Monthly Archives: June 2014

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. ūüėČ 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? ūüėČ

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! ūüėČ

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! ūüėČ

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 ¬ĺ 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

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 Р$

(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 ‚Äúnew‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúdiet‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúlight‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúMuscatellus‚ÄĚ, 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‚Äôs ‚ÄúAsti DOCG‚ÄĚ appellation, which comprises both Asti Spumante and Moscato d‚ÄôAsti 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 ‚Äď 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.

 

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 ūüėČ 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! ūüôā ), Stefano and I¬†will proudly be going to Her Majesty’s graduation ceremony. ūüôā

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. ūüėČ

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!¬†ūüôā

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! ūüėČ

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
¬ľ cup extravirgin olive oil
¬ľ cup beef stock
1 lb¬†of ¬ľ 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¬†¬Ĺ 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¬†¬ĺ 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

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. ūüôā

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! ūüôā

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”