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Pasta alla Norma and Tasca D’Almerita Nero D’Avola

Viticulture has existed on Sicily since The Greeks first introduced Vitis Vinifera some three thousand years ago. Sicily was the granary for the Greek Empire supplying the archipelago with grain, olives, and of course grapes and wine. So important was the island that at one point Syracuse was considered the largest city in all of Greece.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. So large and varied is the geography that really it could be considered a mini continent. The southern parts are south of Tunisia and the highest peaks have snow and ice year round. Between the northern mountains and the southern coast lies a large vast fruitful plain that has been fought over and conquered by everyone from the Greeks, to the Phoenicians, the Goths, the Romans and the Moors.

Sicily is famous for grain, but also oranges, lemons, olives, almonds, artichokes and later tomatoes. And Grapes. Sicily is the third largest wine producing region in Italy. For years Sicily was famous for its fortified wine Marsala, created by an Englishman when England was having trouble getting wine from France. A long and complicated history has created one of the greatest cuisines on the planet, but alas that history has made it difficult the Sicilian wine industry to come into its own.

The 20th century was difficult for Italy and Sicily, a couple of world wars, a trouble government and hard economic times were only made worse by the influence of the mafia. When Italy entered into the European Union direct foreign investment elevated the economy. From the 1980’s to the early 2000’s unemployment went from over 25% to a low of 10%. During most of the 20th century the wine industry was controlled by large government owned Cooperatives. Bulk wine was the name of the game. Most of it sold up the peninsula and into France to strengthen weaker northern wines.

During the latter part of the 20th Century many grape growers stopped selling to the Co-ops and started making their own wines. One of the first was Tasca d’Alerita estate in Valleunga. Regaleali was one of the first premium wines from Sicily, starting small back in the 50’s selling to local restaurants and neighbors. Lead by the count Guiseppe Tasca d’Almerita over the last 50 years the wines of Tasca d’Almerita have come to be celebrated worldwide. Count Giuseppe’s son, Count Lucio, is president of the family-run winery, and his two sons, Giuseppe and Alberto, serve as vice president and managing director, respectively.

In addition to the wines, the estate is virtually self-contained, producing most of the vegetables, fruits, wheat, olives, cheeses and meats they need. This inspired Marchesa Anna Tasca Lanza, Count Lucio’s sister, to establish a culinary school, considered one of the best in Italy today. The school has inspired culinary professionals from around the world, including Julia Child and Alice Waters.

Food and wine have always been central to Sicilian culture. Italian food, in general, is always about simplicity. In Sicily this is almost more religion than principle. “Giusto”, just right in Italian, or better said, just enough. The Occam’s Razor of cooking, the simplest preparation is often the best preparation.
With that in mind, I would like to present my take on a classic Sicilian pasta dish – Pasta alla Norma. A tasty and colorful recipe from the Sicilian gastronomic tradition, the Pasta alla Norma is a triumph of Mediterranean flavors and was so called in honor of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera “Norma”. The story says that in 19th century, Nino Martoglio, a Sicilian writer, poet and theater director, was so impressed when he first tasted this dish that he compared it to “Norma”, Bellini’s masterpiece.
And the name lasted ever since.
To pair with this light yet robust dish a Nero D’Avola is perfect.


Tasca D’almerita Lamuri Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC 2014 $14.99
“The Tasca family hits a home run with this fabulous value wine. The 2014 Sicilia Nero d’Avola Lamùri Tenuta Regaleali is a terrific rendition of this important Sicilian grape. It opens to dark, spicy and savory notes that contrast the wine’s fruity core. This was a very successful vintage for island winemakers and the ripeness of the fruit is spot-on. The mouthfeel offers elegant fruit flavors and a velvety texture.” 92 pts Wine Advocate – Monica Larner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasta alla Norma
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1 ½ pounds eggplant, cut into thick sticks
Olive oil as needed (at least 1/2 cup)
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 to 2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
1 ½ pounds tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon good dried oregano, or 1 tablespoon fresh
1 pound Rigatoni
½ cup chopped basil
½ cup grated ricotta salata (or in a pinch, pecorino Romano)

1. Cut eggplant into large dice and toss with salt to purge.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil
3. Rinse eggplant to remove salt and let dry
4. Heat a large cast iron pan and add olive oil
5. Add eggplant and brown, turning occasionally
6. Add garlic, chili flakes, tomatoes, and oregano bring to simmer
7. Add rigatoni and cook for 8 minutes. Drain.
8. Toss rigatoni with eggplant and fresh basil
9. Top with shaved cheese and serve

 

Weekend Wine Pairing – Churrasco Style Pork Ribs and Prazo de Roriz

The story of wine in Portugal is at its heart a paradox: home to some of the world’s oldest greatest and best known wines, yet years of poor political leadership and oceans of plonk wine have all but destroyed the once great reputation. Portugal has a history of winemaking that goes back thousands of years. Long before the Romans and Moors came through the native people of the southwestern Iberian Peninsula were making wine with indigenous grapes. During the Age of Discovery Portugal became a major world power, with Prince Henry the Navigator, sending his armada around the globe.

Most famous for Porto, the fortified wine of the Douro, Portugal has some of the oldest recognized wines in the world. The wines of Portugal were famous throughout the world, Madeira was favorite of the young American colonies, and was even used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

With the decline of colonial power the wine industry in Portugal fell on hard times. During the 20th century the wine industry was hit with the double blow of fascist dictatorship and cheap jug wine (Mateus and Lancers). In 1974, “The Carnation Revolution” put an end to 5 decades of dictatorship and in 1986 Portugal entered the European Union. With membership came foreign investment and complete overhaul of the wine industry.

Today, Portugal represents one of the Best Value wine producing regions in the world. The combination of ancient wine growing traditions and modern technology means that you can buy a wine with outstanding pedigree made from ancient vines for a relative bargain. The Prazo de Roriz is a great example of what I am talking about. Crafted by Prats & Symington family, Port producers since 1882, and Bruno Prats, former owner of the famed Chateau Cos d’Estournel. The wine demonstrates the incredible potential of combining winemaking expertise from the Douro Valley and Bordeaux, two of the world’s best wine regions.

QUINTA DE RORIZ “PRAZO DE RORIZ” DOURO 2015 $14.99 

The 2015 Prazo de Roriz is a roughly equal blend of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca, with small bits of Tinta Roriz and Tinta Amarela, aged for six months in used French oak. This is typically a good value. This might be my favorite in some time. There isn’t a lot of concentration in the mid palate and it isn’t the type of wine you want to age for 20 years. It’s not $50, either. It’s a very nice bargain with many virtues. The fruit here is just gorgeous, vivid, pure and clean. The structure lifts it and delivers it beautifully to the palate. The texture is silky and the finish is just a bit tight. Overall, it is hard to lean up more on this since it doesn’t have a lot of upside potential, but if you drink it over the next few years, you might like it even better than the score would suggest.

It’s summer so I am grilling everything. A wine like the Prazo beckons for grilled meat. The traditional dish of Costelas Vinho d’alhos, roasted spare ribs, transfers well to the American barbecue grill.

Churrasco Style Pork Ribs (Costelas Vinho d’alhos)
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4 – 6 pounds meaty pork spare ribs

Marinade:
3 Tablespoons piri-piri sauce
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons Soy
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup orange Juice and zest
¼ cup lime juiced
¼ lemon juiced
1 cup onion, minced
2 teaspoons oregano
½ cup Red wine
1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper
More oil for grill

1. Prep the ribs by removing any meat or fat that dangles from the bone side. Also trim any tough sinew (silver skin) on the meaty side. Remove the membrane on the bone side of the ribs. Cut into 3 bone segments.
2. Combine all ingredients for the marinade in the bowl of a blender and puree until well combined. Reserve a cup for basting.
3. Place prepared ribs in large container or Ziploc bag and cover with marinade. Marinate for 2 hours.
4. Prepare charcoal for grill and move coals to one side, you can put an aluminum pan on one side to catch drippings.
5. When grill is 250 degrees place ribs opposite side of the coals for indirect heat. Cook turning every 30 minutes for 3 hours. Brushing with marinade occasionally. If necessary add a few more coals to the fire.
6. Wrap ribs in foil and Cook for 1 or more hours until ribs pull away from meat.
7. For Oven: reheat the oven to 350 or 325 degrees F. according to the method of cooking.
8. To roast, reserve the marinade and place the pork in a roasting pan and cook at 350 degrees F. for about two hours, not more. Baste periodically with the marinade.
9. Serve with Potatoes, a big salad and a nice big red.

Grilled T- Bone with Lemon and Parsley and Barbera D’asti

During the summer months I cook almost every meal outside. When I have time I Barbecue but many nights it is easy to fire up the grill for dinner. Salmon, Chicken, pork all work well, and there is something spectacular about grilled vegetables. Asparagus is so simple and quick I grill them up almost every chance I get. And then there is steak.

Around the globe, for as long as we have been around we have cooked over an open fire. If there is one thing quintessential dish that seems the grill was invented for is steak. There are many variations of the dish as there are languages on the planet. In Italy it is customary to serve a grilled steak simply with just salt and pepper and maybe a squeeze of lemon, alla Fiorentina. The simplicity of the dish is characteristically Italian so use the best ingredients for the greatest results

Here is my simple version that cooks quickly and makes quite an impression.

Grilled T-Bone with Lemon and Parsley
Serves 2

Ingredients:

2 ea 1 lb (1 ½” – 2” thick) T-Bone
¼ Cup Olive Oil, plus more for serving
Sea Salt
Black Pepper, freshly ground
Rosemary sprigs

*** For Serving

Lemon wedges
2 Cups Arugula
Roasted Potatoes
2 lb Asparagus

1. In a bowl large enough for steak place rosemary and steak and drizzle with olive oil. Let the steak rest outside the refrigerator for at least an hour before cooking.
2. Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over high heat (450 -500).
3. Using tongs, lay steak over the hottest part of the fire, cook 2 – 5- 7 minutes. Turn the steak and sprinkle with salt. Cook on the second side until browned, 2 – 3 minutes more.
4. Remove the steaks to a carving board and let rest for at least 5 minutes before carving.
5. Cut the steaks away from the bone and carve into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the meat on warmed plates season with salt and pepper.
6. Garnish with lemon wedges and arugula
7. Have more sea salt and pepper available at the table
8. Serve with Roasted Potatoes and grilled asparagus

Now in Florence they would have drink a nice Chianti or Brunello. But I like go even lighter in the summer, and a perfect summer red is Barbera. Barbera has ancient origins, the first documented mention of the grape is in 1798, in a letter by Count Giuseppe Nuvolone-Pergamo of Scandaluzzo, deputy director of the Società Agraria di Torino (Agrarian Society of Turin). Barbera-based wines were well regarded even then, for their rustic yet generous character.

Barbera wines are esteemed for their deep color, low tannins and high levels of acidity. When young they offer fresh flavors of cherries, blueberries and raspberries. Relatively rich, bold and flavorful, the most powerful examples might just be compared to Barolo or Barbaresco. Barbera is a great summertime wine. Serve it slightly chilled and it makes a great afternoon supper wine, especially on a hot day.

One of our favorite producers is Renatto Ratti. Founded in 1965 about Renato himself and now his nephew Massimo runs the operation. The original winery was built in an old abbey located halfway up the hill in the valley of Barolo. Here buttressed by steep slopes lined by orderly vineyards, lies a precious jewel from the 15th century: the Abbey of Annunziata. From the 100 acres of vineyards, the Renato Ratti winery produces Barolo, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Alba.

Gin & Tonic paired with Gin cured Gravlax and fixings

For many people Summer is all about Rosé . I like many of friends drink Rose all year round. There are many drinks that conjure images of sunshine and sunny days – Margaritas, Sangria, Mojitos. But, there is one drink that I really only drink in the summer – Gin and Tonic. A tumbler with a splash of gin, a good quality tonic and wedge of lime, at the end of work day sitting on my deck, my feet up and good book- now that’s what I call relaxation.

G & T is happy hour. It is also a simple and almost perfect aperitif. For cocktail party or as a warm up act to a nice dinner, G & T’s lend themselves to many traditional appetizers – Pâté Campagna, smoked salmon, Crab Cakes, Cucumber Sandwiches, Blini & Caviar. But a perfect pairing Salmon Gravlax.

Gravlax is one of the first dishes I learned how to make in professional career. I only takes a couple days, a good quality (fresh) salmon some salt and sugar. Juniper is a traditional spice used in making Gravlax, but since I rarely have juniper berries lying around, even in my kitchen, I have turned to using a splash of ubiquitous Gin.

For a pre-funk to night out or dinner party I would serve right off the cutting board a side of gravlax accompanied by Cornichon, capers, diced red onion, fresh mascarpone or crème Fraiche, mustard sauce and pumpernickel rye bread.

As for The Gin? There are many good quality Gins to choose from – Martin Millers is the benchmark as far as I am concerned. Bombay Sapphire is a good default. Locally we have great gin producers: Big Gin, Batch 206, Sun Liquor Gun Club, Voyager, Halcyon. But, I do a favorite Local and That is BelleWood Gin.

What makes BelleWood good is that it has a refreshing light clean base of apple derived spirit. At BelleWood they use a traditional blend of seven botanicals that are vapor infused into their Gin. What makes it unique is that this is one of the few Farm to Table Gins, I have ever heard of. BelleWood is an Apple Farm just north of Bellingham. They grow the Apples, press into cider, ferment and distill right on the property. You can’t really get much more local than that.

Gin and Tonic

Ice
1 part Gin
2 -3 Parts Tonic
Squeeze of lime
Lime wedge for garnish

Gin Cured Wild Salmon Gravlax
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1 2 to 3 pound, wild Coho Salmon, deboned, skin removed
6 ounces kosher salt
4 ounces brown sugar
2 tablespoons Coarse ground Black Pepper
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 Tablespoon Fresh Dill (1 teaspoon Dried)
2 ounces (BelleWood) Gin
13 x 9 baking dish
1. Remove any pin bones from salmon side
2. Combine kosher salt and sugar in bowl. Place half of this mixture in bottom of Baking dish
3. Lightly toast fennel and caraway seeds in dry pan until aromatic cool and coarsely grind with mortar pestle. Combine with black pepper and dill.
4. Drizzle Salmon with gin pour any remaining gin into baking dish.
5. Season both sides of Salmon liberally with spice mix and place in baking dish cover with remaining sugar salt mixture
6. Wrap with plastic wrap and cure overnight in refrigerator. The next day turn over salmon, wrap and return to refrigerator
7. Day 3 remove salmon from marinade and rinse gently. The salmon should feel firm to touch. Wrap in plastic and return to refrigerator if not using immediately.
8. Using a sharp nice slice the Gravlax as thinly as you can.
9.
Serve with Cornichon, capers, diced red onion, fresh mascarpone, mustard sauce and pumpernickel rye bread

Mustard Sauce:
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Honey
1 ½ tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or Tarragon

Combine the mustard, honey and vinegar in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil and stir in the chopped herbs

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