PHOTO: Running Press; Corzetti are a type of fresh Ligurian pasta, which are stamped with various designs.
Laura Brehaut/Postmedia News
Originally published on January 9, 2014;
Montreal Gazette: January 15, 2014; page B2
Chef Jeff Michaud’s three years in northern Italy
Eating Italy is equal parts cookbook, love story and travel inspiration. Chef Jeff Michaud tells tales of white truffles in Alba, licorice gelato in Manarola, hay-roasted lamb in Piedmont, and corzetti (a type of fresh pasta) in Liguria.
The James Beard Award-winning chef offers a window not just into northern Italian food, but its role in daily life in his first book Eating Italy: A Chef’s Culinary Adventure (Running Press, 2013; with David Joachim). Michaud documents three years spent in Italy, during which his work ran the gamut from butcher’s apprentice to his first executive chef position at Locanda del Biancospino in Leffe, Lombardy.
His first stop was the town of Paladina, Lombardy; 5 km northwest of Bergamo and 45 km northeast of Milan where he apprenticed at Mangili, a family-run butcher shop. During those five months, a brother-in-law in the Mangili family taught him everything he knew about butchering and farming, and other members of the family took him to agricultural fairs where they showed their cattle. He describes the fairs as similar to American county fairs, save the attire. No overalls in Italy; the farmers were decked out in Gucci.
As Michaud explains in the book, cattle farming is integral to Lombardy’s economy, and likewise beef to northern Italian cuisine. Experiencing farm to table firsthand gave him a new respect for the food of the region. “When I cooked, I was no longer just grilling a rib-eye steak. I was grilling a rib-eye steak from the local Fassone breed of cattle that was raised and butchered by someone I knew and respected,” he writes. “Seeing the love and care that went into preparing the food made every bite taste better somehow. And it made me curious to learn even more.”
Michaud went to Italy to learn more about the Italian approach to food, initially planning to stay for a year. He became deeply immersed in Italian culture when he met his future wife, Claudia, while working as a stage (unpaid intern) at the Michelin-starred Frosio in Almè, Bergamo. He shares the trips they took together and the food they ate – bagna cauda (warm dip), veal tartare and tajarin (egg dough pasta) in Alba, farinata (chickpea flatbread) in Vernazza, and stuffed focaccia in Bergeggi, to name but a few. The book follows their relationship – from meeting over a tasting menu to their first romantic getaway in Cinque Terre, and finally to Trescore Balneario, where they were married.
Each of the 12 chapters in Eating Italy is devoted to a town or village, and the recipes that originated there – whether directly or indirectly. “They’re all inspirations from places that I went to or people that I’ve worked for, or restaurants that I ate at or gatherings that we had with my wife’s family,” Michaud says in an interview from Philadelphia, where he is chef and co-owner at Osteria, Amis and Alla Spina, and a partner of the Vetri Restaurant Group.
For Michaud, the appeal of Italian food lies in its simplicity. “It’s about very few ingredients per dish, and the quality of ingredients that you use,” he says. “One of the recipes in the book, and one that has been on the menu [at Osteria] since we opened, is polenta and rabbit [Rabbit Alla Casalinga]. It was taught to me by my wife’s grandmother. She raised and killed the rabbits herself, and the polenta was stone-ground from a mill that was about half an hour from the house; it was just beautiful.”
For the cook and the traveller, Michaud makes it easy to experience northern Italy’s culinary highlights by listing his sources in Eating Italy. Equipment and produce purveyors, as well as the restaurants, bars, markets, shops, hotels and inns that he mentions in the book are all included. And if you didn’t want to attend Salone del Gusto (a biannual slow food festival held in Turin) before, Michaud’s description of the gustatory delights will certainly have you contemplating a trip.
Recipes reprinted with permission from EATING ITALY © 2013 by Jeff Michaud with David Joachim, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
for blood orange marmalade:
6 lb (2.75 kg) blood oranges (about 16)
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp (4.5 g) unsalted butter
5 cups (1 kg) granulated sugar
2 1⁄2 tsp (11.75 g) powdered pectin
for Linzer dough:
1 lb (4 sticks/450 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1⁄2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, divided
4 1⁄4 cups (582 g) cake flour
2 1⁄2 oz (1/2 cup/71 g) finely crushed vanilla wafer cookie crumbs
1 tbsp (8 g) ground cinnamon
2 tsp (9 g) baking powder
8 oz (227 g) hazelnuts, toasted and ground (about 2 cups)
to serve:
2 cups (475 ml) Bitter Chocolate Sauce*
confectioners’ sugar for garnish
1. For the marmalade: Cut the rind from each orange, following the contour of the fruit and trying to cut as little of the flesh as possible. Working over a large saucepan, make V-shaped cuts around each segment, releasing the segments from the surrounding membranes and dropping the segments into the pan (this is called supreming the fruit); squeeze the membranes to release the juice. You should have about 6 cups (1.5 L) of orange segments and juice. Add the lemon juice and butter and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Whisk together the sugar and pectin and stir the mixture into the pan. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture reaches 217°F (103°C) on a candy thermometer, 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool in the pan until ready to use or refrigerate for up to 1 week. You should have about 3 1⁄2 cups (875 ml) of marmalade.
2. For the Linzer dough: Cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla in a stand mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Switch to low speed and add one of the eggs. Sift together the cake flour, cookie crumbs, cinnamon, and baking powder and add to the dough. Mix until incorporated, then add the ground hazelnuts and mix just until incorporated. Divide the dough in half and scrape each half onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Seal the dough in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 2 days.
3. Let the dough sit at room temperature for a few minutes so it is soft enough to roll. Roll half of the dough on a lightly floured surface to a circle about 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter and 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) thick. Carefully fold the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to a 9-inch (23-cm) square or 10-inch (25-cm) round tart pan with a removable bottom. Unfold the dough and fit it into the pan without stretching the dough. The dough will be delicate and crumbly; patch any tears or holes with pieces of dough from the edge. Trim the dough so that it sits flush with the top of the tart pan.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Fill the tart shell three-quarters full with the marmalade; save any remaining marmalade for another use. Roll the remaining half of the dough on lightly floured parchment to about 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) thick and 3 inches (7.5 cm) larger than the dimensions of your pan. Cut twelve to fourteen strips of dough, each 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inch (13 to 19 mm) wide, preferably with a fluted cutter. Slide half of the strips to a floured cookie sheet, arranging them in parallel bars on the sheet with 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inch (12 to 19 mm) between each strip. Carefully fold back every other strip half way. Insert a new strip at the center perpendicular to the parallel strips. Reposition the folded strips back over the new strip. Next, fold back the alternate parallel strips and insert another perpendicular strip next to the first one. Then reposition the folded strips back over the new strip. Continue until they reach the outer edge of the strips. Then, turn the crust and repeat the process on the other half, working from the center toward the edge. Carefully slide the lattice over the filling. The dough will be crumbly; if any of the strips break, seal them back together with your fingers. Trim the excess dough from the tart and pinch together the edges of dough around the perimeter of the tart to seal. Beat the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of water and brush all over the dough, sealing any cracks. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool before slicing into wedges.
5. To serve: gently heat the chocolate sauce just until pourable and spoon a pool of sauce off center on each plate. Top with a slice of crostata, positioning the front corner over the sauce. Garnish with confectioners’ sugar.
makes 12 servings
1 1⁄2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (90 ml) glucose syrup or light corn syrup
1 1/3 cups (115 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 lb (450 g) bittersweet chocolate (about 58 per cent cacao), melted
1. Bring the sugar, glucose syrup, and 2 cups (475 ml) of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Put the cocoa powder in a large heatproof bowl and whisk in about 1/2 cup (120 ml) of the hot sugar syrup to make a smooth paste. Whisk in the remaining sugar syrup until smooth. For a supersilky texture, strain through a fine-mesh sieve. The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks before using. Reheat gently over low heat.
makes about 5 cups (1.25 L)
for potatoes:
8 fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
4 tsp (20 ml) grapeseed or olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tsp (5 g) unsalted butter
4 tsp (1 g) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
for halibut:
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling
1 1⁄2 lb (680 g) halibut fillets, cut into 4 pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 pitted Ligurian or Niçoise olives, halved lengthwise
24 fresh oregano leaves
12 thin slices of lemon
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tbsp (42 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1. For the potatoes: Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil until the potatoes are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Let the potatoes cool until warm, then cut in half lengthwise.
2. Heat the grapeseed oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and fry the potatoes, cut-side down, until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain any excess oil, then season the potatoes with salt and pepper and toss with the butter and chopped parsley.
3. For the halibut: Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Cut four 10-inch (25 cm) squares of parchment paper and grease each with a thin film of olive oil. Season the halibut all over with salt and pepper, then divide them among the parchment squares. Mix together the olives, oregano, and 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of the olive oil and arrange over the halibut. Overlap two to three lemon slices on each portion, then drizzle with the lemon juice. Divide the cut-up butter among the portions, scattering it over the lemons, and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of olive oil.
4. To make each package, fold the parchment corner to corner over the fish to make a triangle. You’ll have to nudge the fish slightly off center to make the corners meet. Starting at one of the other corners, begin rolling the paper toward the fish; continue making a series of small double folds all the way around the fish until you reach the opposite corner and the paper is folded tight against the fish. Twist the final corner several times to seal it tight, then fold it under the paper package.
5. Put the packages on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle each with a little olive oil. Bake until the fish is about 120°F (49°C) on an instant-read thermometer stuck through one of the packages, 5 to 7 minutes.
6. Using a spatula, transfer each cartoccio to a plate. Slit open the package, arrange the potatoes around the fish, and serve immediately.
makes 4 servings
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