chicory, and served with baguette-shaped polenta, green sauce, fresh anchovies and pressed olives.

“I believe that a traditional recipe may be changed only if you respect it, know it well and love it,” says Fusari, “and that’s exactly the opposite of demolishing it.”

Manzo all’olio

Stefano Cerveni at Due Colombe uses his grandmother’s traditional recipe, which dates to 1955. Credit: Copyright 2016 Luigi Brozzi

Stefano Cerveni at Due Colombe uses his grandmother’s traditional recipe, which dates to 1955. Credit: Copyright 2016 Luigi Brozzi

Cooking Time: 3 1/2 hours

Total Time: 4 hours and 20 minutes

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients

3 pounds of lean meat
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
9 tablespoons butter
3 anchovies in oil
1 carrot
6 fresh leaves of spinach
1 pound whole-grain wheat flour
3 garlic cloves
4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Directions

1. Saute the anchovies in butter, adding the chopped onion and the garlic cloves.

2. Cut the meat long, making two pieces, and brown the pieces in the pan for 10 minutes. Add about 4 cups warm water and slow-cook the meat for at least three hours, removing the fat that comes to the surface.

3. Halfway through, add the oil. Mix a handful of cornstarch with a little water and add it to thicken the sauce.

4. Remove the meat and cut it into slices of about 3 inches. Strain the sauce into another saucepan, add the carrot and finely chopped spinach and, if necessary, a teaspoon of cornstarch to thicken further.

5. Serve accompanied by polenta or a steamed potato.

Main photo: Matteo Cocchetti’s innovative version uses lake sardine, beef filet slowly cooked and parsley sauce. Credit: Copyright 2016 Arianna Mora

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Asian-Style Congee Gets Comfy With Summer Bounty Image

For many people the arrival of vine-ripened tomatoes marks the beginning of summer. But for me, it’s the mounds of corn at our farmers market. With countless ways to enjoy corn, one of the most delicious is to use corn kernels in an Asian-style congee or rice porridge.

Certainly the easiest way to enjoy corn is to strip off the husks and place the cobs into boiling water or onto a blazingly hot grill. Featured center stage, a bowl of freshly cooked corn on the cob is wonderful. But corn is also an able supporting player when the kernels are cut off the cob and added to salads, soups, stews and pasta.

Congee, the best kept secret of the Asian kitchen

A meal in itself, congee is Asian comfort food. Putting good use to leftover rice, the most basic congee is a stew of boiled rice. Many cuisines have made the dish their own by layering in flavor with combinations of stocks, fragrant oils, fresh and dried herbs, spices, vegetables, meat, poultry and seafood.

Congee comes in many consistencies. Some feature the broth as much as the rice. Other versions have very little liquid and the congee has a consistency similar to porridge.

Any rice varietal will work nicely to make congee. Short grain, long grain, white or brown rice, it doesn’t matter. When the cooked rice is added to a liquid over heat, the starches thicken to create a sauce. Water can be used as the liquid, but a home-made stock adds much more flavor.

My congee borrows the general technique but is not an attempt to create an authentic dish as prepared in the Philippines, China, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia or Vietnam.

Because the starting point for congee is so flavor neutral, a variety of vegetables, seasonings and stocks can be added. A fine dice of carrots, green beans or broccoli works well, as does a shredding of kale, spinach or sorrel. Instead of olive oil, use sesame or truffle oil. Add aromatics such as raw garlic, fried garlic chips, turmeric, cilantro, cumin, saffron, pimentón or oregano. Homemade broth brings another level of flavor. You can use a dominating liquid like beef stock flavored with anise or take a more delicate approach using shrimp stock with a saffron infusion.

As an ingredient in congee, corn is an ideal companion because the firm sweet kernels contrast well with the creaminess of the boiled rice.

Corn-Lobster Congee

Corn-Lobster Congee in stock pot with corn kernels, lobster meat, chopped tomatoes and sliced scallions. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Corn-Lobster Congee in stock pot with corn kernels, lobster meat, chopped tomatoes and sliced scallions. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

If lobster is not available, another protein can be used. Cooked or raw fish, crab meat or shrimp can be substituted for lobster. Or, shredded roast chicken or roast pork will pair nicely with the corn. A vegetarian version is easy to make by using homemade vegetable stock and fresh farmers market vegetables and herbs.

Cooking a lobster is probably easier than you might think. Bring 3 inches of water to boil in a large pot. Hold the lobster’s head submerged in the boiling water. Cover the pot with a lid. Cook five minutes. Remove the lid, submerge the part of the lobster that is not yet red. Cover. Cook another three minutes. Transfer the lobster to the sink. Reserve the water in the large pot.

When the lobster is cool to the touch, hold it over a large bowl. Remove the legs, claws and tail, reserving any liquid to add to the stock. Discard only the dark colored egg sack. The green tomalley is a delicacy and should be saved to be eaten warm on toast.

Removing the meat from the tail is relatively easy. Use kitchen shears to cut the shell underneath lengthwise and across the top of the tail. The meat will come out without effort. Cracking open the claws takes a bit more work and sometimes requires the use of a hammer. The body meat is especially sweet and requires the use of a pointed stick to separate the meat from the cartilage.

Some of the meat will be cooked. Some will be raw. Both can be used in the recipe.

Place all the shells into the pot with the cooking water and simmer covered thirty minutes. Strain out the shells and reserve the lobster stock.

Refrigerate the lobster meat and stock until needed. The preperation of the lobster can be accomplished a day ahead. If all that sounds like too much effort, use the other proteins mentioned above.

Homemade stock is preferable to canned, boxed or frozen stocks, which are often overly salted and can have a stale taste. Homemade chicken stock is a good substitute if other stocks are not available.

Because rice varietals absorb liquid at differing rates, have enough stock on hand. Adjust the amount of stock as you cook until you have the consistency you enjoy. If you want your congee to have more soup, use six cups of stock. If you would prefer less soup, use four cups. Taste and adjust the seasonings as well.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

3 ears corn, husks and tassels removed, washed, kernels cut off the cobs

1 medium yellow onion, washed, root end, top and outer skin removed, roughly chopped

4 large scallions, washed, root end and discolored leaves removed

4 to 6 cups homemade stock, lobster stock if available or use chicken stock or water

4 cups cooked rice

3 cups cooked or raw lobster meat (approximately two 2-pound lobsters) or another protein

1 basket cherry tomatoes, washed, each tomato cut into quarters

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cayenne to taste (optional)

1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)

Directions

1. Add olive oil to a heated pot on a medium flame. Sauté corn kernels until lightly browned.

2. Add chopped onions and sauté until lightly browned.

3. Fine chop scallion green parts. Cut white part into ¼-inch lengths and reserve.

4. Add scallion green parts to the sauté.

5. Pour stock into pot, stir well and simmer five minutes.

6. Add rice. Stir well. Continue to simmer.

7. The longer the rice cooks in the liquid, the softer it will become. If cooked too long, the rice will dissolve creating an unpleasant texture. When the consistency is what you like, shred the lobster meat and add along with the chopped cherry tomatoes. Stir well. Simmer two minutes.

8. Season to taste with sea salt, black pepper, cayenne (optional) and sweet butter (optional).

9. Serve congee hot in large bowls. Top with white scallion lengths.

Main photo: Corn-Lobster Congee topped with chopped tomatoes and sliced scallions. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

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Working To Preserve Italy’s Olive Oil Heritage Image

From a string of bad harvests to last winter’s international export-fraud scandal and the European Union’s recent decision to remove tariffs on the Tunisian competition, the Italian olive oil industry has faced its share of setbacks over the past couple of years.

Nevertheless, the 24th edition of the Ercole Olivario — a prestigious national olive oil competition held in March in Perugia, Italy (which I attended as a guest of the Italian Trade Commission) — was a bright spot amid the gloom, going to show that the ancient art of harvesting and crushing olives into liquid gold (or green, as the case may be) remains alive and well.

Granted, very few of the 100 Ercole finalists export their bottlings to the United States. Such is the nature of craft production; farms like one I visited in Spoleto, Azienda Agricola Antonio Bachetoni, still prefer to sell their oil the old-fashioned way — on site and in local markets. A few, though, are available in the U.S., albeit in more or less limited supply. Good sources include Olio2Go, City Olive, Eataly, Famous Foods and Market Hall Foods.

Five olive oils to try

An olive farm in Italy. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ruth Tobias

The Azienda Agricola Antonio Bachetoni olive farm in Italy. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ruth Tobias

DeCarlo
Located in Puglia, Italy’s top-producing region, this acclaimed mill relies on the softer Ogliarola variety and the more intense Coratina for bittersweet oils that show grassy, nutty and vegetal characteristics.

Frantoi Cutrera
The most widely imported brand on this list comes from Sicily, where the Cutrera family makes a full range of DOP (protected designation of origin), organic and infused oils.

Paolo Cassini
This Ligurian producer makes monovarietal oils from the richly fruity Taggiasca olive. Its Extremum CRU — golden and multilayered with herbal and vegetal notes — took home the top prize at the Ercole Olivario for non-DOP extra virgin oils in the “fruttato leggero” category (essentially “light-flavored”).

Pasquini
Pasquini makes IGP (protected geographical indication) and other extra virgin oils from the Frantoio and Moraiolo cultivars, which contribute to the green, savory, peppery qualities for which Tuscany is famous.

Titone
In the Sicilian DOP zone of Valle Trapanesi, this organic farm produces an extra virgin oil from a blend of three olives: Nocellara, Cerasuola and Biancolilla. Redolent of tomato plant and herbs like basil and mint, it’s known for its staying power — use sparingly.

‘Preserving Italy’: The book

, “Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions” by Domenica Marchetti

“Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions” by Domenica Marchetti. Credit: Copyright 2016 Houghton Mifflin

Besides cooking and dressing salads with quality Italian olive oils like these, what else can you do?

Plenty. During the trip, I had the pleasure of getting to know fellow journalist Domenica Marchetti, who wrote the book on preserving Italy’s olive oil heritage — literally. Just released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, “Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions” is chock-full of recipes for pickles, relishes, sauces, jams, liqueurs and other Italian pantry staples; verdure sott’olio — or vegetables under oil — play a key role. I asked her for an introduction to the technique.

Ruth Tobias: What are some common uses for verdure sott’olio?

Domenica Marchetti: I use oil-preserved vegetables all the time. Because they tend to be vinegary (in spite of the fact that they’re submerged in oil), they make a great side to roasted or grilled meat — pork, beef, chicken, lamb, sausages. I like to fold oil-preserved asparagus, garlic scapes, peppers or zucchini into frittatas. Oil-preserved mushrooms, peppers and eggplant also make great toppings for pizza, because they counter the richness of the cheese. I dice them up and put them in insalata di riso (rice salad) and farro salad [as well as] egg or tuna salad. And of course they are great as part of an antipasto platter, with cheese and salumi.

RT: Can any vegetable be preserved in olive oil, or do some work better than others?

DM: Most vegetables can be preserved in oil, but the proper technique requires several steps: salting or semi-drying the vegetable to remove excess moisture, bathing it in a vinegar brine, draining and letting it dry out a bit more, and then submerging it in oil. These steps together make the vegetables safe for long-term keeping — though, just FYI, the USDA does not provide guidelines for preserving in oil and so doesn’t recommend it. For this reason, I store any homemade oil-preserved food in the fridge and use within three months.

Certain dense, watery vegetables, such as onions, carrots and celery, are better preserved in a vinegar brine to maintain their crunchy character; some, such as zucchini and peppers, are suited to both methods.

RT: Does the quality and/or character of the oil make a difference to the final product?

DM: Generally, the freshest oil is not used for preserving, because it’s not the best use of the oil. Rather, it’s reserved for drizzling on bread or grilled vegetables and meat. Older, mellower or milder oil is better for preserving, because it doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of whatever is being preserved. I used good (but not break-the-bank expensive) extra virgin olive oil for nearly all the oil-preserved recipes in my book.

Main image: Samples from a tasting of oils submitted to the Ercole Olivario competition. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ruth Tobias

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Boat-To-Fork Seafood Protects Local Fisheries Image

By now, most consumers have heard about community-supported agriculture, or CSA. With a CSA you purchase a share in a local farm at the start of the growing season and, in return, receive a weekly allotment of fresh produce. This system, which arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s, ensures farmers earn fair wages for their harvests and guarantees fresh, often organically grown, vegetables and fruit for their supporters.

While CSAs may have become commonplace, the public remains less aware of community-supported fisheries, or CSFs. Granted, CSFs have not been in existence as long. The first, Port Clyde Fresh Catch, began in Maine in 2007. As of September 2015, the number had grown to 39 in North America.

Supporting local fishermen

Fishermen unload their catch. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Fishermen unload their catch. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Applying the CSA premise to seafood, CSF subscribers buy a share in a fishery. This payment goes directly to local fishermen. Direct payment usually cuts out costly middlemen such as processors and distributors. It also offers income stability for the anglers.

In return for this money, the fishermen provide a weekly or biweekly supply of fresh-from-the-boat seafood for their patrons. They also give peace of mind about food sourcing. With this system people know who caught their fish and where, when and how it was obtained.

Along with promising information and a steady market for their catches, CSFs allow fishermen to seek out unusual and abundant seafood. “They honor the diversity of catch of smaller-scale fisheries. These are the mainstays of fishing communities and have the smallest ecological footprint,” said Niaz Dorry, director of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Dorry has been a driving force in the creation and continuation of community-supported fisheries.

Dorry points out that while New England fishermen bring in roughly 60 species of fish and shellfish, supermarkets carry, at most, 12. As a result, only the longstanding favorites get purchased and consumed. Deemed bycatch or unwanted by consumers, the remaining species are discarded.

Instead of fixating on overly popular, exploited seafood, CSF fishermen seek out healthy sustainable stocks and sell all the fish they catch. They also target invasive species such as green crabs and Asian carp. They work with, rather than against, the environment, allowing overfished populations to rebound and reducing, if not eliminating, predatory alien marine life.

Regardless of the good that a CSF can do, consumers may still shy away from joining one. Intimidated by the thought of by receiving an exotic crustacean or whole carp to cook, some may opt for the usual imported shrimp or filleted farmed-raised salmon from the grocery store.

Although store-bought offerings may feel more familiar and manageable, they won’t be as fresh. Rarely are they local; according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fish Watch, 90 percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S. has been imported. Along with possessing a bigger carbon footprint than locally sourced goods, seafood shipped in from overseas tends to come from less sustainable fisheries.

Community-supported fisheries aim to educate

Cleaning fish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Cleaning fish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

To combat this reliance on a chosen, foreign few, consumers must be educated.

“People haven’t had enough exposure to other fish. This is why we give a suggested recipe each day, so that people know what to do with their pollock, hake, sole, redfish or monkfish,” said Donna Marshall, director of Cape Ann Fresh Catch, a 4,500-member CSF in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

For members who feel squeamish about looking their fish in the eye, Cape Ann provides the choice of receiving whole or filleted fish. For more daring cooks it offers truck-side filleting demonstrations. On designated pickup days it sends all participants an email detailing the seafood and on which of the 17 participating fishing boats their portions were caught.

Whether you belong to a community-supported fishery or not, Marshall says the public should become informed and know where their seafood comes from. “Go to any restaurant and ask where your fish is from. If it’s not local, why isn’t it? We must start insisting that we eat fresh local fish,” she said.

CSFs part of the local food movement

A barrel of fish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

A barrel of fish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Demanding access to local seafood seems like a no-brainer. So, too, does backing a community-supported fishery. It helps a region’s fishing community, fosters working waterfronts and boosts the area’s economy. It embraces seafood diversity, reduces the likelihood of overfishing and delivers extremely fresh food. Ultimately, it can provide a win for fishermen, consumers and the oceans.

For those curious about whether a CSF exists near their town, LocalCatch.org has created an online interactive map of “boat-to-fork seafood.” LocalCatch.org is a network of North American fishermen, researchers, organizers and consumers devoted to the growth and maintenance of community-supported fisheries.

Its locator presents information on CSFs, farmers and fish markets, boat-to-school cafeteria programs and small fishing crews that sell dockside and directly to the public.

Main photo: Fresh mackerel. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

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Fight For Soul Of Seoul’s Iconic Fish Market Image

A battle is raging over where to buy your fish in Seoul, and the outcome will determine the fate of one of the city’s most iconic food markets and tourist destinations.

The sprawling Noryangjin Fish Market, on the south banks of the Han River, has been where fish sellers, buyers and simply the curious have been congregating since 1927. It’s also one of Seoul’s top tourist destinations.

Conan O’Brien visited, and played with the squirting “sea penises” on American TV. A thousand Chinese tourists visit a day, according to Seoul’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper. Fox News rated it the third-best food market in the world, and when Conde Nast Travel ran a photo essay of the best markets in Seoul, 10 of the 20 photos were from Noryangjin.

Battle to remain open

An overview of the old Noryangjin Fish Market from the second floor. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jo Turner

An overview of the old Noryangjin Fish Market from the second floor. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jo Turner

Today, though, the market is quiet. There is graffiti on the top floors that reads “Demolition.” On the main floor, the fish sellers are wearing red vests that read “Together we fight.” Banners hang from the walls, and there is a militant atmosphere throughout the market.

Parent company Suhyup wants the fish sellers to move across the street to a new market. The new market is smaller than the old one, fully indoors and air-conditioned, and resembles a department store. It is also mostly empty, since most fish sellers refuse to move there, despite orders from Suhyup.

“After they built the whole new building, we didn’t get any notice or have any meetings,” said one fish seller, who refused to give his name but has been selling fish at Noryangjin for 30 years. “On March 16, 2016, we got a notice to move. After we checked the new site, we saw it didn’t match our needs, so we chose to stay and fight.”

Mixed reactions to new

A stall on the second floor of the new market sells dried fish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jo Turner

A stall on the second floor of the new market sells dried fish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jo Turner

Suhyup says the old building, now 45 years old, is unsafe and unsanitary. But fish sellers have a litany of complaints about the new building, chiefly that the allocated lots are too small. They say the floors are slippery (I almost fell twice), the aisles are too narrow, the rents are too high, they weren’t properly consulted and, most important for visitors, that it lacks any of the atmosphere the old building has.

The corporation, meanwhile, says the fish sellers were perfectly well consulted, rents and lot sizes are the same, and everyone signed an agreement to move as far as back as 2009.

“We have to face the fact they’re not going to rebuild the traditional site,” says Song Young-hi, a fish seller of 39 years who reluctantly moved to the new building. She complains the lots are too narrow, and that it’s “almost impossible” to display the fish. Still, she doubts the company will back down, and she has to make a living. “I have to do what I have to do,” she says. The dispute is now with the courts.

Modern, but will tourists come?

Young octopus are on display at the old market. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jo Turner

Young octopuses are on display at the old market. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jo Turner

A favorite activity among tourists at Noryangjin is getting the fresh seafood cut up right in front of them and served in one of the market’s many restaurants. In the old building, all the restaurants have been shuttered and sprayed with graffiti, their electricity and water shut off by the company. In the new building, the restaurants are open, but with fewer customers.

Stella, a tourist from Toronto who didn’t want to give her last name, bought fish at the new market to eat at one of the second-floor restaurants. But she said she would rather have gone to the old market, and was under the impression the old one was closed.

“My friends showed me pictures of the old one. It seemed to have more choice,” she says.

Traditional-style ‘better’

A seller fillets a fish in the old market. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jo Turner

A seller fillets a fish in the old market. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jo Turner

In the old market, Achuko and Yoko from Japan look at crabs and discuss the two markets. “I like the new market,” Achuko says. “It’s so clean.” But, she adds, “It’s impossible to move all of [the fish sellers] there.”

She admits the old market is more traditional. “The old one is cheaper and a bigger market,” Achuko says. “So Koreans like this style, I think.”

Jang Han Gi is a fish seller who splits a 24-hour shift with his brother. It’s hard work, but after 25 years, he’s used to it. He says there’s no way he’s moving to the new market.

“The customers prefer the open site and the open style of this building,” Jang says.

Jake Yoo, a local tour guide, agrees. He says there just isn’t time to visit both markets on a tour, and the old one wins with tourists, hands-down. “This is traditional-style here, and it’s better.”

Main photo: Fish sellers, in the old market, wear red vests that read “Together we fight.” Credit: Copyright 2016 Jo Turner

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