One of the bi-products of the wine-making biz that keeps us busy on weekends in our vineyard in El Penedés, the wine region of Catalunya, is the proliferation of fresh grape leaves on our vines. (Duh!) In May or June, grape growers undertake the labor-intensive process of “leafing” and “suckering” the vines, which means that you remove all of the stems that have no fruit, and you also snap off big leaves that are casting shadows on the baby grape clusters. The leafing also gives the fruit more air and minimizes the possibility of icky mold growth. (“Sin miedo!” our local helper tells us: Snap off the excess growth WITHOUT FEAR!)
Last year, during our first season with the white grapes that are now slowly fermenting into “cava” (Spanish champagne), we were pretty thoroughly focused on getting all of the steps right. This year, I had the wherewithal, with the help of daughter Stassa, to collect a few of the largest grape leaves and tuck them away in a plastic bag for later use, after we recovered from the very hot and sweaty leafing process!
My motive? DOLMADES! I had read up last year on the quickest and easiest way to stuff your own grape leaves, guided by Martha Stewart and a dozen other on-line cooking websites, many of them Greek-oriented. And then I promptly forgot it. So while the leaves were still mostly green and supple, I consulted the Internet once again, and I went for what seemed like a fool-proof and remarkably rapid method of preparing the grape leaves for stuffing: blanch them for a few seconds in boiling water.
It worked pretty well, and the results were tasty if a bit chewy. The stuffing process itself was less laborious than I’d anticipated, and it helps if you can make it into a fun assembly-line process in the kitchen.
Lorena Autori, who has starred as a guest chef at Boston’s own Rialto Restaurant, offers private cooking classes in her home, which is located in an historic building in the very center of the drop-dead charming medieval hill town of San Gemini.
After we reached Lorena initially via email, she first let us choose our menu well ahead of time from a wide selection of tantalizing options. We selected things that our daughter would eat and also dishes that we felt that we could later prepare at home. Lorena was delightful to chat with while she performed wonders in her kitchen, during the very little “down time” we had…as she worked us quite hard! And had a lot of fun.
Together we whipped up some amazing delicacies, including gnocchi made from scratch (JUST the right variety of potatoes, peeled after boiling, and pushed through a ricer), a special Umbrian version of pesto, polpette di pollo (chicken croquettes), vegetarian stuffed peppers, batter-fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella, and an awesome lemon cream tart. (She even contributed on her own a special local dessert that she thought our daughter would like, since there wasn’t enough time for us to bake two desserts.)
The whole cucina italiana experience with Lorena, while intense and focused for almost four hours, was an absolute delight. And then we ate! Buon appetito!
Percorsi con Gusto
Via Casventino, 4
05029 San Gemini
PRICES & AVAILIBILITY:
Umbria or Boston – PERCORSICON GUSTO
Doubting your abilities to communicate in Italian? Crack tour guide Alessandro Manciucca in San Gemini can book this for you, and arrange for a visit to a family-run winery, in a small Umbrian town.
Allessandro can be reached at www.dreavel.com
For those of you who follow me on Twitter or Instagram you would have noticed I am obsessed with making focaccia bread. Not to mention, it’s that time of year when you just want to stay indoors and stuff your face with carbohydrates.
In regards to this recipe, I blame a lot of my mishaps on my oven, but the truth is, when it comes to baking, I’m just not very good. When I cook, I don’t measure. I go my feel, taste and eye. So believe it or not, the hardest part about writing a cookbook (www.daretotaste.com) is writing down the measurements.
I have made this bread literally 15 times in the past month, and I firmly believe I finally got it right. Jumping ahead, I only like tomatoes and shallots on my focaccia. Whereas my mother, however, loves black olives and artichokes. So feel free to add your own spin on this recipe. I’m just a simple girl who likes simple flavors.
2 CUPS WATER, WARM – ABOUT 110°
2 TEASPOONS YEAST, DRY
41/2 CUPS ALL PURPOSE FLOUR
3 TABLESPOONS OLIVE OIL
2 TEASPOONS SALT
2 SHALLOTS, CHOPPED
3 TOMATOES, SLICED OR CHOPPED
1 TABLESPOON FRESH ROSEMARY
1 TABLESPOON FRESH THYME
In a large bowl (or mixer), combine the yeast with the warm water. Let rest for about 15 minutes before stirring. Add the flour, salt and flour. If you dot have a mixer, kneed for 10 minutes until the dough reaches a soft consistency.
Form the dough into a tight ball, coat with olive oil and return to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let double in size… about an hour.
Once the dough has doubled in size, deflate and let rise again for another hour. Once it’s risen, place the dough on a baking sheet lined with olive oil. With your fingers, massage the dough creating small indentations. These will become little pockets of flavor once the bread is seasoned.
In a small skillet, sauté the two shallots in olive oil until soft.
Once the dough is fully massaged, make sure the top is covered with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, rosemary and thyme. Follow with the shallots and tomatoes or any other toppings of your choice.
Cover the dough in the pan and let rest for at least another 30-45 minutes until it’s risen once again.
Bake at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes until the top and bottom are lightly browned.
Fashion designer Michael DePaulo is having a good year. Last February, the Boston native made his Palm Beach debut to critical acclaim and is getting ready to launch a new bridal and ready-to-wear line in December. Known primarily for his cocktail, evening and special occasion designs, DePaulo’s use of sophisticated lines with an innovative edge has attracted an A-list clientele that includes media and sports powerhouse Linda Pizzuti Henry and Tony Award-winning theater director Diane Paulus. We recently caught up with the handsome and peripatetic 34-year-old over coffee in the South End, where we talked about the intersection of fashion, design and architecture as well as the joys of the perfect plate of pasta.
My husband’s very favorite pasta sauce is also one of the world’s simplest. We both fell in love with this Roman specialty, a creamy twirl of fresh pasta, hot with crushed black pepper, during our time in residence at the American Academy in Rome, after a friend introduced us to the charms of the old Jewish Ghetto. There, on the Piazza delle Cinque Scuole, behind an unmarked door at number 30, is one of the smallest trattorias in the city, Sora Margherita.
You need to become a “member” of Sora Margherita because of local licensing, but this essentially means filling in a form. We were introduced in this loud and crowded little watering hole to the simple marvel that is pasta cacio e pepe. The cooks at Sora Margherita serve it over a delectable egg tonnarelli (a variation on long, flat fettucine), but any long pasta will do. The quality of the pasta is as important as the freshness of the few ingredients.
Aria Trattoria, North End — One of my absolute favorite spots for dinner, drinks, more drinks and snacks… everything! And yes, this is my second and last North End restaurant on the top five list. I would add more, but I don’t want you all to think I’m afraid to leave my neighborhood.
Massimo Tiberi has hit it out of the park with Aria. Named after his daughter, the best part of the menu is Tiberi’s love for having pasta fit into every meal. I agree with Mass, you must squeeze the pasta in somewhere. In fact, a small bowl of homemade bolognese is what makes your night at Aria complete. And the fact that you can order a small bowl of pasta in between your starter and main dish is, in my opinion, righteous. Yeah, I said righteous.
During the summer meet festivities at the Saratoga Race Course, the thoroughbreds are the stars who pack the small town of Saratoga Springs with horse racing enthusiasts and tourists. But after the last race of the day, the restaurants and bars become the main attraction, and finding great food and a party is easy. Just keep in mind that most places during this time of year are very busy, but getting a table isn’t impossible.
The brightest stars among the numerous options are Prime at Saratoga National and Sperry’s. If you want to rub elbows with celebrities, horse owners, trainers and jockeys, these are the spots…
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Jan Saragoni is usually so busy running her eponymous public relations and communications firm that trying to schedule a photo shoot proved impossible. That’s why we had to snap this shot of her in her “casual Mondays” garb shortly after she left her firm’s headquarters, which also double as the second floor of her Cambridge residence. A Boston native who initially trained as a reporter, Jan knows every short cut from here to there and can rattle off every hotspot, former hotspot and the site of every great news story or moment of history along the way. Unfortunately, she drives like she is from Boston and has yet to offer a reasonable explanation as to why her closest friends and family members refer to her as “Jane” or “Janie.” She is fluent in Italian, and holds an Italian passport, which makes it all the more confusing why she owns a home on the Greek island of Hydra. The styleboston.tv staff has learned that she has been asked by friends in the publishing world — who should know better — to consider writing a book or travel piece about her Hellenic adventures. Jan has suggested “Under the Trojan Sun” as a possible title and can’t understand why that might not be as clever an idea as she thinks it is.
EDITOR AT LARGE
CHIEF FASHION CORRESPONDENT
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