Tasting Notes from the Benvenuto Brunello 2015, NYC Event

Consorzio Brunello di MontalcinoLast week I had the opportunity to attend the Benvenuto Brunello USA 2015 event which was organized and sponsored by the Brunello di Montalcino Wine Consortium at the gorgeous location of Gotham Hall in New York City in order to unveil to the press and trade the 2010 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino wines made by 44 selected producers.

I definitely enjoyed attending the event and the related seminar about Montalcino and its exceptional 2010 vintage, despite a few problems marring the seminar - namely:

  1. The organizers failing to give preferential seating to those who had pre-registered (what is the point of pre-registering then?)
  2. The seminar starting 30 minutes late because of technical difficulties setting up the slideshow (setting it up ahead of time, perhaps?…)
  3. The seminar taking place on an open space overlooking the hall where the main walk around tasting was underway, which resulted in considerable background noise making it difficult for seminar attendees to listen to the speakers.

A Few Words About Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Benvenuto Brunello 2015 at Gotham Hall, NYC

Brunello di Montalcino is a very well-known, quality red wine made in Italy’s Tuscany region based on strict rules set forth in the regulations of the homonymous DOCG appellation. Brunello di Montalcino was established as a DOC appellation in 1966 and was upgraded to DOCG status in 1980.

Pursuant to the DOCG regulations, Brunello di Montalcino wines must be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes grown in the area of the town of Montalcino (in the Siena district) and must have a minimum aging of 24 months in oak barrels (72 months for Riserva wines) and 4 additional months of in bottle aging (6 months for Riserva wines). Nowadays, there are about 5,000 acres of Brunello di Montalcino vineyards.

For more information about Sangiovese, please check out our Grape Variety Archive

My Tasting Notes from the Seminar and the Walk Around Tasting

Without further ado, let’s move on to my tasting notes of my personal top ten Brunello’s among those that I tasted at the event (here is an explanation of our Rating System) – note that, of course, all these wines are very young and would all improve if tasted after a few years of cellaring:

1. Uccelliera, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: in a nutshell, outstanding to spectacular – best in show to me. Garnet and viscous in the glass, with an intense and exciting bouquet of cherry, cigar box, potpourri, cocoa, licorice, ground coffee and hints of barnyard. When tasted, it displayed a powerful mouthfeel suggesting high ABV and nice smoothness, counterbalanced by a lively acidity and slightly astringent, muscular tannins. The mouth flavors were intense and refined, reminiscent of cherry, coffee and extra dark chocolate (think like an 85% cocoa). A wine that, despite its very young age, is already so coherent, balanced and elegant – one can only imagine how wonderful it may become after a few more years of judicious cellaring. Rating: Outstanding+ Outstanding

2. Le Macioche, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: outstanding wine, with a very interesting and intense bouquet of wild red berries, cherry, nettle, mint, soil and mineral hints (granite?) and a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel with already supple tannins and intense flavors of mint, black cherry and licorice. Rating: Outstanding Outstanding

3. Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino “Ugolaia” DOCG 2009: an outstanding single vineyard Brunello, with intense and pleasant aromas of tart cherry, leather, underbrush, moss, tobacco and barnyard notes, coupled with intense mouth flavors of cherry, licorice and chocolate and a long finish. Rating: Outstanding Outstanding

Benvenuto Brunello 2015 at Gotham Hall, NYC4. La Poderina, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: very good, with an intense and moderately complex bouquet of cherry, red currant, leather and chocolate, as well as intense mouth flavors of cherry, raspberry, vanilla and chocolate, complementing a smooth mouthfeel with well controlled tannins and a long finish. Very enjoyable and expressive. Rating: Very Good Very Good

5. Val di Suga, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: very good and bold, with intense and moderately complex aromas of cherry, red fruit candy, roses in bloom, black pepper and slight hints of enamel, along with a powerful mouthfeel and young, astringent tannins ending in a slightly bitter note, with intense flavors of cherry, licorice, coffee and quinine, and a long finish. Rating: Very Good Very Good

6. Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: very good, with intense aromas of cranberry, violet, underbrush, black pepper and barnyard notes, and a powerful mouthfeel underscoring a high ABV and noticeable yet well controlled tannins, complemented by intense flavors of cherry, coffee and rhubarb. Rating: Very Good Very Good 

7. Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino “Poggio alle Mura” DOCG 2010: a solid Brunello made from a clonal selection of Banfi’s Sangiovese grapes with intense and moderately complex aromas of cherry, strawberry, tobacco and barnyard notes, complementing a pleasing, smooth mouthfeel with supple tannins and intense flavors cherry, chocolate and dark coffee. Still very young. Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

8. Argiano, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: good to very good, with intense, moderately complex aromas slightly veered to the tertiaries, reminiscent of ground coffee, cocoa, cherry and tobacco, along with a smooth mouthfeel delivering intense flavors of cherry and licorice, and a long finish. Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

9. Il Marroneto, Brunello di Montalcino “Madonna delle Grazie” DOCG 2010: a good, solid Brunello, with moderately intense aromas of ripe cherry, licorice, wet soil and coffee, as well as intense a smooth mouth flavors of cherry, dark chocolate and juniper, and a long finish. Very good despite the bouquet lacking a bit in intensity – its great mouthfeel makes up for it. Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good 

10. Barbi, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: good to very good, with intense and moderately complex aromas of cherry, cocoa, ground coffee, cigar box and camphor notes, and a smooth mouthfeel with supple tannins and intense flavors of cherry, dark chocolate, licorice, coffee and peppery notes. Good, still very young – needs time to become fully coherent. Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good 

In wrapping things up with my account of the Benvenuto Brunello 2015 event, I want to add my tasting notes of an interesting sweet white wine that I got to taste at the Banfi stand:

Banfi, Moscadello di Montalcino Late Harvest “Florus” DOC 2012: this is a very interesting sweet white wine made in the Montalcino area from 100% Moscadello (or Moscato Bianco) grapes, that I had never tasted before. The one I tried was good to very good, with an intense and expressive bouquet of dried apricots, honey and orange blossoms, complemented by a sweet mouthfeel and just enough acidity and sapidity to counterbalance the sweetness. A very interesting tasting of a wine to be enjoyed young. Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

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Have I been chopped? Speck, Pea Shoots and Marsala Meatballs

Speck and pea shoot meatballs

Don’t you get tired to always cook the same dishes? During the last years, I have mastered some recipes that have become my signature dishes. I always have the essential ingredients for them in my refrigerator and I can cook them with my eyes closed. And, of course, I always shoot for one of those dishes for a weeknight meal.

Unfortunately, Her Majesty does not always agree upon my… menu choices. She is starting going through that phase where changes are exciting and routines are boring and she always wants to experiment something new. So, to put an end to her complaints, I decided to change my basic meatball recipe and give it a twist.

The version that I cooked for Her Majesty did not have any Marsala. Nonetheless, her critique was quite brutal. She told me that the taste was not that great and that the meatballs were… kind of chewy! Seriously!!! Not the feedback that I was expecting!

Since I thought that this dish was quite delicious, I decided not to give up and to test the other “mouth” of the house. My beloved husband is never eager to pay me a compliment. He says that he does not sugarcoat his comments for my own sake so that I keep pushing myself striving to always get better at what I do. Lucky me!!! ;-)

Anyway, instead of crucifying me like her Majesty, the oracle’s response was positive and flattering so I will keep making these meatballs for me and Stefano over and over. Who knows? Changing her mind is a girl’s prerogative. Maybe Her Majesty will learn to appreciate this recipe when she gets older. At least, that’s what happened to me with some of my family’s recipes.

Speck and pea shoot meatballs

Ingredients:

1 lb, Ground Meat of your choice
1 slice, Speck (¼ inch thick)
2 eggs
6 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
2 slices, White Bread
2 Tbsp, Milk
Some leaves of Pea Shoots, chopped
3 Tbsp, Flour
2 Tbsp, Extravirgin Olive Oil
1 and 1/2 Tbsp, butter
Juice, half lemon
2 Tbsp, Marsala wine
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Speck and pea shoot meatballsCut the speck into cubes and set aside.

In a bowl, pour the milk and soak the bread into the milk.

In a large mixing bowl, using your hands combine the ground beef, the eggs, the chopped pea shoots’ leaves, the speck cubes and the Parmesan cheese. With your hands, squeeze the bread and add it to the meat mixture. Add some salt and pepper (to taste) and combine with your hands. Shape the mixture into meatballs.

In a large non-stick skillet, pour the olive oil and add 1 Tbsp of butter. When the butter is completely melted, add the meatballs and cook them until they brown. Add the lemon juice and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour the Marsala wine and keep cooking until the Marsala evaporates. Remove from the stove and add 1/2 Tbsp of butter. Toss to coat until the butter is completely melted. Serve immediately.

Have a wonderful weekend!

F. Xx

PS: In case you are wondering what Pea Shoots are, they are the young leaves and tendrils of pea plants. I didn’t even know they existed before using them for this recipe. They are delicious and their scent is so delicate. The perfect addition to many, many dishes. 😋

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Downoladable FsT Wine Tasting Chart!

StefanoExactly two years ago, I had published a post on this blog providing a general overview of the Italian Sommelier Association wine tasting protocol and the steps it entails.

Over time I have kept giving some thought about wine tasting and how the use of a common procedure and a common vocabulary may help making different people’s tasting experiences more comparable and convey information about a wine that readers can more precisely appreciate.

As a result, I have developed a one-sheet wine tasting chart that is based on a simplified and adapted version of the Italian Sommelier Association wine tasting protocol that I have been using in the wine reviews that have been published on this blog over the last two years.

After much work, consideration and fine tuning, I am quite happy with it and I am pleased to make it available as a free download through the link below to those wine enthusiasts out there who are prepared to take a more structured and disciplined approach in their tasting experiences, want to categorize their tasting notes in a standardized format or maybe just want to have fun with a few buddy wine aficionados in a blind tasting and then compare notes.

One caveat: the attached wine tasting sheet is loosely inspired by the wine tasting protocol of one of the several organizations out there which promote their own takes of wine tasting and its principles and criteria. As such, it is not intended to be the Holy Grail, the “ultimate oenophile bible” or “the one and only way to conduct a wine tasting”. Far from it. What it aims to be is a reasoned, structured way for non-professional wine tasters to keep track of their tasting experiences and organize and share their tasting notes in a standardized format.

A few words about the FsT Wine Tasting Chart:

  1. The tasting process is divided into four macro-phases: Sight, ScentTaste and Overall
  2. Each of such macro-phases is divided into a number of steps to guide you in your tasting and assessment of the wine
  3. Those steps are organized in a progressive numerical order which should be followed during the tasting process
  4. Most of the steps only require that you check the box of the most appropriate assessment/option for the wine that you are tasting
  5. Most of the assessments are structured in this way: you will find an adjective that describes a quality of the wine to its fullest extent (meaning, when such quality is distinctly perceivable – for instance, “intense” in the scent analysis), and then two more choices that describe such quality in a less discernible manner by using the qualifiers “moderately” and “scarcely” (following the same example, a wine whose aromas are not very intense would be “moderately intense” and one with weak aromas would be “scarcely intense”)
  6. Color, Viscosity, Alcohol, Quality and Life Cycle are the only steps with four choices instead of the usual three
  7. The only open-ended, descriptive parts of the chart are those referring to the descriptors of the aromatic and taste profiles of the wine, where the taster should describe the aromas and the flavors that he or she identifies in that wine
  8. For an explanation of the meaning of the various steps, please refer to my post on the ISA wine tasting protocol

So, if you like the goal of this project and you have not had professional wine tasting training, feel free to

 Download the FsT Wine Tasting Chart

and then give it a shot the next time you taste a wine and see how you like it!

After you do, please make sure to come back here and share your comments (good or bad!), suggestions or questions about the FsT Wine Tasting Chart through the comment box below.

The FsT Wine Tasting Chart is a free download for all, but please (i) refrain from using it for commercial purposes without asking for our prior consent and (ii) if you want to share it via social media or your own website or blog, feel free to do so but give proper credit to the author (Stefano Crosio, Flora’s Table, LLC) and the source by linking to this post.

Have fun and enjoy some good wine in the process! :-)

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Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!

I know… long time no talk, but sometimes life gets in the way and distracts us from life’s pleasures.

Anyhoo… hopefully we will soon go back to more regular posting, recipes and wine reviews, so don’t lose faith! ;-)

Apologies to our many blogging friends for not being as present and engaged as usual in reading and participating in your wonderful blogs – hopefully that will also go back to normal soon.

Finally, we wish you all the best for a very happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year! Eat well, drink good wine, celebrate with your loved ones and… may your dreams come true! :-)

Stefano & Francesca

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There are witches in the air: purple cauliflower soup

Purple cauliflower soup

2 Servings

Looking at Her Majesty’s Halloween menu, I had the impression that something was missing. What was it? We had the bats and the skeleton and the ghost … so? But some witches of course!

Purple cauliflower soupOver the last few days, I have been thinking about a dish which would be reminiscent of witches and when I saw a purple cauliflower at the grocery store, the idea struck me like a thunder. Isn’t purple a typical witch color? How about a purple soup to be served after the bat eyes and before the skeleton stake? :-)

I decided to use very few ingredients – kind of a basic soup recipe, because I didn’t want the color of the other ingredients to alter the purple color of the cauliflower. And since witches are always a little bit sinister, I thought that a touch of yellow was a must, beside contrasting nicely with the deep purple (no, not the band…). So I sprinkled some olive oil and added some lemon strips on top of the soup. I was very pleased to find out how beautifully the citrus flavor contrasts with that of the cauliflower.

Purple cauliflower soupHer Majesty was so excited by the purple color that for the first time ever she ate some soup without making any fuss. Actually, I couldn’t believe my eyes! :-) And I’m pretty sure that if you serve this dish for a dinner party, your guests will be really surprised and amazed at the same time. :-)

Ingredients:

1 shallot, chopped
2 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
2 potatoes, diced
1 purple cauliflower
1 1/2 Cups, vegetable stock
1 lemon
Salt
Ground white pepper

Directions:

Wash the cauliflower and cut the florets off. Set them aside.

In a medium/large pot, place 1 Tbsp of olive oil, the shallot and a couple of tablespoons of water and cook, on low heat, until the shallot softens.

Purple cauliflower soupAdd the cauliflower florets, the potatoes, some salt and pepper (to taste) and the vegetable stock and toss to coat. Cook, stirring often, for about 20/25 minutes. Eventually, the florets and the potatoes will turn kind of mushy and the stock will almost completely evaporate.

In the meantime, using a citrus zester, cut some strips out of the lemon peel. Set them aside.

Transfer the soup to a food processor or a blender and blend until it is smooth and creamy.

Return the soup to the pot and, on a very low heat, cook for a few minutes, stirring often.

Pour the soup into two serving bowls or plates and add some olive oil and lemon strips on top of each.

We wish you all a super fun and sweet Halloween!

Francesca Xx

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Sofia’s first birthday and a pinch of Halloween

Sofia in the Fall

This post is way overdue. After I terrified half of the blogosphere last January telling my blogger friends stories about my neurosis during the first weeks of my life with Sofia, I haven’t written another post to let you know how things have been working out in the following months (well, except Stefano’s very quick note back in April). I thought it was time for me to break the silence.

People say that puppies are like babies. They are absolutely right. After Sofia turned 6 months (about 3 years old in human terms), my domestic life got much easier and quite enjoyable.

Sofia in the Fall

Sofia is a sweet, cheerful and happy dog. She is great at playing with children and other dogs and everybody ends up liking her and petting her. Some chewing is still there, but it is getting better and better. Is she the most disciplined dog? Of course not! I find myself being less strict with Sofia than I am with Her Majesty. Every time I am about to put her in timeout, she looks at me with those begging eyes as if she wanted to ask me “are you seriously considering to put me in timeout?…” Well, that look is too adorable to resist, even for me! ;-)

What I really learned and discovered during the past months can be summarized in two words: unconditional love. Unconditional love is such an unattainable feeling. It is the purest kind of love. I believe it is what Sofia feels for the members of her family. She is happy for me and with me when I’m in a good mood and she is sad when my day is not so great and I feel kind of blue. She tries to comfort me: she licks me and lays down with one of her paws on my foot as if she was telling me “don’t worry. Everything is going to be fine. I’m here for you”. Sometimes I feel that she can read my soul. All this without saying a word. Only with her body language. And most importantly, without asking anything in return.

Sofia in the Fall

When did I find out that I had fallen in love with Sofia? It happened this summer. One afternoon, I was home by myself (Stefano was on a business trip). She started feeling very sick and I had to rush her to an emergency hospital. Thank goodness my friend and neighbor was home and she was kind enough to drive me and Sofia to the hospital. I’m a very bad driver and, under the circumstances, I couldn’t think straight. When the doctor told me that she had no idea why Sofia was sick and that it would have been better to hospitalize her for the night, my heart missed a beat. I cried all my way home, I barely slept a couple of hours that night and I found some peace again only the next morning, when I got a phone call from the same doctor telling me that Sofia was much better and I could go to pick her up. You see, that night I realized that I cannot imagine my life without Sofia.

So the message that I would like to send to those who dislike dogs (like the previous version of myself) and those who are undecided whether or not to join the dog lover camp is simple. Sure, a dog is a huge commitment. Sure, a dog can be messy and the cleaning is virtually endless. Sure, life with a little puppy is a nightmare. However, if you are patient enough and willing to surround your dog with love, tenderness and care (yes, and the right amount of discipline!), it is only a question of time before this wonderful furry creature starts to fill your heart with infinite love and joy.

Banana and Nutella sandwich

Enough with this! It simply does not sound like me and people can get scared. :-) Only a few more words on the photographs of this post.

Her Majesty was really excited about Sofia’s first birthday. She made one of her own favorite treats – a banana and nutella sandwich – and prepared the shooting set for Stefano taking care of every single detail. The last photograph was taken by Her Majesty herself and Stefano is really proud of his pupil! :-)

Halloween decorations

As you can see from the image below, she also decided to give you a sneak peek of her Halloween dinner menu: who could ever resist bat eyes, skeleton stake and ghost gloup? If you are wondering what ghost gloup is, Her Majesty told me that it is a new ice-cream in her fantasy world. Maybe a variant of glop?… Care to join us for dinner that night? Anyone? ;-)

Francesca Xx

Halloween decorations

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My goodbye to summer: tomato, olive and eggplant spaghetti

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghettiIt is time for me to let it go. Summer is my favorite season. It is when I feel my best. Every day I pick a pretty dress (preferably with a floral pattern) and a pair of ballet flats (I have way too many of them!) even if I just have to go grocery shopping. Oh by the way, is there someone out there that can explain to me once and for all why men (including my beloved husband) think that only women wearing high heels are sexy and feminine? How can’t they possibly understand that flats are very difficult to wear because they do not elongate the leg but it’s the leg itself that must be proportionate? Does the name Audrey Hepburn ring any bell? Wasn’t she feminine and chic with all her flats? I believe she was one of the most glamorous women on earth!

But I’m digressing. Back to summer. I drink lots of water and I eat tons of fruit and vegetables. I can easily follow a very healthy diet and lose a few pounds. This year I managed to lose about 14 pounds which – of course – I’m going to regain in the next few weeks because that’s just how my body reacts to the cold weather. I feel like mama bear preparing for going into hibernation, and I need a layer of fat to keep myself warm! ;-)

Unfortunately, mother nature has her own agenda. Everything is turning brown and orange and temperatures are lowering. Don’t get me wrong: fall is a wonderful and colorful season, but I’d rather enjoy it from the warmth of my house. :-)

So, I have decided to kiss my summer goodbye by sharing a recipe where tomatoes are the main character. I’m talking about those incredibly red tomatoes, so juicy and flavorful and whose scent is able to capture your nostrils from a distance. In Italy we called them “sauce tomatoes” and all by themselves they manage to turn the simplest tomato sauce into a winner! Of course, I couldn’t find sauce tomatoes in October, but the tomatoes that I used were really decent and so I said to myself: What the heck! Let’s draw the curtains over summer in style!. :-)

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghetti

Ingredients:

1,5lb, fresh tomatoes
2 garlic clovers
5 Tbsp and 1/2 cup, extravirgin olive oil
10 leaves, basil
1/2 cup, black pitted olives, cut in half
6/7 oz, spaghetti
1 eggplant
salt

Directions:

Wash the tomatoes and cut them up into 1 inch pieces. Set aside.

Rinse the basil leaves and shred them. Set aside.

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghettiUsing a citrus zester, cut some strips out of the eggplant skin. Add some salt (to taste) and set them aside.

In a large skillet, heat 3 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the tomatoes, the garlic, the basil, some salt (to taste) and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the skillet and add the olives. Keep cooking on a low heat until the water from the tomatoes has completely evaporated. Remove the skillet from the stove and add 2 Tbsp of olive oil.

Put a pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, in a small pot, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant strips and cooked them until they brown. Remove the strips from the pot and place them on some paper towel.

When the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the spaghetti, put them in the skillet with the tomato sauce and toss to coat.

Put the spaghetti into the serving plates and add some eggplant strips on top of each plate.

I wish you all a great end of the workweek and a wonderful weekend!

Francesca Xx

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When life spices up: an interview with Gourmandize

Red chili pepper plant

Hello Everyone!

Today, we are barging into your house for a few minutes only to share some exciting (at least for us!) news!

Do you know those early mornings when you have just switched the alarm off, your eyes are still half-closed and sleepy and your are trying to remember your name and figure out where you are? Oh well! Who am I fooling? All my mornings are like that! ;-)

Anyway, after I regain all my senses and before getting up, my mechanical arm grabs my phone from the bedside table and I check my emails. Not that I usually get great emails (quite the opposite!) but, every now and then, I happen to receive good news.

Now, you can imagine my surprise first, and excitement immediately afterwards, when – on one of those mornings – I read an email from the editor of Gourmandize asking us if we were interested in being interviewed and featured as Blogger of the Day on their site!

I have to admit I was not familiar with Gourmandize, but the more I check their website the more I get hooked. Gourmandize is a recipe sharing site created last year where the content is contributed by its members. You can register your blog with them, join their community and enjoy the benefits of their platform, while sharing your recipes and getting to know fellow food bloggers. Can it get any cooler than that?

So do yourself a favor: check Gourmandize out and open yourself and your food up to new possibilities!

If you are interested in reading our interview, you can do so here:

My interview on Gourmandize

Enough with the bragging! ;-)

I wish you all a great day!

Francesca Xx

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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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