March 2009

FARRO/EMMER

by admin on March 19, 2009

Emmer, an ancient hulled wheat, was one of the first cereals ever domesticated in the Fertile Crescent. Emmer grain, holds the characteristics of two wild wheats (including wild Einkorn) and is known to have been the primary wheat grown in Asia, Africa and Europe through the first 5000 years of recorded agriculture. It served as the standard daily ration of the Roman legions. But over the centuries, emmer was gradually abandoned in favor of hulless varieties of durum wheat. By the beginning of the 20th century, higher-yielding wheat strains had replaced emmer almost everywhere, except in parts of Europe and Ethiopia.

Emmer is known as farro or grano farro in Europe and is staging a comeback as a gourmet specialty as both a whole grain and flour. Semolina flour made from emmer is still used today for special soups and other dishes in Tuscany and Umbria, and farro is thought by some aficionados to make the best pastas and artesian breads. Emmer is a delicate long grain with an exceptional full bodied taste.

Emmer appeals to cooks hunting for new tastes and textures and nutrition. It provides a vital alternative to people who suffer from allergies to more common hybridized grains, and it supplies a different range of nutrients than other wheats, corn or rice. It ranges from 13-16% protein and digests quickly. It can be used independently as a whole grain in a pilaf, hot cereal, or the feature in a salad. It is custom milled or cracked to meet your baking and pasta needs.

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Zuppa di Farro — Farro Soup

by admin on March 19, 2009

Another popular soup of Tuscany…. To serve 4 you’ll need:

* 6-8 ounces farro
* 3/4 pound ripe plum tomatoes (or canned tomatoes), chopped and seeded
* 2-3 ounces pancetta
* Grated pecorino toscano cheese, or Parmigiano (romano will be too sharp)
* 2 cloves garlic
* 1 onion, finely sliced
* A small bunch parsley
* Some fresh basil
* A few sprigs thyme
* Epstein Napa Valley Extra Virgin Olive Oil
* Organic Grey Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
* 1 quart hot broth

Prepare the farro: Wash and pick out the impurities. Soak in water for 8 hours.

When the farro is ready, mince the pancetta and sauté it together with the thyme, onion, and garlic cloves…in the olive oil.

When this begins to brown, discard the garlic, and add the chopped tomatoes, parsley and basil. Cook for a few minutes and then stir in the hot broth.

Once this comes to a boil then add the farro. Cook over a low flame for 2 hours or until done…..taste it toward the end. Make sure you stir it often and check it throughout for the need for more seasoning. Let the zuppa sit for about an hour and serve it warm…..drizzle it with the Epstein Napa Valley Extra Virgin Olive Oil and then cover with the cheese.

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Farro with mozzarella di bufala

by admin on March 19, 2009

Prepare the farro: wash it well and pick out any impurities. Soak it in water for at least 8 hours.

Boil the farro in salted water for 15 – 20 minutes and drain.

Put the farro in a bowl and cover with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes

Drizzle with the Epstein Extra Virgin Olive Oil….add a splash of our 6 year old Balsamic Vinegar….and finish with a pinch of our Grey Sea Salt.

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I wasn’t planning on offering you this but I opened to a page in Jamie Oliver’s cookbook….”Jamie’s Italy”…and it came to his Farro recipe.  Okay…I held off for 2 1/2 months but just had to purchase his Italian cookbook….at first I wouldn’t allow myself to buy a cookbook from a chap from London…while I had all the resources of Italian cooking at my fingertips….but I was weak yesterday….and I love J Oliver….and the colors and pictures in the book were so captivating….and then the recipe….I caved in.  But….lucky you….it was because of this recipe that I’m going to introduce a product that until today was only available to our Club Members…..Organic Farro!

Ingredients

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Soak the farro in cold water for 20 minutes, then drain.  Slice the zucchini across into chunky half-moons and put them into a large roasting tray.  Add the remaining vegetables and the garlic cloves and toss together with a good dose of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Season well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Try to spread the vegetables into one layer, as they’ll roast better this way.  Roast in a preheated oven for 30 – 40 minutes, removing the trays and carefully shaking them now and then until the vegetables are cooked through and crisp around the edges.  Sprinkle a little vinegar over the vegetables as soon as they come out of the oven and set aside to cool.  When cool, tip on to a large chopping board, add the fresh herbs and chop finely.

Place the farro in a large saucepan, cover with fresh cold water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes, or until tender, and drain well.  Dress with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the lemon juice, season with sea salt and pepper, and toss with the roasted herby vegetables.  Scatter over the reserved fennel tops and serve.

Observations

Can’t wait to try this soon…sounds amazing!!

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Understanding Green

by admin on March 17, 2009

I haven’t stopped thinking about my visit to the country….and the people who I met. When I think back, I feel as if it were all a dream…people don’t really live like that anymore. But then I glance up and see the tin of extra virgin olive oil that they generously bestowed on me as I was leaving and realize….it was not a dream…it was real…..actually more real then any real I have known before…and that is why it feels like a dream.

I have to say my thoughts are not all pleasant….there is the beauty of the experience but there is also a nagging…you know when something just doesn’t feel right but you’re not quite sure why….that’s it…that’s the feeling that is shrouding the experience……at first I thought it might have been the pigeon as I still can’t look one in the eye…but then I quickly realized that it was more then that….much more then that….my thoughts kept bringing me back to green….sustainability.

We are a world that is yearning to be green….fighting for the survival of our planet. We are recycling…buying local…using solar…..downgrading our cars…..and buying very cool shopping bags to carry our groceries home. You hear individuals almost bragging about how green they are…..and businesses, including ours, let everyone know they are green…it’s everywhere…hey look at me….I’m green. And on this farm, in the Tuscan countryside, it was no where. There were no color coded recycling bins….no “green is the new black” stickers on the windows…and no assortment of groovy grocery bags hanging in the kitchen….no….none of that. There was no talk at the table of “sustainability” or “green” practices….there was just laughter….and love…and the best vin santo I have ever tasted.

And as I sat on the wrong train going home that day, I began to process it all….the pigs in the pens…and the pigs on the salt table…the chicken and pigeons feathered and hanging in the room off the kitchen…for tomorrow’s dinner…..the ten “tail ends” of the pig hanging in the other room off of the dining room….with names on each…as its divided among the neighbors…and the same with the salami….there was the huge clump of pig lard hanging to be used to moisturize hands, gloves and boots….ah…and of my favorite…the attic….where the wine was kept…with the vin santo…and the grappa….in old wooden barrels crusted over with dried juices dating back 63 years….and the drying mats for the figs….so beautifully made….and the jar of anice that is sprinkled on the figs when they dry….the figs were so sweet..like candy…yet soft enough to almost melt in your mouth….yes, I thought about all of this….and the eggs in the basket in the dining room….one with chicken eggs, one with turkey…and the cavolo nero….a green that grows wild in their fields…that they picked that day for our salad…and the milking cows….laying in the sun….yes, all of this went through my head on the wrong train home.

The wrong train?….oh crap…the wrong train!…as I came back to the scene outside my window, I realized that I was leaving the City that I loved so much….and…ah….that I lived in..oh man…I’m on the wrong train….I jumped off at the next stop, figuring a train would be going the other way…right?…ya just not for quite some time….and the station was desolate…I only hoped I had it right this time…

And so I sat….just me and my tin of olive oil…..with the sun beginning to fade and the air beginning to chill…and as I sat on the bench…completely alone…overlooking Florence and its countryside…..my thoughts ran right back to my new friends…

Isn’t it ironic that we cry for green yet we allow a life style that is truer to green then anything most of us will ever know, die out. Yes…die out. We are not allowing the most sustainable to be sustained. There is a myriad of reasons why their infrastructure is breaking down but the bottom line is that it becomes less and less feasible to live a sustainable lifestyle….even for people who have lived this way for generations. There is something so ironic about this….something so wrong. We should be celebrating these people…learning from them…and the past…..doing what we can to ensure their lifestyle will continue…so we can continue.

Honestly, I think we may be too busy shopping at whole foods…and our local farmers market…and looking cool with the latest green bag….to notice….and I am speaking to myself so please don’t get offended….but that day, in the Tuscan countryside, I noticed…and I cannot forget…no matter how many glasses of Chianti that I consume…I cannot forget…and I don’t want to forget…I want to grab hold of every piece of that farm, that existence, those people…and not let them go…it’s something carnal…as if I have awakened a part of me…that we all must have….that yearns for the simplicity of this existence….I want to go back…and sleep beneath the hanging prosciutto, in the room with the attic to the elixir of course…and wake up at sunrise…and well..I don’t know…whatever you do on a farm first thing…and work hard…with my hands..outside..and eat what grows around me…at a table filled with love and laughter…and ah..yes..vin santo!….and at the end of the day, feel the exhaustion and the satisfaction that comes with a physical days work….and curl up…back under the prosciutto for a peaceful nights rest.

I’m pretty tough…but not that tough. These people are amazing souls..and they deserve to be supported and sustained. And although I want to set up camp and live the life of these farmers…and find out everything there is to know about their way of life…and preserve it in some way…I also know that my reality is providing for my family…in the way that I know best….and taking from this a bit more knowledge….and understanding….to not try to be “green” but just try to live in harmony with the earth…using common sense….like they have since the beginning of time.

And as the right train pulls up to the station….I grab my tin of extra virgin olive oil, climb on board and sit quietly close to the door. I watch the City of Florence as it slowly comes back into view….while the last heat from the setting sun warms my face…I smile….it feels good to be home.

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ROOM 1 – real people.real food.real life.

by admin on March 12, 2009

I wanted to start with the room off the living room…where the preparation of prosciutto had begun….but I think we should start at the beginning…..which would be the confusion of the train station….a bit stale so  maybe we will just begin on the train where I sit across from two women….who happened to be from San Jose, CA….and our sharing of experiences…that all led to the exchange of the best food we had found….but we have talked enough about food…..so maybe the debarking from the train and the greeting from someone I had never met….who invited me to visit her home…and share in her experiences….as an American in Italy….but probably it’s best if we get right to it….

As we wound around the hillside with olive oil trees in every direction, my new friend began to tell me the story of her neighbors.  They were an older couple who had been married and lived in this home together for 53 years….the home had been in the family for 63 years….they are true farmers…living off the land.  They have olive trees for oil, grapes for wine, vin santo, grappa….cows for milk and probably cheese…chickens, roosters and turkeys….pigs..always pigs…..they are hunters…of rabbit…pigeon..boar to name a few…they visit the market in the neighboring town but for the most part….they are self sustained….not because they are joining the slow food movement….but because they have lived the slow food movement…and it’s what they know…and it’s who they are.  They are real people……they eat real food….and they live real life.

The road to their house is gravel…and winds gracefully through the hillside….  The sun is shining and you can see olive trees for miles…homes scattered throughout the countryside….animals grazing….and dogs…tormented by the cats…..soaking in the sun.  We wind around a few different homes before we pull into the cobblestone driveway of her neighbor’s house.  Outside is an elderly gentlemen sweeping the cobblestone…slowly and methodically…looking up only to see who had scattered dust onto his cobblestones.  As I get out of the car I am greeted by a very happy black lab of sorts….smiling and wagging his tail….I look over across the gravel road and see an old stone building…a small barn…with chickens and roosters headed both ways through the open door as if it was the local watering hole….I’m drawn to barns…have been ever since childhood…..I loved to hang out with my pony in her stall…..sometimes laying next to her when she slept….or hanging out in the bales of hay…chewing on alfalfa….and playing with the kittens….why is it that barns are always full of kittens?

As we were waiting on some other neighbors to show, I meandered over to the barn.  I wish I had the literary skills to describe this to you…..I have seen it many times back home…..it’s what everyone tries to recreate…the old tuscan barn….but this was different…it was real.  It had a little window above the door…and I noticed that it was cracked open about a half of foot….and it was rigged with string that came down and tied to the side of the stone barn….so you could adjust it from where you stood….I stared for while…thinking about how practical this was…and how we make things so complicated….with technology and money….and so many things can be so simple.

A sudden jolt from the dog awakens me from my thoughts.  I place his paws back on the ground and walk slowly into the barn….  Lowering my head as I pass through the door….the chickens and roosters gather around my legs…as if they were insisting on showing me their home…out of respect, I let them in first..in retrospect I do not even remember the purpose of the first room that I entered…for I was drawn immediately to the second….it was filled with hay…bales and bales…less in the front so I could take a seat…and breath in the smell of farm….and as I was breathing in I was soaking in the natural beauty of the hay against the stone walls….not a facade…but real stone….built by hand…stone by stone…none perfect…all perfect.  As I was envisioning curling up on the next level of hay with a good book I was awakened by the summoned by the sounds of Buongiornos….as I knew my time was up, I quickly glanced around…trying to memorize every stone and every bale of hay…took a deep breath and registered it with my senses and begged for retention….and then followed my feathered friends out the door.

Next blog…..the view of the countryside and the story of the countess.

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Real People…Real Food…Real Life.

March 12, 2009

We continue to have days filled with memorable experiences….too many to keep up with…but yesterday was a highlight…not only of our trip but I believe of my life.  I was invited to lunch in the countryside….long story…but the result was sitting in the home of a true Tuscan farming family…sharing a meal that was produced [...]

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The Feast of San Giuseppe

March 12, 2009

My favorite thing about living in Florence is there is no end to celebration…..this month it is the feast of San Giuseppe.  The festival celebrates the coming of spring and St. Joseph, the patron saint of the family and pastry cooks…..and the unofficial saint of fava beans. As we’ve learned, the Italians celebrations are always [...]

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Risotto agli asparagi (Risotto with asparagus)

March 12, 2009

I used some saffron that I bought from a local organic farm…I’m going to try to get enough for our next club shipment…was surprised to find it locally! Ingredients 2 lbs medium size asparagus Marjoram – 2 tablespoons 2 french shallots – peeled 1 lb of risotto rice 1 cup white wine 1 teaspoon saffron [...]

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Crostini con asparagi (Crostini with asparagus)

March 12, 2009

Ah..the sighs of spring…a little sunshine…crisp, fresh air…..and the first signs of violets….and…asparagus! Ingredients A bundle of asparagus – thin stemmed 4 eggs Milk Parmesan Cheese Country style bread Organic Grey Sea Salt St. Helena Olive Oil Co. Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil Instructions Rinse the asparagus well and trim away woody ends. Tie them [...]

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