Sunday, January 30

Charcuterie in Italy ~ Curing 150 lbs of Salami & Sausages

Vittorio & Jason in the zone
Last week we made our yearly pilgrimage to "Vittorio's Meat Laboratory" along the Adriatic Sea. There is no sign along the road, just a massive palm tree out front & a tiny unassuming converted garage in the back - that's where the magic happens! Vittorio is our 83 year old friend who has 2 passions in life: 1. dancing with his beautiful wife, Antonella and 2. curing meat! Every winter he turns thousands of kilos of raw pork into sausages, salami, lonzo and pancetta all for his lucky and hungry friends & family!

Some serious bragging rights come along with not only making fresh sausages but curing your meat as well, in the Italian countryside. 



Vittorio takes his sausage making VERY seriously - so seriously, that he has no real recipe, it is all done by the eye. Some add wild boar to the mix, fennel, pepper corns & more. We follow Vittorio’s lead and use the freshest pork, a little salt & pepper and a glass of white wine.  This year we added a bit of red wine & pepper corns to the salami. The key is the ratio of meat to salt & there is no need to use added preservatives. Our cured meats are all natural, all organic!
 Winter is best for curing meats with the cold air passing through the tiny prick marks left in the casings. To conserve dried sausages you can either put them in vacuum sealed bags (highly recommend) or under oil which is very traditional.  The salami can continue to hang in a cool dark place or be stored in the refrigerator.

**On a side note: After we finished stuffing all the salami & sausages, there was a great debate at lunch about what we should do if we are stopped by the police on our way home. I don't totally understand, but it seems that it may be illegal to transport that much raw (uncured meat) without a proper fattura (fiscal receipt & meat origin). They were telling us how to 'hide' the meat in the car (as if you couldn't smell the heavy meaty aroma immediately!)  Doctor Gaggi was taking it very seriously & Vittorio just kept saying - if you get stopped just offer them some sausage! (I like his style!)
Currently over 100lbs of meat are hanging in the house!

It may sound like a mess or a whole lot of work, but it is incredibly satisfying & fun to make your own sausages,give it a try! You just need a few tools (meat grinder, etc.) and the freshest pork possible!
 ***
Sausage & Salami Making Basics:
(The ratios vary depending on your amount of meat.)

Find high quality pork shoulder
Salt & pepper
Cup of white wine
Garlic
Peppercorn

SALAMI  - for every 2 kilos of meat use 70 grams of salt, 2 spoonfulls of black pepper, a 1/3 of a cup of white wine &  a sprinkle of peppercorn

SAUSAGE - for every 2 kilos of meat use 60 grams of salt, 2 spoonfuls of black pepper, 1/3 cup of white wine

Salted intestines are used for the casing
Rinse & soak salted intestines for the casings in water. Soak a garlic clove in a glass of white wine for about an hour before you start, then remove the garlic. Grind the meat & then mix together all the ingredients. Make large balls of meat & then stuff into your stuffing machine to gently press & work into the casings. Slip the salami's into a sausage netting to help keep its shape & twist sausage off at desired length/width. It’s that simple!

The sausages can be eaten immediately or hung to dry for about a month in a cool dry place. Then placed under oil, lard or in a vacuum sealed bag - this is will last for a good six months.

(excerpts from my monthly coloumn in Italia! Magazine)

Wednesday, January 26

Podcast from Italy: Snowed-in & Holiday Wrap

Head to iTunes to download & listen to our infamous podcast from Italy. We took a few months off, but after being snowed in for 4 days with a light case of cabin fever we decided to fire-up the mics & start podcasting again!!


(Or just click on the audio player on the right coloumn of this page.)

After a busy & festive holiday season we are back with our podcasts. In our first 2011 podcast we wrap up what we've been up to in the past few months - traveling to Sicily & Naples, slaughtering chickens, participating in the living nativity scene in town & much more! Thanks for listening & let us know what you think about the segment ideas!

Friday, January 21

Italian Home Cookin' ~ Potato & Cabbage Mash

Nothing says home cookin' like mashed potatoes.   For a "new" spin try the classic rustic Italian recipe of Potato & Cabbage Mash (Lesso di Patae e Cavolo Verza) by adding cabbage to boost the flavor. You can't get any more simplistic - a perfect example of cucina povera or peasant cooking. This dish goes great with stews, roasts and chicken.
We grow kilos & kilos of potatoes and rows of cabbages so we eat this all winter long!
pounds of freshly dug-up potatoes from the garden
Potato & Cabbage Mash
Lesso di patate e cavolo

1 head of savoy cabbage or cavolo verza, rinsed, cored & chopped
3-4 medium potatoes, (I grow & use Yukon Gold but use what you like)
2-3 glugs of olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic
salt & pepper

Bring a large pot of water up to a boil with a healthy pinch of salt.
Place cabbage in boiling water 8-10 minutes until extremely soft. Remove cabbage from water & set in colander, draining excess water.

In the same pot bring the water back to a boil, then toss in your potatoes with the skins-on. Cook until a knife slides into the potato easily (just like you would for mashed tatters), remove from boiling water & allow to cool slightly. Then peel potatoes once you can handle them.

In a large frying pan on med-low heat slowly heat oil, rough chop your garlic & add it to the pan. Saute for moment or two without burning or becoming brown. Then begin adding your potatoes to the pan, smashing them with a fork, incorporating the garlic & oil.

Give your cabbage a squeeze to remove some of the excess water, add the cabbage to the pan & continue smashing the cabbage with the back of the fork until the two are incorporated.

Taste. Season with salt & pepper, add another drizzle of olive oil if it seems dry.
Serve.

cavolo verza from our garden

Friday, January 14

Braised Lamb Shanks ~ The Best Use of Cankles


 Cankles are calves that become feet without taking an ankle break. On a cow, pig or lamb - the meatier the better!

“I love braising meat" says Jason with a smile, "you take a tough cut, slow cook it & it turns into a wonderfully delicious hearty comfort food. You can make this dish with lamb or pork shank. I like to do this for a dinner party, it can be done in advanced & re-heated that day. Everyone loves braised meat - don’t you?!”

This dish will make your kitchen smell amazing as the lamb slow cooks in your oven. It is classic comfort food, perfect for dinner on a cold Sunday. The meat can be pulled off the bone to use in a variety of left-overs.

Braised Lamb Shank
Stinco d' Agnello
4 nice lamb shanks
1 carrot
1 medium onion
1 stick of celery
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1/2 cup red or white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
aromatics as you like - rosemary, thyme, etc.
salt & pepper
olive oil


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F / 150 degrees C
Cover a heavy bottomed casserole pot (with a lid) with olive oil (about 4 tablespoons).
Dice your carrots, celery, onion & garlic - then saute slowly for 10-15 minutes.
Generously salt & pepper your lamb shanks,
When the vegetables are cooked & beginning to color, turn the heat up & add the meat to the cooking vegetables.
Turn the shanks frequently so they brown on all sides.
Once the lamb shanks have a browned nicely, add your wine & tomato concentrate & reduce by half. Scrap all the tasty bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon as the wine reduces.
Add your aromatics & chicken stock, bring up to a boil.
Slap the lid on & throw it in oven for about 2.5 - 3.5 hours, turning the shanks every half hour or so until the meat is so tender it wants to fall off the bone.

Serve with the cooking liquid (juices left over in the pot) over mashed potatoes, polenta, etc.

Tuesday, January 11

One Night in Naples ~ Dirty, Gritty, Delicious


For a last minute weekend getaway we spent one night in Naples ~ Napoli. The city is everything our village is not - loud, dirty, gritty, chaotic & wild, with tons of traffic & maniac drivers. But there is something about it that I love! We had been to Naples before on our honeymoon & have always been meaning to return, even though most guide books had suggested skipping it altogether. There is a raw energy to this ancient city that rivals that of New York - it resonates through the food, street music & unabashed charismatic Napolitani.

We rolled into town on Secondigliano the gritty ghetto & stopped for a bite to eat.  Along this garbage filled street we met the friendliest locals (and probably mafioso). Never once did I feel in danger, the ghettos of Italy don't seem to have the same fear-inducing feel of the mean streets of America. The locals were more curious about our dust covered car - a sure sign we are not from the city than anything else!  Once we started talking in our broken Italian the Napolitani lite up & rambled on at a mile a minute - we barely understood a thing & neither could they - but we had a great time trying! And yet again our love of the people from Napoli was confirmed as they were jovial, friendly and always wanting to feed us more!
 After a quick search for last minute hotel deals we scored with Grand Hotel Europa for under 50 Euro a night (including breakfast) centrally located near the train station with a parking lot across the street (only 10 Euro/day). I recommend the hotel, not the inedible breakfast. 

We checked in to our hotel room, parked the car & hit the streets.

It was a mild January night and the warm sea air had settled nicely over the city. Sounds to me like the conditions we perfect to re-energize with homemade gelato at Gay Odin where I discovered the best cinnamon, sugar & milk flavored gelato I have ever eaten. Three scoops later we were winding our way through the Spanish Quarter and stumbled upon a phenomenal band playing on the street - as the crowd grew so did the speed of the pianists fingers. We were all in awe of this incredible talent tickling away at the keyboard.

Making our way down via Umberto I  we weaved in & out of the crowded streets - juke left, slide right, side step & commit - just go! (All that defensive city-walking from years in NYC kicked in like instinct.) We stopped for drinks in Borgo Marinaro - the fisherman's village for overpriced vino with a view. Just as we were leaving the harbor a steady flicker of blue lights caught our eye, the tell-tale sign of a motorcade, heading straight towards us. In fact they stopped across the street from us where an enormous crowd had been waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite soccer players. Juventus was in town & all ages were cheering & chanting for them. (If only I followed soccer....)

Well needless to say, after all this excitement we were ready to eat!  


 We decided to try Trianon - the rival pizzeria to the famous Michele. We've now eaten at both & they are equally delicious. We ordered the Margherita DOC with mozzeralle di bufala campana.

Perfectly stuffed, swearing I couldn't eat another bite, we waddled a few blocks back to our hotel... who am I kidding? As full as I was, I still popped in for an array of sweets at a little whole-in-the-wall pastry shop before I hit the sack!  
After a great night's sleep we did a little more exploring of the city & stopped off at the fish market. But before we could leave we needed to find another pasty shop to bring goodies home with us! So at the recommendation of a local we found Attanasio just around the corner from Piazza Garibaldi. The shop was packed with hungry locals stopping for their sfogliatelle (pastry stuffed with sweet ricotta) before heading to work. We got in line and ordered one of everything, boxed it up with a pretty ribbon & with that we were back in the car heading home.


Just one night is all we needed to feel the pulse of Napoli pump through our veins!
Our friend Giorgi says that Napoli is a country in & of itself, I agree - a dirty, gritty & delicious place to visit!

Friday, January 7

The Living Nativity in Italy: Due to Rain Delay Baby Jesus has Just Been Born...

 ... in Piobbico, (Le Marche) Italy!
The annual living nativity or presepe vivente in our little town of Piobbico was originally canceled because of horrible weather. But a week later on the 2nd of January we joined 200 other Piobbichese (local villagers) in costume to reenact Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.  From newborn to ninety, we assume the roles of shepherds, carpenters, blacksmiths, innkeepers, weavers, wool carders and spinners, bakers, merchants, priests and other biblical figures from the gospel in the medieval village and picturesque Castle Brancaleon. 

This year there were over 31 different scenes recreated in the old cantinas,  doorways, in the squares and along the narrow streets of our village. Christmas is charming enough in these tiny Italian towns, but something magical happens we we come together as a community to tell the story of Jesus' birth - religious or not. In the winter night illuminated by the light of the fires and torches with the smell of roasting chestnuts, mulled wine & the serenade of the bag pipe,  reality is lost and fades into a distant and unknown past.

 


We were so excited to participate this year!
We were told to go to Piazza San Antonio & there we would discover our role.  As soon as we walked into the stall where we were stationed, a man I've never seen before popped out & said, "Ah yes, your bag is here. - Si, si - la coppia di ca'camone. "  Our costume bag was properly labeled as the couple from ca'camone (the name of our house & how many know us here).
We slid into our outfits as paper makers & got into character!


I had one minor problem that could have gotten us 86'd from the whole thing...the rule of "respectful silence." I seem to have a problem keeping my mouth shut, meaning no disrespect, I wanted to chat with everyone that stopped by our stall. (To many of you this will come as no surprise.)
If I didn't blow our chances for next year by being too chatty, I've already got my eye on the prize role:
 cast as bread makers with our grande amico Giancarlo - his cantina is always the place to be in Bethlehem where the wine is flowing & sausages grilling!


Speaking of food - this wouldn't be a proper Italian event without a modest dinner made for the participants. Over 200 of us piled into an old cantina in the castle for a pasta feast!
*****
More photos of the presepe vivente on facebook

By Marche (web tv of the Marche Region) has created this beautiful video of the living nativity scenes & Christmas celebrations throughout Le Marche and they just so happen to start with our very own Piobbico: Watch the Living Nativity in Italy
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