Tuesday, April 29, 2008

SANTA CHIARA, Costa dei Rosmarini, Liguria Olive Oil

Our best selling olive oil and this is the reason why!

Santa Chiara is a light, but very tasty olive oil, beautiful color and great balance of sweetness (freshness, nuttiness, and with a smooth feel in the mouth. Santa Chiara does not "coat" the mouth as some oil can do. Typically, many quality extra virgin olive oils have a slightly bitter, and somewhat biting, even fiery hot taste (if very fresh.) This is a desired and expectable taste.

For those who like a delicate yet flavorful oil, Santa Chiara is excellent on steamed vegetables, on salads, and a favorite way to serve it is on grilled fish, with a few drops of lemon juice on it and finally, a generous drizzle of Santa Chiara extra virgin olive oil.


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Monday, April 28, 2008

Traditional Polenta in the Paiolo

Even in a contemporary world, traditions are important.
And many home chefs conjure up memories of their heritage by preparing traditional dishes using long and time honoured methods. This holds true whether you are making a pie from scratch or a minestrone soup.

Today I bring you Carlo Middione's traditional polenta.

Poletna Sulla Tavola
8 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
2 cupts polenta (real Italian polenta, no substitutions! Try what we use "Farina di Granoturco Bramata")

Bring the water in the paiolo (an unlined copper pot) to a brisk boil and add the salt. In a fine but steady stream, drizzle in the dry polenta with one hand and stir with the other hand using a long wooden polenta spoon. Stir continuously in a clockwise motion, and lower the heat slightly if the water boils too high.

When the polenta is in the water, lower the heat to a gentle simmer and let your mind wander a bit! "Be sure you don't have anything important to do for 30 minutes," Carlo asserts. "Just stand there a stir the whole time!"

When stirring polenta, Carlo likes to daydream about his Sicilian heritage. He imagines his grandmother teaching him to stir in a clockwise motion to preserve the texture of the grain. He learns an important lesson: Lumpy polenta is impossible to fix!

The polenta is done when it pulls away from the sides of the pan. Be sure it is not undercooked or it will impart a bitter flavour. Dump the entire panful onto a clean unfinished wooden table or a smooth wooden board -- oak and birch are good candidates -- at least 18 inches square. You can let the polenta cool for later frying and making a crouton. Or you can add favourite toppings or ingredients used by your grandparents.

Carlo sometimes adds meat juices or tomatao sauces with grated cheeses and serves the polenta right from the wooden board. "In Abruzzi, the villagers gather around the board and eat the whole thing community style," Carlo says.

In Italy, everybody has a polenta recipe. Some families like to stir in grated mozzarella, fontina or parmesan while cooking polenta, cheeses that are a perfect compliment for robust meals like meat. In coastal areas, you often find plain polenta because it goes well with fish and lighter fare. Still other locations prefer a hearty polenta using milk or a broth of veal, chicken or beef.

With polenta, the options are virtually limitless and I will pass on a few more of Carlo's favourite polenta ideas.

In the meantime, be sure you have a sturdy polenta spoon. Carlo offers a hand carved, signature polenta spoon through vivande.com. You can also find wooden polenta spoons in many quality retail outlets. Carlo also reminds me to use only authentic Italian polenta and avoid common corn meal found in most markets.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Easy Polenta Recipe

Carlo gave me this recipe for Easy Polenta and I think you will see why it is one of my favourites.

4 cups of water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
1 cup polenta (try Farina di Granoturco Bramata)

4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In the top part of your double boiler, bring four cups of water to a boil over direct heat. Meanwhile, fill the bottom boiler with water and bring to a simmer.

Use a whisk to swirl the top-boiler water. Pour the polenta slow and steady and continue to stir for about 5 or 6 minutes until the polenta begins to thicken.

When the polenta starts to thicken, put a lid on the top boiler and put it over the bottom part of the double boiler. The water in the bottom pan should be boiling.

Cook for about 90 minutes, stirring occasionally and tasting for doneness. The polenta is done when it is smooth, not grainy or bitter. Add salt, pepper, cheese and stir.

At this point, polenta is easy to hold. You can keep it on a very low flame for several hours this way. Serve it hot, or pour it on a sheet pan and cut it into shapes when it has cooled.

I like polenta both hot and cold. So when I prepare this dish I always have a hot portion on the day I make it and put the left overs in the refrigerator for easy side dishes the next few days.

If you decide to try the traditional Italian method of cooking polenta, you need a Polenta Spoon and be prepared for continuous stirring.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Pasta Calorie Counting

I was leaving Vivande Porta Via heading to Yoshi's on Fillmore the other day, when I overheard Carlo talking about preparing pasta.

This reminds me again of the major differences between Italian pasta and American pasta. One can make you heavy and fat, the other fulfilled and full of energy.

In Italy, pasta is central to the sauce. The Italian "sauce" is a favourite vegetable from the garden, or fresh shellfish, maybe a light dose of a delicate olive oil as a finish and a drop of wine with fresh herbs.

In America, the pasta dishes usually take their name from the sauce, too often a rich concoction that overpowers the pasta. It results in less attention on the pasta itself.

So let's stay focused on the pasta and cook it al dente so the energy is released gradually. Nutritionists have measured hundreds of calories difference between the same pasta prepared and eaten in Italy as opposed to the U.S.

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Choosing Olive Oils Is Not Always Easy

Most of the world's premium chefs are well versed in how to choose and use olive oils. That's why you will often see several different bottles next to the savvy chef. Carlo Middione is no different. He usually has three to five oils within his immediate reach.

Carlo chooses an oil that matches perfectly with the dish he is preparing. For example, many Tuscan olive oils are strong. These Tuscan oils hold up well when preparing dishes that require longer cooking times. Olive oil from Puglia is often associated with a bitter taste. Both match well with specific dishes.

Santa Chiara extra virgin olive oil originates in Liguria, where olives are mild and delicate. This makes Santa Chiara Costa Dei Rosmarini one of the most delicate oils available. Carlo uses this product for finishing certain dishes, such as salads, fish, grilled meat, and pasta sauces served at Vivande Porta Via.

Santa Chiara can be difficult to find for retail purchase, but Vivande currently has a good supply. Carlo and Lisa recommend that home chefs give this product a try.

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Spain is the Source of World's Largest Olive Harvest

Ever wonder how so much olive oil can come out of Italy? Some of the most famous -- and expensive -- Italian brands blend oils from other countries, especially Spain where most of the world's olives are harvested. Hazelnut oil is also commonly used as a blend.

Throughout Europe, the oils are clearly stated on the bottle. And because the U.S. does not require such strict labeling, many brands produce two product lines: one for Europe and one for outside Europe.

One of the purest and most difficult-to-find is a Santa Chiara Extra Virgin Olive Oil called "Costa dei Rosmarini" produced in Northern Italy's Liguria region. Santa Chiara is delicate, light and fruity with a slight peppery after taste that many chefs, like Carlo Middione, prefer as a finishing oil.

Santa Chiara distributes just one line of Costa dei Rosmarini, so the same bottle purchased in Italy can be purchased in the U.S. If you can find it! Vivande.com is well stocked with Costa dei Rosmarini and you can buy it today.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Polenta: Delicious Alternative to Pasta

If you are looking for an alternative to pasta, try preparing some polenta. Polenta is course Italian corn meal and is often served with cheeses and sauces. Carlo likes to prepare one of his favourite polenta dishes with a ring of sausages.

Polenta is not fancy and it is not complicated. It is economical and a good source of fiber. The flavour is subtle and it can be made with your favourite seasonings.

Traditionally, Italian polenta must be stirred -- always in the same direction to maintain perfect texture and prevent lumps -- throughout the boiling process. But Carlo says a double boiler can relieve the need for constant stirring, but the double-boiler cooking process requires about 3 to 4 hours of cooking over a low flame.

Polenta finishes in a dense form, allowing the cook to mold or shape the final presentation. Some cooks like to allow polenta to firm up on a shallow flat pan and use a cookie cutter for an entertaining presentation topped with a pesto or tomato sauce.

Polenta is highly versatile. Once made it keeps for days in the refrigerator. It can be served at room temperature or reheated.

Watching Those Pasta Carbs & Calories

Carlo recently wrote about pasta in a recent blog. He noted that the Italians eat much more pasta on average than Americans. Yet somehow the Italians aren't as chubby as Americans. There's great news here if you are watching your diet.

The secret -- as Carlo pointed out -- is not to overcook your pasta! Pasta should be chewy. It simply tastes better when cooked "al dente." But there are health benefits to eating al dente pasta, especially for the millions of Americans who are susceptible to Type II diabetes or trying to lose weight. Al dente pasta releases its energy gradually because the starches are broken down naturally over a longer period of time. Inversely, when pasta is overcooked, the starches quickly turn into simple sugars. This is not good for those watching their carbohydrates or trying to curb their appetites.

Overcooked pasta is like eating a Snickers Bar. It's satisfying, but the satisfaction quickly wears off after the "carb rush," and sure enough you are soon hungry again.

The good news is that pasta can be part of every diet. Prepare pasta "al dente" and you have less concern about both carbs and calories.

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