Tag Archives: Italy

Truffle Salt- my new addiction

Avocado on Toast with Truffle Salt

This week’s gourmet in a flash recipe in Globe Life. Avocado and truffle salt on toast.

How did I not discover truffle salt before?  It was in California visiting my brother that I got slightly obsessed.  Dave and Erin had received some for Christmas from Erin’s food loving brother Chris.  Soon we were sprinkling it on everything– on eggs to finish pizza (amazing–why have any other toppings in fact) and even on our steak fajitas and what better on popcorn?   And you can always just go with plain Tuscan butter, baguette and truffle salt.

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This week we featured it the weekly  quick gourmet recipe for the Globe.  My new favourite lunch, see above.

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Truffle salt from Williams- Sonoma

Not all truffle salts are created equal I have discovered, some taste more like salt with some black specs that might be truffle– but the one I got from Williams Sonoma is amazingly earthy and rich–the smell is fantastic.  Keep it in your bag–smelling salts for foodies.  Not cheap–about $35.00 but you really don’t have to use much at all.  Maybe a nice host or hostess gift even, if you really the people.  Otherwise stick with the Yellowtail….kidding!  (Unless you always bring Yellowtail and it works, then yah, def stick with it.)

Pass on any good truffle salt uses you have found if you like it too.  Because you know, using it a zillion times a day just isn’t enough.

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Fruli Strawberry Wheat Beer chills out with Italian Cheese

Do you feel like you could take a sip?  Tempting, isn’t it.

When it gets as hot as it has been, I don’t like to turn on the oven.  Removing things from the fridge on the other hand, that I can do.    I had some Fruli Strawberry Wheat beer chilling  and had been planning on doing a cheese pairing.  No time like the hottest day ever.  Fruli is a Belgian fruit beer that is fermented with 30% real strawberries. It’s also scented with coriander and orange peel.  If you find beer too bitter but cocktails too cloying, this might just hit the sweet spot. It’s refreshing and easy to drink (and only 125 calories per bottle–ideal during bathing suit season, unless you have a wrap, in which case go for it with the iced Frappucinos).

The Fruli is fruity, sweet, with a soft carbonation and a little bit of tang.  A classic pairing would be to serve chevre, with it’s creamy texture and smooth acidity.  But I wanted to indulge myself. (Hey, if the beer’s only 125 calories…)

Piedmonte’s La Tur is made with a perfect balance of cow, sheep and goat milk

I treated myself to a wheel of La Tur which is also a bright, tangy cheese (aged about 10-15 days before hitting the market) with a buttery mouthfeel.  Made in Piedmont, Italy, it has a wrinkled bloomy rind and ripens from outside in, usually firm in the centre. There is an earthyness to the cheese and mushroom notes at the rind which worked nicely with the natural fruit flavour of the beer.

La Tur, wedge

The Fruli’s bubbles cleansed the palate between bites–allowing me to enjoy what is a fairly rich cheese for a humid, hot day.  The sweetness of the strawberry beer contrasted nicely with the tang of the wedge.  This combination would make a great finish to a special meal. (Or just at any time of day–like Tuesday at 4:17 pm).

Ricotta Salata, Italy

Ricotta Salata (salata means salty) was my second pairing.  This is a sheep’s milk ricotta which is pressed and aged about 3 months giving it a firm, slightly spongy texture.  The salt-factor was a perfect counterpoint to the sweet flavours of the beer but the cheese itself was mellow and milky so didn’t overpower the Fruli.  This cheese goes well with grilled veggies and I think the strawberry wheat beer, this ricotta, fresh bread and some grilled zucchini would make a fine, fine meal.

Also a very portable and picnic friendly match–cheese in one hand, Fruli in the other.  Someone rubbing sunblock on your shoulders.  That’s the life.

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Toast Post: Maytag Blue

wallpaper for a small sitting room

Maytag Blue.  I’d never had it, I’d heard about it, I’d associated it with the washing machine repair guy.  So when I was looking for a blue cheese to pair with my oven roasted fig ball from Cheese Boutique it did not cross my mind.  I was thinking of Bleu D’Auvergne.  But then Afrim at C.B. gave me a taste of this fruity, creamy and very fresh blue.  Which means (in my mind) it smelled like the outdoors (not like a sheet of Bounce supposedly smells like the outdoors.)

And actually, it is the son of the Maytag appliance founder that created this cheese.  So the above association is correct.  Sometimes you’re smarter than you think.  Often not.

It was a perfect pairing  with this fig ball (Artibel is the producer)

peel away figs like orange segments

The fig ball hails from Italy’s Calabria region and here is some more info from the Italian Harvest website.

The fig balls  preparation involves drying the figs for days, then oven glazing and packing them together with molasses and honey of figs. This preparation is then wrapped in a fig leaf and tied with a piece of straw, creating an intriguing and interesting old world appearance (packaging in stainless steel would not be the same at all).  These figs are extremely rich, moist, and densely packed. (yes, the fig ball kicks dense, sweet ass.)

Mr. Pristine at C.B. said that fresh fig balls would be arriving in November and I am thinking this would be pretty wonderful for entertaining as the holidays are upon us.  Afterall, nothing says “I remember” more than a fig ball on Remembrance Day.  Other than a poppy.  Yes, I concede, that might be better.

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Toast Post: Burrata

Forget babies, storks should deliver Burrata.

Out of the way triple-cream cheese, Burrata is here.  Here for a good time, not a long time (in the wise lyrics of the Trooper song.  They used to have burrata thrown on stage during concerts.).  As much as you want your Mozzarella di Bufala to be fresh, you want your Burrata to be newborn.  You want the exterior to be delicate and tender as possible while the inside is creamy, oozy heaven.  Heaven in this case being small, elastic bits of the torn mozzarella (stracciatella) mixed with rich cream.  It should be buttery, sweet and fresh in flavour.  It should make you weep.  Just a little bit.

Makes you feel a little savage. I WANT THIS NOW!

Burrata was once upon a time made with buffalo milk but now it’s made mainly cow’s milk. Originating in Southern Italy (in Puglia) the name comes from the Italian word “burro” (butter).  You might find it wrapped in green leek-like leaves called “asphodel” and the fresher/greener the leaves, the fresher the burrata.

More importantly, I have not yet made you drool to the maximum.  Here is the burrata “fork to mouth”.  My mouth.  And I never even made it to the bread.

Crazy Good. More than Pop Tarts even.

No matter what you do, if you rip this open in the car while driving or serve it at home– please–eat it at room temperature.  Warm it in a bowl of warm water (in a plastic bag or whatever wrap it came in) if you can’t wait to get to it.  Like batteries, you can hold it under your armpit to warm it up but this is best done out of site of guests or even the general public.

Most importantly, don’t share.  That’s just a crazy idea.  Your kindergarten teacher did not know about burrata when she taught you that rule.  (Though, she was right about not eating the glue even if it was glittery and bright.)

Burrata is now available at All the Best Fine Foods every Friday (flown in from Italy) until mid-September and on offer at Obika Mozzarella Bar.

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Busting (out) Some Sicilian Balls

Can I be this good? We shall see.

It wasn’t until I had the addictive arancine at Enoteca Sociale that I decided to try and make them myself. They were so delicious that I could not bear to be without immediate access in my own home.  When I say immediate I mean after you’ve made the rice and the ragu for the filling and dredged them and deep fried them.  But after that–they’re ready in a jiff!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The arancine would be my first foray into deep-frying (in my own kitchen). My bible would be The Saveur ‘Sicily” issue (March 2011), currently sitting on the back-burner of my desk taunting me with amazing recipes for local Sicilian dishes (recipe here).

I made the ragu in advance.  Not so much an indication of proper planning and forethought–more a result of “Oh crap– that beef has been sitting in the fridge forever”  Which is why the pictures below, taken at 11pm at night under tungsten lights are a bit….yellow.   I started out with a finely chopped mirepoix (celery, onion, carrot) which I sautéed until soft.

You then add in ground beef and ground pork and cook until browned.  Finally you add fresh, strained tomato sauce and some tomato paste and simmer until it thickens (30 minutes-ish).

Finally, let the sauce cool and put it in the fridge.  Meanwhile you make your rice.  In my case, you make the sauce and put it in the fridge and make the rice 2 days later. (as you can see, it might just be faster to cross town and go to Enoteca Sociale for my arancine fix).  But less an adventure.

Love this machine. Less incidence of runny mascara. (and mascara is KEY to a good arancine.)

For the rice you begin with a minced, small red onion and sautéed over medium til softened. The you add 1 1/2 cup Arborio rice.

Arborio Rice- pearly white, short-grained rice used for risotto

Once you stir in the rice and coat with the oil and onion, you add the key ingredient “1/4 tsp crushed saffron“.  Well, it did not even occur to me I did not have saffron.  Until I could not find it–did I hastily purge it one day in with “clean out the pantry” conviction?  Or was it just stuck somewhere in a large crack in the back of my very deep, 1960s cupboards which would require removing about 15 bottle of various oils and vinegars to even begin a search.  What to do!?  So much for mise-en-place.

I had no choice, I just added some turmeric for colour at least.  (Shhh, don’t tell anyone in Sicily).  Then I added 1 1/2 cups water, brought it up to a boil and removed it from the heat.  You need to let it sit for 20 minutes.

In case your imagination can't handle a covered pot with arborio rice inside.

I grated 2 tbsp of parmesan while I waited and stirred that into the rice with some salt and pepper.

Once everything is combined you spread the rice on a tray and let it cool.

Don’t you (kind of) want to press your face into this?

Meanwhile you can make your batter by whisking together 1/4 cup flour, 2 eggs and 1/2 cup water. Set up a separate bowl for the bread crumbs.

At this point, I am thinking, this is so much fun.

Assembly:  You take a hearty tbsp of the rice in your hand a flatten it into a disc. Then make a bit of a well in the centre and then put in about 1 tbsp of your cooled ragu.

Using your fingers you bring the edges of the rice around the filling to gently enclose the ragu.  Finally you roll the ball around in your hand to seal it and to slightly compact the mixture. The recipe makes 2 dozen arancine.

It works. Now to make 23 more.

It took a bit of practise to figure out how much ragu was too much, and to seal it without the ragu showing through.  Donna, our babysitter, had actually stayed to watch me finish and I think after one ragu ball and 23 more to go she was regretting her enthusiasm.  “I’d just buy them frozen” she said.  (Have I mentioned how much more efficient Donna is than me?)

Finally, they were done.  I actually made 22, so I think I sized them fairly well.

Now to dredge in the batter and coat in the bread crumbs.

Pre-dredge.

I started heating up the Canola oil in my Dutch Oven bringing it up to 360 F.

Battered and ready for service. Enoteca here I come!

I fried the arancine in batches of four.

Frying arancine feels rustic, unlike frying mozzarella which feels like a hangover.

Recipe says to pop them into the hot oil for about 3 minutes until the exterior is golden.  I timed it and 3 minutes seemed about right.  Finally my 22 balls of arancine are down and cooling on paper towels.

Oh boy--I wish there was more than two adults and a toddler to eat 22 of these.

And voila! (wait, that’s French) ummm, Tah-Dah!  Is that universal?  My Sicilian balls were a success.  I will make these again.  Maybe in advance and then just deep fry them at the last minute for an appetizer or a patio snack if you were entertaining.

Suck it Enoteca Sociale.

Anything I would do differently?  Well, not eat five in a row.  Remember the saffron.  Also, the rice seemed like it could have been cooked a little more though I followed the recipe and it had absorbed all the water.   (Ok, fine, don’t suck it Enoteca Sociale–you’re still better than me.  For now.)   Maybe I need to be better aquainted with the brand of arborio rice I had.  Overall though–I love Sicily!  Especially if a Sicilian nona wants to make these for me.  Maybe an ad for Craigslist.

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Best Pasta Carbonara ever-unless you live in Italy and own a bunch of hens

A delicious shadow of its true self.

I took this pasta carbonara recipe from the March Cucina Italiana magazine and massacred its local, farm-raised, artisanal integrity in so many ways that I feel dirty.

So dirty that I’m baking rosemary focaccia bread in the oven as penance to Italy itself (I had to use a big tray).  The fresh baked smell of herbs and crisping crust is making me feel slightly less like a charlatan for even attempting a local dish that uses the freshest of fresh ingredients-eggs pulled from the hen’s butt with one hand while the lemons are plucked off a lemon tree with the other. Did I mention the almost extinct Cinte Sense pigs which provide the pork?  Check out the whole story which will make you want to gnaw on a piece of pancetta ASAP.  Materie Prime by Douglas Gayeton.

The good news first-if you didn’t know–true pasta carbonara does not include cream so it practically falls into the health food category.  Sure there’s the pancetta and I suppose a whole bunch of  cheese but truly–once you ammortize the fat over a few helpings it’s negligible.  I’m almost positive.

Pancetta-second best was still pretty good

The bad news starts with my use of plain old grocery store eggs (I am quite sure the hens did not forage for their own food nor were they supplemented with grains soaked in fresh goat milk).  It continues with a package of pre-cut pancetta (world’s apart from Paola Parisi’s guanciale, see below).

“Aside from being an exceptional slaughterhouse, Levoni is known for smoking meat, in this case the guanciale from Paolo’s pigs. The process requires a special machine, one resembling a rotisserie, and the burning of select woods (their type remains a secret). This slow curing takes a week to complete.”

Grana Padano

I decided to use Grana Padano since I already had it.  In a large bowl I crack the non-fresh eggs, add fresh marjoram (from a plastic container), lemon zest, minced garlic and a “Jamie Oliver” glug of olive oil.  I make some quality tagliatelle from the pantry at home. Drain the pasta. I add this to the egg mixture, toss quickly and mix in the cheese. A little pasta water smoothes it all out. It’s steamy, glossy and fragrant as I bring the fork to my mouth.

sadly, not a farm in sight.

And yet it has none of the romance, practise or purity of Paolo’s version…..

“He starts by prying massive wedges from a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. He hands them to his second eldest son, Rocco, who quickly goes to work with a circular grater. I am handed a corkscrew and a bottle of 2006 Ansonica from the nearby La Parrina winery. Paolo collects the dish’s materie prime, arranges them on a massive wooden table and dices thick slabs of his guanciale picked up from Levoni the previous afternoon. He grates zest from a few lemons taken from a tree just beyond the kitchen window.”

The true dish must be heavenly because even my industrial version– merely a shadow in Plato’s cave–was dreamy.  The nuance of the zingy lemon zest and grassy marjoram elevates the savoury, rich flavours.   And the whole thing comes together in the time it takes to boil pasta.

And raise a few hens.

Pasta Carbonara- adapted from Cucina Italina  (at Sam’s request!)

serves 4

The key to this recipe are the eggs.  With Farmer’s Markets opening up soon it should be easier to get fresh ones. I did use “what was in the fridge” with good results.  You can fiddle with this recipe, assume 1 egg per person and then roughly adjust the other ingredients.  I am often a nightmare without detailed guidance but it worked to “eyeball” it.

And for God’s sake–please–use real Parmigiano Reggiano.

4 fresh eggs, large

2 cloves garlic, minced very fine

3 tbsp (45 ml)  fresh marjoram leaves, pulled off the stem

zest of 1 lemon

1/4 c  (60 ml) olive oil

1 cup (250 ml) pancetta, small dice

1 lb (500 g) spaghetti ( I like Rustichella d’abruzzo, fairly easy to find, brown paper package)

1 1/2 c (375 ml) Parmigiano Reggiano (or Grana Padano), freshly grated

1. In a bowl large enough to hold the spaghetti crack the eggs, add garlic, marjoram, lemon zest and olive oil.  Whisk to combine and set aside.

2. Pan-fry your pancetta til getting crispy.  Let cool and add to the egg mixture.

3. Boil pasta, salt water generously (should taste like the sea I’ve been told!). Cook spaghetti til al dente or as per package directions. Strain and reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.

4. Add hot pasta to the egg mixture and toss until well coated.  Add the grated cheese and keep tossing until you have a glossy sauce.  Add a little bit of pasta water as necessary to thin.

5. Eat the damn thing!  (Add fresh ground pepper if you like.)

NOTE FROM SELF:  I use slightly less spaghetti for four as I like a bit more sauce-maybe 3/4 package? 4/5ths?   6/8ths?  Someone stop me…..

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