Jan 18, 2016

Grilled polenta with 4 formaggi cheese fondue

My fridge is exploding. It has always seen its fair share of dairy, but never this much.
The result of shooting a show entirely dedicated to cheese comes with many obvious perks, one of which is taking home chunks and slices of the set after filming.

At every caseificio (dairy farm) the crew and I visited – be it to portray the production method, meet the producers, or milk the livestock – there was always a tasting here, a random gift of the local specailty there, and often a purchase of the product featured in each location. Hence the fridge explosion. I am loaded with cheese. There's formaggio everywhere, and more apparently coming in the mail...

What to do with all this bounty (aside from eating it and thus increasing my cholesterol)? After giving away loads of it to friends, gifting it to neighbors and showing off la bella figura at parties and festive gatherings, I need to start using the funky stuff and make room in the icebox. Employing the cheese in dishes is always a good way to start.
My favorite are the fridge-cleaner recipes, the ones that wipe out most of the leftovers in one fell swoop.

A few days ago, with the bitter chill of winter finally scratching at our windows, and fierce winds blowing, I made polenta. I see a pattern forming: my mother makes polenta at the first sign of cold, I see myself now doing the same. Of course, like her, I make it monumental amounts, despite our immediate family of two.

With the leftover polenta and the abundance of cheese I made crostini and popped a nice bottle of Franciacorta. Cleaning out the fridge deserves some celebration, no?

Leftover polenta, about 400 g (14 oz)
100 g (1/2 cup) gorgonzola, sliced
100 g (1/2 cup) fontina, diced
50 g (1/4 cup) Parmigiano, grated
3 tbsp mascarpone
1 glass heavy cream or milk
1 small bunch of chives, minced
2-3 firm Kaiser pears, cored, peeled and quartered – slice to obtain a piece for each piece of polenta

Start by slicing the polenta (it solidifies fast, so I store the leftovers in a cubic container, in order to make it easier to cut it in regularly shaped slices). I like my slices thick, about 3/4-inch. You can of course change this measurement, but anything thinner than that could potentially come apart when heated and topped. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Heat a griddle or a ribbed steak pan until scorching hot. Brush or spray with olive oil. Grill the polenta slices until seared with dark grill marks on each side, and set aside. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.

In a saucepan, melt the cheeses with the cream (or milk) over low heat. Stir gently to obtain a firm, lumpy mixture. The texture should not be runny or liquid.

Let the mixture cool a few minutes, then incorporate the minced chives stirring to blend well.

Place the grilled polenta on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spoon a dollop of the mixture on each slice of polenta and top with a piece of pear.

Pop in the hot oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble. Serve immediately.

Buon appetito!

Jan 13, 2016

The cheese I ate in Abruzzo

If I were to list all the cheese I have tasted, this post would be monumental. Let's say that I eat slightly more dairy than the average cheese lover. My work with Gambero Rosso in the last six months has contributed to that.

What I tasted during the filming of «ABCheese» was only a fraction of what is produced in Italy, yet in a total of ten episodes of Season 1, I ended up "deepening my knowledge" of at least two products in each segment. That's a lot of cheese.

Now that filming is over and the show is airing on Italian satellite TV, it feels good to flip through my camera roll, finding memories of the places, people and products I discovered.

Today I want to share some thoughts and photos gathered behind the scenes during filming in Abruzzo this past September.

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Jan 12, 2016

Italian-style detox

I really exaggerated with the panettone and the multi-course Christmas extravaganza during the holidays. I do it every year. Don't blame me, it's tradition: the holiday eating stretch in Italy lasts over two weeks culminating with the Befana on January 6th.

For Italians this means detoxing after the holiday season is not just #1 on the list of new year resolutions, but ranks just as high in the health priorities. Bodies are begging for clean nutrients, crisp vegetables, vitamin-packed citrus, brassica and roots. Fortunately, us gourmands subjugated to our palate, won't need to undergo an excruciating juice cleanse to feel virtuous.

In Italian kitchens, tradition and family regional recipes rescue us, filling our plates with satisfying seasonal dishes while maintaining healthy standards. Here is a list of favorite resolution-friendly winter recipes.

Jan 3, 2016

My blue (cheese) heaven

I love anything inoculated with spores. I could talk about (and eat) blue cheeses all day long. Lots of ink has been spilled on the crumbly Roquefort and the creamy Gorgonzola, and how these–and all their variations–can be paired, matched and used in recipes.

Researching the blue world, and why opinions are so divided and discussions heated on the topic, it became clear that blue cheese is a religion. You either hate it, and need to plug your nose with a clothespin every time you come near it, or you adore it (I belong in this camp). There is no, "Meh" when taking a position in regards to blue cheese.

For non-nerds, blue cheese falls under the erborinati, or blue veined, cheese category. These possess varying degrees of texture, sharpness and flavors depending on milk, spores and age. I particularly like Italian blues with unconventional roots, particularly those made by small family-run dairies in remote pasturelands. Some of these producers create intriguing twists. Fore example...

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