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The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Italy

Video: Pronouncing Italian wine names

 

Hilarious and endearing: The wine blog Do Bianchi features the Italian Grape Name Pronunciation Project “inspired by a desire to share the aural experience of Italian ampelography, vinography and toponymy — in the voice of the winemakers and grapegrowers themselves."

Not just a disembodied voice, but a brief (under one minute) YouTube video with an Italian speaker (a different one each time) pronouncing the name of a grape. The current one up is Freisa, in which Chiara Martinotti of Cascina Gilli pronounces the word several times. That’s it. In the text below, blogger and Italian wine maven Jeremy Parven contributes a concise history of the grape in Italy.

Let’s take a somewhat more difficult pronunciation assignment: Aglianico (pronounced by Bruno de Conciliis of Viticoltori De Conciliis or Teroldego spoken by Elisabetta Foradori of Azienda Agrigola Elisabetta Foradori

The blog has much more, though, from blogger, food and wine historian, Italian translator and rock musician Jeremy Parzen. A local boy (La Jolla) now living in Austin, Texas, he did his doctorate at UCLA and taught Italian literature and cinema there for several years. Lately, he’s been visiting Los Angeles more often, collaborating with Steve Samson on the wine list for Sotto, the Italian restaurant that replaces the Test Kitchen on Pico Boulevard.

Don’t be caught mispronouncing Italian wine names. Even highly trained sommeliers sometimes make mistakes, though more likely with French wine names than Italian. Check out Do Bianchi and learn a little about Italian wines in a relaxed, easy manner. Parven has fun with his blog, and is incredibly generous with information. Through him, you can vicariously attend Italian wine tastings, visit vineyard area, and meet the winemakers.

Do Bianchi also includes a very nice listing of other wine blogs to check out.

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— S. Irene Virbila

Finding authentic trattorie and osterie in Italy

Osterie book cover Putting away the reference books from my last trip to Italy (over a year ago now), I picked up my copy of "Osterie & Locande d'Italia: A guide to traditional places to eat and stay in Italy" from Slow Food Editore. If you're headed to Italy this summer, you must have this book. Translated from Italian, it's yet another fine travel guide from Slow Food Editore, based in Piedmont.

Slow Food has done tremendous work in identifying small trattorie and locande (inns) that serve traditional dishes based on regional ingredients. These are not the sorts of places with international menus. They may not, and probably won't, have menus in English, but they will give you an education in traditional cuisine.  

For example, you can be traveling through the remote reaches of the Maremma in Tuscany and come up with a place to eat that stands out in memory. Most are small, modest places, like the little trattoria in Treiso, Piedmont -- where you could go for rabbit stewed with peppers --that only the locals knew until Slow Food started publishing its guides. Sadly, that place is now gone, but there are hundreds more in the book.   

If you care about wine, a wine-bottle symbol next to a listing indicates a place with an excellent list of regional wines. Wine bars are included too, and the write-ups for each place are concise and informative, pointing out the kitchen's strengths.  A snail symbol next to an entry indicates "an address that, in terms of cooking and atmosphere, reflects the philosophy of Slow Food." There's a cheese symbol too, for addresses that stock "a particularly interesting selection of cheeses."  

When I'm wandering around the countryside, I often use the book's listings to find somewhere to stay -- a bed and breakfast, small hotel or agriturismo (holiday farm stay).  

My copy of "Osterie & Locande d'Italia" dates from 2006, I realize (how time flies). The 2007 edition, which appears to be the last edition translated into English, is in stock at Amazon and possibly in bookshops with a well-stocked travel section. Even better, pick up the 2011 edition of the original Italian edition at bookstores in Italy for 20 euros, or about $28. Not to worry: What's most important are the addresses, and with the help of an Italian dictionary you can translate whatever dishes you don't already know.

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-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: Slow Food Editore

Breaking the pasta code

What-kind-of-pasta

There are more shapes of pasta than any one living person could possibly remember. And especially these days, it seems like every restaurant that serves the stuff tries to outdo its competitors by finding ever newer and stranger shapes (remember when strangolapreti -- "priest chokers" -- were cutting edge?). If you've ever puzzled over what, exactly, are the differences among gemelli, fusilli and spirali, a website called "Charming Italy" has put together a neat graphic. Granted, there are some quibbles. Why, for example, are ravioli -- of all things -- not included in the stuffed pasta category? And you'll search in vain for strangolapreti (or even strozzapreti). Still, it's pretty cool and if they only had one that would fit in your wallet, it would be even more useful.

-- Russ Parsons

Restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila on researching where to eat in Rome

Rome1
A reader recently wrote in saying that she was off to Rome and that since I seemed like such an Italophile, could I suggest where to eat there? Truth is, and it's a terrible lapse, I haven't been to Rome in a while and I know much has changed. The city seems to be waking up, culinarily speaking. I'd love to go -- and soon.

I could suggest a few of the classic restaurants, but better she check out what's happening now. So I referred her to a blog I've been following lately, mostly via Twitter. That's Katie Parla -- Rome-based art historian, food and travel writer and sommelier, at Parla Food. (She has some good tips about Istanbul and Turkey on her site too.)

Also, check  "Food Wine Rome" (Terroir Guides: $24.95) from David D. Downie, an expat journalist and novelist who lives in France and Italy. If you go, you might want to pick up his new guidebook to "Quiet Corners of Rome" (Little Bookroom: $16.95) too.

I also suggested she check out the travel pages at Faith Willinger's site, www.faithwillinger.com. Hit "travel" and then beneath the little map of Italy, you'll find a search box. Willinger is a food writer and cookbook author who has lived in Florence for more than 25 years and now contributes stories on Italian food and wine to the Atlantic Monthly's online Atlantic Life Channel.

Also, the well-traveled chef Mario Batali's Rome restaurant suggestions can be found at babbonyc.com. I don't know how up to date they are, but restaurants in Italy don't change as much as they do here from year to year.

Lastly, I checked the "not to miss" list of Italian restaurants that an editor of Italy's "Guida dei Ristoranti L'Espresso" had given a friend (who gave it to me) last year when I was on my way to Sicily. One Rome restaurant is included: Il Pagliaccio from chef Anthony Genovese. The restaurant has just 28 seats, so this one requires reserving well ahead. 

And if you can read Italian with the help of a dictionary, check out L'Espresso, where you can search by region and town for reviews published in the magazine. It took me forever, but I finally found the link to the book "L'Espresso Guida Ristoranti d'Italia 2011." You can pick it up at bookstores in Italy for 25 euros. Another worthy and reliable guide is Slow Food's "Osterie d'Italia 2011" (available only in Italian), which collects casual and/or rustic restaurants that subscribe to the Slow Food philosophy.

Anybody out there have other Rome favorites?

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-- S. Irene Virbila

Follow me on twitter.com/sirenevirbila

Photo: Julia Roberts in "Eat, Pray, Love," eating gelato in Rome. Credit: Francois Duhamel/Columbia Pictures. 

Restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila: A delicious quiz

Browse through "The Slow Food Dictionary to Italian Regional Cooking" and it will take you only a page or two to realize how very limited the repertoire of dishes cooked in L.A.’s Italian restaurants really is.  I thought I knew a lot about Italian regional cuisine, but on every page I find dishes I’ve never encountered, one after the other. 

Italian food dict OK, here’s a short quiz to test your Italian food knowledge (with answers below). What are:

1. castagne d’o prevete (“priest’s chestnuts”)

2. farecchiata

3. kizoa

4. 'ntuppateddi

5. paniscia

Answers: (I would print them upside down if I knew how.)

1. These are oven-roasted chestnuts splashed with grappa and white wine and tightly wrapped in a cloth to let them rest before being skinned and eaten. Campania.

2. A thick porridge made by mixing the flour of wild peas with water. Flavored with garlic and anchovies. Umbria.

3. Small leavened focaccia typical of Castelnuovo Magra, in the province of La Spezia. The surface of the dough is pressed with the fingers to create dimples, which are anointed with oil and filled with pieces of sausage. Liguria.

4. Dialect name for operculate snails ... in Syracuse, cooked a 'mbriaca (drunk), stewed with onion, oil, black pepper, red chili salt and red wine. Sicily.

5. A risotto made by “toasting” rice in butter with onion, lardo and crumbled salame. The mixture is bathed with red wine and, when this has evaporated, progressively supplemented with a soup made with strips of pork rind, beans, coarsely chopped celery, carrot, tomato and Savoy cabbage. Piedmont.

Poking around in this book is dangerous: I got so hungry, I had to raid the refrigerator for a hunk of Parmigiano. Some of the definitions, as in No. 4, are so detailed, you could cook from them. And I just may.

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-- S. Irene Virbila

Follow me on twitter.com/sirenevirbila

Image: "The Slow Food Dictionary to Italian Regional Cooking" (575 pages, $34.95). Credit: Slow Food Editore

The Best: Torrone from Caffe Sicilia in Noto


IMG_1681 If I could be magically transported somewhere right this minute, like Dorothy in her sparkly red shoes, I'd like to be left off, please, at Caffe Sicilia in Noto, Sicily. I'm still dreaming of breakfast there--a bowl of icy almond granita with a soft tender brioche. I can't replicate that granita, but I just received a box of torrone from the shop as a present.  

I have to get more. This torrone is not the break-your-teeth variety, but soft and yielding, perfumed with honey from the Iblei mountains, and loaded with almonds from Noto. I nearly groaned when I took the last bite.

It turns out, though, I don't have to go all the way to Noto to resupply my stash. The online Italian grocery Gustiamo sells Torrone di Mandorle di Noto from Caffe Sicilia, a phenomenal pastry shop founded in 1892.  And if you get on the horn (or start clicking that mouse) right now, you might be able to get some shipped in time for Christmas. If not, consider a gift certificate.

Unfortunately, no picture of the actual torrone: I ate it all before I finished writing it up. 

Gustiamo, www.gustiamo.com; 1-877-907-2525. Torrone di Mandorle di Noto, $17.50; Torrone di Pistachi di Bronte, $27.

--S. Irene Virbila

Photo by S. Irene Virbila

So you wanna be a Test Kitchen intern.... Meet Maria Sulprizio

Test Kitchen Blog

This week has been a whirlwind of recipe testing in the Kitchen, and today is no different. We've finished testing 6 different kinds of popsicles and are now knee-deep in gelato, testing and shooting five different flavors. We're also testing frittatas, a curried cauliflower salad, chocolate chip cookies, butterscotch pie and crab cakes. An eclectic assortment of recipes, maybe, but it's just another day in the Test Kitchen.

We test and re-test until we're certain the recipes we want to run are consistent and solid. (And we may opt to do a little extra testing on particularly tasty recipes, like the massive chocolate chip cookies pictured above.)

In addition to our full-time staff, we host interns from culinary schools all over the United States, including international students. These students receive hands-on training as they learn the finer points of recipe testing and development (recipe reading, wording, problem solving, adapting for the home kitchen and testing for consistent results). The students also learn tips for food styling and interact with chefs, writers and food professionals of all kinds.

And as much as they may learn from us, we also learn a lot from them. Hailing from various regions and with diverse ethnic backgrounds, our interns bring unique perspectives and passions to our kitchen, whether it's discussing the secret intricacies of a Texas-style "bowl o' red" or sharing a mother's technique for making Chinese bao. What we all share is a deep love of food.

Over the last few months, I've introduced some of our recent Test Kitchen interns, including, most recently, Kat Nitsou and Joe Moon. Joe has gone to continue his studies at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Kat's last day is tomorrow, and then she's off to Toronto.

Here, I introduce Maria Sulprizio, on loan from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles (Hollywood Campus). -- Noelle Carter

Today in the Test Kitchen, we're making gelato. An amazing array including fragola (strawberry), limone (lemon), Parmigiano (Parmesan), fior di fragola (a creamy strawberry gelato) and cioccolato (chocolate). And I’m trying my hand at a butterscotch gelato pie, with graham cracker crust and rich chocolate topping.

This is my first attempt at gelato, and the Test Kitchen has this compact Arete Viva gelato maker – it’s an older Italian machine, and the butterscotch base is creamy and velvety as it churns.  As the gelato thickens, I’m taken back to my Italian heritage – into the mountains of Abruzzo, from which my grandfather immigrated at the turn of the century, from the small village of Tocco Da Casauria.

Continue reading »

The Scoop: Mirko Paderno opens Oliverio in former Blue on Blue space

Jdqgxznc Mirko Paderno, who's served time at seemingly every Italian restaurant in the city (Drago, All' Angelo, Dolce, Ago and, most recently, a short term at Cecconi's), is now taking over the space at Blue on Blue at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Paderno's place is called Oliverio, and to match the Italian chef's new menu, the restaurant's interior and hotel entrance have been refurbished to be reminiscent of 1950s Italy. In addition to a snazzy makeover, Paderno will get to indulge in the Avalon's rooftop garden, which restaurant manager Ryan Hoffman planted last year. 

His menu will include dishes such as fritto misto and salumi served with homemade olive focaccia, branzino and a variety of handmade pastas. The prices are similar to Blue on Blue, with entrees ranging from $16 to $30.

It remains to be seen if Paderno will draw some of the same attention that former chef Scott Garrett did. (Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom and Kathy Lee Gifford were spotted at the Avalon recently.)

-- Krista Simmons

Photo: Chef Mirko Paderno shaves cold cuts on an antique slicing machine at All' Angelo. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu

Mozzarella makers come to Hawthorne

Cheese1 

While the rest of Los Angeles was flocking to the Times building to see the Governator speak, I rushed away in search of another import: fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese made by Angelo & Franco.

The grand opening of the company's small cheese factory in Hawthorne had a quite a turnout  —possibly due to Hawthorne’s close-knit Italian community (or perhaps it was the free catering by chef Antonio Pisanello and Il Forniao).

Franco Russo, a third-generation artisan cheese maker, is a native of Bagnoli Irpino, a village in Italy's Campania region so renowned for its mozzarella that there are 10 family-owned formaggio "factories" – impressive considering the town’s population of just 3,000. He and Angelo Tartaglia, the company's chief executive, grew up together and decided to take their knowledge to the U.S. 

“At first, I thought the reason why America didn’t have good mozzarella was because of the milk. Then we figured out it was the timing, the process and the tradition,“ Tartaglia says.

The two are hoping that their small-production cheeses — produced using Italian-made machinery and their almost-instinctual knowledge of cheese  — will tap into Angelenos’ increasing demand for fresh mozzarella. Mozza's Nancy Silverton and Santa Monica cheese shop owner Andrew Steiner have sparked local interest on a small scale, but this team is aiming for distribution in Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and Costco.

Upon cutting the red ribbon Thursday that officially opened the Angelo & Franco Factory, one of Hawthorne’s representatives encouraged attendees to join the city’s third annual Italian Festival/Bocce Tournament on June 13 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Memorial Park (3901 W. El Segundo Blvd.; free). Best believe that if there’s fresh cheese, we’ll be there.

-- Krista Simmons

Photo credit: Angelo & Franco

Under the Tuscan Sun... with Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan. Credit: Library Foundation of Los Angeles Imagine walking through the verdant Tuscan countryside discussing the ethics of burrata production with one of the world's foremost thinkers on the politics of food, his every word a pearl of wisdom spilling from lips undulant as an archer's bow. Suddenly, he says, "Signora. Please stop being so sad. If you continue like this, I will be forced to make love to you."

Rewind. Sorry. Got my dreams all mixed up.

Yes, there will be Tuscany, Michael Pollan and plenty of sunlight, but probably no Hollywood-style romance at the Petraia Sessions, a series of foodie retreats. Hosted by La Petraia, a 900-year-old organic farm in the Chianti Mountains that's been owned and operated since 2001 by chef and author Susan McKenna Grant ("Piano, Piano, Pieno") along with her husband, Michael Grant, each retreat will feature an "intimate week" with a leading chef or food lover.

Hoping that the sour economy hasn't curdled the market for luxury agrotourism, the first Petraia Session will take place in mid-July and feature five days of cooking classes, formal lectures, hiking, foraging for mushrooms and more. You'll get to prep and eat food (not too much, mostly plants) with the author of "In Defense of Food," "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "The Botany of Desire" as you explore how to best nourish the global population. There are only eight spots and each costs 4,995 euros ($6,777) per person (airfare not included), so sign up now. Or perhaps you prefer to wait for the second retreat, which will take place in October and will star Jamie Kennedy (the chef, not the prankster comedian).

-- Elina Shatkin

Photo: Michael Pollan (Credit: Library Foundation of Los Angeles)

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