In the July issue of Wine Spectator there is an informative editorial about wine vinegar.  Matt Kramer gives the mis-treated condiment its full due, he explains that, in fact, there are great wine vinegars and it is no coincidence that they are made by some of the best winemakers.  Mr. Kramer names Castello di Volpaia in Tuscany as the maker of the best wine vinegar and he notes that they grow a specific type of grapes for making vinegar.  Vinegar master, Giovanella Stianti explains that “you don’t want an alcohol level over 10 percent because that interferes with the bacterial fermentation.”  After Ms. Stianti ferments the grape juice with a mother starter and oak and chestnut shavings, she moves the vinegar to age in chestnut and oak vats.  The vinegar is then moved to oak barriques where it stays for about a year.  No wonder this is a standout favorite for Mr. Kramer, and Chef Tom Colicchio( who names the vinegar in his book Think Like a Chef), it is a labor of love.

So what do you do with a great wine vinegar?  You can make an excellent Salsa Verde (parsley, garlic, anchovies in salt, capers, olive oil and white wine vinegar blended like pesto) for meats.  Carpione di zucchini is excellent, pan-fried zucchini get a bath of wine vinegar and can be stored in this liquid.

And Mr. Kramer suggests you drink a Dolcetto or a Chianti with your dinner although he says “it’s the vinegar that steals the show”, I would also recommend a Roero Arneis to pair with the carpione di zucchini .

Give it a try, at Piazza we have both the white and red wine vinegars from Castello di Volpaia.  Gianni Calogiuri also makes vinegar with care, he grows special grapes for making his vinegar.  We carry his vin cotto.

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Yes, it took us too long to bring you salads but there are here now!  We have two sizes of salads, a small green side salad for $1.75 and an entree salad with cubed salami and mozzarella plus a hot pepperoncini for $6.95.  Both salads come with balsamic vinegrette on the side.

marinated-fetaWe have added a few new cheeses to our inventory– if you haven’t been introduced, please meet marinated feta.  This is the first cheese at Piazza that is NOT from Italy.  He comes from Australia, is “Persian-Style” and wins over all worldly discerning palates; except maybe the Greeks who fiercely defend their own feta.

In addition to the marinated feta we have a pecorino-style cheese from Bellwether Farms in California called San Andreas Crucolo from Friuli and Marzolino from Tuscany.  Crucolo is sort of a big hunking cheese with lots of little eyes that tastes sweet and sour and definitely rich.  It is more full in flavor than the Tavoliere, which looks just like it.

Marzolino is a fresh sheep’s milk cheese that looks like a rare forest mushroom-top.  Made in the month of March, Marzo in Italian, the appearance of this cheese marks the arrival of a new flock of lambs and the beginning of the new growing season.  Marzolino is delicate and buttery, a perfect cheese for a picnic, if only we could do away with these April showers.  It is also excellent shaved over spring pea shoots or other little greens that are just beginning to poke out of the ground.

If San Andreas is from California, then California might be the 21st region of Italy.  Bellwether Farms has been around since 1986 and they seemed to have it all figured out.  San Andreas is so concentrated and deep and sheepy well, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was Italian.

panelle11Chickpeas are an ancient grain, nutty and so good for you that they are often dismissed as health food or a canned thing at the salad bar.  Well, there is a  solution to every problem and I am here to tell you that in this case deep frying is the answer. In Sicily they make little chickpea flour fritters called panelle (I believe that Naples has a version of it own). Made from a mixture of chickpea flour, water, parsley and eggs, the batter is formed into thin patties, fried in olive oil then served with a little ricotta salata and a squeeze of lemon in a sandwich.

I first tried panelle in Brooklyn at Fernando’s Foccaceria on Union St. in Carrol Gardens.  They were very cheap, very thin and very good.  I have been staring at the bags of farina di ceci here at Piazza thinking about those little pillows of fried goodness but last night I decided to try to make them myself.

I used a recipe from Molto Mario, Mario Batali’s show on the Food Network.  I have a few suggestions but overall things went well:

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Suggestion number one: deep frying is difficult if you have a cook-top stove.  The ‘cycling’ of the power makes the temperature of the oil fluctuate wildly.

Suggestion two: use floured hands to form the fritters.

Suggestion three: let them cool before you take a big bite or else you will kill the roof of your mouth.  Ouch, I didn’t wait.

Chickpea flour can be used to make other traditional Italian dishes like farinata from Liguria, a sort of chickpea flatbread or torta di ceci from Livorno, a sort of giant pancake that is layered with thin slices of marinated grilled eggplant…

amedei-1As promised, the chocolate from Tuscany has arrived and just in time for Valentine’s Day.  We have boxes of Pralines (shown above) in 5 and 16 pieces as well as boxes of 12 single origin bite-size sqaures.  Amedei is the name to remember here, the creation of two dedicated people in love.  The company has been making chocolates for 19 years so they have found their classics like dark chocolate with cinnamon and milk chocolate with orange & walnuts.  Each box of pralines comes with a beautiful tasting menu and a suggested tasting sequence.  

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Just for the spirit of the holiday, Amedei affixed little pink ribbons to each of the praline boxes:

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I am sitting next to a fragrant box of these guys and it is driving me crazy!  They look beautiful, they smell beautiful and I don’t want to share them!!  How will I make it until Saturday???

We also have the sliding boxes of Napolitains which contain two squares of single origin chocolate from six different plantations.  I don’t have my own picture of these but here is one from the Amedei website:

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Each chocolate is plain, 70% cacao but they are so different from each other.  Some chocolates taste like allspice and nutmeg, another may taste like mushrooms and coffee!  This is definitely a fun gift, it is the ultimate chocolate tasting in the style of a wine tasting.  You will be hunting for adjectives and making flavor associations that may surprise you.  A ‘cru collection’ helps me appreciate my chocolatier because it shows how hard they work to balance and smooth out those crazy flavors to find their signature blend.  

I can hardly wait until Valentine’s Day!

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We are getting closer to being finished with construction, for comparison, this top photo was taken on November 18th.  None of the lights are installed, the floor is unfinished and the cabinets have been brought in, but they are not set in place.  Those bars coming off from the landing are going to support a long wooden shelf.

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 The picture above was taken on November 28th, the day after Thanksgiving.  You can see that there is brown paper on the floor indicating that the tile has been installed, most of the cabinets are in place, and the lights have been installed.  All the equipment has arrived, the shiny thing on the back wall is actually a self-serve freezer and refrigerator.

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Today, December 3rd part of the top cabinet on the left wall was installed.  We had to wait to install this set of shelves because there is a marble counter separating the bottom and top cabinets.  You’ll see.  

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Here is another view from today, the marble tops have been set on the window cabinets and the track lights are being installed above.  

 

The track lights and the cabinets were a couple of good things from today but I had a bit of bad news, too.  I found out that there wasn’t enough marble at our fabricator in Easton to finish our upstairs bar, meaning I had to go up to Baltimore to pick a couple new slabs to match the ones we’re already using.  It was annoying but going to the stone yard is kind of cool:  

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The space seems much bigger than the picture suggests, each of the slabs there is taller than me (although I’m not that tall) and there are a couple of grabby things that move the slabs around very slowly.  Walking among the stones is mildly perilous, it’s like being in a maze designed by Richard Serra, being surrounded by all these beautiful things that could crush you.  And they leave you there, unattended, and you have to find your way back out again.  Today I told the guy that even though I had been there before I wanted him to walk me to the White Venatino section so that he would remember that I was in there in case I got lost.  

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Another cool thing about going to the stone yard is that you can look at their relief map of Tuscany.  It’s a good area to show in relief, it sure is bumpy!