Friday, September 26, 2014

Tomatoes Like You’ve Never Had Them Before

It’s the height of tomato season.  For all of you who have home gardens with bumper crops of tomatoes (and by now are tired anything remotely tomato-like), I have the perfect dish.  First, you’ll never know there are even tomatoes in it.  Most importantly, it may become one of your favorite appetizers or side dishes.

I was introduced to “tomato balls” on the island of Santorini where the recipe originated.  Santorini is one of the most beautiful sights in the world.  The island was created 3,500 years ago from one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions---so powerful that it sent a layer of ash hundreds of meters deep to the island of Crete (>than 100 miles away).  Santorini’s volcanic origin has created the perfect situation for tomatoes.  

The island’s mineral-rich soil produces deliciously complex cherry tomatoes.  Prior to the 1956 earthquake, these very sweet tomatoes played an important part in its economy. There were >10 tomato canning factories on the small island that supplied mainland Greece before the devastating quake destroyed them.  While the island turned its focus from tomatoes to tourism post-quake, its tomatoes are still grown---but now they feed tourists as well as locals.  (The world’s other great tomatoes are also grown in volcanic soil----San Marzano tomatoes from Mt Vesuvius near Naples).   

So what exactly are tomato balls?  They are a yummy fritter.  For all of you naysayers for fried foods, stop!  These are sautéed in olive oil…and you’re bound to fall in love (every one of our clients on the 2013 private yacht trip to the Greek Islands adored them).

Below is the recipe.  Consider pairing them with one of Santorini’s famous bone dry white wines laced with citrus, mineral and smoky nuances (suggest Boutari, Gaia or Sigalas).  BTW…the island’s volcanic soil is also responsible for creating some enticing mineral-laced wines.

  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped (or equivalent of cherry tomatoes)
  • ½ red onion finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 1 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dill chopped
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • Olive Oil for frying
  • Salt/Pepper

DIRECTIONS (makes small 20 fritters)

1. Chop the tomatoes (do not remove seeds) and place in a bowl. 

2.  Add onion and all spices/herbs (including salt and pepper).  Mix well.

3.   Add the above mixture to the flour and baking soda.  Mix well but do not over-mix or fritters will be tough.

4. Let the mixture sit for a couple of hours. The mixture should be soft and fall off the spoon when tilted.

5.  Heat the olive oil at medium high heat (make sure at 375 degrees, otherwise it will not be hot enough and the fritters will absorb too much oil).  Drop by heaping teaspoons, flattening out a little after a minute so that the inside will cook.  Turn over after browned and cook til browned on both sides. Total cooking time should be 2-3 minutes.

8. Place on paper towels, then transfer to serving dish and serve immediately.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Tuscan Coast---a Sea of Exciting Wines

We’ve just come from the Maremma district of Tuscany (on the Mediterranean) where we finalized all of the villa rental details for the Wine-Knows group coming here next June.  In 2001 my husband and I put in a full price offer on a property in this area, however, it was declined…they wanted more than asking.  We walked away from the deal, but I’ve never forgotten how taken I was with this unknown corner of Tuscany.  Or, at least in 2001, it wasn’t on an American’s radar.  Things have changed.

It seems like every wine-centric magazine I pick up now has a picture of the Maremma on its cover.  Italy’s most prominent mover-and-shaker winemakers have descended on the Maremma in the last 15 years and purchased choice vineyards.  Bloggers in-the-know extoll the virtues of the area.  George Clooney vacationed here recently in a rented villa.  The Maremma is now the “in place” to visit in Tuscany, away from the interior’s maddening crowds who have changed the landscape of the Tuscany many of us used to adore.

There’s a reason that the wine world can’t get enough of the Maremma.  It’s producing some of the most sensational red wines in Italy.  The coastline is home not only to Sangiovese-based wines, but also to Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc) that are blended with Merlot.  The Wine Spectator earlier this year featured an article on the globe’s  “100 Outstanding Values.”  Garnering a walloping 92 points, Ceralti’s $16 wine from the Maremma made the list as the world’s 4th best red value.

If you’re looking for high-end wines, the Maremma’s got plenty of those, too. There are many producers whose wines command several hundreds of dollars a bottle.  Ca’Marcanda (owned by Angelo Gaya, Italy’s most renowned winemaker) produces some killers, as does Ornellaia, Sassacia and San Guido.  Oh, yes…did I mention that the Maremma is home to the Super-Tuscan movement?

Those who are coming with us in June 2015, we are leasing a 6,500 square villa on the sea.  We have 2 spots remaining.  Join us and come learn about the thrilling new wines of the Maremma.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Harvest Glossary

Harvest for white grapes in California is quickly approaching.  In case any of you are lucky enough to visit a winery during this special season, below is a cheat-sheet for the “Top 10” commonly used terms.

1.     Malolactic Fermentation:  Often referred to simply as “ML,” this chemical process converts harsh malic acid to softer lactic acid 

2.     Rack: siphon wine into a new, clean barrel leaving the sediment of debris behind

3.     Cap:  hard top that forms during fermentation at the top of the tank, (composed of skins which are flavor & color saturated)

4.     Punch-down:   Pushing down the cap so that it mixes with the liquid

5.     Pump-over:  pump juice over the cap during fermentation to extract color, flavor & tannins

6.     Fine:  clarify or make the wine more clear

7.   On the lees: wine in contact with the cellular debris of yeasts & grape skins

     8. Green harvest:  to cut off excess grapes (usually in June or July) in order to    
         concentrate the flavors of those left on the vine

          9. Saignée (sen-yay):  French word for “bleeding.” Often times used when                       referring to making a rosé.   Very young red wine juice (barely pink-tinged) is 
              removed from the vat early and vinified separately.

                      10. Methode Champenoise:  this term can only legally be used in the French wine               district of Champagne.  It denotes that the 2nd fermentation was done in the                   bottle.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Madrid’s Best Tapas

I’ve just arrived from California for a tapas “fix.”   Each time I visit Madrid I stay at the same hotel because of its central location; but, I also stay here because I’ve got my tapas route perfectly planned from the hotel…even on jet-lag I can auto-pilot to and from my three pet tapas stops.

First, it’s the upscale Mercado San Miguel, one of Madrid’s oldest and most architecturally stunning food markets.  Reminiscent of the old Les Halles market in Paris, the glass & steel masterpiece was built in the Beau-Arts style in the early 1900’s.  After two world wars and a failing economy, the structure fell into disrepair and was nearly abandoned.  Shortly after the millennium it was rescued from the wrecking ball and today, there’s not a more chic place in Madrid to nibble on tapas. 
The crowd at the Mercado San Miguel is young, well-coiffed professionals so expect the prices to match.   The food-centric emporium boasts >30 shops, most of which sell only tapas.  The wine selections match the sophisticated crowd.   BTW:  don’t even consider this place on a Saturday night--- you’ll not be able to even move, let alone order tapas or vino.

                                       Mercado San Miguel---market extraordinaire

From the Mercado San Miguel, it’s just a minute or two walk to Plaza Mayor, one of my favorite squares in all of Madrid…the architecture, alone, is worth a visit.   Moreover, how could one come to Madrid without paying homage to the Bullfighter’s bar?   While the food at my other two faves are more upscale, there’s something compelling about this little spot.

Torre del Oro (AKA Bullfighter’s Bar) boasts a huge array of famous bullfighting regalia…from elaborate matador capes to even a bull’s head.  But what always captures my attention is the collection of photos, especially the ones showing gored bullfighters on the operating room table and in various stages of  recovery in the hospital.  The best tapas?  Order the mild padrone peppers…they are available by special order only.  (The men who work behind the bar are engaging, spirited and quite fun.  They usually sneak in a couple of free tapas if you’re equally so.)

                                                  Atmospheric Torre del Oro

I’ve saved the best for last.  Head out of the Plaza Mayor to Calle Cava Baja, a 10 minute stroll.  This pedestrian-only two block street, often referred to as the “street of tapas,” is lined with tapa places.  Look no farther than Txakolina at #26 which just might offer the best morsels in the city.  Definitely a cut above its competitors, this place offers the most impressive looking and tasting bites.  If you’re a crab lover, do not miss the cangrejo--- they are rich and fabulous.    For meat lovers there is a huge array of gorgeous tidbits.  The only downfall of this tony establishment is its limited wine selection...definitely drinkable but don’t expect the earth to move.  Txakolina fills early and quickly, so go early.

                                             Txakolina rocks it with tapas!