A very special guest for Thanksgiving 2014 (and possibly the best pairing ever)

thanksgivingIt was a very special Thanksgiving for the Parzen family this year.

We celebrated the holiday in Tracie P’s hometown, Orange, Texas, on the Louisiana border, with all the traditional fixings.

Uncle Tim made the turkey: he added a can of orange juice concentrate to his brine, he told us, and the sweetness of the fruit juice added a nice zest to the meat, which was tender and moist throughout. It was one of the best un-split roast turkeys I’ve ever had (many gourmets will separate the breast from the dark meat to allow for different cooking times, thus ensuring a moist outcome).

barone pizziniFor the wine pairings, I brought along a couple of wines from my clients.

The Barone Pizzini 2008 Franciacorta Satèn was outstanding and I am now convinced that Franciacorta is the perfect wine for the Thanksgiving feast, with the meal’s wide range of aromas, flavors, saltiness, and sweet.

It was the rich fruit in this wine that really won me over as a pairing. As a Franciacorta big wig recently put it, Franciacorta is a wine first and a sparkling wine second. The wine’s “vinous” character just worked so well at the table, delivering white and stone fruit with the savory meat but also zinging acidity that held its own with Tracie P’s homemade cranberry sauce.

The other hit was Cantele’s 2009 big and bold Amativo.

Tracie’s dad Rev. B. loved its dark fruit character and structure and it worked great as a meditative wine to pair with Thanksgiving football (the Cowboys played, of course). Uncle Tim loved it so much that I sent him home with a bottle!

jeremy parzen familyBut the biggest treat this year was a visit from my mom, Grandma Judy.

She’s been out to Texas to spend time with the girls on many occasions. But this was the first time that Georgia P could really “connect” with her.

Georgia, who will be three years old in a few weeks, is chatting up a storm these days and she and her grandma spent some really wonderful time together, talking about favorite books and singing songs (Georgia now sings the entire score to the musical “Annie” — no joke).

Mom, I know all too well what a pain it is to travel these days and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you braving the journey to visit with us.

To hear Georgia P say, “Where are you, grandma? Let’s read a book!”, was sweet music to my ears.

In other news…

Check out Alfonso’s post on Amarone 101: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fruit-Bomb.”

Great post and great to hear people talking about Amarone.

In other other news…

Did you see that Joe Bastianich has published a new book in Italian, Giuseppino [Little Jospeh], co-written in Italian with one of Italy’s top food bloggers, Sara Porro (who is super cool and talented).

In it, he tells the story of “his return home” to Italy and talks about why he spends more time in Italy these days than in the U.S.

Many here don’t realize what a huge star he is in Italy. His role on the stateside “MasterChef” has made him a national attraction here as well. But in Italy, where “MasterChef” is one of the culinary-minded country’s most popular shows ever, he is a megawatt celebrity.

Produttori del Barbaresco 2005 Asili & Tracie P’s ragù for brother Tad

best barbaresco 2005 asiliIt’s not every day that we get to visit with my older brother Tad, who still lives in the same neighborhood in La Jolla, CA where we grew up.

So when we sat down to dinner last night with Tad and cousins Joanne and Marty, I pulled all the stops corks: Bele Casel Prosecco Colfòndo, Camossi Franciacorta rosé, Borgo del Tiglio 2011 Collio (blend), and Produttori del Barbaresco 2005 Barbaresco Asili.

The Asili, which I opened about 20 minutes before serving it (I did not decant), was rich and powerful in the glass, with dark red fruit becoming brighter and brighter as the wine aerated.

best ragu recipe meat sauce pastaThis wine has many years ahead of it but I was pleasantly surprised at how approachable it was after just ten minutes. And even in this warmer vintage for Barbaresco (one of the infamous “American” harvests from the aughts), the acidity in this wine was electric.

It paired beautifully with Tracie P’s ragù (above), which she served over rigatoni.

On a very chilly night in Houston, Asili and the bolognese filled the house with wonderful, cozy aromas.

brother tadThat’s brother Tad with Georgia P this morning after breakfast.

It was such a treat to have him here. He’s on his way to Austin later today and then to southern Texas for work (he’s an education expert and consultant).

And it was such a joy to watch him interact with the girls, who couldn’t quite figure out why he looks so much like their dad!

Thanks again, brother, for being here.

It meant the world to us. Travel safe…

The All-Italian Bacon Cheeseburger: Italy’s love affair with the hamburger

Today’s post is the first in a series devoted to my recent trip to Italy, the wines I tasted, foods I ate, and people I met.

best hamburger bresciaAbove: Arianna Vianelli’s “All-Italian Bacon Cheeseburger,” a masterwork by any international standard.

Italy’s current love affair with the hamburger shouldn’t be surprising to Italian food and wine cognoscenti.

After all, think of how many pillars of Italian gastronomy have been borrowed and adapted from other cultures and places.

Tomatoes, corn meal, and potatoes: all of these foods came from the New World. Can you imagine an Italy without spaghetti al pomodoro, polenta, and gnocchi di patate?

cipolla di tropea recipeAbove: not just any onions but EU-designated cipolle rosse di Tropea from Calabria. Arianna sautéed them with aromatized balsamic vinegar.

Anyone who’s read the footnotes to Pellegrino Artusi’s late nineteenth-century landmark tome La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well) knows that eggplant, a transplant from the Middle East, was just beginning to catch on at the time.

Where would pan-Italian cooking be without melanzane alla parmigiana?

italian baconAbove: Arianna explained to me that Italian butchers have begun to slice pancetta the way that bacon is sliced in the U.S. The curing process hasn’t changed. Only the way it’s sliced has.

And when the food scholar looks more closely at pasta — the crown jewel and sine qua non of Italian cookery — she/he learns that the Italians learned how to make dried pasta from their Arab neighbors. At the zenith of Arab culture during the Middle Ages, when Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily Frederick II invited Arab mathematicians and philosophers to his court, it’s very likely that they also brought with them techniques for drying pasta in the “August moonlight,” as Maestro Martino wrote in his Libro de arte coquinaria (The Art of Cooking, probably composed around 1450).

Where would the world be today without pastasciutta?

how to cook hamburgers on a griddleAbove: the thing that sets the Italian burger apart from the rest is the quality of the ingredients. Pasture-raised Chianina beef, artisanal cured pork belly, heirloom onions, and wholesome freshly baked bread. It takes the art of this American classic to a new level.

So it’s only natural that Italians would embrace the hamburger with gusto.

Italy’s Slow Food movement was founded in 1986 after McDonald’s opened its first franchise in Rome at the foot of the Spanish Steps. I traveled to Italy for the first time in 1987 and I remember those years well.

To many, the thought of an icon of American imperialism in the heart of the Eternal City was blasphemy.

At the time, Italy already had a fast-food burger chain. It was called Burghy (it was purchased by McDonald’s in the 90s). Like McDonald’s, the quality of the beef was atrocious.

Before Burghy, the ground beef patty was called a svizzera di carne in Italian gastronomic parlance, “Swiss beef.”

Today, hamburger culture has come full circle in Italy and it now aligns seamlessly with the Slow Food ethos (as you can see from the burger above).

Italian food blogs abound with hamburger ratings in Milan and Rome, the hamburger movement’s epicenters (see this post, for example, on Dissapore). And a new restaurant category has emerged, the hamburgheria or amburgheria. Even Eataly in Rome has a hamburgheria and I’ve been told that guests go crazy for the hamburger served at the Bastianich restaurant in Friuli, Orsone.

And invariably when you order a hamburger in Italy, when you’re asked whether or not you want bacon, you’ll note that the waiters use the English word for pancetta to denote the way the cured pork is sliced and griddle-fired.

giovanni arcariAbove: Arianna Vianelli, left, creates and executes menus for many of the Franciacorta consortium’s tastings and events. Giovanni Arcari, right, is my bromance in Brescia, the city that’s become my Italian home base in recent years.

On our last night in Italy last week, my traveling companion Ben Shapiro and I were treated to Arianna Vianelli’s superb hamburgers in the home of my good friend Giovanni Arcari in Brescia.

Arianna had made our first proper meal in Italy a few weeks earlier: spaghetti dressed with dried fresh water sardines, toasted breadcrumbs, and olive oil. The sardines came from nearby Lake Iseo in the heart of the Franciacorta appellation.

It seemed only fitting that she would send us back home to America with bellies full of All-Italian Bacon Cheeseburgers and Franciacorta wine.

Thanks again, Arianna and Giovanni, for taking such great care of two weary American travelers!

The future of pizza at Simone Padoan’s I Tigli & a cool wine bar in Soave

simone padoan pizza tigliWhat a blast to get to eat at Simone Padoan’s cutting-edge pizzeria I Tigli in San Bonifacio in Soave township last night! That’s Simone (above, left) with Lisa Anselmi, who treated us to a wonderful dinner at this fantastic restaurant.

burrata pizza recipeSimone is a mother yeast master and he uses different mothers to create a wide variety of flatbreads inspired by the various regions of Italy. The doughs are baked (and sometimes steamed) first and then the toppings are added.

That’s burrata and tomato, above.

creative pizza recipeScallops and chanterelles. This was my favorite but they were all over-the-top good.

mattias muller beerI Tigli is also an epicenter for the artisanal and natural beer movement in Italy, with a thick list of super groovy labels. This was our table’s favorite label of the night.
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Dispensa Pani e Vini: an extraordinary meal, once again #Franciacorta

perch crudoIf pressed to reveal my favorite restaurant in the world, there would be many that could come close but none that could touch Vittorio Fusari’s Dispensa Pani e Vini in Franciacorta.

I wish I had time to recount my meal and conversation with Chef Vittorio in its entirety. But for the time being, these images will just have to do.

That’s a sturgeon pâté atop a tench tartare on a bed of raw tomato, above.

best caviar russiaLombard sturgeon caviar over potato purée in savory pastry.

Did you know that Brescia province is one of the world’s top producers of caviar? It’s a fascinating story that I’ll share when I have more time.

barone pizzini rosato franciacorta bestThe 2010 Barone Pizzini Franciacorta Rosato sang in the glass last night. This wine is going to be a big hit for my friend and client Silvano Brescianini, the winery’s GM.

best spaghetti recipe italySpaghetti with green beans and cured coregone (fresh water European white fish), simply stupendous.

The thing about eating Vittorio’s food is that it’s so thoughtful and so wholesome: you feel great the next day even after over-eating.

Thank you again, Chef Vittorio and Silvano, for an unforgettable evening.

Do you know the way to Valdobbiadene? That’s where I’m heading next…

Tongue, tripe & stuffed cabbage at old-school Osteria della Villetta #Franciacorta

tongueSuper fun lunch yesterday at the very old-school Osteria della Villetta in Palazzolo sull’Oglio, which lies on the very western edge of Franciacorta.

That’s the thinly sliced and delicately dressed tongue, above.

tripeThe tripe was tender and rich with flavor.

I didn’t get a good photo of the cabbage stuffed with finely ground pork but it was another highlight.

best cheese franciacortaThe aged stracchino (with the dark rind in the middle) was off-the-charts good.

Spectacular meal at Lido 84 on Lake Garda

roman garum recipeReally blown away by Riccardo Camanini’s cooking last night at Lido 84 on Lake Garda just outside Salò.

Those are cheese-stuffed pasta “buttons” (above) swimming in eel garum (the fermented fish sauce adored by the ancient Romans).

cardoon soup recipeWarm cardoon purée with shaved salt-cured anchovy.

sous vide leek recipeGiant leek (I believe cooked sous-vide) with snails. One of my top dishes of the year.

cannoli recipe largeLoved the presentation of this giant cannolo.

Riccardo’s cooking is brilliant. And his staff world-class.

Gotta run. Thanks for being here…

Great Sunday lunch at Genuisì on Monte Orfano #Franciacorta

franciacorta geographyI really loved our long Sunday lunch yesterday at Genuisì on Monte Orfano, which overlooks Franciacorta (you can see the village of Erbusco in the foreground in the photo above and Lake Iseo beyond). Here’s what we ate…

casoncelliCasoncelli stuffed with prosciutto and herbs.

orechietteOrecchiette with broccoli florets and Bagòss, a local crumbly cheese, a “north-south” fusion dish.

risottoRisotto with radicchio and sausage. The cinnamon in the sausage really took this dish over the top.

barbarescoAlways a thrill for me to settle in with a new vintage of Produttori del Barbaresco. It was my second chance to taste this wine. I think it’s going to be a great one for the winery.

horse steakHorse steak dressed with olive oil, flatleaf parsley, and lemon.

Tracie P’s fabu birthday picnic, glam dinner & end-of-the-night smooch

best picnic basket recipeOn Saturday, the Parzen family celebrated Tracie P’s birthday.

Maybe because we’ve been eating out a lot lately and finding a babysitter can often be a challenge, offers to take her out to dinner of her choice had been rebuffed this year, although that changed (as you’ll see below).

And so I decided to surprise her with a catered picnic at our favorite park around the corner from our house.

Tracie loves the charcuterie and cheese plates by our friend Felipe Riccio at Houston’s hippest wine bar, Camerata.

I know he does some catering work and so I discreetly contacted him and asked him if he’d be game to make us a picnic.

best picnic basket houstonMan, he outdid himself! And thanks to chef Kate McLean from Tony’s (a good friend), he even managed to get his hands on a picnic basket!

Just look at that spread!

Tracie really didn’t expect a thing. But as Felipe was putting the finishing touches on the mise-en-place, a sudden Texas rainstorm arrived. After some frenetic, furtive texting (because it was a surprise), I asked him to come to the house. We decided to set it up in our girls’ playroom, which added to their excitement because food is not allowed in the playroom.

frittata di pasta recipeFelipe is so talented and resourceful and every dish reflected things I had told him about Tracie.

The frittata di pasta, a nod to her years in Naples (above, right), a Parthenopean classic, was rivaled only by the superb insalata di mare that he made.

Wholesome macaroni and cheese for the girls, housemade peanut butter, a berry-heavy fruit salad (they love berries)…

For mom and dad, mozzarella di bufala with a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil and fleur de sel, his expertly sliced prosciutto, his house-cured olives… And of course, it can’t be a picnic, as Nino Ferrer sings, without the cornichons!

(I highly recommend listening to the song while reading this post.)

It was outta sight! Thank you, again, Felipe! We LOVED it. And btw, the girls had more macaroni and cheese for dinner and we munched on the leftovers throughout the weekend.

white truffles houstonI had taken the girls out all morning that day so that Tracie could sleep in and go on the nice, long run she had asked for for her birthday day. And for whatever reason, by the time they were ready for their naps, she decided that yes, after all, she did want to go to Tony’s for dinner for her birthday.

And thanks to our good friend Joanne Witt, aka “Food Princess,” a super cool lady whom I know through food writing here in town, we were able to find a last-minute baby sitter for the cost of a bottle of Venica Pinot Grigio. (THANK YOU AGAIN, Joanne! You are THE BEST!)

If you follow the harvest news from Italy, you know that this very wet vintage was extremely challenging for grape growers but outrageously good for truffle foragers.

Tony treated us to his Alba white truffle soufflé (above), which paired brilliantly with a somewhat tannic, meaty Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi by Garofoli.

lobster roe risotto recipeBut the star of the evening, among the many other wonderful dishes we did that night, was the lobster roe risotto with lobster mushrooms. Un-frigging-believably good…

Chef Kate and Tony, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Your food is truly extraordinaire. And we were thrilled by our excellent dinner. Thank you!

But nothing could compare to the kiss that we shared at the end of an unforgettable day of great food and our time together as family.

jeremy parzen wife

Octopus panna cotta

From the department of “nice work if you can get it”…

octopus panna cotta recipeI just had to share this image of “Octopus Panna Cotta” from a work dinner last night at Tony’s in Houston, the namesake restaurant of my good friend and client Tony Vallone.

It was just so exquisite, delicate, and delicious and so beautifully plated.

It almost looked like a cake from one of Georgia P’s toy cookery sets and I have no idea how chef Kate (who’s also become a good friend) managed to create the pseudo-flower arrangement.

The tasting menu last night was one of the best meals of my year and I just loved its playfulness and juxtapositions.

A lot of people in Houston have been talking about how Tony’s dropped in the ridiculous top 100 hundred list put out by the paper of record each year (the unveiling event was held on erev Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year’s Eve, just to give you an idea of how out-of-touch the editors are; this is a majorly Jewish town and in case they didn’t notice, Jews like to go out to dinner, too, just not on their High Holy Days!).

What tosh!

The food at Tony’s has never been better. Period, end of report

It’s been quite a week here at the blog. Thanks for being here and following along. I’ll see you next week. Drink something great this weekend! It’s Tracie P’s birthday weekend, after all.