Tuesday, November 30, 2010

my return to the peel

firing my oven
I have returned to Flagstaff, resettled, fired the oven, and begun to organize all the notes, photos, and thoughts that I've collected during my time in Italy (there are a lot!). As you can probably imagine, this blog has been only a snapshot of my trip. As such, I will be posting my Italy 2010 daily log at pizzicletta.com. I posted my daily notes from my trip in 2007 and I received great feedback from fellow cyclist and foodies, so I plan to also provide more details of my 2010 trip. So this post is sort of a "head's up" to keep your eye on the above mentioned website if you want to read more about the trip and it will be a short summary of some highlights of my return to Flagstaff, which includes, pizza, wine, and bread... all themes that were so prevalent during my trip that I feel they could be included here. As I mentioned in my last post, I was excited to return to Flagstaff. As those who live here or have visited know, its a special place for a countless number of reasons.
Finally, I wanted to mention that I will be starting a new blog on the pizzas and breads that I will be making over the next few months. I'll provide a link on this post in the future and will keep people in the loop on Facebook too.
my Mom and I in Sedona, my backyard
Now before I go on about my return, I'll reflect briefly on my time in Tuscany. When I was at Sesti, Elisa told me that a meal in Tuscany must include three things: bread, olive oil, and wine. This includes breakfast (which in the countryside is around 10 AM after many hours of work in the field). In my opinion, its hard to beat this combination as a meal and while I have not fully embraced this concept, my return to Flagstaff seems to be full of these three components of a meal. Another conversation I'll briefly reflect on was my time at Podere Ciona with Franca and Franco during which I had the pleasure to spend the afternoon with Franca in her kitchen. I asked Franca what she thought about the term "Italian cuisine." In general, my thought is there is no national cuisine of Italy because of the focus on regional specialties. Franca's response was that Italian cuisine is "what our mothers and grandmothers taught us." I really liked this answer because it really speaks to how Italians pass on traditional cooking. Yes, there are cookbooks in Italy, but learning from one's Mom is the most common introduction to food and cooking.
Okay, now back to my return home. I'll start my discussion with wine. My Mom (Laura) and her friend, Gary, were here this week for Thanksgiving and we decided to head to Sedona and Page Springs Cellars (PSC) for some the sights and some wine. Gary had never been to Northern Arizona and the red rocks of Sedona is a must for any visitor. Since we were in the area we decided to have a tasting at PSC (this also gave me the opportunity to pick up my quarterly wine release). PSC is a small vineyard in Northern Arizona that focuses its production on Rhone-style wines. Their wines reflect many you can find in the southern Rhone of France.
PSC grow a lot of syrah, mourvedre, and grenache, which are the main varietals you'll find in the Rhone. Most of their wines are blends and could be classified as fairly rustic with the heavy use of syrah. I really enjoy this style of wines and my time drinking wine at PSC was really was what tipped me into the oenophile category from the casual sipper.  Another aspect I really enjoy about PSC is their staff in the tasting room. I know most of these folks by their first name and they always make me feel like a king when I am there. It was a great afternoon and it was really interesting to compare the wines with all I had been drinking in Italy. Overall, the spice I tasted in these wines (mostly from syrah) was a bit of a shock in my mouth. Thinking about it more, I had realized that I didn't drink a single syrah in Italy, so this perception shouldn't be too surprising.
From wine, I'll proceed to bread. With the construction of my oven a few years ago, I've really enjoyed making hearth breads in addition to pizza. I think this is an internal craving I have from my time at Lorenzo's. Unfortunately, there are no good bakeries in Flagstaff baking traditional hearth breads, so I crave it and will purchase it whenever I have the chance. With my oven, however, I can bake my own. I've started a tradition on Thanksgiving of baking and delivering hearth breads to friends. Essentially, I spend half of Thanksgiving day preparing the dough, firing the oven, and baking. Then, I make some deliveries and return home for dinner. I really enjoy providing something unique to friends in town and they too really appreciate it. This year, I made three different types of bread: Rustic Bread, Potato Bread, and a 100% Whole Wheat Bread. They all turned out pretty good and everyone was thrilled to receive a loaf. The Rustic Bread was a new one and it was my favorite. It had a nice hearty flavor from an addition of rye and whole wheat flour.
a loaf of my Thanksgiving Day Potato Bread
Since I was firing the oven and I've been itching to make some pizza, I decide to make a few pies on Thanksgiving as well. As I've mentioned, this was Gary's first time to northern Arizona and its hard to not make pizza for someone who just met a guy who had built his own pizza oven in his backyard and had spent over a month in Italy researching pizza.
For those who know me in Arizona, I've kind-of become the local pizzaiolo so it just seems like a must to make pizza for any guests I have. Of course, my time in Italy was incredibly inspirational with respect to pizza, so it didn't take much convincing for me to make some pies. I've been ithcing to try some new dough prep techniques, topping combinations, and serving styles.
I made a few margherita's and my version of the mister, the pizza I had at Il Portatico in Venosa. The pies were good but, as usual, I found something I would have liked to improve. Specifically, these pies did not have the char and leopard-pattern on the crust that I strive for. The flavor and topping combinations were great, nonetheless.

my version of the Mister... tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto,
arugula, cherry tomato, and grana padano
And now the olive oil... While there is nothing specifically olive-oil focused upon my return, I have found myself in the kitchen a lot and making heavy use of this wonderful nectar. This past week, I found myself in sort-of a reverse role with my mom. Of course, she fed and cooked for me all of my youth and I had the pleasure this past week to make her a few dinners, pizza, and hearth breads. With this opportunity, I decided to make some of the dishes I had enjoyed in Italy. Most were fairly simple. For example, fresh, thinly-sliced fennel lightly dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or gnochi with olive oil and grana padano. All the dishes were amazingly simple, which is a hallmark of most Italian dishes, and I served them with fresh hearth breads. It was really great to spend time with my Mom and Gary in the kitchen... and it made me think back to what Franca told me about how Italians pass on the teachings in the kitchen.
a loaf of Rustic Bread... the crust of this bread was exceptional.

No comments:

Post a Comment