Tag Archives: chef profiles

Chef Andreas Schwienbacher: Dreaming Big, with Flair and Focus, in Alto-Adige

Andreas Schwienbacher, 24, Head Chef at the 5-Star Alpenpalace

Andreas Schwienbacher, 24, Head Chef at the 5-Star Alpenpalace

Tucked away in the northernmost part of Italy in the Valle Aurina (Ahrntal in German), the Alpenpalace Deluxe Hotel and Spa Resort is a dreamy, elegant locale that manages an at-once über-luxurious and family-like ambiance. Here in this paradise for lovers of all things Alpine—outdoor activities galore, fascinating architecture, customs, and history, and pristine everything—I had an opportunity to chat with Andreas Schwienbacher, the talented head chef of the resort’s restaurant.

Originally from Lana near Bolzano, 24-four-year-old Schwienbacher is the youngest head chef in a 5-star hotel in the Alto-Adige regionno small accomplishment and one he is justifiably proud of. Having dreamed of becoming a chef since age 14, Andreas worked in various restaurants and hotels around the world, including nearby Austria and far-flung Australia, before taking on his role at the resort. Like many chefs, Andreas gives much credit to his experience working in the kitchens of a Michelin-starred restaurant, perhaps even more so than his training.  

Talking with a professional chef is always enlightening, and tends to challenge if not upset altogether many of one’s homespun cooking preconceptions. A few minutes chatting with this focused, attentive, serious-minded young man was no exception. Some topics covered included molecular gastronomy spheres; the use of kaolin to create, among other things, edible ‘stones’ (small boiled potatoes coated in the clay-like, neutral-tasting substance); plates adorned with non-comestible items like pebbles and pine cones, to evoke the forest and natural splendor of the area; and beef (the very best must be imported from outside Italy, an inconvenient truth to we of the buy local mindset, but one I’ve heard attested to more than once by pro chefs).

The young chef’s dreams and future plans? To create an intimate, 5-table gourmet dining experience (a restaurant within a restaurant, if you will, opening soon). And to earn 15 Gault & Millau points one day. Ambitious? Have a look at a sampling of creations by this extraordinary culinary talent, and then decide.

A three-butter starter: chervil, truffle, French:

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A prosciutto ‘rose’ wrapped around a black-olive sphere, with summer herbs and flowers, a crunchy prosciutto crumble, and decorative touches from the forest:

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Beef tenderloin with baby carrots, a crumble of hazelnuts, butter and flour, a kaolin-coated new potato ‘stone’, and exquisite jus:

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Detail showing the (sometimes forest-themed) creativity and whimsy the chef puts into his dishes:

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Close-up of the truffle butter. Because truffle butter deserves a close-up!:

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Head Chef Andreas Schwienbacher (right) with Chef Garde Manger Michael Sartor

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Another look at that stunning prosciutto ‘rose’:

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And I’ll leave you with a pretty view, in case you still need convincing:

a view of the Alpenpalace grounds

a view of the Alpenpalace grounds

 

Mugello Marvels: Ristorante Gli Artisti

Gli Artisti restaurant is a Borgo San Lorenzo institution

Gli Artisti restaurant is a Borgo San Lorenzo institution

Mugello Marvels explores the flavors and traditions of the Mugello region of northeast Tuscany, with an emphasis on local chefs, restaurants, food fairs, and events.

This second instalment of Mugello Marvels looks at another wonderful establishment in Borgo San Lorenzo. Ristorante Gli Artisti, which celebrated its official 100th anniversary last year yet in fact dates to the late 19th century, has long been associated with Mugello area artists—hence its name. Frequented over the years by the likes of Rutilio Muti (1904-1995) and Ezio Cecchini (1926-1984), both from Vicchio, it is located in a tiny piazza named for Angiolino Romagnoli (1834-1896), a painter from Borgo San Lorenzo of the Macchiaioli movement. Perhaps the most illustrious of Gli Artisti’s patrons was Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988), whose encaustic painting of horses on one of Gli Artisti’s walls has unfortunately been plastered over. Just down the street from the historic Teatro Giotto, the restaurant was a favorite meeting place of theatrical companies, known to gather here to dine and discuss the evening’s performance. A true Borgo San Lorenzo institution, Gli Artisti also happens to be the oldest still-active eating establishment in the Mugello.

Last year, two young Italians, brothers Luigi and Nicola Tranchina, stepped into this heady mix of local history and tradition to take the helm at Gli Artisti. Thirty-year-old Luigi, gracious and highly knowledgeable, brings significant restaurant experience with him as Gli Artisti’s new head.  He is also an expert sommelier.  Chef Nicola has since left the restaurant to pursue other activities. In his place is Rocco Lamorte, a gifted young chef whose skills and accomplishments—at a mere twenty years of age—are astounding. Graduate of the B. Buontalenti Institute with top marks, protégé of noted critic Leonardo Romanelli, student of chefs Italo Bassi and Riccardo Monco of Enoteca Pinchiorri—need I say more about this young man?

I recently had the fortune to sit down with Luigi to discuss his vision for Gli Artisti and the work he and his staff are doing. We covered many topics, from the fundamental importance of quality products and following a seasonal calendar to how the Italian sagra impacts diner expectations (I’ve written before about sagras, but always from the perspective of an outsider observing the social customs associated with this peculiar Italian tradition; hearing a serious restaurateur’s views on them was enlightening indeed). Mostly we discussed their guiding philosophy of ‘tradition and innovation’ and how they approach the challenge of creating innovative dishes that simultaneously reflect and transcend the boundaries of traditional Tuscan cuisine.

A tall order, even more so here in the Mugello, where the notion of ‘Tuscan’ narrows to a few definitive items—crostini, tortelli, bistecca—yet these young men give the impression they would never be content to rest on their laurels. The dishes at Gli Artisti speak for themselves, revealing a perfect proficiency in the classic Tuscan repertoire together with the daring and aplomb that comes with experience. By exalting the traditional and classic through clever twists and touches, inventive flavor pairing, and only the very best ingredients, the team at Gli Artisti has achieved something extraordinary. Have a look at a selection from their menu:

To begin, the classic crostini toscani get a makeover, transformed into a terrine-like pâté  served with a loquat mostarda and a crispy pane carasau wafer:

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Next is the Fiori di Cipolla, a slow cooked, tender onion served with a D.O.P. Taleggio with hints of hay on a multi-grain puff pastry toast, drizzled with a 30-year-aged balsamic vinegar. Thus, Tuscan staples of bread-and-vegetable become the base for this delicate ‘flower’ of harmonious flavors:

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The Intrigo Mugellano is a fusion of two types of fresh pasta, tortelli and pappardelle. A long, potato-stuffed pappardella is twirled on the plate (a symbolic and playful twist on the classic tortelli shape) in a creamed garlic sauce garnished with threads of chilli pepper and dusted with sweet chilli powder, recalling the ubiquitous aglio e pepperoncino. Same ingredients, made over with distinction and flair:

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Perhaps no dish reflects the idea of sperimentare senza mai dimenticare la tradizione or ‘experimenting while never forgetting tradition’ as perfectly as Come se fosse un Cantuccio, an ingenious variation on the uber-Tuscan dessert of cantucci cookies and vin santo: a vin santo sorbet served on a cantucci pratesi crumble ‘bed’ topped with a vin santo air—sometimes called foam in molecular gastronomy—that delivers flavor without substance, prepping the palate for flavors to come.  Those fond of texture contrasts will love this. By the way, Rocco and Luigi will present this masterful dessert at Expo 2015 next month:

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If you go: Take some time to study and appreciate the menu, which changes in accordance with the seasons and typically requires a month to create, plan, and test. Note the ® symbol next to certain items; this indicates a dish of their own unique design. Consider the very well-priced tasting menu to appreciate a broader sampling of the menu. There are several vegetarian options, and vegan dining is possible with advance notice.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Remember that Luigi is a trained sommelier so with regard to wine choice you’re in excellent hands. Moreover, he truly enjoys giving suggestions and seeing his clients happy—a great source of satisfaction, as he describes it, for people so passionate about the work they do. The dream? A Michelin star, someday. It’s early days yet, but I’d wager it will happen.

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Rocco Lamorte (left) and Luigi Tranchina

Ristorante Gli Artisti
Piazza Angelo Romagnoli, 1
Borgo San Lorenzo
055 845 7707
www.gliartistiristorante.it
info@gliartistiristorante.com

Alici alla Scapece: Tiny Fish, Big on Flavor & Long on History

a method by many names

a method by many names

Alla scapece is the southern Italian term for an ancient preservation method, one used for centuries throughout the Mediterranean region, which consists of frying small fish such as sardines or anchovies then sealing them in a marinade of oil, spices, and lemon or vinegar. Alla scapece, together with the Venetian in soar (as in sarde or pesse in soar), pesciolini in carpione of the Lakes Region in Lombardy, and escabeche in Spain, Portugal, parts of Southern France, and Northern Africa, all derive from the Persian sikbaj (or al-sikbaj), described by John Dickie in Delizia! as ‘a sweet and tangy Persian stew […] that became popular in much of the Muslim world.’ In his book The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, Daniel Jurafsky traces the evolution of sikbaj from its origins as a centuries-long favorite in the Arab world to its eventual morphing into the classic fish & chips of today. The link, interestingly, between these two distant relatives is the method of frying (in the case of sikbaj it was meat, not fish) then marinating in vinegar.  Apparently this is why we serve batter-fried fish with vinegar!

Okay, history lesson’s over. I tried alici alla scapece for the first time last year on the breathtaking island of Ponza, as a guest of chef Oreste Romagnolo, who runs not one but two amazing restaurants on the island—Orèstorante and Orèsteria (both establishments’ names are plays on their founder’s first name + ristorante and osteria, respectively). In Romagnolo’s version, the anchovies are fried then marinated in vinegar, olive oil, rosemary, garlic, and mint. Served chilled, these anchovies were nothing like what you expect when…well, when eating an anchovy. Delicate, savory, not overly-fishy, and not too salty.

Romagnolo, an avid sailor, hails from Avellino. He’s been based on Ponza since 1995, the year he opened Orèstorante with his wife, Valentina, a sommelier and pastry chef. Some years ago he published a monograph, Orèstorante: Isola di Ponza 1995 – 2005 (out of print and virtually impossible to find) in collaboration with photographer Adriano Bacchella. Though a bit off topic, I simply cannot conclude this post without referring you to Bacchella’s site to get a glimpse of his stunning photography. And if you ever make it to Ponza, be sure to find one or both of Oreste Romagnolo’s incomparable restaurants. The man knows his fish.

A sign for Orèsteria, run by Oreste, who also owns Orèstorante, both located on Ponza

Another Gastro Gaffe? Chef Carlo Cracco’s Scandalous Sugo all’Amatriciana

spaghetti all'amatriciana

all’amatriciana, sans garlic

Here we go again. Just weeks after a Star brand television commercial stirred a heated debate with its portrayal of a Sicilian housewife adding a bouillon cube to the classic dish caponata, Italians are once more up in arms over another publicized violation of a beloved dish—this time, the pasta sauce known as sugo all’amatriciana. At the heart of the heresy is Carlo Cracco, an accomplished Italian chef and restaurateur whose steely-eyed manner wreaks fear and trembling on MasterChef Italia contestants. This week, during a guest appearance on the popular (really horrible, actually) television show C’è Posta Per Te, Cracco stated that he adds aglio in camicia, or unpeeled garlic, to his amatriciana sauce.

The reaction? Well, for starters, a Google News search for ‘Carlo Cracco’ yielded over 120 articles in the Italian media today. And as one Italian journalist cheekily put it, Cracco is sure to be roasted for this ‘MasterChoc’ (choc being the Italianized form of the English loan word shock). Particularly piqued are the people of Amatrice, the town in northern Lazio from which the dish gets its name. The mayor of Amatrice—that’s right, the mayor—has, in addition to inviting Cracco to Amatrice to ‘learn’ how to make the true sugo all’amatriciana, responded by publishing the only ingredients sanctioned in his town’s namesake sauce on the main page of the city’s official website: guanciale, pecorino cheese, white wine, San Marzano tomatoes, black pepper and chilli pepper. Sans garlic, fool.

What’s more, don’t go thinking you can toss just any old pasta in an amatriciana sauce (I mean, do you have a death wish or something?) Spaghetti. Only spaghetti. It says so right on the sign for Amatrice, for Pete’s sake!—

Spaghetti City

Spaghetti City

A Caponata Controversy, or How to Piss Off a Sicilian

making my own mischief: caponata with prawns

making my own mischief: caponata with prawns

You gotta love Italians. For a population at times so indifferent to its societal troubles (political corruption, tax evasion, pension reform, pollution, to name a few), they are oddly disposed to rather vocal, even organized indignation when it comes to their food.

A commercial for Star brand dadi, or what we’d call bouillon cubes, is being lambasted these days as an ‘insult to Sicilian cuisine.’ The spot features a Sicilian woman at her stove alongside Tiziana Stefanelli, winner of the second MasterChef Italia, and as the two cheerily proceed with making a Sicilian classic, caponata, one of them adds a (gasp!) Star dado—the source of all the recent uproar. With the Teatro Politeama Garibaldi visible through a background window, the setting is unmistakably Palermo, although many have been quick to point out the housewife speaks nothing like a palermitano (wanting to disassociate, no doubt). Like salt on a wound, she then recites the slogan, Se non c’è il dado non c’è caponata, e se non c’è caponata non c’è famiglia (roughly: ‘Without a bouillon cube there’s no caponata, and without caponata there’s no family’). People are totally freaking out.

The outcry on the web includes a Facebook page called La caponata Siciliana non va profanata (‘Sicilian caponata must not be desecrated’), an outlet for indignant Italians to voice their stance that using a dado in a caponata is both insulting and unnecessary. Some are calling for the commercial to be cancelled. As well, the Star brand’s Facebook page has been filled with critical comments regarding the commercial, while on Twitter the hashtag #savecaponata is getting a fair amount of play.

Protests have come as well in the form of letters to Star’s customer service department, and in several posts on sites and blogs dedicated to Sicilian cooking, with apt doses of wit and brio. I counted at least five bloggers using the adopted slogan alla faccia del dado Star (‘In your face, Star bouillon’). Too many media outlets to count are covering the controversy.

In a post titled Giù le mani dalla mia caponata (‘Hands off my caponata’), journalist and Palermo native Giusi Battaglia, in addition to criticizing Stefanelli for having ‘colluded’ with Star, had this to say (my translation): ‘If there is one thing we Sicilians can be proud of, it is our centuries-long gastronomic culture. A bouillon cube in caponata is like Lucifer in heaven. Period.’ Battaglia says she contacted Stefanelli, citing the latter’s duty to decline such a request from a multinational, calling the whole business ‘dirty’ and detrimental to her credibility. Stefanelli’s response? ‘My husband is Sicilian. I know how to make caponata. The bouillon cube helps to bring all the flavors together, especially for amateur cooks.’

Meanwhile, the Star group’s response has been simple: ‘In this spot we are showing one interpretation of the recipe, one which can be personalized, as with the addition of other ingredients.’ Actually, caponata does vary throughout southern Italy. Some versions include artichokes, others fish, or peeled whole tomatoes instead of tomato sauce, and so on. Yours truly recently made a version of caponota with prawns. So, in theory, Star’s defense is sensible. Recipes change. Variations abound.

But no one’s having it. The frenzy over this spirited dado debate—which at its core seems to me not about adding or varying an ingredient but rather the lowly bouillon cube itself, widely considered a culinary shortcut of poseurs and dilettantes—continues to gain steam and yield evermore imaginative responses. The folks at StrEat Palermo recently posted a video in which they explain how the bouillon cube can be used in another Palermo specialty, pani câ meusa, a sandwich made from veal organs. It’s pretty funny. Still others are advocating for reason and good sense, summed up by a comment I saw recurring across various media: Hasn’t Sicily got other things to worry about?

An Island Wonder: Tradition & Innovation at Ventotene’s ‘Il Giardino’ Restaurant

a tour de force

a tour de force

There are so many reasons to visit the tiny Italian island Ventotene. To convince you, I could talk about the island’s fascinating history—of the tufa-carved port that served the structure known today as Villa Giulia, Emperor Augustus’s luxurious vacation villa that would become his daughter, Julia’s, place of exile. I could post pictures of the endlessly stunning seascapes, or recount my experiences with some of the island’s uber-friendly locals (fewer than 900 in off-season).  If you’re anything like me, however, the one aspect of a place sure to hook your interest will be its food. And on this count, Ventotene will not disappoint.

Recently I met the two skilled and charming cooks at Il Giardino, Candida and Christian.

Cooks Candida and Christian of Il Giardino Restaurant

Cooks Candida and Christian of Il Giardino Restaurant

Christian is from Ecuador and has lived in Italy for 13 years. He moved to Ventotene after living six years in Rome, during which time he was chef assistant to Giovanni Passerini at Uno e Bino, an acclaimed establishment in Rome’s San Lorenzo quarter that closed about five years ago (Passerini went on to start Rino in Paris). Today Christian works alongside the restaurant founders, Candida and Giovanni, who opened Il Giardino over thirty years ago, and their children.

In the kitchen, Candida’s extensive cooking experience and knowledge of the island—its abundance, its limitations—pair perfectly with Christian’s flair, innovation, and hard-won expertise, resulting in dishes that are at once harmonious, delectable, and beautiful to behold. Per Giovanni’s vision, Il Giardino strives to use only products available on Ventotene. This means no or very little meat. As Candida explains, birds are protected on Ventotene, a migratory stopover; so birds are ‘off the menu’. There are no livestock farms here, and while the cooks could pick up some pre-packaged meats delivered from the mainland to the island grocer, doing so would not be in line with the restaurant’s philosophy. There is no game to hunt on Ventotene, save the occasional rabbit, which local hunters might sell to Candida from time to time. Yet outside sporadic windfalls of this kind, the menu at Il Giardino is based exclusively on fish and seafood—selected each morning at the port by Giovanni himself—and vegetables grown on the island, fairly bountiful: onion, tomato, zucchini, eggplant, peas, artichokes, lentils, potatoes, and more.

Working within the limitations of this island life must surely be a challenge, and no doubt lesser cooks would falter. These two have absolutely flourished. Have a look at the two astonishing dishes Christian kindly prepared for me, using local, fresh ingredients favored by the restaurant.

Carpaccio of Marinated Ricciola Fish

The ricciola, marinated in extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, is served with an orange emulsion, fresh fennel, bean sprouts, and capers. You will be forever dubious of cooked fish after tasting this melt-in-your-mouth delicacy.

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Fried Zucchini Flowers with Tomato Confit & Capers

The flower is stuffed with ricotta and pecorino and fried to perfection. But what renders this dish a tour de force is Christian’s trademark confit, made by oven-cooking Pachino tomatoes low and slow (100 °C for 3 hours) with clove, lemon zest, and powdered sugar.

Ventotene is reachable by ferry from the town Formia, located on the Gulf of Gaeta and roughly halfway between Rome and Naples. In summer the island bursts with visitors, and the season peaks with ten days of festivities leading up to September 20, feast day of the island’s patron saint, Candida. When I arrived on Ventotene, the celebrations had concluded by just a few days, and the atmosphere was thrilling and blustery yet calm, with few tourists in sight. Just the odd sea view or two to whet your appetite (I couldn’t resist!):

the view from tiny Ventotene of even tinier Santo Stefano

the view from tiny Ventotene of even tinier Santo Stefano

Tomato Sorbet

sorbetto al pomodoro

sorbetto al pomodoro

I tasted tomato sorbet for the first time quite recently, while participating in the Food Blogger Contest hosted by Chef Academy Italy in Terni in May. The morning of the event, we bloggers had been assigned to teams of students, each team under the supervision of a professional chef instructor of the Academy. I had the privilege that morning of working alongside Chef Maurizio Serva, who runs La Trota restaurant in Rivodutri in the province of Rieti in Lazio. Chef Serva stopped me at one point amid the controlled kitchen chaos to have me taste a tomato sorbet (a nearby student offering me a spoon quickly produced from his shirtsleeve pocket), to later be paired with a revamped version of this dish of mine during the competition tastings. Things were so busy that day I didn’t think to ask for the recipe, but today I decided to try to make it based on taste-memory.

This savory and tangy sorbet could be served in between courses, especially during a seafood or fish-based meal; or as an accompaniment to any spicy or crunchy vegetable dish, such as fried eggplant or zucchini.

Ingredients

500 grams tomatoes (about a pound)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
fresh basil
salt

Instructions

Score and boil the tomatoes for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and let cool. Peel and deseed the tomatoes. I never manage to remove all the seeds, which probably doesn’t matter for this recipe. But if you’re an OCD type about this kind of thing, you could strain the pulp to make sure you catch every last one. Place the pulp in a bowl or tall container. Add the lemon juice, a few basil leaves, and a few pinches of salt. Either pulse with a wand mixer or use a blender. You want a well-blended, smoothie-like texture, not too liquidy. Taste the mixture to check for the right level of saltiness. Freeze for about 2 hours, checking and forking the sorbet occasionally. If you let the sorbet freeze completely, be sure to take it out of the freezer about an hour before you intend to serve it. You will need to reblend it after it partially thaws.

The Revival of Magalotti Beer

a tall glass of history

a tall glass of history

Magalotti Brewery was in operation in the Umbrian town of Terni from 1845 to 1936. At the height of its production, it made ice and soft beverages in addition to beer, putting to use the natural spring waters abundant in the area. Magalotti was a thriving business in the old center of Terni, where today the original brewery structure still exists, though damaged and currently unused, on a tiny side street named for this enterprise once so vital to the town, Vico Birreria.

Last month I spent two fast-paced, spirited days in Terni as a guest of Chef Academy Italy, an experience probably best described as enlightening. I learned some valuable tricks and techniques and gained familiarity with a professional kitchen, to be sure, yet what I really took away from those two days was something more substantial, weightier, if you will, than practical skill. As those circa 48 whirlwind hours passed—hours filled with tours, chats, laughter both nervous and hearty, kitchen work, a seemingly endless succession of gorgeous dishes, some 300 plus photos—I felt at times I was undergoing a kind of information and sensory saturation. Nearly every moment brought some new piece of knowledge, fascinating factoid, flavor, or quasi-mini-epiphany, sustaining a state of cerebral overdrive (and aching feet) until the moment I flat-lined on my hotel bed. I learned, saw, and tasted so much that even a month later the many ideas ignited by the experience have not yet died out, but rather have stayed in my memory bank like embers of enduring inspiration. In the midst of this, something even more remarkable was happening—meeting awesome people.

Back to the beer. Andrea Goracci is a professional chef and instructor at the Academy who specializes in, among other things, cooking with beer. In 2000 Andrea, together with two friends, brought Magalotti beer production back to life. Their research led to a rediscovery of the original Magalotti recipe, and through a partnership they arranged with a top quality Austrian beer maker, they reinstated the Magalotti label, once so fundamental to their town. At the Magalotti Restaurant, Andrea and his partners serve traditional Umbrian as well as international cuisine, and, you guessed it, dishes prepared with their beers. These include meatballs with pine nuts and pilsner; ciriole (pasta) in a sauce of guanciale, stout, marjoram and pecorino;  and slow-cooked pork shank braised in stout.

Nothing piques my curiosity like a forgotten food-related custom or tradition, so when our guide pointed out the old brewery during a tour of Terni, I immediately made a mental note to look into it and was thrilled to learn shortly after that one of the chefs we were working with was involved! When it came time to say farewell to our gracious hosts at the Chef Academy Italy, we bloggers were given hefty gift bags filled with all sorts of amazing yummies and local specialties, among them, some samples of this brew with a history, reborn thanks to the efforts of one of the very special chefs I had the fortune to meet last month.

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‘Brewery Alley’ in Terni’s old town center

Fried Spud & Tub Fish Towers

tubfish

spud & tub towers

Admit it. The title got your attention.

I’ve been taking a cooking class this month, four lessons of exclusively fish and seafood recipes developed by a local chef named Sauro Ciani. Needless to say, I’ve enjoyed myself. This recipe, from our first lesson, calls for grouper fish (cernia), which was not available at the fish counter I frequent so, per Sauro’s recommendation, I used an even funnier-named fish, tub gurnard, or tub fish (gallinella) instead.
 

Ingredients for 4

700 grams (1 & 1/2 lbs) grouper or tub fish fillets
700 grams of boiled potatoes (about 4 medium potatoes)
2 yellow onions
1 clove garlic
rice flour
1 bunch of fresh chives
1 bunch of fresh parsley
8 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 Tbls olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

Boil the potatoes with the skins on until they are al dente (cooked but still firm, not mushy).  Drain and let cool. When cool enough, peel off the skins and slice the potato into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Set aside.

Prepare the fish. Rinse the fillets. Using a sharp, long knife, slice the fish into small ‘scallop’-shaped pieces, working with the natural structure of the flesh (not against), and at a low angle, almost sideways. As you proceed, most of the skin of the fish will come away pretty easily, but don’t worry if some remains. It will fry up nicely. You will have several scallops roughly the same size as your potato rounds. Flour both sides of the scallops in rice flour and leave aside, directly in the flour on a plate is fine.

Peel and thinly slice the onions.  Rinse the parsley and finely chop it together with the garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. When the oil is hot start frying the potato slices. When the first side is golden, gently flip the rounds and sprinkle with some of the parsley and garlic. (You might end up doing this step more than once, depending on the size of your pan, so do not necessarily use up all the parsley on the first round of frying). When the second side of the potatoes is golden, lift out the rounds, place them on a paper-towel covered plate, and dust with salt. Keep going until all the potato slices are cooked.

In the same pan begin frying the scallops of fish.  You might need to add more oil. Cook for about four minutes on each side, or until very golden and slightly crunchy. Remove to paper and salt.

Still using the same pan, fry the onions (lower the heat a bit). While these are cooking, begin making the towers. On a serving platter, prepare a layer of potato rounds. Then, on top of each round place a slice of fish. Keep ‘building up the tower’  until you have finished the ingredients, checking on your onions periodically while you do so. Don’t worry if your towers are neither entirely vertical nor immune to toppling. When the onions are golden and slightly crunchy sprinkle them on top of the towers, now garnish with the thyme and/or chive.

Roasted Guinea Fowl with Black Truffle & Orange Zest

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just out of the oven

This recipe comes courtesy of Giorgio Barchiesi, known to Italian foodies as Giorgione, whose Gambero Rosso-produced cooking program Giorgione, Orto e Cucina (‘garden and kitchen’) has garnered a large and loyal following here. Beloved by his fans for his simple, fresh dishes—mostly pasta, with sauces made from vegetables just-picked from his home garden in Umbria—Giorgione embodies the antithesis of those uber-elegant, professionally-trained chefs who, with their spotless aprons and bleached-sterile counter tops, make such a fuss over presentation. Don’t get me wrong: the artistry of cooking is relevant, to be sure. But there’s nothing more irksome than waiting for a celebrity chef to finish carving dainty lemon cups, or take ten minutes to arrange two chive sprigs, or go all O.C.D.-like while drizzling some reduction or other on a white plate.

Giorgione’s having none of it. His recipes are easy to follow, practical, and realistically presented; his ingredients are few, fresh, harmonized; and his personal style is disarmingly laid-back. Watching him lug his painstakingly cared-for veggies into his country kitchen, or drip sauce on the counter, or burn his tongue in his impatience to sample his creation, wins me over again and again. Really, who can resist a man who forages for mushrooms and sings to his chickens?

I love that Giorgione markets his persona on his own terms—he is a farmer, after all; why shouldn’t a farmer wear denim overalls on television?—yet undoubtedly he and his producers are aware of how very astutely they have tapped into the Italian fascination with anything old-worldly or peasant-like. The more modern Italy becomes, the more it seems Italians crave and cling to anything that smacks of the traditional, homespun, old-fashioned—how nonna did things, in short. The Gambero Rosso channel’s promo for ‘Orto e Cucina‘, in fact, plays on this pull between rustic and refined. Barchiesi himself brings a winning touch of self-effacement to the spot. You’ve got to watch it!

This recipe of Giorgione’s for roasted guinea fowl (faraona in Italian) got my attention immediately with its curious blend of aromas: orange zest, black truffle, some pork fat, sage and rosemary.

Ingredients

1 guinea fowl, preferably young (12 weeks and up), approximately 1-1.25 kilos (2¼ to 3 pounds)
6 or 7 black truffle slices*
A few slices of lardo di Colonnata, if you can get it (see Emiko Davies’s gorgeous post for more on Tuscan lardo). Thinly sliced pancetta will also work.
orange zest
1 orange slice
1 sage leaf
1 rosemary sprig
coarse salt
ground black pepper

Instructions

Giorgione says to clean and eviscerate the guinea fowl, leaving it whole (obviously we mere mortals will have our butcher do this).

Heat the oven to 190° C (375° F). Line a roasting pan with a large sheet of aluminum foil, enough for the sides to meet and close over the entire fowl. Place the fowl inside.

In a bowl combine the salt, pepper and orange zest (‘not too much’ zest, says Giorgione; I used about half of a large orange’s zest). Beat one slice of lardo or pancetta until it starts to break apart. Using your fingers, work the fat into the salt, pepper and zest until you have a chunky paste. With this, rub the inside of the bird’s body cavity, and leave what remains inside. Add one orange slice to the inside of the bird.

Now rub down the outside of the fowl with salt and pepper. If your truffles are whole, thinly slice one (you should have 5-7 slices, depending on the size of the truffle). Put half inside the bird. Add one sprig of rosemary and one sage leaf (Giorgione is very clear about this—only one of each). Thinly slice the rest of the lardo, and cover the outside of the fowl with these and the remaining truffle slices. Drizzle the entire bird with a bit of olive oil. Now seal up the foil and roast for about 45 minutes.

*Truffles are obviously not commonly found in the average pantry. They are an investment, a treat for special occasions, although admittedly here in Tuscany the business of truffle hunting and selling gives us an immediate advantage (for Giorgione even more so in Umbria) when it comes to cost and availability. For this recipe, I purchased a 30-gram jar of Savini brand black summer truffle slices for 17 euros. I’ve seen the same or similar jars going for 40 to 60 dollars in the U.S. While an Italian would scoff, and a Frenchman probably keel over outright, I see no reason not to try, at least once, the much less expensive Chinese varieties available in stores. Just make sure they are packed in nothing other than salt and water or oil. Avoid truffle products whose label includes ‘essence of’ or ‘natural flavoring.’

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orange zest & lardo

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sliced black truffles

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ready for the oven