Monday, December 08, 2008

Sicilian Sea Salt - A Gourmet Treat

According to Roman and Greek mythology, sea salt was historically known as "the union of the sun, sea, and the Sicilian land".

Vital and essential minerals from the sea, including iodine, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, are all preserved in this salt, allowing it to have a much lower percentage of sodium chloride, or "saltiness" than table salt. It has a delicate taste and wonderful and complex mineral flavor without being too concentrated.

Of all the sea salt available today, some of the most prized is from the Mediterranean Sea on the Northwest coast of Sicily in the Trapani region. Sicilian sea salt from Trapani is a highly sought-after and delicious condiment, full of both flavor and texture. This unrefined salt is unique for its taste and crunch.

The natural reserve saltpans in the Trapani region are renowned for their purity of salt. This all natural salt is hand harvested from the salt flats on the coast of the Mediterranean. The harvesting season for sea salt in Italy is between the months of June and September. The process uses salt pans that are filled with the seawater in the spring and left to evaporate by the heat of the Sicilian sun and strong African winds.

Harvesting takes place once the water has evaporated. The softball sized "salt rocks" are then crushed and ground without any further refining. The moist crystals and mineral-rich flavor make this sea salt ideal for both cooking and as a finishing touch. Its noticeable crunch makes it a perfect topping for grilled meats, salads, and tomatoes.

Enjoy the magnificent tastes and textures of authentic Sicilian sea salt from the beautiful shores of Trapani. It lends the delicate scent of the southern Mediterranean wind to every meal.

For a breath of the Mediterranean, try one or all of Vivande's outstanding House Packed Sicilian Sea Salts. Choose from Sea Salt with Fennel Pollen, Rosemary Flavored Sea Salt, Lavender Flavored Sea Salt, and Thyme Flavored Sea Salt. You can also select from one of our unflavored sea salts as well.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

The Turkey Alternative - Cornish Game Hens

With Thanksgiving and the winter holidays upon us, many of us turn our thoughts to family, friends, holiday festivities and food! Though a traditional holiday meal in many homes might include a turkey dinner with all the fixing’s, you may want to think about an alternative, especially if your holiday dinner does not include a houseful of guests.

Cornish game hens are as versatile as regular whole chickens, but give an elegant touch to your menus. They usually weigh from one to two pounds; however the standard is about 1-1/4 pounds. They are very meaty, and each hen can easily serve one or two people.

If you are serving a lot of courses or side dishes, you can probably plan one-half hen per person. They can be easily split before cooking, since the bones are not strong. Like a turkey, the giblets can also be used as standard poultry giblets in gravy.

Many markets carry fresh game hens ready to cook. Choose hens that look plump, and have unbroken, unblemished skin. Be sure to cook them within 24 hours or get them into a freezer.

When freezing fresh game hens, first remove the giblets, then wash and pat dry before wrapping in an airtight freezer bag. Make sure all the air is removed. You can keep properly-frozen game hens in the freezer at 0 degrees F. for six to nine months.

Markets that do not carry fresh game hens will usually carry frozen ones in the meat department, along with turkeys and wild game.

If you are using frozen game hens, be sure to sufficiently thaw them in the refrigerator before cooking. It’s very important to cook thawed hens as soon as possible. Never re-freeze previously-thawed uncooked hens.

Once cooked, game hens can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for up to one month.

For a wonderful Cornish Game Hen recipe, check out
Carlo’s Recipe of the Month “QUAGLIE IN UMIDO” on the Vivande web site.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Carlo Named One of the Best Chefs of the Year

"Northside San Francisco" magazine has named Carlo Middione one of their 2008 Chefs of the Year. As featured in the article, when Vivande opened in 1981, most Americans still thought that an Italian dinner meant only spaghetti and meatballs. Carlo has been credited for turning out traditional southern Italian dishes for over 25 years, using the freshest and highest quality ingredients available. Never giving into the fads, he just kept making food the way his Sicilian immigrant parents taught him. Somewhere along the way, what he was doing became a trend, and Vivande the success it is today. You can read about Carlo in the November 8th issue of the magazine.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fillmore Street Jazz Festival

Talk about crowds of happy people, the Fillmore Street Jazz Festival was a blend of colorful people, jazz performers, and over 8 blocks of fine art and crafts and gourmet food and beverages. On Saturday the stage just out side of Vivande came the knockout vocals of Kim Nalley. This isn’t only my opinion but I can tell you that most of the visitors to the festival were parked right out side of Vivande to get a look and a listen. It was packed, no getting in or out of the restaurant for four hours. Who cared, the music was great.

Strolling along the eight blocks of Fillmore we past from one sound to the next, up-and-coming jazz fusion and Latin-flavored acts to seasoned crooners belting out jazz standards. It was a beautiful day and all was right.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Frittata Di Menta - Mint Omelet

I had the pleasure to instruct the multitudes at the Fillmore Street Jazz Festival this year (more about later) on the fine points of making an omelet and it is my pleasure to share the recipe, Frittata Di Menta Mint Omelet with you.
Buon Appetito,

Frittata Di Menta
Mint Omelet

Makes 6 servings (1 – 9-inch pan)

§ 10-12 large mint leaves, medium-fine chopped
§ ½ Cup chopped Italian parsley, about a half-bunch, well washed
§ 6 AA large eggs
§ 2 or 3 Tablespoons bread crumbs (not seasoned)
§ 2/3 Cup grated pecorino cheese
§ About 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil – I use our house Vivande House Olive Oil for best taste

Combine all ingredients except the oil and whisk with a fork. Let rest for about 5 minutes to help combine the flavors.

Put the oil in the frying pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Gently pour in the mixture and lower the heat a little. When the bottom is set, about 2 minutes, pull back one edge of the frittata with a fork, and tilt the pan so that any uncooked runny eggs will slide onto the hot pan surface. Do this until the eggs are no longer runny, and the bottom of the frittata is golden. Check this by gently lifting an edge of the frittata with a spatula.

When the bottom is golden gently flip or turn the frittata over and gild the other side. Be sure it is fully cooked and not runny in the middle and the bottom has a nice golden color. You can place a dinner plate over the pan, and carefully turn the pan over so that the frittata falls onto the plate. Slide the frittata back into the pan, and let it cook for a little longer until the bottom is golden.

Gently slide it on to a warm serving plate, let cool a few minutes and then cut into wedges and serve. This frittata is also good at room temperature. So you can make it early in the day and serve it for lunch with a tasty salad of sliced tomatoes and red onions, or mixed greens.

It is also a very good snack, or cut into smaller pieces or wedges, it is a great hors d’oeuvres food, delicious with wine or cocktails, and some olives.

Pasta and Panini by Carlo Middione

Whew! I thought I would never finish writing and editing my books just published by Ten-Speed Press (July 1, 2008 but available now.) Pasta was edited to fit a new small book format. Panini (it could be a companion to Pasta) was written with the idea of taste foremost, and simplicity. Buy them from me and I will personalize them. My handwriting is terrible but I am sincere.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fettuccine Alfredo - What’s In a Name?

Somebody long before me said that; but I got to thinking about “Fettuccine Alfredo”. What it is it? Supposedly it was invented in the restaurant Alfredo alla Scrofa in the Via Alla Scrofa in Rome by the venerable Alfredo di Lelio himself. Actually, he simply amped up the amount of butter into the fettuccine and reportedly used very young parmesan cheese (in itself suspect because true Reggiano must be aged under consortium rules that go back 700 years, so how did he manage this?). Since butter was added before and after the pasta was tossed into a bowl and he add twice as much to begin with it became Fettuccine al Triplo Burro, Fettuccine with Triple Butter. The constant tossing of the butter, cheese and the fettuccine eventually make a sauce coated pasta to die for. And it goes without saying, the less you do to this ethereal dish, the better. The ingredients, though must be past the diamond test; brilliant, true, the best and the freshest, and it does not hurt to be a genius.

Nowadays, one finds basil in it; garlic (oh MY GOD), sea food, sun dried tomatoes. None of this will do. Some folks even make a thin béchamel so that the fettuccine can literally swim in what passes for “sauce”. All this is like painting Dali-like mustaches on the Mona Lisa in the name of “improving” it and making it more modern.

I make a killer version of the authentic vaunted dish and it is called, simply, fettuccine al burro. A medium dry red wine is all else you need and you can get a peek of heaven – a fork full at a time..


The Good Pear

Pear, pere, poire, any way you spell it, it is one of the major aristocrats of the fruit world. It is also versatile, lending great taste and texture to savory dishes as well as sweets.

Finding a “good” pear is another matter; I am famous (infamous is probably more descriptive) in fruit stands and supermarkets. I will only shop when I have time to be leisurely and inspect the pears without fear of harassment. The pile of rejects mounts quickly as I sort through very gingerly from the enormous pile of pears. My pile of “maybes”, is not quite so big, and the pile of “ahah! Maybe these are it!), is tiny. The produce folks that know me leave me alone. They also know that I respect the pears, not squeezing the top near the stem, not dropping them, and certainly they know I put them back in beautiful arrangements, sometimes better than how I found them.

When the perfect pears are finally plucked out of the bin, they are taken home and ripened until barely soft and juicy. I don’t eat pears that are not juicy (requiring a bath afterwards.) An example of how I serve pears when not simply from a bowl, dead ripe, accompanied by cheese and bread and stout red wine, follows. Enjoy them this season while “good” pears are possible to find.

Good Eating, Good Pears

Flott Tuna

The other day at Vivande Carlo was so busy he missed lunch. When he finally took a break he broke open a can of Flott Tuna. In a matter of minutes he created an amazing treat.

Carlo scooped cooked cannelloni beans into a bowl and added chopped red onion, chunks of peeled orange, and a couple dashes of lemon juice. He mixed in the Flott Tuna (with olive oil) and topped it off with Sicilian coarse ground salt and plenty of black pepper.

He quietly enjoyed his creation spread on fresh chunks of Italian bread and a glass of Sicilian white wine. Carlo was content.


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Vinegar and Oil Pairing

The vinegar and oil pairing that features Santa Chiara olive oil and Tiburtini white vinegar is enjoying an enthusiatic following. I have been using the pairings with a variety of summer salads.

While I am partial to the Vivande-brand balsamic vinegar, I have been substituting the Tiburtini white wine vinegar. The result is a bold, zesty flavour that punches up my salads. I have also enjoyed this pairing with slices of homegrown tomatoes garnished with red onion and plumpy capers.

The Tiburtini vinegar comes from Italian dessert grapes, delivering a light and fruity flavour. The Santa Chiara extra virgin olive oil is extremely light, used exclusively as a finishing oil. Drizzle this over fish, vegetables or light entrees.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Fast Trip to Sicily via My Kitchen Table:

I just made a batch of pure (poo-ray) di oliva; what some folks would call Tapenade. I put in some lavender leaves, black olives, anchovy and lots of extra virgin olive oil (Sicilian, of course), and made a paste of it with my 60 year old English chemist’s mortar and pestle. Spread on crostini this is as good as olives can get.
Good Eating