Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Where My Love for "Cooking & Eating” All Began

By Don Vito De Carolis, Avanti Savoia’s Italian Partner

When I was a child (7 years old), my mother and my father did not return home from work until 7:00 o'clock at night. For this reason during after school hours and the summer vacation, I "worked" in a small food shop named "Il Pastificio" until I was 12 years old. The shop was owned by two unmarried sisters (Livia and Carla) who helped me with my school homework and taught me many things. My education included how to make fresh pasta, understand the difference between different qualities of dry pasta, how to boil vegetables preserving the original taste, and how to braise the meat for filling the Cappelleti. I also learned the best ingredients to make Agnolotti (fresh pasta filled with ham, parmesan cheese and spices) and Ravioli di magro (fresh large pasta filled with fresh ricotta and spinach).
My "job" was to clean the vegetables, turn the handles of the pasta maker and the meat mincer, filling the pastas, and to go with the older sister to shop for food stuff and deliver packages to the customer’s houses. This early "job" taught me good lessons about how to deal with customers by understanding their needs and give suggestions. I also helped them with cost analysis and pricing (it was an exscuse to improve my math skills). I started to love cats (they had 2 cats for hunting mouses) and I learned to work in a perfectly clean and well organize place.
During this time I was fascinated by them, and during the last year of my "work" they give me three books (that I still have in my library) to be prepared to be a smart teenager:
L' Esiliato dello spazio by Pierre Devaux - My first book of science-fiction (teaching me that there is no limit to travels, to be prepared for weird stuffs, and that humanity is one country)
I miserabili by Victor Hugo - My first book of Historical romance (to know the past is to understand the present and decide for the future and to know the meaning of Honesty/Passion/ Friendship)
Ricettario Carli Cav. by Amedeo Pettini - My first Cookbook (I now have several hundred cookbooks in my library from all over the world).

Now that I am almost 57 years old and have been travelling world wide for more than 37 years, I still thank these two sisters for all that they taught me about cooking and selecting first rate foods.

I hope that you will enjoy these favorite recipes from my past.


"Tajarin" di pasta fresca con sugo di pomodoro ( fine noodles with tomato sauce)

Ingredients: (*Available at Avanti Savoia)

Ingredients for the pasta:
500 g. (2.2lb.) Durum flour
5 eggs+ 3 yolks
2 Tblsp. of water
1/2 tsp. of Sel de Mer Sea Salt (fine) * #35021

Ingredients for the sauce:

1 lb. of fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 large yellow onion
1 medium carot
2 stalks of celery
1 clove of garlic
1/2 cup All Purpose Avanti Savoia Olive Oil* #19999
1/2 cup of butter
Sel de Mer Sea Salt (fine)* #35021 and Freshly Ground Black Peppercorns* #32000 to taste
5 Tblsp. of freshly grated "Parmiggiano Reggiano" cheese.

Recipe for pasta:

Beat together whole eggs, yolks and salt.
Put the durum flour in a large bowl, making a well in the center. Place the egg mixture in the center of the well. Using a fork, gradually pull the durum flour into the egg mixture. Stir until a loose mass forms. As the dough is mixed, adjust the consistency with additional flour or water.
Turn the dough out onto a floured (and if possible wooden) surface and knead until the texture has become smooth and elastic, about 9 to 10 minutes. Smooth and form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough relax at room temperature for at least 1 hour.
Roll the pasta dough into very thin sheets and cut by hand with a large sharp knife into fine noodles or by using a pasta machine.

Recipe for sauce:

Clean the carrot, onion, celery and garlic and finely chop as for a brunoise.
Clean the fresh tomatoes and make a purée using a blender.
In a sauce pan at medium heat, warm the extra virgin olive oil and butter; add the chopped vegetables and sauté until lightly browned.
Add the tomato purée to the sauce pan, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for 20 minutes.


1. In a large pot bring to boil 1.5 gallons of water, add 2 oz. of Sel de Mer Sea Salt (coarse)* #35022, and add the"Tajarin" fresh pasta. Lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes, stir occasionally with a wooden spoon. When it is cooked, drain and put in a warmed large salad bowl, add the sauce, mix well, add the parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Il "Brasato perfetto” ( Perfectly Braised Beef)

Ingredients: (*available at Avanti Savoia)

3.5 kg. (7lb.) beef (Top blade or Chuck roast)
450g. "Prosciutto crudo" ham diced in large pieces (1 cubic inch)
2 1/2 cups of Beef stock ( 1 1/2 lb of beef shank - one medium carot - one large celery stalk - one large yellow onion - a sachet or bouquet garni made with 24 whole berries of black peppercorns*/12 cloves*/ 1 small cinnamon stick* wrapped in cheesecloth )
8 Tbsp of “Soffritto di Cipolle” (3 white large onions - 1/2 cup of All Purpose Avanti Savoia Olive Oil)
1/2 cup of butter
1 tsp. of freshly ground nutmeg* #32080
1 cup of dry red wine boiled for 10 minutes
1 tsp. Black Truffle Salt* #36002
1 tsp. Freshly Ground Green Peppercorns* #32005

Recipe for Beef stock

1. In a stockpot place one gallon of cold water, the beef shank, carot, celery, onion and the spice sachet.
2. Bring to boil, cover with a lid and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 4 hours, skimming the surface as necessary.
3. After 4 hours strain all the ingredients and filter the stock through a linen cloth.
4. Boil the filtered stock until it is reduced to 2 1/2 cups of liquid.

Recipe for "Soffritto di cipolle":

Clean the onions and finely slice them.
Place the onions in a frypan with the All Purpose Olive Oil and simmer for one hour, add some water if it's drying to much and stir with a woodspoon frequently.
Put the"soffritto di cipolle" in a blender and procces to a smooth paste.

Recipe for the “Brasato Perfetto":

In a heavy cast iron pan, brown the beef with 1/2 cup of butter.
Remove the beef from the heavy pan and deglaze with the boiled dry red wine.
Add 2 ½ cups beef stock, 8 Tbsp of "Soffritto di cipolle" and the browned beef.
Place the heavy pan in the oven with a heavy cast iron lid and cook for one hour at 250F°.
Reduce the temperature at 140F° and simmer for 12(twelve) hours.
Remove the pan from the oven and let cool to room temperature always remaining covered with the lid.
Place the pan in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Remove from refrigerator and skim off the grease.
Slice the beef 1/2 inch thick slices.
Add the beef slices to the heavy pan, add the freshly ground nutmeg, season with Black Truffles Salt and Ground Green Peppercorns. Scatter the diced "Prosciutto crudo" ham on the top of the beef, cover with the lid, place in the oven and cook for 6 hours at 180F°.
Cool to room temperature.
Before serving, remove the ham and warm the “Brasato Perfecto” over a low heat for 30 minutes.

A) Mashed potatoes is the suggested side dish for "Brasato perfetto”. B) All the beef and vegetables used to make the stock and the ham can be ground and used to make excellent meatballs and served as an appetizer.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Cook for the Cook

The Pleasures of Eating Someone Else’s Food

Although we still enjoy it, my wife and I do not entertain at home as much as we once did. Gail and I met at a large catering function at which I prepared the food, and she went on to become a student in my cooking classes. Needless to say, food has always been at the heart of our relationship and still is. Gail is a fine cook in her own right and is very accomplished at making pickles, jams, jellies and preserving other goodies from our garden. I’ve joked about my being “a pretend farmer on a pretend farm” many times, but her talent with fresh food is no joke.

In the early years of our marriage, I must admit that I really enjoyed “showing off” for my wife with elaborate dinner parties and my versions of culinary classics. As time went on the urge to impress her became less, even though from time to time we do still host friends at our table. Recently, we had the opportunity to have a young couple come to dinner as a “Thank-You” for a favor that they had done for us.

Dane and Astrid are a good deal younger than we are and I certainly anticipated a wide ranging and stimulating conversation. What was not anticipated was their offer to bring part of the dinner. Over the years it has been an ongoing disappointment to me that so many acquaintances have been intimidated to cook for me because of my status as a professional. I can’t count the times I’ve heard “Oh! I’d be afraid to have you over for dinner because you are a chef “or “we just eat simple food, and you wouldn’t like that” or some such disclaimer. Now, the truth is that I like simple, homemade food very much and I simply love to have someone else cook for me!

As it turns out, even though she has now received an education in another field, Astrid has experience working as a pastry chef. So, I think that helped her approach us with a pretty matter of fact attitude about dinner. I know it certainly was a surprise and a pleasure for us. After greeting us at our front door, Astrid zipped into the kitchen asking for a sharp knife and a cutting board and quickly went to work In short order, while Dane and I concentrated on opening wine and selecting music (Dane is something of a music historian), Astrid reappeared with a tray of luscious crostini topped with warm goat cheese and pears. Perfect for the occasion and perfect with the Masa Cannoli Pinot Grigio that I had selected.

Our contribution to the feast that evening was a simple green salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette and a good old bistro standby Beef Bourguignon. A loaf of homemade bread was on hand as well. Things got interesting when the Rosenblum Petite Syrah that I had selected reeked of “finger nail polish remover”, that is to say the presence of Ethyl Acetate and we had to switch to an alternative Petite Syrah by Bogel. The second wine was nice with the salad course and the beef and a flawed wine is always a good opportunity for a shared learning experience and discussion.

Astrid provided the dessert course of flawless, dreamy chocolate truffles flavored with cognac which demonstrated her confidence with chocolate. A Bonny Doon Framboise worked beautifully, as it usually does with just about any dark chocolate dessert.

What made the event so pleasant for us was the comfort and utter lack of pretension with which Astrid made her contributions. Not only did she cook for me but she also listened to my old culinary “war stories” with attention and interest. This was cool! We hope that you will enjoy Astrid’s Cognac Chocolate Truffles. The only change that we will make is to substitute one of our own Avanti Savoia products, Castagna Extra Fonente 61% Dark Chocolate. Great chocolate for a great truffle. Way to go, Dane!

Astrid’s Cognac Chocolate Truffles

Preparation time: 30 minutes to 1 hour plus cooling time
Servings: 25 to 30 pieces

Ingredients: (*Available at Avanti Savoia)

½ cup heavy whipping cream
2 Tblsp. unsalted butter
1 Tblsp. light corn syrup
9 ozs. Dark Chocolate Extra Fonente 61% by Castagna* #50015
2 Tblsp. Cognac
Cocoa powder for coating by Castagna* #50120

Combine cream, butter and corn syrup in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer, remove from heat and cool for about 5 minutes.
Break chocolate into small pieces and stir into the cream mixture. Stir until melted and add cognac.
Cool 2 to 3 hours at room temperature.
Whip truffle mix with an electric mixer, on medium for about 1 minute.
Use a mini ice cream scoop to shape truffles. Place truffles on a tray lined with parchment paper and chill for 1 hour.
Roll chilled truffles in cocoa powder and enjoy.

The real point I would like to make here is… Cook for the cooks in your life, I promise you that they will love it.

Bon Appetit Y’all!