Filetto in crosta with 2011 Cuvée Arlette from Lauren Ashton Cellars

What a delight one recent afternoon when, there amidst the clutter in my inbox, was a note from Kimberly of Lauren Ashton Cellars, a small, boutique winery in Washington state.  Kimberly explained, “We have just started distribution in Minnesota and are hoping to spread the word. I see that you’re based out of Minneapolis and am wondering if you would be open to a collaboration of sorts?”

Image from laurenashtoncellars.com

Image from laurenashtoncellars.com

Several emails and a phone call later, after weather delays due to the cold in Minneapolis and extra insulation around the package to ensure that the foil and cork seals would not be compromised by the low temperatures, a bottle of 2011 Cuvée Arlette from Lauren Ashton Cellars in Woodinville, Washington was delivered via UPS on a Saturday morning.

Lauren Ashton arrival notice

The bottle was placed to rest in Stefano’s cellar, after confirming its safe arrival with Kimberly and Bill, Lauren Ashton’s Tasting Studio Manager, who so diligently orchestrated the wine’s cross-country voyage from Washington to Minnesota.

Lauren Ashton Cellars

While we carefully considered pairings and waited for the right weekend to cook and blog about it, we learned more about Lauren Ashton, this Washington state winery whose curators contacted us out of the blue and offered us a bottle of their divine 2011 Cuvée Arlette, which boats a 94-point rating from Wine Enthusiast magazine and is worth every penny of its $50 price tag.

Image from laurenashtoncellars.com

Image from laurenashtoncellars.com

Lauren Ashton Cellars is a newer winery, founded in 2009 by Kit Singh, a dentist by profession with a passion for wine.  The winery is named after his two children, Ashley Lauren and Ashton Troy.  Drawing from his wife Riinu’s Estonian heritage while honoring local pacific northwestern style, Singh quickly produced top-rated wines that blended Old World tradition with Washington state character.

The gifted 2011 Cuvée Arlette intrigued and challenged us.  Its tasting notes state: Cuvée Arlette is a dark and luxurious blend of Merlot (49%), Cabernet Franc (29%), Cabernet Sauvignon (19.5%), and Petit Verdot (2.5%) sourced from the Columbia Valley AVA. It exhibits aromatics of raspberry, black currants, cocoa, and caramel with hints of spiciness and minerality. The tannin structure is focused and elegant. 

The wine’s classic Bordeaux blend recalls an Italian Super Tuscan.  It is a complex, strong wine that desires a robust pairing.  We knew we needed a meat dish, but realized that this wine deserves something nuanced.  Anyone can grill a steak and pair it with a powerful red.  We wanted to create a dish with sophisticated flavors that would capture the elegance of the Cuvée Arlette.  We decided on a filetto in crosta – beef tenderloin wrapped in mushrooms, truffle oil and proscuitto crudo, enveloped in a pastry crust, baked until golden brown.

Filetto in Crosta with 2011 Cuvée Arlette

It worked.  The wine and the filetto balanced each other perfectly.  The flavors of mushroom and truffle were subtle enough to compliment the tenderloin, yet the sum of the parts of this dish were mature enough to stand up to, and exalt, this structured, sophisticated wine.

Filetto in crosta

Ingredients

Beef tenderloin; 1 and 1/2 lb or approximately 650-700 grams
Prosciutto crudo; 7 ounces or approximately 200 grams
Mushrooms; mixed varieties of your choice,  32 ounces or approximately 1 Kilo
Butter; 2 Tbls. or approximately 30 grams
Olive oil; 6 Tablespoons
Garlic; 2 cloves
Dry white wine; 1/2 cup
Truffle oil; two or three dashes, to taste
Puff pastry; one box (two sheets), or enough to cover the tenderloin
Eggs yolks; from 4 large eggs
Salt; to taste

Directions

  • If your puff pastry is frozen, set it out to thaw.  Preheat the oven to 350° F, or 180° C.
  • Chop the mushrooms into small pieces.  Add the butter, 3 Tablespoons of olive oil, and mushrooms to a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Once the butter is melted, add the mushrooms.  Let the mushrooms cook until their liquid has almost cooked off.  Add the wine, and again allow the liquid to cook off, adding salt to taste.  Set the mushrooms aside to cool.

Filetto di Crosta

  • Add the remaining 3 Tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet.  Heat until sizzling over medium heat.  Sear the tenderloin on all sides for about 20 minutes, adding salt as you turn.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Filetto di CrostaFiletto di Crosta

  • Lay out your prosciutto onto a cutting board so that it is ready to wrap around the tenderloin.
  • Blitz the mushrooms in a food processor along with the truffle oil until it becomes a paste.
  • Spread a layer of mushroom paste over the prosciutto crudo, and set the tenderloin on top of it.  Spread the remaining mushroom paste over the sides and top of the tenderloin.  Cove the tenderloin with the remaining prosciutto.

Filetto di CrostaFiletto di CrostaFiletto di crosta

  • Beat together the egg yolks and set aside.
  • Sprinkle flour onto a large cutting board or working surface, and place one sheet of puff pasty on top of it.  Sprinkle more flour onto the puff pastry, and roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch, or 3 mm, thick.  Repeat the procedure for a second sheet of puff pastry.
  • Set the mushroom and prosciutto covered tenderloin on top of one of the pastry sheets.  With the second pastry sheet cover the tenderloin, wrapping the top sheet over the meat.

Filetto di crosta

  • Using a pastry brush, spread beaten egg yolk along the base of the bottom sheet of the puff pastry, where the top sheet touches.  Trim any remaining puff pastry, leaving 1/2 inch, or 1.25 cm, extra on top and bottom.  Pinch the top and bottom pastry sheets together to seal well.
  • Brush the entire pastry-wrapped tenderloin with egg yolk.  If you wish, cut 8 thin strips of puff pastry and arrange them lattice style over the tenderloin for decoration.  Brush again with egg yolk.

Filetto di crostaFiletto di crosta

  • Place the filetto in crosta onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 350° F, or 180° C for 30 minutes.  Remove from over and let sit for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to be reabsorbed.

Filetto di crostaFiletto di crosta

Serve with a bottle of 2011 Cuvée Arlette. 

Local Due Spaghetti readers, ask for Lauren Ashton’s Cuvée Arlette in your local liquor store and wine shops.  It’s distributed by Small Lot, MN.

Disclosure: Lauren Ashton Cellars provided a bottle of 2011 Cuvée Arlette free of charge for our sampling.  Cara and Stefano of Due Spaghetti received no other compensation or incentives for writing this blog post.  We share our impressions with our readers willingly and with pleasure, but not for profit or personal gain.

Il Cinquino di Zio Marco

A few months back when the new Fiat 500 was released in the States, we test drove it and gave it our review.  As it appears, the car that we really have our hearts set on, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, may not make it to the States at all, or if it does it may be released as a Dodge Dart.  Nothing personal, Dodge.  But when you really want an Alfa, a Dodge Dart just won’t due.  Sergio Marchionne, are you listening?

The new Fiat 500 Abarth is now out in the States.  It’s sporty and fun, so we just may need to look into that, instead.

Here in Rome, we’ve been having fun with Stefano’s brother Marco’s original 1969 Fiat 500, affectionately known in Italy as il cinquino.  Refurbished and running like a charm, it’s Marco’s get-around car.  The only trick to driving it is knowing how to do la doppietta, a double-clutching technique that prevents the gears from grind when shifting up and down.

La doppietta works like this:

  • Press the clutch down and pull the gear into neutral.
  • Release the clutch.
  • Quickly press the accelerator up and down once or twice to bring rev up the motor.
  • Press the clutch again and gently move the stick shift into the correct gear.

Here’s our photo shoot of our evening of fun in Zio Marco’s cinquino.

Due Spaghetti’s Christmas Eve Dinner Menu, and Holiday Wine Guide

It’s snowing today, just in time for Christmas.

Christmas is white in our corner of the Earth, so the rare lack of snow leading up to the holidays has been welcomed, but is also just slightly disconcerting.  Winter simply never skips Minnesota, though; sooner or later it will come.  So, as far as we are concerned it might as well snow now, on the eve of Christmas Eve, before we are all out on the roads traveling to the homes of family and friends.  A layer of pretty white snow will brighten the landscape and bring holiday cheer.

Plus, we’ve finished wrapping our gifts, bought the groceries for Christmas Eve dinner, and selected enough wine to carry us through the New Year.  Today we will start a fire, read a book or watch a movie and wait for Christmas to come.

Due Spaghetti’s Christmas Eve Dinner Menu
We smiled today as we read the many articles about the classic Italian-American tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fish on Christmas Eve.  This tradition, sacred to many Italian Americans, is unheard of in Italy.  Seafood, however, is commonly the focus of the Christmas Eve meal in Italy, in accordance with the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays and on certain holy days.

We are preparing the following seafood-based Christmas Eve meal for our family:

Antipasto
Insalata di polpo
Octopus Salad
Crostini con salmone e arugula
Smoked Salmon and Arugula Crostini
(Prosecco Rustico, Nino Franco)

Primo Piatto
Spaghetti del pescatore
Spaghetti with Seafood
(Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, 2010 Luchetti)

Secondo Piatto
Pesce al cartoccio
Red Snapper, baked ‘al cartoccio’
(Fiano di  Avellino, 2008 Jovis)

Contorno
Insalata di arance
Orange and Fennel Salad
Patate al forno

Oven Roasted Rosemary and Garlic Potatoes

Dessert
Parfait di panettone e zabaglione
Panettone and Zabaglione Parfait
(Moscato, Bartenura 2010)

Due Spaghetti’s Holiday Wine Guide
If you are wondering about wines to pair with your own Christmas Eve and Christmas meal, if you’d like to gift a nice bottle or two, or if you simply want to have some good wine on hand over the holidays, here are a few of Due Spaghetti’s favorites:

Sparkling Wines

Pass on the Champagne and toast to happiness and good health with an Italian Prosecco.  Produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy, Prosecco is light, crisp, aromatic and dry – a more uplifting sparkling wine than its French cousin.  One favorite is Col Vetoraz Prosecco.  

Another Italian sparkling wine we enjoy is Moscato d’Asti. Sweet and light, it is a traditional Christmas dessert wine.

Finally, for a sparkling sweet red also light with overtures of strawberry, try a Brachetto or Brachetto d’Acqui.

Whites

Sure, there are plenty of good bottles of Italian Pinot Grigio.  But there are even more exciting whites, many from from central and southern Italy.  A few of our favorites are:

Verdicchio – A wine from the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast; its name is derived from the wine’s slightly green hue.

Falanghina – Produced from grapes that grow in the hills surrounding Mount Vesuvius, this wine was unheard of until recently, but is quickly becoming a hit.

Fiano di Avellino – This is another favorite wine that originates, like Falanghina, from the Campania region of southern Italy.  The Fiano grape also grows in volcanic soils, and Fiano di Avellino has a very slight sparkling quality.

Insolia – This Sicilian white is also lightly sparkling, and has a fresh citrus scent.

Arneis – This white is a stand-out from the Piedmont region, where reds rule.  It’s a full-bodied but refreshing and unique Italian white wine.

Reds

Distinguished Italian Reds recognized for their elegance and quality are Amarone, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino.  They will make a powerful impression on any table or as any gift.

Super Tuscans are also guaranteed to impress.  Super Tuscans are wines that are created when producers intentionally deviate from the standard blending requirements for DOC. and DOCG wines.  Sassicaia, Tignanello, Solaia and Ornellaia are excellent Super Tuscan wines.

Other lesser known Italian reds that we like are:

AglianicoAglianico is the name of a black grape from the south of Italy that produces a deeply hued and intensely flavored red wine.  Two to look for are Aglianico del Vulture and Taurasi. These wines have yet to attract widespread attention, but it is only a matter of time.

Primitivo – The Primitivo is a parent grape to Zinfandel, and comparisons between Primitivo and Zinfandel abound.  This is an economical, pleasant and out-of-the-ordinary Italian red.

Lagrein – Made from grapes grown at the foot of the Swiss Alps, this powerful red from Italy’s Alto Adige region is making a come back.

Here’s to cold nights, warm friends, and good drink to give them!

The Due Spaghetti Holiday Gift-Giving Guide for Italian Cooks

Ah, there is nothing like the holiday season to bring joy, cheer and elevated cortisol levels due to the tension and stress of battling traffic and crowds while trying to complete your Christmas shopping.

As bad as it is here in the States, nothing compared to trying to move around Rome during the days before Christmas.  During le feste, as the holidays are called in Italian, people and automobiles fill the roads and sidewalks of the Eternal City, and even making your way through an intersection takes skill and determination.

We used to manage it, maneuvering our little Nissan Micra through the crowds, getting in and out of parking spots so small that only inches separated you from the cars in front and behind you.  Typically, we’d no more finish all of our shopping and Stefano’s father would slip us a 100 mila lire bill and ask us to go and pick out something nice for Stefano’s mom on his behalf!

To help you finish your holiday shopping without needing to venture outdoors at all, we’ve assembled the Due Spaghetti Gift-Giving Guide for Italian Cooks. All of the items have met our standard for authenticity and usefulness, and most can be purchased online at our Due Spaghetti aStore.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and have a look. 

Must Have Italian Cookbooks

The Silver Spoon
Called Il Cucchiaio D’Argento in Italian, The Silver Spoon is the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of recipes from all regions of Italy.

Often referred to as the “bible” of Italian cooking, It is a must-have for all Italian kitchens.

First published in 1950, it has been updated several times.  Be sure to buy the new edition, with a red cover.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Author Marcella Hazan is to Italian cooking what Julia Child is to French cooking.  She provides not just recipes, but also detailed information about the ingredients, techniques and traditions of Italian cooking.

And, Hazan is attentive to ensuring that dishes can be prepared in an American kitchen with locally available ingredients.

Made in Italy: Food and Stories
Michellen-starred chef Giogio Locatelli, of London’s Locanda Locatelli, writes about the food of his native Italy with passion and intelligence.

The sophisticated but re-creatable recipes are interspersed with Locatelli’s endearing tales of local traditions and childhood memories, making this a pleasant read as well as an invaluable culinary resource.

Useful Kitchen Tools

Microplane Graters

Inspired by woodworking tools, these amazinggraters outperform all others.  Grating hard cheeses like Parmigiano and zesting lemons becomes simple.  Our favorites are the Classic Zester/Grater and the Coarse grater with attachment.

Imperia Pasta Maker
Stefano’s mom rolls out her homemade pasta and cuts it by hand, just like his Nonna did.  Most of us would never get around to making pasta at home if we held to this standard, though.  With the Imperia homemade pasta maker, lasagne, fettuccine and tagliatelle turn out perfectly, and with an attachment or two you can even make ravioli.

Bialetti Stovetop Espresso Maker

Skip the expensive espresso makers, and join the millions of Italians who use the stovetop Bialetti Moka Express to make espresso at home.  They come in many different sizes, but at Due Spaghetti we recommend the 3-serving version.  We begin each day with espresso from ours.

Tasty Edible Gifts

Pocket Coffee
Despite its English name, this delightful confection surprisingly has not taken hold stateside.  A dark chocolate candy filled with rich liquid espresso makes for a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.  A great stocking stuffer for chocolate and coffee lovers!

Panettone
This classic Italian Christmas cake originated in Milan, but is now a hallmark of the holidays across all of Italy.  Candied lemon, citrus and orange zest and raisins give the light, airy cake a fragrant citrus quality.  At our house, we enjoy it for breakfast as well as for dessert.  Some Italian delis in the U.S. have begun selling artisan panettoni, but if you cannot find one, they can be ordered online from Italian producers such as Bauli.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Called Aceto Balsamico in Italian, good-quality balsamic vinegar is a staple in Italian kitchens.  It’s not worth skimping on quality – look for balsamic vinegar from Modena, aged at least 12 years, but better yet 25.  It’s delicious with olive oil over salad, or drizzled on fresh strawberries in summertime.

Or…An Iconic Italian Car

The Fiat 500
Originally produced as a post-WWII economy car, the Fiat 500 became enormously popular in Italy and throughout Europe, and is now an icon of Italian 20th century design and culture.  Fiat brought the 500 back in 2007, exactly 50 years after the debut of the original version, and it launched in the U.S. market in 2010.  The sporty Abarth model, already on European roads, will be available to order here in the U.S. in February 2012.  Due Spaghetti officially test drove the new 500c convertible recently.  Expect a post on this sometime soon, but in the meanwhile let it suffice to say that this little car is a gem of Italian style design and a joy to drive.

Madeleines – French Pastries and a Good Book

The long days and warm nights of summer are perfectly suited for settling in with a good book.  I’ve been reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery,  a fascinating and profound story about identity and personal conflict.

The story takes place in Paris, where the heroine Renée, a French concierge in an apartment building full or aristocrats, keeps her intellectualism hidden from the outside world and assumes the appearance of a common, uneducated woman.  Her only friend, Portuguese Manuela, is in on her secret.  After Manuela finishes her work cleaning the apartments, the two of them share a conversation over tea and fine French pastries together.

When a wealthy, cultured Japanese man moves into the building and immediately recognizes the common interests he and Renée share, Manuela gives her the help and courage she needs to shed her disguise, and the pastries to bring when she is invited to lunch at his home.

As followers of my blog know already, I also have a sweet spot for delicate, pretty pastries and homebaked goods.  Therefore, it is fitting that I participated in the literary/culinary event Novel Food, hosted this summer by Simona from the blog Briciole, and try my hand at French haute patisserie.

In researching the perfect pastry to prepare for this event, I was drawn to a creation called gloutof, which Manuela bakes for Renée to much acclaim.  However, a quick google search revealed that the gloutof is actually a kugelhopf, and it is well-documented by bloggers already.

Therefore, I decided to replicate another, simpler but equally elegant treat that Manuela often brings to Renée for their afternoon tea – Madeleines.  Called Maddalene in Italian, these delicate, tender little cakes fill the kitchen with the warm summery fragrance of browned butter and lemon zest.

I borrowed the recipes from a 2007 entry in the blog 101 Cooks, making just a few small changes.

Madeleines

Ingredients
1 1/2 sticks butter
3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
A pinch of salt
2/3 cups sugar
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter and Flour for preparing the pan
Powdered sugar for dusting the Madeleines
A bit of extra flour for dusting baking pan

You will also need a Madeleine baking tray, available here and at most places that sell kitchen supplies.

Melt the butter in a pan over low heat until it browns and fills the kitchen with a warm, toasty fragrance.  In my case, it was about 12 minutes, but this may differ on your stove.

In the meanwhile, butter and flour your Madeleine baking tray and set aside.  Preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit.

Using an electric mixer to beat the eggs and salt together on high speed until frothy.  Add sugar and continue beating for another minute or two.

Turn off your mixer and put it away; it’s done its work and from here on out you will be mixing gently by hand.

Gently stir in the lemon zest and vanilla.  Carefully fold in the flour, mixing only as much as needed.  Strain the butter into a dish using a wire strainer layered with a thin cloth or paper towel, removing the burnt bits.  Add the butter, and stir gently until it is well-integrated into the batter.

Carefully spoon the batter into the Madeleine molds, filling them even with the tray.  Bake for 12 minutes, until the edges are toast-colored and the tops are golden and springy to the touch.

Remove from baking tray, allow to cool, and dust with powdered sugar.

La Giulietta

Italians love their cars almost as much as their food and their wine.

While most cars out on the Italian strade and autostrade are the practical, small, 4-cylinder vehicles typical of European nations, there are a few models that symbolize Italian style, design and performance.  Our next car, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, is one of them.

The Giulietta is a historical car; first introduced at the Turin Motor Show in 1954, it remained in production until 1965 and became an immediate success.  The Giulietta symbolized the advent of the Italian engineering boom and became the car that everyone desired, earning it the nickname “Italy’s sweetheart.”

In 2010 Alfa Romeo launched the refashioned Giulietta at the Geneva Motor show to great acclaim, revitalizing the company’s image and exciting passionisti of Alfa Romeo world-wide.  We test drove the Alfa Romeo when we were in Rome last December, and it is in fact a car to fall in love with.  Sporty, sleek, petite but powerful, Car and Driver says it “sizzles.”  When it finally comes to the U.S. hopefully by 2014, we will be the first in line to place our order.

Read what the Wall Street Journal says about the Giulietta: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704662604576257300108686920.html

See Car and Driver’s review of the Giulietta: http://www.caranddriver.com/news/car/10q1/2010_alfa_romeo_giulietta-official_photos_and_info

Link to Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta webpage:  http://www.alfagiulietta.com/Default2.aspx

See two of Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta video ads: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAlfaGiulietta#p/u/10/brPuuh0qBkw

http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAlfaGiulietta#p/a/u/0/DaCAxw4wjS4

 

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Cara: “Stefano, what do Italians love more – their food and wine, or their cars?”
Stefano: “Their women.”