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Ital.cook


hathor
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Welcome to the Ital.cook thread! Just in case you missed any of Ore's fantastic thread, the Slow Food organization and the city of Jesi, have created a Master Course in regional Italian cooking. It’s a 10 week course dedicated to teaching chefs the traditions and styles of the different regions using that regions ingredients.

What that means is: in Lombardia one shakes his risotto not stirs, the Abruzzo chef insists on using only his potatoes (and stirs his risotto), the tomatoes from Compagna are superior to any other tomato etc. etc. etc!

We are a class of 12, with the common thread being a love of Italian food, after that the reasons that we are here are very, very diverse. In our class we have Americans, Japanese, one lonely Brit who gets teased about saying toe-mah-to, and a Mexican and a Filipino. More important, we have people who are accomplished chefs in their own countries, student chefs rounding out their education, and home cooks who were so passionate about food that they are changing careers. Everyone of us is making some sort of sacrifice to be here, even if its just being away from our loved ones, but the level of commitiment to the course is amazing and inspiring.

Ok, enough intro. We are already into our 4th week of the program!

Yesterday was exceptional! We took a ‘class trip’ up to Parma and the Modena area to see how parmigiana and balsamic vinegar is produced.

The producer that we were taken to is an entirely ‘veritcal’ operation, meaning that on the premises there is everything from the cows in the barn right straight thru to the nice lady selling cheese in the shop. The making of the parmigiana is a strictly regulated process as this is a D.O.P. product. Even the feed that is fed to the cows is controlled, and it is only hay and herbs from the region.

This is a labor intensive cheese. Evening milk is mixed with morning milk to obtain the best fat content, then the mixed milks are poured into a sort of copper cauldron and a small amount of enzyme is added.

After a few hours, this enormous ball of rubbery, ricotta like, cheese substance is fished out of the caldron, cut in half and left to drain. Then its taken and placed in a form where it will dry for a few days, after that its in a saline bath. These tanks were amazing, to me they almost looked like a trout breeding tank (if you’ve ever seen a trout breeding tank), only high tech. The cheese wheels are stacked 5 deep and flipped once a day to get an even and consistent salt content and crust. Then into the drying room for the next few years. You could spend a long time in the drying room….the cheese wheels are stacked 22 high and a block long. Its gorgeous! The color of the wheels go from pale yellow, to deep, rich gold. The smell is aromatic, sharp, intense. Once again I was wishing my camera could capture smells as well as sights.

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Then we went to a traditional balsamic vinegar producer. This has to be seen to be truly appreciated. The time, the history, the care, the love, its all a bit overwhelming. Balsamic cannot even be touched until its been in a succession of barrels for 12 years.

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Today we are back in Jesi and worked on a group of lasagna made the Marchigiani way. An interesting variation of the traditional meat ragu that used all the left over bits pieces and organs in a lasagna called Vincigrassi. Then two other lasagna that were made in individual portions using spring vegetables and rabbit. We’ve eaten a lot of bunnies in the last few weeks…. Good thing I like bunny.

Someone, I think it was Docsconz was wondering what it looked and smelled like right now. Well, today was a gorgeous spring day! The fruit trees are finished flowering and are fully leafed, most of the fields are this intense, bursting green, and on my bike ride today, the smell of manure in the fields was particularly strong. I’m very lucky to have my bicycle here, and in about a 2 minute ride, I’m out in the rolling countryside.

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I’m hoping that other participants in this program will chime in at any time! Ciao tutti!

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Thanks for starting this thread, hathor. Look forward to reading/seeing all your experiences.

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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Kellytree: that would be the million dollar question, now wouldn't it?? :raz:

My story in a nutshell: my husband and I, after almost 20 years in our own business in NY, decided we had had enough. We bought a house in Italy, in a small medieval village in Umbria, made friends with a couple who bought a ruin of a watch tower outside of our town of Montone. One thing led to another, and we bacame partners with Chris and Seonaid, and we are in the process of turning this very medieval tower into a contemporay 7 room b&b/albergho/bijoux hotel. We have no idea what to actually call this hybrid of a project! At some point, it was decided I would be the chef of the operation (it could have been me jumping up and down and begging that indicated I wanted to be the chef...hard to say.... :wink: ) At the same time, I was following Ore's thread, and it seemed like a very good way to learn about regional Italian cooking, meet producers, and do things the Slow Food way.

So, now, I'm a woman of a certain age, living in a small apartment, sharing a communal kitchen with 7 other warm, friendly, fun ragazzi (who clean the apartment out of everything edible by Sunday night!! I came back from Montone to Jesi, starving and found myself eating some dead celery, raddichio and hardboiled eggs with anchovies...which actually was not that bad!).

And that's the story of how I wound in Jesi. Cliff Notes version!

Tommorow morning, we are scheduled to go wild herb picking in the countryside, which I'm very much looking forward to. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate. Its been a cold, windy, rainy weekend. There is a mountain range that divides Umbria and le Marche, and the mountains all around Gubbio were actually snow covered today!

Ciao tutti and buona notte!

Edited by hathor (log)
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Sitting in my office in Serra San Quirico totally envious that you go and get to pick wild greens this sunny Monday morning (arggh- bad weather all weekend and along comes Monday full of sunshine- I hate that!) and of course some wild asparagus (although it would probably be better to wait a day or too to give the buggers time to grow)

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Glad to see you carrying on the tradition, Hathor.

Two years ago today, I was coming to the end of my two weeks in Italy. I know the weather, I know the smell of the land in springtime. We spent the night in Tivoli at the Hotel Sirene.

I am looking forward to your unique take on your experience there. Congratulations on your leap.

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Kellytree: if only you had stopped for a few moments! It was indeed a lovely morning, and who knew a fellow eG'er was so close!

Our herb guide was a very nice man, dressed in big rubber boots, hunting vest and carrying a classic herb basket and a great trowel. He obviously knows his stuff, and also owns a restaurant called "La Pianella".

We gathered up lots and lots of wild fennel, wild mint and then I'm really not clear on what the rest of the herbs were, I think one was borage and one was something that sounded like 'pianella'. Its a little hard when you are told the name while you are in the field, and then have to hope you can ID later in either Italian or English. We also very enthusiastically hunted for wild asparagus, but a nice lady (who was obviously amused by us) informed us that many people had been there on Sunday, and there was very little asparagus left.

The 'pinella', if that's what it is called is a long slender leaf that grows very close to the ground. I thought it was bitter when raw, but we cooked it into a risotto that was really quite mild and nice.

The wild mint wound up in a fritatta, with a welcome addition of wild mint pesto. Raul or Roberto (I"m not sure of our guide's name), took pity on us and gave us a large bunch of the wild asparagus. gallery_14010_1078_433692.jpg. This was also cooked up into a fritatta.

All in all, it was a great morning to be out poking around in a field, but I wish I had better info on what herbs we actually picked and what were the health benefits (if any). I'm wondering about this because you never saw such a sleepy bunch after lunch...it felt as if we had been to the Wizard of Oz's poppy field! Not sure if it was the fresh air, or something we ate. :hmmm:

Here is a photo of our booty as we begin cleaning it.

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Today, and for the next 2 days, we are studying Piemonte. So far there are lots of vegetables and lots of garlic, so I'm happy. Today was antipasto type dishes: roasted peppers stuffed with tuna, cabbage leaves stuffed with a delicious beef sausage with just a touch of pork, that can actually be eaten raw, a leek and potato flan served with a seriously good Raschera cheese sauce, some Bagna Caoda, and a starter course of melted Brandalis cheese on toast with salad and Balsamic vinegar. Now, given that I'm genetically flawed when it comes to goat cheese, it usually just tastes like tar to me, this cheese was excellent.

Tommorow we cook for ourselves and also for a dinner for sommeliers, so this should be interesting. Ciao!

Edited to add some background atmosphere: the church bells are ringing like crazy. Seems we have a new Pope....

Edited by hathor (log)
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Our herb guide was a very nice man, dressed in big rubber boots, hunting vest and carrying a classic herb basket and a great trowel. He obviously knows his stuff, and also owns a restaurant called "La Pianella".  ...  Raul or Roberto (I"m not sure of our guide's name), took pity on us and gave us a large bunch of the wild asparagus.

Sounds like the owner of La Pianella da Raul, in the hills above Serra San Quirico (and spitting distance to kellytree). I had lunch there last December at eGer Angelo Recchi's recommendation. Terrific veal guanciola served in a very rustic dining room. They also have outdoor tables, making a return visit this spring almost mandatory.

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Yeah it's Raul.. along with his 4 cute daughters. You should see 8or taste) the goods he picks up in autumn - Mr. Mushroom Man - big time.

as for Kellytree: if only you had stopped for a few moments! I get to stop sometimes and go and pick the wild greens ( basically all different kinds of dandelions) - yesterday I paid my kids to go and pick asparagus for dinner --- what a bargain a handful of wild asparagus in exchange for a gelato!

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Kellytree: very smart! Your kids must be young if they settled for a gelato...ah, I remember the day when my son could be bought off so cheaply.... :biggrin:

Last week turned out to be pretty hectic. We prepared and served a dinner for sommeliers on Wes night. This dinner was prepared with the Piemonte chef, Beppe Barbero who is a gentle and lovely man, as well as an excellent chef. The menu was all about meat: there was a raw meat salad, a meat filled agnolotti plin (those are very fun to make, you take the meat filling and pipe out little dots filling onto a stip of pasta, fold over into a thin tube, may 1 1/2" wide, pinch little bits together all down the tube and then cut) which was served with a rosemary sauce, then a boiled manzo with potato puree and and zucchini. Desert was an outstanding grappa parfait. I was a sceptic, but now I'm a convert. I also didn't like grappa so much, but I'm learning to like it...I think I'm going native. However, I still don't have a taste for that salt free bread...that is just something you have to have been brought up on. :wacko::wink:

Friday, we went to the DeCecco pasta factory in Abruzzo. I have mixed feelings about this trip as I'm not sure why this was a Slow Food outing. Granted DeCecco makes very good pasta and they are very proud of their product, and understandably so. That said, the man who took us on the tour spent quite a lot of time explaining how they bought wheat from all over the world to ensure a consistent product. Everytime you buy De Cecco spaghetti, it will be exactly the same as the last time you bought it. OK, fair enough. But earlier on in the course, we had a representative from Mancini pasta come to talk to us (I've seen the pasta in NY, comes in a bright yellow bag, and its an artisinal product). Now, when he lined up the pasta, he showed us the difference in color because there had been such a hot summer one year, and so much rain another year. Frankly, that interests me a lot more than consistency in product.

Another interesting point: DeCecco pasta is the same worldwide, meaning they do not alert the product to suit regional tastes...EXCEPT for the U.S. market where they are required to add certain vitamins. Come on!! Are we as Americans so stupid that we can't get our vitamins anywhere else, that the product is required to be enriched? I just think thats ridiculous and patronizing and pandering. Unless of course someone in the U.S stands to make a profit off of vitamin enrichment, in which case it makes total sense. End of rant.

Today and tommorow we are 'in' Calabria. Today we made outstanding vegetables that were roasted in a bed of salt. gallery_14010_1078_525542.jpg And we made "scilatelle" pasta, which is made by rolling a hunk of pasta around a wheat stalk. gallery_14010_1078_273259.jpggallery_14010_1078_484999.jpgNormally, I'm not a fan of thick spaghetti, but this was delicious. The chef, Antonio Romeo, also brought along some fantastic picante salumi, everything tastes better with a little bit of this added. You had to be pretty quick to get any of the broccoli with the salumi as it never even made out to the lunch table! :shock:

Tommorow we will make some fish Calabrian style and have a salume and formaggio tasting. How we suffer....

If my images ever load, I'll come back in and add them. Its taking over 20 minutes to load 3 images! I know I'm not on high speed, but this seems very long to me. And advice?

Edited by hathor (log)
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However, I still don't have a taste for that salt free bread...that is just something you have to have been brought up on.  :wacko:  :wink:

I thought that was a Tuscany only thing . . . ? Is it Piemonte, or just where you are? I've wanted to do a saltless Tuscan loaf but I just can't bring myself to it yet.

Friday, we went to the DeCecco pasta factory in Abruzzo. I have mixed feelings about this trip as I'm not sure why this was a Slow Food outing. Granted DeCecco makes very good pasta and they are very proud of their product, and understandably so. That said, the man who took us on the tour spent quite a lot of time explaining how they bought wheat from all over the world to ensure a consistent product. Everytime you buy De Cecco spaghetti, it will be exactly the same as the last time you bought it.  OK, fair enough.  But earlier on in the course, we had a representative from Mancini pasta come to talk to us (I've seen the pasta in NY, comes in a bright yellow bag, and its an artisinal product).  Now, when he lined up the pasta, he showed us the difference in color because there had been such a hot summer one year, and so much rain another year. Frankly, that interests me a lot more than consistency in product.

Another interesting point: DeCecco pasta is the same worldwide, meaning they do not alert the product to suit regional tastes...EXCEPT for the U.S. market where they are required to add certain vitamins. Come on!! Are we as Americans so stupid that we can't get our vitamins anywhere else, that the product is required to be enriched? I just think thats ridiculous and patronizing and pandering.  Unless of course someone in the U.S stands to make a profit off of vitamin enrichment, in which case it makes total sense.  End of rant.

Didn't know that about the U.S. market pasta. So I'd assume that any imported pasta has to be treated with vitamins to come into the country? Well, I'm with you on this one, make room on that soapbox. Probably some hangup leftover from WWII ala iodized salt. Maybe de Cecco qualifies as "slow food" because of the drying time of the pasta, or do they use the bronze dies to extrude? It's a good brand, regardless.

Today and tommorow we are 'in' Calabria. Today we made outstanding vegetables that were roasted in a bed of salt.  And we made "scilatelle" pasta, which is made by rolling a hunk of pasta around a wheat stalk.  Normally, I'm not a fan of thick spaghetti, but this was delicious.  The chef, Antonio Romeo, also brought along some fantastic picante salumi, everything tastes better with a little bit of this added. You had to be pretty quick to get any of the broccoli with the salumi as it never even made out to the lunch table!  :shock:

Tommorow we will make some fish Calabrian style and have a salume and formaggio tasting. How we suffer....

*Furiously takes notes for an unspecified :wink: later use.*

If my images ever load, I'll come back in and add them. Its taking over 20 minutes to load 3 images! I know I'm not on  high speed, but this seems very long to me.  And advice?

I'm on a dialup too. It does take forever. All I can offer is to shrink the pictures as much as possible (I go down to about 140k) before loading them.

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Ciao!

Kevin: I don't have a handle on the salt free bread thing. I've heard a few different theories (hello, this is Italy...there is bound to be different theories) on why there is no salt. Salt tax, the food is already salty so the bread should not compound it. But, honestly, that dense, heavy, doorstop bread is prevelant all over Italy. Crunchy crusts are viewed with suspicion.

Today we ate some of the Calabrese round hard bagel shaped breads that need to be dipped in water before being eaten (Puglia has this type of bread as well). But. as it was explained to us today, bread was only made once a month or so, back in the 'olden' days, so by the time you got around to the end of the month, you had hard as a rock bread that needed to be dipped. I love the history and development of food traditions.

De Cecco does use bronze dies, and it is a good, but industrialized product. It was dried in large ovens about a city block long. Not particularly slow. Too bad we were not permitted to take pictures inside the facility, but the spaghetti looked like it was dancing as it went into the dryers...then it came out all stiff and still.

Today was fritta mista day! Fried zuchini flowers, anchovies, whitebait, etc. etc. Lovely baked swordfish. Delicious fried bacala on a bed of super sweet terapa onions and leeks, chickpea soup with octopus. All that mixed in with a salume tasting in the morning and cheeses with various marmelades (green tomato, eggplant, prune, onion, zucca & cocanut, pear) in the afternoon.

All in all, I'm enamored with the cuisine of Calabria. I love the vegetables, the piccante peppers, and just the overall preperation of the food.

If you come across these dried picante sausages somewhere, buy them!

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Here are the zuchinin flowers, before and after. These florets were stuffed with a small piece of mozzarella and anchovy. Then coated with a yeasted batter and fried.

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These are spiced anchovies. They were cleaned and split, then layered with mildy spicy paprika and lots of oregano. Then quickly fried in some oil, garlic and wicked hot green chili peppers. Surprisingly the end result was not that hot, but very delicious.

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Tommorow we leave at 6:00 a.m. for Fruili, and don't get back until Saturday evening. So, ci vediamo dopo! :cool:

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NICE!!

Calabria was a fun region - did you have a chance to try a salumi the chef might have brought - it was a large, thick thing that seemed a bit raw but was SUPER SPICY and was eaten with a spoon?? I can't recall the name.

It looks like you are having a blast.

Any favorite region yet? Field trips?

keep it coming - say hi to everyone there...

Ore

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Calabria was a fun region  - did you have a chance to try a salumi the chef might have brought - it was a large, thick thing that seemed a bit raw but was SUPER SPICY and was eaten with a spoon??  I can't recall the name.

'Nduja. Great on bread for breakfast if you have a hangover :wink: .

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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  • 2 weeks later...

My apologies for a very, very long entry. But, we’ve been busy and this is the first chance I’ve had to do some catching up. Ore, the Friuli trip was nothing short of magical!!

Friuli, Apr 28-29

What an amazing trip we have had. The first word that comes to mind is hospitality, a most genuine, sincere, pleasure in sharing the wine, the food, and just the beautiful countryside.

Thursday morning we were up at 6:00 a.m. ready to pile into the Pullman, which by no stretch of the imagination, is comfortable. I’m only 5”2” and my knees are up around my throat, but I’m getting smarter, I brought my pillow.

At around 11:30, we rolled into our first stop in Friuli: Edi Keber. Now, picture this, after 5 ½ hours in the Pullman, after winding around and around on country roads that rolled over the spring countryside, we untangle ourselves out of the bus and have landed in a gorgeous vineyard. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and that yellow house right over there is the last house in Italy. We are literally a stones throw from the Slovenia border. Signor Kleber was kind enough to give us a brief history of the area, about how borders were laid down that put his brother in Slovenia and him in Italy. Even with my limited understanding of Italian, I’m sure we got the ‘sanitized’ version of what must have been a very difficult time for everyone.

We started with a tour of the vineyard, where we were encouraged to feel the strange soil. It looks like shale until you pick it up and it literally crumbles in your hand. The stony consistency of the soil reminded me of the stones in Chateauneuf du Pape, and I’m sure they serve the same function keeping the grape roots warm. Then we moved on to his impressive cantina, part of which was an old stone potso. We also engaged in a long conversation about the ‘muffa’ (mold) and how he treasured the muffa he had growing and didn’t want to sterilize his cantina to meet international standards. Although I believe he does export and the bottle storage area was immaculate. But he had left much of the rock walls exposed and these dripped with moisture. Who can resist that yeasty smell of a dank cantina? Not I.

Then a wine tasting lunch that was simple and wonderful. We started with the Tokai which is a light, fresh, summery wine. Then onto the more complex Collio which is a blended white wine. And along with this were home baked breads, cheeses, local salumi and a delicious barley based soup. All the traveling had certainly been worth it.

After we finished the soup, and by the way, we cleaned the pot out, Signor Keber brought out a bottle of his personal stash. As he explained to us that he created this wine from the 2002 harvest, he never stopped stroking the bottle, as if it were a dear friend. This was an unfiltered wine, ‘turbido’, that he created only to please himself. If you do not like it, that is fine with him. If you do, then ‘piacere’. I thought it was lovely, you could practically taste summer in the glass. It was a complex blend of fresh peaches, and lemons and sea breezes and we were very honored that he chose to share this with us.

And then it was time to move on. We looped around some roads, crossing right near the Slovenia border crossing, our cell phones picking up the Slovenia network, and headed to La Subida where the cooking part of our day would begin. La Subida calls itself a trattoria, but don’t be fooled, its very fine dining. Nestled down in the bosco, it is the definition of bucolic. As we shuffled ourselves into the front door, there was a large, welcome fire in the fireplace with a huge pot of boiling water. Within moments we were being given instructions on polenta making. The large cast iron pot had a metal paddle in it that was attached to a crank. The polenta was poured into the boiling water as the crank turned the paddle to keep stirring the polenta.gallery_14010_1078_1046199.jpg Although this was very welcoming, and the coffee we were instantly served was delicious, we were quickly herded downstairs to begin our Fruiliano cooking lesson.

It had been arranged to have 4 chefs come to demonstrate their cooking. As we settled into our chairs, the chef deftly boned a goose in under 3 minutes. The guy was an amazing goose boner! Think what you will, the guy was good! :laugh: Chunks of goose were seared and a sauce begun. In the meantime, we had another polenta lesson.

At some point, the fireplace version of the cooked polenta came downstairs, And as we gathered around a budding tree by an old table, we watched as he plopped this huge vat of polenta on a rickety round board that had seen many a polenta plop, he then ‘cut’ it into portions with a thick string and we tasted polenta that was chewy and fireplace smoky and delicious. A far, far cry from that stuff you get in plastic tubes in the ‘gourmet’ counter.

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By now, the goose was done in a luscious red sauce and we had our spoons all ready for him.

The next chef is a streghe. A magician with herbs. And a more convivial, warm, lively guide to herbs and Friuli you could not find. Her restaurant is called “Sale e Pepe. La Cucina de Theresa”. She has an amazing way of balancing flavors. We had yet another polenta, this time a ‘black’ rough cut polenta that was served with butter toasted polenta, grated fresh horseradish and grated apple. It was superb. Then a tasty little herb frittata, savory version and a sweet version.

Most of the dishes were sampled outdoors under the budding tree, overlooking the horse barn and the flowering rosemary, and the sun dappled tennis court. Oh, how we suffer.

Then we were invited to dinner. Can you imagine after all we had tasted and sampled, it was now dinner time? And we were invited to dine in the private residence of the proprietor! So we trundled up the stairs, onto a magnificent outdoor porch overlooking this picture perfect countryside, and into a cocktail party! This was far beyond anyone’s expectations! Delicious ‘frico’, fried cheese treats were being passed, a huge proscuitto was being thinly sliced, large white asparagus with a spiral crust appeared and a delicious Collio wine was being poured. Truly, we had all died and gone to chef heaven.

Then dinner began in earnest and I honestly lost count of the courses. Each course brought a new wine to our glass. It was an amazing, amazing feast. Culminating is some fantastic venison and then a roasted pork. Somewhere in all of this was a honeysuckle sorbetto intermezzo that was the embodiment of that delicate flower. There was a tortelli nut filled desert. And a sort of wanton, herb filled fried ravioli resting on a whipped honeysuckle cream. And 2 kinds of desert wine. We were all just stunned with the generosity of our hosts. And then the parting goody bags filled with grappa, and goose pate, goose prosciutto, cheeses. Just a stunning, stunning evening.

Capped off with complete hilarity when 6 of the guys staying at our agrotourismo realized they were all sleeping in letto matromoniales!

The next morning, by 9:00 we were watching Adriatic scampi and clams being pulverized into fragments the size of the risotto grains they were joining in the pan. We were shown the intricacies of making a particular pepper brodetto with orata that was completely and totally divine. We nearly licked the pot clean.

The next chef made some more polenta, this time with a luscious rich sauce of local cheeses. And on and on it went… until it was time to leave our most generous host at La Subida (34017 Cormons, Gorizia Tel: 0481-60531) and go to taste some wine.

My notes get a little fuzzy here after a few cantinas, and just when we were starting to groan that we were onto yet another cantina…we went to Skok.

Here is a name to watch. The vineyard is run by a young couple who currently have a very small production, only 3,000 bottles. But. The wine is simply outstanding. I can honestly say that, for me, this was the best red wine of the trip, a lovely merlot. Their pinot grigo is also delicous. And again, our hosts were charming, with lovely ‘nibbles’ and sausages, adorable dogs and beautiful gardens.

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Then it was time to get back into the dreaded Pullman and head to Proseco land. We had dinner that night at a totally forgettable Slow Food recommended osteria. Oh well, you have to have some yin to balance our awesome yang.

Next morning we went to Proseco mecca; the producer Bisol. After a most generous tour and tasting at the facility, we were invited to taste yet another Proseco, but in the vineyard that it came from. Does it get any better than this??? We were very honored to be invited to taste Cartizze, in the Cartizze vineyard. This is one of the world’s finest sparkling wines, and the grapes live in a most “bello posto”.

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And just in case, we were feeling a bit peckish before leave Bisol, we went to the agro-tourismo that they run, and had some salami, cheese and more Proseco before heading home on the Pullman.

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This was an amazing trip, from start to finish, and a part of the world worth exploring.

Next up, on Monday morning was Toscana! Andrea Alimenti was the docente, and he brought along his friend, the very talented Marco, who will be opening a new restaurant in Florence in June, and an excellent time was had by all! We made breads, gorgeous tortellini, stunning trout, chicken liver mousse with vin santo gelatin, magnificent deserts etc. etc. And it was all done with a great sense of professionalism and love and fun.

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Wes morning…it was time to get back in the Pullman as we headed out for the very long drive to Vercelli, to visit the rice center of Italy. The highlight of Vercelli was going to an old rice mill: Antico Mulino-Riseria “San Giovanni”. If I’m translating correctly, the mill has been in existence since 1617. At that time, the whole rice grains were husked by pulverizing them by hand on a granite stone. Tough work. Again, if I’m reading this right, in 1699 they converted the mill to an ‘automated’ system that is run by a water turbine engine. The mill looks like a large warehouse, with enormous pulleys running thru thick stone walls. You can see how the pulleys would have developed over time, but at first it just looks like a maze of wheels and pulleys and chutes. We went outside to look at the old water engine, and it looked like something out of a Jules Verne novel.

gallery_14010_1078_948381.jpg Then they filled it with water…and being polite enthusiasts we were all charmed just watching the water woosh into the engine, but then, there was a moment of pure magic when the entire mill came to life! The whole place still ‘works’! You could still run a rice mill just off the water power…and the sounds the mill made were just, plain, music. A reminder of by-gone times, but also a reminder that we can cleanly harness the energy of this river and be doing just fine. I should post more pictures of it, but somehow, they just don't grasp the scope of the mill.

Then on to a multi-course rice tasting dinner, that was just not quite what it should have been.

The morning was spent at the new Slow Food University for Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenza, which is next to Bra, the home of Slow Food. Yeah, yeah, and Bra is up the road from Panties…. Somebody had to say it..right, Dario??! Anyway, the University is…brand new. They’ve renovated this huge villa, (as in removed every possible bit of character and charm and made it look like Anywhere-Disneyland….secondo me…) The plan is to have a 5 year program, 3 years at the university and then 2 years specializing. Right now, they have the first class of 50 or 60 students studying there. The interesting part, or odd part, depending on your point of view, is that there isn’t a kitchen, or a pot or pan in the place. Its all theoretical knowledge. Alice Waters is on the board, and she was not allowed to put in a garden. Well, it’s the first year, so lets see how it evolves.

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After a quick stop in Bra, to say hello to Beppe, and a welcome grappa,

we rode over to Barolo territory and visited a very slick, very commercial wine cooperative…and my notes on this cooperatve are back in Montone, at home, along with some of the wine that I brought home to by bachelored-hungry-lonely husband. They’ve done an impressive job of pooling their marketing and wine make resources. Not to mention impressive architecture…you visit the facility by walking on a flyway a full floor above all of the wine.

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Tasted some Barolo and then it was back into the Pullman for a very, very long ride home…we rolled in sometime after midnight

But, by 9:30am, the next morning we were at wine class with our very dear docente, Alessio! I wish we had more classes with him than the curriculum calls for, as he is an excellent and charming and knowledgeable teacher.

This week, we are studying Umbria and the Veneto, but this time Friuli is coming to us. Today we spent the morning analyzing and tasting salume and the afternoon in an intensive olive oil class. After tasting 11, count them, 11 olive oils, I was ready to put Windex on my palate to see if it would clear things out! And remember, you have to taste flawed oils as well as good oils.

And that’s what we’ve been up to for the past few weeks!! Barely time to process it all!

Now, bear in mind, its not all work, every once in awhile, Gordon entertains us. :laugh::wacko::unsure:

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Judy: promise I'll let you know details on Marco's new restaurant. One of our fellow classmates will be staging there starting in June, so we'll be up to visit him there, and maybe we can finally meet!

We've had a frustrating 2 days studying Umbria. Our chef was molto, molto simpatico, but he unfortunately just didn't have enogh dishes in his repetoire to keep us all entertained. He is a lovely man and brought all sorts of herbs from his gardens, his own home made wine to eat with our cinghiale, and his own olive oil for us to use. He is an excellent historian on the origins of the dishes, but I'm afraid this group needs a lot of dishes to keep us all moving. We also celebrated Luisa's birthday today with lots of wine and a gorgeous birthday cake made by Gordon and Roz.

Tommorow we start studying the Veneto...polenta, polenta, polenta!!

Ciao!

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You're eventually going to be based out of Umbria, though, right? Or did I just imagine that?

Anyways that's frustrating that you didn't get more out of Umbria, a cuisine I'd like to know more about myself. I'm really bad about resources, but here's another vague "I read somewhere": I read somewhere that Umbrians and Tuscans are kind of in a culinary rivalry, that the Umbrians think the Tuscan food is too bland and the Tuscans think Umbria's is too rich.

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Umbria.. no black truffles.. no lentils??? it is such a fabulous cuisine.. none of the handmade pastas?

They also have some fun rustic desserts.. I am not a real Tuscan.. only for 20 years.. but love Umbrian cuisine!

Edited by divina (log)
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Ciao Hathor,

Sorry to hear about Umbria. Ask Mancini about ENEA BARBANERA - he was my groups docente and was awesome...from your description you had someone else.

See if Mancini can tell you Enea's address...you should try his food...the lamb he made is by far the best recipe I have ever re-used.

Keep writing...and let mr. mustache see that pic!!

Ore

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Ciao tutti!

Yes, I will be based in Umbria, so it was really frustating for me. No lamb. No lentils. Yes, the chef brought some black truffles, one day we made a frittata, one day we made an omelette. It was rough to hold me tongue, but whatcha gonna do? Ore, thanks for the tip on Enea Barbanera, I'll ask Mancini about him.

As far as a Tuscan - Umbrian rivalry. Uhm. Not so sure about that. My take on it is that Toscana had Firenze, and Firenze had aristocracy. So you have more of an 'international' take on cuisine. More use of seasonings, more attention to presentation. Life in Umbria was hard, their cusine is very contadini based. Put it on the stove in the morning, work the fields, come home and eat. That's not to say that Umbrian food is 'crude' or always rustico, its not. But it is very ingredient driven and preparation and presentation tend to be simple as the ingredients themselves are usually very, very good.

But, the good news is that we had a very good time with the chef from the Veneto: Nino Baggio.

Kevin, I think I went into a small rhapsody over "Sarde in saor" when you were cooking from the Veneto (the sardines marinated in lots of onions, raisins and pignoli). Well, I'm happy to say that I got to make this dish. Take a look at these sardines, they were such a lovely color!

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Even more amazing was the white asparagi the chef brought. Some of these were easily an inch in diameter, and they were not in the least bit stringy or tough, but soft, succulent and sweet.

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And here they are in a classic Veneto prepartion with an egg sauce.

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We made some lovely different polentas. One of the more interesting ones was a sort of 'toasted ricotta' topping. The fresh ricotta was put in a pan with some olive oil and sauteed and carmelized until it was a toasty brown pan of crumbles. The end result was a very nutty flavor, over the polenta, it was delicious.

Then there was the bigoli pasta! A classic Veneto pasta, made with a ton of eggs, it is an extremely firm pasta dough. Its traditionally made by sitting on this contraption that looks like an old wooden horse with a screw handle for a head. The pasta is inserted into a cylinder and then 'screwed' thru a brass plate. There are a number of different plates, and one day we made classic spaghetti shaped bigoli, and the next day we made some rigatoni.

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Kevin, I need to go back and take a look at what you made in Friuli and the Veneto.

All in all, we had a very good time studying the Veneto!!

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This week, its Puglia and Sicilia.

However....we got off to a bit of a slow start this morning.... there was a great 'festa' at the Postale apartment last night. BBQ ribs, cole slaw, potato salad, grilled asparagus, margharitas....and a ton of wine. The food was outstanding, the ribs were succulent all thanks to the secret ingredient, I'm sure, the gelato was a great finish, and the yo-yo demonstration was simply staggering. So, we all were very quiet and drank a lot of water this morning. :wacko:

The breadth of products the chefs brought from Puglia was quite impressive. This fantastic 'buttara' cheese. Take a mozzerella skin, then its filled with shredded fior di latte mozzerlla and made into a ball or its filled with creamy ricotta cheese. Really milky, running, oozy delcious. Wacky round cucumbers that were excellent just dressed with some olive oil, salt, vinegar and oregano. We had some excellent chickory, served boiled and dressed at your plate with a little olive oil. Nice little green chili peppers (sweet) that were simply sauteed in olive oil with fresh cherry tomatoes. Really tasty food. Looking forward to tommorow.

Ciao!

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