Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sipping From the Heel - Roasted Vegetables

Week 3 of the Puglia Online Culinary Tour: Roasted Vegetables Recipe


Possibly the easiest and most versatile Italian side dish, it's also very healthy. The only prep work is chopping veggies and preheating the oven. The best part about this dish for me is that it allows me to focus on cooking the main course. All I have to do is stir the veggies from time to time. As far as flavor goes, the caramelized onion and garlic really bring out the best in the other veggies.

Ingredients:

1 or 2 onions

Several cloves of garlic

Veggies, such as eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers, mushrooms. Use anything you think will taste good. (My favorite combination is onion, garlic, eggplant, red pepper, and mushroom.)

Rosemary QB

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt QB

Cook Time: 1 hour

Directions:

1. Chop all veggies and preheat oven to 450 degrees.


2. On a large cooking sheet, add garlic, salt, rosemary, and all veggies, except mushrooms. Rosemary pieces can be large, but the more broken up the better. Pour two turns of the pan of olive oil, then mix. Add more olive oil if needed.



3. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally (the less you stir, the crispier the vegetables will get. I’m a big fan of sweet, caramelized garlic, so I only once or twice).

4. Add mushrooms and cook 10-20 minutes more. Taste for salt, then serve as a side.


Next week we'll try one of Puglia's most quintessential antipasti: Polpettini di Carne aka Mini-Meatballs. Oh yeah baby: they're deep fried.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Taking Semi-Nude Girls to Redneck Bars for Vice Magazine

Pick up a (free) Vice magazine and check out the latest photo shoot. Went on a raging ride to and through the Twin Peaks Festival. We staged murders, took semi-nude gals to redneck bars, and more. The two Vice journalists I was riding with even got Employee of the Month awards (whatever that means). Here are scans from the mag, but you can pick up you very own Vice at, you know, cool stores.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sipping from the Heel - Southern Italian-Style Marinated Vegetables

Week 2 of the Puglia Online Culinary Tour: Southern Italian Marinated Vegetables Recipe


At a restaurant in Puglia, the antipasto della casa can include anywhere from 7 to 12 unique plates. These antipasti are always surprising (you never know what the chef will feel like sending out), and the first part of the Puglia Online Culinary Tour will focus on these appetizers.

This dish of marinated vegetables is one of my favorites because it's flavorful, easy to prepare, and easy to adapt if you want to make enough to eat for a week. Marinated vegetables can be eaten plain or added to sandwiches.

Ingredients:

2 lbs veggies (zucchini, squash, or eggplant)

1.5 c vinegar

3 cups water

olive oil

1/2 head garlic

oregano

salt


Directions:

1. Slice veggies about a quarter inch thick, then sweat weighted down for 2 hours. Chop all garlic and put in the container you will use to store the marinated veggies (I use Tupperware).




2. After 2 hours, bring water and vinegar to a boil in a large pot.




3. Boil veggies (as many as will fit in the pot) for 4 minutes. Do this for several rounds, placing the par-boiled veggies in a colander as you go.

(OPTIONAL) For grill marks, boil veggies for only 2 minutes then grill on a stove top grill for 2 minutes, turning once.



4. Place veggies in a colander and press for another 4-24 hours.




Get the container that you're going to store the veggies in. Layer the vegetables, adding the garlic, oregano, and salt as you go - QB. Pour a hefty amount of olive oil, vegetable oil, or a mixture of the two so that the veggies are almost covered. Let marinate for 24 hours, then feast.


Next Tuesday, we'll take on the tried and true side dish, Roasted Vegetables. If you begin with good quality produce, a more simple and delicious dish is hard to imagine.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sipping from the Heel - Homemade Limoncello Recipe

This is the first edition of the Puglia Online Culinary Tour, and we're going to make homemade limoncello. It ages two months, and if we get it started now, we'll be able to drink it around the same time that we're mastering Puglia's pastries and doughs.


I'm not sure about the origin of limoncello (I do know Danny DeVito has his own brand now) but the Amalfi Coast is the best place to drink it because of the extraordinary quality of the lemons there. I've spent many hours sitting on the cliffs sampling the local wares. In Puglia, homemade limoncello is commonly served after a big meal. You can make any kind of "cello" you want, including orange, cherry, and spiced cellos. Here's a recipe for the basic limoncello.


Ingredients:

1 750ml bottle of Everclear
8 medium-sized lemons (get the best you can)
1.9 cups of sugar
750ml of water

Directions:

1. Get a large jar that will fit two liters or more. Peel the lemons using a regular ol' lemon peeler. Try not to get much of the white stuff, i.e. pith, because it makes the limoncello bitter. (If you want to be resourceful, squeeze the lemons and make lemon juice. Freeze it or keep it in the fridge for other uses.)

2. Put lemon peels into your jar. Add sugar, booze, and water, and stir rigorously. Not all of the sugar will dissolve. Continue to stir once a day or so for a week. Store jar in a dark place.

3. The Tweeking Process: After 30 days, taste your limoncello. Sometimes it is too bitter or too alcoholic or it needs more lemon. To fix this, just add more lemon, water or sugar, but don't go overboard: The only way to make it less watery or less sugary is to go out and buy more Everclear. Test your limoncello again after 10 days, and if it tastes the way you want it, take out the lemon peels. Store for another 30 days, then put it into bottles, put the bottles into the freezer, and drink when chilled.

Note on Everclear: Everclear has an alcohol proof of 200%. It is the closest thing we have to "plain" alcohol, which is a common product on Italian grocery store shelves (usually right next to the soft drinks), because it is flavorless. Ask your local liquor store clerk for further help.

Note on Saving Money: This recipe makes just over 2 bottles of limoncello and the total cost of ingredients should be around $18. One bottle of limoncello typically costs $35 at a store. You do the math.





Tuesday, September 6, 2011

24 Tips for Cooking in Authentic Italian Style (19-24)

These are the last round of Italian cooking tips before we dive into Southern Italian cooking! I'm hoping that this Online Culinary Tour of Puglia will share the region's unique combination of cooking styles. Puglia was conquered by the Greeks, the Romans, the Turks, the French, the Spanish, and even African Sultans: That's one exciting culinary history! So be prepared, this Friday we'll make Homemade limoncello.

Tip 19 - Roast Bell Peppers
Roasted pepper adds umph to any dish and it's simple to prepare. I don't even rub olive oil on the outside. If you have a gas stove you can rose it right over the burner without a pan. If not, simply put a red, yellow, or orange bell pepper in a toaster over. Put it on toast. Turn the pepper when one side has blackened. You're finished when it almost looks like a chunk of coal (no worries about burning this one). Take the pepper out, let it cool, then watch how easily the charred parts come off when you scrape them with a fork (see below). What's left over is perfectly roasted bell pepper.



Tip 20 - Don't Burn the Garlic
Burned garlic can make an entire sauce or pasta dish taste bitter, whereas perfectly sauteed garlic is divine.
Also, don't confuse caramelizing garlic, which is delicious, with burning garlic.

Tip 21 - Blanch
Blanching is simply a method of removing the skin from vegetables (usually tomatoes or peppers) or nuts (usually almonds), and it regularly appears in Italian recipes. It's so simple and so useful that it's worth learning by heart. To blanch tomatoes: 1. Boil a pot of water 2. Take the tomatoes, cut off the tops (the part with the stem that you would usually discard) and cut one slit in the side 3. Boil for 15 seconds - 1 minute 4. Prepare a large bowl with ice water 5. Drain tomatoes, plunge into ice water, let cool, then watch how easily the tomato skin just falls off. This will turn your tomato sauce from chunky to smooth.


Tip 22 - "A Turn of the Pan of Olive Oil"

This is a simple way of measuring olive oil without measuring spoons. If a recipe says 3 turns of the pan of olive oil, you simply pour olive oil around the pan 3 times.



Tip 23 - Make Italian Breadcrumbs

These are breadcrumbs with a little added kick. Put breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Dice some garlic as small as possible and combine. Add oregano, salt, and pepper qb. Evenly spread the mixture on a baking pan, then lightly toast in a toaster oven or in the stove.


Tip 24 - Share What You Know

Whether its recipes, feedback on recipes, tips, additions, subtractions, or time-saving techniques, we all want to hear it. We can't gather in the piazza, but we can get together for dinner.


We'll make Homemade Limoncello next Tuesday!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rally!

I entered a travel-writing contest and I need Facebook “Likes” to win. I know everyone’s busy, but it only takes a second to Like, and it would really help my travel-writing career.

How to Vote:

1. Like Gear Up and Play's Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/gearupandplay

2. Then like my article, Hanging Out with the Mafia, here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.241281519242816.50482.132448243459478&amp%3Btype=1". It's the first article, with the picture of two mafiosi (he he). Thank you!

I'm currently in the lead. Let's keep it that way.

Friday, September 2, 2011

24 Tips for Cooking in Authentic Italian Style (13-18)

Having the right ingredients on hand makes all the difference. These first tips will focus on the basic Italian cooking ingredients that I always keep stocked. Afterward, we'll get into basic Italian cooking techniques.

Tip 13 - Stock Herbs and Spices
I buy my herbs and spices in bulk from WinCo, which is a discount store. I have every herb and spice you can imagine and they are never more than six months old. For Italian food, make sure you have oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, dried hot peppers, cinnamon, and nutmeg at all times. This is your arsenal. Now, you can season anything at a moment's notice.


Tip 14 - Stock Flour, Sugar, Salt
The bigger the tubs the better. If you're buying flour in 5 pound bags, you won't be making pasta, focaccia, stuffed focaccia, or pizza.

Tip 15 - Stock Cooking Wine, Red and White
I used Almaden Mountain Burgundy and Chardonnay. They stay good for months.

Tip 16 - Stock Vinegars
Stock red wine, balsamic, and white vinegars. High quality balsamic vinegar is only necessary for finishing certain dishes. Most Italian recipes call for basic balsamic vinegar.


Tip 17 - Sweat Vegetables
Sweating is a time-consuming process but it's really easy, and once you learn it it takes almost not time at all. The process takes the moisture out of the vegetables so that they can absorb more flavors while cooking. It also removes some bitterness. To sweat, get a colander and put it over a pot or bowl. You will put your vegetables into this colander and let their moisture drain into the pot or bowl (click on photos for visual help). First, slice your vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, or similar vegetable), then add them to the colander one layer at a time, salting each layer as you go. Next, put something heavy on them. And that's it. Let them drain for a while; 2 hours is ideal. This secret cooking technique is the trick for making excellent eggplant lasagna, marinated vegetables, eggplant involtini, and many other dishes.




Tip 18 - Pasta Water
Ever wonder how Italians make their sauces saucy? It's pasta water! Whenever you drain your pasta, keep a cup or two of the water. Pasta water is used to make spaghetti carbonara, cream sauce, orecchiette with broccoli rabe, and many other dishes,


Italian Cooking Tips 19-24 are coming up on Tuesday. Have a freakin' good weekend.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Puglia Wine Review, September 1, 2011

In this month of The Puglia Wine Review, I’ll focus on wines that feature two native grapes rarely grown outside of Puglia: Negroamaro and Nero di Troia. Negroamaro is the most planted grape in Puglia, and many winemakers believe that it is the grape that best expresses the region’s terroir (I almost wrote unique terroir; that’d be rather redundant, wouldn’t it?). Many writers screw up the meaning of the word Negroamaro. They think that the roots are negro and amaro, and say that Negroamaro means "black, bitter." However, the languages used in Puglia are rooted in both Latin and Greek, and the roots of the word Negroamaro are more likely negro, a Latin root, and maru, a Greek root that also means black. Negroamaro is the blackest of the black grape. Hear the perspective from local winemakers here.

As always, I purchased these wines at local wine shops in Portland, OR.


Tormaresca's 2008 "Neprica" (40% Negroamaro, 30% Primitivo, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Rating: 7
Price: $9.79
Where to Buy: Fred Meyer
Short Review: Good wine for under $10


This interesting mix of grapes creates a dark wine that can be drunk with food or on its own. Let it breathe for 45 minutes. The nose has cooked blueberries/blackberries and vanilla ice cream, but it's not sweet. The mouth matches the nose, a little ice cream and dark fruit. Full bodied, with a medium finish, it was nicely juicy and silky. The finish was a little tart at first, but the longer I let the wine breathe the more it went away. This is an everyday wine to have with a nice pasta dish. The tannins will stand up to acidic dishes.


Antica Enotria's 2007 Nero di Troia IGT
Rating: 8.5
Price: $15.99
Where to Buy: Liner & Elsen
Short Review: Austere! Bourgeois! Awesome!


The Nero di Troia grape is very unique, and I can always expect 100% Nero di Troia wine to have serious structure. Accordingly, this wine should not be drunk on its own, but should be paired with food. I paired mine with a New York Steak over the grill. Surprisingly, this is an Old World style wine coming from a region known for making New World style wines. This wine needs to breathe at least one hour. The nose was cigar box, tobacco, and a little barnyard. It reminded me of a particular bike ride I took through the Pugliese countryside between San Donaci and Brindisi. Kristin and I passed many abandoned masserie (aka fortified farmhouses or mansions), and there were many long-tailed sheep and tractors. The air was crisp... In the mouth, the wine was very dry, silky, and smooth, with leather, choke cherry, and lots of pepper. It had a long finish.


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