Tag Archives: Pasta

recipe goodness :: ardith mae fennel & goat ragout

Ardith Mae Goat Ragout

Ardith Mae Goat Ragout

Like goat cheese? Then you should keep reading. For some reason goat meat is not a commonly consumed fork and knife option on American dinner plates — but we sure do love goat cheese. But you can’t enjoy the goat cheese without the goat, and in order to have a thriving goat dairy you need both females and males. And since males can’t produce milk, they are virtually useless after they’ve done their job creating a family — so where does all that goat meat go? Never really thought about it much did you? I’m pretty sure it’s not at your local grocery store.

You may be surprised to learn that goat is the most widely consumed meat in the world. The flavor of goat is delicate and grassy, and in my option, almost sweet. So when Shereen, the fabulous farmer behind Ardith Mae Goat Cheeseoffered to send me home with a few packages of sweet and spicy ground goat, I jumped at the chance to try something that had previously never entered my freezer.

Armed with fresh fennel, carrots, onion and celery from the farmer’s market, I decided to chuck it all in a pot, simmer it with some diced tomatoes and create a goat ragout. The result was outstanding. OUTSTANDING. Scooped on top of some fresh pasta and topped off with a dollop of — what else — fresh goat chevre, this dish was made with no prior knowledge of what in the world to do with goat and is now a crowd favorite with the few lucky ducks who joined the table. I challenge you to explore the world of goat meat — it is truly an underappreciated wonder in our American diet. If you want to read more about the No Goat Left Behind initiative watch a great video HERE.

Chop, Saute, Simmer

Chop, Saute, Simmer, Scoop

Ardith Mae Fennel & Goat Ragout

1lb ground goat meat
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk chopped
1 bulb fennel, chopped — frawns reserved
6 cremini mushrooms, chopped
2-3 TBS olive oil
2 28oz cans diced San Marzano Tomatoes
1 TBS tomato paste.
1 can water
Salt and pepper to taste

1-2 lbs pasta of choice to serve 6-12
1 package fresh goat’s milk chevre {I love Ardith Mae in NY}

  1. Wash and chop all vegetables. Set aside. Chop 1-2 Tablespoons of fennel frawns and save for serving.
  2. Crumble and lightly brown goat meat in a large le creuset or sauce pan. Remove meat from pot and set aside.
  3. Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and all the chopped vegetables — cook until tender and caramelized. Add tomato paste and stir pot thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add both cans of tomatoes and one can of water. Bring to a simmer and add meat back to the pot.
  5. Simmer 1-2 hours until sauce has thickened. Taste and add additional salt and pepper, as desired.
  6. Scoop on top of pasta with several dollops of fresh chevre and fennel frawns sprinkled across top. Extra sauce freezes really well for a midweek meal.

Other Meaty Goodness:
Bison, a Better Burger Worth Biting Into
Braised Grass-Fed Beef Brisket and Polenta
Irish Steak & Guinness Puff Pastry Pie

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under @home {recipes to love}

recipe goodness :: grilled zucchini & summer squash pesto “pasta”

Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash Pesto Pasta

Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash Pesto Pasta

Summer is a time of agricultural abundance. A stroll through the weekend farmers’ markets is like a rainbow connection — ruby tomatoes, sunshine orange nectarines, golden summer squash, enviously green zucchini, deep purple eggplant. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to take your booty home and make a stellar meal. I’m a proponent of grilling just about anything {I’ve even been known to grill berries} — a little olive oil, salt and pepper is all you need and you can focus on the complexities of your wine paring, not your meal planning.

However, after making a large batch of basil-walnut pesto, I fell compelled to use that precious pairing before it went bad. A likely partner: pasta. But with the mercury rising to high 90s for much of July, a heavy meal was the last thing that appealed to my cravings. Enter zucchini & squash “pasta.” A few swipes of across my mandolin created thin, long strips that mimicked a tagliatelle noodle. Grilling only required enough time to make the squash tender and add some flame flavor. Once done, everything was tossed with the bright herby pesto, a handful of pine nuts for texture and we had ourselves a bowlful of fork twisting goodness.

Grilled Zucchini and Summer Squash

Grilled Zucchini and Summer Squash

Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash Pesto Pasta

1 zucchini per person
1 summer squash per person
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
~1 tablespoon pesto per person
~1 tablespoon pine nuts per person

Pesto {makes ~1 cup}:
1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried
1-2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup walnuts or pine nuts {pine nuts are expensive, so walnuts are a nice sub}
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

  1. In a food processor add all the ingredients for the pesto and whiz until blended. Taste and add more garlic, nuts or olive oil to your liking and desired consistency.
  2. Pour pesto into an air tight container and cover with a thin layer of olive oil to protect from the air. Cover and store in the fridge or freezer if not immediately using.
  3. Remove the stem from the squash and zucchini and slice thinly lengthwise using a mandolin or sharp knife. Lay on a large baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Grill 1-2 minutes on each side until slightly tender and shows grill marks.
  5. Toss in a bowl with pesto and top with pine nuts.

Grilled Goodness:
Gourmet Grilled White Truffle Corn
Grilled Thyme-Cumin Vegetable Kabobs

Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken
Some Like it HOT Pollo alla Diavola
Bison, a Better Burger Worth Biting Into

1 Comment

Filed under @home {recipes to love}

This Week’s food52 Wildcard Winner: Grandma DiLaura’s Ricotta Gnocchi

Grandma's Ricotta Gnocchi

Photo: Sarah Shatz

My Grandma’s Ricotta Gnocchi just won this week’s food52 wildcard prize for the best ricotta recipe. If you haven’t made it yet, it’s time to buy some fresh, creamy ricotta and give this recipe a whirl.

Homemade Gnocchi: Channeling My Italian Grandmother with Food52

Pair that with a lovely homemade loaf of bread {it’s easy, I swear!}

Breadmaking 101: How to Make Bakery Quality Bread @Home

Looking for other inspiring home-cooked meals? There are endless amazing recipes to choose from on food52. If you’re feeling really adventurous you can whip up your best recipe with horseradish this week and see if you might just take home a prize and some bragging rights. I feel an evening of killer bloody marys coming on…

4 Comments

Filed under 8.ate@eight, @home {recipes to love}, Do This!

Homemade Gnocchi: Channeling My Italian Grandmother with Food52

Some of my first memories of food involve going to my Grandma’s house on Sundays for a meal with all the cousins. Sometimes it was a roast, sometimes she was cooking the handmade pasta that she dried on a rack in the basement, but on my favorite Sundays, Grandma was making her Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi.

She originally made this recipe with potatoes, which make for a heavier, denser gnocchi. In fact, we used to call them belly bombs {although I think that had more to do with the fact that she gave us very generous second and third helpings}. Eventually Grandma realized it was so much easier to make gnocchi with fresh ricotta cheese and these potato pillows and our bellies were lighter for it.

I credit my love and respect for hand-prepared food to these memories. I believe strongly that a good meal is a great meal when shared with friends and family — it’s why I started my blog and supper club in the first place. So when Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs asked me to film a recipe in the food52 kitchen, I knew Grandma’s Ricotta Gnocchi was the recipe to share. I hope you enjoy the simplicity of this traditional meal. Go on, channel your inner Italian Grandmother, and give it a try — I’d love to hear your stories, so leave me a comment if you do. Buon Appetito!

Grandma's Ricotta Gnocchi

Grandma DiLaura’s Ricotta Gnocchi

Serves 4 | Prep Time: 10-15 minutes

1 lb fresh ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated, plus extra for serving
grated fresh nutmeg to taste
2 cups of flour, sifted, plus extra for rolling dough

  1. Add egg to ricotta cheese and oil and mix thoroughly.
  2. Add grated parmesan cheese to mixture and sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg to taste.
  3. Add sifted flour a little at a time and continue to mix thoroughly.
  4. Dump onto generously floured surface and work with hands to bring together into a smooth ball. Keep adding flour until dough no longer sticks to your hands as you gently knead it.
  5. Cut off slices of dough like cutting a loaf of bread and roll into ropes thumb size thick by spreading hands and fingers and rolling from center out to each edge of the rope.
  6. Line one rope parallel to another and cut 2 at a time into 1-inch pieces.
  7. Roll each gnocchi off the back of a fork to make imprints to help hold the sauce.
  8. Put gnocchi pieces on a lightly floured or non-stick baking sheet so they don’t stick together and put tray in the freezer while making the rest of batch.
  9. If not cooking immediately, let gnocchi freeze completely on baking sheet before transferring to ziplock bags or containers and keep in freezer until ready to make.
  10. When ready to prepare, bring large stockpot of generously salted water to a boil.
  11. Add gnocchi and gently stir once with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot. As gnocchi rise to the top {a sign they are done cooking} scoop them out with a mesh strainer or a bamboo wire skimmer and immediately place in serving bowl shaking off excess water.
  12. Continuously scoop some sauce on top of each layer of gnocchi as they are placed in the bowl to eliminate the need to stir them with sauce in the end and risk damaging or smashing the pasta.Generously grate parmesan over the top and serve.

TIP: Gnocchi can be made ahead and completely frozen until dropped into water for cooking. Great for pulling a meal out mid-week without having to worry about defrosting. I always double this recipe when I make it and save some for later!

Grandma DiLaura’s Tomato and Meat Sauce

12-14 servings | 2-3 hours

1 28oz can tomato sauce
3 12oz cans of tomato paste
8 cups of water {fill each can used}
1 lb. of browned ground beef
2 teaspoons dried basil
salt & pepper taste
1 medium size yellow onion, peeled
1 teaspoon of baking soda

  1. In a large pot add the tomato sauce and paste. Fill each can used with water and add to the sauce with basil and salt & pepper and stir.
  2. Brown the ground beef, drain off the fat and set aside.
  3. Bring the pot to a boil on medium-high heat and then turn down to a slow simmer {caution: if you let the sauce boil too long it will burn}. Cook 2-3 hours until thick, stirring occasionally.
  4. After 1 hour, add browned ground beef and whole peeled onion.
  5. In last hour of cooking add 1 teaspoon baking soda to eliminate some acidity and stir.
  6. When ready to serve remove whole onion and cut in half or quarters to serve.

TIP: Sauce freezes well in small containers to pull out for mid-week dinner.

My Mom, Aunt Marilyn and Grandma DiLaura Making Gnocchi {Love the 70s!)

Read More About 8.ate@eight’s Supper Club:
Boozy Robert Burns Night w/ The Tippling Bros. & Highland Park Scotch
A+ 8.ate@eight Back to School Nite
8.ate@eight Went Whole Hog and Hog Wild @ the Big Southern BBQ
Who Cut the Cheese Didn’t Stink!
Silencing of the Spring Lambs was Lambtastic!

15 Comments

Filed under 8.ate@eight, @home {recipes to love}

8.ate@eight is Filming with Food52 Today

After working with food52 co-founders, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs on whipping up lots of mean excel spreadsheets, we decided it was time to direct some of that energy to the kitchen — a place we all love to work.

For those of you who don’t know food52, the company grew out of the insight that some of the best recipes come from home cooks. Each week they host a contest focused on one ingredient, allowing talented home cooks to show their stuff. The food52 team then vets the recipes and presents the best selections for the community to vote on, choosing a winner that will be published in an annual cookbook. How brilliant is that!

So this week they’ve asked me to come by their kitchen and film a video about my favorite food: My Grandma DiLaura’s homemade gnocchi. Stay tuned for more photos, videos and the secret family recipe! In the meantime, think about adding your own favorite recipe to this week’s contest, with the potential to be published in a cookbook and win a whole slew of prizes from Williams-Sonoma, Viking, OXO and TinyPrints. And you thought Christmas was in December.

Your Best Recipe with Citrus & Olives – BOOK 2 — WEEK 24

SUBMIT BEFORE 12am ET 02/11/11

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Winter citrus is at its finest, and most welcome, right about now. And when you add salty, briny olives — well, that’s practically a dance party. For this contest, pair them in any way you like, just make sure that both co-starring ingredients shine through mightily.

6 Comments

Filed under 8.ate@eight, @home {recipes to love}

Home for the Holidays, Having Italian to Write Home About @Bucci

Bucci

There are a handful of places I love to visit when I go home to Grosse Pointe to visit my parents — one of them is Bucci, an unexpectedly good Italian bistro worthy of a New York City corner, but nestled between a barber shop and a physical therapy storefront in suburban Michigan.

Bucci, the childhood nickname of Chef and owner, Bujar Mamuslari, was established in 1999 and has been packing seats with its open kitchen concept ever since. The extensive Italian menu was inspired by Bujar’s travels throughout Italy during a summer culinary school internship. Hitching a ride from town to town, Bujar was welcomed into the kitchens (and generations of nonna’s family secrets) in homes spanning the knickers to the heal of Italy’s boot.

Sitting at Bucci’s kitchen bar this evening, we had a front row seat to witness how all those countryside learnings inspired Bujar’s own stateside venture. There was so much going on at once, it was hard to keep track of it all. As our waitress chatted with us, she uncorked our wine and shouted out our calamari order to the chef, who with a nod, relayed to the line cook to toss the squid and peppers onto a sizzling pan, all while throwing the makings of, what I counted to be, 30 take-out orders into pots and pans for expedited boiling and saucing. Down the line, the third cook was expertly lining up each of the take-out containers, filling, stacking and double checking each order before moving them aside for pick-up. All of this was over in a matter of minutes and the three behind the counter were back on point, preparing dishes for the dining room. Easy entertainment while we sipped our wine and tore at our fresh Italian bread.

Back in suburbia, entrees still come with a soup or salad (why doesn’t anyone do this in NYC?) It’s not just a small, wilted pile of mixed greens drenched in house dressing. No, at Bucci you can have any salad off the menu as a side to your entree. I went for the spinach salad with crumbled blue cheese, walnuts and dried cherries, all tossed in a lovely bright lemon dressing.

For my entree, the Veal Pizzaiola topped with fresh tomatoes, herbs, olives capers and parmigiana reggiano was calling my name. The meal itself, was a thing of beauty, but what added to the artful presentation of Italian flavors was a crafty little plate painting drawn using oils and vinegar in the shape of a flower.

Veal Pizzaiola

Generally with Christmas around the corner I would have saved room and passed on dessert, but there was mention of a homemade hazelnut semi-freddo, enrobed in a warm chocolate sauce — one order, 3 spoons please! Just as no dish before it, the dessert did not disappoint.

Hazelnut Semi-freddo

 

The Skim: Next time you find yourself in the Detroit area and looking for a hearty meal reminiscent of a trip to Italy, pay a visit to Bucci. Everything from the fresh, warm bread to anything on the actual menu will have you thinking your Italian grandmother is in the kitchen. And whether you’re chatting with Bucci, his wife or any of the friendly staff you will feel as though you have been welcomed into someone’s house for a home-cooked meal.

Map: 20217 Mack Avenue, Grosse Pointe Woods, MI
Reservations: Taken!
Phone: 313.882.1044

More From the Motor City:
Best Breakfast: The Chocolate Gallery Cafe
Detroit’s Slows Bar-B-Q is Quickly Becoming a Motor City Beacon
Going Back to the Old Country @ New Yasmeen Bakery

2 Comments

Filed under Eat Here!, Travel Bite

Do This!: Eataly is Big Box Batali

 

Eataly Grocery: Jams, Honeys, Coffee, Chocolate...and More!

We may not have a Wal-Mart or SuperTarget in NYC, but we do have Eataly, a new take on Molto Mario that brings both imported and locally sourced artisanal Italian products to Manhattanites {and the droves of tourists lined up around the corner} in a very big way. Housed inside the old Toy Building, Eataly is grocery marketplace, coffee bar, food court, culinary classroom and a headache all under one roof. Don’t get me wrong, I love Eataly and everything it’s about, but if you thought making your way through the aisles of Fairway was bad, then prepare yourself for patience-testing as you navigate through awe-struck photogs, non-english speaking patrons and hour-long waiting periods for a table. I’ve been to Eataly twice since it opened and the best advice I can share: plan to cook Eataly-bought ingredients at home, or be willing to eat during the early bird special. I did both, so here’s the experience relived.

Walk in and bypass the Lavazza coffee bar, which will inevitably have a long line because it is right by the front door. Not far past that long line you will discover another very slick walk-up coffee bar with a large and shiny imported coffee machine that not only looks cool, but makes a mean cup of Giuseppe.

Walk Up Coffee Bar

What goes better with un cafe than beautifully decadent desserts?

Italian Pastries and Sweets

Puglian Style Mozzarella!

But after you’ve sampled a taste of Italy, make your way to my favorite part of the store, the salumi and formaggi section. Here, the best of Italian food craft is married with locally-sourced ingredients, to bring you fresh cuts of meat and cheeses, including handmade mozzarella, literally made before your very eyes. If you chat with Sal for a bit, he might even share some warm mozz right from the pot!

Sal, Your New Cheese Friend

Grab some fresh produce, which I thought all looked very nice and was reasonably priced. If you’re not one who wields a knife with ease, then pay a visit to the brilliant vegetable butcher, who will wash, clean and prep your veg in any way you would like. Why oh why has no one done this before?!?

Eataly's Fresh Produce

Vegetable Butcher -- Your Other New Friend

As if this isn’t impressive enough, as you walk deeper into the brightly lit concrete walls of this Italian megastore, you soon stumble upon another brilliant display of fresh pasta — cut, twirled and presented in a myriad of ways to make cooking fresh pasta at home, not only easy, but exciting. And if you want to really go over the top with your squid ink tagliatelle, then you can also buy white truffles at $3,400 / lb, or the more affordable black truffle for $420 / lb {what a steal!}

Eataly Fresh Pasta Counter

Want to stock up on some dried pasta for those cold winter nights? Eataly has at least 6 rows of pasta in various shapes and sizes.

Pasta di gragnano

Of course if you’re willing to wait, or eat lunch at 11:30 like we did, I highly recommend snagging a seat at one of the ristorantes to taste what all this Italian Artisanal goodness is really about. We opted for the pizza-pasta section, because it was hard not too after all the amazing s’ghetti we walked by. The meal did not disappoint. Neapolitan style pizza, simple spaghetti al pomodoro and the best dish of all, fusilli al ragu with a blend of veal, pork and beef bolognese. DE-LISH.

Wood Burning Pizza Ovens

Spaghetti al Pomodoro

Fusilli al Ragu

The Skim: Patience is a necessity when making an Eataly excursion, but you will be rewarded in every bite — whether you stop for a quick coffee fix, to stock up on the makings of your own homemade feast or successfully snag a seat for an in-store bite. Grocery must: At $3.80 for a ball of fresh mozzarella, it’s not only creamy goodness, but a steal! Menu must: Fusilli al Ragu is molto molto buono!

Map: 200 Fifth Ave {@5th Ave}

The Real Deal Italiano:
Del Posto Presents Murray’s Cheese & Salumi Wine Party @NYCWFF
The Art of Eating {and Drinking} Well @ L’Artusi
Aria Sings a Harmonious West Village Wine Bar
Travel Bite: Puglia on a Plate

3 Comments

Filed under Do This!, Eat Here!

The Art of Eating {and Drinking} Well @ L’Artusi

La Scienza in Cucina e L’Arte di Mangiar Bene (The Science of cookery and the Art of Eating Well) is an iconic cookbook found in nearly every Italian household and is also known by the shorter name of its author, L’Artusi. I don’t know if it’s more fitting to say the NYC restaurant L’Artusi lives up to that iconic name or to say they are creating their own modern version of the Art of Eating Well through the complex, yet traditional Italian flavors that grace each plate. Either way, it was my selected destination of choice to celebrate Puglia Wine Week, and yes, we ate and drank very very well.

L’Artusi, the sister restaurant of dell’anima, partnered with Apulian wine producer Agricole Vallone to feature several of the best wines from this region and complement each pour with dishes inspired by Apulian cuisine. Agricole Vallone produces wines from three different estates located in Brindisi and Salentino, both found in the most southern region of Puglia known as Salento {the stiletto tip of the boot for those of you less familiar with Italian geography}. The region is known for its breathtaking views of the Adriatic and producing the Negroamaro grape using a traditional Pugliese tree technique. Sounds like a place I need to visit, but for now I’ll settle for an enjoyable evening of local pairings while sporting my own heels.

L'Artusi

To start, we ordered the housemade ricotta with sea salt and lemon, served with a side of raisin-mustard seed marmalade jam and homemade buttermilk crackers, as well as the scallop crudo, sliced thinly and served simply with lemon and olive oil. Our server paired this with the Vigna Flaminio Brindisi Rosato doc 2009. The creaminess of the ricotta and surprisingly light buttermilk crackers were outstanding on their own, but also worked perfectly with the deep pink rosé that exhibited sweet floral and cherry aromas.

L'Artusi Housemade Fresh Ricotta with Sea Salt, Lemon and Homemade Buttermilk Crackers

One of the reasons I love L’Artusi {and dell’anima} so much is because of their small plate, sharing approach to the menu. It’s a great way to sample new flavors and also solves the menu indecision problem that I’m often faced with {just bring a few friends and start ordering!}. The next two plates that followed were unanimously agreed around the table to be two of the best dishes of the evening. The beef carpacio with horseradish crema and rye crisps was so simple, but the crunchiness of the crispy bits and the mustardy kick of the horseradish added a unique depth. The roasted mushrooms with pancetta, fried egg and ricotta salata was my personal favorite — it was sharp, creamy and earthy and had a subtle kick from the pickled chili that was an unexpected, but welcomed surprise. Both dishes went extremely well with the Vereto Salice Salentino Riserva Rosso doc 2006, a 90% Negroamaro red with hints of pepper and chocolate.

L'Artusi Beef Carpacio with Horseradish Crema and Rye Crisps

L'Artusi Roasted Mushrooms with Pancetta, Fried Egg and Ricotta Salata

To finish off the evening we ordered two pasta dishes, but the highlight was an off-the-menu item that arrived from the kitchen and was an incredible celebration of the fall season. Butternut squash ravioli — not an uncommon menu item, but add marscapone cheese, a brown butter sauce and fresh grated parmesan and you have a perfect little package of flavors that would make any taste bud happy.

L'Artusi Special Butternut Squash with Marscapone and Ricotta

“I want to sleep in a pillow of whatever is in that ravioli”
— overheard @ L’Artusi

To pair, we closed out the meal with two reds tasted side-by-side, the Vigna Flaminio Brindisi Riserva doc 2006 and the Graticciaia Salento Rosso igt 2005. Both ruby red in color, the Graticciaia was made in an amarone-style, with 30% dry grapes and 70% fresh, which resulted in a dryer finish but opened up nicely over time and held up to the heavier pasta plates.

Agricole Vallone Wines

Table with a View - L'Artusi's Open Kitchen

The Skim: Uno) Eat at L’Artusi. With a menu featuring an artful list of crudo, veggie, pasta, fish, meat, cheeses and desserts, you won’t have a hard time eating well or creating a satisfying shared table evening. Due) Drink Apulian vino. Next time you’re looking through a wine list and perplexed by the plentiful picks, opt for a Negroamaro, Bombino Biano or Primitivo, three varietals common of the region. And for those of you who care, Puglia is the second largest producer {after Sicily} or organic wines, an indication of the important role agriculture plays in this unique Italian region. Buon Appetito and Salute!

Map: 228 west 10th {btw Hudson & Bleecker}
Reservations: Taken!
Phone: 212-255-5757


8.ate@eight Favor8
Seal of Approval

Mangia, Mangia!

The Art of Brunching Well @ L’Artusi
Travel Bite: Puglia on a Plate
Do This!: First Ever Puglia Wine Week
Bistro Don Giovanni: Napa-Sourced & Italian-Inspired
Bocca di Bacco: I say PotaTO, You say PoTATo

3 Comments

Filed under Eat Here!, NYC Best, {Drink Me}

Travel Bite: Puglia on a Plate

In honor of Puglia Wine Week and to bring you a special edition from the hills of Italy, I asked my brother to contribute a guest blog recapping the honeymoon highlights from Puglia. So much to say and eat, so grab a glass of vino and enjoy!

Guest Grubber: Brian D.
When we were choosing our honeymoon destination it was pretty daunting to know that we could go anywhere in the world we wanted and that we were about to escape for three weeks of uninterrupted freedom.  Since both of us are gainfully employed by companies we do not own, it was pretty clear to us that this opportunity doesn’t come around all that often.  Because of that, the paradox of choice kicked in in a big way and we struggled to narrow it down to a short list.  We made our way through all of the continents and ultimately came to the conclusion that we wanted to go somewhere with good weather, great food and to a place that neither of us had been before.

After checking the September weather patterns of almost every place on earth, our final decision was to travel to southern Italy and make our way by car from Puglia, through Calabria and into Sicily.  Interestingly, we went into the trip thinking that it was going to be all about Sicily, but now that we are home it is clear that the star of the three weeks was our time in PugliaPuglia, for those that don’t know, is the region of Italy in the “heel of the boot”.

Puglia, or Apulia, is an interesting place.  It is more agricultural, than industrial, and it is definitely a much less popular tourist destination than some of the bigger cities like Rome and Florence or areas like the Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast.  The accommodations in the area are based largely on the concept of Agritourism, where people stay at farmhouses, or “Masserias”, that were fortified back in the days when the landowners had to deal with foreign intruders and have since been converted into very comfortable bed & breakfasts.  The place we stayed was called Masseria Torre Coccaro, a 39 room country estate halfway between the airports of Bari and Brindisi and surrounded by acres of olive groves and vegetable gardens.

Masseria Torre Coccaro

We stayed at Coccaro for 7 nights and used it as our base to explore the region.  In hindsight, we couldn’t have chosen a better place and, unfortunately for our waistlines, we were able to sample some of the best food we have ever tasted.  Here are the highlight bites:

The restaurant at Torre Coccaro

Fresh Seafood from Savelletri

Set in stables from the 1600’s, the restaurant offered up some of the best food on our trip. First off, their breakfast put the rest of the hotels we stayed at to shame.  As for the rest of the meals, they collaborated with local farmers and bordering Masserias to source the best meats and cheeses.  They had a network of people that help them find wild products like porcini and cardoncelli mushrooms, asparagus, snails, myrtle and berries.  The nearby fishing village of Savelletri brought them fish daily, including freshly-caught scampi, shrimp, tuna, snapper, and local spiny lobsters. To top that off, almost all the fruits and vegetables served are produced on the estate.

Cooking School at Torre Coccaro
This wasn’t something we planned to do, but when we arrived at the property and learned that there was a school on site we couldn’t pass it up.  We had a ton of fun with chef Donato, learning how to make typical Apulian dishes including fresh bread, 6 or 7 different types of pasta, a simple pizza with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and capers, a fried version of a calzone called “Panzerotto” that is unique to the region, sautéed “sweet olives” that were picked that day and unlike anything I have ever had, an eggplant terrine and baked fish (Orata) with fresh vegetables.  Luckily we weren’t forced to eat everything we made, but we were able to sample most of them.  Needless to say, we didn’t have dinner that night!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Local Puglia “Mozzarella Farm”
Another treat that was offered up on arrival was a visit to the farm just down the road that raised cows and made fresh mozzarella and burrata cheese daily.  For those that don’t know, “burrata” means buttered in Italian and is usually made from mozzarella and cream.  The outer shell is solid mozzarella and the inside usually contains both mozzarella and cream.  That said, this farm also made another version of burrata filled with fresh ricotta, which was new to me and even better than the classic version…who knew it was possible.  Believe it or not, we spent 45 minutes with 3 workers that spoke about 3 words of English, collectively.  It could have had something to do with the free samples they kept pushing on us, but we just couldn’t tear ourselves away.

Hand Pulling Mozzarella

Masseria Il Frantorio
Another masseria, Il Frantorio, just down the road and on the way to the town of Ostuni, gave us one of the culinary highlights of the trip.  They served up a seven course meal that was both creative and delicious.  So much so that we didn’t realize that the entire meal was almost entirely vegetables (sourced from their garden on the property of course, BUT vegetables nonetheless!)  It wasn’t until the last main course, when a filet of local swordfish was served, that we looked at each other and said “wow, I didn’t even notice”.  The highlight of the meal was a pair of fried carciofi (artichokes) drizzled with reduced sweet wine alongside lampascioni fritti (hyacinth bulbs) with orange honey.  Pretty simple, but super delicious when paired with a glass of late harvest Primitivo di Manduria.

Fried Carciofi at Il Frantorio

Al Fornello di Ricci
In the town of Ceglie Messapica lies a restaurant called Al Fornello di Ricci that Mario Batali called the best in Puglia.

“The place is perfect! If you are within 200 miles of this place and choose not to eat here, you are mistaken” Mario Batali

Needless to say, we are suckers for marketing, or at least Batali hype, so we had to check it out.  The meal did not disappoint.  Across the board, the dishes were simple, but the flavor of each was intense.  We knew we were in the right place when the tasting menu kicked off with a selection of eight different antipasti, ranging from simple beet chips to fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta.  After that we had two pasta courses, a main of locally-raised lamb, and dessert — each course paired with a different wine and included in the fixed price.  Delicious. The only downside was the 45 minute drive back to Coccaro after the meal…as you might expect, driving on Italian country roads while in a food coma isn’t usually a recipe for success.

Fava Bean Crostini and Fried Zucchini Blossoms

I could probably keep going, as there are tons of other great meals and experiences that I left out, but it’s really just more of the same goodness.  So as the Italians say, “Basta!!!” or “enough”.

Overall the trip to Puglia far exceeded our expectations and the fact that it never felt touristy and overrun just made it that much more special.  We came home with the feeling that we had somehow outsmarted the rest of the tourists in Italy, standing in line at the Uffizi in Florence or craning their necks to take in the tower in Pisa.  We couldn’t be happier with our decision to spend a week there and in some ways wish it was longer.  Our only fear now is that we don’t get back before the rest of the world figures out what a great region it is!

Non Basta?
Do This!: First Ever Puglia Wine Week
Bistro Don Giovanni: Napa-Sourced & Italian-Inspired
Bocca di Bacco: I say PotaTO, You say PoTATo

2 Comments

Filed under Do This!, Eat Here!, Travel Bite