Archive | May, 2013

Starting the Meal: An Antipasto Misto

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto

In much (but not all) of Italy a festive meal begins with a variety of appetizers, which are known as antipasti – literally, before the meal. These antipasti vary considerably from place to place, but will often include a selection of pickles and other firm vegetables, which are known as an antipasto misto.

In this platter, prepared by the Trattoria il Borgo, a restaurant Franciacorta’s Azienda Villa opened in Monticelli Brusati (not far from Brescia), we have Pickled Artichokes, Stewed Mushrooms, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Pickled Onions, and Giardiniera, a vegetable medley. In the next shots I have highlighted them one at a time, to help you recognize them.

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto: Pickled Artichokes

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto: Pickled Artichokes

Carciofi Sott’Olio, Pickled Artichokes
Fresh artichokes are standard fare during the winter in Italy, playing an important role in pasta sauces and risotti, and are also nice as either the main course (stuffed, usually), or a side dish.

Carciofi Sott’Olio, artichokes packed in oil, are instead popular year round, and are among the standard elements of an antipasto misto. They’re also nice on pizza, either in conjunction with ham, or in a Quattro Stagioni, a pizza with ham, artichoke hearts, prosciutto, mushrooms, and olives.

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto: Stewed Mushrooms

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto: Stewed Mushrooms

Funghi Trifolati, Stewed Mushrooms
Italian cooking is above all seasonal, and you’ll find that in the selection of vegetables that go into an antipasto misto too. This platter was prepared in the fall, during mushroom season, and stewed wild porcini naturally find a place.

In the spring you might find something else, for example a couple of asparagus tips and a slice of hard-boiled egg.

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto: Sun Dried Tomatoes

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto: Sun Dried Tomatoes

Pomodori Secchi, Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes are more of a southern thing in Italy, in part because the southern climate is more conducive to growing tomatoes, and in part because the tremendous volume of tomatoes produced in the south leads naturally to drying some of them.

Southerners therefore do more with sun-dried tomatoes than northerners do — they put them in pasta sauces, for example, or add them to dishes to provide flavor.

In the north, on the other hand, they’re primarily used as antipasti, and are very nice to nibble on.

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto: Pickled Button Onions

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto: Pickled Button Onions

Cipolline Sotto Aceto, Pickled Button Onions
Pickled button onions are extremely versatile. They add depth and zest to a platter of mixed antipasti, and are also a perfect accompaniment to blander foods, for example the boiled meats one obtains if one makes broth at home, or boiled vegetables. You can also use them (sliced in half, perhaps) as a garnish with other dishes, for example boiled or roast fish.

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto: Giardiniera

A Vegetarian Antipasto Misto: Giardiniera

Giardiniera, A Pickled Vegetable Medley
Giardiniera, a mixture of pickled vegetables, is the one element you can be certain of finding in an antipasto misto. The vegetables involved will depend upon the tastes of the person who prepared the giardiniera, but will consist of vegetables that remain firm when pickled, for example carrots, onions, celery, cauliflower florets, and baby cucumbers.

Shot 1

Starting the Meal: An Antipasto Misto

A in much (but not all) of Italy a festive meal begins with a variety of appetizers, which are known as antipasti – literally, before the meal. These antipasti vary considerably from place to place, but will often include a selection of pickles and other firm vegetables, which are known as an antipasto misto.

In this platter, prepared by the Trattoria il Borgo, a restaurant Franciacorta’s Azienda Villa opened in Monticelli Brusati (not far from Brescia), we have Pickled Artichokes, Stewed Mushrooms, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Pickled Onions, and Giardiniera, a vegetable medley. In the next shots I have highlighted them one at a time, to help you recognize them.

Shot 2:

Carciofi Sott’Olio, Pickled Artichokes

Fresh artichokes are standard fare during the winter in Italy, playing an important role in pasta sauces and risotti, and are also nice as either the main course (stuffed, usually), or a side dish.

Carciofi Sott’Olio, artichokes packed in oil, are instead popular year round, and are among the standard elements of an antipasto misto. They’re also nice on pizza, either in conjunction with ham, or in a Quattro Stagioni, a pizza with ham, artichoke hearts, prosciutto, mushrooms, and olives.

Shot 3:

Funghi Trifolati, Stewed Mushrooms

Italian cooking is above all seasonal, and you’ll find that in the selection of vegetables that go into an antipasto misto too. This platter was prepared in the fall, during mushroom season, and stewed wild porcini naturally find a place.

In the spring you might find something else, for example a couple of asparagus tips and a slice of hard-boiled egg.

Shot 4:

Pomodori Secchi, Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Sun-dried tomatoes are more of a southern thing in Italy, in part because the southern climate is more conducive to growing tomatoes, and in part because the tremendous volume of tomatoes produced in the south leads naturally to drying some of them.

Southerners therefore do more with sun-dried tomatoes than northerners do — they put them in pasta sauces, for example, or add them to dishes to provide flavor.

In the north, on the other hand, they’re primarily used as antipasti, and are very nice to nibble on.

Shot 5:

Cipolline Sotto Aceto, Pickled Button Onions

Pickled button onions are extremely versatile. They add depth and zest to a platter of mixed antipasti, and are also a perfect accompaniment to blander foods, for example the boiled meats one obtains if one makes broth at home, or boiled vegetables. You can also use them (sliced in half, perhaps) as a garnish with other dishes, for example boiled or roast fish.

Shot 6:

Giardiniera, A Pickled Vegetable Medley

Giardiniera, a mixture of pickled vegetables, is the one element you can be certain of finding in an antipasto misto. The vegetables involved will depend upon the tastes of the person who prepared the giardiniera, but will consist of vegetables that remain firm when pickled, for example carrots, onions, celery, cauliflower florets, and baby cucumbers.

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To Begin the Meal: Affettati Misti

A Platter of Affettati Misti, Mixed Cold Cuts

A Platter of Affettati Misti, Mixed Cold Cuts

In much (but not all) of Italy a festive meal will begin with a variety of appetizers, which are known as antipasti – literally, before the meal. These antipasti vary considerably from place to place, but they will often include a selection of cold cuts, which are known as affettati misti.

In this platter, prepared by the Trattoria il Borgo, a restaurant Franciacorta’s Azienda Villa opened in Monticelli Brusati (not far from Brescia), we have Capocollo, Mortadella, Pancetta, Prosciutto, and Salame.

A Platter of Affettati Mist: Capocollo, or Coppa

A Platter of Affettati Mist: Capocollo, or Coppa

Capocollo, also known as coppa, is cured pork shoulder butt, and like almost all Italian cold cuts, is salted and air-cured with herbs and spices. No heat involved. It’s fairly lean, and delicately flavored.

A Platter of Affettati Mist: Mortadella di Bologna

A Platter of Affettati Mist: Mortadella di Bologna

Mortadella’s full name is Mortadella di Bologna, from whence the name of its American offshoot, Bologna.

It’s a cooked pork sausage made from pork ground fine in a mortar (hence the Italian name, from mortaio) with spices and cubes of fat. Mortadellas range tremendously in size, from little ones for home use to monsters more than a foot in diameter and ten long for delicatessens. There are also variations, for example mortadella with cubes of ham or mortadella with pistachio nuts.

A Platter of Affettati Mist: Pancetta Arrotolata

A Platter of Affettati Mist: Pancetta Arrotolata

Pancetta is made from a cut called pork side, which is what remains after the loin and spare ribs are removed. This is the same cut used to make bacon, though pancetta is simply cured with salt, spices, and herbs — no heat, no smoking, and none of the sugar that often goes into bacon.

You’ll find two kinds of pancetta in Italian delicatessens: flat and arrotolata, or rolled.

Flat is generally more strongly flavored, and is used primarily as a flavoring agent — chopped, sliced or diced, depending upon the recipe. Pancetta arrotolata is often milder, and can be served finely sliced as an antipasto. If well cured it’s quite delicate, with the fattier parts resembling cured lard in flavor and texture.

A Platter of Affettati Mist: Prosciutto

A Platter of Affettati Mist: Prosciutto

People have written books about Northern Italy’s cured raw hams. Broadly speaking, prosciutto can be divided into two categories, dolce (sweet), and salato, casalingo, or Toscano (salty, home made, or Tuscan). The former is more refined and more expensive, and is what we have here.
The most common varieties of prosciutto dolce are Parma, made in Emilia Romagna,  and San Daniele, made in Friui Venezia Giulia. Both should have deep red meat and pure white fat. The former are rounded and rather stubby, while the latter are pressed to give them their characteristic “Stradivarian” shape (by women, according to the Consorzio, as men lack the necessary touch).

Prosciutto salato, on the other hand, is more heavily salted, and is also rubbed with a spice mixture called agliata, made with garlic and pepper. The meat is frequently darker in color, and the fat can be pinkish.

A Platter of Affettati Mist: Prosciutto

A Platter of Affettati Mist: Prosciutto

A Salame (plural salami; cold cuts in general are called salumi, with a u) is a cured sausage generally made by grinding lean pork with pork fat to make a paste, and stuffing the paste into a casing, generally pig’s intestine. The salame is then aged in a cool dark, well ventilated place until it’s ready. Like prosciutto, Italian salami is raw, with the meat being cured by the salt in the spice mix.

The concept sounds simple and is, but within the category there are tremendous variations, both in the grind of the meat and the fat, which result in different textures, and in the spicing mixes used to season the meat.

Because of this, almost every town in Italy has a local salame, and if the town isn’t known for its pork it may be made from another kind of meat, for example asino (ass) or oca (goose – Friuli Venezia Giulia is known for its goose salami and prosciutto, both of which are made under Rabbinical supervision and thus Kosher).

Giardiniera, Or Mixed Pickled Vegetables

Giardiniera, A Pickled Vegetable Medley

Giardiniera, A Pickled Vegetable Medley

This is what most Italians think of when they hear the words Sotto Aceti, which are pickled vegetables. The standard Italian antipasto misto wouldn’t be quite right without some giardiniera, and it also works very well with boiled meats or fish in the winter months. This recipe will make about 2 1/2 pounds of giardiniera, and though you might be tempted to put it all into one big jar, you’ll be better off using several smaller jars because the contents of an open jar loose their freshness. Also, if you fill small jars, they will make excellent gifts.

You’ll need:

  • 10 ounces (250 g) button onions, peeled and soaked in cold water for an hour
  • 10 ounces (250 g) baby carrots, peeled and cut into short sticks (if the carrots are thick, quarter them lengthwise too)
  • 10 ounces (250 g) white celery, stalks only, stripped of filaments and cut into short lengths
  • A medium-sized cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 1 quart (1 liter) white wine vinegar (have more handy)
  • Olive oil
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon salt

The vegetables listed are the standard ones one finds in almost every recipe, but you can add other things to suit your taste, for example baby mushrooms, string beans, zucchini, baby cucumbers, or artichoke hearts. In short, feel free to experiment.

Set the vinegar to boil with the herbs, spices and salt. While it’s heating separate the cauliflower florets. When the vinegar comes to a boil, add the vegetables and cook them for about 15 minutes. Remove them to the jars with a slotted spoon and pour the boiling hot vinegar over them; have more boiling vinegar handy should that in which you cooked the vegetables not be sufficient.

Sprinkle a tablespoon of olive oil over the top of each jar, cover them tightly, and let them cool. Store them in a cool dark place for a couple of weeks, and they’re ready for use. Expect them to keep for a year.

The Ristorante La Speranza’s Antipasto Misto: What’s On the Plate

Armando, my Roman friend who made us Pajata and Coda alla Vaccinara, is close friends with the folks who run the Ristorante La Speranza, and we therefore found ourselves headed off towards Colle Val D’Elsa with his family and Cousin Claudia’s, both to celebrate her birthday and to enjoy a bistecca alla fiorentina, the specialty of the house.

It’s a frankly homey place, in the open countryside on the road from Colle towards Follonica (the exact location is a hamlet called La Speranza), and is the sort of place that truckers and sales reps, two classes of people who know value when it comes to eating on the road, stop at en masse during the week. On weekends it’s families, mostly local, and business is again brisk. Little wonder; the people are friendly, the service courteous, and as I said, the atmosphere is decidedly like home.

La Speranza's Antipasto Misto

La Speranza’s Antipasto Misto

We began with an antipasto misto, or mixed appetizer.

La Speranza's Antipasto Misto: Crostini

La Speranza’s Antipasto Misto: Crostini

Breaking it down, here we have crostini, slices of bread that are sometimes toasted (or even fried in butter) and then topped with a spread. Going from top to bottom, the spreads are: bell pepper in a creamy sauce, chicken liver, and tuna, which is again creamy.

La Speranza's Antipasto Misto: A Frittatina

La Speranza’s Antipasto Misto: A Frittatina

And this is a frittatina, or flan, with herbs. Frittate are common in roman antipasti, but less so in Tuscany, and it was a nice touch.

La Speranza's Antipasto Misto: Finocchiona

La Speranza’s Antipasto Misto: Finocchiona

No Tuscan antipasto would be complete without cold cuts, and here we have finocchiona, a fennel-laced salami that is said to have been invented (discovered?) in the city of Prato, when a thief took a salami from a stand at a fair, and when the merchant began to holler hid it the grass off from the fair grounds. The grass turned out to have wild fennel growing in it, whose aromas penetrated the salami, and the result was so good that people began to make finocchiona. There are two kinds, one that is relatively firm (and we have here), and another that is quite crumbly, and therefore called sbriciolona — it can only be cut in thick slices, and if you like fattier cold cuts is a delightful treat.

La Speranza's Antipasto Misto: Prosciutto

La Speranza’s Antipasto Misto: Prosciutto

This is instead prosciutto toscano, which is also known as prosciutto casalingo, and is saltier than the prosciutti made towards Parma or in San Daniele. Saltiness is a characteristic of Tuscan cold cuts, and some say the added salt in the cure is a way of offsetting the total lack of salt in Tuscan bread, which non-Tuscans often find insipid. Makes sense to me.

La Speranza's Antipasto Misto: Salame Toscano

La Speranza’s Antipasto Misto: Salame Toscano

And here we have salame toscano, which has fairly large pieces of fat in it, and is again quite flavorful.

La Speranza's Antipasto Misto: Giardiniera

La Speranza’s Antipasto Misto: Giardiniera

The final item in our antipasto misto is giardiniera, mixed pickled vegetables. Tasty, and they provide a pleasant contrast to the meats and crostini.

La Speranza's Antipasto Tagliatelle Sul Capriolo

La Speranza’s Antipasto Tagliatelle Sul Capriolo

After the antipasto a couple of people opted for lasagne alla bolognese, with béchamel sauce and meat sauce, but our waiter mentioned fettuccine sul capriolo, fettuccine with a venison sauce, and since venison is much rarer than wild boar, I opted for it. And it was good!

La Speranza's Roast Lamb

La Speranza’s Roast Lamb

Then came the meats, and as I have said before, when I find lamb on the menu I am invariably tempted because neither of our kids particularly enjoy it, and we therefore rarely have it at home. This roast lamb, from a larger animal, was quite tasty.

La Speranza's Antipasto Misto: Bistecca

La Speranza’s Antipasto Misto: Bistecca

And then there was the bistecca la Speranza is famed for. I’m not sure why it came with a deep cut above the fillet — I didn’t go into the kitchen — but it was both flavorful and quite tender, and definitely worth the trip.

Peperonata, Stewed Peppers

Peperonata, Stewed Peppers

There were also pork spare ribs that I didn’t photograph, and salads, french fries, and peperonata, bell peppers stewed with a fair amount of tomato, which I found quite tasty.

Dessert was a birthday cake — a lemony bavarese, or Bavarian Cream, and since it came from a pastry shop, and not La Speranza’s kitchen, I didn’t take a picture.

Bottom line: If you want to enjoy traditional Tuscan home cooking, La Speranza is difficult to beat, and worth driving out to. For that matter, it’s also nicely located, mid-way between San Galgano and San Gimignano, and would therefore be a good place to stop if you’re taking a day trip through the Tuscan countryside.

Ristorante La Speranza, Località la Speranza, on the road from Colle Val D’Elsa to Follonica, tel 0577 929 696. Open daily except for Monday nights and Tuesdays.

At The Ristorante Degli Angeli in Magliano Sabina: An IGP Lunch

Ristorante Degli Angeli's View From the Terrace

Ristorante Degli Angeli’s View From the Terrace

Last year, during our return trip from the presentation of the 2008 Taurasi, Carlo Macchi exited the highway at Magliano Sabina and began to wind his way up a steep narrow twisty road whose only saving characteristic was good asphalt; I had no idea where we were going, but when we arrived at our destination, the Ristorante degli Angeli, was very much impressed by the food and the service.

This year when we decided to arrange a meeting of the Giovani Promettenti, it was obvious that it would have to include food, and just as obvious that it should be held in a place that would be mid-way between Tuscany, where some of us are, and Naples, where Luciano is. Rome is at the mid-point, but it can take hours to get from the highway into town, so it wasn’t a good solution. Magliano Sabina instead is, and we therefore decided to return to the Trattoria degli Angeli once again. And were quite happy with our decision; the food was, if anything, better than last time, and with our noggins well supplied with vital nutrients the meeting was a great success.

Ristorante Degli Angeli Bell Pepper Cream

Ristorante Degli Angeli Bell Pepper Cream

While we were browsing the menus we were brought bell pepper mousse, served with crisply toasted bread, and it was just the thing to set the atmosphere.

Ristorante Degli Angeli Guanciale And Artichoke Hearts

Ristorante Degli Angeli Guanciale And Artichoke Hearts

The antipasti section of the menu is rich and varied, with hot and cold options. I selected guanciale, cured pork jowl, with pickled artichoke hearts and toasted bread.

Ristorante Degli Angeli Luciano's Antipasto

Ristorante Degli Angeli Luciano’s Antipasto

Luciano had I’m not sure what, but it looked good.

Ristorante Degli Angeli Coratella

Ristorante Degli Angeli Coratella

And Carlo, who is irresistibly drawn the the quinto quarto — everything that remains when the four quarters of the animal have been chopped up, in other words organ meats — opted for coratella, which is lamb liver, heart, and lungs, which can be prepared in all manner of ways. Here they were stewed and tasty.

Ristorante Degli Angeli Fettuccine with Figoccette

Ristorante Degli Angeli Fettuccine with Figoccette

The first was a surprise; the waitress sized us up and asked if we wanted to try Fettuccine con le Figoccette, which are fettuccine seasoned with a sauce made from the buds that form (and fall off) where a fig tree will later make figs; in this part of Lazio they harvest them, wash them, remove the resin they contain, and then sautè them and use them to season pasta, together with cheese. “Sfizioso assai,” quite fanciful, said Luciano.

Ristorante Degli Angeli Roast Gunea Hen

Ristorante Degli Angeli Roast Gunea Hen

Afterwords a number of us opted for roast guinea hen.

I instead decided on Agnello Socttadito, roast lamb chops, because neither of my kids likes lamb, and I therefore enjoy it when I can.

Ristorante Degli Angeli Agnello Scottadito

Ristorante Degli Angeli Agnello Scottadito

And I did.

Ristorante Degli Angeli's Agnello Scottadito, Gone

Ristorante Degli Angeli’s Agnello Scottadito, Gone

Ristorante Degli Angeli Orange and Olive Salad

Ristorante Degli Angeli Orange and Olive Salad

With it, an orange and baked olive salad in which the bitterness of the olives contrasted nicely with the sweet acidity of the oranges.

The Ristorante Degli Angeli's Strozzapreti Piccanti

The Ristorante Degli Angeli’s Strozzapreti Piccanti

Since we hadn’t eaten enough, instead of dessert we were offered a second pasta dish, Strozzapreti Piccanti, which consisted of home-made strozzapreti seasoned with a sauce made from sweet and hot pepper, anchovy fillets, wild fennel, and herbs. Nice and it packed a punch.

Ristorante Degli Angeli Sorbet

Ristorante Degli Angeli Sorbet

I then opted for a sorbetto

Ristorante Degli Angeli Caffè

Ristorante Degli Angeli Caffè

And of course, coffee.

Ristorante Degli Angeli IGP, The Young And Promising

Ristorante Degli Angeli IGP, The Young And Promising

From left to right, Roberto, Stefano, me, Luciano and Carlo. It was close to 4 PM by the time we finished talking and started home. A fine day, and if you’re in the vicinity of Magliano Sabina (it’s a little ways north of Rome, off the A1 Autostrada, by all means think about stopping at the Ristorante degli Angeli!