Sunday, 26 June 2011

The land of poppies, turtles and kebabs...well that's not all, folks!

One of the reason I have been less present on the blog is that I've been on holidays in a magic, amazingly beautiful and contradictory country: Turkey.

Turkey is full of stunning ancient sites such as Ephesus, Priene and Bergama where Romans and Greeks have battled and mixed. Culture and traditions are the result of a mix of extreme Europe and Minor Asia and a rural structure. Beaches are long and used by sea turtles to nestle at night. The sea is turquoise. On the other side I have to say that the country is full of crazy drivers and disgusting massive buildings destroying the natural beauty of part of the coast. Talking about food I have to say against the common thoughts that Turkish food is not only Kebap (this is actually the right spelling...I guess the final B is the result of a translation).
Honestly Turkey is not really a grand gourmet country. Most of the restaurants offer simple food and a friendly and relaxed service and you will find a lot of places where the waiters have the very annoying custom of calling passing customers from the street to invite them in. But the ingredients are normally so tasty and genuine that even the simplest dish will warm you heart.
A couple of places more than others really impressed me, not only for the food that was great but for location and staff. The first was a small fish restaurant in the Dilek Peninsula, close to Doganbey (unfortunately I am not sure about the name, but it could be Karina) with tables straight on the beach. Just few meter from the police station where the park becomes a military zone, this cosy place offers the freshest fish for the best price I ever had. The grilled sea bream I had was the best of my life.It was succulent and perfectly cooked, and the meze we had as starters were perfectly matching the stunning landscape.
Another restaurant that we really enjoyed was inland, at our first stop on the mountains beyond Bursa. It is just on the way to the Uludag Milli Park (and once again I am not sure about the name, but should be something like Villa...). We had lot of fun there! No one was speaking in English, but we managed to order and also to spot and explain a little mistake on our bill. They brought us fresh meat and a little BBQ and asked (gesticulating) if we would have preferred to cook the meat by ourselves.

And this is what we did....and everything was extraordinarily tasty an fresh. The lamb was just melting in the mouth and the tomatoes were incredibly juicy. The location was also great on a terrace overlooking Bursa at night.Romantic and beautiful but in a very simple way.

The last restaurant I'll be telling you about was my favourite of the entire trip. Sarnic is located in Kayakoy the Ottoman ghost town few kilometers far from Oludeniz, a very atmospheric and fascinating place. The restaurant is  a little gem unfortunately not that easy to find being on a secondary road.We went there twice and both times had a wonderful time. The restaurant was actually empty, but it didn't feel bad at all (at least not for us!). It was actually extremely romantic to have a place for ourselves in that beautiful courtyard of a restored 400 years old Ottoman house decorated with flowers and candles. And not only the location and ambience were great. The service was sharp but extremely friendly (we really enjoyed a lovely conversation with the brothers owning the premises) and the food was delicious without being pretentious. They even grow their vegs in their own garden that is certainly a plus! Also I had the chance to taste a good Turkish red wine from Kappadokia (Kalecik Karasi) extremely interesting and wonderfully pairing our lamb slow cooked with herbs.
If you are travelling  around the Aegean Coast of Turkey make sure you are not going to miss it!!!


Friday, 10 June 2011

Hungarian quiz

How many of you know what is the primary grape for Tokaji, the Hungarian, delicious and famous sweet wine? No no reason to cheat and google it! I am afraid there won't be any other prize than a little bit of wine love sharing! It is the Furmint an almost anonymous grape variety that reigns over Hungarian viticulture but it is also planted in other countries such as Austria, Croatia, Slovakia, Romania and even the regions of formerly Soviet federation.
I have to confess that I couldn't memorize the name of this grape for years, until the moment when I had the chance to taste a Tokaji. But since then it suddenly stayed clear in my mind.
The grape's origins are not exactly clear but likely it was introduced in Hungary around the 13th century during King Bela's reign as a result of his efforts to revitalise his country viticulture.

This white varietal main characteristic is that it is affected by botrytis. So the berries, overripe and nobly rotted are pressed and the result is a golden, marzipany, luscious, sweet nectar whose amount of sugar is counted in puttonyos (3 to 6 being 6 the sweetest). The grape has also a natural high level of acidity and alcohol that give a perfect balance to the sugars, fantastic longevity and great ageing potential.
For centuries Furmint has been used mainly for Tokaji in blend with Harslevelu.But from the 21st century its potential for dry wine production have finally been discovered and since then interest and attentions have more and more increased.
The dry style Furmint has a good acidity, fruity flavours of pear and lime, a smokey and mineral background and a medium/light texture.
If it's almost impossible to find them in supermarket and sometimes difficult even in wine shops, it is probably due to the difficulties to cultivate the grape that means of course very small yields,and consequently very high prices.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

S.P.Q.R. (or the tasty flowers...)

This is the season when courgettes are flowering and their flowers look really beautiful, but to be honest...they taste even better! Unfortunately it is not easy to find them in supermarket here in UK, but you can get them growing your own courgettes in the garden! The most famous Italian recipe with courgettes flowers is from Rome and it is one of typical starter you would be offered in a Pizzeria.
It is one of the easiest thing to prepare and it is so tasty and just can't resist to eat more and more....ok, I'll stop and I'll start with the recipe.
You need some flour, sparkling water, 1 egg, mozzarella, anchovies, olive oil and of course the flowers!!!
First you need to cut the external part of the flower being careful not to break it. Wash the flowers and put them to drain on a side while you prepare the batter. You need to mix sparkling water, flour and 1 egg and a pinch of salt. The result should have a consistence similar to the crepes batter, but slightly more elastic.
Now make cubes of your mozzarella, same quantity of your flowers and fill the flowers with the mozzarella and with one anchovy fillet each. At this moment you need to start heating your olive oil (abundant) in your pan. Then dip your flower in the batter, take it out with a spoon and deep fry it!!! When done, sprinkle a little bit more of salt if needed and just eat them!!

There is a little sweet variation to this recipe. This is originally from the North of Lazio, the area close to the border with Tuscany where my family is from and it has always been and still is my little treat when back home. The main ingredients are again the flowers and the batter but in this case you don't have to add any salt, any mozzarella or anchovies and before dipping the flower in the batter you have to open it and make pieces of it.
Then you can deep fry it again, and when ready and still hot, before serving sprinkle with abundant caster sugar.......Even if it is such a simple thing it reminds me of my childhood and it a lovely genuine original sweet!

I won't think about matching a wine with the sweet flowers but it is really nice to have the savoury ones as a starter or appetizer with a fresh, crisp white wine with a good acidity to clear your mouth.
My choices are the Sergio Mottura Grechetto, Verdicchio Belisario or Castel de Paolis Donna Adriana (unfortunately impossible to find in UK).
Hope you'll enjoy!

Picture is courtesy of my dad's garden and recipe is courtesy of my mum's heart!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Whites for the summer...

Summer is finally arriving (and here in UK we all hope it's going to last!) and it's time to drink crisp, refreshing and thirst-killing white wines. But instead of going for the usual, common Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc why not trying something different like some less known and maybe never tasted indigenous grapes?
As I don't want to be told that I am always writing about Italian wines, this time I'll choose one French and one Spanish...No, I can't resist, please let me add an Italian one as well!!

I will start with the lightest in structure: Picpoul de Pinet produced in Languedoc, a small and sunny region of  South France. The homonymous grape is grown on a limestone plateau overlooking the Bassin Thau in the middle of a triangle created by the towns of Agde, Pezenas and Sete. It is a very ancient varietal: vineyards of Picpoul can be seen on a painting of 19th century shown at the Louvre museum.
The climate of the area is really warm but the cooling effects of the sea breezes during the day helps the grape to reach is lively acidity.
The wine has generally elegant flavours of flowers and citrus and a hint of vegetal sometimes. It's a wine to be drunk young and it excels with mussels and oysters or as an aperitif.
Also if you like jazz, and are maybe planning a trip  to South of France, every year in July in Languedoc there's an event called Jazz in Meze, and apparently the only wine available to drink is the Picpoul.

My second wine will be the Spanish one and its name is Godello.
It is not that famous (at least not as much as the Albarino), but it is growing in popularity after heading to extinction at the beginning of 1900. It is a native white variety from North West of Spain in the region of Valdeorras, formerly Galicia. It grows on a mountainous and inhospitable terrain, in extreme conditions. The wine is graceful, has a medium body and a quite important mineral background. There is plenty of citrusy and flowery flavours but also apples and herbal aromas. It is fresh and persistent and can age quite well even if not that long.
Some producers are using oak barrels but most Galicians (and me as well) prefer it pure, fresh and fruity. No doubts about the food to match: this is the wine for shellfish!

Now, here we are to my last choice: the Italian. The wine is named after the grape and the region, and the grape has really ancient origins. It was brought by the Greeks in the South of Italy. Ancient Romans used to call it Vitis Apiana, to indicate that the bees used to love it. It is now cultivated in Campania in the area around Avellino (called Irpinia). The area is probably the coolest of the region and the climate is perfect for white wines, having cool winters, warm summer days and fresh summer nights. The soil is volcanic, and it's the best to enable the grape to express its full potential.
Fiano di Avellino is produced under the DOCG appellation (the most prestigious Italian one) since 2003, and it is one of the most elegant white wines of South of Italy. It has fine aromas of fruit especially pear with undertones of toasted hazelnuts and sometimes hints of aromatic herbs. In the mouth it's juicy, rounded and soft. It will surprise you with its harmonious and balanced acidity and its long and satisfying finish. It can age fantastically.

I won't say that this is my favourite one of the 3 as it wouldn't be true. They are all different in taste and style and all perfect drinks for summer (and not only!).
Well now I just can hope that I've made some white wine lovers happy!

Interesting producers: Picpoul de Pinet (Roc BlancBaron de Badassiere), Godello ( Mara Martin, Bodega Godeval, Rafael Palacios), Fiano (Feudi di San Gregorio, Ciro Picariello)