Featured Gallery — Firenze 1988
Food, Wine and Travel Collage
April has been a good month (for food and wine, anyway), and it’s only half over. Here is a sprinkling of highlights.
Mucci Winemakers Event
Nick Mucci and his brother, James, import some superb natural Italian wines from small, artisan producers. I’ve been a fan of their wines since Eileen introduced me to them several years ago. Two weeks ago they held a special event to celebrate their 5th anniversary of the business, by hosting six of their winemakers at a special dinner at Loyal Nine Restaurant in Cambridge, MA.
I was delighted that my good friend, fishmonger, and great foodie, Chris Basile could join me there. Together we visited the tables of each winemaker, sampled the wines and the small plates the restaurant made for each, and had a marvelous time.
I had previously purchased wines from Rao (Silva Nigra – Pallagrello Nero grapes) and from La Sabbiona (VIP – Famoso grapes), and I enjoyed then again here. But the most exciting grower was La Tollara, whose Malvasia di Candia Aromatica was truly captivating. They also had some excellent wines from Bonarda grapes, as shown in the photos above.
I came away more impressed than ever with Mucci Wines — which was the purpose of the event, I imagine.
Dinner at Terra, Eataly Boston, and Great Road Kitchen in Littleton
The previous week I went to a wine tasting with Sandy Block at Legal Sea Food, featuring Under the Radar (unusual) grapes, which was informative as always. After the tasting, I went to Eataly Boston to buy a few items and to try their restaurant Terra. Sitting at the bar, I had a great view of the wood grill station.
I wasn’t that hungry, so I had just two dishes: a grilled artichoke appetizer, and a squid ink pasta with smoked mussels. The artichoke dish was top-notch.
For punctuation in this post, I am inserting Barbara’s collection of small, porcelain bunnies, which populate our greenhouse for some odd reason.
Next on the April food timeline was dinner with our daughter at Great Road Kitchen in Littleton on Saturday, just prior to a concert in Groton. Restaurants don’t usually stir me to hyperbole, but they served a fresh (never frozen), line-caught Chilean Sea Bass dish with crabmeat and asparagus, and purportedly a lobster corn sauce that was wonderful. It was accompanied by a delicious California Pinot Noir-based rosé that was delicious.
At Home over the Weekend
Today being Monday (Patriots Day in New England), we had a three-day weekend. Even better, Barbara was busy with activities for two of the days, so I had plenty of opportunities to cook. I had found two packages of Padron peppers at Russo’s last week, so I fried up a pan every day all weekend. Served with terrific Swedish sea salt from Lynn and Dave’s visit to Sweden last summer, it was a perfect first course to almost any meal.
Whatever white wine was open in the fridge went well with the peppers.
For lunch yesterday I went cuckoo, making a chopped salad with a variety of ingredients left over in the fridge.
It was so good, I ate three plates full and loved every morsel, especially on my favorite Cafe Paris plate.
Today was for bread baking. We had used all our frozen breads, so it was an ideal time to bake more. And it was a cold, rainy, icy day, so what better way to spend the time?
Yesterday was dedicated to developing the doughs — one for a Rye Levain with Caraway Seeds, the other for an Olive-Walnut Levain — two loaves of each. The whole process is 27 hours long, mostly waiting patiently for the 1/2 tsp. of yeast and 100 gm. of my bread starter to do their magic with each batch of flour.
Here is the result:
One of the concepts we learn early in the process of appreciating wines and their origins is the notion that one should often match with the cuisine from the region in which the grapes are grown. That process works well as a general guide for pairing wine and food.
However, I also take mischievous pleasure in finding radically different cross-cultural matches, based only on my perceptions of the characteristics of the individual components in which I am interested.
For example, today’s lunch: Golden Beets and Spicy Guacamole with a Malvasia di Candia Aromatica (from Piacenza, Emilia Romagna region, Italy).
I had some time to play alone in our kitchen today, and it was a good time to invent. There were two triggers for the creation of the dish. One was the inspiration of an absolutely delicious spicy guacamole I had at abc cocina in NYC a few weeks ago. I wanted to replicate it , but my online research provided no definitive recipe, so I had to try out what I thought were the main ingredients.
Barbara makes guacamole often, and sometimes a good batch of avocado toast. However, I find these too bland for my palate. I want a lot of salt, acid, and spice, and her style ranges from little to none (she uses only one – avocado – of the 5 ingredients above). Today I pulled out my Molcajete (Mexican mortar, made in Thailand), and I made the dish MY way. Wow, what a difference!
The other trigger was the need to use the beet greens we had saved several days ago from a bunch of golden beets. I had steamed the beets and eaten all but one of them, but I needed to do something with the greens soon. These simply needed to be de-stemmed, washed well, and steamed in a non-stick pan with the liquid attached to the leaves, with a little olive oil and salt. The peppery greens were delicious, so I chopped them and put on a small plate as the base for the dish.
Next, I sliced the beet and got ready to assemble the dish.
Now, for the wine. I had an open bottle of Soave, but decided it was not acidic enough for this dish. A few days ago I attended a wine tasting in Cambridge for Mucci Wines’ 5th anniversary. One of the truly standout wines at that event was the 2016 Tollara Malvasia D.O.C. I loved meeting the owner and tasting her wines. A few days later, Jeff Nedeau at Farfalle in Concord put aside two bottles for me, and I picked them up over the weekend. Everything came together perfectly, and my lunch experiment was a success.
The rest of the weekend was equally interesting from a food and wine standpoint, too. Sunday’s first photo-op, however, was a flower, not food. Barbara had nursed her two large Amaryllis bulbs all Winter (in fact, in my wine cellar). She had optimistically brought them out recently and put them in the greenhouse to wake up for the season. They responded well. Here is the first blossom:
My primary activity on Sunday was unusual; it was about selling some of my wine instead of acquiring it. A few weeks ago I had donated three bottles of premium Central Coast of California red wines in a fund raiser at our synagogue. Unbeknownst to me, our friends Rita and Larry had been the high bidder. Last week Rita wrote an email to tell me how much they enjoyed the first wine (2012 Overthinker from Linne Calodo in Paso Robles). They had tried unsuccessfully to find more online, but to no avail (they always sell out, and this had been in my cellar for several years.)
However, I have a unique problem — I have more good wine than I can reasonably drink on my own, AND I keep discovering new ones I want to try. I had chosen to donate those three wines because — although I love them — they are relatively higher in alcohol than the Italian wines I like these days, and they overwhelm many of our vegan/vegetarian dishes. So I suggested that our friends could come over to our house on Sunday afternoon, and I would select similar bottles from the cellar which would be good candidates that I might sell to someone who would offer them a good home. Naturally, I wanted to prepare some food to go with the wine we would taste.
I defrosted one of my whole grain breads and cooked a batch of Rancho Gordo Marcella cannellini beans, with which I made a white bean purée to go on the grilled bread. We had plenty of olives, and some of the microgreens from NYC. Here is the lineup of the wines and food we studied carefully that afternoon.
They came away with a few more wines, and I had some extra cash (and space in the cellar) for future adventures.
Later that evening, I made one more dish — even though the afternoon snacks filled us up pretty well. The dish was “Smashed Brussels Sprouts”, and I found a video clip on the Internet which made it look simple and attractive.
And here is my version of the in-process and then the finished dish.
Although the weekend was over by Monday, I had few commitments, so I will include this dinner in my post. It was a Butternut Squash Risotto, in which I included a Parsnip, for added sweetness, and some sautéed Radicchio for contrasting bitter flavors. The wine was a Cavallotto 2015 Pinner, a white (or pink) wine from the Pinot Nero grape (elsewhere known as Pinot Noir). It was a fortuitous match.
Friday night dinner
After the New York trip, the weekend back at home was diverse and very enjoyable, too. Friday night we were at our friends David and Susan’s home for Shabbat dinner, which included another couple as well. The meal was amazing, and the whole evening was special. Appetizers included olives and nuts, along with grape tomatoes and smoked sea salt and sliced hearts of palm. The first course was in inventive dish of soba noodles and mango that was deep red from the juice of blood oranges. An excellent spinach salad with walnuts followed, and David asked us to provide bread, so Barbara’s challah and my whole grain Tartine bread went along with the meal. David had just been to Israel, and he had a special olive oil from a kibbutz there, which he shared with us all for the breads.
The next course was a full-flavored soup with farro, mushrooms and roasted eggplant. David supplied several delicious wines, and I brought a magnum of Sans Liege’s Transcendentalist, a GSM Rhône-style blend that went nicely. It was fun to be with wine enthusiasts who could share a large bottle with me.
Saturday and Tortellini di Ortica in Brodo
Along with the microgreens from the Greenmarket in New York, I returned with a small container of Stinging Nettles, one of my favorite vegetables and a promising harbinger of Springtime. Naturally, I decided to make homemade pasta and turn it into Tortellini in broth. This was an opportunity to enjoy the nettles (ortica in Italian) and to supplement it with some Swiss chard (not enough nettles to do it alone) and almond milk ricotta. Here is the recipe. My photos below show the filling, which is then rolled into balls for the tortellini, followed by the pasta simmering in the pot, and finally served in a bowl. Barbara helped me a lot making the tortellini, or we would still be waiting for dinner now.
On the next block I found a small, neighborhood Italian restaurant that intrigued me, so I made a solo reservation for 7:00 PM. Much to my delight, the restaurant (Novità) turned out to be the style of the intimate French restaurants I knew and loved in the city during the 1960’s and 70’s. Family-owned, regular local customers, very good food and wine, visually delightful and warm, it was the perfect choice as the snow began to come down Tuesday night. And it was one block from my apartment — my feet would stay dry that night.
Dinner was first, a grilled wild mushroom salad (light touch on the olive oil) with baby spinach, followed by pasta with black truffles. I think I had a glass of Barbaresco, but honestly, I can not remember. Dessert is not on my list of things to eat, but a glass of Amaro was greatly welcomed.
Wednesday arrived, with the gathering snow, as promised, although it was mixed with freezing rain during the morning. That was enough for me to eat leftover guacamole and the smoothie I brought from home for breakfast, and I didn’t venture out until my stomach reminded me it was lunchtime. The weather was beginning to get ugly, so I went with the nearest known quantity, namely Maialino, a Danny Meyer restaurant immediately across the street from me. I had been there twice previously and was not impressed (almost all of his restaurant are outstanding), but I was ready for pasta and this was VERY close at hand.
Properly garbed with several layers underneath, I put on my baby Alpaca coat (light and very warm) and my Borsalino hat, opened my portable umbrella, and marched the 75 feet across the street to the restaurant. I ordered the Cacio e Pepe and a side dish of
Wednesday afternoon was dedicated to acquiring the right footwear, stopping briefly at the Union Square Greenmarket to buy microgreens from Two Guys from Woodbridge (CT), visiting another wine store (for a bottle of Cesanese), and planning my trek to Harlem. Jan and Jennifer have a lovely apartment in Harlem, made a delicious dinner with pasta and lentils, and several side dishes of wonderful vegetables, plus a variety of wines. They showed me the photos of the house being renovated in the Bronx, and then packed me up with more wine, olive oil, and warm wishes to send me back home. Fortunately, the snow stopped late that night, so the drive home on Thursday was easy, and it took only 4 1/2 hours with stops along the way.
As I began to depart from the city, I stopped at Eataly Vino for my errant case of wine. Lenny obligingly came out to the car and loaded it in the back. I asked if I could quote him on “Living on the edge…”, and he graciously agreed, adding that it was not his line, but rather borrowed from his father-in-law, so I thanked them both and drove off.
Last week I had the pleasure of giving the 20th consecutive Wine 101 session, a basic introduction to wine for the senior class of my undergraduate school on Long Island, NY. It was an intimate affair; there are only 23 students in the class, which includes 2 students who are visiting for the semester from the University of Southampton in England. We tasted 11 wines, with a wide variety of terroirs represented: France, Spain, Italy, California, Arizona, Portugal, Israel and New Zealand.
As planned, I drove into NYC to spend three days and two nights exploring food and wine, and visiting with friends, in the city where I grew up. This post is primarily about my New York visit, similar to other adventures I have made bi-annually during the past few years.
What made this trip different was the forecast for dramatic snowfall in the city (12-18″), which began late the first night and significantly affected plans and activities for the next day. My first stop after checking in to a perfect Airbnb apartment in an ideal location was a visit to Eataly Vino, a delightful Italian wine store adjacent to Eataly’s flagship location on 23rd Street. I had purchased a case of wine there in November, but unfortunately, all the bottles did not arrive in time before I had to leave the city on the last trip, so my case rested peacefully in the Riserva section for four months, waiting for me to reclaim it.
One of the great charms of this store is the manager, Lenny Rankin, a modest but insightful and knowledgeable philosopher-king of the kind one often discovers in New York. After discussing wines for awhile, our conversation turned to the weather and the dire predictions for Wednesday (the next day). For weeks I had planned to visit my friends Jan and Jen on Wednesday night for dinner. In fact, Jan is a wine importer and supplier to Lenny, which is how I found the store in the first place.
I was equivocating about whether or not to keep our date, since it involved a long trip up to Harlem, where they lived. To get there would be impossible by taxi or Uber at rush hour during a heavy snow. Only the subway offered a reasonable alternative, but I would have to walk through the snow and slush to get to the subways, and I had not brought any boots from home, so I had images of cold, wet feet all night.
Lenny encouraged me to go there anyway. When he smiled at me and said, “if you’re not living on the edge, you are taking too much space,” I cracked up. He had me then and there. So the next day I stopped at a sporting goods store, bought a pair of waterproof boots (I needed new ones anyway), and made the trip without incident the next night.
In the meanwhile I have some food and wine to tell you about, since that’s why I was there in the first place. Tuesday’s lunch was at abc cocina, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s upscale farm-fresh eatery which serves Latin American fusion food. It is only four blocks from my apartment, and since I had eaten at his vegetarian restaurant next door on my last trip, it was time to go Latin. It’s a beautiful place and the food is terrific. It was quite busy, but I got there just in time to get a table for one.
I was starved, so I started with an order of their spicy guacamole, which was incredibly delicious. The other dishes were the maitake mushrooms with goat cheese, and the charred octopus with smoked paprika crème fraiche — both excellent. For wine, I had a glass of cinsault/carignan from Chile, just right for the meal.
As always, I found Jean-Georges’ restaurant to be superb in every dimension.