Articles in World

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

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

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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

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

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

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

Read More
Fish sellers, in the old market, wear red vests that read

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

Read More
Repurpose old bread into polpette, made with Italian bologna. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

“Never throw out leftover bread!” our Milanese mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers used to exclaim. Milanese cuisine has its roots in simpler traditions, and that includes reusing old bread to make exquisite dishes.

So if you happen to have bought too much bread, you have two options: Freeze it while still fresh and then remove it a few hours before use, or listen to my granny and try one of these six Milanese dishes.

Paan triit maridàat

Making this soup is simple, using just broth and breadcrumbs from stale breads. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

Making this soup is simple, with just a few ingredients, including bread crumbs from stale bread. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

This is a legendary peasant soup described in the 1450 cookbook by Maestro Martino, “The Art of Cooking.” Making the soup is simple: Boil broth, pour in bread crumbs made from old bread and cook for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk eggs with grated Parmesan cheese, add a spoon of butter, pour into the broth, mix and serve. In Milanese dialect, the name means married bread crumbs, because the bread, tired of being left alone, has mated with the egg.

Pancotto  

Another simple soup is pancotto, made with water and bread. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

Another simple soup is pancotto, made with water and bread. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

Stale bread and water are the inexpensive ingredients for this basic, frugal soup, exceptional for its goodness and simplicity of execution. Pieces of bread are soaked in cold water for a couple of hours (michetta is the best bread, but you can use any other kind). Then add butter, oil and salt and boil. To make it tastier, Granny used to add some beef bouillon and serve with parmesan. Variations and additions are accepted, like the use of chicken or meat broth instead of water, a beaten egg that is stirred in or a garnish of dried bay leaf. But the concept of a simple food remains the same.

Polpette

Chef Valerio Aliprandi from the gourmet food store Arte e Cucina in Milan holds mortadella and polpette. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

Chef Valerio Aliprandi from the gourmet food store Arte e Cucina in Milan holds mortadella and polpette. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

That pink and juicy mortadella (Italian bologna) is the main star of these oval-shaped patties, made with milk-moistened bread, eggs, chopped parsley, grated cheese and garlic, then seasoned with a pinch of grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix all the ingredients, dip in bread crumbs and fry with a little olive oil and a bit of butter for a beautiful golden color.

Mondeghili

Mondeghili are deep-fried meatballs made with breadcrumbs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

Mondeghili are deep-fried meatballs made with bread crumbs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

The Milanese frugal cooking tradition continues with the combination of stale bread and leftover bollito misto (mixed boiled meat), or any other kind of meat, such as sausage, wurst or salami.

The mondeghili’s origins go back over centuries, up to the Arabian age. The dish carried over into the culinary tradition of the Spaniards, who dominated Italy for 150 years.

Today, these meatballs are often brought to your table as a welcome pre-appetizer, or you can find them as street food. They are similar in preparation to polpette, but are walnut sized, rolled in bread crumbs and then deep-fried with sage and butter.

You can make a no-meat version, choosing to enrich these fantastic tidbits with fillings such as smoked cheese or fried zucchini.

Charlotte Milanese

Charlotte milanese are made with bread and stuffed with apples, raisins and pine nuts. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

Charlotte Milaneses are made with bread and stuffed with apples, raisins and pine nuts. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

This is a wonderful alcohol-drenched pudding, named after the British Queen Charlotte, who apparently loved to have apple trees in her garden. Charlottes are usually more complex, but the Milanese version is all about simplicity. Once the bread’s crust is eliminated, the inside is used to line the bottom and the sides of a butter-greased mold. The center is filled with apples, raisins, pine nuts, zest of lemon, white wine and sugar, and baked for an hour at 350 F. Respecting the tradition, I like to serve it in a flamboyant manner, so I sprinkle it generously with rum, light the top and impress everybody with a restaurant-like, flaming dessert!

Torta di pane della Nonna

The torta di pane della Nonna is made with stale bread, raisins, cocoa and amaretti biscuits. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

The torta di pane della Nonna is made with stale bread, raisins, cocoa and amaretti biscuits. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

This “Grandma bread cake” has a comfy and genuine flavor. The stale bread is cut into small pieces, mixed with raisins and left to soften in warm milk for 15 minutes. Then it is coupled with sweet cocoa, pine nuts, egg, butter, cinnamon, lemon peel and some amaretti biscuits. This mix is cooked for 50 minutes at 325 F. To check if it is ready, I do like Grandma used to do — insert a toothpick in the middle. If it comes out clean, I take it out, let it cool down, dust the surface with icing sugar and serve. Buon appetito!

Main photo: Repurpose old bread into polpette, made with Italian bologna. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cesare Zucca

Read More
The first asparagus of the season is a welcome garden treat. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

My father, may he rest in peace, was a champion Yankee gardener, as proud of his vegetables as he was of the considerable flowerbeds that surrounded his bayside home. He did almost all the work himself — preparing the beds and cold frames, planting, transplanting, weeding, deadheading and harvesting — although there was a man who came to mow the lawns once a week or so.

Like most champion gardeners in these chilly northern parts, my father relished especially the first springtime harvest, no matter what it was: first peas, first strawberries, first lettuce (served at table the old-fashioned way, with sugar and vinegar as a dressing) and above all first asparagus.

He was also first up in the morning and out in his garden almost at sunrise, snapping off the tender shoots of asparagus right at the base. Then for breakfast we’d have aspara-grass, as we called it, cooked in my father’s unique and (fortunately) almost inimitable fashion, boiled or steamed until the poor, plump stalks were limp and gray with exhaustion, then piled them atop a toasted slice of Wonder Bread, liberally spread with butter, and with more butter, melted now, pooled on top — along with the leftover juices, which of course turned the toast to soggy pap. My father was a much better gardener than he was a cook.

I was fully grown before I discovered the pleasures of underdone asparagus and had to wait for my own garden patch before I understood that the best asparagus in the world, like the best peas, is consumed standing in the garden and contemplatively chewing on what you’ve harvested only seconds before. Come to think of it, because all fruits and vegetables begin to deteriorate in the normal course of things as soon as they’re harvested, don’t you get the fullest impact of all those vitamins, minerals and fiber when you eat food, as it were, straight from the ground? I’m no raw foodist, but it does seem to me there’s an argument there.

Fast forward to the present day, when my daughter, Sara, and I were working on our first cookbook together, “The Four Seasons of Pasta.” Of course, the spring season must have asparagus pasta recipes, and so we set diligently to work. I’ve done tagliatelle for years with grilled or seared asparagus and sliced red onions, tossed in a creamy goat-cheese dressing, the asparagus just barely cooked so it still has a lot of crunch. As they say on Facebook: YUM! But I was stopped in my tracks when Sara proposed a recipe that’s a favorite from her restaurant: pappardelle with long-cooked asparagus. “Long cooked?” I shuddered, remembering those breakfasts of soggy toast and limp, discolored spears of asparagus.

She ignored my qualms and went ahead with the recipe. And you know what? It was terrific! The melting softness of the asparagus sauce, made from the stalks cut small and indeed overcooked, contrasts beautifully with the still-crisp flavors of the tips, which retain some of their brightness because they’re cooked for a short time. We made it again for dinner recently, with the first of the local asparagus, and once again marveled at how pasta can serve as a perfect foil for the first of spring’s offerings, whether peas or asparagus or possibly even strawberries.

Pappardelle With Long-cooked Asparagus and Basil

Asparagus cooking before being tossed with pasta. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Asparagus cooking before being tossed with pasta. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Asparagus is a delight when freshly picked and barely blanched. Its sweet vegetal flavors are a welcome herald to spring. But as the season winds on and the spears get fatter and a little tougher, it’s also good cooked thoroughly, to break down the tough fibers and pull out a little extra sweetness along the way. It’s great served over pappardelle — or any other kind of long, broad noodles, fettuccine, for instance, or tagliatelle.

Prep time: 5 to 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 20 to 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings as a main course, 6 as a first or primo

Ingredients

2 pounds of fresh asparagus

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large shallot or 1 small spring onion, finely minced (2 tablespoons)

Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, in fat slivers

1/4 cup heavy cream

About 1 pound (500 grams) pappardelle

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano  or Grana Padano

Directions

1. Trim the asparagus by snapping off the bottoms, which break where the stem starts to get woody. Cut the stalks into 2-inch lengths, setting the tips aside.

2. Combine the butter and oil over medium heat in a saucepan or deep skillet. When the butter begins to foam, add the minced shallot (or spring onion) and the asparagus pieces, except for the tops, with a good pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Cook briskly until the shallots and asparagus take on a little color — about 8 to 10 minutes. Then turn the heat down and add the cream, 2 tablespoons water, the asparagus tips and half the basil leaves. Cover the pan and continue cooking, until the asparagus tips are tender and the liquid in the pan is reduced by half.

3. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. When the asparagus sauce is ready, cook the pasta according to package directions, until it is al dente.

4. Have ready a warm serving bowl. Drain the pasta and toss in the bowl with the asparagus sauce, the remaining basil and the cheese. Add more black pepper to the top and serve immediately.

Note: You can vary the flavors by using other fresh spring herbs in place of the basil — lovage, chervil, even plain old flat-leaf Italian parsley will be very good.

Main photo: The first asparagus of the season is a welcome garden treat. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Read More
Chef Francis Mallmann. Credit: Copyright 2016 Peter Buchanan-Smith

“Fire is a language all its own. It’s magical. Mysterious.” No, these are not the words of a committed arsonist, but rather Francis Mallmann, one of South America’s greatest chefs, a man famous for his deftness with this most elemental of cooking tools.

Raised in Patagonia by an Argentinian father and Uruguayan mother, the 60-year-old Mallmann waxed poetic on the subject of fire when we sat down to talk at his Restaurante Garzón in the tiny Uruguayan town for which it is named.

Garzón is a curious place for a world-renowned chef to put down roots, but then Mallmann is a curious figure — part master craftsman, part culinary shaman. He opened his first restaurant in the Argentinian Andes at the age of 19 before moving northeast to set up shop in the Uruguayan beach resort of José Ignacio, a summer destination for the Argentinian upper crust. During the off-season, he staged in some of France’s most legendary kitchens, under the likes of Roger Vergé and Alain Senderens.

By the age of 40, he’d reached the top of his field, winning Le Grand Prix de l’Art de la Cuisine from the International Academy of Gastronomy, but instead of viewing the award as validation, he saw it as a wake-up call. “It made me sad. I’d forged a path through European cuisines, but I didn’t have my own culinary language.” In an effort to find it, he turned back to his childhood and began investigating the native cuisines of the Andes and other parts of South America.

A small town draws big names

The restaurant deck at Bodega Garzón. Credit: Copyright 2016 courtesy of Bodega Garzón

The restaurant deck at Bodega Garzón. Credit: Copyright 2016 courtesy of Bodega Garzón

His search led him to Garzón, a place he describes as having a wonderful aura. “It’s got great bones — the streets, the trees, the beautiful old houses. There’s a peaceful quality here.” He wasn’t the only one who saw the potential; I’d gone there in March as the guest of Bodega Garzón, a winery established by Alejandro Bulgheroni, an Argentinian oil tycoon who’s one of the world’s richest men.

To describe it as Uruguay’s most ambitious new winery isn’t saying much in a country smaller than Missouri that’s home to more cattle than people, but Bulgheroni’s $85 million project is not what you’d call a shoestring operation. Covering more than 520 acres, the complex includes a restaurant, a private wine club and an olive oil production facility that resembles a modern Tuscan villa, and there are plans to build a boutique hotel amid the vines. Mallmann was brought in to help design the kitchens and create the menus.

As you’d expect from a project this ambitious, Bodega Garzón’s wines are anything but shabby. Indeed, they’re likely to gain this small but progressive country a closer look by international connoisseurs. In particular, the Albariño and Tannat bottlings are worth seeking out.

Although the winery is opulent, its restaurant menu is of a piece with the gaucho-inspired dishes Mallmann serves at his own place down the road. His food highlights the earthy flavor combinations, techniques and ingredients (particularly the excellent meat) of Argentina and Uruguay, whose populations are a blend of indigenous and immigrant, the latter category hailing primarily from Italy and Spain. And running throughout Mallmann’s cuisine, always, there is fire.

No translation necessary

Chef Francis Mallmann tending to the hearth at Restaurante Garzon. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sofia Perez

Chef Francis Mallmann tending to the hearth at Restaurante Garzon. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sofia Perez

His favored medium notwithstanding, however, Mallmann brings to his food an undeniable delicacy — fire as perfume, not punishment. “People think that cooking with fire is a masculine thing, something brutal, but it’s actually quite fragile.”

He made his case at the dinner he hosted for the winery’s official opening. In the square outside his own restaurant, Mallmann and his team spent the day tending to a split-leveled fire that was surrounded by a circle of crucified lambs, which were themselves ringed by flames. By the time guests arrived that evening, the darkness of rural night had been deferred, revealing a tableau that suggested an offering to the gods — or a scene from “Lord of the Flies,” take your pick. But despite the fierce manner in which the meat had been cooked, it remained remarkably tender, and its subtle flavor was surprising.

“The ‘simple’ approaches are the most difficult,” Mallmann said, “because there’s nowhere to hide. Things can go wrong with the tiniest shift.” He pointed to the strong winds that had buffeted Garzón that day, constantly altering the fire’s temperature and, therefore, the way the meat cooked. Mastery of such a technique can only be achieved through repetition and attentiveness. “The language of cooking is one of silences — it’s of the hands and all the senses.”

Throughout our conversation, Mallmann returned repeatedly to the metaphor of language, which seems fitting for someone who has used cooking to communicate with people all over the world. “If you bring a president and a farmer together around a fire, you don’t need words,” he said. “Fire is part of our collective memory — it’s what unites us.”

Tomato, Goat Cheese and Anchovy Bruschetta

Tomato, Goat Cheese, and Anchovy Bruschetta. Credit: Copyright 2016 Santiago Solo Monllor

Tomato, Goat Cheese and Anchovy Bruschetta. Credit: Copyright 2016 Santiago Solo Monllor

Excerpted from “Seven Fires” by Francis Mallmann (Artisan Books, 2009).

According to Mallmann, the key to this recipe is to burn the tomatoes to achieve a “toasty bitterness” that contrasts with the sweetness of the liquid they contain.

Ingredients

36 cherry tomatoes (about 1 pound)

1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 day-old baguette (10 ounces) sliced into 24 half-inch-thick rounds, toasted until crisp

8 ounces Bûcheron or similar goat cheese

24 anchovy fillets (about 3 1/2 ounces), drained and halved lengthwise

Parsley, Olive Oil and Garlic Sauce (see recipe below)

Directions

Cut the tomatoes in half and put them in a bowl. Add the oregano, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine.

Heat a chapa or large cast-iron griddle over very high heat. When it is very hot, place the cherry tomato halves cut side down about 1 inch apart on the hot surface; work in batches if necessary. It is very important not to move the tomatoes while they cook, or they will release their juices and lose their shape and texture. Keep in mind that it is hard to char a tomato too much: best to err on the side of charring; and if you do move one, you are committed and you should remove it immediately. When you see that the tomatoes are well charred on the bottom, almost black (about 4 minutes), remove them using tongs or a spatula and place burnt side up on a large tray, about an inch apart so they don’t steam.

Arrange the toasted bread rounds on a platter. Spread some of the goat cheese on each round, and place 3 tomato halves on top of the cheese. Garnish with the anchovies and drizzle a teaspoonful of the sauce on top. Serve immediately.

Parsley, Olive Oil, and Garlic Sauce

Excerpted from “Seven Fires” by Francis Mallmann (Artisan Books, 2009).

Ingredients

1/2 cup packed minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Combine the parsley and garlic in a small bowl. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The sauce can be kept refrigerated for three to four days.

Main image: Chef Francis Mallmann. Credit: Copyright 2016 Peter Buchanan-Smith

Read More
The Most Popular Potato Salad in Finland. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

It might be raining, hailing or even snowing, but when Jersey Royal potatoes arrive in the shops, everyone knows it’s the unofficial start of the British summer. There’s always a mad dash to get the first batches of marble-sized Royals, thanks in part to a flurry of intense marketing not unlike that accorded to Beaujolais Nouveau.

Iconic Jersey Royal potatoes can only be grown in Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands that sit between England and France, and they boast a Protected Designation of Origin logo as proof of authenticity. Each Jersey Royal can be traced to its field of origin. Shallow-eyed with a fragile, golden skin and creamy yellow flesh, the chestnut-flavored taste of a true Jersey Royal is immediately distinctive.

Jersey is a singular place, a Channel Isle not even in the Channel, proud of its convoluted constitution and relationship with the British crown, its ancient independence and parish individualities. It’s an island as pretty as a postcard, yet with an air of suburbia. It’s an Englander’s dream of social order and old-style courtesies, but also une petite France — a little bit French — with roads signs in French and Jersais Norman names for places and people. It’s France without tears — and without the French.

The island’s steep, south-facing slopes, light and well-drained soil, and mild climate make it ideally suited for early potato crops, but sadly it is not uncommon to hear sighs of nostalgia that Jersey Royals are not what they used to be.

The island has only about a half-dozen commercial customers for the crop — the giant chains that buy 90 percent of the harvest. This creates particular pressures. Very few farmers use the traditional seaweed fertilizer known as vraic anymore; the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers is high and most fields are covered with perforated polythene to force the potatoes ever earlier (a source of some environmental controversy).

Few farmers take the trouble or can devote the labor to hand planting and harvesting the steepest slopes, or côtils, which catch the morning sun like the best vineyards. However, if you can find them, these traditionally cultivated Jerseys will always stand out from the norm.

Local farmers also scorn the supermarket-led trend for “Baby” Jersey Royals — the earliest of the early are not always the best. A degree of maturity is needed to bring out the full, nutty richness, and many islanders prefer to eat their Royals later in the summer.

Jersey Royals: Where to find them, how to cook them

Jersey Royals are always clearly marked in the shops. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Jersey Royals are always clearly marked in the shops. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

The dense but not overly waxy nature of these potatoes makes them best suited for boiling, frying, gratins and salads, because they do not disintegrate when steamed or boiled. The potatoes are best cooked with the skins on to preserve nutrients and flavor, and they only need a quick wash — scrubbing breaks the papery skin. At their finest Jerseys are true luxury ingredients, simply served with butter, mint and flakes of sea salt.

Indisputably, though, the best way of sampling the potatoes is via the island tradition of roadside farm stalls, where money is left in an honesty box — and no one abuses the system. As one islander explained to me, it is the best way of knowing you’re eating potatoes that night that have been picked the same morning. Slathered in sunshine-yellow Jersey butter, they’re rightly named: a royal feast, and a reminder that heaven can wait.

Here are three recipes that showcase what makes Jersey potatoes so special. Ninety percent of Jersey Royals are exported to the United Kingdom, but if you can’t get your hands on any, these recipes also work well with other varieties of firm and waxy new potatoes.

Posh Potatoes to Impress the Neighbors

Posh Potatoes to Impress the Neighbors. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Posh Potatoes to Impress the Neighbors. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

These are retro favorites making a comeback. Instead of baking the potatoes, you can boil them, but the slightly crunchy skin that comes from baking them is rather good.

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 to 4 cups small new potatoes

1/2 cup sour cream

Small jar caviar, salmon or herring roe

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C).

2. Place the potatoes on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes.

3. Cut each potato lengthways in half and let cool to room temperature.

4. Spoon a little sour cream onto each half and top with some caviar or roe.

5. Serve straight away.

The Most Popular Potato Salad in Finland

This is a simple but extremely delicious way to prepare new potatoes that originated in the Karelian region of Finland.

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: 2 to 3 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter

2 cups small new potatoes, boiled in their skins

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

2 large hard-boiled eggs, chopped

Fresh dill to taste

Directions

1. Melt the butter in a pan, then add the potatoes, salt and pepper. Stir carefully to coat the potatoes. If the potatoes seem too big for a mouthful, cut them in half.

2. Stir in the eggs and transfer to a serving dish.

3. Sprinkle with dill and serve either warm or chilled.

Pretty Pink Prawn and Potato Salad

Pretty Pink Prawn and Potato Salad. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Pretty Pink Prawn and Potato Salad. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

This is a refreshing and light salad for summer days. Make sure the potatoes are nutty and well-flavored to get the full effect..

Prep time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Total time: 2 hours

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 cups Jersey Royals or waxy new potatoes (peeled and/or chopped to your preference)

1 to 2 avocados, peeled and chopped (sprinkle with lemon juice to stop browning)

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Half a small cucumber, peeled and sliced

Several radishes, thinly sliced

1 cup peeled, cooked small shrimp

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Mix all the ingredients in a serving bowl and toss to mix well. Serve with a bowl of mayonnaise or a yogurt dressing on the side.

Main photo: The Most Popular Potato Salad in Finland. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman 

Read More