Monday, March 22, 2010

Rich Flavors and Wines to Go With Them

This week in Titina's kitchen, the final of four regional Italian wine and food pairing classes.

Customers are always asking us how to prepare an easy Italian party, says Capri Flavors owner Costanzo Vuotto. And that's how the idea for Let's Party Italian was born.

The classes are a great value. Students sample 6 Italian wines ranging in price from moderate to expensive. But in Italy, wine is always part of a meal. Unusual cheeses, breads and quick pastas are also on the menu.

This Thursday night--Italy's Piemonte Region. Here's what lead instructor, wine distributor, and European-trained Chef Isabelle Sofras Edwards has to say about this rich land in northern Italy.

The Piedmont is Italy’s westernmost region with borders on Switzerland and France, is hemmed in by the Alps and the Apennines, which explain why its name means, "foot of the mountain." The Piedmontese uphold their heritage of food and wine with unequaled staunchness. The flavors of Piedmont reach peaks in autumn, when the harvest is in and wooded slopes from the Alps to the Apennines supply game, mushrooms and white truffles, whose magical aromas enhance pastas and risotto’s, meats and cheeses. Those foods call for full-bodied red wines such as Barolo, the King of Italian wine and Barbaresco, and the Queen of Italian wine. Piedmont boasts the greatest number of classified wines, with 8 DOCGs and 43 DOCs, including the region wide appellation of Piemonte to classify premium wines. The Nebbiolo grape reigns supreme in the Piemonte with a lot of different regional variations better known as Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Ghemme and Carema. The more popular reds are Barbera and Dolcetto. Notable whites are the dry Gavi and Arneis and the sweet, bubbly Asti Spumante and its relative Moscato d'Asti. In this tasting we will try some of the most interesting wines and cheeses from this very impressive area.
  • Some seats are still available for Thursday. Call Capri Flavors 919-462-9255 for more information or click the link and book online. Chef Titina will return to her kitchen classroom next month. Let's Cook with Titina classes resume on April 5.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Titina's Kitchen Garden and a Recpie for Spring Greens

This week in Titina's kitchen the chef was getting ready to return to teaching--Her popular cooking classes resume April 5 .

But outside in Titina's garden--newly turned and smoothed earth ready for spring planting.

Like most Italian cooks, Titina feels a small plot of homegrown herbs and vegetables is essential to her kitchen. She likes to grow arugula, bay, and figs, along with lots of summer tomatoes, peppers, and basil, of course.

But Spring is the season for greens. Leafy greens like Chard are easy to grow--a good beginners plant.

If you don't have your own little kitchen plot, check out local farmers' markets. Greens are at their best when freshly picked.

Here's one of Titina's recipes that celebrates spring greens and a special pasta from Puglia, the rich farming region at the heel of Italy's boot. Puglia is famous for bread made from local wheat, wine, vegetables (including wonderful artichokes now available from Polli at Capri Flavors), and the ear-shaped pasta in this recipe.

(Note: This an interesting recipe to read. Don't miss the final line calling for a rough but honorable red wine.)

Orecchiette con Broccoli e Cavolfiori
Pasta with bitter greens and Cauliflower

1 small head white or green cauliflower
2 Tbsp fine sea salt
1 lb cima di rape or dandelion green, beet greens or red chard
2 ounces anchovies, preserved under salt
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
1 small, dried red chili pepper, crushed, or 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
3 fat cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and finely minced
3 ounces dried black olives, stones removed (optional)
12 ounces orecchiette
Coarse sea salt for the pasta water
1 cup just grated pecorino
1 cup just made fine bread crumbs, sautés in 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Serves: 6; Preparation Time: 30 minutes; Level of Difficulty: medium

Trim the cauliflower of its leaves and place it, whole, in a pot, covering it with cold water, adding 1 Tablespoon of fine sea salt and poaching it until tender. Drain the cauliflower and set aside. Wash and trim the rape and place them in a pot. Covering them with cold water, adding the remaining tablespoon of salt and poaching them for 3 minutes. Drain rape very well, transferring them to absorbent paper towels. When the rape are cooled a bit, squeeze each piece , extracting as much water as you can before chopping them coarsely and placing them in a bowl. Add the poached cauliflower, breaking it up and blending it lightly with the rape.
Rinse the anchovies and remove their heads and bones. Dry them on paper towels and crush lightly with a fork.
In a sauté pan over a medium flame, warm the olive oil, scenting it with fennel, crushed chili, and garlic, taking care not to color the garlic. Add the anchovies and olives, if you wish to use them, stirring and blending the components. Add this hot mixture to the bowl with the rape and the cauliflower, smashing the whole against the sides of the bowl, permitting the vegetables to inhale the hot , spicy bath.
Cook the orecchiette in abundant, sea salted water until al dente, draining the pasta but leaving it somewhat wet. Reserve 1/2 cup or so of its cooking liquids. Transfer the pasta to large, shallow, warmed bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the cooking liquids and the [pecorino to the sauce, thinning it only slightly. Add a few drops more of the cooking liquids only if the sauce is still extremely thick. Add the sauce to the pasta, tossing it and coating each little ear.
Dust the pasta with browned bread crumbs and present the dish with a rough but honorable red wine.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Taste of Spring--Pastiera Napoletana

In the dark old days refined sugar and flour were in short supply. These precious commodities were entrusted to convents where nuns did special baking to commemorate the church calendar. That's why many of Italy's traditional breads and sweets are associated with religious orders and Saint's days, Christmas and Easter time.

Titina's traditional Easter cake has even older origins. Pastiera Napoletana dates to ancient Roman celebrations of spring in Southern Italy. Flavored with orange blossoms, candied fruits and cinnamon, it is named for the City of Naples, that great, crazy, town across the bay from Titina's home island of Capri. Here's how she makes this cooking class favorite, a sweet celebration of all things spring.

-Titina’s Recipe-
Pastiera Napoletana
Italian Easter Cake

1 cup spelt (wheat grain) already cooked
1 cup milk
Zest of ½lemon peel
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup candied fruit; i.e. citron peel, cherries, finely diced
3 cups ricotta cheese
3 eggs yolks
4 eggs
½Tbsp orange blossom extract
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
Pinch of cinnamon

For the Pastry dough:
2 cups plain (all purpose) flour
15 Tbsp lard or butter
3 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar

Serves: 12; Preparation time: 30minutes; Cooking Time: 60 minutes; Level of Difficulty: Medium

Mix the grain with the milk, grated lemon peel, cinnamon, and 1 cup of granulated sugar. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Let cool.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the finely diced candied fruit into the ricotta. Add the remaining sugar, eggs, grain mixture, and orange extract.

For the pastry dough:
Heap the flour onto the work surface. Make a well in the center of the flour into which you will put the butter broken pieces-softened not melted, the sugar and the egg yolks. Work with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Knead briefly until the dough comes together.
Roll out three-quarters of the dough to line a 9-inch buttered and lightly floured spring-form pan. Pour in the ricotta filling. Roll out the remaining dough, cut into strips and lay over the filling in a latticework design. Bake in the oven at 350°F for about an hour until it turns golden. Allow the cake to cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Blind Taste Test and Some Surprising Cheeses

Great wines, foods and wealth of information in Thursday night's Let Party Italian class in the Capri Flavors kitchen. Taught by professional chef--turned wine distributor, Isabelle Sofras Edwards and Capri Flavors' own Raffaele Vuotto, the night was a big success--featuring 6 wines, 4 stunning and hard to find cheeses, 2 spicy meats and a elegant but easy pasta dish--All for just $40 a person

The food was wonderful. Many of the wines--very special. But this first in a series of wine and food paring classes had 4 big stars--

1) The Marzolino goat cheese was robust and delicious--a perfect pairing for it's Chianti Classico partner.

2) The San Felice, Vigorello was a run away winner in the Super Tuscan blind taste test. If you buy one expensive red, this should be it. A lovely vintage from old vines.

3) The Porcini Pasta--Isabelle's recipe was easy, elegant, and rich enough for a a great red wine.

4) And finally, Isabelle herself was a star. After more than a decade as a chef in European kitchens, she is an encyclopedia of Italian food and and wine, a wonderful teacher and a lot of fun in the kitchen. To watch her describe a famous Tuscan white and explain the term "Super Tuscan" click on the video below.

Next Week--the wines and foods of Veneto. On the menu--seafood, some very famous white wines and sparkling prosecco. Isabelle and Raffaele promise Bellinis and lots of other prosecco cocktails so their advice is bring your party hats. After all , Venice pretty much invented the party when it gave the world Carnival.

Go to Capri Flavors to book or call 919 462-9255 for more information.