Get Grillng: Grilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad

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Grilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad

I hope this recipe for Grilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad will inspire you to devote more real estate on your grill to vegetables. I realize burgers may be the first thing you think of when you fire up the grill. Charred steaks and grilled seafood are natural choices too. But live fire can really transform vegetables in ways that other methods of cooking just can’t. Grilling vegetables enhances and intensifies their natural flavor, causing the sugars to caramelize and giving a crisp outside and a soft center. Take asparagus – even thin woody stalks can go from coarse to creamy when cooked over high heat.

There’s no secret trick to getting great grilled asparagus. All you really needs is a little olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and excellent sea salt. However, sometimes it’s fun to experiment with creative contrasts of flavor and texture. This Grilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad is an example of that philosophy. Shellfish and asparagus may seem unexpected, but I think they’re natural partners. Both are delicate enough in flavor to avoid overpowering each other on the plate. To keep this natural affinity interesting I’ve also added a sweet and sour touch of heat in the form of pickled mustard seeds, which is a terrific condiment with all things grilled, charred, or roasted.

But if expensive lump crab and a high-calorie butter sauce doesn’t fit into your plans, or if you’ve really got your belly set on Saturday night grilled steak then I’ve got another idea. While the meat rests and the fire is still hot, put those coals to good use and grill up some asparagus for later in the week. The asparagus will keep nicely in the refrigerator. Then after that stressful Monday you know is coming, all you need to do is plump a few raisins in your favorite warm vinaigrette then toss them together with those grilled asparagus spears. If you’ve got leftover steak all the better. Either way, you’ll have another creative contrast of flavors without having to spark up the grill. GREG

Pickled Mustard SeedsGrilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad Grilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad

Grilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Source Inspired by Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez DentonPublished
Grilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 2 cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (cut into 8 even slices)
  • kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 1 ½ pound thin to medium thick asparagus (woody ends trimmed)
  • 2-3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1-2 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoon minced fresh chives (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill (plus more for garnish)
  • 8 ounce cooked lump crab meat (carefully inspected for shell)
  • 1-2 tablespoon pickled mustard seeds (optional, see recipe)

Directions

Make the sauce: In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the shallot and wine and boil over high heat until reduced to ½ cup, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, whisk in the butter 1 slice at a time making sure each addition is emulsified before adding more; season with salt and pepper. Set aside in a warm place.

Grill the asparagus: Place the asparagus on a flat surface and drizzle with the olive oil then roll the asparagus to coat on all sides. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill over medium-high heat, turning frequently until just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness. Transfer to a serving dish and keep warm.

To serve: Gently reheat the butter sauce without boiling. Add lemon zest, cayenne, chives, dill, and crab. Fold gently until crab is just heated through. Spoon the herbed crab over the warm asparagus. Garnish with additional herbs and pickled mustard seeds (if using).

Pickled Mustard Seeds

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 1 cupSource Naomi PomeroyPublished
Pickled Mustard Seeds

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup water
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup whole mustard seeds
  • 1 clove peeled garlic

Directions

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 35 minutes, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of syrup (but is not as thick as honey). Let cool, transfer to a nonreactive airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

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A-HA! Those Are Brussels Sprout Crowns

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Brussels Sprout Crowns

When I left the house this morning for the Hollywood Farmers Market I’d never heard of Brussels Sprout Crowns. I had already decided to keep an open mind about what I might find because it’s between seasons here. We’ve had both unseasonably warm weather and unexpected chilly days with lots of rain. And that was just in February. In other words, I had no idea what to expect. However, I was determined to pick something this week that I was unfamiliar with – something new to me, something that would necessitate putting my brain in gear. Stretch myself. Grow a little. Try something new!

As I made my way through the market, all the usual pan-seasonal suspects were to be found. I saw great radishes in all sorts of colors. There were greens aplenty and an endless collection of citrus. Oh yeah, and carrots, carrots, and more carrots. There were some nice new potatoes too. But nothing really inspired me. I peeked at sweet green peas in the pod – they tempted me. Not that they are all that original. I cook with peas all the time. Still, when they’re fresh from the market, it’s easy to throw all your other plans out the window. In the end, I decided that the peas were not really peaking, I’d rather wait a few more weeks and be rewarded with perfect peas. Besides, there was that promise I made: Stretch myself. Grow a little. Try something new.

That’s when it happened. I had an A-HA! moment.

My moment came because one of the stalls was featuring what looked like tiny heads of baby Savoy cabbage. Curly green and just frilly enough to look like that corsage you wore to the prom. Generally, I’m a big fan of Savoy cabbage, but my initial reaction to these verdant puff balls was why? Why harvest a lovely head of cabbage before its prime? Why?

And I don’t just mean why baby cabbage, I mean why baby vegetables at all? It seems every market I go to lately is featuring miniature produce at twice the price of life-sized vegetables. For once I’m going to follow President Trump’s lead and blame the Chinese. Weren’t they the folks that came up with the mini corn on the cob in the first place?

I was just about to stalk off when it hit me. I wasn’t looking at baby cabbage I was looking at giant Brussels sprouts. Well, Brussels Sprout Crowns to be exact. These leafy, cabbagelike bundles are the flouncy top of a Brussels sprouts stalk, and they’re edible!

A-HA!

Evidently, until quite recently, Brussels Sprout Crowns were discarded in the fields after harvest or were fed to some lucky livestock. But word is getting out – Brussels Sprout Crowns are becoming one of the coolest vegetables on the plate.

Once I got them home I did a bit of googling. It seems most Brussels Sprout Crowns are treated like other leafy greens and simply sautéed in a hot skillet with good olive oil. But I find the leafy crowns to be quite delicate, quickly softening in the pan. I’ve decided to quarter the crowns, leaving the core intact and butter-braise them into submissive silkiness with oyster mushrooms and (dare I say it) little tiny baby leeks. A-HA! indeed. GREG

Brussels Sprout Crowns Butter Braised Baby Leeks with Brussels Sprout Crowns and Oyster Mushrooms

Butter Braised Baby Leeks with Brussels Sprout Crowns and Oyster Mushrooms

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8Source Inspired by Gabrielle Hamilton and Thomas KellerPublished
Butter-Braised Baby Leeks with Brussels Sprout Crowns and Oyster Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 2 Brussels Sprout Crowns (baseball-sized)
  • 8-10 baby leeks (about 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick)
  • 1 pound oyster mushrooms
  • 3-4 tablespoon unsalted butter (divided)
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • kosher salt, freshly ground pepper (for seasoning)
  • 3 clove garlic (peeled and chopped)
  • 4 cup chicken stock
  • chopped chives (to taste, as garnish, optional)

Directions

To braise the vegetables: Quarter the Brussels sprout crowns leaving the core intact and leaves attached.

Pull away any tough outer layer until all the leeks are of a uniform thickness. Carefully trim root end from leeks, leaving each leek in one piece. Trim leeks into 6 to 8-inch lengths, then halve lengthways. Rinse under cold water; drain.

Cut the oyster mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan with a lid over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the mushroom begin to release their moisture. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the chopped garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are browned on all sides, about 4 more minutes. Use a slotted spoon to move the mushrooms to a plate leaving as much butter and garlic in the pan as possible.

Add another 2-3 of tablespoons butter to the pan. Once melted arrange leeks in the pan cut side down in a single layer. Cook until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully turn leeks and cook on the other side until softened, about 2- 3 minutes. Season cut side with salt and pepper. Turn the leeks again so they are cut side down and peel off any loose or papery outer layers.

Return the mushrooms to the pan along with the quartered Brussels sprout crowns, use a spoon to drizzle the vegetables all over with some of the melted butter. Let them cook, basting them with melted butter from the pan several more times until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.

Gently ladle in chicken stock until it covers the vegetables by about halfway (you might not use all the stock). Place the lid on the pan slightly askew so that some of the steam can escape. Cook until everything is fully cooked and there is no raw bite to the leeks, about 30 minutes.

To serve: Using a slotted spoon gently move the vegetable onto a shallow or slope-sided serving plate, keeping the leeks laid out flat and the Brussels sprout crowns intact. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Raise the heat on the sauce to high and reduce it until thickened and velvety, about 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the vegetables. Garnish with chopped chives (if using) and serve immediately.

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Les Fleurs: A Gin Cocktail as Predictable as the Season

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Les Fleurs: A Gin Cocktail as Predictable as the Season

I didn’t realize I was so predictable. Really? Me? Predictable? I mean I’d blush in concession if you said I was affable or even (ah, shucks) adorable. Go right ahead and call me capable, I don’t mind. I know capable sounds a bit dull, but if you said it in a nice way I’d say thank you. I guess that’s just how amenable I am. But predictable? I always thought that was laughable. Well, I’m here to tell you that the evidence is in, and it’s sizeable. Les Fleurs is a gin cocktail that (on this blog) is as predictable as the season.

When cocktail hour rolls around I like to tinker. Sometimes my tinkering leads to tippling. Enough tippling that it’s easy to convince myself that I’ve developed an original cocktail worth sharing on the pages of this blog. Such is the case of today’s seasonally inspired gin cocktail.

Les Fleurs: A Gin Cocktail

Les Fleurs is a gin cocktail featuring the subtle essence of two springtime flowers: lavender and elderflower. As far as blog fare goes Les Fleurs sounds like a gin cocktail that’s downright copyrightable.

Well, that’s debatable. Because, exactly one year ago today I presented Whiff of Spring, another “original” gin cocktail with an aromatic breath of sweet elderflower. In other words, on the same day last year, I was sitting in the same backyard, listening to the same birds chirping, while enjoying the same flowers blooming – and I came up with the same combination of gin and elderflower.

One year ago today. Now that’s either predictable or inevitable. Either way, I find it irritable. GREG

Les Fleurs: A Gin Cocktail as Predictable as the Season

Les Fleurs Cocktail

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 1Published

For a “from scratch” lavender-infused syrup, gently heat ½ cup honey with ½ cup water and 1 tablespoon dried lavender buds in a small saucepan. Bring to simmer, stirring until combined. Turn off heat and allow it to steep for 30 minutes until it cools. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve and store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.

Les Fleurs Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 ounce gin
  • 3/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1 ounce fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice
  • ½ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ ounce lavender-infused honey syrup (made from equal parts Honey Ridge Farms Honey Creme Lavender and hot water, or see note)

Directions

Pour gin, St. Germain, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, and honey syrup into a cocktail shaker 2/3 filled with ice. Shake until well-chilled and properly diluted, about 20 seconds. Strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with 1 large or 3 medium ice cubes. Garnish with lavender bloom (if using).

 

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Turn Brown Sugar Pound Cake Upside Down

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One pound flour, one pound eggs, one pound butter and one pound sugar. That’s an old-fashioned pound cake, right? Add raspberries and use brown sugar and that’s a Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Raspberries, right? Well, if pound cake really were that simple, all pound cakes would be basically the same. Right? But how many times have you tried to make a pound cake, only to find it flat, heavy, dry, or just plain boring? Well, I’ve discovered a way to improve the texture of pound cake using a little modern technology. While we’re at it, let’s do something about its standard old boring presentation also.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake

First the texture: Thanks to a recipe by Chicago’s Ina Pinkney I can honestly say I’ll never have to serve a dry, dense pound cake again. Her pound cake is prepared in the food processor and takes just takes a few minutes to whip into shape. The secret to Ina’s success seems to come from melted butter. This liquid fat coats the flour proteins better than solid fat and thus limits gluten formation, giving this cake a tender crumb that melts in your mouth.

Upside-Down Brown Sugar Pound Cake

Now the presentation: I know the crack down the center of a pound cake is a badge of honor. And that’s good enough reason to show it off proudly, sometimes. But in paying homage to the crack most of us are missing creative opportunities to dress up our brown sugar pound cake in some unexpected ways.

What if you took everything you thought you knew about a Brown Sugar Pound Cake and turned it upside down? Literally. Suddenly this pound cake defies expectations. What could have been overlooked, garners all the attention, and it’s just a pound cake. A very good pound cake, for sure, but we’re not reinventing the wheel. After all, if you turn a wheel upside down it’s still a wheel.

But if you turned a pound cake upside down you’d have a spectacle on your hands. I mean on your plate. GREG

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Raspberries Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Raspberries

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Raspberries

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 12Source Adapted from Ina PinkneyPublished

Sometimes I like to defy expectations and serve a pound cake upside down, teetering on its dome.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Raspberries

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cup cake flour (plus more for pan)
  • 1 ¼ cup brown sugar (may substitute granulated 1:1)
  • 4 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla paste (may substitute 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 ounce fresh raspberries (plus more for optional garnish)
  • 3 tablespoon raspberry jam (optional)
  • white frosting (as needed, optional)
  • ground or shredded dried coconut (as needed, optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the middle position. Butter and flour a 9-inch loaf pan, preferably a straight-sided Pullman pan. (Do not use lid.)

Melt butter gently in a microwave or saucepan on stove top and let cool slightly.

Place sugar, eggs, and vanilla paste in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Whirl together for 2 to 3 seconds, until foamy. Stir the melted butter well. With motor running, drizzle the butter slowly through the feed tube into the batter. Blend for about 3 seconds once butter is incorporated.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl for about 30 seconds, until well blended. Add flour mixture to the work bowl, distributing evenly over the surface of the batter. Pulse 5 or 6 times until the flour is well blended. You may need to scrape down sides of the bowl and pulse again 2 or 3 times. Once the flour incorporated pour the mixture into a bowl and gently fold in 6 ounces raspberries. Continue to gently fold until well distributed.

Scrape the batter into prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes. Turn oven temperature down to 325 degrees and bake for 30-35 minutes more, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean but moist. Rotate the pan halfway through baking.

Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and let it cool completely.

If you like, slice the cake lengthwise somewhere near the center and add a layer of raspberry jam. Replace the cut layer to reassemble to the cake. This step is optional.

Finish with a thin layer of white frosting (if using) and a coating of ground or shredded dried coconut (if using). Garnish with additional berries if you like.

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Sumpweed? Goosefoot? How about a Squash Salad Instead

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Squash Salad? You say Squash Salad and I think about the squash seeds found in an 800-year-old Native American pot that led to the reintroduction of a species eaten long ago. That’s because I can be quite the food geek. I also like to read up on anthropology. The “whys and hows” of human society and the culture that develops around it. Did you know that the anthropology of food is a real thing? If I were inclined to go back to college and study something new it would be culinary anthropology with a particular emphasis on the cultural aspects of food. I told you I was a food geek.

But this is a food blog. I know you expect pithy remarks and useable recipes, and I’ll get to those. But first I have to warn you – you may learn more today about culinary anthropology than you presume you’ ll ever need to know. That’s because I think useless information is very useful. It comes in handy at dinner parties and business lunches. You never know when a trip to the grocery store, the dog park, or even the dentist’s office will turn into an opportunity to divulge some of that useless information you’ve accumulated. I’m talking about anywhere you have an audience that thinks it might be rude to interrupt you. So take notes.

Traditionally anthropologists have studied five regions of the world they consider the “hearths” of world food. These are the areas where ancient humans first began to veer away from a migrant hunting and gathering lifestyle and began cultivating their own food from the indigenous plants and animals. This seemingly useless fact is very important because you can’t make cities and societies until you develop surplus agriculture. The five regions that have survived as primary food sources are Mexico (corn), Peru (potatoes), the Middle East (wheat and barley), Africa (legumes and millet), and Southeast Asia (rice).

Smith, Bruce D. (1995). The Emergence of Agriculture. New York: Scientific American Library. p. 184. However, I’ve also been reading that the North American woodlands east of the Mississippi river may soon be officially recognized as the sixth world food hearth (sometimes referred to as Appalachia). There’s evidence to suggest that some of the modern “seeds” humans consume today may have originally been cultivated in this broad swath of North America. These indigenous crops include sunflower and sumpweed seeds (for oil), as well as grassy grains like goosefoot, maygrass, knotweed, ragweed and amaranth as digestible starches, and possibly even a relative of what modern humans would call squash. However, unlike the North American grassy grains I mentioned (or the Peruvian potatoes and African millet), cultivated squash seems to have migrated to this sixth “hearth” and taken root (so to speak) in the diets of Native Americans. Growing food changed native peoples’ relationship to the natural environment by allowing these nomads to settle in one place.

Once people began to settle into organized social units the Native Americans of the present-day United States and Canada slowly changed from growing indigenous plants to a maize-based (introduced from Mexico) agricultural economy. The cultivation of indigenous plants declined and was eventually abandoned, the formerly domesticated plants reverting to their wild forms. Doesn’t this sound like something going on in food news today? See what I mean? Useless information can be very interesting!

Delicata Squash Salad with Apples and Chanterelle Mushrooms

As usual, I’ve talked myself into a corner and probably bored you senseless. It also leaves me with another problem: how to get to that usable recipe I promised. I don’t have any sumpweed or goosefoot recipes at my fingertips. But I’ve got a Delicata Squash Salad with Apples and Chanterelle Mushrooms inspired by Chefs Joshua McFadden and Naomi Pomeroy I’ve been meaning to share. GREG

Squash Mushrooms Delicata Squash, Chanterelle Mushroom, and Apple Salad

Delicata Squash, Chanterelle Mushroom, and Apple Salad

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Inspired by Joshua McFadden and Naomi PomeroyPublished
Delicata Squash, Chanterelle Mushroom and Apple Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 delicata squash (or other thin-skinned winter squash, about 1-pound)
  • ½ pound chanterelle mushrooms
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • extra-virgin olive oil (as needed for cooking squash and dressing)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 4 cup loosely packed arugula
  • 2 cup loosely packed fresh whole mint leaves
  • 1 large apple (cut into ½-inch wedges)
  • Champagne vinegar (or other mild vinegar, as needed for dressing)
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds

Directions

Carefully cut the stem ends off the squash, then cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Cut each half crosswise into half-moons about 1/8-inch thick. Try and keep each slice uniform in thickness for even cooking. You don’t need to peel thin-skinned varieties like Delicata if you slice them thinly enough. Set aside.

Clean and pull the chanterelles apart into strips lengthwise. This lets the heat get to a lot more edges of the mushroom, adding to the diverse textures in this salad. Set aside.

Cut scallions on a bias and soak in ice water to get them good and crisp. Drain and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add half the squash in as close to a single layer as possible (it should sizzle); season with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook until well-browned (about 2-3 minutes), then turn carefully and continue cooking until tender. Don’t be afraid to them get really charred in some places. Remove from heat and place onto a plate to cool slightly. Set aside. Repeat with remaining squash. Retain saute pan for mushrooms

Add another tablespoon oil to the warm saute pan, lay chanterelles in a single layer and cook, tossing occasionally until softened about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Toss warm squash and chanterelles with chilled scallions, arugula, mint, apple slices, and a good splash each of oil and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the tossed salad to a serving plate and top with pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.

Winter Squash Salad with Apples and Chanterelle Mushrooms

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Gambero Rosso: Italian Wine Masterclass

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Gambero Rosso: Italian Wine Masterclass

Gambero Rosso: A couple of months ago, Ken and I attended a fabulous Italian wine tasting event at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We were introduced to some stellar wines from Chianti Classico via a series of tasting classes. Chianti is made from the finicky Sangiovese grape varietal, which has been responsible for some pretty rough jug wine in the past, but the winemakers of the region are now showcasing wines with finesse and complexity to compare with some of the world’s most sought after wines. We tasted our way through several flights of Chianti Classico Gran Selecione, which is a step higher in quality (and price) than Riserva.

The wines varied from the slightly austere, classic expressions of 100% Sangiovese to more approachable blends mellowing the wines out with hints of syrah and/or merlot. High acidity, a backbone of tannin, plus a secret garden of fruit and earth, bloom in the palate when the balance is just right.

The best known Italian wines can be quite expensive but travel a little outside the better-known regions and astoundingly delicious red and white wines can be found at a fraction of the price of a Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino. Ken and I were eventually overwhelmed by the quantity of unfamiliar varietals and regions. We loved practically every wine we tasted (many of which were being produced by cooperatives looking for distribution in the American market). We discovered we might need a little help and a little focus in the huge arena of Italian wines. We found it thanks to Gambero Rosso.

Since 1988, Gambero Rosso has been publishing the definitive guide to Italian wines, Vini d’Italia. Over 45,000 wines are tasted blind annually and given a rating, with the most exceptional wines earning the coveted Tre-Bicchieri (three glasses) award. Ken and I were fortunate enough to be invited to attend a tasting and masterclass at the Santa Monica Airport Hangar, hosted by Gambero Rosso.

In our masterclass guided tasting, we were introduced to nine of the 2017 award winners as determined by Gambero Rosso. I made a few notes so that you might say hello to these beautiful strangers and start to get acquainted.

Italian Wines

My Tasting Notes: Gambero Rosso 2017 Award Winners

Sparkler Of The Year: Ruggeri & C.
Valdobbiadene Extra Dry, Guistino B. 2015 – Flowery nose, vivid bubbles, light, elegant and fresh with hints of pear. It’s a little light and sweet for my palate.

Winery of The Year: Bellavista
We were treated to Franciacorta Pas Operé, 2009 – I detected a little biscuit on the nose and was delighted by the creamy bubbles, mineral dryness and red delicious complexity of this yummy sparkler. A definite favorite.

Grower of The Year: BioVio
Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato Bon in Da Bon 1915 – Briny, austere, with distinct notes of grapefruit pith… is your mouth watering?

Award For Sustainable Viticulture: Roccafiore
Todi Grechetto Sup. Fiorfiore, 2014 – Made from a thick-skinned, late ripening grape which almost disappeared due to phylloxera. I love this wine, from its rich color reminiscent of a yellow diamond to its earthy nose and tantalizing flavors of almond and dried apple. This white has heft.

White of the Year: Tenuta di Tavignano
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Cl. Sup. Misco, 2015  – Bright acidity and youthful effervescence combine with notes of orange peel and salinity in a well-balanced white screaming for food.

Best Value for Money: Tiberio
Pecorino, 2015 – Packs a wallop of bright melon reminiscent of a superior New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, for a fraction of the price. My new go-to wines for Summer are Italian whites!

Up and Coming Winery: Istine
Chianti Cl. LeVigne Ris. 2013 – Superb example of a classic wine with harmonious acidity and tannins, it is like drinking a pale ruby red elixir of salt and violets.

Red of The Year: Chiaromonte
Gioia del Colle Primitivo Muro Sant’Angelo Contrada Barbatto Cl. 2013 – Quite a mouthful to pronounce, and an explosion of exquisite on the palate. Old vines over rocky soils incubated this powerful wine. This deep ruby wine billows with black fruit jam, tar and green pepper. It is so full and round it almost tastes raisinated, like a fine Amarone. The alcohol is barely noticeable in the symphony, so I was shocked to discover that its guns are blazing at 16%!

Sweet of The Year: Lis Neris
Tal Lùc Cuvèe Speciale – Deep amber color, notes of dried fig, drunken raisin cake, marmalade and tropical fruit on a vibrant finish had our panel of experts in rapture. With 200 grams of residual sugar, this wine is a dessert in itself.

There is a beautiful old world of Italian wines out there waiting to be discovered. Whites often provide the greatest bargains, but if you know where to look, you can find affordable delights and worthy splurges everywhere in Italy. Gambero Rosso’s Vini d’Italia, 2017 tells you where to look. HELEN

Gambero Rosso: Italian Wine Masterclass

Ken and I received complimentary tickets to attend the Gambero Rosso: Italian Wine Masterclass.

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Winter Comfort Food: How to Cook Bolognese

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bolognese sauce with pappardelle

It’s February. I’ve got a big pot of Bolognese sauce on the stove. I also have a notepad bursting with tips on how to cook Bolognese. Bolognese is winter comfort food of the first order. However, it’s supposed to be 78 degrees here all week, the flowers are blooming and those wacky birds are chirping their little beaks off. I have a weekend of gardening planned and it’s time to get the pool in shape for the season. It seems spring has sprung and I’m enjoying the sun it’s brung! So why then am I sitting here in a purple velour sweater making Bolognese?

Well, they do call this venue I spit words into the world WIDE web. So gosh darn it I feel a geographic obligation to consider the fact that it’s the very dead of winter in some parts of the world very near here. These tips on how to cook Bolognese are my way of saying I know what’s going on out there – it’s cold. I wouldn’t want to be accused of being an insensitive weather snob.

Well if the short shorts fit… GREG

bolognese saucebolognese sauce

How to Cook Bolognese Sauce

MEAT: I like 85% lean ground chuck or sirloin. Which is as much as 10% leaner than the ratio I prefer for burgers. However, unlike most burgers, Bolognese gets sweetened (and fattened) with a bit of ground pork. While we’re on the subject of pork, a little pancetta (or bacon) chopped into the mix adds a smoky flavor. It also adds more fat. While fat is flavor you don’t want a greasy sauce – excess fat can be skimmed at the end of cooking if necessary.

LIVER: In a true, old-school Bolognese sauce chicken livers are obligatory. They give a dark pungency that balances the sweet flavors. If you have liver-haters in the house don’t tell them; they won’t notice. However, truth be told, as much as I generally love chicken livers I usually skip them when making Bolognese, and my recipe reflects that. But I did want you to know.

VEGETABLES: Bolognese is a meat sauce primarily, but most traditional recipes include onions. I like to add carrot, celery and/or fennel for extra sweet depth too.

COOKING WINE: Almost any fruit forward wine will do. White wine blends into the sauce quietly and red wine lends a more assertive flavor that requires longer cooking. Try it both ways and see what you think.

MILK: What’s the single, best word to describe the pleasure of a great bolognese sauce? Rich. Milk adds an expected layer of richness. If you add it early and allow it to cook off before you add the tomatoes milk will not turn your Bolognese into a cream sauce.

TOMATOES: Canned San Marzano tomatoes are best. Fresh tomatoes have too much acidity. Tomato paste is just too concentrated. A lot of recipes recommend tomato paste in conjunction with some other sort of tomato, but I prefer a more mellow sauce. I find canned tomatoes alone color and sweeten the meat sauce without overpowering it.

NOODLES: Broad flat pasta noodles such as pappardelle and tagliatelle are traditional, but spaghetti became a popular noodle to serve with meat sauce in mid-century America. I don’t have a strong opinion and often choose a tube-shaped pasta when it’s all I have handy. However, I do ask that you don’t drown the noodles in sauce. A Bolognese sauce should hang on the noodles rather than smother them.

HERBS: Sometimes you see recipes that include fresh or dried herbs. Basil, oregano, and parsley come to mind, but Bolognese is that rare recipe where I don’t think they’re needed. For me, the best Bolognese is rich and soothing. Herbs bring fresh, assertive flavors that take away from the comfort. If you really think your Bolognese needs a strong counterpoint then make that statement with the wine you serve.

Wine Pairing

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco 2009

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco 2009
Ken Eskenazi

Price $30

Pairs well with roast meats, barbecue, game birds, hearty pasta, strong cheeses

WINE PAIRING: Barolo and Barbaresco are the king and queen of Italian wine. Both are made from the Nebbiolo grape, they have beautiful aromatics and a serious acid-tannin structure that work well with Bolognese sauce. If you don’t want to spend a lot of $$ then you can’t go wrong with Barbera. You might also want to consider something regional. Lambrusco is Bologna’s best-known wine. It sparkling and fun. It can range from pink and off-dry to dark, tannic and brooding. Look for one somewhere in the middle.

TIME: This is the most important ingredient. Bolognese isn’t fast food. You can’t bounce home late from work, brown some burger on the stove, slop in some tomato sauce while the spaghetti boils and expect to get a Bolognese worth eating.

And that, in my opinion, is how to cook Bolognese sauce.

bolognese sauce

Bolognese Sauce

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 12Published

To store: Transfer some or all of the cooled sauce to an airtight storage container. Cover and chill up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months.

bolognese sauce

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter (divided)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 ounce pancetta or bacon (well chopped)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced fennel
  • 2 pound ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • salt and cracked black pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 3 cup dry white wine (you can also use red if you prefer)
  • 2 cup whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
  • 1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes, cut up (undrained)
  • ½ cup Parmesan (plus more for serving)
  • water as needed (2 to 3 cups total)
  • 1 ½ pound pasta (cooked al dente and kept warm for serving)

Directions

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil in a 4-quart Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add pancetta; cook and stir until just starting to brown, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion. Cook and stir until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add carrot and fennel. Cook 2 minutes more.

Add the beef and pork to the Dutch oven. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cook until browned, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat often. Add the wine and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer, uncovered, until the wine has evaporated, about 50 to 60 minutes.

Add the milk and nutmeg. Simmer, uncovered, until the milk has evaporated, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Once the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and all their juice; stir to combine. When the tomatoes just start to bubble, reduce heat to low and add the Parmesan. Cook, uncovered, 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring and adjusting seasoning occasionally. As the sauce cooks, the liquid will evaporate and the sauce will start to look dry. Add ½ cup water at a time (2 to 3 cups water total) and continue to simmer as the liquid evaporates. At the end no water should be left in the sauce. Toss with hot, cooked, drained pasta, adding the remaining tablespoon of butter. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

How to Cook Bolognese

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Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco 2009

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Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco 2009

Well, I think we hit a home run with our B&B– Bolognese and Barbaresco– pairing. These two were meant to be together. Yes, as Greg mentioned Barbaresco is considered to be the queen of Italian wine, but at the risk of sounding sexist I believe the subtle and wily feminine power of this expression of Nebbiolo is just what Greg’s hearty, rustic Bolognese calls for. A more manly Barolo might cause a clash of heavyweights. This elegant beauty sports a great perfume, has great taste, is both light and deeply complex and is not to be ignored.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco has been made by a 52 member cooperative since 1958. During that time the coop has grown to cover about a sixth of the vineyards in the Barbaresco DOCG appellation, producing over a half million bottles of wine. Their produttori is consistently high in quality and an excellent value from vintage to vintage.

Now to the 2009 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco. A bright clear ruby in the glass. Scents of rose petal mix with red plum and cherry cough syrup in the nose, complemented by fennel, forest floor and spicy notes. Not much of the “tar” one usually finds in classic Nebbiolo aromas. But the heady bouquet of fruit and earth compel you to go ahead and taste. On the palate you are rewarded with tart, dried cherry above all, delivered on powerful silky-smooth tannins. Cherry cola? Raspberry preserves? Tea?

The concentration of flavor and purity of fruit, strong acidity and delightfully long finish might distract you from taking a bite of the Bolognese. But you really should remember to eat. Greg’s rich sauce is only enhanced by the relief offered by tart acidity and bright red fruit. So keep an eye out for the next vintage of Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco. You never know when you might need a yin to your yang. KEN

Ricotta Dumplings for “One of Those Days”

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Ricotta dumplings are for “one of those days”. I think you know the kind of day I’m talking about. The kind of day when you wake up late, and rather than bound out of bed you lay there longer than you know you should. After all, there’s a dog to walk and he’s already clicking around on the hardwood floors – besides there’s bread to “win” and bacon to “bring home”. Why does life require so much bread and bacon? Anyway, you may be having “one of those days” but you still gotta eat. Sure there’s the pizza delivery guy, or Thai take-out. But cold pizza or greasy Pad See Ew will make “one of those days” a heck of lot worse.

May I suggest Ricotta Dumplings? They take no special skills or fancy ingredients. You can get this meal on the table in 25 minutes. Time yourself and see.

Cheese. Egg. Herb. Flour. And that marinara I know you made last week when you weren’t having “one of those days”.

Ricotta Dumplings are one of those no-recipe recipes too (though I included the recipe in case you want to make it just they way I did). The only thing you need to know is to keep the dough quite sticky. Stickier than your instincts might lead you to believe. The way to deal with all that sticky ricotta dumpling dough is to resist adding too much flour once you move it to the work surface. Instead, lightly flour your hands before rolling the dough into balls.

However, there is one caveat – these dumplings need to be cooked as soon as they’re made. Which really isn’t a problem. Who does prep work when they’re having “one of those days” anyway?

There’s also room for a twist. You could change the herbs in the dumplings to suit what you have around. Basil works well because I had it in the house. But tarragon is a good choice too. Dried herbs will do in a pinch. After all, when you’re having “one of those days” don’t expect me to judge your herbs.

Ricotta Dumplings or Gnocchi?

Though semantics is the last thing you want to deal with on “one of those days” I’ll go ahead and bring up a “sticky” point. I call these little cheesy pillows Ricotta Dumplings, but they’re really the same thing as Italian gnudi – which is actually nothing more than ravioli filling without the pasta. Which sounds an awful lot like gnocchi. Leave it to me to quibble over definition on “one of those days”. GREG

Ricotta Dumplings or Gnocchi? Ricotta Dumplings or Gnocchi?

Ricotta Dumplings with Parmesan and Basil

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Published
Ricotta Dumplings with Parmesan and Basil

Ingredients

  • kosher salt (as needed for boiling and seasoning)
  • 1 (15-oz) container whole-milk ricotta (drained)
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup loosely packed, chopped fresh basil (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (divided, plus more for work surface and hand rolling)
  • 2 cup warm marinara sauce
  • fresh green salad (optional)

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to boil and season it with 2 heaping teaspoons salt. In a large bowl beat in the ricotta, Parmesan, egg, basil, 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper with a wooden spoon until well combined. Sift 1⁄2 cup flour over the mixture and gently fold in to combine. Sift some flour onto a work surface and turn out the dough. Sift the remaining 1⁄2 cup flour over the top and fold with your hands to combine into a sticky dough.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Working with lightly floured hands, gently shape the mixture into about 36 balls, each about 1 ½-inch in diameter. Transfer formed dumplings to the prepared baking sheet. Carefully drop the balls one by one into the boiling water and simmer until they float to the surface, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour warm marinara to a large bowl and use a slotted spoon or handheld strainer to transfer the dumplings one or two at a time to the bowl, letting as much of the water drain off as much water as possible. Garnish with additional Parmesan and basil. Serve with a green salad, if you like.

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Buttermilk Soup: Guilt by Association

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Chicken and Cornbread Buttermilk Soup

If you made biscuits this week (and I hope you did) I bet you bought buttermilk. I also bet that the extra, unused buttermilk you bought smirks and winks at you every time you open the refrigerator. Who buys a quart of buttermilk just to use a cup or two in a single recipe? Well, the answer is we all do. I’ve never seen it sold in smaller cartons. But we don’t have to waste the chortling remnants. Buttermilk is as versatile as milk, cream, or butter. Try it instead of Greek yogurt in your morning smoothy. Same tang, fewer calories. How about buttermilk soup or buttermilk sauce? Where you once reached for butter or cream choose buttermilk instead.

Are you surprised by my assertions on the virtues of buttermilk? Did you assume that buttermilk is laden with fat and calories because of its first two syllables? Did you think that because buttermilk shows its milky white smile in a variety of rich comfort foods that buttermilk must be guilty by association? Well, check the package. In most markets, the only buttermilk available is low-fat buttermilk. Or maybe you’re surprised I care about the calories per ounce.

Well, I don’t (really). It’s the comfort food aspect of buttermilk that I want to discuss. From syrupy buttermilk pancakes to garlicky buttermilk mashed potatoes. The tang of buttermilk is a fitting foil to super-sweet treats and extra-rich savories. Baked goods particularly shine when buttermilk is used. Its acidity – when set off with a good pinch of baking soda – gives cakes and such a sturdy rise and light, open crumb.

Buttermilk also makes a great marinade for lean protein. Southern cooks use buttermilk as a brine for fried chicken. I use the same brine for baked and grilled chicken too. Many folks will say that the acids in buttermilk and yogurt tenderize the meat, which is a simplistic way of explaining what actually happens. You see, the lactic acid in dairy products trigger “aging” enzymes within the meat, which loosen the proteins that bind muscle fibers together. It breaks them down. Much the way that too many reps at the gym activates enzymes in our own bodies that lead to that day after muscle-ache we all know and hate.

Buttermilk in Buttermilk Soup

Chicken and Cornbread Buttermilk Soup

But there I go again. Calories. Enzymes. Proteins. What I really want to discuss is Chicken and Cornbread Buttermilk Soup. An unusual combination that’s all at once rich and sharp. A perfect example of how simple, even rustic, ingredients can be creatively combined with elegant results. A bowlful is sure to satisfy your hunger in a deeply soulful way. For me, the best comfort food comes from the Southern United States. This is a recipe I adapted from John Fleer. A no-chicken version is often found on the menu of his restaurant Rhubarb in Asheville, NC. It’s based on the simple Southern tradition of eating day-old cornbread crumbled into a glass of milk.

So go ahead and buy that carton of buttermilk. Use a bit in the biscuits or pancakes you love. Then send the rest to the buttermilk soup pot. GREG

Chicken and Cornbread Buttermilk Soup

Chicken and Cornbread Buttermilk Soup

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Adapted from John Fleer, Rhubarb restaurant Ashville, NCPublished

This soup is also good served chilled.

Chicken and Cornbread Buttermilk Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast half
  • 3½ cup chicken broth (or as needed)
  • vegetable oil (or other mild flavored oil)
  • ½ cup chopped leeks (white parts only)
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ¼ teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ cup crumbled, day-old cornbread (do not use cornbread sweetened with sugar) plus more as garnish
  • 1 cup buttermilk (full fat, if possible)
  • 3 tablespoon heavy cream
  • kosher salt (to taste)
  • freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)

Directions

Bring chicken and broth to a boil in a saucepan, the breast should be completely submerged if not, use a smaller pan or more broth. Lower the heat to simmer and cook, skimming the foam and scum that comes to the top, 8 to 10 minutes or until done. Drain, reserving broth. Let chicken cool, then shred or chop the chicken. Set aside.

Set a medium soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom. Heat the oil for a minute and then stir in the leeks and celery; reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables become lightly translucent without coloring. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add 2 ½ cups broth and ½ cup crumbled cornbread; cook (uncovered) for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Combine the buttermilk and heavy cream in a heatproof mixing bowl. Gradually pour in the hot broth mixture, stirring constantly. Puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion (stick) blender until smooth. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add a touch of remaining broth.

Return the soup to the pot; add the shredded chicken and gently cook over low heat just until warmed through. Be sure to reheat slowly to keep the buttermilk from separating.

Serve with an additional sprinkle of crumbled cornbread on top.

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