Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Coffee Semifreddo in Trieste

I ate well on my visit to Trieste last month - very well in fact - including the coffee semifreddo above (recipe at the end of the post.) I owe my culinary good fortune there to these two people - Chiara Giglio and Furio Baldassi. Chiara is a food blogger who lives in Trieste and writes "La Voglia Matta" and Furio is a journalist with Trieste's daily newspaper, "Il Piccolo." In addition to writing news stories, Furio is also a restaurant reviewer and knows all the best places to eat in town, while Chiara acted as our own personal tour guide. The enthusiasm she holds for her hometown was contagious, but then again it's easy to love Trieste, with its great food, historic caffés and beautiful sights. 

The night we arrived we were in luck. It was the first night of a wine tasting for Vitovska wines (see this blog post here for more info about those wines) The tasting was held in the Salone Degli Incanti, along the waterfront. 

The huge hall was once the site of a fish market, and was also used as a stand-in for Ellis Island in the Godfather 3 movie.

In addition to wines, we sampled lots of different foods, including these mussels resting on a bed of sweet and sour anchovy puree.

 You can't visit Trieste without stopping at Miramare, the 19th century home built for Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium.  Unfortunately, he lived only briefly in the castle before being assigned to reign as emperor of Mexico, where he was executed in 1867.  

Another beautiful castle to visit is Duino, built in the 14th century. Unlike Miramare, it's still inhabited by the owners, who open up many of the rooms to visitors. The elegant staircase was designed by Palladio, and you can also view the piano played by Liszt here.
Right across the way from Duino are the ruins of an even earlier castle that dates back to the 11th century. 
 Both Miramare and Duino are located on the rocky cliffs overlooking the Gulf of Trieste, where the waters were clear and inviting. 
 Trieste's port is a busy one, for shipping as well as a mooring spot for cruise liners. Standing guard at the water's edge are the statues of two seamstresses, or "sartine." 

 Trieste's Piazza d'Unità is the largest seaside piazza in Europe and is flanked by elegant buildings on three sides, and the Gulf of Trieste at the other. 

Sunsets can be spectacular as you look out to the Adriatic from Piazza D'Unità.

 While it's hard to tear yourself away from the water's edge, there's so much else to see in Trieste, including a stop at the castello San Giusto, named for the city's patron saint -- 
 And the cathedral of the same name, dating back to the 1300s. 
 Roman influences are evident throughout the city, including this arch, and remains of a Roman amphitheater.
The Irish poet and novelist James Joyce also lived here for a while, and the city has honored him with a statue by its Grand Canal.
 Trieste is also known for its coffee (Illy coffee was founded and is still based here) and its historic caffés, including this one -- the elegant caffé Tommaseo.

But just because you're at a caffé doesn't mean you have to order coffee. A glass of prosecco, which was born in this region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, is always welcome, and comes with a selection of munchies - a common occurrence at bars in Italy.
 And speaking of food, Furio directed us to a restaurant called Ego, where we enjoyed an exquisite meal, including a first course of these homemade orecchiette with the tiniest, most delicate squid I'd ever eaten. 
Another day we ate at "Trattoria del No," - again recommended by Furio. This dish of mixed seafood atop panzanella is a sample of the delicious food that awaits diners there.

 The seafood is great in Trieste, but so is the meat, since the city has long been a crossroads of Slavic and Italian culture. One place you'll find the Slavic culinary influence is the much beloved Buffet de Pepi, a 100-year-old restaurant featuring all things pork, including this platter of mixed cuts. It's not the way I normally eat, but it's an experience not to be missed.

 Back at home, I had to try to recreate the coffee semifreddo I ate at "Trattoria Del No." It may not be the same as enjoying it in Trieste, but until I get back to this beautiful city on the Adriatic, this will do just fine.

Coffee Semifreddo

4 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
3 - 4 Tbsp. instant espresso mixed with 1 1/2 cups milk 
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup coffee liqueur or rum or amaretto
1/4 cup chocolate covered candies or chocolate covered espresso beans, crushed
amaretti cookies, crushed, for sprinkling on top.

Beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and light yellow in color. Mix the instant espresso with the milk, then combine with the egg yolks. Place the mixture in a pot and cook over low heat, stirring all the while until it increases in volume to nearly double.
Remove from the heat and add the liqueur.  Pour into a bowl and place in the refrigerator until it cools. Once it's cool, stir in the crushed chocolate covered candies or espresso beans. Pour into individual molds or a rectangular loaf pan. Place it in the freezer at least six hours and preferably overnight.
To unmold, take a hot washcloth and place it on the bottom of the mold for a minute or two. Make sure you have a dish on the underside, so the semifreddo doesn't slip onto the counter. Don't keep the washcloth on too long, or you'll melt the semifreddo. Take a knife and run it around the inside rim of the container, and the semifreddo should slide out of the mold. Serve surrounded by more coffee, and with amaretti cookie crumbs on top. Sprinkle a little instant espresso powder on the rim of the serving dish.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Jersey Shore Clambake

First of all, let's get one thing straight. If you're from New Jersey or the Philadelphia area, you're going "down the shore," NOT "to the beach." And shore towns in Jersey can vary in character from places that are noted for flashy boardwalk rides (Seaside Heights before Superstorm Sandy) --
photo from Jerseyboardwalk.com

 to quiet shore towns with manicured lawns and multi-million dollar McMansions (Spring Lake) --

Photo by Ron DeCicco 

 to shore towns whose streets are lined with old-fashioned "gingerbread" Victorian homes (Cape May).
photo from www.thenewestvegetable.com
But no matter where you go along the Jersey shore, you'll find great local seafood (OK, so the shrimp aren't caught here) - perfect for a summer clambake.  We were lucky enough to be invited to one such event at the lovely seaside home of friends - Mary Ellen and Jim -  in Pt. Pleasant.  
The lobster-themed table setting was a hint at the feast to come. 
Take a closer look at the beautiful, embroidered napkins. 
We arrived in time to see the whole process, which starts with an assortment of seafood and small potatoes. The recipe, from Ina Garten, also calls for kielbasa. Mary Ellen left it out and I was glad she did, because I'm not fond of the smoky taste of the sausage either. Throw in corn in you like, but you really don't need it. 
Don't forget the lobsters -- quick, before they get away.

The recipe starts out with a sauté of leeks and onions in good olive oil. Make sure you've got a huge pot to contain all the layers. First the potatoes, then the clams. 
 Pile on the mussels and shrimp next.
 Finish with the lobsters, pour in some dry white wine and place a lid on top (maybe with a weight as well, to keep those frisky crustaceons from clawing their way out).
 After everything is cooked, remove the lobsters and separate the tail and claws from the main body. Jim snapped off the claws and snipped their tips with kitchen shears to allow water and steam to escape, 
You could tell he'd done this many times before, expertly slicing the tails in half before placing them on the platters with the rest of the seafood and potatoes. 
 There were four of us at the table, but more than enough food for at least two more. This is only one of the platters. No complaints here, as we dug in with gusto.
This mesmerizing view of the bay (their "back yard") only added to the enjoyment of the meal. I think I could happily eat hot dogs and beans with a view like this, but I sure was glad to be eating the clambake instead.
Thanks Mary Ellen and Jim, for a fun night of terrific food and friendship.
See you "down the shore."

Kitchen Clambake
Recipe from Ina Garten
printable recipe here

1 1/2 pounds kielbasa
3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large onions)
2 cups chopped leeks, well cleaned (2 leeks, white parts only)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 pounds small potatoes (red or white)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
2 dozen steamer clams, scrubbed
2 pounds mussels, cleaned and debearded
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, in the shell
3 (1 1/2 pound) lobsters
2 cups good dry white wine

Slice the kielbasa diagonally into 1-inch thick slices. Set aside. Saute the onions and leeks in the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed 16 to 20 quart stockpot over medium heat for 15 minutes, until the onions start to brown.

Layer the ingredients on top of the onions in the stockpot in this order: first the potatoes, salt, and pepper; then the kielbasa, little neck clams, steamer clams, mussels, shrimp, and lobsters. Pour in the white wine. Cover the pot tightly and cook over medium-high heat until steam just begins to escape from the lid, about 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and cook another 15 minutes. The clambake should be done. Test to be sure the potatoes are tender, the lobsters are cooked, and the clams and mussels are open. Remove the lobsters to a wooden board, cut them up, and crack the claws. With large slotted spoons, remove the seafood, potatoes, and sausages to a large bowl and top with the lobsters. Season the broth in the pot to taste, and ladle over the seafood, being very careful to avoid any sand in the bottom.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Risotto Alla Milanese

 It was 1972 and I was traipsing through Italy, stopping long enough in Milan to meet my Italian aunts and uncles for the first time. I rang the bell and the voice from the citòfono (intercom) instructed me to climb three floors. Scrambling up the stairs, I arrived at a doorway and found myself staring into the eyes of someone who looked vaguely familiar. "Zia Carmen?" I asked. It's an eerie feeling to be looking at someone you've never met before but who looks just like your mom. That's how it felt when I met my Aunt Carmen for the first time. She and Uncle Mario welcomed me into their apartment and for one week shepherded me around Milan and introduced me to a dish that has become one of my all-time favorite comfort foods - risotto alla Milanese.
It's ubiquitous on menus there and it's not at all hard to make. The important thing is to use really good ingredients - good saffron, like that grown in Navelli, the heart of saffron territory in Abruzzo; homemade chicken stock and a really fine, aged parmigiano cheese.
The photo above was taken a few weeks ago at one of my favorite Milanese restaurants, called "Nabucco." Their risotto alla Milanese is everything it should be -- creamy, with rich flavors of saffron, butter and parmigiano. The photo is not doctored up at all - their risotto is really that golden yellow color. Beef marrow is classically used in the recipe too, but it's something I usually omit since it's not readily available at my markets and I never think to order it ahead of time. It's still pretty delicious without it.
Milan is often overlooked by tourists to Italy, and truth be told, it's not on my top five places to visit in Italy, either. But even after visiting the city dozens of times, I never get tired of its magnificent duomo and even found new things to see this year too. 
 To get the full experience of the duomo, take the elevator up to the roof and meander among the gargoyles. You'll feel like the Italian version of "Quasimodo" in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
Look down from the roof into the archway of the beautiful Galleria, then stroll through it and gander at the shops, including Prada and Luisa Spagnoli. 
Make sure to leave time for an Aperol Spritz at the rooftop bar right across from the duomo just outside the Feltrinelli bookstore. You can't beat the view, and the munchies that come with the drinks makes the cost worthwhile.
The Castello Sforzesco is always worth a visit, for the various museums housed in its many wings. You'll even find one of Michelangelo's sculptures there in the Museum of Ancient Art - the Rondanini Pietà.
 One of the most famous art works in the world is housed in the refectory here at Santa Maria della Grazia - Leonardo Da Vinci's "Last Supper."
 But if you don't have any luck in securing a ticket, (or even if you do), don't miss the strikingly beautiful frescoes in the church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, including this last supper painting by followers of DaVinci. 
It's low on tourists' radar, but San Maurizio, which has been dubbed the "Sistine Chapel of Milan" deserves wider recognition. I've been coming to Milan for more than 40 years and yet had not seen this stunning place until last month. I'm glad I stumbled upon it this year.
 If you are lucky enough to be in Milan during opera or ballet season, be sure to buy tickets to a performance.  You'll feel like royalty, even if you're not sitting in the royal box. Even if you haven't bought tickets ahead of time, you can sometimes get them last minute from "bagarini" or scalpers, just outside the box office. You might pay less than $75 a ticket this way, but warning: you'll be seated in nosebleed territory. 
There's so much more to see and do in Milan. I have barely scratched the surface. But above all, leave time (and money) for shopping. You'll be dizzy with all the options, from the shops on Via Dante and Corso Buenos Aires to the heady, expensive boutiques on Via Montenapoleone.

Risotto Alla Milanese
printable recipe here
2 shallots, medium, finely minced (about 1/4 cup)
3 T. butter, plus 2 T. more for the "mantecato" at the end
3 T. olive oil
2 cups arborio, vialone or carnaroli rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups (or maybe 7) of chicken stock, heated
2 packets of saffron threads (or powdered saffron - I buy these in Italy and they come in small packets of .100 grams each, but they're available at gourmet food stores or fine Italian grocery stores)
1/2 cup - 1 cup parmesan cheese
beef marrow, optional

Sauté the shallots in 3 T. butter and 3 T. oil until softened. If using beef marrow, add it here. Add the rice and stir a few minutes at low heat until you see a little translucency on the grains, then add the saffron and stir a minute or two more. Turn the heat to medium and add the white wine and stir some more. Then add small ladlefuls of the chicken stock, stirring continuously. When it looks like the rice has absorbed each ladleful, add more stock, and continue doing this for about 20 minutes or so, until the rice is cooked, but not overcooked. I prefer it to have some "tooth" to it. I also like it a little loose, so I have extra stock on hand. If you run out, use hot water (but only if you need a small amount.) When it's at the right consistency, turn off the heat and whip in 2 T. butter and the parmesan cheese and stir well before serving.
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