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THE HINDS HEAD SACRED GIN & TONIC
On our way to Italy we were bumped off a connecting flight from London to Venice and found ourselves stuck in an airport hotel for the night. Instead of an icy martini and carpaccio at Harry's Bar, it appeared we would be pushing Grilled Chicken Caesar around our dinner plates. We put out a call to our London friend Jason Lowe, and he knew just what we should do, "Take a taxi to Bray, it is only ten miles from Heathrow, and have dinner at Heston Blumenthal's other place, The Hinds Head." Too late for reservations, would we ever get in? The dice were thrown, a taxi was called, and when we walked in the door of the charming 400-year-old village pub, we spotted an empty table for two. We sat our lucky seats right in the seats and were soon sipping authentic London hand-distilled Sacred Gin, so delicate it reminded us of sake. They brought us little bottles of crisp, sharp tonic water and fat lemon wedges, which we eventually mixed with the gin. Raw, purebred Hereford beef with radicchio and horseradish was on the menu for dinner. Happenstance is often far better than any plan.—CH
GIN & LIMONE
One evening, a week into our stay at our idyllic but rather remote Tuscan farmhouse, an apertivo sounded mighty good. But since there wasn't a drop in the house, we headed off in search of some charming little bar, somewhere in a charming little town nearby. We drove into Impruneta and spotted a bustling caffè, but it was festivale season—the town was packed and parking impossible. We ended up, of all places, at a Coop supermarket, where there was lots of parking available. We found a bottle of Beefeater gin, but there was neither a bottle of tonic nor a single lime, and when we asked for ice, they showed us ice cream. We bought the gin, but what to do about the ice? I told Christopher that since I didn't remember seeing any ice cubes in the bare freezer, I could simply pour the gin over the ice-cold wire coils in the freezer to chill it—although that did sound a bit desperate. But Fortuna smiled on us. In the back of the bottom drawer of the freezer was a tiny six-cube tray with ice. Three cubes went into each glass, then the gin (2 ounces in each), and in place of tonic, I squeezed in the juice of an Amalfi Coast lemon as big as a baseball and garnished each drink with a twist. Sometimes, things that taste good when you're away don't measure up when you return home. This cocktail hits the spot in either place.—MH
Dazzling Italian Sparklers
Back when I began discovering wine, shortly after Noah planted that first postdiluvian grapevine, it was considered vaguely racy and vaguely suave to order something called Asti Spumante. This was a frothy Italian sparkler whose principal virtues seemed to be low price and high sugar. It was undeniably a step up from the "crackling rosé" then being foisted on the drinking public by Paul Masson and other firms, but it always sort of made my teeth ache.
A little later, America (except at my house) came under the spell of another carbonated italiano, Lambrusco—specifically the soda-popish versions turned out by the Cantine Cooperative Riunite in the Emilia region, which became our nation's number-one vinous import, no doubt thanks, at least partially, to having been promoted under one of the more annoyingly unforgettable advertising slogans of the late 1970s and early 1980s: "Riunite on ice. That's nice."
At least partially because of my brief experiences with these two varieties of vino, I pretty much crossed Italian sparklers off my personal wine list. I'd enjoy a Soave or Chianti or Gattinara now and then, but if I wanted something with bubbles, I'd stick to France or maybe California in a pinch (and later still, to Spain, after that country's cavas started flooding into the country, pretty much washing away any other sparkler in the lower price range).
Then I started logging serious time in Italy, and my perceptions began to change. I discovered that spumante was simply the Italian word for bubbly, and that Asti was a commune in Piedmont, capable of producing not just the less than pleasant plonk of my earlier experience but also examples (exclusively from the Moscato Bianco grape) of great charm, low in alcohol, delightfully fruity, and while undeniably sweet, not necessarily cloying. (Asti Spumante's cousin, Moscato d'Asti, has lighter carbonation—it is called frizzante, fizzy, rather than spumante—and even less alcohol.)
And that turned out to be just the beginning. I also encountered very nice Chardonnay-based sparkling wine, made by the "metodo champenoise" (Champagne method) in Trento, in the region called Trentino-Alto Adige. (That term is no longer legal, incidentally; such wines are now "metodo classico".) I became a big fan of the crisp, coolly elegant (if ambitiously priced) sparkling wines made by the effervescent Maurizio Zanella of Ca' del Bosco in Erbusco, in the Franciacorta region of Lombardy—not least because I got to know him, visited his winery several times, and even got invited to his wedding. (I brought home a magnum of his special Prestige Cuvée that I drank at my own wedding rehearsal dinner; it was certainly one of the best non-Champagne sparkling wines I've ever had.) Bellavista is another notable producer in the area, while Levi Dalton, wine director at Bar Boulud in Manhattan and a serious Italian wine lover, prefers smaller producers like Barone Pizzini and Wertmuller.
Elsewhere, I joined Venetian friends in their home city to quaff Prosecco—made (like the sparklers of Asti) by the Charmat tank-fermenting method in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia (and especially the bailiwicks of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene)—and found various interpretations of the wine to be, well, not exactly profound but certainly frivolously attractive and all too easy to drink. (Mionetto is the most widely sold brand in the United States, but not necessarily my favorite. Try Sommariva or maybe Sacchetto.)
I soon came to realize, in fact, that wines with varying degrees of sparkle, made by several different techniques, out of many different grapes, and in a whole bouquet of styles, are produced all over Italy. A non–Asti Spumante from Emilia, highly recommended by Levi Dalton, is Alberto Tedeschi's Pignoletto Spungola Bellaria (the grape is the little-known Pignoletto). Dalton likes the metodo classico wines, also from Emilia, from Francesco Bellei e C. and the Paolo Rinaldini "Orom" Bianco Brut NV. "One imagines that few make wines like this anymore, from anywhere in the world" he says—and calls the Camillo Donati Malvasia Secco Frizzante "one of my favorite wines from Italy." Bruce Neyers, national sales director for Kermit Lynch, the Berkeley wine importer of cult status, is proud to sell Elvio Tinero's frizzante wines, one made from Moscato, one from the local Favorita variety. He also adds to the repertoire a couple of wines, a spumante and a frizzante, from Punta Crena in Liguria.
In Piedmont, Bartolo Mascarello turns the Freisa grape into an ebullient frizzante. The estimable Darrell Corti of Corti Bros. in Sacramento notes that at one time, there was even bubbly Chianti. "Chianti was sold 'fresco di governo'," he explains, "which meant that it had some CO2 and was lively on the tongue. This style is now forgotten about and should be reexamined. It is sort of a nouveau wine with more character."
And then there's ... Lambrusco. The first time I went to Parma, to do a story on the local cheese (of which you have heard), I was invited to lunch by a prominent local Parmigiano producer. He took me to his favorite trattoria, where he began by ordering plates of prosciutto and Parma salame, then fairly shocked me by asking for a bottle of Lambrusco to go with them. It was as if, I thought, some French Brie producer had taken me to a neighborhood bistro and ordered Coke. What was the guy thinking? He must have sensed my perplexity, and said, "This is not the Lambrusco you know in America. This is real wine, and we believe that you need something like this in order to help digest all the pork fat we eat here."
I took a sip of what the waiter brought and immediately realized that "something like this" meant a wine that could be deep gorgeous garnet-black in color, rich and creamy, jauntily acidic, and redolent of juicy grapes and black plums, with an almost dry finish (though the wine can sometimes be a little sweet); oh, and not exactly bubbles but a pinpoint fizz that seemed to make its flavor dance. In other words, rather unusual and really good. But don't take my word for it. There's plenty of high-quality Lambrusco around today in America. Bruce Neyer's company imports Moretto's bone-dry, fullflavored Lambrusco Secco. Levi Dalton likes the stylish Vigneto Saetti "Vigna Ca' del Fiore" and loves Graziano's "Fontana dei Boschi" Modena Lambrusco di Castelvetro, which he calls "Awesome!" and "a total original." Me, I'm partial to Cantine Ceci "La Luna", just bursting with fruit, and to Grasparossa di Castelvetro from Cleto Chiarli, one of the oldest Lambrusco producers—a wine that's lean and dark, intensely grapey, and just delicious. It doesn't sparkle, it dazzles.
working up an appetito
TRAMEZZINI & PANINI
There always seems to be a good sandwich to be had in Italy no matter where you are. You find them—the crustless-white-bread tramezzini and all variety of panini (stuffed rolls or buns, pressed on a griddle or not)—at every caffè-bar, at airports big and small, even at filling stations along the autostrada. Whenever we're in Florence, we head to Cebrèo Caffè near the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio for a morning cappuccino and one of their delicious little panini with sweet butter and prosciutto, and at the end of the day to the demurely elegant food shop and wine bar Procacci for a glass of something sparkling and a couple of their famous panini tartufati. Our recipes for these little sandwiches are inspired by these two favorites.
We've not been able to find tender sweet rolls like we ate in Italy, so we use slices of challah or brioche, or thin slices of white sandwich bread for these sandwiches. They'll keep, well covered, in a cool spot (they'll taste better if you don't refrigerate them) for up to 4 hours.
WHITE TRUFFLE BUTTER TRAMEZZINI
As odd as it may seem, we prefer the quality of Kerrygold Irish butter to the imported butters from Italy for these sandwiches. If you happen to have a white truffle, shave some of it into softened butter to make this spread. Chances are you don't, so use white truffle paste instead. It comes in a convenient tube—a little goes a long way. The Italian truffle company Urbani is a good source. You can also buy truffle butter, but the flavor won't be as fresh as making your own.
Beat 8 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter in a bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1–2 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons white truffle paste and season it with a little sea salt. Set the butter aside. We use 1–2 tablespoons butter per sandwich. Use more or less to suit your taste.—makes 8–12 half-sandwiches
VERY THIN WHITE BREAD TRAMEZZINI: Trim the crust off 3 slices very thin white sandwich bread. Spread some of the white truffle butter on 2 of the slices of bread. To make this double-decker sandwich, place one of the slices of buttered bread on top of the other, buttered side up, and finish the sandwich with the third slice of bread. Cut the sandwich in half on the diagonal.—makes 2 half-sandwiches
CHALLAH OR BRIOCHE TRAMEZZINI: Use 2 thin slices challah or brioche. Spread some of the white truffle butter on one slice, top with the other slice, and cut the sandwich in half.—makes 2 half-sandwiches
PROSCIUTTO & ARUGULA TRAMEZZINI
When we make these tramezzini with plainer white sandwich bread, we like to add peppery arugula leaves. But when making them with challah or brioche, we like to keep the flavors pure—just the whipped sweet butter, the nutty cured ham, and the tender bread.
Beat 8 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter in a bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1–2 minutes. Set the butter aside. We use 1–2 tablespoons butter per sandwich. Use more or less to suit your taste.—makes 8–12 half-sandwiches
VERY THIN WHITE BREAD TRAMEZZINI: Trim the crust off 3 slices very thin white sandwich bread. Spread some of the whipped butter on the bread. To make this double-decker sandwich, drape 1 thin slice prosciutto di Parma on each of 2 slices of the buttered bread and top them with small arugula leaves. Stack on top of each other, arugula side up, and top with the third slice of bread, buttered side down. Cut the sandwich in half on the diagonal with a very sharp knife.—makes 2 half-sandwiches
CHALLAH OR BRIOCHE TRAMEZZINI: Spread 2 thin slices challah or brioche with some of the whipped butter. Drape 2 thin slices prosciutto di Parma over one of the slices of bread and top the sandwich with the other slice, buttered side down. Cut the sandwich in half with a very sharp knife.—makes 2 half-sandwiches
SPECK, FONTINA & LEMON PANINO
We like a thin, spare grilled panino with a glass of wine at the end of the day. We've seen many recipes that use slices of crusty ciabatta, but we prefer the softer crust and more delicate crumb of focaccia to make ours.
Take a 4-inch square of focaccia and cut off each crust horizontally so that the 2 slices have ½ inch of white still attached. Brush the crust side of each piece with extra-virgin olive oil. Put 4 thin slices speck or prosciutto di Parma, then several thin slices Fontina Valle d'Aosta on the cut side of the bottom piece of focaccia. Add a light grating of fresh lemon zest and some cracked black pepper. Top the sandwich with the other piece of focaccia, crust side up.
Cook the sandwich in an electric or stovetop panini press until the cheese melts and the crust is crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Or, if you don't have a panini press, place the sandwich on a warm, lightly oiled griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Set another heavy pan on top of the sandwich to weigh it down. Cook the sandwich until golden brown on the bottom, 3–5 minutes. Turn the sandwich over, weighing it down with the second pan, and cook the panino until the cheese melts and the second side is golden, about 2 minutes. Cut the panino in half on the diagonal and serve straightaway. —serves 1
Follow the directions above for preparing two thin-crusted pieces of focaccia for the panino. Spread the bottom piece of focaccia with 2 tablespoons mascarpone. Lay 2–3 thin slices Robiola on top. Spread ½ teaspoon white truffle paste over the cheese, then grate Grana Padano on top. Top the sandwich with the second piece of focaccia, crust side up, and continue with the directions above for cooking the panino.—serves 1
SUPPLÌ AL TELEFONO
Supplì, fried rice croquettes, are a Roman specialty. The whimsical telefono refers to the strings of melted cheese, resembling telephone wires, that ooze from the center of a croquette as you bite into it. We keep our supplì making simple, using leftover risotto, but we also use cold cooked rice mixed with ragù, parmigiano, and herbs. These small crisp bites are perfect with an aperitivo.
Sicilian arancini, "little oranges," are hearty rice croquettes. They are usually filled with balsamella and peas, ragù, or a mixture of both. We found these popular snacks in corner bars and home kitchens across Sicily. Use this supplì recipe to make larger croquettes and fill them with whatever you like. They are always best when served right after they're fried.
3 cups cold risotto, milanese or bianco
¾ cup parmigiano-reggiano
12–16 cubes mozzarella, ½-inch
1 cup flour
1–2 cups panko or fine dried bread crumbs
Mix together the risotto, 1 of the eggs, and the parmigiano in a bowl. Wet your hands with cold water so the rice will not stick to them as you work. Put 1 generous tablespoon risotto in the middle of your palm. Press a cube of mozzarella into the rice. Work the rice around the cheese to cover it completely to keep it from oozing out as you fry it. Add a little extra rice if needed. Press the rice balls into oval shapes. Arrange the balls in a single layer on a tray. Put the flour, remaining 2 eggs, and the panko in separate shallow bowls. Beat the eggs with a few tablespoons water. Roll each ball first in flour, then in egg, and finally in panko. Arrange the coated supplì in a single layer on the same tray. At this point you can cover them with plastic, and refrigerate until you are ready to fry them.
Excerpted from Canal House Cooking Volume No 7 by Christopher Hirsheimer, Melissa Hamilton, Margo True. Copyright © 2011 Christopher Hirsheimer & Melissa Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of Canal House.
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Posted July 11, 2014
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