29 September 2009

Elderberry or Sambuco Jam

We've been busy making elderberry jam lately. The trees have been heavily laden this year as we have had a warm summer, with enough rain to finish them off leaving them pleasingly plump and  delectable. Just right for the picking. Elderberry or Sambuco as they are known in Italy whose name derives  from their Latin name of sambucus nigri, is such a giving tree. Fragrant lacy flower fronds in the spring give way to pendulant purple clusters in the late summer or early autumn. Elder flower syrup in spring and blackberry type jam in the autumn. I keep a watchful eye on my local trees to make sure no beats me to the tasty morsels as has happened in the past. This understory tree grows to decent enough height that there is no chance that we get to them all and so there are always plenty of berries to share with our feathered friends.

We were quite fortunate the other night to have our guests join in on the fun of pulling the small sometimes resistant berries off, thereby halving the time it normally takes us  to prepare them as well has having a laugh as we all ended up with purple stained hands.

Elderberry or Sambuco Jam

2 kilo clean elderberries ( I rinse them to remove as much small stems and debris as possible)
1 kilo sugar
1-2 T lemon juice, optional 

Place your cleaned fruit in a heavy bottomed pot.
Smash fruit with a hand potato smasher
(this brings out the juice and speeds up the time it takes bring the fruit to a boil)
On medium to high heat, bring the fruit and juices to a rolling boil.
Boil the mix down till a good portion of the fruit syrup has evaporate.
Your time will vary depending on the amount of liquid, but you can figure at least an hour, maybe more. I usually make about 4 kilos at a time and it can take almost two hours to get the mixture cooked down.
Once you have cooked ost of the moisture away, but it is still loose, add the sugar
Stir well, bring back up to a full bol taking care not to let it boil over.
When the mixture comes to a full boil, turn your heat down and let the mixture simmer.
Pay closer attention to your mixture now as it can easily boil over or stick to the bottom  and burn.
Cook until it has thickend and mixture is the consistency of thick gruel.
Add the lemonjuice towards the end of the cooking period. I like to use it to cut through the sweetness and brighten the elderberry flavor. 
I like to use a candy thermomenter to keep track of it. I make sure the temperature reaches at least 200* F and maybe a little more. I don't cook mine as mucy as I used to as I like a looser jam instead of the very firm one. You can also pour some on a  plate to see if it has thickened to your favored texture. Again this may take an hour or so. You need to pay closer attention to it as this point, so that it doesn't burn.
Fill your hot sterilized jars and close with a fresh lid.
Gently boil  the jars submerged in hot waterfor at least 20 minutes.
Remove gently from the water
Turn upside down to cool and insure the seal of the jar. 

Note: I can make up to 4 kilos of fruit in my pot in the photo, so I just always use the 2:1 fruit to sugar ratio. Sometime I will cut the sugar back slightly if the fruit seems sweet. Lemon juice helps cut the sweetness and intensifies the flavor of the fruit I think. I use about 1 tablespoon per kilo of fruit, but of course you can do it to taste too.

19 September 2009

Wine Bash at Martini & Rossi Spiritual Home

It's that time of the year again, the "vendemmia" and the talk turns to the prospects of the wine harvest for the year. Some of our wine making friends say that this years quality is high but yeilds are low. Sounds like good wine at higher prices to me. It was a fitting time to celebrate the start of this years harvest and attend the launch of La Strada Reale dei Vini Torinese, held at the beautiful "Martini and Rossi"(link in Italian only ) original home and muesum in Pessione di Chieri.

This celebration was the culmination of our province's increased effort to showcase our distinctive and tempting culinary treasures of Torino(Turin) province, comprised of bountiful mountains, plains and valleys in this sprawling province. This royal wine road designation draws attention to our territorial wine whose distinct flavor springs forth from the land and tradtional grape varieties that come together with it's hard working people and noble Savoy dynasty history, to secure our place upon the Italian wine stage. Thanks go to Torino's director of provincial traditional culinary offerings, Elena di Bella who has worked tirelessly to bring the long overdue recognition that our local specialties so deserve, and Anna Rinaldi, under Elena di Bella's direction, who has put her full energies into to bringing this wine road project to fruition. Anna organized several wine tastings with a noted sommelier to offer an opportunity for us to discover and familiarize ourselves with our neighbors wines. We participated in a couple of these earlier this summer. Not only was it enlightening and fun, we also met other interesting wine producers of these tasty wines and also innkeepers, enthusiats and supporters of this project. Naturally, there are many of our colleagues involved that will offering lodging and culinary opportunities as this project takes root and flourishes. TEM, (only in Italian at this point) our personal ecological, sustainable, toursim association  is excited to support, promote and collaborate with this wonderful initiative, to put our deserving area on the map and help bring  a bit more prosperity to our "off the beaten path" part of Piedmont. Exciting times indeed.

The evening consisted of time to tour the museum in the bottom of the house that houses a very important collection of over 600 artifacts which tell the history of wine from the 7th century BC until today. There were beautiful ancient Etruscan wine vessels and ornate drinking horns and cups in the first rooms. I particularly loved the 17th and 18th century ornate and simple Piemontese carts used to carry the harvested grapes. Pictured above is a cart used to transport the finished the wine.

This good sized 17th century alambicco (alcohol distiller or "still" as we quaintly call them in the US) is what was used to make grappa. After the grapes seemingly have given all that they can for the making of the wine, the "must" is then used to make grappa even today. The museum really is an interesting attraction if you have an interest in the history of wine and worth seeking out if you are in the area.

The remainder of the evening, after all the speeches and slide show about our very generous hosts, Martini & Rossi of the Bacardi group's facilities, was filled  sampling the familiar and not as familiar wines of Torino province. There were knowledgeable sommeliers on hand to help guide and educate us about the locations, variety of grapes and wines. It wouldn't be a proper Italian aperitivo event without some tasty treats to go along with the dolcetto, barbera, erbaluce, freisa, nebbiolo and moscato wines and this was of course no exception. I must say that the chestnut porcini soup was a stand out for me and will probably find me making an attempt to make it here as we move into chestnut and mushroom season here shortly. Perhaps I'll even share it here if I get it sorted out. I know I'll be seeking out some of the wines I tried  last night to add to our offerings when you find yourself staying with us. A great event and a project worth seeking out when you make your way to Piedmont, but more specifically, Provincia di Torino. We'll be waiting for you with a bottle or two in the cantina. Cin Cin!

15 September 2009

Spicy cheese filled Zucchini flowers

One of Italians favorite ingredients that they love to use here that often surprises our guests, are zucchini flowers. They can be quite bountiful at times when there are many on the vine that will never tun into a zucchini such as these in the photo above and then there are ll of the ones attached to the end of the zucchini when you either pick them from you own  prolific plants or purchase them fresh from your market vendor. Either way, they are delicately flavored, lovely to behold and delicious stuffed and deep fat fried, but then, is just abut everything. That is the typical way they are done and served in most of Italy, but they do find their way into soups, risottos, ravioli and pasta dishes as well.
I did a slightly lighter version of them the other night that had my friends making me believe that they had died and gone to heaven. They savored every morsel. They are so easy to prepare this way, that you might just want to wander out to your garden and see if you have a few to fill with your favorite filling and bake in the oven till warmed though and you have an easy delectable starter that will have you running back out to the garden to find if your zucchini plant has given up a few more flowers while you were busy making and baking the first ones. If not just be patient and I'm sure you'll have a few more shortly. You'll just have to be patient and think about what else you can fill them with. I used a mixture of small bits and tail ends of a variety of cheeses along with some spicy Calabrian salami. You could use some flavorful beans for grains as well. Just make sure to either wrap the flowers in something that will keep them from drying out while they are baking, or lightly brush a bit of oil in them before popping them into the oven.
Fiori di zucchini ripieno 
4 servings

8 large zucchini flowers or more if they are smaller
3-4 slices of Proscuitto crudo, sliced lengthwise to make 2-3 generous strips per slice

200-250 g assorted cheeses, I used fresh
Seirass, (which is a stronger flavored and firmer ricotta type cheese
Parmesan (Grana Oadan actually)and
Cevrin, which is a strong goat cheese.
The idea is to have a flavorful filling, but not necessarily a stringy type cheese filling, but anything will work really.
50- 100g spicy salami diced
1 egg optional if your mixture holds together well on it's own, like mine did
few grates of fresh nutmeg
2 Tb chives

Mix everything together in a bowl and set aside.
Wash your flowers lightly in a bowl of water to remove dust etc
Working gently remove the large pistil inside. If your flowers are small you might open one sideto ease the filling process.
Fill the flowers generously keeping the slit together as best you can and leave enough room at them end that you can fold the points of the flower over the ends to keep the filling in.
Wrap the ham around the flower in a spiral tucking in your ends if you canso it all holds togther.
Bake in a moderate to hot oven till warmed through and juicy.
Serve immediately.
They are quite rich and usually 2 will make a substantial starter.

02 September 2009

Gofri, the recipe

Here's one of our favorite local festival snacks that turns up in more places now and again, Gofri(go free). It's a thin crispy waffle filled with any number of savory and sweet fillings.

Gofri with Nutella sandwiched in between,
served up at our favorite watering hole,
Beba microbrewery in our neighboring town of Villar Perosa.
I wrote about them and some of the other award winning local specialties here.

My original introduction to Gofri, was a light flavorful waffle slathered with local favorite, Nutella (as the original guilty pleasure hails from nearby Alba). Pure bliss. It didn't take me long to be won over by prosciutto crudo and aged creamy tomini cheese, or porcini mushrooms and marinated artichokes, or with marmalade and, and, and,.....mmmmm. I think I'm just going to have to go and fix myself something to eat before I fall off my chair fantasizing about the possibilities.

Here we have the outdoor variety set up for flea market the other day

The secret of the crispy outside is the lard that they lube up the hot griddle with.

If you haven't worked it out yet. Gofri making is a male dominated cooking endeavor.
Not unlike bar-b-que, which is also one of the favorite male bonding sports as well here in Italy.
I think it speaks to something very deeply ingrained back in the day of the discovery of fire and dinosaur burgers, but I digress.

Once they are determined crispy, it's on to the choice of fillings and ultimately eating.
I am passing along the recipe of our friends Alma and Renato's from Mentoulles, a small hamlet next to Fenestrelle Fortress.

During the winter Olympics of 2006 they invited us up to share a big feast of gofri with all the fixins and some of their very own moscato wine from their cantina. Notice the big stack of gofri, front and center, that we managed to polish off without too much of an effort. Renato is there manning their indoor set up in their cantina. It was a memorable night indeed. Now you can make your own little gofri festival and create some memories of your own.

  • 1 liter of water, tepid
  • 750 g of farina, 00
  • 1 cube of fresh yeast
  • pinch of salt
Mix the fresh yeast and salt with the tepid water.
Whisk the flour into the water, salt and yeast mixture.
Leave in a warm place for 3 hours to allow the batter to develop.
Heat your griddle till very hot.
Run a piece of fatback over the griddle or brush with lard.
Brush with a light coating of olive oil or sunflower oil.
Close to reheat briefly.
Pour your batter over the whole surface to cover and close.
Cook on one side and flip over
Cook until light brown and crispy.
Give it a poke with a fork if uncertain that it is cooked all the way through.
Place on a plate, cover one half with your preferred topping and fold in half.
Serve immediately.
Lick your fingers clean.

Toppings/fillings suggestions

Prosciutto crudo and soft cheese, gorgonzola
Cooked ham with mozzarella
marinated artichokes, tomatoes and stacchino cheese
spicy salami thinly sliced

Apricot or any of your favorite preserves. I love plum with rosemary
Anything goes really.

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