Sunday, February 21, 2010

Let There Be Light!!

It is certainly nice at this time of the year when the sun starts rising early enough, and starts setting late enough, to let there be light both on my walk down the hill in Sausalito to the ferry in the morning, and on the walk home again at the end of the day. Here are a couple of shots taken earlier this week on the ferry ride home to Sausalito from San Francisco.

Continue Reading »

An Evening with Some Queens of the Cheese World

On Saturday evening, still a bit full from our Calabrian cooking class the night before, Alex, Cass and I made our way back to the Cheese School of San Francisco for a tasting program held in conjunction with the 8th Annual Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference. The Conference was being hosted by Sheana Davis of The Epicurean Connection, with whom we have taken a number of classes at the Cheese School. In addition, Sheana is the producer of Délice de la Vallée, a wonderful blend of cow and goat milk.

We arrived just before the 6:00PM starting time which was wise since the room filled up quickly.

After grabbing some glasses of wine – Highway 12 blends were being poured, together with some beers – and saying hello to Sheana and the Cheese School gang, we got in line and began to make our way through the gauntlet of temptations.

There was quite a lineup of producers and importers represented at the tables lined up around the room, including:

~ Carr Valley (Wisconsin)
~ Cypress Grove Chevre (Arcata, CA)
~ Délice de la Vallée (Petaluma, CA)
~ Daphne Zepos (New York -- importer of Comté from the Jura Mountains in France)
~ Harley Farms (Pescadero, CA)
~ Landaff Creamery (Vermont – aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill)
~ Roth Käse (Wisconsin)
~ Upland’s Cheese (Wisconsin)
~ Von Trapp Farmstead (Vermont – aged at Jasper Hill Cellars)
~ Widmer’s Cheese Cellars (Wisconsin)
~ Zingerman’s Creamery (Michigan)

Alex, Cass and I were most excited to have the chance to meet Dee Harley of Harley Farms and Daphne Zepos since we love Harley Farms and their Monet cheese, and the Comté that Daphne imports is probably our #1 favorite cheese – especially when served with a glass of Rivesaltes Ambré from Domaine Fontanel, a fabulous combination introduced to us by Janet Fletcher at a class at the Cheese School a couple of years ago.

Here are the cheeses we enjoyed (apologies to Sheana, but somehow I did not get a picture of the Délice de la Vallée station). Of the aged cheeses my favorite remains Daphne's Comté, although the Carr Valley selections were also particularly good.

l drought coming up over the next few weeks – we will not be back until our “Springtime Cheeses, Loire Valley Wines” class on April 23.

Continue Reading »

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tasting Calabria with Rosetta Costantino

A couple of years ago while surfing the net I came across an article – “Calabria from Scratch” – by Janet Fletcher that had appeared a few years earlier in the San Francisco Chronicle in September 2004. We had taken some classes from Janet at the Cheese School of San Francisco and I have always been a fan of her style in her regular articles in the Chron’s “The Cheese Course”. I always enjoy knowing where things come from and Janet has a wonderful knack of explaining about food products in their geographical and historic context.

Janet’s article told the story of a woman living in the East Bay named Rosetta Costantino who had come to the Bay Area with her parents, Vincenzo and Maria Dito, from the southern Italian region of Calabria when she was a teenager. The article went on to describe the massive quantity of typical Calabrian vegetables the Ditos managed to grow in their modest back yard and some of the Calabrian dishes made by Rosetta and her mother.

The article concluded with some wonderful Calabrian recipes and a mention of a couple of cooking classes Rosetta was going to be giving in Emeryville.

After I read the article I Googled Rosetta’s name and found that she had a website - Cooking with Rosetta. There I learned that those initial cooking classes mentioned in Janet's article had been very successful and had, over the intervening years, given rise to regular classes focusing on dishes from Calabria and elsewhere in Southern Italy (Rosetta’s husband, Lino, is from Palermo on Sicilia so she has some direct experience with Sicilian cuisine as well). Unfortunately the classes seemed to sell out almost as soon as they came on line.

At the end of last year I decided that the only way to have a chance to take one of Rosetta’s classes was to plan well in advance, so when I saw a few months ago that she has posted a new class entitled “A Taste of Calabria” that was going to be held last Friday night, I immediately signed up together with Alex and Cassie.

Calabria is the Italian region that is furthest south on the Italian peninsula – it is the toe of the Italian boot, just across the Straits of Messina from Sicilia (I have marked on the following map the approximate location of the town of Verbicaro from which the Dito family came).

One of the primary characteristics of Calabrian cuisine that sets it apart from that of other Italian regions – even those which border it – is that it is SPICY – a result of liberal use of the Italian chili pepper – pepperoncino – which is celebrated throughout the region.

My friend Antonio, who comes from Salerno not far north of Calabria in Campania, tells the story of a Calabrian girlfriend he had who used to invite him home for meals which he often found too spicy to eat.

I had not known much about Calabria until recently when I became interested in the Calabrian salumi called ‘nduja, a specialty of the town of Spilinga in the province of Vibo Valentia, which hosts an annual festival to celebrate the salume. Rosetta has a very good post on her blog that describes ‘nduja. The version now offered at Barbacco in San Francisco has become a favorite of ours, although we brought some along to the class and Rosetta advised that while it was quite good, it was not the same as the Calabrian original.

So on Friday evening, Alex, Cass and I met in the city and drove over to Emeryville where Rosetta gives her classes at the Paulding & Company facilities. When we arrived we found that not only was Rosetta there, but also her mother, Maria Dito, her husband, Lino, and their son, Adrian. So it was very much a family affair.

Here was our line up for our class:

Bruschetta con Fagioli and Rapini (Bruschetta with Beans and Broccoli Rabe)

This was a fairly easy dish to make. Both this dish and the separate Broccoli Rape Strascinati served with the sausage as a main course used the same Broccoli Rape preparation.

Gnocchi di Patate con Sugo di Pomodoro (Potato Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce)

For this dish we rolled gnocchi using ridged, wooden gnocchi paddles. I am afraid our gnocchi were not very uniform and neither Rosetta nor Maria was very impressed. Still, they certainly tasted good! Of course, the really critical work is the preparation of the dough, and we were not entrusted with that task.

Salsiccia Calabrese Arrostita (Grilled Homemade Calabrian sausage)

Rosetta had ground the pork for this dish in advance and all that we needed to do was add the spices, clean the hog casings and stuff them with the ground pork, before tying them up and putting them in the oven to cook (the kitchen did not have a grill). Rosetta has a very good description of this on her blog.

Broccoli Rape Strascinati (Broccoli Rabe sautéed in olive oil with garlic)

As noted, this was the same preparation that was used for the bruschette. Very easy to make and very tasty. For the preparation at class we blanched the Broccoli Rabe in boiling water to remove some of the bitterness, although I personally prefer to have it slightly bitter.

Torta di Noci con Crema di Nocino (Flourless Walnut Cake with Nocino liqueur sauce)

This was a very good light dessert. I had never heard of Nocino liqueur before (it is made from green walnuts, and hence can only be made in the Spring) but found a couple of recipes for it on line – see here and here. It seems to be a particular specialty of Modena in Emilia-Romagna, although there is now even a version - Nocino della Cristina - being produced in Napa.

Rosetta is also coming out at the end of this year with a cookbook entitled “My Calabria” which, just to show how things come full circle, she wrote with Janet Fletcher, who had encouraged her to start her cooking classes in the first place. The cover is below (peppers – what else!).

The photography in the book was done by a Bay Area photographer named Sara Remington who does beautiful work. Sara also has a blog with a post with photos from a trip she made to Calabria last year with Rosetta (check out the color of the 'nduja at the bottom of the below photo!).

It was a wonderful class and Alex, Cass and I had a great time.

If you note that Maria appears in many of the above photos it is because I have never seen anyone work so hard. She was all over the room during the class helping everyone and doing most of the hard work - both preparation and cleaning up. It was a pleasure (as well as being a life saver!) to have her there.

Rosetta may be taking some time off from her classes towards the end of the year for promotion of her cookbook, but we certainly look forward to taking another class from her in the future. Incidentally, we also learned at the class that one of Vincenzo Dito's secrets to creating the virtual forest of San Marzano tomatoes you can see in the photo at the start of this article is -- goat manure. We will have to keep this in mind on our next visit to Harley Farms!

Continue Reading »

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Meaty Return to Cavallo Point

Andrew and Connie were up to visit from Santa Monica for Superbowl Weekend and we took advantage of them being here to stop by Cavallo Point on Saturday afternoon for a class at their cooking school led by Kelsey Kerr entitled “Local Artisan Chacuterie and Salumi Tasting.”
Upon entering the highly aromatic classroom, we found that Kelsey and her colleague, Rosalyn England, had arranged an amazing spread for us.

We were each presented with a plate with samples of thirteen products from four of the Bay Area’s premier producers of artisan salumi:

~ Boccalone (BOC),
~ Café Rouge (CR),
~ Fatted Calf (FC), and
~ Fra’Mani (FRAM).

The lineup consisted of:

1. CR – Chicken Liver Mousse,
2. CR – Rabbit Pâté
3. FC - Terrine de Volaille
4. CR – Mortadella
5. BOC – Lardo
6. FRAM – Salametto
7. BOC – Capocollo
8. BOC - Orange & Wild Fennel Salame
9. FC – Chorizo
10. BOC – ‘Nduja
11. FC – Liverwurst
12. CR – Smoked Beef Tongue
13. CR – Beef Jerky

For the Boccalone, Fatted Calf and Fra’Mani products, here is a further description from their respective websites:

Terrine de Volaille: a robust terrine of game hen, squab, pastured chicken, pork and duck with walnuts and sherry. Made from organic pastured chicken, Liberty duck, Wolfe Ranch squab, organic game hen, organic cream, breadcrumbs, walnuts, organic herbs, sherry, sea salt, curing salt and spices.

Lardo: This is the cured back fat, traditionally from winter pigs. It is seasoned with rosemary and juniper. It is great served on a warm crostino, or with fresh fruit that has both acidity and sweetness, such as nectarines or figs.

Salametto: Small, coarse ground, garlic scented. Rich color, full flavor.

Capocollo: Also known as hot coppa, it is made from the neck meat of the pig, cured with aromatic spices, which develop and intensify as the meat ages to produce a great heat with a strong pork flavor. Capocollo is traditionally found in the regions of Campania, Emilio Romagna, and Umbria.

Orange & Wild Fennel Salame: A coarsely ground salame with a delicate balance of orange zest and wild fennel. This recipe is loosely based on the traditional finocchiona, which originated in the Tuscan town of Prato.

Chorizo (Spanish): Earthy, crumbly, paprika-laden dry sausage made with naturally raised pork, organic garlic, spices, sea salt and curing salt

‘Nduja: This soft, spreadable, spicy, salame originated in Calabria. Nduja's flavor profile reflects Southern Italy's African/Moorish heritage. A blend of chilis balances a smoky spiciness with an element of bitter orange, warm spice, and the palate-clearing tanginess lent by a vigorous fermentation. Perfect on grilled bread, in a sandwich, or on pizza or pasta.

Liverwurst: Traditional liverwurst made from pork and pork liver, creamy and spreadable

Kelsey started off with a brief presentation on curing techniques.

We then dug into the offering which was accompanied by bread, pickles, vegetables, Castelvetrano olives and an excellent Brancaia Chianti Classico that went perfectly with the meats.

Since that was obviously not enough for us, Kelsey and Rosalyn capped off the event by passing around some of the highly addictive chicharrones from Ryan Farr at 4505 Meats.

We enjoyed the class a great deal. My top three favorites were the Rabbit Pâté, the Salametto and the Smoked Beef Tongue

Although the day had started off with rain, by the time we got out of the class the skies had cleared and it had turned into a very nice afternoon, so we wandered down to the Ft. Baker harbor to take in the view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate.

We are looking forward to a return to Cavallo Point in the near future.
Continue Reading »