Focaccia al Rosmarino e Aglio – Focaccia with Rosemary and Garlic

foccacia rosemary private bike tours italyWhenever I have a hankering for fresh homemade bread, but not the time nor energy to indulge myself in the rather time consuming process, focaccia is my treat of choice. Focaccia is a traditional Italian flatbread that is easily prepared – a simple dough that can be quickly made in a food processor, doesn’t need to be formed into a complicated shape, and with countless variations, there is always a new flavor to enjoy. I’ve long lost count of the many ways we’ve found it prepared on our Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine Italy tours. I turned to Carol Field’s book, “Focaccia”, for a start on this post. Dedicated to this single subject, it contains over 50 recipes for savory, stuffed, and even sweet focaccia.

foccacia oven bike tours italyFocaccia dates back to ancient Rome, when panis focacius was a flat bread baked on the hearth. The word comes from the Latin focus meaning hearth, or place for baking. It is most commonly associated with the region of Liguria, on the Mediterranean, where each small village seems to have it’s own favorite recipe, from flat and hard bread to soft, light, and loaded with the local fruity olive oil. Recco and Verese in Liguria are renowned for their focaccia filled with the local cheese, focaccia col formaggio. Other stuffings range from eggplants and tomatoes in Sicily, mussels in Puglia, and any conceivable combination of vegetables. A slice of focaccia stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto has been a welcome snack along many of our cycling tours. In Puglia, some areas add mashed potatoes to the dough, resulting in a thick, light and fluffy focaccia. In central Italy, focaccia is called schiacciata or stiacciata, from the Italian word “to smash”. When in Venice, we find fugassa around Easter, the equivalent to Christmas’s panettone. A richer version, with the addition of eggs, flour, butter and sugar topped with sugar and almonds, crusty on the outside, moist and golden inside. In many wine regions you will find a sweet focaccia topped with grapes and sugar during harvest time.

kneading foccacia active private bike tours tuscanyThe recipe below started from one of Carol Field’s recipes, with several modifications. Many recipes, and my own personal experience, recommend using a starter, or biga, to begin. This is a mixture of flour, water, and a bit of yeast that is allowed to enjoy a long, slow rise. This initial fermentation develops a richer flavor profile, giving your focaccia a more complex taste. I do this as often as I remember, but don’t always succeed in beginning the night before. When that happens, I begin the starter only a couple of hours in advance, using a bit more yeast. In a pinch, I skip the starter altogether, and increase the main recipe by the amount of yeast, water and flour needed for the starter. Not quite as good, but still satisfies!

foccacia sponge private bike tours italyHere’s my favorite version, with rosemary, garlic, sea salt and flavored with your best extra virgin olive oil. Salty and savory, best enjoyed still warm from the oven.

foccacia ready oven private bike tours italy
Focaccia al Rosmarino e Aglio

Makes 2 10-12” focaccia rounds

Starter:

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water, 110°
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough

Leaves from 2 sprigs rosemary
2 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading, adjusting if necessary
3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 1/4 cup warm water, 110°
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on top
Starter

To make the starter:

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a medium bowl, whisk it it and let stand until bubbly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit overnight. It should be bubbly and thick.

To make the dough:

Place the rosemary leaves and garlic into the bowl of a food processor. Using the steel blade, pulse until minced.

Add 2 1/2 cups of the all-purpose flour, the whole-wheat flour and the salt to the food processor. Scrape the sides to incorporate the garlic and rosemary. Pulse to combine.

Transfer the starter into a large quart glass measuring cup, with a spout. Add the 1 1/4 cup warm water, the 1 1/2 teaspoon yeast and the 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Stir gently to combine. Use a bowl if you don’t have a large enough measuring cup, then transfer.

With the motor running, add the liquid ingredients to the flour, pouring the liquid down the feed tube. The dough should come together into a rough ball of dough that leaves the sides of the food processor bowl pretty clean. If it is too moist to form a ball, add some additional all-purpose flour. Add this flour a tablespoon or so at a time, pulsing to combine after each addition. You want a rough ball of dough that holds together and pulls away from the sides of the food processor. When this happens, stop adding the flour. At this point, knead the dough by processing for 30 seconds.

Lightly flour a work surface, and turn the dough out on the flour. Knead for a few moments by hand to check the consistancy; you want the dough to be moist, but not so sticky that you cannot handle it. Add more flour if needed. Form into a ball.

Coat a large bowl with olive oil. Put in the ball of dough, flipping it around so all sides are coated with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm area (68 – 72°) to rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

Brush two sheet pans with olive oil. Punch down the dough, and divide into two halves. Focaccia is best eaten the day it is made, so if you won’t consume two loaves, freeze one of the halves to use another day. (Place it as a ball into a resealable plastic bag. Defrost for a couple of hours at room temperature.)

Place each half on a sheet of parchment paper, and form into a round disc, about 1/2 inch thick. Pick up the parchment paper and focaccia and place on the sheet pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour. While the focaccia is rising, preheat the oven to 425°. Use a baking stone if you have one.

Uncover, and dimple the dough with your fingertips, creating lots of little round indentations. Drizzle with more olive oil, and sprinkle with additional chopped rosemary and sea salt.

Place the focaccia in the oven, either on the sheet pan, or pick it up using the parchment paper and place directly on your baking stone. Bake until the crust is crisp and the top is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven, and pan, and cool on a wire rack.

foccacia close private bike tours italyNote: No food processor?

Mince garlic and rosemary.

Place starter plus all liquid ingredients, garlic and rosemary in a large bowl. Mix to combine. Add the flours and salt, reserving about 1/2 cup of the flour. Mix to combine into a rough ball of dough, slowly adding the last 1/2 cup of flour as needed. You want a soft dough that is just dry enough to handle; if it sticks to your fingers, add a bit more. When it stops sticklng, stop adding flour.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 – 10 mintues until smooth. It should bounce back into shape when you poke it with your finger.

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Basics of Italian Wine – What’s in this bottle?

local wines bike tours umbriaWhile browsing in any US liquor store in the Italian wine section, I often see other shoppers totally mystified by the label on a bottle of wine from Italy. We are accustomed to selecting our wines via the type of grape (varietal), which on wines produced here in the US is front and center – Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Grigio. Italian wines are labelled quite differently, and can be difficult, especially when unfamiliar with the language, to tell what is what – producer, location, region, varietal. Guests on our private Italy tours are both fascinated and frustrated with the sheer number of new, wonderful, but unfamiliar wines to explore. We discover together during our week that there is some method to all of this madness, and our clients leave with a great appreciation for the long history and traditions behind wine production in Italy.

valpolicella view custom bike tours italyLet’s begin with the geography of Italy. This odd, boot shaped peninsula is immediately recognizable. Surrounded by water, this narrow peninsula is only 150 miles across at it’s widest point. With the Alps across the north, and the Apennines Mountains extending down the middle along the length of the peninsula, you find vast changes in terrain across a very short distance. You can drive from the flat river deltas of the Adriatic coast to the majestic peaks of the Dolomites in a few short hours. (This makes it an ideal destination for our custom active tours.) These rapid changes in terrain create a multitude of micro climates; according to Wikipedia, a micro climate is a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area. The term may refer to areas as small as a few square feet (for example a garden bed) or as large as many square miles. Italy possesses a much higher density of micro climates than the vast majority of the US.

col vetoraz vineyards cartizze bike tours italyThe history of civilization on the Italian peninsula is ancient, and wine production has been ongoing here for over 4000 years. Throughout this history, even to modern times, wines were produced from the grapes that were grown in your own backyard. As your backyard might have a different micro climate than the next estate over, you might well be growing a different type of grape than your neighbor. The result, over thousands of years, is now over 1000 different varietals are grown in this small country. So prepare yourself for an amazing number of grape varietals that you don’ t see here in the US.

white grapes private bike tours italyWhile the history of wine production here is over 4000 years old, the history of Italy as a united country is not. The country of Italy as we know it today is just over 150 years old, with some of the regions in the northeast only included since World War I. Prior to that, portions of Italy floated between various rulers: a local ruling family, the Pope, the French, Spanish, Austria, etc. So the concept of the country of Italy is still a relatively modern entity, and Italians today continue to identify themselves by their home region – Tuscany, Umbria, Sicily – rather than as Italian. This association with a region is reflected in their wine designation.

What is a region?

A region is a first-level administrative division of the modern day state of Italy. There are a total of 20 distinct regions in Italy, I think of them as equivalent to our states. The regions of Italy are: Piedmont, Liguria, Val d’Aosta, Lombardy, Trentino, Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia.

Wine regions in Italy correspond to these administrative regions. Each region has a unique history that is reflected in their distinctive cuisines and indiginous wines. So you will find very different grapes as well as styles of wines as you travel from region to region. The name of the region can be useful in ascertaining what style of wine is inside the bottle, but unfortunately does not always appear on the label.

What is a province?

Within each region, there are sub-districts known as provinces. I think of these as equivalent to our counties. You will occasionally see these indicated on a wine label, often by their two letter abbreviation in parenthesis, for example, (VR) for Verona province in the Veneto region. There are more than 100 provinces in Italy, and sometimes this is the only indication as to what region a wine may be from – again, not particularly user friendly.

What should I look for on the label?

You are browsing the shelves of your local wine store, looking for a new Italian wine to try. You pick up a bottle, and see many Italian (and, in the case of wines from Trentino-Alto Adige, German) words. What do they all mean? What do you look for on the label to help you determine what is inside?

What you will find:

  • Producer name
  • DOC Designation – Quality level and Name
  • Vintage
  • Type of wine

front label diagram custom bike tours italyWhat you may also find: Region and/or province, type of grape.

Producer Name

How do you spot this? As you grow more and more familar with Italian wines, you will begin to recognize the names of various larger producers, but with over 2 million producers in Italy, you will never know them all. For novices, how do you know which is the producer name?

In Italy, the producer is very often a family name, estate name, farm, or something identifying the land itself. Some tell-tale words to look for:

Italian English
Abbazia Abbey – religious orders often produced wine
Azienda Agricola Farm or agricultural company. Often abbreviated as Az. Agr.
Bricco, Bric Hilltop vineyard
Campo Field
Cantina (Kellerai in Trentino-Alto Adige) Cellar. A cantina can be a wine bar, where you can taste wines. When it appears on a wine bottle, it often indicates a consortium of small local growers that pool their resources to produce and market wine.
Casa or Cascina or Ca’ (in dialect) House.
Castello or Castel Castle
Colli or Collina Hill
Consorzio A consortium of growers
Feudi Fief or manor
Fattoria Farm or producer
Monte Mountain
Podere Small farm
Poggio Knoll
Produttori Manufacturers or producers. Again, this term usually indicates a grower consortium.
Rocca Fortified castle
Ronca Hillside field for farming
Tenuta Estate
Vigneti, vignaiolo Vineyards, wine grower
Villa Villa
Vinicola, Vitivinicola Wine

DOC Designation – Quality Level and Name

There are 4 levels of quality designation defined by the EU, and implemented in Italy. From lowest to highest:

Vino di Tavola – Table Wine

These are generic wines, with only the color indicated (rosso, bianco). They can be produced anywhere in Italy, from any grape. There is no vintage. When you order the house wine at a trattoria in Italy, this is what you get, usually served in a carafe. In Italy, you will see cantinas advertising ‘vino sfuso’, which translates to ‘loose wine’. You bring in any container you wish, and fill it up at a tap, or even a large pump that resembles a gas pump. This is serving vino di tavola. These wines are everyday drinking wines for most Italians, and are rarely exported.

IGT – Indicazione Geografica Tipica

This designation indicates that a wine is from a particular region, but does not reflect the traditional wine styles of that region. So an IGT wine from Tuscany (or Toscana) is made from grapes grown in Tuscany, but you won’t know what types of grapes are used unless the label specifies them.

IGT wines are not necessarily low quality wines. The world renowned super Tuscan wines, like Tignanello, are IGT. The name super Tuscan was coined in the 70s when wine producers in Tuscany challenged the Chianti wine tradition (Chianti is made with native grapes, primarily Sangiovese), planted international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and began producing very high quality Bordeaux style wines.

valpolicella bike tours italy venetoDOC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata

This designation indicates much more precisely the origins and the style of wine. The grapes must come from a very specific zone, usually a handful of smaller communes or municipalities, not as large as a region or even a province. The wines produced from these grapes must be made in the zone itself, and must follow a very precise ‘recipe’ that specifies the grapes used, the yield, the production process, and the required aging.

The number of DOC zones, sometimes also referred to as wine regions, continues to increase, and at the time of this article (2014), numbers well over 300, with the largest wine producing regions being Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto. The names of the DOC zones only rarely include the name of the grape; a few that do include Teroldego Rotaliano in Trentino, Barbera d’Asti from Piedmont. Much more commonly, the DOC name derives from the location of the zone. Examples of a couple of DOC zones familar to us here in the US include:

Chianti DOC – The Chianti wine region lies in central Tuscany, with first mention of a Chianti wine region dating back to 1716, referring to the area near the municipalities of Gaiole, Radda, and Castellina. Today, there are seven subzones in this region, and the official definition of Chianti consists of at minimum 80% Sangiovese, with permitted blending grapes of native varietals such as Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as other international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Valpolicella DOC – All wines from this DOC, in the hills east and west of the city of Verona in the Veneto region, are based on the Corvina grape, optionally blended with the following: Rondinella, Molinara, Corvinone, Rossignola, Negrara, Barbera, Sangiovese, even the indigenous grape Oseleta. There are several different styles of Valpolicella wines, ranging from light to full-bodied, dry to sweet to sparkling. The different styles will be identified on the label, and include Valpolicella, Valpolicella Classico, and Recioto della Valpolicella – a sweet dessert wine. The name itself, Valpolicella, is most commonly believed to be derived from Latin and Greek, “valley of many cellars”.

So the DOC zone name does identify the grapes and style of wine, but not in a manner that is easily decoded by consumers unfamiliar with the DOC itself. And with 300 and counting, keeping track of them all is virtually impossible! But don’t feel bad – Italians themselves don’t bother knowing the wines from other regions, except for perhaps the few most prestigious like Tuscany and Piedmonte.

DOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Guarantita

This is the highest quality designation in Italy, involving the strictest guidelines. In addition to all the rules that define a DOC, DOCG wines usually call for even lower yields, require longer aging, and must pass a final analysis and tasting by an inspector before bottling. To insure it has not been tampered with, each DOCG bottle is sealed with an official numbered goverment stamp over the cork.

prosecco label wine bike tours italyThe most prestigious wines of Italy carry the DOCG label, including Barolo (from Piedmont), Amarone (from Veneto), Brunello di Montalcino (from Tuscany). There are over 70 DOCG zones in Italy, and counting.

Vintage

The year the majority of the grapes were grown and harvested.

back label diagram custom bike tours italyType of Wine

Red, white, rose, sparkling, dry, sweet. Many options here. On Italian wines imported to the US, this will typically be in English. The table below contains the many terms you might find to describe the type of wine.

Italian English
Abboccato Semisweet
Amabile Semisweet
Bianco White wine
Brut Dry sparkling wine. Extra brut means very dry.
Chiaretto A rose wine, typically from Bardolino DOC
Chinato Barolo infused with bitter herbs
Classico Refers to a specific area within a zone, typically the oldest and original vineyards of the DOC.
Dolce Sweet
Fortificato Fortified – a wine to which spirits have been added
Frizzante Lightly sparkling
Metodo Charmat Method of producing sparkling wine, in which secondary fermentation occurs in a pressurized tank. Used for prosecco.
Metodo Classico Traditional method of producing sparkling wine, used to make Champagne. Secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle.
Millesimato Wine produced from a single vintage. Most sparkling wines are produced from grapes from multiple years. Millesimato spumante wines are produced from grapes grown in a single year.
Passito Sweet wine from semidried grapes
Recioto Sweet wine from semidried grapes
Riserva A DOC/G wine that has met a minimum requirement for additional aging.
Rosato Rose wine
Rosso Red wine
Secco Dry.
Spumante Sparkling wine.
Superiore A DOC/G wine that meets certain higher standards – often associated with higher alcohol and extended aging.
Tranquillo Still
Vecchio Aged.
Vendemmia Tardiva Late harvest
Vin Santo, Vino Santo “Holy Wine”. A sweet wine made from dried grapes.
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Biscotti di Marroni – Chestnut Biscotti

biscotti coffee grappa custom bike tours italyChestnuts are found throughout Italy, and have been a staple of their cuisine for thousands of years. This past October I spent a week exploring venues for our Bike the Wine Roads of Trentino-Alto Adige bike tour, and chestnuts were just coming into season. We enjoyed chestnuts in pasta, in risotto, in soups and desserts. In fancy ristorante, local trattorie, and sweet chocolate and chestnut treats from a roadside table we passed on a bike ride. Since my return, I’ve been looking forward to trying a few of these recipes at home. A chocolate chestnut holiday biscotti brings me back to my cycling excursion and the homemade chestnut cookie that powered me through the last few miles.

chestnut cookie bike tours italyIn mountainous areas of Italy, from Trentino and Alto Adige to Tuscany, chestnuts are one of the few crops that can be grown on steep slopes, as well as produce during colder winter months. In some of these areas, the economy revolved around the chestnut, as people gathered them in the fall and worked throughout the winter to sort, dry and sell them.

marroni custom bike tours italyThere are many different varieties found throughout Italy: the smaller, flatter castagne and the rounder, fuller marroni. Up in Northeastern Italy there are several areas that still cultivate chestnuts, mostly of the marroni variety. As I did on my last tour, you can still find vendors selling freshly roasted chestnuts at market stands in the fall; the aroma is divine, and the nuts a wonderful treat to enjoy on a cool fall bike ride.

chestnuts basket private cycling tours italyWhen purchasing chestnuts, look for shiny, healthy nuts without any discoloration. They should also be firm and solid, without much give between the shell and the flesh. In the markets and homes in Italy, you can still find chestnut roasters, essentially iron pans with holes, with a long handle. The nuts would be placed in the pan, sprinkled with a bit of water, and roasted over a fire. I don’t have any special equipment for roasting chestnuts, all you really need is a sheet pan and a hot oven.

chestnuts roasted private tours italyTo roast chestnuts, preheat your oven to 450°. With a small sharp knife, cut an “X” into the flatter side of each nut. Place the nuts on the sheet pan and roast for about 15-25 minutes, depending upon the size of the nuts. They are done when the skins around the “X” have pulled back, and the nut meat inside is fork-tender, but still firm. Peel when still warm, and enjoy as the Italians might, sprinkled with some red wine, with a glass for yourself – a lighter Schiava from Alto Adige would be perfect.

biscotti on rack private bike tours italyBiscotti di Marroni

3 large eggs, plus 1 egg white
3/4 cups brown sugar
2 cups whole oats
3 cups roasted and peeled chestnuts
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tablespoons grappa
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
3/4 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place the eggs and egg white into a large bowl. Add the brown sugar and whisk to combine.

Place the whole oats in a food processor, and pulse to grind to a powder. Add the roasted chestnuts and pulse again until the nuts are finely chopped and combined with the whole oats. Transfer to the bowl with the brown sugar and eggs. Add the baking powder, salt, cocoa, grappa, chocolate chips and hazelnuts. Stir to combine.

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Spoon half the dough onto each pan, spreading the dough over the paper to form a flat loaf, about 4 inches wide and 1 inch thick.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the pan. Do not immediately transfer to a rack, as the warm loaf might break during transfer.

When cool, cut each loaf crosswise into 1 inch slices. Places the slices cut side down on the sheet pans. Place back into the oven and cook for 25 – 30 minutes, until slightly browned. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Serve with coffee, or a glass of grappa or dessert wine like Vino Santo.

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Risotto alla Milanese

risotto alla milanese private tours italyMy last post was on the classic dish from Milan, Ossobuco alla Milanese. The obvious follow-on is its time-honored accompaniment, Risotto alla Milanese. Risotto dishes have graced the tables of Northeastern Italy for centuries, as the special plump short grained rice varietals grown in the Veneto, Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna are perfectly suited for this preparation. We enjoy tasting, and preparing, several risotto dishes on our private Italy tours. Risotto alla Milanese is one of the simplest preparations, with its distinctive color, aroma and flavor due to one essential ingredient – saffron.

saffron rice custom walking tours italyHow this saffron flavored version became Milan’s favorite risotto is once again uncertain. Venetian Jews made a similar preparation simply called riso col zafran. The Jews and Arabs of medieval Sicily made a saffron pilaf, which may have been found its way to Milan with some of these Sicilians who traveled north. Waverly Root, in his classic book, The Food of Italy, reminds us that in 1535, Charles V of Spain named his son, Philip, Duke of Milan, beginning nearly two centuries of Spanish rule here. His theorizes that Risotto alla Milanese is a descendent of paella. He goes on to tell of a Milanese cook that was nicknamed Zafferano because of his widespread use of saffron; when he married the daughter of a master stained-glass maker in 1574, the “wedding feast was enlivened by joking friends who slipped saffron into every dish which could possibly stand it, and some which couldn’t.” Whatever the path, Risotto alla Milanese is today  standard fare in trattorie across Milan.

saffron custom bike tours italySaffron itself is the world’s most expensive spice; true, high quality saffron is the stigma, or threads attached to the pistil of the domesticated saffron crocus. Each flower produces only 3 pistils. The threads are carefully harvested and then dried, loosing between 60 and 80% of their weight in the process. It takes between 55,000 and 60,000 flowers to produce one pound of saffron.

In the Middle Ages, saffron was cultivated in many areas in Italy, especially Tuscany. Known then as “red gold”, it was valued in the kitchen as well as used in medicines, perfumes and dyes. Fields of saffron crocuses covered the area around San Gimignano and elsewhere in Tuscany. Profits from the sale of this coveted spice helped build the famous towers of San Gimignano. Cheaper imported saffron from France eventually took over this market, and the fields in Tuscany were put to other use.

cooking risotto custom walking tours italyToday, the two areas in Italy still known for saffron production are in Abruzzo and Sardinia. Zafferano dell’Aquila, reputed to be the best saffron in the world, is grown exclusively on eight hectares in the Navelli Valley of Italy’s Abruzzo region, near L’Aquila. Here in the Navelli Valley, crocus bulbs are planted in August by a handful of local farmers. When the flowers blossom, sometime in October, they must be picked before dawn, while they are closed, so as not to lose any of the stigma’s powder during harvesting. The orange-red threads are removed by hand, then they are dried over a fire of neutral wood, to preserve the unique flavor of the saffron.

The largest saffron producer in Italy is San Gavino Monreale, Sardinia, which contributes 60% of Italy’s total production. There are a few small producers now beginning to reintroduce saffron cultivation to Tuscany. Do make sure to obtain a high quality saffron for this dish; only a little is needed. There are a lot of cheap imitations and powders on the market.

For a regional wine to pair with this, I would again recommend a Nebbiolo based red from the Valtellina DOC in Lombardy. Saffron goes well with reds as well as white. If you would prefer a white, a nice crisp one from Lugana would fit the bill.

Risotto alla Milanese – Risotto with Saffron

4 cups beef broth, either homemade or low sodium store bought
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced pancetta
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
1 1/2 cups risotto rice – carnaroli, arborio or vialone nano
1/2 teaspoons chopped saffron strands
1/2 cup freshly ground parmigiano reggiano cheese

Place the beef broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a low simmer.

Combine the butter and oil in a heavy, large skilled over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and onion and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the rice to coat with the oil, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition and waiting until the broth is absorbed by the rice before adding the next 1/2 cup. When you have incorporated about half of the broth, remove a 1/2 cup of the broth and dissolve the saffron strands in this warm stock. Add it to the risotto and continue to cook, adding stock as needed.

When the rice is tender, but still firm to the bite – al dente – turn off the heat. You do not need to use up all of the stock. Add in a last 1/4 cup of broth and stir in the grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

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Ossobuco alla Milanese

ossobuco custom ski tours italyAs guests on our Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine Italy tours discover, Italian cuisine is very diverse in nature, exhibiting unique regional identity. But some dishes have escaped their regional borders and have been adopted throughout Italy, and even world wide. Think Insalata Caprese, Spaghetti alla Carbonara. One dish, initially from Northern Italy, that now enjoys a world wide reputation is Ossobuco.

ossobuco veal shanks private bike tours italyOssobuco alla Milanese, as the name suggests, hails from Milan. Ossobuco comes from the local dialect, oss bus, or “bone with a hole”. The basic ingredient for Ossobuco is veal shank, preferably the widest part of the hind shank which has a fair amount of meat around the marrow bone. Marrowbones and veal shanks were used in Italian cooking as far back as the middle ages, but it is doubtful this dish is that old. Its first appearance in a cookbook is not until 1891, in Pellegrino Artusi’s “La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene” (The Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well), one of the first collections of Italian national cuisine ever published.

gremolata private ski tours italyIt is traditionally seasoned just before serving with served with gremolata, or gremolada, a mixture of grated lemon peel, parsley and garlic. Culinary historians note that in the late 18th century, lemon, which grows in much of Italy, began to be used as a seasoning to replace more expensive spices that had to be imported, like cinnamon and cloves. Clifford Wright and other food historians believe the dish probably had its origins in a farmhouse in Lombardy sometime during the 19th century. Since that time, the dish has come into its own, a staple on the menu of the many osterie and trattorie in Milan, and today worldwide. In Milan, it is served with risotto alla milanese, and a litte spoon for extracting every last morsel of the luscious marrow from the bone. This city takes its local dish so seriously that in 2007, the City Council included oss bus in the De.Co. (Denominazioni Comunali), officially proclaiming their ownership of this local specialty.

ossobuco gremolata custom ski tours italyRecipes for Ossobuco now appear in cookbooks in France, the US, and the UK, so as one would expect, there are many variations. Some begin with just onions, others call for a soffrito of onions, carrots and celery. Authors differ as whether to flour or not to flour the shanks before searing. Should you use tomatoes? Tomatoes were not introduced to Italy until the late 19th century, so the original version probably did not include them, but today tomatoes are used more often that not. Some versions braise in the oven, others on the stove top. Variations of gremolada include other herbs like rosemary and sage, and many include an anchovy. Let your personal taste be your guide.

A perfect wine to enjoy with your Ossobuco would be a robust red from Valtellina. The most prestigious zone for red wines in Lombardy, this region, located in the Alps north of Milan, is the only region outside of Piedmont to produce a Nebbiolo based red, locally called Chiavennasca.

ossobuco braise private ski tours italyOssobuco alla Milanese

Serves 4

4 2-inch thick slices of veal hind shank, tied
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Flour (leave out for gluten-free)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 medium onion, 1/4” dice
1 carrot, 1/4” dice
1 celery stalk, peeled and cut into 1/4” dice
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 1/2 cups diced canned plum tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 or 3 sprigs parsley

For any braise, use a heavy bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid, large enough to accommodate the veal shanks in a single layer

Lay the veal shanks out on a sheet pan and season generously with salt and pepper. Dust with flour, shaking off the excess.

In the large pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. When hot, add the shanks to the pan and brown well on all sides. Allow space between the shanks, searing them in batches if they are too large to fit nicely in the pot. You want them to sear, not steam. When nice and brown, remove from pan and set aside.

Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pan, and cook until beginning to soften and brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute.

Add the white wine, bring to a boil and reduce by about half.

Place the veal shanks back in the pot on top of the vegetables. Add the stock, tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf and parsley. The shanks should be covered about half way with the liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer.

Cover the pot tightly, and allow to simmer over very low heat until the veal is very well done, and falling off of the bone, about 2 – 3 hours, depending on the size of the shanks. Alternatively, you can transfer the braise to a preheated 325° oven and cook there, rather than on the stove top. Just make sure your pot is oven-proof (no plastic handles.)

Remove the pot from the oven, and top the shanks with the gremolada. Turn a few times to mix the gremolada into the braisining liquid. Serve with risotto alla milanese. If you wish a thicker sauce, remove the shanks and reduce over high heat until it is the desired consistency.

Gremolada

An aromatic mixture added to the shanks when they are almost done. Here is a basic recipe, as there are as many recipes for Ossobuco as there are cooks in Milan. There are versions with rosemary, sage, fennel seeds; even versions without parsley.

1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 clove garlic, minced
1 anchovy filet, minced (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.

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