Monday, 29 December 2008

Natale/ Noël in Milan/ Paris

Notes, lists & impressions
I am writing these notes on the Paris train to Milan, sitting comfortably in my seat while the scenery outside the window is rapidly changing from French to Swiss, than to an Italian landscape. Arriving in Paris was not as easy as leaving her and surviving the night train proved to be quite a challenge, but than the sun came up, night was over, and I was in Paris, much like a ten hour food poisoning.
Milan was cold. Though by Paris measures, it was a heat wave. I was on a mission, and finding a coat was it. I had made my mind up, and I was not leaving until mission completed. I think I tried all the coats in Milan. That’s plenty. And it took a good few hours.
This is when obsessive characteristics and a high pain threshold prove an advantage.
Clearly not for everyone.
I have a new coat.
Freebies part I- Milan
Its almost Natale.
I am in Milan.
This can only mean one thing.
During a stroll along the Piazza Duomo a poster catches my eye. An exhibition celebrating a new logo ensuring high quality Panettone.
Coincidently, I am in the right place at the right time.
Bite size Panettone are baked by an artisan baker and hot beverages are prepared to accompany these small bundle of delight.
I have replaced butter glazed pasta, creamy risotto and pork, with freshly baked baguettes, fluffy croissants (filled with almond paste and chocolate, than sat on by a French artisan baker) and Foie Gras.
Left unattended I had, on several occasions, constructed an eating experience with pastry as the foundation, sugar as the core structure and ice cream (or more pastry in some cases…) for that sweet taste rounding it all up to create a unified expression of joy & happiness.
Luckily, there are sweet potatoes and cucumbers in the market, and I was determined to satisfy my craving for a healthy, natural, butter-less meal. Its been a while since me and extra virgin olive oil interacted, and it was an overdue rendezvous. At any given opportunity, and in a carefully orchestrated manner, I seized control of kitchens everywhere, spending some quality time chopping, boiling, seasoning, roasting & stirring, putting together mouth watering technicolor displays. Seeing them, there was a comfortable familiarity, similar to a visit from a close friend that has come from afar.
I had oysters for the first time. The bottom of the sea had appeared on the table, several types of oysters, langoustines, prawns and sea snails lay on the feathery nest of ice chips.
I kept it all down.
I can't wait for the next round.Freebies part II- Paris

One of the first visits I make in Paris is to La Duree, macaroon heaven. I have clear instructions regarding the caramel macaroon. It is two days before Noël, and the que to these macaroons stretches out and spills onto the street. I decide to skip the experience, and as I continue walking I reach another entrance. This time I walk in, only to find a joyful display of macaroons and gift boxes in all shapes and colours. I ask for the caramel macaroon. I am full of conviction and there is no hesitation in my voice. The salesman says something in French, and I nod as if to say 'I understood what you just said'. A minute later the vendeuse won't accept my pay.I have just been given a macaroon for free. This is not common in La Duree. I find this out from registering the expressions on Parisiens' faces when I tell them of this. I love Paris.

Toasted almonds (a Haiku)
Pastry* with almonds
Chicken salad with almonds
Ice cream with almonds

*- profiteroles, croissants, Panettone.

Paris Culinary research, Xmas 08 (click on the link):
Patrick Roger, Sadaharu Aoki, LaDuree, Piere Herme, Amorino, GROM, Jean Paul Hevin, Marcolini, Arnaud Lahrer, Le Grand Epicerie, Gallery Lafayette Gourmet, Rose Bakery, EXKI.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


Drinking cups of taste
water is not what it seems
ashtray filled praline

A lesson in taste.
12 plastic cups lay in front of me. Each cup contained water with a taste essence (sans aroma or colour) diluted at varying percentages: different types of sugar, acids, and umami. (that one tasted of cold broth).
One's sensitivity to taste and is determined by sex, age and genetics, but, as with most things in life, it is:
'Worst to be an old man, and best to be a young woman', as our professor eloquently put it, when it comes to tasting performance.
I than sampled 5 types of salt, and finished off with a tobacco ganache praline. This is done by infusing tobacco leaves and adding this infusion to the chocolate ganache.
In other words, its like eating an ashtray.
It inspired a haiku.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Friday Dinner

Another Friday night, yet another Friday dinner... note the absence of any meat products...

Marchelle's Vegetable pancakes

Fede's Anise cauliflower
I madeNigella's Pasta e Fagioli
Lucia's raspberry apple and coconut extravaganza

And katie's Meringue roulade

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

How I fell in love with Tuscany

A long weekend. Katie and I did a Thelma & Louise (minus the ending), and hit the road on Saturday morning. The only criteria in determining our destination was to follow the sun. South it is!
We arrived at Pisa just in time for lunch, a tour of the city centre and a photo-op holding the Pisa tower. By sunset we headed off to Lucca. Ah…Lucca. We entered the medieval city by foot leaving the car behind us, and as soon as we walked in we were greeted by busy market stalls, festive lights, an ice skating rink, and a market that was dedicated to chocolate and Sicilian pastry. The city is enclosed within walls and a green park buffer zone. Within the city the mode of transportation is walking and cycling. Perfect. We found a nice hotel and got tickets to see a Puccini Opera concert at a nearby church. By midday the following day we walked around and eventually managed to part with Lucca. The boundary between reality and fantasy is blurred on the road from Lucca to San Gimignano. It feels as if one has stepped into a painting as so much beauty is hard to take in. It is the equivalent of hyper ventilating. Conveniently, we arrived at San Gimignano just in time for lunch. We walked into a restaurant, and I ordered Zuppa di Farro. Wheat soup. This was the best soup I had ever had, and all I wanted a soup to be. I will forever search the recipe in an attempt to recreate this experience. Looking up the restaurant following my return, it is owned by a family that also has a farm and a vineyard in the hills of San Gimignano , and produces local wine which I had with the soup. As we were nearing sunset we headed of to Siena. Can I take anymore of this? There is always a fear of becoming numb to the overwhelming overload of beauty.

We arrived in Siena, a buzzing medieval city, that finding a hotel for the night proved quite the task. After approximately an hour of crossing the hilly and ''sharp slope'' city, we took what we could find. In this case the top floor of a boutique hotel facing the Doumo. You only live once, right? And who knows when will I see in Siena again…and before heading back to the North, we thought we needed to try a local restaurant serving local, seasonal cuisine. A slow food restaurant, Osteria del Coro, where I had the local Pici pasta with typical garlic sauce and a vanilla semifreddo with almond crocante and saffron di San Gimignano. During this weekend, as well as the few days prior to that, I had eaten food that is grown, produced, prepared and cooked with love. Love to produce, to the animals, to the land, to the seasons, to nature. It tastes different. It tastes of love.
I can get used to this.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

All things Pork

Three days of cured meat. A whole set of new words added to my vocabulary: Prosciutto di Parma, Culatello di Zibello, cotechino, macello... Our cured meat stage begun. We headed off to butcher school, for a demonstration of pork cutting. I prepared myself for the unknown, an uneasy feeling in my stomach...we all squeezed into a narrow cold room containing three butchers, and 2 large meat cuts of a freshly slaughtered pig. I was captured by the artisanship; their skilled hands confidently held the sharp knives, skillfully taking the meat apart into the smallest pieces, divided to separate mounds of fibrous nerves, fat, skin, pork chops, and ham. Working side by side, the butchers were exchanging parts, discarding unwanted pieces, working on different parts in a synchronized rhythm; it was a choreography of dismembering. The aesthetics of butcherism. It was beautiful and fascinating. A bottle of Lambrusco was popped open. Than another. Some grissini sticks, Parmigiano Reggiano wedges, and pork scratching were served. Whilst this feast is going on, the butchers were still chopping the pig into bits. This is all happening on the same table. And apparently, this is lunch. After lunch we headed to a near by industrial pig farm with its own slaughterhouse. I was afraid of this. One by one, in a casual pace, the farmer pushes a pig into a confined cage. The pig is weighed, than enters a room. This is the slaughterhouse. I chose not to view the slaughter. I had no curiosity or desire to witness life perish a living being. Its all very quick and within moments a man drags out a bucket containing the internal discarded parts. A few cars reversed near by and uploaded their trunk with the freshly cut pork. The vapors are visible off the meat cuts, as it is still warm. In the adjacent room we had a demonstration of the preparation of a cotechino. Once again, a bottle of home made Lambrusco was opened. I am in a slaughterhouse drinking wine. This seems to happen quite often. On the second day we drove out to a Prosciutto di Parma producer in San Michele Cavana, a picturesque rural setting for producing Parma ham in optimal climate & humidity. On good days, the windows are open to allow the ham to be cured in the fresh cold air... The smell of each and every phase in the production process is still fresh in my head, and nose, with thousands of Prosciuttos cured to perfection. We than drove to a taverna at Torrechiara di Langhiranos. Lunch, respectfully lasted over two hours, and it seems as if everyone's cheeks turned rosy by the end of it..:) This is the kind of stuff you don't even imagine but secretly hope...not to dissimilar to Lambrusco in a slaughterhouse...(which Prosciutto and Lambrusco will always forever be associated with). We enjoyed several types of cured meats, fried bread, two types of ravioli (one stuffed with pumpkin and Amaretti biscuits!!!), Espresso and sweet moist Italian cakes for dessert. All of which went down great with wine. On the third and final day we arrived at Antica Corte Pallavicina in Polesine Parmense. North of Parma, by the river Po, where the climate is humid, Culatello, also known as king of cured pork meat, is cured. The curing techniques and products cured here differ from the types and techniques used to cure meat in the area South of Parma, where the air is dry and cold.
The farm grows all its produce, pigs, cows, chicken, geese, that all roam freely, and their food is grown on the premises too, as well as the vegetables and wine. The meat is cured in a beautiful cellar, and the difference between this artisan production of cured meat to the industrial is immediately recognized. On entering the cellar a wonderfully appetizing aroma was present. We were given a demonstration of the preparation of a Culatello, and than had a tasting of the various types of meat cured on the premises, accompanied by four types of Parmigiano Reggiano, distinctly produced by white cows and red cows, as well as the sparkling red wine made from the vines grown on the land. I tried Mariola. And than I had more of it, and than some. It is a type of cooked ham; this was the aristocrat brother of the meat loaf, like I never knew existed. I had experienced meat cured with love. We visited another small artisan producer of various cured meat in the area, before calling it a day, and something funny happened. Similar to the process that occurs when learning a new language, in which the words, sounds and meaning are gradually absorbed until a point of synthesis, when the flood gates open, it all came together. I had heard, seen and tasted so much cured meat, in such a short intensive period, I had acquired a platform of knowledge unto which I could compare, detect and distinguish between various types of meat, productions system types, flavours, colours, aromas and personal preferences. It all made sense now. I came full circle. And I can taste it.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Spontaneous Cremona

Today we had a lecture on food technology. In actuality it was the transference of technical information on cured meat. But I saw Architecture. Pig as building material. The ways in which, developed over time and out of necessity, a pork is transformed into meat products, that last for extended time periods, and makes use of all particles, with an incredible range of tastes, smells, textures & appreances. I find the entire process incredibly creative. A system, in space through time. Architecture.
As we had the afternoon off, we made use of the free time and headed to Cremona. The birth place of Stradivarius Violins. We just hopped in the car, and in less than hour there we were, though it seemed the local population was elsewhere, leaving the city mostly to us...
Natale, Xmas, is in the air and all the street decorations covered the city with festivity...It really was beatiful.
I had a meat free day today. A first since I got here. Although I managed to steer clear of Pork for the day (among today's lunch menu were lamb chops covered in pork, with truffles...), dinner consisted of Buffalo Mozzarella pizza, and Colorno's finest ice cream. Luckily I am surrounded by food obsessed such as myself, who instead of seeking help, went to Italy to feed this obsession!
Oh well, you only live once :)