Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies

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Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies

Fruit pie. Meat Pie. Veg Pie. I find it easy to love pie and it’s pastry that makes pie so lovable. Sure, pastry is good when pressed neatly into a fluted tart pan. In fact, a tart is the most elegant pie I know. However, pastry is just as delicious when treated casually – draped over a pot pie and gently crimped, glazed and scored. But, in my opinion, the best pastries are the little hand pies that verge on messiness. The kind of pie that toys with falling apart in your hands. These Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies have just the right crumble to defy knife and fork.

So pick one up and see why the best pies are the handheld sort. You can buy them on a street corner wrapped in brown paper and eat them on the run, or make them at home to serve with a special wine. Either way, hand pies are a treat. Fragrant, sweet, and savory these Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies have just the right ratio of crust to filling. They define that magic moment when tender crust meets sumptuous filling. The kind of pie that automatically leaves buttery fingers reaching for napkins and slick lips begging for more.

Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies

Of course, a savory hand pie can be filled with almost anything. I’m taking my cues from a chef Civan Er and Melissa Clark recipe that appeared in Clark’s cookbook Dinner. It was designed to be scooped up with pita bread. But what’s stopping you and your buttery fingers from turning this dip into an untraditional muhammara hand pie? GREG

NOTE: Though muhammara is typically served as a dip or spread I felt the flavors and texture lent themselves nicely as a filling to these sweet and savory hand pies. The addition of carrot and ginger are not at all traditional but add a nice sweetness typical to muhammara. If you’d like a bit more sweetness the pomegranate molasses that is included in most recipes could be drizzled onto the warm pastry at serving time.

roast carrots and red bell peppers
The filling for Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies
Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies
Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies

Carrot Muhammara & Goat Cheese Hand Pies

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 12Source Muhammara adapted from Melissa ClarkPublished

This recipe makes almost twice as much muhammara as you need for 12 hand pies. Serve the extra with flatbreads or pita toasts.

Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies

Ingredients

  • pastry recipe of your choice
  • 1 pound carrots (trimmed and sliced into ½-inch thick rounds)
  • 1 pound red bell peppers (stemmed, seeded and sliced)
  • ½ cup olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons more for roasting)
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 ½ cup walnut pieces (toasted and chopped )
  • 1 pint kosher salt (plus more for sprinkling)
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds (freshly toasted)
  • 4 ounce fresh goat cheese roll (sliced into 6 rounds, then cut in half crosswise into 12 half-moons)
  • 1 large egg yolk (mixed with a teaspoon water, as egg wash)

Directions

Prepare Pie Pastry recipe of your choice. Divide dough in half, shape into 2 discs about 5-inches in diameter and 3/4-inch thick. Wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days), or freeze up to 1 month.

Make the muhammara filling: Preheat oven to 400 F.

On a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, toss the carrots and bell peppers with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Arrange in as close to a single layer as possible. Roast in the heated oven until the peppers are charred and the carrots are browned and tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Don’t be afraid to let them get some color on them. Set aside to cool somewhat.

Once cooled place the carrots, peppers, remaining ½ cup olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, ground cumin, smoked paprika, and about half of the walnuts In a food processor. Pulse until mixture is mostly smooth adding a dribble or two of water if the mixture seems too thick. Scrape the mixture into a bowl. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and add the remaining chopped walnuts and the whole, toasted cumin seeds. Stir to combine.

Make the hand pies: On a lightly floured surface, use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out one disc of chilled dough to a 12 or 13-inch round, a generous 1/8-inch thick. Cut out six 4-inch rounds, using a round cutter or appropriately-sized saucer and knife. Gather scraps and re-roll as needed so you can get six rounds. Repeat with the second disc of dough. Lay the 12 rounds out evenly spaced onto 1 or 2 parchment-lined baking sheets (as needed depending on size).

Bring the oven temperature to 425 F.

Dollop about 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons muhammara filling onto each round mounding in the center, leaving a 3/4-inch border all around. Don’t overfill or they will be difficult to seal. Lay one half-moon slice of goat cheese on top of filling, nestling it into the mixture. Brush edges lightly with egg wash. Carefully bring both sides up and towards the center so they meet at the top forming a football shape. Pinch edges together to seal. Then decoratively crimp or scallop edges as you like. Leave hand pie sitting with decorative edge facing up or lay it on its side, whichever you prefer. Brush with more egg wash. Sprinkle with salt. Make 2 tiny slashes in the crust with the point of a sharp knife. Repeat with remaining dough rounds. Refrigerate on the baking sheet(s) until chilled, about 20 minutes.

Bake in the heated oven, rotating sheets halfway through if necessary until pies are golden brown; about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Grilled Persimmon Wrapped In Speck

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Speck-Wrapped Grilled Persimmon

Speck-Wrapped Grilled Persimmon. This is one of those “on the menu” items that made me think “I could do that”. I saw the whole recipe in my head without even having to see the presentation. That’s partly because I’m a big Judy Rodgers fan. Not that I spied this tasty little tidbit at Zuni Cafe. No, the inspiration came from Local Kitchen + Wine Bar in Santa Monica, CA.

Still, I have to give the late Ms. Rodgers some of the credit because it was her opinion (in her 2002 cookbook) that speck is to persimmon as prosciutto is to fig that convinced me this grilled persimmon recipe couldn’t help but be a winner.

Speck or Prosciutto

Which might be slicing the pig a little too closely for some folks. After all, at its most elemental speck is prosciutto that is laced with spices like juniper and bay leaves and then smoked and/or dry-aged. You can see how the spice would work nicely with persimmon and the salt cure typical to prosciutto would be better suited to a sweeter, more succulent fruit such as fig.

Still, the internet is littered with folks who think otherwise. Google the combination of “persimmon and prosciutto” and you’ll find plenty of cheerleaders – though not too many of these examples feature grilled persimmon. So I’ve got that going for my version.

I did find an Aida Mollenkamp recipe at Food52 for Speck-Wrapped Persimmons. Though her version is not grilled it does prove that I’m not the only cook out there who still reads The Zuni Cafe Cookbook as if it were gospel. GREG

Speck-Wrapped Grilled Persimmon
Grilled Persimmon Wrapped In Speck
Speck-Wrapped Grilled Persimmon

Grilled Speck-Wrapped Persimmon

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 12-18Source Inspired by Local Kitchen + Wine Bar, Santa Monica, CAPublished
Grilled Speck-Wrapped Persimmon

Ingredients

  • 2-3 ripe but firm fuyu persimmons
  • 12-18 slice speck (or smoked prosciutto)
  • aged balsamic vinegar (for drizzlling)
  • the delicate tips of fresh fennel fronds (roughly chopped)

Directions

Heat a grill or grill pan to medium heat.

Meanwhile, on a clean work surface trim each persimmon lightly on the top and bottom then peel each one carefully. Cut the peeled persimmons lengthwise into 6 or more wedges, depending on size.

Fold a slice of the speck in half lengthwise then carefully wrap it snugly around a persimmon wedge leaving the persimmon exposed on two sides. Secure the speck with a toothpick if you like. Repeat with remaining persimmons and speck.

Carefully oil the grates of the hot grill. Place the wrapped persimmons wedges on the grates and cook, turning often, until the speck is charred and crisp and the persimmon is hot and tender. Transfer to a serving platter.

While still hot, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and garnish with a sprinkle of chopped fennel fronds. Serve immediately.


Sycamore Kitchen’s Chocolate Chip Rye Flour Cookies

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Chocolate Chip Rye Flour Cookies

This is the second time I’ve used rye flour to make chocolate chip cookies. The first time was because Dori Greenspan’s description of the Mokonuts Cafe and Bakery’s Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies was so enticing that I decided to put aside the prejudicial notion that rye was strictly suitable as the chosen sheath for hot pastrami with mustard and give rye flour cookies a try.

I liked what I scarfed and evangelized on the subject here.

So when I came across L.A. icon Karen Hatfield’s (chef/owner Sycamore Kitchen) Chocolate Chip Rye Cookies I decided to see if my first success with rye flour cookies was a fluke. After all, I still had plenty of rye flour leftover from my Greenspan foray into the subject.

The Greenspan cookies (though amazingly delicious) are filled with shards of melted chocolate and laced with pinpoints of poppy seeds giving them a complex texture blasting with diverse flavors. Making it hard to say exactly what rye flour brings to the recipe.

Rye Flour Cookies

However, the Hatfield recipe doesn’t stray too far from what you expect from a chocolate chip cookie. Making it far more suitable for a taste test. What I found is that the rye flavor is subtle, a bit nutty, and definitely offers an intricacy not achieved with all-purpose flour alone chocolate chip cookies.

However, I also discovered (with research) that rye flour has long been considered a challenge to bakers because of its low gluten content, which can make it more difficult to work with and produce a crumb that can be gummy. But if you experiment with using a mixture of rye and wheat flour in recipes (I read) then you can turn that gummy texture into an advantage.

In the end I I decided that rye flour delivers cookies that have a crisp crust surrounding a chewy-textured center, providing the perfect protection to pockets of molten chocolate. It’s positively the best of the standard-style chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever made. GREG

Chocolate Chip Rye Flour Cookies



Chocolate Chip Rye Cookies

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 18Published

Contrary to the source recipe I chopped the chocolate chunks into variable sizes, leaving many of them quite large for a “marbled” effect. You may chop the chocolate into ¼-inch chunks as the original recipe specifies if you like.

Chocolate Chip Rye Cookies

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 5 ounce dark brown sugar
  • 4 ounce granulated sugar
  • 4.3 ounce all-purpose flour
  • 4.3 ounce dark rye flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (plus extra for sprinkling)
  • ½ teaspoon ground caraway seed
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 ounce (70%) chocolate (chopped into chunks)

Directions

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl whisk together the flours, baking soda and powder, ¾ teaspoon salt and caraway seed.

Add the egg and vanilla to the butter mixture and continue to beat until fully combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat until almost fully incorporated. Add the chopped chocolate and stir to combine. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 3 days.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Scoop the dough (about 2 tablespoons or 45 grams for each cookie) and space the cookies a few inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each cookie with a little kosher salt. Bake the cookies until they are crisp on the edges but still soft in the middle, about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through for even baking.

Orange-Spice Shrub: A Christmas Cocktail

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Orange-Spice Shrub: A Christmas Cocktail

I plan to spend Christmas Eve with a big plate of oysters and a Christmas Cocktail. There will probably be some Christmas music playing. I tend to favor the classics like Frank Sinatra. Still, I’ll be pleased when the caroling stops this year. Call me Grinch but the first time I hear Bing Crosby croon his way through “White Christmas,” each year it can coax a smile and maybe even a tear. However, by the 107th time, my ears (and my tears) have gone numb.

There are exceptions. I can listen to the Vince Guaraldi A Charlie Brown Christmas album all year long. When I was a kid it was easier to avoid Christmas carol overload. There was no Christmas in July or even a hint of “on demand” TV. So Charlie Brown and his pathetic bent over Christmas tree always waited until after Turkey Day to hum their way into my heart. To this day nothing can get me wound up for the Holidays quite like Lucy refusing to eat “December snowflakes”. I still can’t get into the Christmas spirit until I’ve heard the songs from that show. Of course, Netflix and the like have changed all that. I can stream A Charlie Brown Christmas anytime I like. Holiday nostalgia is just a click away 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

Charlie Brown Christmas

But Charlie Brown isn’t the only thing that revs me up for the holidays. Nope. Tangerines, lemons, limes, and especially oranges all remind me of Christmas because my mom used to stuff a giant navel orange into the toe of my Christmas stocking. Year after year – no matter how old I got – my mom adhered to that old European tradition that considered oranges and other citrus fruits the rarest of treats.

The same goes for the holiday cocktail. How many rounds of eggnog can we take before palate fatigue sets in?

With that in mind, I’ve turned to a citrus and spice shrub to keep the season bright and my Christmas cocktail as merry as ever. Merry Christmas! GREG

Orange-Spice Shrub: A Christmas Cocktail

Orange-Spice Shrub

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 1Source The Spirit GuildPublished
Orange-Spice Shrub

Ingredients

  • 1 orange (peeled and cut into chunks)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • ⅓ cup roasted shelled pistachios
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 ½ ounce London dry gin (optional)
  • soda water (as needed)
  • 1 orange twist (as garnsih)

Directions

To make the shrub: In a 1-quart jar, combine the orange chunks, sugar, cinnamon sticks, pistachios, and cloves. Cover and briefly dry shake the ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

The next day, add the vinegar and shake the ingredients until the sugar begins to dissolve and refrigerate another 24 hours. Filter the shrub through a fine-meshed sieve lined with cheesecloth into a clean jar or bottle. This recipe makes more shrub than you need for one cocktail the extra may be stored covered and refrigerated up to six weeks.

To make the cocktail: Fill a double old-fashioned glass with ice cubes. Add gin (if using) and 1-ounce orange-spice shrub, top with soda water to taste. Gently stir then garnish with an orange twist.

Pan-Seared Pork Medallions with Pistachio Mole

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Pan-Seared Pork Medallions with Pistachio Mole

You probably know this already but the Pistachio Mole Sauce I present today is neither comprised of nor an homage to a rodent. Mole (pronounced moh-LAY) is, however, possibly the most talked-about but least understood of Mexico’s regional dishes. This is because the term mole is more general than most people believe it to be. American aficionados of Mexican food may know the traditional poblano version as an amazingly flavorful, deeply complex dish often compared to chocolate. But to my palate, mole is a much more intriguing mosaic of flavors and is as individual as any of the cooks who struggle to define its complex features.

I’ve traveled through Mexico quite a bit and I dine in as many hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants here in Los Angeles as I can find. So I understand the diversity of Mexican cuisine fairly well. Still, I struggle to define exactly what makes a mole a mole. One popular food writer I read defines mole as a “thick, dark sauce”. But I’ve sampled enough of them to know that, in fact, mole is often neither dark nor particularly thick. A mole can be anything from traditionally dark brown to brightly colored with green, red, yellow and black moles each claiming aficionados in different regions. Meaning the poblano version, though delicious, is by no means the only and the holiest of all mole.

So what about a tomatillo and pistachio mole?

Well, generally speaking, a mole sauce contains fruit, chili pepper, nuts, and fragrant spices – exactly the formula I followed for this non-traditional (read easy to make) pistachio mole. Because the truth is I am not brave enough nor athletic enough, to attempt to make a traditional mole poblano from scratch. It’s an arduous process of seeding, roasting, drying, grinding, mixing, tasting and waiting. Too many steps to go into here. GREG

PS: The original mole, which is thought to come from the Aztec word molli (concoction) has been credited to the nuns of the Puebla de Los Angeles just outside of Mexico City. It’s said to have been created as an honorary dish for an Archbishop. I guess all that seeding, roasting, drying, grinding, mixing, tasting and waiting paid off. The Archbishop loved the sauce so much built the nuns a new convent. So, in other words, mole is 400-year-old political payback. Isn’t that how all the important work gets done?

Roasted Tomatillos

Pistachio Mole

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4 cupsSource Adapted from La Casita Mexicana via The L.A. CookbookPublished

Serving Suggestion: Serve as a thick pillow underneath pan-seared pork tenderloin medallions sprinkled with extra pistachios, oregano leaves, and cotija cheese as garnish.

pistachio mole

Ingredients

  • 3 pound fresh tomatillos (husked)
  • 2 serrano chilies (stemmed, and halved lenghthwise)
  • 1 red onion (peeled, halved, and thinly sliced)
  • 4 clove garlic (peeled)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoon cumin seeds (toasted)
  • 3 cup chicken stock
  • 1 ½ cup roasted shelled pistachios
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • salt (as needed)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or foil.

Wash the tomatillos to remove their sticky residue, pat dry, and slice into wedges. Combine in a large bowl with the chiles, red onion, and garlic, and toss with the olive oil till well coated. Divide the vegetables in as close to a single layer as possible across the prepared baking sheets and roast until nicely browned but not burnt, about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them and shake, toss, and rotate the sheets several times during cooking.

Transfer the charred vegetables to a large saucepan. Add the spices and stock and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes. Add the pistachios and simmer 10 more minutes.

Carefully transfer the hot mixture to a blender and puree. With the machine running, add the cilantro and continue to puree until smooth. Season with salt if needed. Serve while hot.

Pork Medallions with Pistachio Mole

Pan-Seared Pork Medallions

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Source Adapted from Cooking LightPublished
Pan-Seared Pork Medallions

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 (1-lb.) pork tenderloin ( trimmed and cut crosswise into 12 medallions)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Directions

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high. Arrange pork medallions in a single layer on a work surface, and press each with the palm of your hand to flatten to an even thickness.

Combine salt, garlic powder, and pepper; sprinkle evenly over pork. Add pork to skillet in a single layer; cook just until done, about 3 minutes per side

Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes before serving.



What’s to Say? It’s a Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak

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Hanger Steak with Scallions

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I literally seem to have nothing new to say these days. It used to be that I was bursting with ideas and I couldn’t wait to share them on this blog. But lately, I’ve been drawing a blank. This doesn’t mean I’m not cooking. I recently made this Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak that I served with charred scallions. It was so good that I just knew it would make a great post for this blog. But you know what? I can’t think of a single thing to say that I haven’t already said before.

After more than 10 years and almost 1700 posts, it’s really hard to know what to say next.

So I’m stuck with a Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak with Charred Scallions and not a thing to say about it. I could (of course) talk about hanger steak, it’s a great cut of beef with an interesting backstory (one I’ve shared more than once).

Then again I could discuss the charred scallions. I love cooking with high heat. Then again these are subjects that have crossed my keyboard before. The high heat here and the charred scallions here.

How about the butcher where I purchased this hard to find cut of meat? You guessed it. I’ve plugged them before here.

Do you see what I mean? I’ve got a plate of Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak with Charred Scallions in front of me and no appetite at all for blog blather. GREG

Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak with Charred Scallions

Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak with Charred Scallions

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 2Source Inspired by Bon ApetitPublished
Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak with Charred Scallions

Ingredients

  • 2 clove garlic (peeled and divided)
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (pimenton)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 8 tablespoon olive oil (divided)
  • ⅓ cup crushed or coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 hanger steak
  • 6-8 whole scallions
  • 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • ½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • flaky sea salt (such as Maldon, as needed)

Directions

Mince 1 of the garlic cloves.

Mix honey, paprika, lemon juice, and the minced garlic in a small bowl, season with ½ teaspoon salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix well. Rub the mixture all over the steak, set aside for 15 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until golden brown, 8–10 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Finely grate remaining garlic clove over warm walnuts and toss with 6 tablespoons olive oil.

When ready to serve heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and swirl to coat. Lay the hanger steak onto the heated surface and cook, turning occasionally, until deeply browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 125 to 130° F for medium-rare, 10–12 minutes. Transfer steak to a cutting board to rest.

Leave the fat in the pan and reduce heat to medium. Place scallions in the skillet in as close to a single layer as possible, season with salt, and cook, turning occasionally until softened and deeply charred, about 4 minutes. Transfer to cutting board and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add the pieces to bowl the with walnut mixture along with vinegar, mustard, and thyme, then toss to combine; season with kosher salt and black pepper.

Slice steak against the grain and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Serve with the charred scallion mixture.


The Pitter-Patter of Carrot and Parsnip Soup

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Carrot and Parsnip Soup

It’s raining in Los Angeles! As it turns out that’s Carrot and Parsnip Soup weather. Naturally, the much-needed rain inspired me to cook. So I set to work, surrounded by a warm kitchen and the rumbling of the rain. I chose Carrot and Parsnip Soup simply because its simple. Besides I had piles of carrots and parsnips leftover from a planned Thanksgiving side dish I nixed. Somehow I just knew there was something more important in store for those vegetables and that turns out to be this soup.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how welcome the rain is here in California. While the city hills where I live were not directly affected by the latest tragedies, we’ve been on edge and feel great sadness. Believe it or not, soup helps me through the complicated emotions we all feel at times like these.

Which is why I’m particularly happy about the rain. It built slowly all day yesterday, came down heavy last night, and as I write this it’s beginning to wane mid-day. The best part is, you could feel it in the air. You knew it was coming. By nightfall, I began to hear the pings and pitter-patters on the copper awning outside my kitchen window. It made me happy to hear the soft landing of so many little drops. Did they know how welcome they were? Did they feel the gratitude of millions of people in this parched state? Let’s hope the rain doesn’t lead to more problems… GREG

Carrot and Parsnip Soup

Helen’s (Always) Essential Guide to Italian (White) Wine

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Vini D'Italia

The Essential Guide to Italian Wine by Daniele Cernilli is an essential resource for wine professionals, students, and enthusiasts of Italian wines. This trustworthy and easy to understand guide is accurate and exhaustive without using abstruse terms known just to experts and gives clarity to the extremely broad panorama of Italian wines, selecting those that most represent their winery (from the historic to the most interesting newcomers).

Essential Guide to Italian Wine

Earlier this year, I took a solo bucket list trip to Rome, Florence and Venice. It was everything I had ever hoped or dreamed and more… but I caught the cold most of Italy was coughing through during Easter. It took hold during the “Wine Tasting in Tuscany” portion of my trip, so I ended up drinking more herb tea than wine – crushing, when you think that in recent years, I have found myself loitering more and more in the Italian sections of my favorite wine stores. Therefore, I was ecstatic to be invited along with Ken to The Essential Guide to Italian Wine tasting event at the Wine House in West Los Angeles (Thank you, Allison and Please The Palate who invited us that day).

My Italian wine motto: Reds = Always! Whites = Bargains!

Seriously, once you branch out of Pinot Grigio / Soave territory, you can step into a fascinating world of gooseberries, lemongrass, wet stone, salinity, hazelnuts, Linden blossoms and much more. Italy is brimming with exciting and divinely unfamiliar white varietals.

Offida Pecorino DOCG 2016 from Villa Angela (Velenosi)Our very first sip of the event was a revelation, Offida Pecorino DOCG 2016 from Villa Angela (Velenosi) in Marche. I better knew pecorino as the cheese used in the traditional Roman pasta dish, cacio e pepe, but apparently, this grape varietal produces an increasingly popular wine in trendy urban Italy. On the nose, there is a kiss of acacia blossom and a tickle of thyme and sage. The palate bursts with lemony freshness, as ample acidity floats over a wet stone spine in a juicily balanced dance of minerals, flowers, and herbs. Superbly crisp and food friendly, it immediately made me want to drink it alongside a plate of cacio e pepe (in Rome). Conveniently, The Wine House sells this wine for $16.99 (Bargain!) so Ken and I were able to purchase a bottle each to take home after the event.

Vorberg Pinot Bianca Riserva Alto Adige Terlano DThe last white I experienced before switching to reds, was Vorberg Pinot Bianca Riserva Alto Adige Terlano DOC 2015. This is a big, bold, beautiful wine from the northern tip of Italy. After an afternoon of spitting both red and white wines, this is the wine I chose to swallow before heading home. Delicious. The winemaker notes are so spot on, that I am going to share straight from the horse’s mouth:

“The multifaceted aroma of this wine derives from a combination of ripe fruit, including honeydew melon, white peach, pear and Golden Delicious apple, together with the aromas of quince jelly and dried fruit such as pear, orange and pineapple, on the one hand, and graphite notes and a hint of jasmine with a mineral touch on the other.

The interplay of fruity aromatic and salty components is repeated on the palate, where the soft and creamy elements gain greater strength in a wine with a lingering, firmly minerally and spicy character on the aftertaste.

Ideal in combination with a spicy fish soup, mussels in a pepper sauce and spaghetti allo scoglio as well as mussels au gratin, grilled ink fish and poached char; also one of the few good combinations with artichokes alla romana; excellent with mature Pecorino, a mature Parmesan and mostarda, and Tête de Moine.”

How can your mouth not be watering after reading the above? This is a serious white and the price point of around $42.00 is still a bargain for wine of this quality.

Perhaps I need to amend my Italian wine motto to: Reds = Always! Whites = Always! HELEN

Essential Guide to Italian Wine

Essential Guide to Italian Wine

Pork Cheeks and Movie Stars

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Soy and Vinegar Braised Pork Cheeks

My partner Ken’s massage therapist is right across the street from one of L.A.’s great butcher shops, McCall’s Meat and Fish Co. So he’ll often come home (freshly tenderized himself) with a paper-wrapped bundle of meaty intrigue. Sure they have great lamb chops and all the expected beastial staples, but we go there to find more unusual cuts. McCall’s is also one of those uniquely Los Angeles experiences that’s hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t live here. You see it’s something of a celebrity magnet, but people don’t go there to gawk at celebrities they go there to pretend they don’t recognize celebrities. “Such a pretty girl”, the man in front of you might say of the liver-loving Oscar winner in front of him. So it was that Ken came home with a big bag of pork cheeks (oink-oink) and celebrity gossip (wink-wink).

Soy and Vinegar Braised Pork Cheeks

Yep, they’re exactly what you think they are… the pork cheeks I mean.

Unctuous and tender, pork cheeks are less popular than they used to be but I don’t know why. Pork cheeks – cooked low and slow nestled amongst the umami notes of soy sauce and sharp hints of cider vinegar – are meltingly tender and completely delicious. They are also quite affordable (even at McCall’s). Read the recipe and make plenty of time for cooking. I wouldn’t attempt to hurry this one. If time is an issue, go for a pork chop like the “you know who” rock star I like to pretend I don’t see standing right in front of me. GREG

Pork Cheeks

Soy and Vinegar Braised Pork Cheeks

Soy and Vinegar Braised Pork Cheeks

It’s Pomodori Scoppiati Season

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Pomodori Scoppiati (Exploded Cherry Tomato Sauce)

Maybe this is just an L.A. thing, but here it is November and we’ve still got cherry tomatoes hanging around. I see them at the market and I spy them through the backyard fences of my neighbors. Their gardens may be spent and drab but there always seems to be a cherry or grape tomato vine flourishing along a warm, sunny wall even as our nights get chilly. The same goes for the farmers market. Most of the showy summer tomatoes have been devoured, but diminutive cherries still beckon in an array of colors. I’m bringing a panful of these survivors to their bursting point by scorching them with garlic, herbs, and enough good olive oil to make an unctuous sauce. The combination pairs perfectly with a simple plate of fresh fettuccine. It’s what the Italians would call Pomodori Scoppiati, exploded tomatoes.

Cherry Tomatoes

Pomodori Scoppiati

Tomatoes. Of all the seasonal produce we look forward to each year none inspires the same cultish devotion as summer tomatoes. It seems like just yesterday I was pushing my way to the front of the stalls at the Hollywood Farmers Market to get my giddy hands on the first of the good summer tomatoes. Inevitably I’d bring home more than we could eat, but still, I enjoyed having the multi-shaped, multi-colored beauties litter the windowsill. Then, as summer rolled along I began to tire of feeding the fruit flies $4 tomatoes. About this time I also began to notice that the tables at my favorite vendor’s booths seemed to sway under the weight of so many boxes of ripe fruit that they began to smell almost boozy in their overripe abundance. So I turned my attention to other delights forgetting how fleeting summer tomatoes can be. Now its November and I miss the August and September tomato’s dizzying profusion. Fortunately, there’s still a dwindling selection of grape and cherry-sized tomatoes available and I’m determined not to make the same mistake twice. Which means I consider this the height of Pomodori Scoppiati (exploded cherry tomato) season.

Pomodori Scoppiati. This isn’t necessarily a recipe – it’s more of an idea. Start with a heavy skillet, some oil, and garlic. Add the cherry tomatoes and watch them burst – releasing the juice which mixes with the olive oil to create a rich, silky sauce. This preparation is from Puglia where Pomodori Scoppiati is usually served as a condimento (relish-like side dish) alongside meat or fish or as a building block for other dishes. However, I like Pomodori Scoppiati tossed with pasta. Spaghetti is traditional, but I prefer to twirl thick ribbons of silky fresh fettuccine around my fork – catching the sauce in a most satisfying mouthful. GREG

Cherry Tomatoes

Pomodori Scoppiati (Exploded Cherry Tomato Sauce)

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Adapted from Rachel RoddyPublished
Pomodori Scoppiati (Exploded Cherry Tomato Sauce)

Ingredients

  • 2 pound whole, fresh cherry tomatoes
  • 2-3 clove garlic
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt (plus more for pasta water)
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3-4 large fresh basil leaves (thinly sliced, optional)
  • 1 pound dried or fresh pasta (of your choosing)

Directions

Remove stems from the tomatoes and wash and dry them. Peel and gently crush the garlic with the back of a knife so the cloves break but remain intact.

Select an ample, heavy-bottomed skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Warm the olive oil and garlic in the skillet over medium-low heat then cook gently so the garlic infuses the oil, sizzles, but doesn’t brown. Remove the garlic.

Add the tomatoes, salt, oregano and crushed red pepper flakes (if using) and stir until well coated. Increase the heat to medium. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, shaking the pan every now and then until most of the tomatoes have “exploded” and released some of their juice. Feel free to use the back of a wooden spoon to squash them a bit if necessary. Stir in the basil, if using.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to a boil, add some salt, then stir in the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a little cooking water. Transfer the drained pasta into the sauce, stir, adding a little cooking water if it feels dry. Serve warm.