Articles in World

Stir-frying is among the ways the Chinese prepare peaches that differ from cooks and bakers in the U.S. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Kelley

One of China’s many gifts to world cuisine is the peach, and with the season in full swing, now is the time to celebrate this most ancient and beloved of fruits. Peaches have been an important aspect of traditional culture in China, and were first described in the agricultural manual, “Xiaxiaozheng,” written almost 4,000 years ago.

The Daoists considered them important symbols of immortality, and other works celebrate their association with youth. For example, in the “Shijing (Book of Odes),” a compilation of poetry and song from about 3,000 to 2,500 years ago, the peach tree is compared to a young bride with brilliant flowers, abundant fruit and luxuriant leaves:

The peach tree is young and elegant;
Brilliant are its flowers.
This young lady is going to her future home,
And will order well her chamber and house.

Culinary uses

Pickled peaches are traditional in China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sasimoto/iStock

Pickled peaches are traditional in China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sasimoto/iStock

The culinary uses of peaches in China are generally more varied than they are in the west. We tend to limit our use of peaches to sweeter dishes, such as pies, cakes, cobblers and fruit salads. Additionally, we use them to add a sweet flavor to oatmeal and other cereals, generally served at breakfast.

In China, peaches are featured in both sweet and savory dishes. From the familiar peach-based duck sauce, and savory and spicy sauces for meats, to pickled peaches and even half-sour peach kebabs, peaches are everywhere. Peaches in China also tend to be eaten when we would consider them to be a bit under-ripe and hard. So, even in sweeter dishes, they often have a slightly sour tang to them when compared to sweet peach dishes in the west.

Peach origins

Peaches ripening on a tree. Credit:Schwäbin (Wikimedia) / Lizenz: Creative Commons CC-by-sa-3.0 de

Peaches ripening on a tree. Credit: Schwäbin (Wikimedia) / Lizenz

Recent archaeological analysis of peach stones (pits) has concluded that peaches were first domesticated in China’s lower Yangzi Valley beginning almost 8,000 years ago. In the area just a little south and west of Shanghai, feral ancestors of today’s peach (Prunus persica) were consciously selected for fruit size and taste, time from germination to fruiting and length of fruiting season.

The domestication process was complete in China by about 6,700 years ago, and the peach was introduced to areas of coastal Japan by about 6400 years BP (before the present). The larger, sweeter cultivars spread quickly and were commonly eaten across China by about 4000 BP. Domesticated peaches were first seen in India by about 3700 BP — a tribute to the power of early Silk Road trade.

This new analysis from a team of international scientists is significant and challenges conventional wisdom that the peach was domesticated in northwestern China. It also questions accepted ideas about how early in the history of agriculture that fruit trees became important crops. The earliest changes from feral fruit type appears almost 1,000 years before the beginnings of rice farming in the Yangzi Valley when rhinoceros and elephants were still common wildlife in the area.

Peach varieties

Fieldcrest peaches are one of 2,000 peach varieties. Credit: Copyright Patrick Tregenza/USDA

Fieldcrest peaches are one of 2,000 peach varieties. Credit: Copyright Patrick Tregenza/USDA

Globally there are more than 2,000 varieties of peaches that can be harvested from late spring through the end of October. Of these, 300 are commonly grown in the United States. Peaches are classified in three groups: freestone, clingstone and semi-freestone. The classifications refer to the way the fruit’s flesh clings to the pit.

Clingstone varietals ripen between May and August, and have yellow flesh that turns mild red to bright red close the pit. Clingstones also have a soft texture, and a high sugar and juice content, making them good for eating raw. Freestones, on the other hand, have firm texture, relatively low level of juiciness and mild sugar content, making them ideal for baking. Freestone varietals bear fruit between late May and October. The semi-freestones combine two of the most prized qualities of clingstones and freestones — a relatively high sugar content and juiciness along with flesh that doesn’t cling to the pit.

Varying by geography

Flat peaches, such as the Saturn, took more than a century to catch on in the United States. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Flat peaches, such as the Saturn, took more than a century to catch on in the United States. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Peach varieties tend to vary a great deal by geographical area. In the Central Atlantic, most farms are now featuring Glenglo and Early Red Free peaches with Red Havens ripening in the next week or two. August promises the greatest variety of peaches in this area with peaches available for almost any use.

The global produce market makes many varietals available at supermarkets regardless of the local fruiting season. The most interesting additions to these markets has been the flat Saturn and Jupiter peaches, also called doughnut peaches. These are freestone varieties with low acidity and high sugar content, best eaten raw. Interestingly, flat peaches (Peento variety) were introduced to the U.S. from China in 1869, but the idea of a flat peach didn’t catch on with consumers until the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Chinese stir-fried peaches

This is an authentic, savory way to enjoy the fruits of the summer. For a real Chinese touch, use an under-ripe peach, or one with a low-sugar, high-acid content for a sweet and sour treat.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 6 to 10 minutes
Total time: 16 to 26 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

 Ingredients

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 to 3 teaspoons lightly roasted sesame seeds

2 tablespoons sugar (Demerara or palm sugar is best)

6 peaches

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 to 3 tablespoons grated ginger

1 to 2 tablespoons minced garlic (or Chinese chives)

Directions

1. In a small bowl or cup, combine the soy sauce, hoisin, rice wine, rice vinegar and sesame seeds. Add sugar. Mix well and set aside.

2. Thickly slice peaches and remove the stones. You may skin the peaches if you wish, but it is not mandatory.

3. Heat the sesame oil in a wok until it just starts to smoke, and add the ginger and garlic and stir for 1 to 2 minutes until partially cooked. Add the peaches and stir until well coated. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring several times, until the peaches start to soften. It may be necessary to cook longer if the peaches are very firm.

4. When the peaches are partially cooked, add the soy sauce mixture and stir well to coat. Cover and cook until peaches are of a desired tenderness, about 2 to 3 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

Main photo: Chinese stir-fried peaches. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Kelley

Read More
The memorable scallop ramen at the roadside restaurant found on the way north to Wakkanai. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

It began at 3 a.m., a bursting, loud, rumbling noise that broke the rural silence and my sleep. It came and went continuously. I couldn’t take it anymore and got up to investigate.

I was staying at a Japanese resort hotel next to Lake Saroma on the northeastern coast of the island of Hokkaido. Little did I know that the jarring racket in this usually quiet town would lead me to discover one of the most memorable meals of my trip and one of the area’s most lucrative food industries: scallop farming.

Scallop farming starts with a perfect lake

The calm and beautiful Lake Saroma. This is the view from my room at the hotel. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The calm and beautiful Lake Saroma. This is the view from my room at the hotel. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Lake Saroma, the third largest lake in Japan, is adjacent to the Sea of Okhotsk, separated from the sea by a narrow sand spit. It was once a freshwater lake. Every year in April and May, snow melt from the mountains gushed into the 13 rivers that empty into the lake and flooded the area. Aside from destroying homes and villages, it also ruined the livelihood of the fishermen. To prevent future floods, locals dug out a bit of the sand strip to create a channel.

The narrow passage not only let the freshwater out to ease flooding, it also allowed seawater to come in, especially during high tide, leaving much of the lake brackish.

The passage frequently closed because of moving sand during winter storms, and locals worked to reopen the channel every year. People soon discovered other advantages to keeping the passage open.

New fish come to the lake and scallops, too

Kuniyoshi Ooi, a scallop farming fisherman. Credit:  Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Kuniyoshi Ooi, a scallop farming fisherman. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Fishermen could now easily catch salmon, herring and ocean trout that swam into the lake. Scallops and oysters that thrive in brackish water also found a home. In the 1950s, Japan studied the idea of introducing scallop farming at the lake, and it has been very successful. Today the lake has two permanent, man-made concrete passages to the sea.

When I checked into the hotel the day before, I found a pair of binoculars in the room and admired the calm, silent lake and the sea beyond. The next morning I rubbed my drowsy eyes and tried to reconcile two very different experiences: the prior day’s calm with the early morning noise. Soon I saw the source of the racket: boats moving at high speed on the lake. I noticed that the boats raced out, stopped for a while and then raced back to shore. They looked as if they were competing. I quickly dressed and went to the reception desk to find out what was happening. “They are scallop farmers at Sakaeura Fishery,” I was told. Without having breakfast, I dashed to the fishing port about a mile from the hotel to get a firsthand look at the operation.

Fishermen work day and night bringing in scallops

Boat that retrieves scallops on Lake Saroma in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Boat that retrieves scallops on Lake Saroma in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Fishing boats were still coming in and leaving the port every few minutes. I approached a senior fisherman, Kuniyoshi Ooi, who seemed to be overseeing the operation. He told me that 90 fishermen in this port are licensed to farm scallops. Each fisherman has his own boat, and each employs an average of 10 part-time workers — students from a nearby university — at this busy time of the year. Students are attracted by the good pay, $25 dollars an hour for work from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., Ooi said. The workers, dressed in bright colored uniforms, work as if part of a conveyor belt operation inside a long shed, extending several hundred feet along the quay.

Baby scallops are retrieved from the sacks

A scallop farmer removes 1-year-old chigai from the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

A scallop farmer removes 1-year-old chigai from the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Scallop farming in Lake Saroma is a sustainable, environmentally friendly business. The first year of scallop culture begins in May when the fishermen drop a rope with a knitted sack to collect natural scallop larvae in the lake. Scallop larvae in nature affix themselves to the grass in water. In farming, it’s different. The larvae attach to the ropes lowered by the fishermen.

In August, fishermen remove the ropes with larvae from the water, transfer them to a larger, roughly knitted square sack and drop it into the water again. By the following May, the scallops in the sack have grown to about 2 inches. The boats retrieve the sacks, 200 at a time, with 1-year old scallops, called chigai.

Mostly students work on the scallop harvest

Workers harvest the scallops. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Workers harvest the scallops. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

It was the roar of the boats engaged in this process that woke me from my deep sleep.  The part-time workers removed the scallops from each sack, cleaned and sorted them, and transferred them into large, blue plastic bins. After unloading the sacks for processing at the dock, the boat again sped back onto the lake to fetch more.

No words were exchanged among the workers; each silently and rapidly did his job — on the boat, on the pier and in the shed. Neither did anyone show any interest in the visitor watching them and snapping iPhone photos so early in the morning. I learned that the year-old scallops are then transported through the channels to the sea and remain there to mature for 3 years before being harvested and sent to market.

Scallops go back to the sea for three more years

Scallops are in the sack, but other sea creatures cling to the outside. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Scallops are in the sack, but other sea creatures cling to the outside. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

According to Ooi, the scallop harvest from the lake is about 44,000 tons each year. Fresh, frozen and dried scallops from this port not only satisfy the market in Japan but are exported to China, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and the United States. The 90 fisherman are part of a cooperative that provides for all of their needs, including food and housing allowances, funds for boat upkeep and crews, and generous retirement benefits. Ooi said last year’s profit from the scallop harvest, after all expenses, was more than $250,000 for each member of the co-operative. Not a bad catch; these fishermen are not poor.

The sustainable side of scallop farming

Scallops out of the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Scallops out of the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

In addition to their sustainable scallop farming operation, the Tokoro Fishery Association, of which the Sakaerura Fishery is a part, helps maintain the health of the local environment. In the past, cutting trees for opening the nearby land upstream from the lake for commercial development created problems at the fishery. Eroded sand and soil entered the lake and suffocated the fish. And the chemical contamination from the developed land degraded the water quality, which also affected the fishery.

The sustainable side of scallop farming

The uploaded chigai in sacks are stacked up and waiting to be processed. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The uploaded chigai in sacks are stacked up and waiting to be processed. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

In 1959, seven years after the establishment of the scallop culturing industry, the association purchased 1,500 acres of upstream land and planted 600,000 trees. The Tokoro Fishery Association is one of the pioneers in recognizing the important connection between healthy land and a healthy fishery. You might say the noise from the early morning fishing boats woke me up physically and mentally; the experience educated me on one of the most successful, sustainable and ecologically sound aquaculture systems in the world. And, of course, it stimulated my appetite for Lake Saroma scallops.

The next day on my way north to Wakkanai, the northernmost city of Hokkaido, I stopped at a roadside restaurant to sample the “scallop ramen.” As I devoured the delicious dish, vivid memories of my early morning visit to the fishing port flashed back to my mind. No scallops ever tasted better than the ones in my ramen.

Main photo: The memorable scallop ramen at the roadside restaurant found on the way north from Lake Saroma to Wakkanai. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Read More
Wing-chi Ip, the proprietor of a beautiful teahouse in Hong Kong Park in Hong Kong, has been sourcing teas from mainland China since 1986, the first year that China re-opened its borders. Credit: Copyright 2011 Josh Wand

A tea shop can be just what we need on a hectic day. Tea takes time. It steeps. Scrumptious teatime goodies are nibbled, slowly. We read in tea shops; talk quietly with friends; pause to think.

Americans are learning to love the tranquility of traditional tea shops, to savor their distinctive smells, each tea with its signature aromas. With our amped-up lives, we crave their meditative quiet.

Fortunately, the U.S. boasts an abundance of glorious new tea shops designed to meet that need. We’ve collected a few of the best to share with you, coupled with a sampling of some of the best tea shops from around the world. The bar is high for quality teahouses and the U.S. increasingly is meeting those international standards.

More from Zester Daily:

» Afternoon tea vs. high tea: Do you know the difference?
» Is tea the new black? Vendors and buyers jam expo
» The perfect way to make tea for this and every New Year
» Portland tea master Steven Smith sweetens the pot

Main photo: Wing-chi Ip, the proprietor of a beautiful teahouse in Hong Kong Park in Hong Kong, has been sourcing teas from mainland China since 1986, the first year that China re-opened its borders. Credit: Copyright 2011 Josh Wand

Read More
An appetizer of marinated raw scallops in

Mexican cuisine has no high or low. Unlike in French, Chinese or Japanese cooking, it is from the humble tradition of everyday kitchens that most Mexican recipes are culled. The difference is more a matter of degree of luxury in presentation than of basic cooking concepts.

In recent years, a culinary trend has emerged from the kitchens of a new generation of chefs called Nueva Cocina Mexicana or Modern Mexican. Utilizing international culinary techniques, but working with traditional Mexican recipes and ingredients, these cooks have created a body of dishes as well as a contemporary context for serving and eating them.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of presentation: Martha Ortiz’s duck in black mole varies little from that eaten in an old Oaxacan home. But it is elegantly served on contemporary designer china in a streamlined, posh venue in Mexico City’s Polanco area, surrounded by less standard accompaniments, and chased with a nice Baja Chardonnay. Or take Patricia Quintana’s salmon appetizer with its vanilla-infused dressing: nothing time-honored here but for the separate ingredients. And Mónica Patiño’s chicken soup perfumed with té de limón — that’s Thai lemongrass sold in every market across the country, but never before served at a Mexican dinner table.

An earlier generation of chefs have paved the way for an extraordinary renaissance of fresh, creative cooking, led by star chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol, now head chef at New York’s Cosme. Young culinary-institute-trained chefs are returning to their roots while exploring contemporary concepts developed in Europe. Mexico City has become an amazing place to discover not only the wide range of classic and regional cooking but also new traditions being forged every day.

Main photo: An appetizer of marinated raw scallops in “ash vinegar” with cucumber and cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sud 777

Read More
Galicia on Spain's Atlantic coast is a land of scudding clouds, rocky shores lashed by furious waves and seafood-rich estuaries fringed with vines. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Galicia in Spain’s northwestern corner is so dramatically different from any other part of the Iberian Peninsula, it can be hard to imagine it belongs to the Spain of popular imagination, characterized by intense heat, smoldering flamenco dancers and blockbuster red wines.

This is Atlantic Spain, with the famed pilgrimage center of Santiago de Compostela at its heart, a land of scudding clouds, emerald-green pastures grazed by some of the country’s finest beef cattle, rocky shores lashed by furious waves and seafood-rich estuaries fringed with vines.

Wines from here are principally white, with the racy, zesty Albariño variety in pole position, closely followed by peachy Treixadura and full-bodied, mouth-filling Godello. Many vines are more than 50 years old, plants which — thankfully — no one thought to tear out when more fashionable “international varieties” began to make inroads into Galicia. Some red wine is also made from local specialties, with names such as Caiño, Brancellao and Sousón.

In the coastal Rías Baixas region that stretches all along the western edge of Galicia, the climate is cool and humid. Rain falls heavily and persistently, and vines are trained high on pergolas suspended between chunky, head-high granite posts, as if gathering up their skirts to keep them out of the water and the mud. This is Albariño country par excellence — at least 95 percent of vines planted here belong to this now-voguish variety.

Inland in the Ribeiro region, it’s a different story. Here, where rainfall is half that of the coastal regions, midday summer temperatures routinely reach into the 100s, with a marked difference between midday and nighttime temperatures, an important element in the production of quality white wines. Vines are stacked on steep, well-drained terraces that rise above the three rivers that traverse the region (Avia, Miño and Arnoia) and equipped with drip-irrigation systems to combat water stress.

The region’s trump cards, according to Pablo Vidal, technical director of DO Ribeiro, include a range of distinctive grape varieties, great granite-rich terroirs and a climate that is significantly less humid than the coastal region. Ribeiro has been on a roll since the 1990s, when a number of local visionaries determined to resurrect the area’s long-established but lost reputation for fine wine and set about reclaiming terraces, restoring dry-stone walls and vineyards and planting new vines.

Here are seven estates in Galicia whose wines are worth seeking out. Some are in the cooler coastal region of DO Rías Baixas, others are inland in DO Ribeiro. Check for your nearest supplier of wines from Galicia.

Casal de Armán

Casal de Armán's limited edition Finca Os Loureiros, Ribeiro, Galicia -- note the bay leaf motif (loureiro, in Galician) on the label. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Casal de Armán’s limited edition Finca Os Loureiros, Ribeiro, Galicia — note the bay leaf motif (loureiro, in Galician) on the label. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Casal de Armán is a 20-hectare (50-acre) estate in the heart of Ribeiro, founded 16 years ago by four brothers — José, Javier, Jorge and Juan — of the González Vázquez family. The eminently quaffable, entry-level Casal de Armán white (“our visiting card,” says José) is made mainly from Treixadura with a dash of both Godello and Albariño, while Finca Os Loureiros, their prize-winning, single-vineyard white, features the straw-gold, peachy Treixadura in starring role and is aged in French barriques.

Finca Viñoa

Finca Viñoa's superb four-grape blend, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Finca Viñoa’s superb four-grape blend, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Finca Viñoa is an impressive new venture with vineyards set high above the River Avia, which flows south through Ribeiro and into the Miño, which forms the border between Spain and Portugal. Rows of impressive terraces have been carved out of the granite hillside, which is streaked with seams of schist. Here they have planted Ribeiro’s four signature grapes, Treixadura, Albariño, Godello and Loureira, which go to make up Finca Viñoa’s single, satisfying white blend, recently tipped by Financial Times wine critic Jancis Robinson as one of her top festive white wines for the holidays.

Coto de Gomariz

A range of Atlantic red wines from Coto de Gomariz, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

A range of Atlantic red wines from Coto de Gomariz, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Also in Ribeiro is Coto de Gomariz, an impressive 28-hectare (62-acre) estate whose owners have devoted the past 30 years to resurrecting historic sites, acquiring new plots and restoring swathes of terracing. Lately they have adopted some biodynamic practices — a tough call in Galicia’s predominantly cool, damp climate. Surprisingly (because Galicia is known for its white wines), reds traditionally outnumbered whites in Ribeiro. The estate is now flying the red flag once more with a super range of new-wave, Atlantic red blends, alongside its impressive collection of full-bodied whites.

Quinta de Couselo

Parasol pines and pergola-grown vines at Quinta de Couselo, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Parasol pines and pergola-grown vines at Quinta de Couselo, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Quinta de Couselo winery is housed in a gorgeous stone pazo, or manor house, at the southernmost end of the Rías Baixas, watched over by a pair of parasol pines, which are featured on its elegant labels. They make two alluring, aromatic white blends, Quinta de Couselo (winner of an award for the best white wine in Galicia in 2014) and Turonia, in which Albariño’s angularity is fleshed out by discreet amounts of Loureira and Treixadura.

Zárate

Centenarian vines in Zárate's El Palomar vineyard, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Centenarian vines in Zárate’s El Palomar vineyard, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Zárate is a family-owned bodega in the small seaside town of Cambados, self-styled capital of Albariño and home to the Festa do Albariño, a lively street party held annually the first Sunday in August in honor of its now famous local grape. The entry-level Albariño is a pure delight, while the single-vineyard El Palomar, grown on ungrafted centenarian vines and trained in traditional style along pergolas supported by granite posts, has greater complexity and elegance.

Pazo Baión

A glimpse inside the cellars at Pazo Baión, Rías Baixas, Galicia: "new wine in an old setting." Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

A glimpse inside the cellars at Pazo Baión, Rías Baixas, Galicia: “new wine in an old setting.” Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Pazo Baión is a magnificent 30-hectare (75-acre) estate just south of Santiago, whose origins go back to the 16th century. After a succession of owners, including most recently an Argentine drug baron operating off Galicia’s coast, it was confiscated by the Spanish government and sold at auction to the Condes de Albarei group. Investment in the property has been impressive and includes renovation of the vineyards that surround the house, installation of spanking-new cellars and a superb, architect-designed tasting cellar. “New wine in an old setting” is the device of manager Xavier Zas. They make a single, fragrant, fleshy Albariño with wonderful mouthfeel from its six months spent on the lees.

Pazo Señorans

A table set for a tasting at Pazo Señorans. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

A table set for a tasting at Pazo Señorans. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Pazo Señorans is one of Galicia’s most immaculate properties, complete with its own superb hórreo (granary), a private chapel and cypress trees, all three of which are necessary components for a property to qualify as a proper pazo. Owners Marisol Bueno and Javier Mareque and their four children together run the 21-hectare (52-acre) estate, once a kiwi plantation and now a noted center of Albariño excellence. Choose between the entry-level Pazo Señorans (lovely rose petal nose, good structure) and the Selección de Añada or vintage selection, a special cuvee from selected grapes (mineral, spicy and long-lasting).

Main photo: Galicia on Spain’s Atlantic coast is a land of scudding clouds, rocky shores lashed by furious waves and seafood-rich estuaries fringed with vines. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Read More
At Venissa restaurant in Venice, fresh squid is served on a bed of black risotto. Credit: Copyright 2013 Carla Capalbo

From dining on a romantic island in the Venetian lagoon to feasting on handmade pasta in Bologna, northern Italy’s gastronomic capital, this list guides you to the best places to eat in Italy’s northeast. Award-winning food writer Carla Capalbo has spent more than 20 years eating her way around Italy and has uncovered its best-kept secrets, from new-wave pizza to the elegant restaurant of one of the world’s top female chefs. She’s brought together great food for every budget, from take-away noodles to three-Michelin-star refinement.

With this list as your guide — the first of a series — you’ll have a fabulous eating holiday in Italy — whether you go in person or just dream from your armchair.

More from Zester Daily:

» 6 tips to finding fabulous authentic food in Italy

»  Tasty Italian hospitality

»  Tuscan cuisine remains a family affair

» 5-minute pasta sauce made with fresh tomatoes

Main photo: At Venissa restaurant in Venice, fresh squid is served on a bed of black risotto. Credit: Copyright 2013 Carla Capalbo

Read More
Soba salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Soba is a delightfully tasteful and nourishing noodle. Originating in Japan, soba is made with buckwheat, and the nutrient-rich noodle is associated with longevity and eaten year-round.

While soba is traditionally eaten plain with dipping sauce and herbs or in a hot broth, the noodle is finding its way onto Western plates because of its versatility and good flavor.

In more Westernized preparations, soba works great in salads and can work just as well with pasta sauce or pesto sauce. Some Japanese and Italians will raise their eyebrows, but why not?

Soba salad — a perfect summer food

A soba salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kristin Guy. Dine X Design

A soba salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kristin Guy. Dine X Design

I was a traditionalist when it came to soba until I had my first encounter with a soba salad. This happened while my mother was visiting from Tokyo one summer back in the early ’80s, during a heat wave. We accepted a lunch invitation from her Japanese schoolmate, Mrs. Hoffman, who lived in Thousand Oaks, and it turned out Mrs. Hoffman was making us soba for lunch.

As Japanese, we were, of course, expecting zaru soba — cold soba served with dipping sauce and herbs. But when the soba was served, it came in a form that neither my mother nor I had ever seen before — mixed with her garden tomatoes and greens and dressed with a vinaigrette in a big salad bowl.

We were both in shock, to put it lightly. We thought Mrs. Hoffman had become too Americanized and had bastardized our classic noodle. Mrs. Hoffman tossed the salad in front of us and plated the oil-coated soba and vegetables. This was her American husband’s favorite lunch, she told us.

At first, we were skeptical. But my mother raised me to try everything, so I did, and she did as well. The salad tasted surprisingly delicious. The earthiness of the soba gave the salad texture and umami flavor. The tomatoes added a nice sweetness.

We both loved the soba salad that day, and I’ve grown to appreciate a good soba salad. When I make it myself, I use greens, sliced radishes, fava beans, scallions and whatever fresh vegetables I find at the farmers market or in my garden. I serve the salad with a simple vinaigrette. (See recipe below.) I toss the soba with the vegetables at the last minute, so it doesn’t get mushy.

What’s in dried soba?

Soba noodles in dipping sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tomoko Kurokawa

Soba noodles in dipping sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tomoko Kurokawa

While dried pasta tastes pretty darn good, dried soba tastes, for the most part, rather flat and flavorless. Most dried soba fails because manufacturers make a wheat noodle containing only a token amount of buckwheat and still call it “soba.”

According to Japanese standards, dried soba noodles can be called soba only if they contain at least 30% buckwheat flour. Apparently, these standards were set during World War II, when soba production was low.

A few Japanese and American brands, such as Koma Soba and Eden Foods Soba, produce a 100% dried buckwheat noodle. They can be found in some health food stores as well as some Japanese markets, such as Nijiya , Mitsuwa and Marukai. You can’t beat fresh soba noodles, but these dried noodles will give you the traditional Japanese taste of the buckwheat noodle.

Packed with nutrients and flavor

Fresh soba dough being rolled out. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Fresh soba dough being rolled out. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Soba has played a medicinal role in Japan since ancient times. Buckwheat has an amino acid composition nutritionally superior to all cereals, surpassing oats, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Japan during the 17th century, buckwheat helped cure a large outbreak of beriberi, a disease caused by a vitamin B deficiency that results from eating too many refined foods such as white rice.

In addition to its healthful qualities, soba is sought after in Japan for its nutty flavor and good chew, although not too much is known in the West about its delicate flavor profiles.

Like other crops, buckwheat is known to take on the terroir of the land. Kitawase buckwheat from Hokkaido, Japan, is lightly fragrant and chewy, whereas Ibaraki’s Hitachi Akisoba is robust.

Soba made with fresh buckwheat flour tastes vastly different in flavor and texture than its dried counterpart. In the fresh version, you taste the nutty and roasted tea-like flavors of the buckwheat.

It’s faster and simpler to make soba than pasta, because it requires no resting time and the only other ingredient besides flour is water. Fresh noodles cook in less than 2 minutes.

When I make soba, I like using a flour mixture with a ratio of 8 parts buckwheat and 2 parts wheat flour called ni-hachi style soba, which has been a practice in Japan for more than 400 years. The added wheat gives the gluten-free buckwheat structure and stability.

Not all buckwheat flour you find in the U.S. makes good soba, because the milling is sometimes done poorly or it sits on the shelf too long. If the flour runs through your fingers like sand, it will not make good noodles. You should be able to clutch it your hand and form a peak.

In the United States, you can buy fresh, stone-milled, aromatic and coarse buckwheat flours and ni-hachi style soba flour from Anson Mills. I like to blend these varieties to make my own flour mix. You can also find soba-grade flour in Japanese markets such as Cold Mountain from Miyako. Whatever kind you buy, store it in the refrigerator.

Once you have made soba a few times, you can use 100% buckwheat flour instead of the 80% buckwheat-20% wheat mix. For those who are gluten intolerant, substitute tapioca flour for wheat flour in your dough.

Ideas for soba salad

Soba noodles tossed with fresh vegetables and a vinaigrette makes an easy summer salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Soba noodles tossed with fresh vegetables and a vinaigrette makes an easy summer salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Many Western chefs and food writers incorporate soba into their cooking. Zester Daily contributor Deborah Madison has written an insightful book called “Vegetable Literacy” that will educate you about vegetables, especially the chapter about the knotweed family, which includes buckwheat as well as rhubarb and sorrel. She includes in the book a recipe for a visually stunning and delicious Kale Soba Salad With Silvered Brussels Sprouts and Sesame Dressing. The salad is what initially turned me on to kale, and I frequently serve it at my soba workshops, because it’s always a hit.

Yotam Ottolengi’s cookbook “Plenty” includes a recipe for a sweet and summery Eggplant and Mango Soba Salad, which has become Yotam’s mother’s ultimate cook-to impress fare. Mango and eggplant? Weird, I first thought. But I was wrong. His plentiful use of herbs like cilantro and parsley and use of sweet and lime garlic vinaigrette in soba breaks all cultural barriers. Everyone loves this soba salad, and so do I.

Easy Soba Noodles for Beginners

Fresh soba noodles. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kristin Guy, Dine X Design

Fresh soba noodles. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kristin Guy, Dine X Design

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: Less than 5 minutes

Total time: About 25 minutes

Yield: 2 to 3 servings

Ingredients

12 ounces (350 grams) ni-hachi soba flour (premixed buckwheat flour and wheat flour)

6 ounces (175 grams) boiling water  (45% to 50% of the total weight the flour)

1 cup (125 grams) flour for dusting (use tapioca or cornstarch flour.)

2 gallons water to cook the noodles

Equipment

Digital scale

Mixing spoon

Rolling pin

Knife

Cutting board

Large pot

Strainer

Directions

For making the noodles:

1. Combine the flour and boiling water in a bowl, massaging the mixture, first with a wooden spoon then using both hands, until well combined. Continue to work the dough until it forms a single mass.

2. Transfer the dough from the bowl to a cutting board. Working quickly and using the heels of your hands, continue to knead firmly until a smooth dough forms. (If the dough feels dry, lightly wet the tips of your fingers with more water, brushing them against the surface of the dough and continue kneading until smooth). The process will take about 4 or 5 minutes, and the final dough will be a little soft and smooth but not sticky.

3. Form the dough into a smooth ball.

4. Dust cornstarch or tapioca flour on a large cutting board. Place the dough ball on the board and lightly sprinkle cornstarch or tapioca flour over the top. Using your palm and the heel of your hand, flatten the ball into a disk about a half-inch thick.

5. Use a rolling pin to roll the disk into a rectangle about 1/18-inch thick.

6. Generously dust cornstarch or tapioca flour over half the dough, then fold the undusted half over, like closing a book. (The cornstarch or tapioca flour keeps the dough from sticking together as it is cut.)

7. Generously dust another crosswise half of the dough with cornstarch or tapioca flour and fold in half again.

8. Starting along the short, folded side of the dough, slice it into very thin (about 1/16 of an inch) noodles.

9. Keep the noodles loosely covered with plastic wrap while you boil the water for cooking.

For cooking the noodles:

1. Bring a large pot of water (at least 2 gallons) to a boil over high heat.

2. Gently dust off the excess dusting flour from the noodles by gently tapping them against the cutting board. Drop the noodles into the boiling water.

3. Keep the water boiling vigorously to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Cook the noodles to al dente, about 90 seconds. (Timing will vary depending on the thickness of the noodles. Thicker noodles will need to cook longer.)

4. Remove the noodles to a strainer set in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

5. Prepare a second bowl of ice water and transfer to the second bowl to remove any surface starch and shock the noodles, then drain or strain them.

6. Serve immediately with your favorite salad dressing, dipping sauce or pasta sauce.

Lemon Miso Vinaigrette

Prep time: About 5 minutes

Ingredients

2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh ginger juice

1 tablespoons white miso paste

1/2 teaspoon cane sugar

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Whisk together all the ingredients and blend well.

2. Store in the refrigerator and use as you would any vinaigrette.

Main photo: Soba salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Read More
At the Secret Garden Restaurant, simple yet flavorful southern Vietnamese country-style food is served on handmade plates and bowls, with garnishes and ingredients changing with the seasons. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tu Van Cong

Asia is big, broad and delicious. With a thousand different identities, the food from the world’s fastest rising continent defies categorization. Zester Daily asked its contributors working throughout the world to tell us about their favorite Asian restaurants. They take us from Istanbul to the Far East with stops in Malaysia, Vietnam and South Korea, among others.

The variety of restaurants is thrilling. There is something for every pocketbook. What unites them all is a sense of adventure. These chefs are creating food that is both grounded in tradition and freed from convention.

We invite you to share our excitement about what’s happening today in Asian restaurants. Whether you are planning a trip, or just dreaming, we think you will find something deeply satisfying in this collection.


More from Zester Daily:

» Persian food shines apart from South Asian ties
» Sweet Asian pandan shrimp gives a new lift to Thai classic
» Review: In the kitchen with ‘Asian Grandmothers’
» Asian street food smarts

Main photo: At the Secret Garden Restaurant, simple yet flavorful southern Vietnamese country-style food is served on handmade plates and bowls, with garnishes and ingredients changing with the seasons. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tu Van Cong

Read More