Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Saturday, 15 December 2012
Thursday, 13 December 2012
Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Monday, 10 December 2012
Article first published as A Traditional Italian Family Christmas on Technorati.
When I was a child, Christmas was without a doubt the biggest event of the year. Even though I come from Switzerland and spent a good part of my life in this country, the influence of my Italian Grandmother, a Piedmont native, won over. Our Christmas celebrations, year after year, had a definite Italian shine to them.
First of all, there was none of this splitting the family at Christmas or gathering in different houses. The whole family met in my Grandmother's home for three days in a row. Extra tables and chairs were brought from our neighbouring houses, allowing everybody to sit and eat comfortably. The white table clothes and napkins came out of their cupboard, and the three long tables were prettily decorated. Numerous presents were carefully piled under the colourful Christmas tree so that the crib would not be disturbed. Us children had real trouble going to sleep the night before when our favourite day was so close.
On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, serious action happened in the kitchen under my Grandma's orders. New recipes were tried every year on Christmas Eve, and I cannot recall one time when we thought one of the dishes was only average. The food was always delicious. We would start the festivities by some of the adults going to the early Christmas mass with the children, then come home and unwrap the presents while enjoying the aperitif. There was many a scream of delight as we discovered one of the toys we had so wished for. Once the excitement had died down a bit, it was time to eat and enjoy the warm family atmosphere. After the feast, the adults who had stayed home earlier would then go to the midnight mass, while the children collapsed into bed, exhausted.
Christmas Day saw the slow roasting of a massive turkey. The bird would be stuffed with a filling featuring chestnuts and the aroma made you feel hungry well before it was time for lunch. Sometimes black truffles would also be used, and I have this distinct image of incredibly thin mushroom slices being inserted in cuts in the turkey. Once out of the oven, the delicate truffle taste had perfumed the meat exquisitely.
Of course there was always far too much food prepared over these two days, which is why it became the tradition to all meet again on Boxing Day. Leftovers would then be eaten in a convivial manner. When there was not that much turkey left, the meat would be used to make a Bolognese sauce and homemade gnocchi then featured on the menu.
It has been a while since these childhood Christmases, but still today I cannot eat gnocchi without thinking about the lovely times we had.
Tuesday, 4 December 2012
Article first published as An Italian Wine To Discover: Brunello Di Montalcino on Technorati.
When asked to name Italian wines, people might come up with the full-bodied Tuscan Chianti, the light and fruity Pinot Grigio originating from the Tre Venezie or the sparkling Asti from the Piedmont region. But would they know about the Tuscan Brunello Di Montalcino?
The Brunello is a wine produced solely from the Sangiovese Grosso, a larger-berried variety of the Sangiovese grape. These round and juicy bunches grow exclusively around Montalcino, a beautiful hilltop town in the Siena area, which boasts a fortress that was never conquered. Thanks to being exposed to one of the warmest and driest climates in Tuscany, the Sangiovese grapes often matures up to a week earlier than their fruit counterparts used in the production of Chianti and Montepulciano.
Although the first mentions of the Brunello can be traced back to the 14th century, the wine became well known much later, largely because of the Biondi-Santi family. In the 1870s, Clemente Sianti was already producing the beverage we know today. His grandson Ferruccio Biondi-Santi then took up the challenge of managing the family estate after coming home from the Garibaldi campaigns. He is the one responsible for developing new winemaking methods, and for taking the Brunello to its more accomplished form. The Biondi-Santi family was still the sole Brunello producer when World War II ended. Today, however, there are over 200 wine producers, mainly small farms and estates, who proudly have their names attached to one of the first-class wine names in Italy.
The Brunello has been traditionally matured over a long period in large oaks barrels, thus creating a very intricate flavour. More modern methods now call for smaller recipients and a reduced aging time, resulting in a less tannic and more velvety body. Aromas such as blackberry, chocolate, black cherry and violet are often associated with the Brunello. A French "equivalent" would be found in the Burgundy region, namely the Pinot noir varieties. The strong character of the Brunello makes it the perfect accompaniment for meat and game.
The Brunello wine even recently made the news in a spotlight fashion when freshly re-elected President Obama offered a bottle ofthis fine Tuscan beverage to House Speaker John Boehner as a birthday gift. Much has been said about whether or not this present, which can be found and bought for around $125 in Washington DC shops, breaks the White House ban on gifts over $50 to members of Congress. As an exception for gifts from friends exists, the 1997 Altero Brunello di Montalcino bottle may however well belong to this category.