Scenes From an Italian Wedding and Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli Florets

Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli FloretsHello there!

Long time no talk and no cook! :-) My personal photographer has been buried alive in the office, working long exhausting hours, and I have been busy with a … home project that is taking more than I was expecting.

So where were we? Ah, my cousin’s wedding! Care to know how it was? Sure!

Let me set the tone of this post right away by saying that I don’t like weddings. With my being an introvert, I just hate big gatherings and I try to stay away from weddings as much as anyone tries to protect themselves from contagious diseases. I can literally count on the fingers of one hand the weddings that I enjoyed, which thankfully include mine – maybe because I was kind of the main character there. ;-) Still, I end up attending most of the weddings I’m invited to because good manners and social conventions require me to do it.

But let’s start from the beginning. The groom and the bride (my cousin) picked Ravenna, a town in Emilia Romagna (a region in Northern Italy) as their religious celebration venue. This choice upset some of my family members for different reasons, including that it contravened the old Italian tradition that a wedding must be celebrated in the bride’s hometown (which, in our case, would have been in Southern Italy).

The mass was set to start at 6:00pm on a Saturday. My close family, Her Majesty and I (Stefano, my sneaky husband, deserted the happy gathering adducing work-related excuses! ;-) ) arrived in Ravenna from Rome at 10:00pm on Friday, after (only!) a 5-hour train ride. I hadn’t even put one foot through the hotel doorway that a countless number of my mom’s relatives (first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, whatever degree cousins!) started hugging me and asking “Do you remember me?” The first thing that came to my mind? “Honestly, I haven’t the faintest idea who you are, maybe because the last time I saw you I was seven and please let me go since I need to breathe every now and then”. Did I go for it? Of course not! Only because I wouldn’t have heard the end of it from my mom. I put on my fakest smile and, using my best Virgin Mary voice, I said that it was very late and I had to put Her Majesty to bed.

The next morning, at breakfast, the same scene repeated itself more or less, only with more people and the additional tiny detail that everyone was speaking dialects from the south of Italy (both the bride’s and the groom’s families are originally from there). Now, I grew up listening to those dialects so, even if I cannot speak a word, I understand them pretty well. But Her Majesty? There is no day that goes by without Stefano correcting her Italian pronunciation and grammar so that she only speaks a perfect, proper and accent-less Italian, and as a result she felt completely lost in that breakfast room and she asked me which foreign language our relatives were speaking! ;-) That’s when I knew that I had to leave that room and leave fast. Ravenna gave me the perfect excuse.

Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli Florets

Ravenna is a little gem from a historical and artistic point of view. It was the capital of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and then of the Byzantine Empire until the 8th century. Ravenna’s monuments and mosaic art are so unique that UNESCO added eight, I say eight, of its monuments to the World Heritage List. Of course, it was impossibile for me and her Majesty to visit all of them that morning but I was determined to see as much as we could. When we stepped into the Basilica of San Vitale, Her Majesty was speechless (and believe me, it doesn’t happen very often!) in front of the extraordinary beauty and magnificence of the mosaics. We spent most of the morning contemplating as many mosaics as we could and Her Majesty got all excited at the idea that, maybe one day, she could attend Ravenna’s mosaic restoration school. Another site that you do not want to miss if you happen to be in Ravenna is Dante’s tomb. Yup, the divine poet died and was buried there in 1321. The stories of how Florence (Dante’s hometown and the same town that condemned him to exile) has been trying over the years to bring the body of the most famous Italian literate back home are really amusing. Time literally flew by and, at lunch, it was time to get back to my “family” reality.

Eventually 6:00pm came. Her Majesty was the ring bearer and she was supposed to precede the bride down the aisle. I immediately knew that the ceremony was going to be a disaster by the tone that the priest used to address my daughter outside the church: arrogant and rude! I disliked him instantly!

Now, the usual Italian catholic wedding ceremony is very long and the sermon is crucial in making the difference between a good one and a bad one. In my mind, a good sermon is one that is supposed to convey a sweet message of love, happiness and blessing for the newlyweds. Sweet sermon my foot!

The opening statement of that guy was that there was not going to be any sermon because the love of the two lovebirds didn’t need any comment and then he went on and on for 2 hours (two hours, I say!) pontificating and thundering against us, poor sinners, so strongly that I thought the dome was about to crack open and the arrows of some vindicative angels would pierce our hearts. I’m pretty sure that Michelangelo was listening to a sermon like that when he got the idea of how the Final Judgement should look like! ;-)

Finally, past 8:00pm, after surviving the Inquisition torture and avoiding divine punishment, we got out of the church and jumped on a private bus to go to the place where the wedding reception would be, which was (only! :-( ) a 40 minute ride away!!!
When we got there, people were famished. When they saw the appetizers’ buffet table, they attacked it like there was no tomorrow. I saw plates so full of food that a starving dinosaur would have turned pale in front of them!

And after everyone stuffed themselves with so much food that they were ready to blow up (à la Monty Python, you know the “wafer thin mint” scene?…), the unavoidable wedding dinner started. After two endless pasta courses (it felt like it took me less to give birth to Her Majesty!), at 11:30pm the second course was starting being served… Now, the newlyweds’ choice fell on pork (seriously? In August?) and they wanted to impress their guests showing the whole poor cooked animal on a serving plate before it was all cut out to delight our palates (like I still had one!). I had the brilliant idea to wear a pair of gorgeous Sergio Rossi high heels (over 12 cm) for the occasion. After all those hours, my feet were so swollen that you could have replaced them with those of the poor pork on that darn serving plate and nobody, nobody would have noticed the difference.

Bacon-Wrapped Cauliflower and Broccoli FloretsAt 1:00am the wedding cake was finally brought out to the garden. I couldn’t care less at that point. I don’t even know what cake was served. I kept just staring at the people sitting at my table falling asleep on the plate and constantly watching their watches. Why? Because 2:00am was the time that had been set for our freedom. That was the time when the bus was going to pick us all up and take us back to the hotel.

The cherry on top of the cake? That night, the Italian gods decided to surprise us sending a thick fog our way – in August… The bus driver had to drive very slowly and it took us way more than 40 minutes to get back to Ravenna.

When I put my face on the pillow at 4:00am thanking God that this excruciating night was finally over, I promised myself that the next wedding I am going to attend will be Her Majesty’s!!!

Oh well, enough with the wedding! Let’s talk about something more tempting. :-)

Did I tell you that I love appetizers? A good appetizer (along with a glass of champagne or white wine of course!) has the magical power to put me in a great mood. Don’t get me wrong: I love the classic cheese platter, especially if it is full of rich, soft French cheeses, but variety is what makes life beautiful, isn’t it?

The good thing about this appetizer is that you can really cheat yourself. After all, you are eating vegetables. Let’s not focus on the fact that they are fried and wrapped in bacon, shall we? ;-)

Now, there is really no recipe for this appetizer. You will just need some broccoli and cauliflower florets, plus the same ingredients you would use to make your breaded chicken cutlets (flour, eggs, breadcrumbs), some extravirgin olive oil and some slices of bacon.

Directions:

Coat the florets into the flour. Shake the excess off and dip the florets into some beaten salted eggs. Let the excess drip off and coat the florets into the breadcrumbs.

Fry the florets in olive oil. When they are browned, remove the florets from the oil, place them on some paper towel and let them cool off.

Preheat oven at 375F.

Wrap the florets with bacon slices, overlapping the ends of the slices under the florets.

Put some parchment paper on a baking sheet, place the wrapped florets on the paper and bake them for about 10 minutes.

Remove the florets from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes.

Decorate the florets with party toothpicks of your choice et voila’!

Hope you are enjoying this gorgeous fall weather!

F. Xx

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So little time in the kitchen: peach and chocolate chips mini tarte tatins

Mini peach tarte tatinsHello everyone!

Hope you are having a glorious summer!

As a food blogger, I know I’m expected to share recipes, tips and culinary adventures that I have experienced during my stay in Italy, but I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed … or maybe not! ;-)

As I said on several occasion, cooking is just one of my passions. There are so many other things I tremendously enjoy. One of these things is resuming my royal role of daughter every time I go back to my country. :-)

You see, I was a very lucky, spoiled girl who never had to deal with any domestic chore for as long as I lived at home with my parents. When I left that house to play the role of an independent woman and a wife, I realized that real life was quite different from the one I was used to and it was kind of shocking to me but that’s another story! ;-)

Anyway, truth to be told I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I entered my mother’s kitchen to cook something during my stay.

I happen to have made the recipe I am going to share with you today during one of those miraculous times (as my mom likes to put it! ;-) ).

It was a Saturday of a very hot Italian summer and I had terrific plans for the day: taking Her Majesty to her swimming class, having lunch on the terrace of the yacht club and spending the entire afternoon on the beach reading, swimming and sun bathing. That morning I was daydreaming in my bed when my mother announced me that she had invited twelve guests for dinner that night and asked me if I could take care of the dessert.

Now, you can understand my predicament! I didn’t want to change my plans, not even a bit, but I didn’t feel like not helping my mom either. While brushing my teeth (I get a lot of ideas brushing my teeth ;-) ), the thought of a very simplified version of mini tarte tatins came to my rescue.

These little treats are very easy to make, even ahead of time if you have a busy day, and they look and taste wonderful. The combination of peach and chocolate is one of my favorites and I still have to meet a human being that doesn’t go for it.

So how did it go? Dinner was scheduled for 9:00pm (yup, that’s how we roll at my parents’ house!). I came back from the beach late afternoon and I had plenty of time to make the tarte tatins and be ready to help my mother serve the aperitivo to her guests. Our guests devoured the mini tarte tatins and I had exactly the day that I planned. In other words, those little beauties saved my day and, hopefully, they may do the same for you! :-)

Mini peach tarte tatins

Ingredients:

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 peaches
1/3 Cup, chocolate chips
1 Cup, confectioner’s sugar
1 yolk
1 Tbsp, milk
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place some parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Peel the peaches, slice them and set them aside.

Mini peach tarte tatinsLay the sheet of pastry on a floured surface and roll over so that you have a smooth sheet. Following the same technique to make linzer cookies, with a large round cookie cutter (of course you can pick the shape you like best), cut the pastry into rounds and place half of the rounds on the parchment paper. Using a smaller round cookie cutter, cut out the center from the other half of the rounds, put the outer edges of the circles aside and discard the centers as scrap. Combine such scraps, roll and cut again until you have used all your pastry.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolk and the milk.

In a non stick pot, combine sugar and about 1 Tbsp of water to make caramel. Bring the mixture to boil and cook until the mixture has thickened and turned amber in color.

Using a spoon (be careful because the caramel is very hot and it’s super easy to get burnt), place some caramel on the pastry solid rounds and add a couple of peach slices and some chocolate chips on top of the caramel.

Press the circle cut rounds on top of the solid ones and brush the edges with the egg wash.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the tarte tatins are golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and let them cool. Dust the tarte tatins with some confectioner’s sugar before serving them.

I’m heading over to Italy again this weekend. My first cousin is getting married and, according to my aunt, this wedding will be remembered as much as that of William & Kate. ;-) Plus, after two months of vacation, it is time for Her Majesty to come back home in time for the first day of school.

I wish you all to enjoy the rest of August. Talk to you soon,

F. Xx

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From Italy to Iran with love: Pepper and Pancetta Tortiglioni

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioniI have been fortunate enough to be asked by lovely Azita to write a guest post that she has published on her wonderful blog, Fig and Quince. If you don’t know Azita yet, do yourself a favor: go check her blog out and enter her enchanted Persian world.

This is the original guest post that I wrote for Azita, which contains a few differences (in the story, not in the recipe!) compared to that which Azita published: in other words, this is the director’s cut, if you will. ;-)

I have been lucky enough to get to meet Azita in person a few months ago. I don’t remember how we found each other on the blogosphere but I remember how I felt at the beginning of our “relationship”… cautious.

I have always been a big introvert and extremely good at keeping my distance from people – a huge disappointment due to a friendship that fell apart a couple of years ago didn’t help, and actually ended up making me even more skeptical, if possible, when it comes to meeting new people, either in person or over the internet.

However, when I started reading Azita‘s posts, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the cheerfulness, the lightness and the language richness of her writing style.

There is no doubt that her country, culture and culinary traditions are fascinating in and of themselves, but she is astonishingly capable to write about them in such an articulate and eclectic way that every time I read one of her posts I have the impression of reading one chapter of “One Thousand and One Nights”, where flavors, aromas, perfumes and ancient customs all blend in together to give birth to something magical.

And yet, her posts are always funny and cheerful and modern and colorful. Even her pictures and her compositions speak for the talented artist that she is. Her attention to details is impressive to say the least and her comments to other people’s posts are always brilliant with a touch of graciousness.

When I was about to meet her in person, I was nervous. I’m always nervous when I have to meet new people. It is simply not my thing! ;-) As soon as she stepped into my house, she came toward me and she hugged me and kissed me as if we had known each other for years. I will never forget that hug. Why? The warmth that her hug gave me as a human being was totally unexpected and yet so refreshing and fulfilling!

When I had to pick the dish to be published on Azita‘s wonderful blog as a guest post, I immediately went for a pasta dish with peppers. Why? Well, I’m Italian and pasta is one of the emblems of my culinary tradition. So no doubt there! :-) The reason I picked peppers is because I think they represent Azita in her fullness. Their color is so vibrant that they bring cheerfulness and happiness in your life as soon as you look at them and their taste is so strongly flavorful and overwhelming that as soon as you eat them your taste buds are literally pervaded by their richness the same way I was by Azita‘s hug that Sunday afternoon.

So from Italy to Iran – one way – with love!

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioni

2 Servings

Ingredients:

2 peppers
4 oz, chopped pancetta
1 leek
4 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
6/7 oz, pasta of your choice
2 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
four/five thyme stalks
Ground black pepper
Salt

Directions:

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioniPreheat your oven to 400F.

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Rinse the peppers under cold water, dry them and place them on a baking sheet (I always put some parchment paper on my baking sheet to be sure that nothing sticks :-) ). Bake for about 20 minutes (or until the peppers are cooked), take them out of the oven and, with the help of a knife and fork, remove the skin of the peppers.

In the meantime, cut off the green top of the leek and its root. Discard the outer layer. Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse the halves well under water. On a chopping board, slice the leek thinly and evenly. In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, add the leek slices, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add some water and stir occasionally until the water evaporates. Set aside.

In another skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of oil, add the pancetta and fry, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta gets golden and crispy. Set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, place the peppers, the leek slices, some thyme leaves and 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a blender or a food processor. Season with salt and pepper (to taste) and blend everything until you obtain a smooth sauce. Transfer the sauce to a pot and warm it on a very low heat.

When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook it until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and put it in the pot where you warmed the sauce and toss to coat. Add the pancetta and toss to coat.

Put the pasta into the serving plates, dust the top of each plate with some Parmigiano cheese and garnish the plate with some thyme leaves.

Love,

Francesca Xx

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Wine Review: I Borboni, Asprinio di Aversa “Vite Maritata” DOC 2011

Today’s wine is a very particular, small production Italian white wine from a little known appellation in the Campania region, namely I Borboni, Asprinio di Aversa “Vite Maritata” DOC 2011 ($21).

The Bottom Line

I Borboni, Asprinio di Aversa "Vite Maritata" DOCOverall, the I Borboni Asprinio was a good to very good white wine from an appellation that is not widely known, with a good QPR. It had a very good nose, if not too complex, with nice citrus and flowery aromas and hints of herbs. In the mouth its crisp acidity was all the way to the top of the scale and it went hand in hand with a marked, pleasant sapidity, both of which were very nicely balanced by the wine’s creamy smoothness. I Borboni’s Asprinio is a solid, good-priced option to consider for a warm Spring or Summer day, either by itself or paired to a seafood pasta or Francesca’s asparagus and pea flan.

Rating: Good to Very Good and Recommended Good to Very Good - $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape Variety and the Appellation

While Asprinio has for a long time been considered an autonomous grape variety (and still is by many today), DNA profiling has recently showed that Asprinio is actually exactly the same variety as Greco, which in turn is close to Aleatico. Greco is a white-berried grape variety that is mostly cultivated in Southern Italy, particularly in the Campania region.

If probably the best known appellation for Greco-based wines is Greco di Tufo DOCG near the town of Avellino in Campania, “the” appellation for Asprinio wine is Aversa DOC (also known as “Asprinio di Aversa DOC”) which was created in 1993 and encompasses an area, always in the Campania region, near the town of Aversa and the city of Naples, requiring the use of a minimum of 85% of Greco (locally known as Asprinio) grapes.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

Harvesting Asprinio di Aversa (AKA Greco) Grapes Image Courtesy of the Town of Aversa

Harvesting Asprinio di Aversa (AKA Greco) Grapes
Image Courtesy of the Town of Aversa

The word Asprinio is a variant of the Italian word “aspro” which means “sour” due to the high acidity that is typical of the wines made in this appellation. Based on the ISA wine pairing guidelines, this makes it the perfect wine to pair with dishes with considerable latent sweetness (please refer to my post about wine pairing guidelines for a more detailed explanation).

Another distinctive feature of the Asprinio di Aversa DOC appellation is the traditional way to grow the local ungrafted grapevines, where tall trees serve as natural trellis, resulting in vines that climb up to 82 ft (25 mt) high and require the use of very tall ladders to harvest the top grapes – the photograph to the right illustrates this singular grapevine growing method which is also known as “vite maritata” (literally, “married grapevine”).

About the Producer and the Estate

The winery that makes the Asprinio that we are reviewing (I Borboni) as well as their vineyards are located in the town of Lusciano, near Caserta, in Southern Italy’s Campania region and have been owned by the Numeroso family since the early 1900’s.

There, the Asprinio is still fermented and briefly aged in a winery that was built in a cave 43 ft (13 mt) deep into the ground, right underneath the owners’ family house. This provides an ideal environment for making and preserving the wine, ensuring even temperature, coolness and dampness throughout the year.

Our Detailed Review

I Borboni, Asprinio di Aversa “Vite Maritata” DOC 2011 was 12% ABV and it fermented for 15 days in stainless steel vats, where it then aged for 6 months, plus an additional month in bottle. A minor gripe that I have is that the bottle comes with a silicon closure, which I just find cheap and unbecoming of a good wine… but maybe that’s just me. ;-) It retails in the U.S. for about $21.

As usual, for my reviews I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine was a lush golden yellow in color and moderately viscous.

On the nose, it was moderately intense (bear in mind that this wine really opens up when it is not too chilled: for me, it peaked at 58 F/14.5 C) and moderately complex, with fine aromas of citrus, orange blossoms, orange zest, butter and herbs.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, had medium ABV and was smooth; it was acidic and tasty, medium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine flavors of citrus, orange, minerals and brine, with very accentuated sapidity and a medium finish. In its life cycle, the wine was mature, meaning drink now, do not hold.

Posted in White Wines, Wine, Wine Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

An unusual mini-bundt: asparagus and pea flan

Asparagus and pea flanLet me apologize first! I know this is my second asparagus post in a row. The truthful, not very glamorous reason is that I’m about to leave for Italy and I needed to empty my refrigerator. ;-) The first rule I learned when I started cooking is that food waste is a big no no and I try to abide by it.

However, you know me. Whatever the reason may be, I always try to go for something nice that satisfies my aesthetic sense in addition to my palate, especially when I’m handling ingredients as expensive as asparagus. Since I had just bought a mini-bundt pan at Williams Sonoma, I thought it would be fun to use it to make asparagus-based flans. I’m very pleased with the results. What do you think? ;-)

These flans are the perfect appetizers for a dinner party. They can be made ahead of time and served at room temperature or warmed-up. But above all, they are very cute and will impress your guests for sure! ;-)

I like to serve them with warm cheese sauce on top. I think the savory cheesiness of the sauce complements the very delicate texture of the vegetables wonderfully.

I wish you all a great beginning of summer. I’ll try to stay in touch as much as I can but I apologize in advance if I might miss some of your posts. Spending time with my extended family is wonderful, but it is also a full time job! ;-)

Asparagus and pea flanIngredients:

1 lb, asparagus
2 Cups, peas
1 leek
10 leaves, basil
2 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
1 1/2 Cup, stock
4 Tbsp, ricotta
4 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
5 eggs
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 340 degrees F.

Wash the asparagus spears and cut off the woody ends. In a large pot, heat some water until it boils, add the asparagus and keep boiling for 3-4 minutes. Strain the asparagus, rinse with cold water and cut into ¾ inch pieces.

Wash the peas under cold running water. In another pot, heat some water until it boils, add the peas and keep cooking until they are tender. Strain the peas and rinse them with cold water.

Cut off the green top of the leek and the root. Discard the outer layer. Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse the two halves well under water, being careful to leave them intact. Place each half, with the flat side facing down, on a chopping board. Slice the leeks thinly and evenly with your knife so that you end up with thin strips.

Asparagus and pea flanIn a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the leek, the peas and the asparagus, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add the stock and stir occasionally until the water evaporates. Set aside.

Chop the basil leaves roughly.

In a blender or food processor place the vegetables, the ricotta, the Parmigiano cheese, the basil and the yolks. Blend until you obtain a smooth mixture. Taste it to check whether you need to add more salt and blend again.

In a bowl, beat the egg whites until they get fluffy. With the help of a spatula, incorporate the beaten egg whites into the vegetable mixture.

Coat the mini-bundt pan molds with butter. If you do not have any such pan, you can use your regular muffin pan.

Fill the molds with the mixture. Place the mini-bundt pan inside a large, shallow pan. Add warm water to the large pan such that the lower half of the height of the mini-bundt pan is under water.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the mini-bundt pan from the water bath. Let the mini bundts cool.

Invert onto a serving plate and add some warm cheese sauce on top. Serve right away.

That’s all for today: talk to you soon from the old continent!

F. Xx

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Wine Review: Coppo, Moscato d’Asti “Moncalvina” DOCG 2011… and the Moscato Craze

Disclaimer: this review is of a sample that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the ISA wine tasting protocol and the opinions I am going to share on the wine are my own.

Coppo, Moscato d'Asti "Moncalvina"The wine that we are going to review today is a sweet wine from Italy’s Piemonte region, namely Coppo, Moscato d’Asti “Moncalvina” DOCG 2011 ($16).

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Moncalvina was a very good Moscato, one that is easy to drink, pleasant in the mouth, with great bouquet and flavors, as well as a lively acidity that perfectly counterbalances the wine’s sweetness. Whether you desire to match it to an appropriate dessert (something simple, like shortbread cookies or panettone) or just want to hop on the “trendy Moscato” bandwagon and have it as a sweet-tasting aperitivo (you can read more about this below), either way the Moncalvina is the right wine for the job and will deliver very good quality for the price.

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good - $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

And yet, before getting to the actual review of this wine, Moscato gives me the right opportunity for a little digression…

About the Recent Popularity of Moscato in the US

Over the last couple of years Moscato has known a period of incredible popularity in the U.S., where in particular a younger crowd (45 and below) seems to have embraced it as a “cool” wine to drink in the warmer months, not only with dessert (the way Moscato was originally “conceived” in Italy) but also as a before dinner drink (“aperitivo“) or even as a wine to pair with a meal. Just to give you an idea of so massive a commercial success, in 2013 Moscato has been the third most-sold wine in the United States, according to Nielsen, achieving an astounding $625 million in sales, thus surpassing those of Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling and closely trailing Pinot Grigio’s.

This process of making Moscato a hip wine has been facilitated by a few popular hip hop singers like Lil’ Kim and Kanye West who mentioned Moscato in the lyrics of their songs. Moscato’s generally affordable prices and typical low-alcohol, sweetish taste profile were also contributing factors to the appeal that Moscato seems to have for younger people.

Although I just barely fit within what has been identified as the Moscato lovers age group, I personally go in the opposite direction. I realize that Moscato is a wine that has incredibly identified itself with its traditional territory in the Asti area in northern Italy’s region of Piemonte and that has garnered a certain recognition (especially in its sparkling version) as an inexpensive, low-alcohol dessert wine traditionally served with panettone or pandoro on New Year’s eve. I get that. However, I have to be honest, Moscato is not my cup of… wine.

I mean, my favorite sparkling wines are dry (and actually, to me the less residual sugar the better) and they have good structure and a complex bouquet/flavor profile, essentially they are Classic Method sparkling wines, be it quality Champagne, Franciacorta, Trento DOC, Cava or the like. On the other hand, the sweet wines I like are still, but with similar characteristics: structure and complex aromas/flavors, such as Sauternes, Tokaji or quality Italian Passito or Muffato wines.

Anyway, I realize that simpler, lighter desserts may call for simpler, fresher sweet wines such as Moscato. What I struggle with, though, is how can people enjoy drinking a sweet Moscato with a main course… (if you want to learn why the ISA advocates against matching a sweet wine with a savory dish, you may go back to my earlier post about the ISA wine pairing criteria).

Perhaps it is just that everyone’s tastebuds are different or… could it be that, beside the nod of celebrity singers, one of the reasons why Moscato made it big in the U.S. is the proclivity of a large part of the U.S. population to sweet beverages?

I mean, the data is pretty impressive: according to a study, two thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight and half of them is obese and one major source of the “new” calories in the U.S. diet is sweet beverages such as sodas. U.S soft drink consumption grew 135 percent between 1977 and 2001 and, while people often choose “diet” or “light” products to lose weight, research studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to weight gain.

Whatever the causes, the Moscato phenomenon seems to be here to stay, but let’s now get back on track and go on with our review of Coppo’s Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti!

About the Grape

Moscato Bianco (also known as Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains) is a very ancient white-berried grape variety that may originate from either Italy or Greece. The oldest mention on record dates back to 1304 in an Italian agricultural treatise under the Latin name “Muscatellus”, referring to a table grape grown near the Italian town of Bologna. Supposedly, the variety was indigenous to Greece and from there it was brought to Italy.

DNA profiling has shown that Moscato Bianco is the same variety as a number of Greek grapes, including Moschato Aspro, Moschato, Kerkyras and Moschato Mazas. Also, DNA parentage analysis demonstrated that Moscato Bianco has parent-offspring relationships with six other varieties: (i) Aleatico; (ii) Moscato Giallo; (iii) Moscato Rosa del Trentino; (iv) Moscato di Scanzo; (v) Muscat of Alexandria or Zibibbo; and (vi) Muscat Rouge de Madere. Five out of such six varieties originate from Italy, which could point to an Italian (instead of Greek) origin of Moscato Bianco. Without additional evidence, however, it is impossible to prove from which of such two countries it actually originated.

Moscato Bianco is an aromatic grape variety. It is widely grown in France and in Italy, where it is the only variety allowed by Piemonte’s “Asti DOCG” appellation, which comprises both Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti and encompasses a territory near the towns of Alessandria and Asti. Limited Moscato Bianco plantings also occur in the USA (California and Washington) and in Australia, where a mutation known as Brown Muscat (or Muscat a Petits Grains Rouges) is used to make Liqueur Muscat, a sweet, dark, fortified wine.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

About the Producer and the Estate

You may find information regarding the producer, Coppo, and the estate in the first post of this series of reviews of the Coppo lineup.

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review today, Coppo, Moscato d’Asti “Moncalvina” DOCG 2011, was made from 100% Moscato Bianco grapes from the famed territory adjacent to the town of Canelli, near Asti. It was just 5% ABV and very slightly sparkling, and it fermented for a mere five days in stainless steel vats, where it also aged for one month, plus one additional month in bottle. The Moncalvina retails in the U.S. for about $16.

As usual, for my reviews I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine was straw yellow and moderately viscous.

On the nose, the Moncalvina had intense, moderately complex and fine aromas of apricot, tangerine, orange blossoms, panettone (an Italian Christmas sweet bread), and candied orange peel.

In the mouth, the wine was sweet, with low ABV and smooth; it was acidic, moderately tasty; light-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine flavors of apricot, tangerine and orange peel, as well as a long finish. In terms of its life cycle, the wine was mature – meaning, drink now, don’t wait.

 

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A second chance: asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

8 Servings

High school is over in our neck of the woods and last week we went to a graduation party of the son of one of our neighbors.

High school graduation ceremonies, proms and parties are totally new to us. In Italy, we do not have a graduation ceremony after our high school finals and, usually, there is no prom or party afterwards.

Asparagus and pancetta baked pastaYoung Italian girls and boys abruptly transition from being high school teenagers to wannabe adults ;-) at university (in the sense of postgraduate school, like Law School, Med School, etc.) without any particular celebration or event to be remembered by. We think it is kind of sad and we are starting to enjoy this American tradition thinking that, one day (far, far away in time! :-) ), Stefano and I will proudly be going to Her Majesty’s graduation ceremony. :-)

Anyway, my neighbors really like this asparagus and pancetta baked pasta. So I decided to bring it to the party to put an Italian touch on their buffet. ;-)

This dish was my first pasta post on this blog.  Looking back at the photo of the dish that I asked Stefano to take almost two years ago, I have to admit I wasn’t very pleased with my presentation. This pasta deserves so much better! :-)

I have been wanting to retake the picture with a different setting for more than a year but I’m a very lazy person, some may go as far as to call me the queen of postponement! ;-)

This graduation party was the perfect occasion to shake my royal status away, make this pasta again and work on a different presentation. I like this presentation much better than the old one and I hope you will agree with me.

To make your life easier in case you decide to give this dish a try, I decided to republish the recipe, so you won’t be driven crazy by links going back and forth!

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Ingredients:

2 lb asparagus
¼ cup extravirgin olive oil
¼ cup beef stock
1 lb of ¼ inch thick pancetta
7 cups of Bechamel sauce
2 cups each of two shredded cheeses of your choice (4 cups total)
1.6 lb dried ziti pasta (1 ½ packs)
1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Wash the asparagus spears and cut off the woody ends. In a large pot, heat some water until it boils, add the asparagus and keep boiling for 3-4 minutes. Strain the asparagus, rinse with cold water and cut into ¾ inch pieces. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add the beef stock and stir occasionally until the stock evaporates. Set aside.

Asparagus and pancetta baked pastaCut up the pancetta into small pieces and cook in a non-stick skillet until crispy. Wait for the pancetta to cool down and get rid of the grease. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the pasta is cooking, put the shredded cheeses into the pot with the hot Béchamel Sauce and, over very low heat, stir until the cheeses are completely melted.

Drain the pasta and put it again into the pot.

In a 9×13 inch casserole, spread some of the sauce to keep the pasta from sticking. Save 2 cups of the sauce for later and add the rest along with the asparagus and the pancetta to the pasta and toss to coat. Put the pasta in the casserole, ladle the rest of the sauce that you had previously set aside over the pasta, spreading it evenly, and scatter the grated Parmigiano over it. Bake for about 20 minutes covering the pasta with aluminum foil for the first 10 minutes.

Let me know what you think!

F. Xx

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Who said routines are boring? Meatloaf “en croute”

Meatloaf "en croute"

Meatloaf “en croute”

Hello there!

Long time no talk. I hope this finds you all well and enjoying this warm, glorious weather.

My house is finally empty (as in, no more guests!) and I was longing for this to happen. Don’t get me wrong: having family around is fantastic but, after a while, I really miss my routine schedule. Especially my mornings.

After Stefano leaves for work and Her Majesty is off to school, I treasure those precious morning hours when I reconcile myself with the rest of the world. Sipping my coffee, I take care of my house chores, I work on my professional and non-professional projects and I get ideas for new projects. All this in the silent company of Sofia. She never leaves my side but she has learned to be calm and quiet during those hours. It is amazing how she can be more in tune with me than most people I know. She knows what I need simply by instinct. :-)

This meatloaf “en croute” has been on my mind for quite a while. I have tried a couple of different flavor combinations and the one that I’m sharing with you today is the one that we liked the most.

As often with food, this recipe is just a combination of ingredients that you can adjust and/or substitute so as to satisfy your palate’s liking. You can use different ground meat (lamb, pork, turkey) or different nuts and dried fruits, you can replace the speck with bacon, pancetta, salame or prosciutto and you can add those herbs that you cannot live without. Or you can simply go with your own meatloaf recipe. As always, ideas are meant to flow and in the end it is just a question of taste! :-)

Meatloaf "en croute" (detail)

Meatloaf “en croute” (detail)

4 Servings

Ingredients:

1/2 lb, ground veal
1/2 lb, ground beef
2 eggs
2 slices of speck, 1/4 inch thick, chopped
1/4 Cup, bleached hazelnuts
1/2 Cup, dried apricots, chopped
1/2 Cup, whole milk
2/3 slices, white bread
6 Tbsp, grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
2 yolks
1 sheet, pastry puff, thawed
Ground black pepper
Salt

Directions:

Meatloaf "en croute"

Meatloaf “en croute”

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a bowl, place the bread and pour the milk (except for a couple of tablespoons that you will use later for the egg wash) and let it sit until the bread absorbs the milk.

In a large mixing bowl, put the meat, the eggs, the speck, the apricot, the hazelnut and the Parmesan cheese. Squeeze the bread in your hand in order to eliminate excess milk and add the bread into the mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper (to taste) and combine all the ingredients with your hands.

With your hands, form a loaf. Brush the loaf with the olive oil. Place some parchment paper on a baking pan and transfer the loaf on it.

Cook the meatloaf for about 25 minutes. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let it cool.

In the meantime, on a lightly floured surface, lightly roll out the pastry puff sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolks and 2 Tablespoons of milk.

Set the cool meatloaf on the pastry puff sheet lengthwise and wrap it with the dough. Cut the excess dough (do not discard it because you can use it for decoration) and seal the edges. Brush the pastry with the egg wash. Use the rest of the dough, if any, to decorate the top of the pastry and brush the decorations with the rest of the egg wash.

Cook for about 25 minutes or until golden/brown and crispy. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving it.

Looking forward to hearing from you! Xx

Meatloaf "en croute"

Meatloaf “en croute”

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#chianticool: “Not Your Grandma’s Chianti” – A Chianti Tasting in NYC

Chianti The Wine Logo

A few weeks ago I attended a seminar and wine tasting event organized by the Consorzio Vino Chianti (a producers’ consortium that has been promoting and controlling the quality of Chianti wine since 1927) in the posh context of the Beer Garden of the Standard Hotel in the always cool Meatpacking District in the City That Never Sleeps. As is often the case, I went with my wine blogger friend Anatoli AKA Talk-A-Vino: you can read his own take of this event on his blog.

Standard Hotel, NYC: The Beer Garden (courtesy of Standard Hotels)

Standard Hotel, NYC: The Beer Garden (courtesy of Standard Hotels)

Notions About Chianti

As I guess everybody knows, Chianti is a red wine that has been made in central Italy’s region of Tuscany for centuries (the first documented reference to Chianti wine dates back to 1398, and by the XVII century Chianti was already exported to England). Nowadays, Chianti is made in two different appellations: the smaller Chianti Classico DOCG and the larger Chianti DOCG. Both appellations were approved as DOC’s in 1967 and then upgraded to DOCG status in 1984.

The Chianti Classico DOCG appellation comprises a 70,000 HA territory adjacent to the cities of Florence and Siena, namely the area surrounding the towns of Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and, partly, those of San Casciano Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle. This territory was identified in 1932 as “the most ancient area where Chianti wine originated”. In the map below you can see the Chianti Classico DOCG territory colored in bright red (the purple-red striped area within the red area indicates the even smaller, original territory where Chianti was made in the period from 1716 to 1932).

The Chianti DOCG appellation comprises instead a larger territory near the cities of Arezzo, Florence, Pistoia, Pisa, Prato and Siena, which is the one contoured by the black line in the map below. The Chianti DOCG appellation also counts seven subzones (Chianti Colli Aretini; Chianti Colli Fiorentini; Chianti Colli Senesi; Chianti Colline Pisane; Chianti Montalbano; Chianti Montespertoli; and Chianti Rufina) that are color-coded as per the legend on the right side of the map.

Chianti Appellation Map

Chianti Appellation Map (courtesy of Consorzio Vino Chianti)

Chianti Classico "Black Rooster" LogoIn terms of winemaking, the Chianti Classico DOCG regulations require that wines be made from 80% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended with other permitted black-berried varieties (including indigenous Canaiolo and Colorino as well as international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) up to a maximum of 20%.

Chianti Classico DOCG minimum aging requirements are as follows:

  • Base Chianti Classico wines may be released to the market not earlier than October 1 of the year following that of the vintage
  • Chianti Classico Riserva wines must age for a minimum of 24 months, at least 3 of which in bottle
  • Chianti Classico Gran Selezione wines must age for a minimum of 30 months, at least 3 of which in bottle

All Chianti Classico wines must bear the traditional black rooster (“Gallo Nero“) logo and must use cork as their closure system.

Chianti LogoChianti DOCG regulations require instead that wines be made from 70% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended with permitted white-berried varieties up to a maximum of 10% and/or permitted black-berried varieties, provided that Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon shall not exceed 15%.

Wines from the subzone Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG shall be made from 75% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended only with other black-berried varieties (no white-berried varieties allowed), provided that Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon shall not exceed 10%. To the left you can see the cool logo of Chianti DOCG wines.

The minimum aging requirements of Chianti DOCG wines are as follows:

  • Base Chianti wines may be released to the market not earlier than March 1 of the year following that of the vintage
  • Chianti Riserva wines are required to age for at least 24 months
  • “Riserva” wines from the subzones Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG or Chianti Rufina DOCG must age at least 6 out of the required 24 months in wood barrels
  • “Riserva” wines from the subzone Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG must age at least 8 out of the required 24 months in wood barrels plus 4 months in bottle

Chianti DOCG wines may be made according to the traditional “governo all’uso toscano” (literally, “handled the Tuscan way“) method, which entails a slow refermentation of the wine with the addition of slightly dried grapes of the permitted varieties.

The top three countries Chianti DOCG wines get exported to are Germany (32%), the USA (17%) and the UK (12%).

Chianti barrels (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti barrels (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti DOCG NYC 2014: The Seminar

At the Chianti DOCG seminar, six different 2010 Chianti Riserva’s were presented in a guided horizontal tasting: three base Chianti Riserva’s, and one each from the following three subzones: Chianti Rufina Riserva, Chianti Montalbano Riserva and Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva.

The Chianti Riserva wine that opened the tasting presented the opportunity for some interesting considerations. The wine was made from 80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% white-berried Trebbiano grapes and had aged for 6 months in large barrels plus 20 months in barrique casks. The nose was vinous, with aromas of cherry, red berries and hints of licorice. In the mouth, the wine was decidedly veered toward the hardness side, with over the top acidity and gritty tannins, which threw it off balance ending up in an unsatisfactory final rating – at least to me.

The interesting point was an argument that ensued between an elderly gentleman who said that he loved the wine because it reminded him of the Chianti that he used to drink when he was young, in the traditional “fiasco” bottles, while a woman (with whom I wholeheartedly found myself in agreement) contended that the wine was actually pretty bad and totally unbalanced. This brief argument just proved to me how different and subjective tastes are, and how the assessment of a wine may reflect personal experiences.

The Consorzio Vino Chianti made the very good point that today’s Chianti is not your grandmother’s Chianti, alluding to the much better quality of most of present-day Chianti versus the “fiasco-bottled Chianti” of the old days. But that gentleman at the seminar proved that old-style Chianti may still surprisingly find a few admirers even in this day and age.

Fortunately for the rest of us at the seminar, the remaining wines were much better than the opening one. Among those six wines, the one that I personally liked best was the last one that was presented:

Castelvecchio, Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva “Vigna La Quercia” DOCG 2010 ($27). This is a 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon single-vineyard wine with 14% ABV, that was aged for 12 months in new French oak barrique casks plus additional 12 months in bottle. The wine had a beautiful garnet color, with an intense bouquet of red cherries, red berries, black pepper, herbs, cocoa and hints of vanilla, offering a nice balance between secondary and tertiary aromas. In the mouth it was very smooth, with very well integrated tannins and well controlled ABV, definitely balanced and with a good structure. Its flavor profile was subtle and elegant, with intense flavors of red cherries and raspberries going hand in hand with dark chocolate notes and hints of coffee.

Rating: Very Good Very Good - $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Cork Art (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Cork Art (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti DOCG NYC 2014: The Walk Around

The walk around that concluded the event offered the opportunity to taste many more exciting Chianti’s. Here below you may find my tasting notes of those wines that impressed me most among those that I could try:

Corbucci, Chianti Riserva “Corbucci” DOCG 2009: 100% Sangiovese, aged 24 months in French oak barrique casks plus 6 months in bottle, with aromas of leather, tobacco, cherry and strawberry; smooth and balanced in the mouth, with supple tannins and a flavor profile of cherry, tobacco and cocoa - Very Good Very Good

La Cignozza, Chianti Riserva DOCG 2008: 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo, aged 24 months 50% in small French oak tonneau casks and 50% in large French oak barrels, with aromas of licorice, raspberry, red fruit candy and vanilla; smooth and structured in the mouth, with muscular but well integrated tannins ending up in a graceful balance - Very Good Very Good

Lanciola, Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva “Lanciola” DOCG 2011: 90% Sangiovese, with aromas of barnyard, soil, leather, cherry and sandalwood; silky smooth in the mouth, with already supple tannins, full-bodied with great finesse and a flavor profile of cherry and mineral notes - Very Good Very Good

Pieve De’ Pitti, Chianti Superiore “Cerretello” DOCG 2009 ($17): 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Malvasia Nera, aged 6 months in cement vats and 2 months in bottle, with aromas of red berries, raspberries, licorice, Mediterranean brush; perfectly smooth and masterfully balanced in the mouth - Very Good Very Good

Pieve De’ Pitti, Chianti Superiore “Cerretello” DOCG 2010 ($17): 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Malvasia Nera, aged 6 months in cement vats and 2 months in bottle, with aromas of strawberries, raspberries, red fruit candy, dark chocolate fudge and licorice; smooth in the mouth with supple tannins - Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

Emanuela Tamburini, Chianti Riserva “Italo” DOCG 2010: 90% Sangiovese, aged 6 to 8 months in French oak barrique casks, with fruity aromas of violets, cherries and raspberries; ABV a little evident in the mouth, but supple tannins and a fresh flavor profile matching the secondary-dominated bouquet - Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

Italy (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Italy (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Posted in Red Wines, Wine, Wine Education, Wine Reviews, Winevents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

FsT Wine: A Few Updates and New Features

StefanoOver the last weeks I have added a few new features, updates and enhancements to the wine-related part of Flora’s Table that I hope readers will find helpful in navigating the growing content of the blog. Below is a summary of what’s new:

1. As requested by several readers, I have added symbol-based quality ratings and pricing information to all reviewed wines based on a scale from 1 to 5

2. I have added a new page that explains the quality ratings and pricing symbols

3. I have added a new index page with links to all reviewed wines, breaking them down by country and type and indicating their symbol-based rating and price point

4. I have slightly revisited the format of my wine reviews, moving my conclusions about the wine and its rating to the top of the post so if someone just wants to read the short of it, they can do so right away without having to scroll down to the end of the post – of course, those who enjoy learning more about the producer, the varieties, the appellation and how the wine did in my detailed ISA-compliant tasting, they can still do so by reading on!

5. I have created a new page listing those reviewed wines that in my view have the best quality to price ratio in the pricing bands (i) $20 and below and (ii) $21 to $40

6. I have updated the Grape Variety Archive with several new varieties: take the time to check them out!

That’s all for now: hope you find these changes helpful.

Any comment, new feature request or feedback is always welcome through the comment section below!

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