Monday, June 01, 2015

Le Donne (The Ladies) de Terra Madre

Handmade tortellini - mesmerising!

The Oyster Ladies from Bretagna!

Slicing Lardo di Colonato.

Torrone Queens.

Slicing the prized 38 and 42 month old Pata Negra.

Just a snapshot of a few of the exhibitors.. Watching them, I got to thinking about how many slices, oysters and pieces of tortellini these hands have made. To all of the talented women artisans, spokespeople and exhibitors at Terra Madre, Grazie! 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Caciocavallo di Ciminà

No shortage of samples from friendly producers at Terra Madre 2014.
Caciocavallo has been made in the province of Calabria for many years and is easily recognisable by it's traditional shapes (an elongated egg shape or the form with the two knots at each end).  Techniques of manufacture of this classic are similar across the region but, as an agricultural product, show the typical diversity resulting from differences in the breeds selected, particular pastures, climate, and, of course, the cheesemaker.

In Ciminà, kid's rennet and, frequently, a portion of goats milk are used.  The typical forms of Caciocavallo are aged for about a month but that can vary depending on a size of the forms which range from 400 grams up to three kilograms. Smaller forms are perfect for local markets but larger sizes, best suited for longer aging, allow for export, the expansion of the industry and are a great resource for the small commumes where they are made.   

Cheese from Ciminà is a Slowfood Presidium.  as such, this project supports quality traditional products, the small scale producers who make them, and their associated communities.
What to do with this wonderful cheese? With it's flavours of grass, buttercups and gentle nuttiness, Caciocavallo is a table cheese like no other. A bit of wine, walnuts, salami and good company.. Mangia!  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

what to do with 'ndjua

'Ndjua from Spilinga at Terra Madre

'Ndjua is an odd thing.  I've spoken to many people who mostly fall into one of two camps: they have either A) never heard of the stuff or B) they are completely infatuated with it.  Is it better to have loved and lost that never to have loved at all?  Regardless of your situation, neither is the ideal because, while the fullness of flavour it imparts to dishes makes it a 'must try' in my opinion, the fact remains that 'ndjua IS notoriously difficult to find.  I've read about it being smuggled in carry on luggage, but I believe, vacuum packed (or in a jar), it's a fine souvenir to bring back to Canada, no worries.
So, say you 'know a guy', have access to 'ndjua (contraband or otherwise) or you are making your own and are wondering what to do with it.  To this end, I had the opportunity to speak to some excellent producers from the undisputed home of 'ndjua, Spilinga in Vibo Valentia, while at Terra Madre.

I was pretty thrilled to get some insider tips on the pork product du jour.  Here are some favourites, courtesy of L'Artigiano della 'ndjua:

Ziti or penne sauteed with melanzane e 'ndjua.
Squid salad with potatoes and 'ndjua
Scrambled eggs with 'ndjua

Recipes to follow.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Per Pasqua - Crostata di fichi

Corsican fig preserves
This fig and walnut jam is a favourite treat that I indulge in once, maybe twice, a year.  When the jam is in stock, I usually pick up a jar or two for the purpose of making crostate. I was inspired by this version, but have to admit to not being able to part with my modest fresh fig harvest to bake them in a crostata and do not have quite enough to make jam.  Maybe if I had the abondance as they do in Corsica (from where this jam is produced) or the abbondanza as in Italy, figs aplenty, I'd indulge more often.   

Once you have your basic (pasta frolla) pastry lined tart tin (the type with the removable edge is my preference) you can dab the bottom with Nutella for a little bit of chocolate throughout or leave it purely jam. And, while our Zia in the Valle d'Aosta mainly bakes and fries her bumper crop of the tart local apple, she also cooks them down to a deep, caramel colour and thick, spreadable consistency.  Then, she cuts some of her fig preserves with that for yet another version of this tart. 

The walnuts in this jam are an added twist, earthy and complementary to the sweet fig. You could even enhance the pastry with some walnuts if you're partial.

Mid morning pick me up.
Use of fig preserves only begins at sweet as they can provide balance to many savoury partners too: a simple accompaniment to a piece of cheese, maybe a fresh to moderately ripened goat or sheep cheese and many styles of blue, gently warmed and mixed with the slightest bit of vinegar and finely minced shallot to be drizzled over salad, or to partner with a cheese and/or onion tart.  And if you're lucky to have fresh, figs partner well with some salty prosciutto and spicy radicchio or arugula. 

This crostata goes very well with an espresso after Easter Sunday mass, is a perfect nibble to have for company and also good as a take along dessert.  With dessert covered, we're off to deliver some sgute to the kids before Sunday lunch at Nonna's house.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Transumanza in the Valle d'Aosta

The lovely Valdostana Pezzata Rosso - the essential component of one of my favourite cheeses, Fontina Valle d'Aosta. 

With the extreme exceptions of only the coldest winters, the sound of running water is almost always a constant sound outside of Zia's house.  But one sound I've never heard, because we typically visit in summer, are the bells of animals in pasture in the Valle d'Aosta, specifically in the località Valmeanaz, until this past autumn.

That's because, in the summer months, the cows are far up the mountains grazing on the fragrant grasses and flowers that make the milk (and consequently, the cheese) so special.  About the end of October, they are brought down from the mountains on the very roadways you will be driving on, so attenzione!  I pulled the Fiat over to let them pass and almost forgot to take a photo!

The bells are music.

Thank you to the mountain cheesemakers and to those who continue to live the pastoral life high in the Italian Alps. Grazie!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The tradition of wine and chestnuts

The sweet smell of roasting castagne. Chestnuts!
Roasting chestnuts is obviously a seasonal thing.  The gentle sweet nuttiness of roasted chestnuts makes me think of barren trees and grey late autumn days that are fading to winter, frost on the Fiat and somewhere warm to stand next to while peeling chestnuts.  Chestnuts also make me think of this cake.  Traditionally, they are a staple over Christmas starting with San Martino (for the new wine) in November and ending about the time of the Epifania (and Christmas visiting) on the 6th of January.   

How to pick and how to prep: assuming you aren't taking them straight from the tree, here is a good intro and primer.

Once we have prime specimens, we do it two ways: after notching the chestnuts with an 'x' or slicing a small corner (as above), they can be roasted direct on the stove top or over an open fire in the perforated pan.  Just remember to keep them moving! 

When they are done, wrap the chestnuts in a teatowel.  This lets them sweat and allows them to cool a little (making them easier to handle and peel).  Either way, one thing is certain, they are never far from a glass of vino.

The chestnuts pictured above were sweet indeed.  You don't get any fresher than these, roasted right on the stovetop and shared with Zia Mela, Maria, Stefano and Salvatore along with Salvatore's vino rosso.  Perfect.

To our dear Zia, thank you for your hospitality and I will see you again soon.  Be well.

Monday, March 23, 2015

No words.

The ethereal cannoli at Terra Madre.  Slightly sweetened ewe's milk ricotta, studded with crushed almonds..

At Terra Madre, a few of us were making our way around the booths early that first morning and having had the foresight (Grazie SlowCheese 2011), I suggested breakfast.

Glances and nodding, knowing smiles.  Nothing else to say.