Food: How To Make Focaccia / Schiacciata At Home

p1010553At home, we use Focaccia / Schiacciata so many different ways.  It easily finds a role at every meal of the day.  And focaccia is an easy, trouble free bread to make.

Try focaccia for breakfast, split horizontally with Brie cheese, or spread with Nutella or mascarpone.

For lunch, split horizontally with prosciutto, baby arugula, and a squeeze of lemon.

And focaccia is delicious with dinner, as part of a dinner appetizer or as an accompaniment to the main meal.

p1010535The photo at left shows what you’ll need to make your own focaccia at home.

The ingrediants / amounts:  500g of flour, 200 ml of warm water, 100 ml milk, 6 tsp of active dry yeast, 3 tbs olive oil, a bit of salt.

NOTE on the salt:  I usually don’t put salt in my bread; I sometimes use only a pinch for focaccia.  Use it – or not – whatever you like.

Instructions: Dissolve the yeast into the warm – not hot – water.  

I put a pinch of sugar in the water to help the yeast do their thing.  Let it sit for 10 minutes until foamy. Put the flour in a mixing bowl.

Mix in the warm water / yeast, and mix in the milk.  Mix it all together till it forms into a ball. Knead for 2 minutes or so on the counter, table or marble till the dough is smooth with an subtle elastic quality.  Shape it into a round ball and let it rise in a warm area for one hour.  If you’re place is drafty or cold, turn on the oven light, put the dough in there, and close the door. 

After an hour of rising:  put half of the oil on a baking pan, spread it out a bit.  Take the dough and, pressing with your fingers, shape it to fit the form of the pan, letting the oil work into the dough as you go.  Then, use your fingertips to make dimpled indentations on top of the dough. Pour the rest of the oil on top of the dough, spreading it, letting it pool in the indentations.

Allow the dough rise on the tray for another 30 minutes.

Preheat to the oven to 385 f / 195 c.  Bake for 20 minutes with the oven door left open a bit for ventilation.

Fattoria di Magliano, Morellino di Scansano “Heba” 2006

Fattoria di Magliano Morellino di Scansano “Heba” 2006

Prepare for imaginary time travel: timeline 287 BC.

Place: we stand at the ancient Etruscan settlement of Hepa.

Although it is deep night, many citizens fill the public areas. We sense urgency and unrest.  Understanding, we wonder:  Will the Etruscani be able to defend against the invading Romans?

OK: let’s return to today before the action scene 😉

magliano-morellino-heba-pic-thumbAnd so it was that Hepa became the Roman municipality of Heba, the prosperous colony from which the Morellino di Scansano “Heba” from Fattoria di Magliano takes its name.

Fattoria di Magliano is located in the Maremma area of Tuscany, an area renowned for great Italian wines, and is situated within a highly regarded township of the Morellino di Scansano zone. Shoe designer Agostino Lenci, who made his fortune manufacturing shoes in Lucca, bought the property in 1997.  Passionate about agriculture and fine wine, Lenci uses the wisdom of tradition coupled with modern technology to make wines of the highest quality.

Fattoria di Magliano has approximately 45 hectares under vine, 12 of those being dedicated to production of the Sangiovese grape for which DOC law requires a minimum of 85% in Morellino di Scansano.  Fattoria di Magliano chooses to round out its Morellino with 14% Syrah and 1% of Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot, as is allowable under the DOC.

Morellino di Scansano is typically a handsome, ruby red color tasting of cherries, deliciously tannic with good acidity, a good food wine. Morellino gets its name from the  reddish-brown color grapes of the region – “moro” in Italian – thus “Morellino”.  It  is a wine to be enjoyed young and is not a great candidate for cellaring beyond just a few years.

As a young estate in an area not encumbered with heavy planting history, Fattoria di Magliano conscientiously takes a natural path to maintaining a balance with nature: only low dose copper and sulfate products are used for insecticides; herbicides are avoided all together.  And only very low doses of S02 are put into the wine as a preservative.

Fattoria di Magliano grows its Sangiovese grapes in skeletal-rich, medium consistency soil typical of the Maremma.  Manually harvested, the grapes are destemmed and pressed with great care.  Fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel vats takes placeover the course of 15-20 days.  The wine is then aged for 8 months in cement tanks.

Tasting notes:

This wine is drinking beautfully right now. A deep ruby color, the wine is fresh but elegant.  Teeming with aromas of cherries, black plums and violets, the nose also delivers a hint of smoke.  Vibrant flavors of ripe red and black fruit with herbal undertones.  There is a luxurious sense of touch about the wine, a roundness, a gentleness around the edges, that feels very pleasant in the mouth. Firm, well integrated tannins and good length on the finish. A wine with lots of personality.

Food pairing suggestions:

This wine will pair well with almost anything you take off the grill: steak, pork chops, sweet sausages, lamb kebabs, portobello mushrooms, pork lion with olive oil, rosemary, garlic; Roasted chicken; Game meats such as duck, rabbit, partridge – try a pasta with rabbit sauce! stews; medium cheeses, especially pecorino.


Monte Tondo Soave “Mito” 2007

Monte Tondo Soave “Mito” 2007

As students in music school, we were taught to mark our composition scores with words like Adagio for slowly, Dolcezza with sweetness, and Velocemente, very quickly – to indicate emotion and tempo to performers.

montetondo-pic-thumb“Soave” in Italian, like the musical term Legato, means smooth, gentle, and gives an apropos impression of the Monte Tondo Soave “Mito”.

With an eye toward 3 generations of family wine-making tradition, Monte Tondo owner Gino Magnabosco, with help from his wife and children, follows every stage of production which brings the family’s Soave “Mito” from vine to bottle.  The family’s 25 hectares of vineyards, located in the Soave DOC zone, are situated among gentle hills just outside of Verona .  Premium plots include Monte Tenda, Monte Foscarino and Monte Tondo which lends its name to the family estate.

Garganega is the principle grape of the SOAVE production zone, one of the most important zones in the Veneto, and is the predominant grape varietal (70% – 100%) in Soave wine.  Over the centuries, garganega has adapted well enough to the local environment to realize its best expression in the area just east of Verona.  The soil type is typically volcanic and municipalities in the zone enjoy a mild, temperature climate with neither winter or summer being too severe.  In recent years,  some very determined, quality minded producers, Magnabosco among them, have done much to shine an impressive light upon Soave wines.

The Monte Tondo Soave “Mito” is produced from 100% garganega grapes manually harvested at the end of September.  The grapes are then soft pressed with fermentation carried out in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperature.

Tasting Notes:

Straw yellow color with gold highlights and pretty, reflective greens, the wine has a gentle, interesting perfume of almonds, flowers, and fruit on the nose.  Fresh, clean flavors of peaches, marzipan, citrus, and mineral linger on the palate until a smooth and even decrescendo fades the finish into memory.

Food pairing suggestions:  vegetable and chicken soups; tortellini in brodo; grilled asparagus; pasta with sardines; egg salads and egg-based dishes generally; slow roasted oven meats; risotto, especially risotto with radicchio; gnocchi, especially scented with truffle; soft cheeses; shell fish, especially crab; a commercial Greek caviar spread called “Taramasalata”- when spread on anything – pairs deliciously with this wine.


Feudi di San Gregorio “Ognissole” Primitivo di Manduria 2006

Feudi di San Gregorio “Ognissole” Primitivo di Manduria 2006

I sleep very far away from the land
Of Italy and my homeland, Taranto.
For me this is bitterer than death.
Such is the vain life of every nomad.
But the Muses loved me and for all
My misfortunes, in exchange they gave
Me the sweetness of honey.
Leonida’s name is not dead.
The gifts of the Muses will make it shine
Under any sun.

This elegant translation of *Ognissole by Leonidas da Taranto, lyrical poet from the 3rd century BC, is an poignant expression of antiquity in Puglia and how many suns have set over this land of Primitivo di Manduria.

feudi-primitivo-thumbThe Ognissole estate was born in 2000, having been established by the founders of southern Italian wine producer Feudi di San Gregorio. For those of you unfamiliar with Feudi, they have a remarkable portfolio of wines based on grape varieties indigenous to southern Italy. Feudi’s Ossignole group focuses attention upon the incredible potential of ancient local grape varieties to move Puglia ahead as a world class wine region.

Primitivo di Manduria is made from 100% Primitivo grapes in a zone of the same name found in the region of Puglia.  Style wise, Primitivo is generally dark colored and rich with a luscious sensation of ripe fruit. This is a wine that can age a few years but is best consumed young.

The Primitivo grapes for Feudi Ossignole are harvested from 20 acres of vineyards located on the Salento Peninsula in the commune of Manduria . Puglia is pretty flat and vineyard altitude is just 250 feet above sea level. Ognissole’s Primitivo vineyards include younger vines planted at high density and older 20 year old vines less densely planted in medium calcareous soil with a significant clay component.

Vines are Guyot trained and harvested by hand.  After soft pressing and controlled temperature maceration, the wine is matured 14 months in new French oak.

Tasting Notes:

This Primitivo di Manduria has a deep ruby red core with flecks of crimson and violet. Ripe black fruits, sweet vanilla, cloves and black pepper on the nose.  A plush, velvety mouthfeel, with plum jam, blackberry and raspberry, accented by sweet spice, chocolate and espresso bean. Fine tannins, minerality and a lingering finish that continue to echo of chocolate-ty fruit and espresso.

Food pairing suggestions:  Red meats, pastas and risotto with rich or spicy red sauces, eggplant parmigianno, game, casseroles, stews, cured meats, cheeses. Especially try this wine with stuffed lamb chops or pork chops, “Sunday sauce” with pepperoni added, green bean casserole cooked in red sauce and pepperoni.  Also try this wine with mildly spiced Asian or Indian dishes.

*Ognissole translation from the Feudi web

Argillae Orvieto 2007

argillae-orvieto-2007-jpg-thumbArgillae Orvieto 2007

Umbria’s most famous painter, Pietro Vannucci, aka “il Perugino” and founder of the Umbrian school of painting, is known for a compositional style of simple purity and symmetrical beauty.  One can only imagine he would have appreciated the classic structure and utterly harmonious proportions of the Argillae Orvieto.

Orvieto, Umbria’s most famous wine, is a blended wine of locally grown grapes that include Trebbiano, known thereabouts as Procanico, Grechetto, Malvasia and Canaiolo.  The upside of having a fairly broad palette for blending is that producers can tune this recipe to produce Orvieto wines of varying weight and richness.  The downside is just that:  there are Orvieto wines of varying weight and richness.

The Argillae estate is located in Umbria, northwest of the city of Orvieto, and is owned by the Bonollo, Di Cosimo, and Acenzi families.  Argillae makes several high quality wines, including the Orvieto, under direction of consulting oenologist Lorenzo Landi. A cornerstone of the Argillae philosophy is the notion that, in order to produce world  class wines, it is necessary to come by the “right territory”:  Argillae vineyards sit at 350-500 meters elevation situated on sunny hillsides with east-west exposure in soil of calcareous clay.  Argillae’s modern, multi floor cellar has a laboratory, areas for storing and refining wines, bottle storage, and also an area for wine tasting.

The blend for Argillae’s Orvieto is of Procanico, Grechetto, Malvasia di Candia, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Grapes undergo careful selection in the vineyard – all pruning and harvest activities are conducted by hand.  The grapes are soft pressed, racked, and then vinified at controlled temperature in stainless steel.

Tasting Notes for Argillae Orvieto 2007:

A gorgeous color of summer straw, the wine offers appealing scents of flowers, pear, and citrus on the nose.  In the mouth, the wine has a satisfying round, fat, soft presence on the palate.  Good, crisp acidity and firm structure with a long, clean, fresh and fruity finish.

Food pairing suggestions:  This wine pairs nicely with almost all types of antipasti, seafood, vegetables and white meat.  It is especially good with fried octopus or marinated octopus salad, baccala, smoked salmon, or mussels.  Delicious with seafood risotto.  Superb with cool chicken salad with pear, walnuts, and grapes.


4 Things To Do With Your Leftover Wine

4 Things To Do With Your Leftover Wine

We all have times when the wine bottle is not quite empty.  Here are a few simple things you can do with your leftover wine that won’t cost you a penny and will give you something valuable in return.  None of these involve products that gas or vacuum 😉

1.  Pour the wine into a smaller, clean container, thus minimizing airspace in the container.  I use a clean 375 ml bottle or even a jam jar at times.  Cork or cap the container.  If the room is hotter than 65 degrees, it will help to place the smaller container in the refrigerator.  Doing this is natural and keeps wine more fresh than any gadget or science project will do.

2.  Pour a glass of yesterday’s wine right along side of whatever wine you are opening tonite at dinner: Having 2 or 3 different wines to taste against the same food is one of the best ways to improve your food / wine pairing sensibility.

3.  Mix leftover wine with water to drink with an informal lunch or light dinner.  Believe me – it is one of the most thirst quenching, satisfying drinks on the planet.

4. Improve your tasting skills by re-tasting the leftover wine a day later.  You’ll be surprised at what you will learn about the wine and how it evolves.

Good wine will still be drinking well the next day, sometimes better than the first day.  If a wine totally falls apart overnight, make a note to never buy it again.

Manzone Dolcetto D’Alba “Le Ciliegie” 2006

Italy, Piedmont:  Manzone Dolcetto D’Alba “Le Ciliegie” 2006

manzone-dolcetto-2006-thumbMonforte d’Alba has a history the stuff of which movies are made.  Once a Pagus Romanus – earliest known Italian administrative unit of Roman Settlement – Monforte was the scene of the Cathar heresy.  Defeated Cathars were led in chains to burn at the stake.  Referencing the story, poet Giovanni Berchet eerily wrote that “From Monforte no one comes / to Monforte no one goes”.

Fast forward to happier times?  OK: 

Picturesque Monforte, village of 2000 residents:  The Manzone estate is located at ground zero as far as great wine areas go, keeping village company with such celebrated vineyards as Bussia Soprana, Pianpolvere, and Santo Stefano.

Manzone is a small estate consisting of 8 hectares.  The core estate was purchased in 1925 and wines were sold in bulk until the mid 1960’s.  Since then, Manzone wines have been estate bottled.   Aquisition of “Le Gramolere” hillside in the mid’70’s, along with investment in a new cellar, completed the design of what is the estate’s present configuration. Of the 8 hectares,  28.5%  is planted to dolcetto. The remaining vineyard area is planted primarily with nebbiolo and barbera and a small section is dedicated to rossese bianco.

In true artisanal fashion, all wine making at Manzone is carried out by the family. Since the 2005 vintage, son Mauro, having completed studies at the famed Oenology School of Alba, has joined father Giovanni in the family work. Production averages 40,000 bottles / 3,300 cases per year of a lineup that also includes barbera, barolo, langhe nebbiolo, and house speciality langhe bianco rosserto.

100% dolcetto fruit for Manzone’s Dolcetto D’Alba “Le Ciliegie” 2006 hails from guyot trained vines in the Le Ciliegie vineyard.  Maceration takes place for only 7 days, the shorter maceration softening out tannins. Ageing is then done over 11 months time in steel tanks.

Tasting Notes:

The wine is a deep ruby red color, and a pretty core of dark fruit with bright aromas of blackberries and violets all wrap around a lean, deliniated frame.  Utterly drinkable, styled for the every day table.

Food pairing suggestions:  pasta with mushroom or meat sauces, risotto, stews, grilled meats or vegetables, fresh cheeses.

Fontaleoni Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Fontaleoni Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2007
Fontaleoni Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2009

fontaleoni-vernaccia-di-san-gimignano-2007The City of Beautiful Towers, as San Gimignano is known, is rich in culture, history, art, nature – and Vernaccia is part of it all!

As early as 1276 San Gimignano municiple records tell us of a thriving trade for its Vernaccia.  An exquisitely delicate white wine, vernaccia has charmed poets, artists, Popes, and noblemen alike:  Dante Alighieri told of vernaccia in his Purgatorio (Purgatory); Michelangelo sang of it; vernaccia graced the table of the Medici; the wine steward for Pope Paul III made official requests for it.

The Troiani family had been vinegrowers for several generations when they established Azienda Agricola Fontaleoni, a very small estate in the San Gimignano hills, during the late 1950’s.  During the ’90’s, the estate made investments in cellar renovation and replanting of vineyards, raising the quality bar.  1994 brought the estate a celebrated vernaccia vintage.

At 200 meters (650 feet) altitude, vineyards face south-southeast in calcareous soil.  The estate is meticulous about keeping yields very low which, IMHO is key for top notch vernaccia. The estate uses no herbicides and agri-controls are carried out only as absolutely necessary, only ever utilizing products of sulfer – copper base.  Only organic fertilizer is applied at infrequent intervals.  The estate allows grass to grow between vineyard rows and when mowed it is left to fall back to ground.  SO2 is added to the wines only at very low levels.

Made of 100% vernaccia,the wine is soft pressed at controlled temperature, racked, followed by a short time in the cellar to rest.

Tasting Notes:

Fontaleoni Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2007

Golden straw color, delicate, but with a firm acid backbone.  Very lively and crisp in the mouth with delicious notes of lemon and chamomile and a brisk, invigorating finish.

Fontaleoni Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2009

Pretty aromatics of fresh cut grass, lemon, ginger and chamomile. Softer on the palate than 2007, perhaps better overall balance, with that wonderful, lively acidity which gives this wine such spirited energy in the mouth. Crisp, satisfying, and elegant, a hint of almond on the finish.

Enjoyed Fontaleoni’s Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2009 with chicken breast cooked in olives and wine, potato salad, grilled vegetables, grilled bread slices spread with roasted garlic and olive oil.

Food pairing suggestions:

Seafood is a perfect match:  try grilled shrimp or softshell crabs on a bed of dandelion greens sauteed in olive oil and garlic.  Excellent with proscuitto or bruschetta antipasti.  Grilled vegetables. Cold chicken salad.  Soft cheeses.  Orzo, warm or cold, with feta cheese and spinach.  Also try this wine with mild curries and Singapore mei fun !