Last weekend I participated in the Farmers’ Market cook-off. We had a table loaded with kale, winter squash, summer squash, peppers, and beans to choose from. I also gathered some parsley, tomatoes, leeks, and onions from some of the vendors. One of my favorite things to eat this time of year is soup, I love it! So that is what I made.
I sautéed the onions and leeks in some of my favorite olive oil. (It is from Tunisia and is thick and buttery with a nice grassiness to it. It comes from one of my favorite food producers Les Moulins Mahjoub and is available at the At Home Store.)
Next, I added the peppers, tomatoes, and a few sprigs of parsley. While that was cooking, I prepared the various winters squashes. I forgot to bring a spoon to clean out the squash seeds but I discovered a new technique, a 1/4 cup measure is just the right size to clean it out in one scoop!
I let the squash saute a little before adding water. When the soup was about halfway through cooking (maybe a little more) I added some green beans, golden flat beans, and summer squash and salt. Then, when the soup was about 5 minutes from being ready, I fished out the parsley sprigs and discarded them. I took out a couple of cups of the soup and blended it until it was very smooth, and poured it back in the pot to thicken the broth. I then added some finely chopped kale and let it simmer until the kale was tender. I finished eat serving with a drizzle of olive oil, some black pepper and minced parsley.
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Last week my friend Erika came to visit from Italy. (Erika is the maker of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.) Her visit was centered around a Balsamic vinegar tasting that we did together at Zingerman’s Deli.
We did several food pairings with the various ages and wood types (the different woods impart different flavors.) Strawberries with 12 year cherry barrels, potatoes and tuna with 12 year juniper barrels, bruschetta with 12 year mulberry barrels, mixed greens and ricotta salad with 25 year mixed barrels, Parmigiano Reggiano with 25 year mulberry barrels, and of course vanilla gelato with 25 year cherry barrels.
Erika even brought a bottle of vinegar that came from the set of barrels that were started for her great-grandmother’s dowry in 1842. This one is so good you eat it alone! Needless to say, this was a big hit.
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About 4 years ago my sister and I went to Modena, Italy to learn about Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. We were lucky enough to stay with Erika Barbieri of Acetaia del Cristo. Erika’s family has been making Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (ABTM) for generations. She and her business partner, Daniele, along with her brother Gilberto are carrying on their family tradition of making ABTM.
For those of you who don’t know the difference between ABTM and the “balsamic” vinegar you find at the grocery store, there are several. ABTM is made from cooked grape juice (the cooking stops it from turning into wine) that is aged in wooden barrels for a number of years.
As the vinegar ages there is a lot of evaporation that takes place so the vinegar becomes both thicker and sweeter (because the sugars are more concentrated). At the same time, the level of acidity is increasing making the vinegar more tart. After aging for at least 12 or 25 years, the vinegar is ready to be bottled. By this point, the vinegar is so thick and sweet it seems more like a syrup than what we think of as vinegar. Grocery store “balsamic” is almost always made from wine vinegar and many times has sweeteners and colorants added to it in an attempt to mimic the richness of ABTM.
One of my favorite ways to eat Traditional Balsamic is on vanilla ice cream and strawberries!
My sister and I were in Modena during the fall so we got to help with the grape harvest. None of our friends there could believe that we were excited to pick grapes. I suppose it is akin to detasseling corn in the Midwest. Never the less, we had fun!
At the end of the harvest, Erika’s father made a big batch of Porcini risotto with porcini that he collected up in the mountains.
Erika’s friends and neighbors help with the harvest just so they can partake in the end of harvest party and eat Eugenio’s risotto, it is that good.
After the harvest was complete and things settled down a bit, my sister and I accompanied Erika to Torino, Italy for the Salone del Gusto which is a fair highlighting producers of traditional foods from all over the world.
I highly encourage everyone to taste this vinegar if you have the opportunity!
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