Leather Inspection and Vongole
This past October, I was in Italy to inspect the latest shipment of our line’s signature “Old Leather”. There are only two of us in the company that do leather inspection, me and Bosca’s Creative Director, Jamison. We do this because it requires a consistency in perspective, and you really need good eyes that see the color accurately and know the cutting of leather.
We usually get a very early start for the tannery, leaving by train before the sun has yet to rise. We look at every skin individually; grading according to color, finish, tannage, etc.
The inspection process is physical– meaning long days of looking over skins, moving them onto different pallets for grades 1, 2, and 3…just the thing to work up a proper appetite. And since it’s always more fun to do each with a partner, I was lucky to have my wife accompany me this time around!
One of our favorite places to dine, La Posta has been a Bosca food-staple for years and years. Even when my wife started to travel to Italy on her own– at first for Language school many years ago–I suggested that La Posta was the perfect place to catch a light meal on a regular basis and feel at home every time.
Linguini Con Vongole (linguini pasta with clams) became her favorite dish, and Courtney became a favorite of the owner Sr. Vincenzo and a waiter by the name of Simone. Simone continues to take care of us. He likes me fine, but his eyes light up when he sees Court. He knows immediately that she has come for her fix of Linguini con Vongle, or as Simone says “Ah Signora- Vongola!” It is not even a question, “Vongola” is understood! So to keep my wife happy, (and not running off to Italy in search of one of her favorites), I prepare it for her every now and again. Last night, being one of those nights. We were snuggled up in front of a movie, eating a huge plate of Vongole, savoring every last bite on our plates.
When our oldest son and his friend came home from the high school football, we decided to play nice and warm up what was left. The boys were silent as they ate–their expressions said it all- the Vongole was a huge hit!
This is my recipe but, I think, very much like the dish served at La Posta.
Here is how we did it.
- 2 cloves of garlic (I buy local, organic garlic-it really is better.) You might like three cloves of garlic but try it this way first- you don’t want to overwhelm the delicate taste of the clams.
- 3-4 Tbsp. chopped parsley (flat leaf is the official line, though I like both flat and curly and often prefer curly).
- Olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan (This is a good place to use really good Tuscan oil like the Bosca oil we offer. The oil is a key co-star in the taste of this dish.)
- Coarse salt- don’t be shy about it- 2 tsp at least
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- A tiny bit of dried basil if you feel like it. It’s not necessary in my opinion, but you will see it is in other recipes.
- 24 small to medium clams*
- 1 pound dry linguini shaped pasta
- 1 shallot
- ½ cup good white wine (remember- if you wouldn’t want to drink it you shouldn’t cook with it!)
Follow these steps:
- Heat the oil gently. Smash one clove of garlic with the side of a chef’s knife and heat in the oil until soft. Crush it is bit more with a fork, and then remove.
- Chop the other clove and the shallot finely and heat in the oil- careful not to burn the garlic!
- Add in most of the chopped parsley, the salt, and the red pepper flakes. Cook for about a minute
- Add in the wine and the clams. Cover and cook for seven minutes.**
- Move the clams around a couple of times so that they are bathed in the liquid.
- Remove the clams when they pop open.
- Remove the meat from about a third of the shells.
- Cook the pasta al dente and drain.
- Add the pasta into the saucepan and toss.
- Serve with tongs into warmed shallow bowls. Placing a few of the loose clams in each bowl along with all of the clams that remain in their shells. Check in each bowl to see that there is a bit of liquid in the bottom. There should be just a bit- but not swimming in liquid. Spoon in a little extra if need be.
- Toss a bit of the remaining parsley over the top of each dish. Very little is needed, but gives the plate a nice little pop of color.
- This dish does not need any grated parmesan or other embellishment. We usually eat this as our main course- even when we are in Italy and it is considered a prima piatta but it is very nice followed by a simple grilled fish.
*Clams- even farm raised ones, are dirty and sandy. You really need to scrub them with a brush and clean water, and then soak them for about an hour in salted water to draw out any other sand in the clams.
**I made the sauce in my new favorite saucepan- a birthday present from my wife. It is a 3 ½ quart braiser by Le Creuset. It is enameled cast iron. Everyone has seen these things in stores, but if you have not cooked with one- ya gotta try it. They are amazing.
Olio Nuovo Meets Toast- Fettunta
There is nothing simpler than toast… or as the Italians lovingly call it, Fettunta. And there is no more direct way to savor the flavors and aromas of a good extra-virgin olive oil- especially the Olio Nuovo.
Olio Nuovo, or “new” oil is just that- the olives are picked, sorted, placed in brine, and pressed. That’s it- just as soon as it has been pressed it is Olio Nuovo.
What is so great about Olio Nuovo? Olio Nuovo is the air, gray spring rain, new green shoots, the summer, the long slanted rays of a late day in the fall, hay, grass, and stone all in one bottle. On a practical level the Olio Nuovo is piquant- peppery, actually. It has a bit of a bite; This is just the start of your addiction.
To make a proper Fettunta, you’ll need:
- Slices of good white peasant or “Italian” bread.
- 1-2 cloves of fresh garlic. (This really needs to be fresh)
- Coarse salt
- Newly pressed extra-virgin olive oil (ahem… think Bosca…)
- Slice your bread in thick pieces- about 1/3 to ½ inches thick.
- Toast the bread lightly. Many recipes say to “toast to a golden brown” etc. Admittedly “golden brown” sounds good- especially for breakfast in my experience, however, Fettunta is lightly toasted.
The toasting is best done over a wood fire if possible. Here is a case where the wood fire really does impart a detectable flavor. Plus it is fun if you can do it. Don’t let it stop you if you don’t have a wood fire though- use the broiler. Set the rack about 6-8 inches from the heat source so that the toasting occurs gently.
- Rub one (toasted) side thoroughly with garlic.
- Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt. After that… my advice is to simply enjoy the fragrance of this food as much as the taste in your mouth. It can make your senses swirl and dance. Really. Bread, garlic, oil, and salt. That’s it.
SPECIAL NOTES: If you are toasting the bread in the broiler toast both sides of the bread lightly and remove. If you are toasting over a wood fire toast one side, rub this side with garlic and oil, then toast the other side. This accomplishes heating the garlic and oil slightly.
The taste of all olive oil varies greatly depending on its origin. Tuscany is famously one of the best regions in all the world. Oil from this region has a distinctive and strong taste, which is even more pronounced when the oil is new. The strong tastes of Olio Nuovo all mellow and soften with time. After about three months the oil is no longer “Olio Nuovo.”
I have not read this in any other book, but I always put the toast back on the heat very briefly. Here I have to emphasize that this needs to be very quick. I like for the heat to just activate the aroma of the garlic and shift it from a purely fresh and vegetal taste to a taste that hints of having been cooked.
From My Kitchen to Your Office
It was Salsa Verde night at my summer home in Northern Michigan a few weeks ago. This time, it was to go over some freshly caught lake salmon, cooked over the grill. Turned out fantastic… but that is a topic for another blog entry.
What struck me as I was chopping up the parsley was the uniqueness of my new cutting board. I had been originally been drawn to this board for its’ unique aesthetics… but what sealed the deal for me was the tag informing me that this cutting board was engineered from 100% recycled materials, including a by product from the paper industry that looks like confetti in the material. I thought this was very cool.
So here I was, cutting away… very happy with my purchase when that creative light bulb went off. What if we used scrap leather from our manufacturing process to create a new line??!! Not only could it look super sharp but we would be using more of our raw materials.
A few calls to our friends in Italy put me in touch with a great company that utilizes scrap from Italian vegetable-tanned leather. The scrap is bound together and rolled into smooth sheets.
Back to my creative director and her awesome genius- desk sets with an eco-friendly bias for office work. We’re in the testing stage now. So far so good. It is a great writing surface, but it is always asking for another espresso.