A recipe from Piemonte: Brasato al Barolo . . . A Perfect Holiday dish!

Holiday Dinner

I haven’t been very active on my blog lately and apologize for that. Many things have kept me occupied, however, I could not let the Holidays go by without thanking all of you for your support through my first year of blogging.

I shall also thank two very special bloggers, Meg at Meg Travels and Letizia at Dutch goes Italian for awarding me with the Blog of the Year 2012 Award. I am humbled and honored to be in such a great company . . . GRAZIE, GRAZIE, GRAZIE!!!

To celebrate my 1 year Anniversary, my Award, and the Holiday Season I want to share a recipe that I think you will love: Brasato al Barolo. A dish typical of the Piemonte region and perfect for a special occasion such as Christmas.

The beef is marinated in Italian Barolo wine for almost 24 hours then slow cooked in the same marinade for 3 more hours, the result is a rich dish full of flavor, elegant and earthy, comforting and intense all at the same time.

Barolo is a full-bodied Italian wine from the Nebbiolo grapes. It is quite expensive (especially in the US) so I often substitute Barolo with Nebbiolo, You will still have to pay around $20 for a bottle of Nebbiolo, however, for a special occasion, it is wort the expense.

You can read about my visit to the Marchesi di Barolo ‘s winery in the town of Barolo clicking on this link: A day in Barolo

I prepared Brasato al Barolo last week for a Holiday dinner with some dear friends, but the first time I cooked Brasato al Barolo was in 1982 when I invited my boyfriend to meet my parents. Although it was not my intention to – as they say in Italy –  “prendere l’uomo per la gola” (literally: take a man through his throat; meaning: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach), that man is today my husband of 26 years . . . I think he was impressed!

The Brasato al Barolo is typically served with a side of polenta, mashed potatoes or stewed pearl onions. For my Holiday dinner I served my Brasato with my mom’s version of mashed potatoes (simply boiled and mashed and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a lot of extra-virgin olive oil), sautéed broccoli rapini and cipolline all’aceto balsamico (pearl onions stewed in balsamic vinegar). My Holiday dinner turned into a two days cooking affair as I also served a primo piatto (first course) of rondelle (fresh pasta roll ups) spinach and ricotta with bechamel sauce. I also prepared pears cooked in red wine served with Sabayon sauce as dessert. And since I LOVE desserts, I made mini Panettone cakes covered in chocolate ganache and lastly chocolate-chestnut truffles!

Rondelle spinach and ricottaPere cotte al vinoTruffles and mini cakes

I promised that I will share all these recipes soon.

I would like to encourage you to read my previous posts on Italian Christmas’s  culture and traditions. You can learn about the fascinating Neapolitan Presepe (Crèche), the truth about the Feast of Seven Fish, and New Year’s Eve Italian traditions.  You can also add some traditional Neapolitan desserts to your table with my recipe for struffoli and mostaccioli.

Lastly, I would like to nominate three bloggers that I have being enjoying following, for the Blog of the Year 2012 Award:

Two Black Dogs

Our Italian Table

Writingfeemail’s Blog

Congratulations and thank you for such enjoyable blogs!

Please read the rules of the award at the bottom of this post.

Happy Holidays to all and don’t forget to keep the little angels of Sandy Hook Elementary School in your hearts throughout this Holiday Season.

Ricetta

Brasato al Barolo

Cosa serve (What you need)

2 pounds beef (shoulder, chuck or boneless short ribs)

1 bottle of Barolo or Nebbiolo

1  onion quartered

1 large carrot chopped

1 celery stalk chopped

1 bay leaf

4 tablespoon of unsalted butter

3 cloves

1 small cinnamon stick

8-10 peppercorns

4-5 juniper berries

1 sprig rosemary, 1 small bunch of sage, 1 small bunch thyme – tied together

1/2 cup cognac – optional

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 oz. prosciutto fat – minced

Cosa fare (What to do)

Pat dry the meat and place it in an earthenware pot. Add the chopped  vegetable, the herbs, and all the spices.

Prepping the BrasatoHerbsSpices

Sprinkle with salt and then pour the wine.

Barolo wineBarolo marinade

Cover with the pot and let marinade in the refrigerator for at  least 12 hours (24 hours would be ideal). Turn the meat over few times during the marinade period.

When ready to cook, remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry. Also remove the vegetables and herbs. Strain the marinade and discard any remaining solids, including the spices (I did not remove the spices which resulted in a too intense flavor).

In the same pot, heat the oil and butter. Add the vegetables and let them browned.  Also add the bunch of herbs.

Browning vegetables

Add the meat and brown on all sides. At this point if you decide to use the optional cognac, you should splash the liquor over the meat and light it and let the flames go out. I am still not comfortable with this step so I simply splashed the meat with cognac, raise the heat to high and let evaporate.

Season the meat with salt, pour the wine from the marinade over it.

Slow cooking the Brasato

Cover and cook on very low heat for 2 hours.

Spoon out the vegetables and remove the bunch of herbs. Discard the herbs and puree the vegetables in a food processor.

Add the puree to the pot and continue cooking for 30 minutes. At this point the meat should be cooked. Remove it from the pot and keep it warm.

If the sauce appears too liquid, add 1 teaspoon of potato starch, bring to boil and let thicken.

Slice the meat, pour the sauce over and serve with the side dish of your choice.

Buon Appetito!!!

Brasato al Barolo

What are you serving at your Holiday dinner?

BUON NATALE!!!!

Rules for the Blog of the Year 2012 Award

  • Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award
  • Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.
  • Please include a link back to this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award – http://thethoughtpalette.co.uk/our-awards/blog-of-the-year-2012-award/   and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)
  • Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them
  • As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars…

My two weeks in Italy. A day in BAROLO

Coming back from two weeks in Italy I have been overwhelmed with housekeeping duties, Italian language classes, my son’s ENGAGMENT (super exciting!!!!), and a nasty cold. I am finally feeling better, I am almost back to my regular schedule and I am looking forward to share highlights of my wonderful trip.

There were two main reasons for this trip: to celebrate my 50th birthday with my family and to celebrate my mother in law 90th birthday!

Both celebrations were terrific and it was wonderful to share such special occasions with the people I love.

The trip also gave me the opportunity to discover new destinations to share on my blog and with my clients.

My travel journal will be published in several parts, I will give an introduction to each post but I will mostly let my pictures speak . . . it’s the least I can do since I have taken probably 2000 pictures! Do you know how difficult it is to sort through them all and narrow down to a manageable number to publish? Very hard!!!

I hope you will enjoy this virtual journey almost as much I enjoyed the real thing!

My first stop is BAROLO, a small community perched on a hill of the Langhe area, in the Italian region of Piemonte.

From Novara – where my trip started and where my brothers live – heading to Barolo, the landscape dramatically changes from plains of rice fields to hills and valleys where lush and ordered vineyards separate each hilltop communities.

It is indeed from these vineyards that some of the best Italian vini (wines) are produced. The charming community of Barolo shares its name with one of these wines, which also happens to be my favorite Italian vino rosso (red wine).

The town of Barolo has two castelli (castles): in the town center, the Castello Falletti  and on the ridge the Castello della Volta.

The Falletti family originally owned them both, however, the Castello della Volta is currently owned by a private winery and the Castello Falletti is owned by the city of Barolo. The Castello Falletti today houses the Wine Museum and the Regional Enoteca of Barolo. The Enoteca (wine house) is divided into three sections:  an exhibit of Barolo wines produced by the wineries of the 11 municipalities in area of origin of the wine, a tasting area, and a selling area.

While the expansive views from the third floor terrace of the Castello Falletti are worth the museum fee (7 euro), I did not personally enjoyed the museum.

The multimedia exhibits seemed meaningless and infantile, the static scenes with thousands of words to read were not very informative. There were no real information on the winemaking history of the region and some displays were so absurd that make my husband and me laugh. My advise is to go to the museum only if you are traveling with children, they might enjoy this “theme park” museum.

Just outside the museum is the Museo dei cavatappi (corkscrew museum), which I think I would have enjoyed better.

One of the purposes of my trip to Barolo was to visit the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo.

Although the community of Barolo houses around 38 wine makers, I decided to visit the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo because of their ancient history and tradition.

The history of this winery dates back to the 1806 when the Marchese Falletti di Barolo married Juliette Colbert .  The Marchesa’ s main interest was charity, however, she also showed a great interest and dedication to the vineyard and its territory. It was in fact the joined efforts of the Marchesa and the Count Camillo Benso, along with the technical advice of a French winemaker, Count Oudart, that created the first wine Barolo (the name was given by the Marchesa to honor the town). With the death of Marchesa Juliette in 1864, the line of succession became extinct and the property was left to the benevolent foundation of the Opera Pia Barolo. In the late 19th century, Pietro Abbona acquired the vineyards bringing the Barolo wine to today’s fame. Today the Cantine Marchesi di Barolo is run by the fifth generation of the Abbona family.

The winery of Marchesi di Barolo controls 110 hectares of vineyards from which it produces around 1,500,000 bottles of wine. The winery produces Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Alba, Roero Arneis, Gavi, Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui.

Knowing that I would have been in the area during the time of the Vendemmia (harvesting and wine making), I had contacted the winery to arrange for a private tour and to assist to the wine making process. My 40 years old memories of the vendemmia in my sister in law’s small vineyard were very different from the efficient and mechanized processed that I  witnessed in Barolo. Less folklorist maybe, but non-the less fascinating.

At the winery, Ms. Cristina welcomed my husband and me. Cristina would then spend the following hour and a half giving us a very informative and interesting tour. Entering the facility we found ourselves into a vast roofed courtyard   We walked into the courtyard just in time to witness the first step of wine making: in the center of the courtyard  is a very large steel tub; into this tub, the freshly harvested grapes are unloaded from the truck. The grapes are still harvested by hand; the first grapes to be harvested are usually the one for Moscato wine and Asti spumante (sparkling wine). The last one is usually the Nebbiolo, whose harvesting often coincide with the first “nebbia” (fog) of the season hence the name Nebbiolo. 

A duct, connected to the tub, transports the grapes from the courtyard level to the lower level cellars. There the grapes go directly into a pigiatrice (crusher) where the raspi (stems) are removed and the acini (grapes) are crashed to obtain mosto (grape juice).

The juice travels to the outdoor fermentini (steel ferments vats) for the first fermentation.

Fermentini

Cristina explained that all red wines go through a second fermentation, which takes place into concrete barrels. Also into this barrels the Dolcetto wine is kept until bottling. This type of wine in fact doesn’t require aging and goes to the market in the spring following the harvest.

Following Cristina’s lead we walked through the cellars were we first passed by a row of enormous Slovenian oak barrels.

In these barrels, the Barolo, after the second fermentation, is affinato (aged) for 3 years prior to its affinamento (aging) in bottles for 2 years. These barrels hold 24,666.66 liters of wine . . . that’s a lot of wine! Cristina explained that originally the barrels held 18,500 liters, but since every 10-15 years the barrels go through a cleaning/restoration process, during which 1-4 millimeters are scrubbed off, the barrels have overtime increased their capacity.

While walking through the cellar Cristina familiarized us with the different type of wines, the variety of screw, the geographical location of the vines, and the CRU. Do you know what is a CRU? I didn’t. Now I know that the CRU indicates that a wine is produced with the grapes coming only from one geographical vine, therefore more valuable. Connubbi, Sarmassa, and Coste di Rose are the three Barolo CRUS produced by the winery.

We then walked by rows of stainless steel barrels, these are for the Moscato d’Asti. The Moscato d’Asti is a white, sweet sparkling wine low in alcohol (5 %) To preserve the low alcoholic grade, the temperature in the barrels is kept at 0 degrees celsius (32 F) to prevent fermentation. The temperature is raised just before bottling and going to the market. I found very funny that on the wine catalog the Moscato is described as “ thirst-quenching wine at any time of the day, especially after sport activities”  . . . I guess I would hit the gym more often if I could have a glass of Moscato d’Asti afterwards! Now I understand why the waitress at the winery’s restaurant told us that the owners refer to this Moscato as “our mineral water”, but the staff refers to it is as “our Gatorade” !

Back to our tour, the next stop was in the Historic cellars, dating back to the 1820. Here is where the most important wines, from Barbaresco to Barolo, age.

Here is also where the “Botti della Marchesa” are located. They are 5 historic barrels, 150 years old; it was into these barrels that, under the Marchesa Juliette supervision, the first Barolo was born.

Botti della Marchesa

In 2003 these barrels went through an extensive restoration process, which brought them back to the old glory. Click here if you would like to see pictures of the restoration process.

These historic barrels unlike the new one, present an exterior frame to support the pressure from the wine.

In the new barrels, the concave shape of the front provides the support to the pressure from the wine.

The Brenta, the historic basket used to transport approximately 53 kg. of grapes from the vineyard to the cellar.

Interesting fact about this winery is that the bottling takes place in a nearby cellar; 800 meters of underground pipes transport the wine from the cellar to the bottling location.

Back to the courtyard, Cristina took us to the Barriques cellar.

Barriques is a term to indicate small barrels (225 liters) used for aging particular wines (Estates) and to enhance distillates such as grappa.

The Barriques are made from French oak, medium toasted. The lifecycle of the Barriques is only 3-4 years, which is when they stop releasing their aroma.

Our last stop is into the private collection and the “enoteca storica” (historic enoteca or wine library).

The enoteca houses about 35.000 bottles including a bottle of Barolo “Connubbio” 1859, the first bottled Barolo.

Our tour with Cristina was wonderful and to top the day a lunch tasting menu with wine pairing was expecting us! The winery’s restaurant, Foresteria, has two rooms, both elegant and finely furnished. Our table, tastefully prepared and adorned with grissini Torinesi, was set across the large window overlooking the Barbera vineyard.

We had the full attention of our waitress, Celina, who was delightful and knowledgeable of both the dishes and the wine.  The menu featured typical dishes from the region (Piemonte). Each one tasted as amazing as it looked and it was perfectly paired with some of the best wines I have tasted. Just a wonderful experience!

MENU

Antipasto (apetizer):

Girello di Fassone scottato sotto sale e servito con salsa tonnata vecchia maniera (Fassone is a cattle breed native of the Piemonte region – served with traditional tuna sauce)
&
Flan di carote (Carrots Flan)

Wine: Madonna di Como – Dolcetto d’Alba

Primo Piatto ( First Course):

Agnolottini del Plin ai tre arrosti conditi con burro di malga e salvia.

Wine: Paigal – Barbera d’Alba

Secondo Piatto (Second course):

Brasato al Barolo con contorno di stagione

Wine: Cannubbi – Barolo

Dolce (Dessert)

Panna cotta – Salame dolce – Pera cotta al Moscato

Wine: Zagara – Moscato d’Alba

Time for caffè and schiaccia-caffè (expression used to refer to digestive coming after coffee), the house digestivo (digestive), Barolo Chinato that is produced from a base of Barolo wine aged at least 4 years and the maceration of aromatics including quinine bark (in Italian, china).

The aromatics for the production of Barolo Chinato

After lunch we took some time to visit the wine shop where Ms. Ivana offered us a bicchierino (shot) of grappa di Barolo . . . of course my husband couldn’t refuse!

The wine tasting room is also located here where friendly and knowledgeable staff will make sure you truly enjoy your experience. Along with the wine, the shop also sells local specialties like canned vegetables, fruit jams, cookies and chocolates.

Of course I could not leave without bringing home a bottle of Barolo and Ms. Ivana, kindly, also gifted me with a bottle of Moscato d’Alba.

Waiting now for the perfect occasion to enjoy them both. Uhm . . .  I guess my son’s engagement party would be a perfect occasion!

Many thanks to the staff at the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo for a wonderful day!

CIAO DA BAROLO!!!

Remember that if you visit Barolo in October will also enjoy the superb Tartufo bianco d’Alba (white truffle)!

Which one is your favorite Italian wine?

National Pie Day. . . My Pear Pie

Just a few days ago, browsing a newspaper, I learned that today, January 23 is National Pie Day.

I don’t consider the pie as one of the most typical Italian dessert; Fruit crostata (tart) and jam tart are more common. Once, however, I read about this National Pie Day I decided to investigate a little further.

Through the American Pie Council, I learned that the first pies were made by early Romans who, also, published the first pie recipe.The early pies were mostly meat pies.

I shall always remember the first meat pies I was invited to taste on my first visit to London. I was my uncle and aunt’s guest. My aunt is English; She is a great cook, in fact , she shared with me her recipe of the best cauliflower dish I have ever had. Her roast beef is out of this world, still, the meat pie was hard to swallow. Sorry aunt Margharet!

Back to history, it  appears that fruit pies or tarts were probably first made in the 1500s. The credit for the first cherry pies goes to the English who made it for Queen Elizabeth I. Indeed, the English settlers were the first to bring the pie to America where, over the years, it has become the most traditional dessert.

How lucky am I! Being Italian and living in the USA, I celebrate Italian holidays and traditions, but I also embrace American celebrations, although always in Italian style. The National Pie Day has given me the opportunity to pay homage to yet another American tradition, and at the same time, to discover a new Italian recipe.

When I cook, my goal is always to use seasonal ingredients, so, to celebrate National Pie Day, I have baked a Charlotte di pere (Pear Pie), a traditional recipe of the Italian region of Piemonte. The name Charlotte, derives from  French. The region of Piemonte, prior to the unification of Italy, has been in the orbit of the French House of Savoy for more than 800 years; The long French domination certainly had a great influence on the regional gastronomy, which indeed, borrows many traditions and terms from the nearby Country.

The recipe I used is  from  “La Cucina, the regional cooking of Italy”, by the Italian Academy of Cuisine. I am very passionate about Italian regional cuisine and I find this cookbook a great resource.

The uniqueness of this pie is that the fruit is cooked in wine. I started my pie while my son was perplexedly observing what I was doing. He is always very concerned when I use  wine in my recipes; once, however, the aroma of the fruit and the cooking wine started to diffuse throughout the kitchen, the concerns and doubts dissipated. The final result was certainly proof that wine can do wonders!

Being this a recipe from Piemonte, it is not surprising that Barolo is the suggested wine to use. Barolo is actually one of my favorite Italian wine. It is, however, a pricey wine, especially in USA . A great alternative for this recipe is the Nebbiolo (Nebbiolo grape is used for the production of Barolo), still a hearty, high quality wine, but more affordable. Nebbiolo is what I used. Of course, you can substitute with a hearty wine of your choice and liking.

Happy Pie Day!!!

Ricetta Charlotte di Pere

Pear Pie Recipe

For the short pastry:

3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/4 cup sugar

7 oz (14 tablespoon) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

4 extralarge egg yolks

1/4 cup chilled Marsala wine(sweet)

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 pinch of salt

For the filling:

2 lbs. pears (possibly Seckel), cored but not peeled and cut in half lengthwise. If using larger pear cut into quarters.

1 and 1/4 cup pitted prunes (original recipe is 1 and 3/4 cups. I thought was too much)

1 rhubarb stalk (this is my personal addition to the recipe), washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups of Nebbiolo (original recipe uses Barolo. Other hearty red wine will do)

5 tablespoon sugar

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 pinch ground cloves

1 pinch of salt

Directions:

Prepare the short pastry: cold ingredients are essential to making a pie crust. Sift together the flour, the sugar and the salt. Transfer into the bowl of a food processor. Add the cubed butter and process without overworking the dough.

Stir in the eggs, Marsala and lemon zest until the dough comes together.

Transfer to a surface dusted with flour and quickly knead the dough for 1 minute, form a ball and then flatten it.

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare the filling: In a large pan, combine the pears, prunes, rhubarb, wine, lemon zest, sugar, spices and salt. Cook on medium heat until the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup and the pears are tender (you don’t want the pear to fall apart).

Preheat the oven at 350 degree. Butter a deep pie dish.

Roll out 2/3 of the dough and use it to line the pie dish. Trim the dough to 1 inch over hang. The dough might break while you transfer to the pie dish. It is, however, easy to patch with extra dough (from the picture you can see that my dough broke in several pieces).

Fill the pie crust with the cooked fruit and liquid.

Roll out the remaining dough and cover the fruit. Seal the edges with your fingers. With the index finger on one hand, press the dough against the thumb and forefinger of the opposite hand; continue around the perimeter of the crust and dish. ( I am still perfecting this skill!)

Lastly cut slits in the center of the crust to vent steam.

Position your pie dish in the lower third of the oven and bake for 45 minutes. You may have to cover the edges with foil to avoid overbrowning the edges ( I cover mine during last 15 minute, a little earlier however, would have been better).

Cool the pie and serve it warm with a dollop of whipped cream!