Sunday, January 11, 2015

Home Red Winemaking

This year I was lucky to take part in some old school Italian style red winemaking.  I stood in with a group of guys who have been making wine together for some years now.  Their styles differed from completely old school no additives or preservatives and extended ageing sur lees, to a more modern approach adding a minimal dose of sulphite and frequent transfer off lees to avoid any off flavors.  Here I will outline a basic recipe for turning fresh grapes into red wine with no added ingredients, completely natural and truly a gift from the gods.

First get some fresh quality grapes from a good winemaking varietal.  There are many to choose from.  Inspect the grapes for visible rot or mold.  Fresh undamaged fruit is essential in making wine with no additives.  Here in the USA most grapes available to the home winemaker are from the vast vineyards of California.  You may be lucky to live near a vineyard or have a freind who grows wine grapes. Grapes are usually harvested in late September until late August here in the northern Hemisphere.
First the grapes must be crushed removing most of the stems.  A little stem is good as it adds tannin to the wine.  This grape crusher above crushes the grapes and automatically removes most of the large stems.  It is placed over the vessel that will be used for fermentation.
This is 20 cases of grapes crushed.  At this point the wine is left to spontaneously ferment.  Natural yeast that lives on the skins will consume the sugar and create alchohol.  This usually begins in a day or 2 and lasts about 5 days or so.  Red wine fermentation occurs with all skins in contact with the grape juice.  From the skins are derived the color, tannin and characteristic aroma of red wine.
During fermentation the skins are pushed to the top by the gas produced by the fermentation giving the juice the appearance of boiling.  About twice a day the skins must be pushed down in order to release some gas and ensure proper color and tannin extraction from the skins.  This is done with a stick or metal device resembling a large potato masher.  This step is very important in a red wine.

When fermentation is almost complete the wine has to be pressed to remove the skins, pits, etc.  It is important that the fermentation is not complete because after this step great care must be taken to avoid the contact of oxygen with the wine.
After pressing the wine is put into some sort of bulk aging vessel.  This is a 54L glass demijohn typical of small scale wine making.  Fermentation will complete in this vessel expelling any remaining oxygen picked up during pressing.  From this point on great care must be taken to exclude oxygen from the ageing wine.  This means containers must be filled almost to the top and splashing of the wine during transfers must be avoided.

The wine must now age, mature and settle.  This is best done by patience.  Wine should not be rushed.  Between 1 and several months the wine will be transferred off any sediment that has collected in the fermenter.  It must be transferred again after a few months.  And possibly again.  During each transfer you will be leaving behind grape matter and dead yeast cells further clarifying the wine.  As mentioned above great care must be taken to exclude oxygen.  Fill your ageing vessels to the top.  If there's extra drink it and observe how the wine evolves over time.
After about six months the wine should be clear enough to bottle.  Fill clean sanitized bottles almost to the top and cork with a corking machine.  Allow to age a bit more.  All in all your wine will be ready after about 8 months from crushing.  Enjoy and send me a bottle!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Calabrese Salami Picante 12/6/14

11 lbs lean 3/8" grind
4 lbs fat 3/8" grind and hand cut

136g salt (2%)
17g cure #2 (.25 %)

39g dextrose
30g crushed red pepper flakes
11g white pepper cracked
15g fennel seed cracked
30g paprika
9g garlic powder

6g f-rm-52 in .75cup H20
1.5 cup chianti wine 

Stuffed into beef middles soaked in water/ vinegar, 85/15
Fermented 24 hours at 85'
Dried in cellar 4 weeks at 45-50'F and 60-70% R/H
41% weight loss

Salami Contadino 12/14/14

This is about a month in the cellar.

Thank you to Sonoma Mountain Sausages for the basic recipe.  I made some adjustments.

Total meat: 12 lbs pork (5443g)
9 lbs lean butt (4082g) 75%
3 lbs fatback butt (1361g) 25%
163g salt (3%)
13.6g cure #2 (.25%)
27g dextrose (.5%)
16g black pepper whole
8g black pepper ground
10g garlic powder
6g f-rm-52 in 4 TBSP H20
All the meat was trimmed, portioned and partially frozen before grinding and hand chopping.  The lean and the fat were ground separately through the 3/8" die of the meat grinder.
All the ngredients were added to the meat and well mixed then stuffed into pre soaked large beef bung.
The salami was securely tied and hung to ferment at 70-80'F for 36 hours.  The pH was measured after 24 hours and had dropped to between 4.8 and 5.2.  The salami has been drying in my cellar for about a month at between 45 and 50'F with 65-70% R/H.  I am looking for about 35% weight loss.

How to cook an Octopus

This is a large octopus weighing about 7lbs.In most places not close to the sea octopus are usually found frozen in balls or packed flat on a tray.  Some people say freezing helps to tenderize the flesh.  For this recipe any size octopus can be used.  Cooking times will vary with different sizes.
Frozen Octopus are usually fully or mostly cleaned.  Sometimes you must remove the hard beak on the underside of the body and or cut off the eyes.
Bring a large pot of water to a simmer with a lemon halved, and onion halved, a pinch of peppercorns and a few bay leaves.  When the water it boiling slowly add the octopus allowing the legs to curl up before submerging the body.
Bring back to a simmer.  Try not to allow the water to boil too hard.  Simmer until tender.  This may take anywhere from 15-30 min for smaller octopus to well over an hour for larger ones.  Test for doneness by poking with a fork.  As soon as you can pierce the flesh with little resistance carefully remove the octopus from the broth and drain well.
Allow to cool a bit.  At this point you can cut the octopus into pieces for a salad or a sauce.  One preparation that works great is marinating and grilling the octopus.  Make a marinade by squeezing some fresh lemon juice.  Stir in a splash of vinegar, some chopped garlic, fresh or dried oregano, salt, pepper and a pinch of hot pepper.  Whisk in some extra virgin olive oil.  If using small baby octopus leave them whole.  For larger octopus either cut in 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8ths lengthwise from head to tentacle, leaving the tentacles intact.  Place the octopus pieces in the marinade and toss to coat.  Marinate for a little while then preheat a grill.
Cook until nice and charred.  Serve with a nice green salad, a fresh salsa or chutney, or a nice fresh fennel and orange salad like in the picture above.  Buon appetito!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Calamari Neri, Nero di Sepia, Squid in ink sauce Cafe Capriccio Style

Calamari Neri, Nero di Sepia, Squid in Ink Sauce Cafe Capriccio StyleFresh cuttlefish (sepia).
First remove the hard backbone.
Locate the ink sack and carefully remove in reserving it.
Remove the beak.
Peal the skin off by hand.
Chop the body up lengthwise from the head down then crosswise into chunks.
Simmer the ink sacks in a little water then strain through a sieve.
 Chop some bacon, onions, peppers and garlic.
Sautée some bacon in olive oil.
Add the chopped vegetables and cook for a few minutes.
Add some tomato sauce and bring to a simmer.
Add the chopped squid and stir.
Pour in the strained ink and bring to a simmer.
Cook until very tender.  Cook some pasta aldente and toss well in the sauce.
Buon Appetito!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sausage, Peppers, and Onions- Classic Easy Cooking

Yesterday I took my kids for the afternoon in Schenectady, NY.  We stopped for lunch at a great old time coal fired bakery called Perreca's.  Schenectady is great for its authentic Italian American establishments, relics of a bygone era that has died out in so many places.  Bakery's, sausage makers like Sindoni and Garofalo, cheese makers like Cappiello, cafes and small eateries.  If you haven't been, check it out.

After lunch we went into the shop
and bought a loaf of bread and some sweet sausage.  For dinner I whipped up a classic of Italian American cooking, some sausage, peppers, onions and sphaghetti.  Here is a quick and easy recipe for a classic, delicious meal.

Started with two pounds rope sausage.  Cut the continuous rope into short links.  Saute the sausage gently over medium high heat in a couple swirls of good olive oil.  When lightly browned flip the sausage and allow to brown on the other side.  This should take about 5 minutes on each side.

While the sausage is browning, slice a medium onion, a couple cloves of garlic, a small red bell pepper (I didn't have one this time,) and two hot cherry peppers.  Open a 28 oz can of peeled plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano Tomatoes or any imported Italian peeled plum tomatoes, and grab your dry oregano out of your pantry.

If you like the spice and flavor of hot cherry peppers you should keep them in your refrigerator at all times.  they are a great addition to sauces, greens, sauteed meats, or an antipasto platter.  Whole Peeled plum tomatoes are also a necessity in my cupboard.  By them whole and not crushed, trust me.  Dry oregano is a great herb to have around for Italian cooking.  Unlike dry basil or dry parsley, which have no culinary use as far as I am concerned, oregano actually evolves in flavor and aroma when dried.  Fresh oregano is perfect but not always available, especially when cooking a quick dinner for the family after a long day.

When the sausage is sufficiently browned add the sliced vegetables, salt and black pepper to taste, and a few pinches of dry oregano.  Push the onions and garlic and peppers into the hot oil between the sausage so that everything can cook nicely.  After about 5 more minutes, everything is nice and caramelized and smells fantastic.

At this point add the whole can of tomatoes and stir until everything is nicely blended and the tomatoes have broken down into a nice thick sauce.  Add a bay leaf or two if you have them, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and slightly cover the pan so that some steam can escape.  After About 15 minutes shut off the heat and leave covered until ready to use.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Make sure the pot is large enough to accommodate the amount of pasta you wish to cook.  This recipe given here is enough sauce for about a pound of pasta.  I like spaghetti for this but penne rigate or rigatoni would be great.  Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions draining the pasta about a minute before perfect al dente.  Allow the pasta to cook gently in the sauce for a couple minutes until the pasta is perfectly al dente and has absorbed and thickened the sauce nicely.  Serve the pasta family style in a large heated platter and sprinkle liberally with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

This preparation is also great so serve without pasta as a main course with some sauteed escarole or broccoli rabe.  You could also stuff some sausage and a few spoonfuls of sauce into a nice crusty loaf of Italian bread, cover with some grated Pecorino Romano and Mozzarella cheese and bake in a heated oven till melted and browned.

Buon Appetito

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Prosciutto- Whole Hog Butchery Act Three

Prosciutto Crudo is the Italian word for the salted and dry cured hind leg of pork, or ham in English.  The word prosciutto basically translates to ham in English.  The Italians also make a baked or boiled ham, similar to the typical ham in any American deli, and it is called Prosciutto Cotto, or "cooked ham."  Prosciutto Crudo, or "raw ham," in Italy is what we Americans call Prosciutto.

The most famous prosciutto in Italy comes from around the city of Parma in the province
of Emilia Romagna in north central Italy.  Prosciutto di Parma is a government regulated regional product in Italy and is one of the most highly prized dry cured hams in the world.  Prosciutto is, however, made all throughout Italy and throughout Europe using basically the same process.  The famous jamon serrano of Spain, and the Bayonne ham of France are also produced using the same procedures.  The only main difference between these famous dry cured hams is the breed and diet of the pig used, as well as the geographic location where the hams are produced.

As I mentioned, Prosciutto is made from the hind leg of a pig.  Here is a half of a hog carcass, the ham is in the foreground.  As mentioned above the quality of pork used is one of the only defining characteristics separating the famous dry cured hams of the world.  In Spain the famous Iberian black pigs who feed on
chestnuts make the finest hams.  The famous Smithfield hams of Virginia were famous for the quality of their peanut fed hogs.  This hog was partially grass fed at Lover's Leap Farm inKinderhook, New York.  The size is important as well, with larger hams going into the production of Prosciutto.  This hog weighed well over 300 lbs and yielded two very large hams.

The trimming of the ham is important in giving the Prosciutto its characteristic guitar shape.  More of the hock on the shank end must be left intact to allow for secure tying of the Prosciutto as it ages.  More of the sirloin is left attached to the ham as well leaving more meat and giving
the prosciutto its rounded shape.  The pelvis bone is removed exposing the rounded end of the femur and the entire exposed surface of meat is trimmed.  The skin is left completely intact.  

The first step in creating a dry cured Prosciutto from a raw ham is salting.  Sea salt is the preferred salt for Prosciutto in Italy.  During salting the meat is completely penetrated with salt killing any bacteria or pathogens that would eventually cause the ham to spoil.  Salt is only applied to the surface and allowed to slowly penetrate the Prosciutto.  This process is usually done under refrigeration and requires a long time, up to 40 days.  For this reason the freshness of the raw ham prior to processing is very important.  These particular hams were under salt less than 24 hours after slaughter.

The amount of salt is determined as a fraction of the total trimmed weight of the raw ham before salting.  Between 3 and 6% by weight of salt is added over a 40 day period.  The Prosciutti are sometimes weighted down during the salting phase.  After this period the Prosciutti are brushed of excess surface salt, sometimes washed with water or white wine, and moved to a drying room.  Here the Prosciutti dry for about a year, sometimes more.  The great dry cured ham producing regions of the world also points to the quality of their air as and important factor in the quality of their hams.  During drying the Prosciutti will lose about 30% of its original weight.

After an initial drying stage, the exposed surface of the Prosciutto is rubbed with a mixture of pork fat and rice or semolina flour and sometimes a little black pepper.  This seals the exposed surface a protects against over drying.  As with all dry cured meats and cheese, certain molds are allowed to grow on the surface to enhance the flavor and further protect from over drying.  To check the Prosciutto during aging, a small bone needle is inserted into the center of the Prosciutto.  The aroma is absorbed by the bone needle and checked by a trained nose.  Basically it should smell like good prosciutto and if not the entire Prosciutto is discarded.

This ham here had been hanging for 18 months in this picture before taking down and slicing.  On the surface it may look rustic and a little unappetizing, however after brushing off and trimming of the surface the inside reveals the wonderfully heady aroma and delicately salty, nutty flavor of some of the best Prosciutto I have ever tasted.  It was almost two years in the making, a truly amazing process.

So go to your local Importer of fine food and get some Prosciutto.  Serve it as an appetizer with your favorite seasonal fruit like melon, figs, or strawberries; or make a sandwich on some crusty bread with a little oil and vinegar and some sharp cheese.

Buon Appetito