Archive | March, 2013

Vinitaly! And A Fine Dinner Near Verona

Mid March – Mid April is a busy time for those involved with Italian wines: there’s Vinitaly, the wine trade fair in Verona, an annual event that wineries must attend and wine journalists ought to. Unfortunately, the show’s timing is horrid, falling at bottling time, which means that most of the wines being poured are freshly bottled, shocked to death, and very closed — or they’re barrel samples. Barrel samples are unfiltered and therefore not nearly as likely to be shocked (though they do get shaken up in getting to Verona), but their bouquets tend to be badly skewed, showing a strong predominance of oak if it was used, while the fruity/floral aromas that develop in the reducing environment of the bottle are weak or simply not there yet.

Why go, then? Because it’s the only place where one can taste lots of wines from throughout the Peninsula (and beyond; lots of foreign exhibitors too) conveniently. The current vintages may not be perfect, but they do give an idea of what the future will hold, and one can also find older vintages that are fine indeed.

The other reason to go is to network and hobnob; the days are long (9-7) but there’s always someone to look up or talk to — and go out to dinner with. A number of years ago, for example, on the last night I joined Elisabetta Fagiuoli, who makes extremely fine Vernaccia in Tuscany, but was born in Verona, and we went to dinner with old family friends of hers. A spectacular, very simple Veronese meal washed down with excellent wines from the Valpolicella made by one of our hosts, Lorenzo Begali.

WHEN IT WAS ALL OVER I found myself sitting, pad and pen in hand, writing down the recipes:

We began with Adriana’s Minestrone di Verdure, which is extraordinarily creamy. She notes that one can make it with pasta, but she prefers croutons.

We then had Costolette d’Agnello Scottadito, grilled lamb chops that get their name (finger-burning) from the fact that they’re so tasty people can’t wait for them to cool.

And Costicine di Maiale, pork spare ribs that were steamed and then grilled. Very tasty, and much less fat than one often encounters.

These were accompanied by polenta (in inch-high squares, unseasoned — taking the place of bread), grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini, sautéed wild greens, and a tossed green salad.

We finished with a number of cakes, the most spectacular of which was a Torts di Rose, a cake based on babà dough that someone gave Ivana in exchange for a couple of bottles of Recioto at Vinitaly (this exchange takes place every year). Rita’s fagottini stuffed with ground amaretti and strawberry jam were also nice, however, as was Lisetta’s hazelnut cake. And the Crema di Limoncello that wound things up was a delightful surprise.

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Limoncello

Vinitaly! And A Fine Dinner Near Verona

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True Limoncello is made in Sorrento, from lemons whose trees overlook the Mediterranean. However, if you have good lemons where you live (you’ll want organically grown), you can get pretty close. It’s not difficult.

Ingredients:

  • 15 thick-skinned lemons (Eureka, Lisbon or Citron if you’re in the US)
  • 2 bottles (750 ml each) of the best 100 proof Vodka or a 750 ml bottle of 190-proof alcohol
  • 4 1/2 cups (1 k) sugar
  • 5 cups (1.25 liters) water if you use vodka, or 8 cups (2 liters) water if you use grain alcohol

Wash the lemons in hot water before you start. Remove the peel with a potato peeler, removing all white pith on the back of the peel by scraping with a knife, and put the peels in a 4-quart Mason jar.

Add 1 bottle of Vodka, or half the alcohol, and stir. Cover the jar, date it, and put it to rest in a dark cabinet at room temperature.

After 40 days, take out the lemon-alcohol mixture. In a sauce pan set over high heat, stir the sugar and water together and boil for 5 minutes. Let the sugar syrup cool completely in the pan. Add the sugar syrup to the lemon-Vodka mixture along with the second bottle of Vodka or the remaining alcohol.

Stir well to combine. Replace the cover on the jar and note the finish date. Return it to the dark cabinet and store for 40 more days.

At day 80, remove the limoncello from the cabinet. Strain the mixture and discard the lemon peel.

Pour the limoncello into clean bottles with caps or decorative corked bottles. Put one in the freezer – Italians drink limoncello well chilled – and store the rest in the pantry.

Makes approximately 3 quarts.

Note: Grain alcohol is also known as Everclear, after a company that labels it as such.

A recipe for Limoncello Cream

Crema di Limoncello, Limoncello Cream

This is a very nice variation on the standard Limoncello from Sorrento, which I enjoyed at a dinner in the hinterland of Verona. You’ll need:

  • 4 organically grown lemons
  • 1 quart (1 liter) of grain alcohol
  • 1 quart (1 liter) of milk
  • 1 pound (450 g) of sugar
  • 1 pint (500 ml) of water

Using a paring knife, trim the zest from the lemons, leaving the white part behind, and steep the zest in the alcohol for several days, shaking the jar daily. Combine the water, milk, and sugar and bring it to a boil 4-5 times, removing it from the burner each time it boils up. This serves to keep it from curdling subsequently.

Once the milk has boiled up for the last time, remove it from the fire and let it cool a bit. Stir in the alcohol, at which point the mixture should become thick and creamy. Let the mixture cool a little more and bottle it, pouring it through a fine wire mesh strainer into a funnel to filter out lemon zest and any large curds that might have formed. Let it sit for 3-4 days, and it’s ready to serve.

The rest of the meal this was served in.
A More Traditional Limoncello

Lisetta’s Torta di Nocciole, Hazelnut Cake

Hazelnuts are astonishingly delicate, and make for delightful cakes. Though I tend to associate them with Piemonte, thanks to the stands hazelnuts around Alba, they’re popular throughout the North. Lisetta made this cake for a wonderful dinner in Valpolicella and was kind enough to share the recipe. It goes by weight and you may find it easier to calculate it thusly, rather than convert it to volumes.

  • 9 ounces (250 g) toasted hazelnuts
  • 4 ounces (100 g) Oro Saiwa Cookies (Graham crackers will do as a substitute)
  • 4 ounces (100 g, 1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces (150 g, 3/4 cup) sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 6 ounces (150 g) baking chocolate, crumbled

Whirl the nuts and cookies in a blender until they’re a fairly fine powder. Combine it with the crumbled chocolate. Cream the egg yolks, sugar and butter until the mixture is pale yellow.

Preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C).

Whip the whites to firm peaks. Combine the nut and cracker mixture with the butter mixture, then fold in the whites. Transfer the batter into a cake pan of size sufficient for it to be about an inch deep, and bake it for 30 minutes.

The rest of the meal this was served in.

Rita’s Fagottini con Crema di Amaretti e Fragole

These little pastries are quite tasty and much simpler than one might guess. Rita made them for a dinner among friends in Valpolicella and was kind enough to share the recipe:

You’ll need frozen puff pastry dough, amaretti di Saronno, and strawberry jam.

Thaw the dough according to the directions on the package, roll it out, and cut it into 2-inch (5 cm) squares. Grind the amaretti, or whirl them in a blender, to a fine powder. Combine the powder with strawberry jam to obtain a sweet paste, varying the proportions of the two ingredients to suit your taste.

Preheat your oven to 420 F (210 C), and while it’s heating put a teaspoon of the filling on each of the squares. Fold the corners of the squares up and pinch the tips together to form little baskets, and put them on a lightly greased and floured cookie sheet. Bake the fagottini for about 20 minutes, or until they have puffed up and are nicely browned.

Let them cool and they’re ready.

The rest of the meal this was served in.