italy

Buratta

Buratta is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and fresh cream.  The curds are softened in a hot whey solution, stretched like typical mozzarella, then a pouch is formed and filled with mozzarella scrap and fresh cream, then sealed at the top.  It is a typically found in southern Italy, considered an artisan style cheese, and when cut open a rich buttery cream is released.  The cheese is very volatile and does not last long at all, I have found it very hard to get the product on the west coast unless I am in California.  The cheese is best consumed with in 24 hours of being made and is considered past its prime after 48 hours.  This cheese goes great with risotto, fresh tomatoes and olive oil, or on olive oil toasted bread, aged balsamic, and sea salt.

Persimmon Salad

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Aside from citrus I feel that persimmons are my favorite winter fruit, be careful though, pick the wrong ones and eat them at the wrong time and you will experience the worst cotton mouth ever, I know from experience….

There are a few types of persimmons out there and some can be eaten right off the shelf and others need to ripen. They can be firm as a pear but eat like a mango, or you can spoon out the insides and eat it like a pudding, both are delicious.m Persimmons are typically orange to yellow in color and have a defined greenish calyx, or sepal on top.

Fuyu persimmons look like a yellow-orange to red-orange tomato, they will start firm and soften over a period of time. The benefit of fuyu’s is that they can be eaten when firm, remove the calyx and you can eat the skin and all.

Fuyu Persimmon

Fuyu Persimmon

Hachiya persimmons are the ones you need to be careful of, if eaten while firm or even semi-firm the tannins in the fruit will dry your mouth out in a flash. It is very unpleasant as I have experienced this before and no amount of water will re-hydrate your mouth. The key to eating a hachiya is to let it sit out until it feels like a rotten tomato. At this point you can easily pull the calyx out and split the fruit in half. Grab a spoon and dig in. I remember having my first persimmon in Italy, which they go by the name kaki, the family took a spoon, split the persimmon in half and let us spoon it out like pudding. The fruit will still be firm but it is very tender and pleasant.

Ripe Hachiya Persimmon

Ripe Hachiya Persimmon

Ripe Hachiya Persimmon

Ripe Hachiya Persimmon

I paired fuyu persimmons with some cured pork loin (Lomo), arugula, Meyer lemon vinaigrette, olive oil powder, cocoa nibs, Buddha hands zest, and local meadowfoam honey.

Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

2t  Honey

5ea  Meyer lemons juiced and zest of 2

1T Chopped Tarragon

1/2ea Shallot Brunoise

AN Blended oil/Canola oil

TT Salt

Pinch  Pink Pepper

  • Combine the first four ingredients and whisk until honey is dissolved
  • Whisk in the oil and taste until the dressing is well-balanced, not too acidic but not to dull (too much oil).  It will be just over a 50/50 blend of Meyer lemon juice to oil.
  • Add salt to your liking and the pink pepper, it is best to let this dressing sit for a few hours to infuse the flavors.

To assemble the salad:

  • Slice the persimmon as thin as you can and with a circle cutter, just smaller than the size of the slice, cut the flesh away from the skin.
  • Arrange the slices onto a plate.  At this point you can wrap the plate with plastic and hold until you are ready to serve.
  • Using a meat slicer, slice the cured meat of your choice as thin as possible, preferably on a meat slicer, and set aside.
  • Prepare olive oil powder in the same fashion as my truffle bacon salt, substituting the bacon fat and truffle oil for olive oil.
  • Slice the finger portion of Buddha hands as thin as possible and set aside.
  • Place a small handful of arugula into a bowl, add a pinch of the Buddha hands citrus, and season with salt and drizzle with a little olive oil.
  • Place the lettuce on top of the persimmons followed by the cocoa nibs
  • Add the cured meat and the olive oil powder.  Drizzle the honey over the top as well as 1-2T of the Meyer lemon vinaigrette.

Enjoy!

Lardo

Cured and sliced lardo

I have loved lardo since I was introduced to it a few summers ago. It is a solid white brick of pork fat that has been cured and aged for a month. After a recent trip to Italy, I had the opportunity to try lardo from its birthplace in Colonnata, Italy. After I finished the piece of lardo that I brought back with me, I knew I had to recreate this wonderful piece of cured fat. We had eight pigs raised for Black Butte Ranch this last summer and this pork fat came off of one of the bellies. I kept it wrapped in plastic and foil in the freezer until I was ready to use it, it is important to keep it wrapped in foil to prevent light from hitting the fat, as this will ruin and spoil it.

Lardo

3# Pork Fat from the belly

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1/2# Coarse Sea Salt

1oz Pink Curing Salt

4oz Sugar

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8ea Rosemary Sprigs

  • Combine all dry ingredients (except the rosemary) and sprinkle a quarter of the dry mix onto a non-reactive pan.
  • Toss the pork fat with the remaining dry mix.
  • Remove the rosemary from the stem and put a quarter of it in the pan with the dry.
  • Re-toss the fat in the dry mix and place it in the pan with the dry mix and rosemary.
  • Put the remaining rosemary on top of the pork fat.
  • Cover the pan with plastic and then a sheet of foil to prevent light from getting to the fat.
  • Place another pan on top of the pork fat and add about 10 pounds of weight. You can do this by putting cans or full water bottles into the pan that is on top of the pork.
  • Refrigerate and let the fat cure for 10-12 days.
  • After the 10-12 days, the fat should feel firm.
  • Rinse the pork and pat dry; wrap with cheesecloth and hang in a cool, dark, and humid place for 18-24 days. Ideally you will be looking for a 60°F temperature with 60%-70% humidity.

Aging and drying the pork fat.

  • Once dried, remove the discolored and dried outer edges. Slice thin and enjoy with olive oil baguettes or your favorite bread.

Ciabatta Bread

I love bread! I try to make as much bread as I can, and with all of the places that I have worked in the past few years I have had to make adjustments on how I cook it. I have gone from a conventional oven to a stone pizza oven, to a combi-oven that has steam injection, and now to a convection oven. The two best cooking vessels I have found were the stone pizza oven and the combi-oven, but of course I needed to figure out how to make a good loaf of bread in a convection oven since they are very popular. One of the easier loaves of bread that I love making is called Ciabatta. It originated in Liguria, Italy and now, every city in Italy has their own variation. The most difficult part of making this bread is the handling, as the dough is very wet, but in turn it doesn’t require a lot of handling and kneading, just time.

Ciabatta

Yields about 3 loaves

1.25# Bread Flour

1.75# Water

2/3oz Yeast

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1.25# Bread Flour

.75oz Salt

  • Mix first set of ingredients and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  • The next day, add the remaining flour and salt, mix until incorporated. Place the dough in large bin; the wider the better, you will want the dough to stretch out.

Mixed dough ready for proofing and mixing

  • This will be a 3 hour proof, with mixing at 30, 45, and 90 minutes.
  • To mix, get your hand under one end of the dough and lift and fold it over itself and repeat a few times.

Lift one end of the dough up.

Fold the dough over itself a couple of times. During this mixing process you will be developing the gluten's. Repeat this according to the timetable in the instructions.

  • After the last 90 minutes is up, flour your work surface and the top of the dough in the bin.  Slide your hand down and around the side of your bin to release the dough and dump it onto the floured work surface.  Cut the dough into 3-4 equal portions depending on the size loaves you want.

I cut my dough into five portions weighing about 1.25# each.

  • Take each portion and fold into thirds so you form a rough square.
  • Once each piece of dough is folded, go back to the first loaf and gently dock it with your fingers and fold it into thirds again to form an elongated loaf.

After the first fold dock the dough gently with your fingers, you do not want to deflate the loaf too much.

Fold the dough into thirds.

  • Once the second fold is made, roll the loaf over so the seam is down.  Repeat this with the remaining loaves.
  • If you have a baking stone, preheat your oven to 400° and just let the loaves proof on your work table by sprinkling lots of flour on top of the loaves and cover with a towel.  Make sure there is enough flour under the loaves as well to prevent them from sticking.
  • For a convection oven, preheat your oven to 380° and transfer the loaves to a baking tray lined with parchment paper or very light vegetable spray.  Sprinkle the top with flour and cover with a towel to proof.
  • The loaves should take about 20 minutes to proof, you will be looking for the dough to be double in size.
  • Once they have doubled, place them into the oven and bake until the internal temperature reaches 190°F.

Finished product, as soon as you can handle the loaves transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Toasted Pumpkin Seed Pesto

I love pesto and when I went to Italy I was hoping to go to Genoa where it is their specialty.  Unfortunately, there was a lot of rain and the town flooded so we were unable to go, but here is my adaptation of a pesto.

Toasted Pumpkin Seed Pesto

7ea      Small garlic cloves

1C       Pumpkin seeds

3C       Basil Leaves

1/2C    Tarragon Leaves

1/2C    Chopped Chives

1.5C    Olive Oil

TT        S&P

  • Toast the pumpkin seeds at 350°F for 8 minutes and let cool.
  • Place all ingredients except the oil in a food processor and pulse until everything is chopped.
  • Stream in the olive oil while pulsing the pesto.
  • Season to taste.

This will keep in the refrigerator for about four days.

Final Thoughts

The trip has come to an end and now I need to get back to work and reality, so to speak. I can see my future in a Tuscan villa, making olive oil and running my restaurant. Some tips for anyone traveling to Italy:

•Don’t expect to do much after 12pm until 3 or 4, that’s nap and espresso time. A lot of retail spaces close during this time and some restaurants do too.
•When getting coffee, most people just stand at the bar for a couple of minutes and sip their espresso or cappuccino.
•Dinner is usually at 8pm, which is early for most Italians. After work, everyone goes out for a drink and apps at the local bars, then they go home before going back out for dinner.
•When you are finished with your meal, don’t expect a check to be dropped.  You usually pay at the counter and they will let you sit at your table all night if you want to.
•If you drive, take the back roads, the autostrade is very expensive, and not as scenic.
•In Tuscany, order the house wine.  They usually make it or get it from their friends who have vineyards.
•Eat lots of cured meat and Parmesan!

All in all, the trip was very successful and we wouldn’t have done much of anything differently. Not planning any of our hotels except for the first two nights gave us the freedom to go where we needed. I would not recommend this in the summer/high season though because of all the tourism, but during the fall, the hotels are nowhere near full capacity. Next time I will get a villa in Tuscany and use that as home base, so I can do more cooking with the great food that Italy has to offer.