Agnolotti del Plin – Piedmont’s Favorite Stuffed Pasta

agnolotti-del-plin-above-wine-tours-baroloI recently returned to the lovely Italy region of Piedmont to continue to research for our Barolo Walk and Wine Piedmont Walking tour. I recall my very first trip to the region, and my first taste of the local stuffed pasta, agnolotti, and their bright orange color. I soon discovered the source of this color was the intense orange of the egg yolks, which are the only part of the egg used in this pasta.

view-barbaresco-wine-tours-baroloI still indulge in this dish on every visit to the area, and finally created it here in my home kitchen to share with my family during the holidays. I referred to several authentic traditional recipes as I developed this recipe, but most of these skimp on instructions – they assume you already are well familiar with the process of making pasta. So I have included more details, and the recipe for the egg yolk pasta is from the French Laundry cookbook by Thomas Keller.

agnolotti-del-plin-la-morra-wine-tours-baroloBut the description of the dish itself from one cookbook I purchased in Italy provides a nice history of this local favorite. It begins by referring to one legend on the origins of this pasta, attributing it to a French chef in Torino. But the authors continue:

“But I am not so willing to accept the origins of this dish as attributed to the French chef mainly because agnolotti have been a part of the cuisine of this region for too many generations, and in a wide variety of versions, practically one for each Langhe village and farmhouse. For a long time this dish was probably served as the single-course main Sunday meal, and over time a rare balance of flavors was achieved: the gravy from the roast meat was the sauce for the agnolotti while the meat itself was used in the filling.

In the highest and poorest part of the Langhe, where veal or pork were often not available for economic reasons, they substituted pork and veal with barnyard rabbit, which was cooked and boned, and then used both for the filling and the sauce. This is a delicious variation and has a delicate, yet not by any means insubstantial flavor, and was skillfully prepared by the Langhe women.

agnolotti-side-wine-tours-baroloThe form and the texture of the pasta can also be varied (quite thick, thin, or extremely thin) and the shape can be square as is the tendency in Alba, slightly rectangular or “pessia”, or “del plin” (pinched) in the hilly area from around Alba into the High Langhe area. They are all perfect, tasty, and have a well-balanced filling which requires careful preparation.

My father taught me how to appreciate agnolotti with wine: put about a dozen freshly drained steaming agnolotti into a bowl and cover them immediately with Dolcetto wine, fishing them out one at a time with your fork.”

Nonna Genia, by Beppe Lodi and Luciano De Giacomi

agnolotti-del-plin-close-wine-tours-baroloAgnolotti del Plin

Serves 8 – 10 as an appetizer, 6 – 8 as a main course

For the pasta:

1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
6 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon milk

For the filling:

9 oz. mixed meats – veal, pork, beef, lamb. Either cut into 1-inch cubes, or you can use ground meats
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups loosely packed baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp. sherry vinegar
1 egg
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the sauce:

Semolina flour for dusting
8 Tbs. (1 stick) (4 oz./125 g) unsalted butter
4 whole sage leaves, plus more for garnish
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for finishing

To make the ravioli dough:

Mound flour on a clean flat surface and create a well in the center, pushing the flour to all sides to make a ring with sides about 1-inch wide. Make sure that the well is wide enough to hold all the eggs without spilling.

egg-yolk-pasta-wine-tours-italyPour the egg yolks, egg, oil and milk into the well. Use your fingers or a fork to break the eggs up. Still using a fork or your fingers, begin turning the eggs in a circular motion, keeping them within the well and not allowing them to spill over the sides. Using this circular motion, gradually pull in flour from the sides of the well; it is important that the flour not be incorporated into the eggs too rapidly, or dough will be lumpy. Keep moving the eggs while slowly incorporating the flour. Using a pastry scraper, occasionally push the flour toward the eggs; the flour should be moved only enough to maintain the gradual incorporation of the flour, and the eggs should continue to be contained within the well. The mixture will thicken and eventually get too tight to keep turning with your fingers.

ring-egg-yolk-pasta-wine-tours-italyWhen the dough begins thickening and starts lifting itself from the board, begin incorporating the remaining flour with the pastry scraper by lifting the flour up and over the dough that’s beginning to form and cutting it into the dough. When the remaining flour from the sides of the well has been cut into the dough, the dough will still look shaggy. Bring the dough together with the palms of your hands and form it into a ball. It will look flaky but will hold together.

egg-yolk-pasta-dough-wine-tours-italyKnead the dough by pressing it, bit by bit, in a forward motion with the heels of your hands rather than folding it over on itself as you would with a bread dough. Re-form the dough into a ball and repeat the process several times. The dough should feel moist but not sticky. Let the dough rest for a few minutes while you clean the work surface.

Dust the clean work surface with a little flour. Knead the dough by pushing against it in a forward motion with the heels of your hands. Form the dough into a ball again and knead it again. Keep kneading in this forward motion until the dough becomes silky smooth. The dough is ready when you can pull your finger through it and the dough wants to snap back into place. The kneading process can take from 10 to 15 minutes.

Even if you think you are finished kneading, knead it for an extra 10 minutes; you cannot over-knead this dough. It is important to work the dough long enough to pass the pull test; otherwise, when it rests, it will collapse.

Double-wrap the dough in plastic wrap to ensure that it does not dry out. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour before rolling it through a pasta machine. The dough can be made a day ahead, wrapped and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before proceeding.

To make the filling:

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over high heat. Add the mixed meats and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is caramelized and deeply browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the meat and set aside.

In the same pan over high heat, add the remaining olive oil and the onion. Cook for about 4 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release the caramelized meat bits, until the onions are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the red wine and cook until the pan is almost dry, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Add the vegetables to the meat, and allow to cool.

Combine the onion mixture with the browned meat in a bowl and stir until well incorporated. Put the warm meat mixture into a food processor to grind it to a smooth texture or chop it as finely as you can by hand.

Once the meat is ground, add the vinegar, egg, Parmigiano-Reggiano and nutmeg and season with black pepper and salt. Mix well.

To form the agnolotti:

To roll out the pasta using a pasta machine, divide the dough into 4 – 6 pieces. You will roll out one piece at a time, while rolling keep the remainder covered with plastic wrap so it does not dry out. Lightly flour the machine rollers, the work surface around the machine, and the first piece of dough. Set the rollers at the widest setting. Flatten the dough into a disc, sprinkle with flour, then feed the disc into the space between the two rollers. Feed the dough through with one hand, while holding the upturned palm of your hand under the sheet emerging from the rollers. Keep your palm flat to protect the dough from punctures by your fingers.

rolling-pasta-wine-tours-baroloAs the sheet emerges from the rollers, guide it away from the machine with your palm. Pass the dough through the rollers five to six times, folding it into thirds and flouring it each time. Then set the rollers at the next narrower setting and pass the dough through three times, folding it in half each time. Repeat, passing it through three times at each successively narrower setting. Repeated stretching and thinning builds up elasticity making especially light pasta. If the sheet becomes too long to handle comfortably, cut it in half or thirds and work the pieces in tandem.

rolling-pasta-sheet-wine-tours-baroloDon’t worry if at first the dough tears, has holes, is lumpy, or is very moist. Just lightly flour it by pulling the dough over the floured work surface. Take care not to overdo the flouring, or the dough may get too stiff. As you keep putting it through the rollers, it will be transformed from slightly lumpy and possibly torn to a smooth, satiny sheet with fine elasticity.

Different machines have different numbers of settings. These ravioli use the thinnest setting on a machine, which will be thin enough for you to see color and shape through it; this is perfect for lasagna and filled pastas. If it is so thin that the dough tears easily, however, stop at the next to last setting.

Place the pasta sheets on a floured sheet pan, separated by deli paper or plastic wrap. Cover the pile with a slightly damp towel.

To fill the agnolotti:

Dust 2 baking sheets with semolina flour and set aside.

Work with one sheet of pasta at a time, keeping the remaining sheets covered so they do not dry out.

Lay the pasta sheet on a lightly floured work surface with a long side facing you. Trim the edges so they are straight. Place the agnolotti filling in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip, or if you don’t have a pastry bag, you can use a resealable plastic bag, cutting off a bottom corner to make a 1/2 inch opening. Pipe a “tube” of filling across the bottom of the pasta sheet, leaving a 3/4 inch border of pasta along the left, right and bottom edges.

filling-agnolotti-wine-tours-italyPull the bottom edge of the pasta up and over the filling and pressing lightly with your index finger to seal the edge of the dough to the pasta sheet; don’t drag your finger along the dough to seal or you risk ripping the dough. When it is sealed, there should be about 1/2 inch of excess dough visible above the tube of filling (where you sealed it). Be certain that you are sealing tightly while pressing out any pockets of air. Seal the left and right ends of the dough.

filling-agnolotti-wine-tours-italyTo shape the agnolotti

Starting at one end, place the thumb and forefinger of each hand together as if you were going to pinch something and, leaving about 1 inch of space between your hands and holding your fingers vertically , pinch the filling in 1-inch increments, making about 3/4 inch of “pinched” area between each pocket of filling. It is important to leave this much “pinched” area between the agnolotti, or when the agnolotti are separated, they may com unsealed.

pinching-agnolotti-wine-tours-italyRun a crimped pastry wheel along the top edge of the folded-over dough, separating the strip of filled pockets from the remainder of the pasta sheet. Don’t cut too close to the filling, or you risk breaking the seal. Separate the individual agnolotti by cutting through the center of each pinched area, rolling the pastry wheel away from you. Working quickly, place the agnolotti on a baking sheet dusted with a thin layer of cornmeal, which will help prevent sticking. Don’t let the agnolotti touch each other or they may stick together.

agnolotti-wine-tours-italyRepeat the same procedure on the remainder of the pasta sheets. Either cook the agnolotti immediately in boiling water, or place the baking sheets in the freezer. Once the agnolotti are frozen, place them straight into airtight freezer bags and keep them frozen for up to several weeks. Cook the agnolotti while still frozen.

To serve:

Melt butter in a large saute pan. Add the sage and cook for 1 minute. Add the cooked agnolotti, stir to combine and heat everything, Place into serving bowls and finish with grated Parmigiiano-Reggiano and sage. Serve with one of the amazing wines from the region, like a Nebbiolo from Langhe.

agnolotti-del-plin-wine-tours-barolo

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Barolo – Where Luxurious Wines Spring from Italy’s Loveliest Vineyards

barolo-view-piedmont-walking-toursThe most prestigious wine zone in the region of Piedmonte, and certainly a contender for the best in all of Italy, is the Barolo DOCG. Barolo is located in the Langhe, the southwestern portion of Piedmonte, a few miles from Alba. The magnificent vineyards of this region are as celebrated for their physical beauty as well as its wines, making it a perfect destination for one of our intimate Italiaoutdoors Italy walking tours. In 2014, the United Nations added the ‘vineyard landscape of Piedmont’ to its elite group of UNESCO cultural and natural sites, in recognition of both its natural beauty as well as distinguished wine tradition.There are 11 communes that make up this DOCG, the five original, and the most prominent, responsible for over 85% of the production are Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, and Monforte d’Alba. The vineyards of Barolo are on the steep south facing hills that cover this area.

bricco-rocche-barolo-walking-tours-italyBarolo is produced with only the Nebbiolo grape, one of Italy’s oldest varietals. The name Nebbiolo comes from ‘nebbia,’ the Italian word for fog. Some attribute this name to the natural bloom that appears on the grapes as they ripen, giving them a cloudy color. Other to the thick layer of fog that typically occurs in the Langhe region during late October, harvest time. Nebbiolo is esteemed for its complexity, pronounced tannins and outstanding aging potential.

vineyard-piedmonte-walking-tours-italyBut Nebbiolo is challenging to grow. It requires more space than other varietals, as the first 2 – 3 buds on each branch are infertile. It also flowers quite early in April and ripens very slowly. A dry, warm September is required for a good year, one that allows the slow ripening Nebbiolo time to develop for a late October harvest.

antiche-cantine-marchesi-di-baroloWhile the Nebbiolo grape dates back to the 1200s, it is not until the 18th century that the wines from this area became known as Barolo, after the town. Marchesa Giulietta Vitturnia Colbert di Maulevrier owned much of the land that encompassed Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga. She grew her prized Nebbiolo in these towns, and insisted the wine be named Barolo. She later hired later a famous oenologist from Burgundy, France, Louis Oudart, to bring more sophistication to the production process. At the same time, Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, became mayor of nearby Grizane. He had traveled across the Alps many times, gaining an appreciation of French wines during his travels. He also employed Oudart to take care of the wine from his family properties. This collaboration resulted in the modern style of Barolo as a dry, elegant wine.

barolo-serralunga-piedmont-walking-toursThe Marchesa was close friends with King Carlo Alberto from the House of Savoy. The House of Savoy was formed in the early 11th century in the historical Savoy region, which included the modern day region of Piedmonte. The House of Savoy was a monarchy made up of Dukes, Princes, Kings and Emperors. Through gradual expansion, it grew from ruling a small county in the region of Piedmonte to ruling the entire Kingdom of Italy from its formation in 1861 until the end of World War II. During this time, Barolo was held in such high regard by the aristocracy, it earned the moniker “The Wine of Kings, the King of Wines”. The Nebbiolo grapes were so prized by the ruling classes that there was a 5 lire fine for anyone who cut down a Nebbiolo vine. Repeat offenders had their hands cut off and in some cases were even put to death.

barolo-enoteca-piedmont-walking-toursThe Barolo and Barbaresco Consortium was founded in 1908, but was not recognized by the Italian Government until 1934. Today, the Consortium includes Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba Langhe and Roero. There are 500 members, made up of small and large producers. The region was established as a DOC in 1966, and became a DOCG in 1980. All Barolo wines must be 100% Nebbiolo, a minimum of 13% alcohol, and aged a minimum 38 months, including 18 months in barrel. A Riserva must undergo an aging of a minimum of 62 months, including 18 months in barrel.

barolo-centro-piedmont-walking-tours

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Pansotti al Preboggion con Salsa di Noci

pansotti-salsa-noci-liguria-walking-toursI’ve just returned from a very productive (and very enjoyable) scouting trip to Italy. We are including the Italian Riviera and Cinque Terre to our tour offerings, and are excited to share yet another wonderful Italy destination with our clients. But our research starts well before even setting foot on the ground – for me, it begins in the kitchen with learning the traditional dishes of the cuisine of Liguria.

italian-riviera-walking-toursOne dish that immediately caught my eye was Pansotti, a triangular ravioli stuffed with herbs, greens, and cheeses. The name Pansotti comes from the pastas pot-bellied appearance, from pancia, “belly”. Given its meat-free stuffing, it was often served during Lent or other days of abstinence.

ingredients-salsa-noci-liguria-walking-toursOriginally the cheese used was prescinseua, a Genovese curd cheese similar to cottage cheese but more acidic. Today it is often made with a mix of ricotta and grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano.

pansotti-pasta-liguria-walking-toursWhat makes these ravioli from Liguria really unique is the filling, Preboggion, a mixture of at least seven wild herbs. The name itself is believed to have originated from the term “Pro boggion”, boggion meaning bouillon or broth, indicating a mixture of different things. The mixture today will vary, and depending on the season would typically contain herbs and greens such as cabbage primaticcio (wild cabbage), Rapunzel (Campanula rapunculus, a member of the bellflower family), dandelion, parsley, nettle, borage, wild chicory, chard, chervil, burnet, and sow-thistle. As these ingredients are not commonly found in a local vegetable market, they are foraged.

rapallo-liguria-walking-toursWe visit the town of Rapallo on our tours, a port city on the Tigullio Gulf. From the  16th-century Castello sul Mare (Castle-on-the-Sea) to the cable car to Nostra Signora di Montallegro (Our Lady of Montallegro), offering stunning panoramic views, to nearby destinations like Portofino and Camogli we have plenty to explore here. This is also the perfect destination to try the authentic Pansotti in Salsa di Noci – walnut sauce. A few local restaurants are officially recognized by the Rapallo De.CO., the Consorzio Pansotto Rapallo, a consortium dedicated to the preservation of this traditional specialty. While the following recipe would not be up to their standards, it was still delicious!

pansotti-rapallo-liguria-walking-toursPansotti al Preboggion con Salsa di Noci

Ligurians often use white wine in their pasta, which results in a very delicate pasta, perfect for these ravioli, so you may want to roll it a bit thicker than usual.

For the dough

3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 to 1/2 cup water
1 large egg

For the filling

1/2 pound mixed herbs and baby greens
3/4 cup grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup ricotta
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 large egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the sauce

3/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream

To make the dough:

Place the flour on your counter in a mound. Make a well in the middle. Place the salt, wine, 1/3 cup water and egg in the well. Using a fork, lightly beat the ingredients in the well. Gradually start incorporating the flour from the sides of the well. Eventually the sides of the well will collapse, at this point use a pastry scraper to work the rest of the flour into the dough. if the dough doesn’t come together after a few minutes, add the rest of the water.

pansotti-pasta-making-liguria-walking-tours

Knead the dough for about 15 minutes, working a bit more flour into it when it gets a bit sticky. The dough should be very smooth, silky, and very elastic.

To roll out the pasta using a pasta machine, divide the dough into 4 – 6 pieces. You will roll out one piece at a time, while rolling keep the remainder covered with plastic wrap so it does not dry out. Lightly flour the machine rollers, the work surface around the machine, and the first piece of dough. Set the rollers at the widest setting. Flatten the dough into a disc, sprinkle with flour, then feed the disc into the space between the two rollers. Feed the dough through with one hand, while holding the upturned palm of your hand under the sheet emerging from the rollers. Keep your palm flat to protect the dough from punctures by your fingers.

As the sheet emerges from the rollers, guide it away from the machine with your palm. Pass the dough through the rollers five to six times, folding it into thirds and flouring it each time. Then set the rollers at the next narrower setting and pass the dough through three times, folding it in half each time. Repeat, passing it through three times at each successively narrower setting. Repeated stretching and thinning builds up elasticity making especially light pasta. If the sheet becomes too long to handle comfortably, cut it in half or thirds and work the pieces in tandem.

Don’t worry if at first the dough tears, has holes, is lumpy, or is very moist. Just lightly flour it by pulling the dough over the floured work surface. Take care not to overdo the flouring, or the dough may get too stiff. As you keep putting it through the rollers, it will be transformed from slightly lumpy and possibly torn to a smooth, satiny sheet with fine elasticity.

Different machines have different numbers of settings. These ravioli use the thinnest setting on a machine, which will be thin enough for you to see color and shape through it; this is perfect for lasagna and filled pastas. If it is so thin that the dough tears easily, however, stop at the next to last setting.

Place the pasta sheets on a floured sheet pan, separated by deli paper or plastic wrap. Cover the pile with a slightly damp towel.

Prepare the filling:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanch the herbs and greens for 3 minutes. Drain, and submerge in ice water, and squeeze out the excess water.

Finely chop the blanched greens in a food processor or with a knife. Transfer them to a bowl and add the cheese, garlic, ricotta, and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Add the egg and mix well to combine.

Prepare the Pansotti

Cut the dough into four pieces and cover three of them with plastic wrap. Run the remaining piece through the widest setting of an pasta machine. You should obtain a thick, flat slice of dough. Fold into thirds, then put it back through the machine from its shortest side at the same setting. Repeat this process at least 3 times. Then start running the dough through at progressively narrower settings until you reach the very last one, always flouring both sides of the dough and inserting the shortest side first. Set the resulting long sheet of dough aside on a lightly floured surface, and cover it with a kitchen towel to keep it moist. Repeat with the other three pieces of dough. This dough is very delicate and can be a bit sticky. Make sure you dust all surfaces generously with flour when working with it.

With a dough cutter or knife, cut all the dough sheets in half lengthwise. Then, from each sheet, cut out squares about 3 inches across. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling at the center of each square and fold it in half to form a triangle, sealing two of the sides with a quick brush of water. Continue filling and folding until you run out of dough and filling. You can leave  the triangles as is, or take the two corners on the fold and pinch them together to form a tortellini type shape.  I’ve seen Pansotti done both ways, in Rapallo the corners were pinched, which to me looks more like a “belly”.

pansotti-liguria-walking-tours

Arrange the pansotti in a single layer on a lightly floured surface and cover them with a kitchen towel. You can freeze them at this point, if you are not planning to use them right away.

Prepare the sauce

Toast the walnuts, and allow to cool. Place the cooled walnuts, pine nuts, garlic and Parmigiano in the bowl of a food processof and puree until creamy, about 2 minutes. With the food processor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream and continue to process until a smooth creamy sauce forms. Transfer to a bowl and add the ricotta, mixing with a spoon to incorporate it into the sauce. The mixture should be smooth but fairly dense. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook the pansotti for 4 to 5 minutes, or until they’re soft and pliable.

Meanwhile, transfer the sauce to a 12-inch skillet, add the heavy cream and stir to incorporate over medium-low heat, 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust seasoning.

Drain the pansotti, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and toss them with the sauce. If the sauce seems too dry, add the cooking water 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time. Serve immediately.

pansotti-italian-riviera-walking-tours

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Rattatuia – Ratatouille from Liguria

rattatuia-liguria-walking-tours-italyI am off to Liguria next week, to discover the best locales for our new Liguria and Cinque Terre walking tour. As I prepare for each tour, I research extensively the local cuisine. This dish is a prime example of the French influence in the cuisine of Liguria, due to their shared border as the French Riviera becomes the Italian Riviera.

It is not clear who first created rattatuia, or ratatouille, as you would call it in Provence. Most attribute it to the French, as the name comes from the French verb touiller, meaning to “stir up”. But ratatouillelike dishes exist just about everywhere you go in the Mediterranean, from Spain to Greece to Turkey. Most are traditionally eggplant based; more modern versions that include peppers and tomatoes emerged only after the sixteenth century when a Ligurian sailor named Christopher Columbus traveled to the New World and brought these back with him.

rattatuia-ingredients-liguria-walking-tours-italy

The Ligurian version, rattatuia, reflects the region love of vegetables. The several Ligurian recipes I researched for this all were less eggplant-rich and focused more on beans and green vegetables – green bean, zucchini, and borlotti beans, which are usually not found in the French version. Olives and pine nuts are another Ligurian variation, seen also in the Sicilian version, caponata. And of course basil is the herb of choice to flavor your rattatuia in Genoa.

rattatuia-pan-liguria-walking-tours-italy

For an excellent ratatouille, the French cooking reference Larousse Gastronomique recommends “the different vegetables should be cooked separately, then combined and cooked slowly together until they attain a smooth, creamy consistency”, so that “each will taste truly of itself.” This dish is definitely one that improves the next day, alowing the flavors to meld, and the juices to reabsorb, resulting in a thicker consistency. It is a wonderful vegetable side dish and makes a great bruschetta on some lovely bread. In Liguria rattatuia is also used as a sauce, to accompany gnocchi, pasta or fish.

When in Liguria, enjoy with a glass of Pigato (white) or Rossese (red).

Rattatuia

13 ounces fresh borlotti beans, or 1 15 ounce can white beans, rinsed
5 ounces green beans, trimmed and chopped into 1” pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
1 small celery stalk, diced
1 eggplant, diced into 1/2” cubes
1 red pepper, diced into 1/2” cubes
1 yello pepper, diced into 1/2” cubes
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced, or 1 15 ounce can chopped tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 zucchini, diced
1/4 cup basil leaves
Optional: great olives (pitted and halved), pine nuts

If using fresh borlotti beans, cook the beans in salted boiling water until soft but still al dente, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Blanch the green beans in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and plunge into ice water. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy duty saute pan over low heat. Add the onion and saute for 3 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, borlotti beans, green beans, carrots, celery, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the zucchini and basil, and optional olives, mix well, and cook another 30 minutes.

Add the optional pine nuts, and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve hot, or it is even better the next day.

Posted in beans, Gluten Free, Liguria, Travel, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wines of Liguria – Exploring Italy with Italiaoutdoors

vineyards-liguria-walking-tours-italyTourists know Liguria as the Italian Riviera, famous for its beaches and the resort towns of Portofino and Cinque Terre. It’s a great location for our newest Italiaoutdoors gourmet walking tour. The region of Liguria forms a narrow coastal strip in northwestern Italy, bordered by France to the west, the region of Piedmont to the north, Tuscany to the east, facing the Ligurian Sea all along the south. Its capital and largest city is Genoa (Genova).

The wines of Liguria are not well known outside the Riviera as its production is quite small, second only to tiny Valle d’Aosta.  It has no DOCGs, eight DOCs, and four IGPs. Liguria produces mostly white wine. The region’s primary grape varieties are Vermentino, Pigato (a biotype of Vermentino), and Rossese.

vineyard-monorail-liguria-walking-toursThe vineyards of the Italian Riviera are majestic terraced slopes that plunge into the Mediterranean sea in the Cinque Terre, occupying a truly maritime environment. While spectacular, the terrain is extremely difficult to work efficiently and safely. Harvest is done by hand, with the help of monorail systems to move the grapes up the hills.

Winemakers in the Cinque Terre are driven by passion, not money. The steep hillsides do not allow for any mechanical assistance, except for small monorail carts which are few and far between. All of the work – pruning, harvest, transport to the carts – must be done by hand. Unlike other wine regions, the wine is produced in the villages, not in the vineyards, so the grapes must be gently transported to the nearest road, loaded onto vehicles which then transport them down the the villages. The wines are obscure, relatively expensive and hard to find on the international market, so there is not a lot of potential for financial success. But wine production is an important tradition in Liguria, and these growers proudly carry on, in spite of the difficulties presented by their rugged, yet lovely terrain.

A few of the varietals and types of wines found in Liguria:

Albarola

A white indigenous varietal, grown mostly in Cinque Terre and La Spezia. A fairly neutral grape, most commonly blended with other Ligurian varieties such as Bosco and Vermentino.

Colli di Luni DOC, Colline di Levanto DOC, IGP Colline del Genovesato, IGP Colline Savonesi, IGP Liguria di Levante, Val Polcèvera DOC
nature

Bosco

Bosco is a white indigenous varietal that is grown predominantly in Cinque Terre where it is often the primary component of a blend. It gives structure and richness to the region’s crisp, aromatic white wines, which also contain Vermentino and Albarola. Bosco is rarely vinified as a varietal wine. Care must be taken in handling due to Bosco’s propensity to oxidize easily, creating potential wine faults. The wines are therefore best consumed within a year or two of harvest.

While Bosco is important in the region’s dry white wines, it is also a key component in the Cinque Terre’s sweet Sciacchetrà wines, which are made in the passito style from air-dried grapes.

Cinque Terre / Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà DOC, IGP Colline del Genovesato, IGP Colline Savonesi, IGP Liguria di Levante

pigato-liguria-walking-tours-italyPigato

Pigato is another white indigenous varietal, which has been proven by DNA analysis to be the same varietal as Vermentino and Piedmont’s Favorita. Its name, Pigato, means “spotted”, due to the freckled appearance of the ripe grapes. The grape makes sturdy, aromatic wines with plenty of fruit.

IGP Colline del Genovesato, IGP Colline Savonesi, IGP Liguria di Levante, IGP Terrazze dell’Imperiese, Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC

testalonga-rossese-liguria-walking-tours-italyRossese

Rossese is the red indigenous varietal that is grown around Dolceacqua and Ventimiglia. Located in the Imperia province, these two communes sit at the very western edge of the Italian Riviera, on the border with France. Rossese has been an important grape here since it arrived from Provence, just over the border to the west. Rossese wines are brightly colored with a fresh, tangy palate, along with notes of blackcurrant and herbs.

IGP Colline del Genovesato, IGP Colline Savonesi, IGP Liguria di Levante, IGP Terrazze dell’Imperiese, Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC, Rossese di Dolceacqua / Dolceacqua DOC

groppolo-vermentino-walking-tours-italyVermentino

Vermentino is Liguria’s most widely planted grape, a white indigenous varietal also grown in Sardegna and Tuscany. Biotypes include Liguria’s Pigato and Piemonte’s Favorita. Wines produced from Vermentino grapes typically display flavors and aromas of citrus, tropical fruit, acacia, rosemary, thyme with a salty finish.

Colli di Luni DOC, Colline di Levanto DOC, Golfo del Tigullio–Portofino / Portofino DOC, IGP Colline del Genovesato, IGP Colline Savonesi, IGP Liguria di Levante, IGP Terrazze dell’Imperiese, Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC.

Styles of Wine

sciacchetràSciacchetrà

Sciacchetrà is the sweet, white passito wine produced on Liguria’s dramatic Cinque Terre coastline. Passito is an Italian word for wines made by the appassimento process in which, after picking, the grapes are laid carefully on pallets (traditionally straw mats, but now typically plastic) in ventilated barns in order to dry, essentially becoming almost raisins. As the grapes shrivel and lose water they become full of concentrated sugars and flavors. After three to six months the semi-dried grapes are gently pressed and the juice fermented until it reaches the desired level of sweetness and alcohol. Most passito wines will spend some time aging, often in oak barrels to develop additional flavors and complexity in addition to time resting in the bottle prior to release for sale. Italian wines made in the passito style include both red and white wines.

Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes are used to make Sciacchetrà. Once picked and transported to the winery – which in Liguria is carried out by hand and transport is done a specially adapted monorail system – the grapes are left to dry on well-ventilated racks until the concentration of natural sugars reaches a potential alcohol level of at least 17%. This process ensures intense, sweet flavors in the resulting wine, which is deliberately left with significant residual sugar and alcohol level.

Sciacchetrà wines are intensely golden-yellow in their youth, changing to amber over the years. They offer aromas of honey and white blossoms, with hints of citrus. Sciacchetrà Riserva has been aged for three full years prior to release. There is no stipulation as to whether this aging must take place in stainless steel, glass or oak.

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