Italian Cooking…Southern Italy

Week 3 of our Italian cooking class featured the areas Abruzzo, Campania and Puglia…This week was as much about ingredients and preparation as it was anything…Yes, we did use some flour to do a little baking…Pumpkin Raisin Bread, Dessert Ravioli, Walnut and Black Pepper Cookies, and Chocolate Mostaciolli…But for the most part we focused on the importance of quality ingredients and proper preparation. 

Our Antipasti this week was a selection of Burrata…Figs with Walnuts, Pepper & Ricotta… Herbed Goat cheese… Capicola stuffed with Mascarpone & Scallions, Cipolline Agrodolce (sweet & sour onions)…Pumpkin Raisin Bread and Tarale.   I selected two white wines from Abruzzo to start our evening.  The wines are both from the same producer, Cantina Frentana.  The first wine, Terre Valse Pecorino, with its lean, bright, fruit and acidity and was a great match with the cheeses, the figs and the Capicola.  The second wine Terre Valse Cococciola has bigger, more round fruit was a very nice compliment to the Cipolline Agrodolce and our next course…Baked Eggplant 

Baked Eggplant is not something you can properly prepare in a 3 hour cooking class.  Debe was good enough to do the most important step in preparing the Eggplant, cutting and draining it for us, the night before.  We did learn how to peel and cut the eggplant.  Debe had us chop the eggplant into cubes, which I now believe is the secret to success with this dish.  Eggplant holds a lot of moisture, so if you don’t want it to be rubbery, you need to drain it in a colander, preferably overnight.  We also lightly salted every layer. I have always enjoyed baked eggplant…this was definitely the best that I have ever had.  I chose a red wine from Campania to accompany this dish… Nifo Aglianico del Taburno.  Aglianico. This red wine grape that was brought to Italy from Greece by the people who settled in southern Italy.  Many people from Campania are of Greek descent.  The family that owns the “Nifo” vineyards full surname is Nifo Sarrapochiello.  Aglianico is a versatile wine, it has complexity, acidity and just the right amount of tannin. This medium weight wine went really well with the Eggplant, but it can also stand up to heartier foods.  This spring, when I was in Italy, we had it with Pizza Escarole, Rabbit and Wild Boar. The Aglianico also went well with the Orecchiette (little ear pasta) with Mushrooms and Vegetables…as did the Cococciola from the first course.  We then made a Fennel and Lemon Salad… that was both delicious and palate cleansing and Bitter Greens with Tomato & Pecorino Romano…

Our main course for the evening was Lentil Stew with Saffron.  This was a very hearty and flavorful stew.  We used small Lentils (they are packed with flavor) Pancetta, Cognac, garlic, olive oil, cloves, tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar.  The key to this dish, again, was the quality of the ingredients and the preparation.  Rinsing the lentils, soaking the lentils…simmering them with the right ingredients, for just the right amount of time…and then letting them rest.  The Cognac Cream we made to put on top was pretty important too…With this deliciously flavorful stew we had a wine from Puglia…Pichierri Vittoria Negroamaro del Salento. Puglia is known for its big flavored, well priced reds. This Negroamaro is a perfect example of that, big, bold, dry fruit with just a hint of raisin and a soft finish.  The flavor of this wine from Salento was in great contrast to the Aglianico that we had with the eggplant, and complemented the Lentil stew very nicely…

Then there was dessert…if you are in to that sort of thing… In addition to the pastries that I mentioned at the begining…we also had Gelato and Sorbetto…not a bad way to finish the evening. Thanks again Debe…for a great week in Southern Italy…