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Entries in Puglia (19)

Tuesday
Oct192010

Handwritten Recipes or Italian Hieroglyphics

Some of you may need the Rosetta Stone from ancient times to read this, but there are two recipes on this return envelope. There isn't even a title for these recipes. Can anyone guess what these make? Does anyone want to try and make either recipe? Talk about a great Top Chef Challenge, "Italian Aunt and Niece UnTitled Recipe Challenge."

Yes, these recipes were written on the only paper available on that day in June of 1997, a return envelope. Now you know this is authentic. Trust me, I couldn't make this up. And I've got some other winning recipes form the family.

Recipe0001 

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Tuesday
Jul202010

Agriturismo Masseria Aprile, Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy

I’ve been neglecting detailed write-ups of the Italian Masserias for far too long. Agriturismo Masseria Aprile, in Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy where I stayed 4 nights was one of my best experiences in Puglia, Italy. From the moment I arrived at the masseria, the old saw, ‘there’s never a second chance to make a first impression’ doesn’t sum up how Anna, matriarch of the masseria greeted me; with a plate of freshly picked black figs! As someone who was raised with 40 acres of figs in his backyard, this was like coming home.

One evening, Antonio and Anna graciously allowed me to come into their home and watch Anna prepare the communal dinner, as well as participate in the prep. A point of great pride for Antonio, everything came from the Masseria, minus the flour for the pasta, and the sugar, salt and baking powder needed for the baked goods. What I watched at Masseria Aprile gives a whole new meaning to farm to table cooking. I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures during dinner, it felt disrespectful. Here is what was served for our dinner at Aprile with pictures of the farm and the town of Locorotondo:

Antipasti

  • Whole roasted green peppers very similar in flavor to what Central Valley of California Italian families have been roasting for the last 100 years. A point of comparison between my family and the Aprile family. Before roasting the peppers, my family meticulously cuts the tops off, removes all of the seeds, and splits each pepper in half. The Aprile’s roast the whole pepper. Antonio simply picks each pepper up by the stem and eats each one whole with no fuss or clean-up.
  • Bruschetta with house made bread, farm raised tomato, and Masseria Aprile olive oil.
  • A trio of fresh cheeses from the cow out back, ricotta, ricotta salata, and a cream cheese. The cream cheese was 3 times stronger in flavor than any cheese I’ve ever tasted, except maybe an older room temperature bleu cheese. Grassy and pungent, like strong gorgonzola but without a lactic quality. It must be the grass that cow eats, which grazes about 100 yards away.
  • Coppa from the pigs (see picture) on the ranch is divine. The meat is almost sweet, rather than salty and the fat is creamy rather than chewy. Absolutely wonderful.
  • More fresh bread, but not the same kind that was being used for the bruschetta.

Primi Piatti

Homemade orecchiette in red sauce topped with ricotta salata. I helped make the orecchiette earlier that day. The red sauce used shallot, not garlic. The sauce also used their own jarred tomatoes and a splash of their house white wine. Antonio insisted the pasta course be presented with sliced cucumber to aide in digestion. The side of cucumber was a first for me and I never had the pasta and cucumber pairing again in Puglia.

Secondi Piatti

Rabbit cacciatore I helped prepare earlier that day. I was given the head of one of the rabbits and Antonio the other, a great honor at the table. Each head was split in two, seasoned with herbs and a bit of cheese, tied up with kitchen string and braised in the pan. Fresh bay leaf is a key ingredient here and of course a fresh farm-raised rabbit. Again, the house white wine was used in the creation of the dish, along with shallot, some tomato, and a few other herbs tied up, not let loose in the sauce. Absolutely fresh ingredients, simple execution, incredible results.

Large jugs of Antonio’s red wine complimented each course.

We took our dessert on the patio, along with more homemade digestfs of limoncello and bay leaf, again, made by Antonio. Antonio did add a grappa to the list, but only because it was his friend’s grappa from one town over. He would have never considered buying some commercial product.

My experience here was absolutely wonderful and I hope to return. My thanks to the entire family for a their hospitality.

The technicals for Masseria Aprile are as follows: A completely restored Trulli, clean rooms that smelled clean with no smoking indoors. Heat in winter, no air conditioning in summer and each room has a small refrigerator. One wrinkle, the sink in the bathroom was labeled “non-potable” which could be an issue for some, however, I drank out of the sink. The family makes their own olive oil, cheese, wine, salumi, you name it. They have a red and white wine that they make on site from their own grapes. They are both good wines for the price. Neither sees any oak. Antonio, the owner and proprietor, also makes his own bay leaf digestif, which was a first for me and absolutely great. Anna, his wife, makes a variety of preserves which are tasty. Stefania, their daughter speaks some English, hosted me for breakfast each morning and did so with a big smile. Locorotondo has several small restaurants in town which are good and reasonably priced.

The End (literally) and everyone's favorite animal on the masseria.


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Monday
Jul122010

Attention Oregano Heads!

The following picture is Oregano, not a bag of weed. I harvested a ton of this stuff and let it dry out for cooking. Don't get me wrong, I love fresh herbs and oregano is no exception. But when I think back to childhood, I can't recall having fresh oregano on much of anything.

The labor intensive process of picking little dried leaves of oregano is another lost art here in the United States, unfortunately. I don't know how much money this would fetch in some gourmet store, but I'm sure the packaging would be prettier. I think I spent 40 minutes cutting, cleaning, and tying the oregano. After it dried, I probably spent another hour crushing and sorting out the sticks and twigs in order to get the leaves and buds for usage.

Worth every minute. Besides, I was watching the Star Wars Marathon on the 4th of July. The Force kept me strong while I sorted.

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Monday
Jul052010

Ristorante Bacco, Bari, Puglia Italy


Ristorante Bacco

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 126

Bari, Puglia, Italy

Michelin Guide 2009: One Star

I had been anticipating my trip to Puglia for weeks. Flight service into Puglia serves two cities, Bari and Brindisi. I had recently purchased my Michelin Guide in Italian and was diligently reviewing the towns I planned on visiting. My first night in Puglia would be in the town of Bari. There are only five Michelin starred restaurants in all of Puglia and Bacco in Bari is one of them. Dining at Bacco was the beginning of a mission, a quest; to find the best food in Puglia.

The host and proprietor, Franco Ricatti was gracious and moved around the dining room like Fred Astaire. Franco managed the full restaurant with simplicity and ease. One of the best performances in the front of house I’ve seen in a long time and have never witnessed in the US. A quick note on the wine service. Franco used a massively oversized Cabernet glass to decant, sample, and serve wine to tables. It was a bit of a show piece and maybe not the most practical thing in the world, but it was certainly a conversation starter and he did know how to dazzle the table with it.

Franco

Just as I sat down, I witnessed a seafood tower, not like the ones at Mastro’s Steakhouse or The Capital Grille in the States, but a fresh, unfried, tower of local seafood that is simply steamed and served to a six-top across from me. I didn't order a tower myself, I simply witnessed what a proper seafood tower looks like when not in an American steakhouse. Beautiful and simple.

To begin my meal, I was presented a small appetizer plate upon settling in at my table. On my first night in Puglia, a complete tasting portion of regional starters was the perfect welcome to the region, starting with the most perfect 'knobs' of taralli I had my entire trip. Each 'knob' rather than the normal pretzel shape, was crisp and packed a good punch of fennel. The appetizer plate was constructed of miniature portion sizes of antipasti; blanched almonds,  four varieties of tomato bruschetta: heirloom, red and yellow cherry, and standard red tomato with dried oregano, two varieties of cheese: burrata, fresh mozzarella, and mixed olives all of which exhibited some of the best foods of the region on one plate. Well selected and executed tasting of regional specialties.  

My first course, suggested by Franco, was local fish two ways. A creamy pesto over a blanched shrimp and green beans. About as simple and tasty as it gets, but a dish that requires the chef to do everything properly. Each element tasted as it should and incorporated well together. Second, a black bass stuffed with a grilled eggplant and a beurre blanc sauce, that was full palate and rich. I compared in my notes the grilled eggplant I ate at lunch that was rolled with ham, cheese and basil as a more “natural” dish for the eggplant, rather than the fish. This combination was challenging to my palate as years of Italian American cuisine prepared at home never combined eggplant and fish. I kept drinking my apertivo of prosecco which the fish course paired well with and then mid-way through a Riesling the proprietor recommended.

My next course was the spaghetti with ricci. This ricci was much more mellow than the sea urchin I have had at sushi restaurants. The flavor of the sea, but without a harsh, tongue sticking aftertaste. The ‘sauce’ and I use the term loosely, that covered the pasta was not a broth and not a built sauce. My thought is it is formed by tossing the pasta over and over again in some of the pasta water with the light background of flavor from the sauce in the pan, similar to the technique for carbonara. The sauce fully coats the pasta and has flavor but doesn’t overpower anything, especially not the ricci. A memorable and again simple dish.

My notes throw out a culinary travels question. Is ricci an acquired taste, a gourmet’s taste, or just another creature you harvest from the sea off the Southern Adriatic that if you’re lucky enough to live there, you’ve been having your entire life?

I asked my Italian relatives when I returned to the States whether they had ever used ricci or sea urchin in their cooking? The answer was a unanimous, No. Yet, higher end Italian restaurants in the U.S. are beginning to use ricci in some of their dishes. Mario Batali has been using it on Iron Chef for years. Suffice it to say, I loved the dish and look forward to returning to Bari to have it again.

My main course was a stuffed squid with cheese (blasphemy?!), and perfectly grilled tentacles. I wrote in my notes that while all the ingredients were fresh, lovely, well seasoned, and cooked properly, I was challenged to think in unorthodox terms. Stuffing squid with fresh cheese. Is it the Italian Fourth Commandment, Thou Shall Not Mix Cheese With the Creatures of the Sea? Or is it that Bacco is attempting to break with tradition and mix cheese with fish? I have read instances of fish and cheese prepared together, but in abstract. I think the dish was well prepared, however, I believe it was the only time in Italy that I had dairy paired with seafood. Perhaps this begins to explain the Michelin Star; challenge the palate and challenge tradition with wonderful execution and simplicity.

I finished up my grand meal with a simple cheese course and the standard Plate O’Cookies. I didn't take notes or pictures of the cheese, only knowing they were 100% local. The cookies were mixed but always include what American's identify as biscotti.

For my first night in Puglia and only night in Bari, my eyes were opened to a new world of Southern Italian cuisine. Reminders of my Italian American heritage were present that evening, starting with the taralli and simple plate of bruschetta, but they were the only reminders. What followed was a challenge and enlightenment of the palate and foreshadowed my wonderful experience in the region of Puglia.

Grazie Franco.

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Monday
May312010

Masseria Aprile, Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy

I’ve been neglecting detailed write-ups of the Italian Masserias for far too long. Agriturismo Masseria Aprile, in Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy where I stayed 4 nights was one of my best experiences in Puglia, Italy. From the moment I arrived at the masseria, the old saw, ‘there’s never a second chance to make a first impression’ doesn’t sum up how Anna, matriarch of the masseria greeted me; with a plate of freshly picked black figs! As someone who was raised with 40 acres of figs in his backyard, this was like coming home.

One evening, Antonio and Anna graciously allowed me to come into their home and watch Anna prepare the communal dinner, as well as participate in the prep. A point of great pride for Antonio, everything came from the Masseria, minus the flour for the pasta, and the sugar, salt and baking powder needed for the baked goods. What I watched at Masseria Aprile gives a whole new meaning to farm to table cooking. I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures during dinner, it felt disrespectful. Here is what was served for our dinner at Aprile with pictures of the farm and the town of Locorotondo:

Antipasti

  • Whole roasted green peppers very similar in flavor to what Central Valley of California Italian families have been roasting for the last 100 years. A point of comparison between my family and the Aprile family. Before roasting the peppers, my family meticulously cuts the tops off, removes all of the seeds, and splits each pepper in half. The Aprile’s roast the whole pepper. Antonio simply picks each pepper up by the stem and eats each one whole with no fuss or clean-up.
  • Bruschetta with house made bread, farm raised tomato, and Masseria Aprile olive oil.
  • A trio of fresh cheeses from the cow out back, ricotta, ricotta salata, and a cream cheese. The cream cheese was 3 times stronger in flavor than any cheese I’ve ever tasted, except maybe an older room temperature bleu cheese. Grassy and pungent, like strong gorgonzola but without a lactic quality. It must be the grass that cow eats, which grazes about 100 yards away.
  • Coppa from the pigs (see picture) on the ranch is divine. The meat is almost sweet, rather than salty and the fat is creamy rather than chewy. Absolutely wonderful.
  • More fresh bread, but not the same kind that was being used for the bruschetta.

Primi Piatti

Homemade orecchiette in red sauce topped with ricotta salata. I helped make the orecchiette earlier that day. The red sauce used shallot, not garlic. The sauce also used their own jarred tomatoes and a splash of their house white wine. Antonio insisted the pasta course be presented with sliced cucumber to aide in digestion. The side of cucumber was a first for me and I never had the pasta and cucumber pairing again in Puglia.

Secondi Piatti

Rabbit cacciatore I helped prepare earlier that day. I was given the head of one of the rabbits and Antonio the other, a great honor at the table. Each head was split in two, seasoned with herbs and a bit of cheese, tied up with kitchen string and braised in the pan. Fresh bay leaf is a key ingredient here and of course a fresh farm-raised rabbit. Again, the house white wine was used in the creation of the dish, along with shallot, some tomato, and a few other herbs tied up, not let loose in the sauce. Absolutely fresh ingredients, simple execution, incredible results.

Large jugs of Antonio’s red wine complimented each course.

We took our dessert on the patio, along with more homemade digestfs of limoncello and bay leaf, again, made by Antonio. Antonio did add a grappa to the list, but only because it was his friend’s grappa from one town over. He would have never considered buying some commercial product.

My experience here was absolutely wonderful and I hope to return. My thanks to the entire family for a their hospitality.

The technicals for Masseria Aprile are as follows: A completely restored Trulli, clean rooms that smelled clean with no smoking indoors. Heat in winter, no air conditioning in summer and each room has a small refrigerator. One wrinkle, the sink in the bathroom was labeled “non-potable” which could be an issue for some, however, I drank out of the sink. The family makes their own olive oil, cheese, wine, salumi, you name it. They have a red and white wine that they make on site from their own grapes. They are both good wines for the price. Neither sees any oak. Antonio, the owner and proprietor, also makes his own bay leaf digestif, which was a first for me and absolutely great. Anna, his wife, makes a variety of preserves which are tasty. Stefania, their daughter speaks some English, hosted me for breakfast each morning and did so with a big smile. Locorotondo has several small restaurants in town which are good and reasonably priced.

The End (literally) and everyone's favorite animal on the masseria.


Click to read more ...