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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We are addicted to the white stuff

Of course, we mean, addicted to what is probably the best flour in the world. And if it is not the best, it must come a close second. This is where it all starts from:

the Rieper mill is in the Pusteria Valley, and just across the road a tumultuous creek adds to the picture perfect surroundings of the green woods that crawl up the Dolomites.

Rieper apparently also manufacture feeds for livestock, but what we are really after is the perfect flour that they make in all manner of varieties, and which unfortunately does not make it too far outside Alto Adige. What a pity! The result is that every time we come this way we have to fill our luggage with the portentous stuff.

The Yellow variety is the most popular with us, and maybe if we give you its vital statistics you’ll see why:

Proteins: 14,6 %

Water absorption 61,0 %

Dough stability: 11,0 min.

W: 340

P/L: 0,57 mm H2O/mm

So, what does it all mean? These are the kind of numbers that you would find e.g. in those strong North American flours, which here, though, come with that extra fine milling that 00 flour has. The strength of a flour, which in practice measures how much gluten it contains, is correlated with the protein content, and it allows you to prepare baked goods that need a long fermentation, since the high gluten content will enable the dough to develop a strong gluten “network” that will not decay with a long fermentation, and will give you those beautifully fluffy brioche, the gorgeous Panettone, the spongy baba’ and so on. But you would not be able to prepare such delicacies with “just” a strong flour: the flour must be fine if so has to be the end product. So this brings us to “00”: what does it mean?

In Italy, flour is classified based on the yield from milling: the highest yield is from wholemeal flour, then as you extract more and more, thereby reducing the yield, you obtain 2,1,0 and 00 flour, which is the finest, and which, by the way, you can now find also in UK supermarkets shelves. Only, it costs an arm and a leg! But 00 flour is much finer than sieved flour commonly found in the UK, and you will see the difference if you bake the same muffin or sponge with standard flour and with 00.

And, nobody prevents you from using this beautiful stuff for bread (of course, you’d use natural leaven, wont’ you?). This is some we made earlier….

Ah, and you may manage not to develop dependency on the yellow Rieper if you try some of the Blue (“00”), or of the Red (“0”), or wholemeal, or polenta, or spelt, or organic, or Breatl mix, or...

Sigh…we are writing all this for free -maybe we should start selling our advertisements :-)

p.s. for the more technically minded: those stats reported at the beginning are measured with various machines called Brabender farinograph, Brabender Extensograph, and Chopin Alveograph.

The “strength” is measured by the index W. If the index is too low, it cannot be used for leavened baked goods, while higher values (above 300) is suitable for very long fermentation. But strength is not all, and the quality of the finished good depends crucially also on how extensible your flour is. This is indicated by the P/L ratio. Disks of “standard” dough (that is with a given percentage of water and mixed for a set amount of time) are “blown” into until they break. The Chopin alveograph draws (a bit like a seismograph) the deformation of the dough, drawing a curve. The highest vertical height of the curve is the P value, which measures the maximum pressure exercised by the gas blown in the dough before breaking, or if you wish the resistance of the dough. The horizontal length of the curve registers instead the maximum extension reached by the dough before breaking. So with a P/L ratio of e.g. 1.5, which is typical of durum wheat flour, you need a lot of energy to break the dough, which does not extend much. A ratio of 0.5-0.6 is deemed balanced. The area beneath the curve gives you the value W, for the strength of the flour. A nice picture is available here, although the indications that you get in Italy are a bit more stringent: so with a W between 120 to 160w the flour would be most suited for baked goods that do not require volume, e.g. biscuits or grissini. Between 160 and 250w the flour is considered as medium strength, and is already suitable for many types of bread, including ciabatta, and pizza. Between 250 and 300/310w you have flour obtained by milling the best grains, and you can basically produce most goods that need long fermentation, like baba, panettone, and bread of course. Above this, the very strong flour can be used for specialty breads – these can absorb up to 90% of their weight in water.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Al Trivio

The day: 1st June 2008, Dinner.
The place: Campiello del Trivio, 11, Rovereto(TN), Italy (+39 0464 436414)
The venue: Al Trivio Restaurant
The food: Modern take on regional Italian
The drinks: short list, but strong on local wines and in general some interesting choices.

This is one of those Italian rarities, a restaurant/trattoria with a working webpage, where you can even find online menus together with prices. This alone would have made a visit imperative. But the dishes were enticing enough to make us eager for this trip to the centre of Rovereto, a nice town some 20km south of Trento.

A pleasant June evening, how could we not dine al fresco? So for you we have this picture of the exterior:

The menu, then. You could go for a five course tasting menu at €32 (mmh, but wasn’t this advertised as €30 on their webpage?), or for a small (three course) fish menu for €25, (aha, that was €24 on their webpage) or – at lunchtime only-, a one course lunch special at €14. Moving on to the a la carte section, starters are all €8.50, and include Sea Moscardini with polenta bites*. Primi go from the €7.50 of the classic Strangolapreti Trentino style with Trentingrana and butter, to the €8.50 of Lucanica (local sausage) bites and mixed wild mushrooms maccheroncini*. Mains are all at €14, apart from the cheese platter at €13, and include Pork fillet wrapped in ham cooked at low temperature and served with warm vegetables caponatina*. Desserts are all priced at €6.

Now the menu still looks enticing, though that string of asterisks is a bit of a let down: at the bottom of the page the ‘legend’ reads “if fresh produce is unavailable, it may be replaced by frozen ingredients”. Of course we know this happens in the best of kitchens, but having this in a place that prides itself (well yes, on their website) of fish dishes, and seeing so many asterisks in the fish dishes, is a bit of a slap in the face.

But fish they advertise, so fish it’ll be, we’ll have one fish set menu, and sample the rest from the a la carte.

A glass of bubbly to open the dances is complimentary, but to be fair that you are expected to pay €2.50 (wasn’t it advertised as €2 on the webpage?) as cover charge. The latter also includes bread, of course, and here it is:

Sesame rolls, poppy seed rolls, and focaccia, not bad at all.

For primi, we have:

- Chickpea and Val di Gresta potato dumplings with cherry tomatoes, shelled prawns, black olives and rocket* (from the set menu, but also available a la carte at €8.50)

- Egg maltagliati with sea mullet and steamed green beans* (€8.50)

The maltagliati came spreading their intense sea perfume all around: but the taste did not live up to the raised expectations, especially for Woman, Man being more indulgent, Woman being unable to stand the fact that the bits of mullet were small, few and far between. The steamed green beans were rather stringy, too. The maltagliati themselves were really well made and well cooked. Overall, though, a pass mark.

The gnocchi themselves were also very good (although, yet again, not properly ‘ribbed’), and the flavours in the dish were satisfying, although the rocket was a bit of an off note, and the prawns themselves had lost much of their soul to the rest of the dish.

For mains, we had:

- Sea bream fillets in bread crust on mussel sauce and champignon cake (from the set menu, at €14 if a la carte)

- Roasted rabbit roll with spinach and pine-nuts filling, served with polenta, potatoes and its sauce (€14)

With the bream we definitely rise: the fish itself is of high quality, its cooking well executed, and how appetizing those herbs, the oil and the nice aroma they spread. Perhaps the sauce a bit too salty and rich, and too 'puddly', but overall a satisfying dish, including the mushroom cake. And, as a bonus, well presented, and in size.

The rabbit was also good, well presented and cooked, well stuffed (indeed very well stuffed, so much so that there wasn’t much rabbit to talk about!). The thyme lent a fitting aroma, together with the pine nuts, delicately in the foreground, including in the accompanying polenta. Again, the reduction (well, more than a reduction it was a thickened sauce, somewhat old fashioned) on the salty side, but overall this dish left us again quite content.

We concluded with these:

- White peach bavarois with yogurth sauce (€6)

- Warm carrot cake with vanilla sauce and fior di latte ice cream (€6)

The carrot cake had coarsely ground almonds, and nears the league of (but does not beat) other versions we had. So a good cake, itself moist enough, but well helped by the excellent vanilla sauce and by the icecream, lending a nice contrast in temperature as well as texture.

The peach bavarois was terrific, very intense peach flavour, with crunchy bits at the bottom for extra ‘munchiness’. The yogurt sauce had been lightly whipped. Really good. So much for Woman. Man, destroyed by a previous hiking fatigue, and above all by aromatic white wine, just mechanically nods in agreement, eyes semi-closed).

With a 0.75 litre bottle of water at very honest €2.50 and a bottle of 2005 Manna by Franz Haas at €26 (a powerful and intriguing cuvee) our total bill came to €87.

Service is prompt, competent and courteous without being obtrusive. As for food, that star filled menu first: not only, as we said already, this deflates you even before you start, but the fact that they appear even elsewhere than on the usual suspects – for the maccheroncini dish what is it? It must be the mushrooms, but why, if they serve them fresh and local and wonderful now a few chilometers further North) – this gives you the (hopefully wrong) impression that here eating something fresh can happen only by chance. And the hike in price: c’mon guys, the one on the webpage is dated April 2008, do you really want us to think that at your place prices go up €1 a month? That is some inflation…

Another department where ‘marketing’ produces the opposite effect to that intended (at least this is what we hope) is this overlong description of the dish: difficult to pin down where it goes wrong, probably just its length, but anyhow it is that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that sounds of pretentiousness and pomposity that ill fit the modern take on tradition that this menu so obviously tries hard to achieve. For instance, take the “bread crust” of the sea bream: if what you get is something very akin to a lightly breaded fish, why just not say that?

But, in spite of a few glitches here and there (a chipped glass, having to ask for a wine chiller on a warm night for our white), and in spite of our negative remarks on the menu, this was overall a pleasant evening, and in fact, passed the primi, it was even more than pleasant. There is a cook of good skills behind those stoves. Al Trivio, though well-priced, is a touch dearer than other establishments we have visited of roughly similar or better quality, and perhaps not worth a drive on purpose, but if you pass by Rovereto, it is well worth a stop (with only one go in Rovereto, however, we'd opt for La Cruna dell' ago.)


Sunday, June 15, 2008

probably the best fruit and veggie stall in Trento...

We always sing the praises of our favourite restaurants, but what about the stuff we buy everyday for our home meals?
Though never quite as depressing as in Tesco or Sainsbury's when in London, shopping for fruits and vegs in the supermarket in Trento is not too cheering, either (especially compared to further down South).
So it is fair to also pay tribute to a professional in the food trade who stands above the crowd and also contributes to our gastronomic happiness. This post is thus just an unashamed plug for our favourite grocer in Trento, Giuseppe, holder of a stall

at the Thursday city market which fills streets and streets (and holder of other stalls, one a day, in several other local markets).

(you can see it was still asparagus season when we took the picture above, green and of course white, with Zambana and Romagnano the famous local white variety producing areas).
Nothing too exotic, nothing spectacularly abundant, but a great range for such a small stall

and simply oustanding freshness, quality and service. What does service mean in a market stall, you ask? It means, for example, that if he gives you stuff that turns out to be poor (not even he can be inside the fruits), he'll happily replace the offending pieces, on your word, next time. We never had to avail ourselves of the offer, anyway!

If you want good fruit and vegs in Trento, go to Giuseppe in the Via Giovanni Prati Thursday market section. He's not cheap, but he's cheaper for example than, and (
in our experience) has beaten on quality, the superfancy superdupa supershop in the main square.

And, watch ladies, he is not bad looking either:

This is a small world (well, Trento certainly is): we found out that he is not unconnected to one particular member of the Menestrina family at our beloved Fior di Roccia...and that his vegetables also feature there!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Gun

The day: 26rd May 2008, Dinner.
The place:
27 Cold Harbour, Docklands London, E14 9NS
The venue: The Gun Pub and Dining Room
The food: English
The drinks: Reasonably large wine list, French at the core, also by the 175ml glass and by the 250ml carafe.

Gastropubs can be the equivalent of a good Italian trattoria, affording you good and nicely priced food, as we recounted for example about LMNT. This time we go for a less exotic and rather straight English gastropub. Near the Billingsley fish market, it specialises in fish; we are in the mood for some good fish; and we go in fully expectant to have some. Will we succeed? Follow us…

You open the door to enter a pleasant environment, the dining room area contiguous to the pub area, with lots of dark wood (floor and chairs) and the tables even covered by that rarity, proper tablecloths: you don’t find them in 5 star hotel restaurants (right, Brunello?), but you do in pubs. We begin moaning that the world is turning upside down, we must be getting old….

The service immediately gives the idea of being springy, fresh and friendly: you are welcome in the right way.

On the menu choices from sea and land. Starters go from the £5.50 of the pea soup to the £7.50 of the Croquette of chicken and foie gras, mixed leaves and truffle dressing. And the mains range from £13.50 for the Leek and truffle pithivier, green beans and Madeira jus, to £19.50 for the Scottish sirloin steak with sautéed truffle potatoes & béarnaise sauce.

The bread soon arrives to the table:

It may not be a fantastic offering in absolute terms, but we welcome the very existence of a bread plate here, and the raisin and nut bread is not too bad.

Our choice of starter is:

- Dorset Crab and toast (£6.50)

- Risotto of broad beans, peas & soft herbs (£6.50)

The crab, which comes in a very very tiny portion, is quietly pleasant, although it does not vibrate with freshness or intensity of flavour. The bread slice is also really nothing to write home about. The accompanying pink dressing is on the other hand quite good.

The risotto is not a risotto: it is simply boiled, in fact overboiled and possibly reheated, rice. Apart from this, and also apart from the fact that the advertised broad beans were a rarity to find in the plate (which was on the other hand generously endowed with peas) if one concentrated just on the flavour ignoring the texture, she might have had some joy, courtesy mainly of the fresh herbs that offered a distinctive, abundant and clear signature.

Our mains appear:

- Pan fried sea bass, fricassée of carrots, morels, pearl onions, baby gem and noilly prat velouté (£16.50)

- Sea bream (special of the day) £17.95

The seabass dish looks colourful and visually attractive, but the smallness of the fish portion causes some discomfort. There are just two sad looking paper thin tails (who gets the chunky fillet, we wonder, the chef?). They have however been pan-fried as if they had been chunky filled, therefore for too long: they are mortifyingly overcooked. The best part of the dish is the array of small vegetables (and tiny bits of morels), which are on the contrary cooked well and left nicely crunchy, and of good quality. And now Man and Woman have to disagree on the sauce (dubiously described as a veloute’): Woman found it too creamy and almost disgusting (bringing up certain memories), whereas Man found it too fat, yes, but liked its decisive taste.

And finally with the bream we learn that the chef can actually cook something properly. The fish has a nice consistency, although once again it is not generous in flavour (incidentally this portion, i.e. a whole fish, is many times the size of the other dish. We worry we are missing some trick). The accompanying asparagus, as well as the potatoes, are also good, and the hollandaise sauce, served in a separate cup, was very well made. So far probably the best dish.

We conclude with our desserts:

- Pear tatin with pear ice-cream (£5.50)

- Crumble with rhubarb (£5.50)

The ice cream is mediocre, partly frozen, with crystals all over making the texture poor. Woman insists it tasted of vanilla rather than pear, while Man hypocritically convinces himself it really tasted of pear. The tatin, while a little burned underneath, was not bad.

The crumble is overwhelming in the generosity of the portion. The custard is excellent, the crumble pleasantly irregular, the rhubarb perfect. A well interpreted classic.

With a basic Muscadet (£15) and a 0.75 litre bottle of water, the bill comes to (oh, we forgot the bill…but we can still do some sums…) around £85. With a ‘normal’ (for us) wine we would have paid as much as in our fine dining favourites. This is very bad news for a gastropub.

The service is a real bonus of this establishment. It is informal and ‘young’ but professional enough, with the waiters constantly but not overwhelmingly enquiring about your welfare, and even serving wine correctly. It is clear that there is good management behind this performance, something we admire.

And in the kitchen? Well, whoever is cooking clearly is not completely devoid of technique, as evidenced by some sauces. Nevertheless, the cooking in our dinner left much to be desired. This is rather basic food, which relies much on cooking and the quality of the ingredients. We said what we think of the former. About the latter, the vegetables were definitely above average, but the seafood and fish were less than wowing. We had an acceptable dinner; but, at these prices, it is definitely not worth it, in our opinion. So long, the Gun.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Osteria Fior di Roccia, 2008

The day: 21st May, Dinner.
The place:
Via Nazionale 2, Lon di Vezzano (TN), Italy (tel +39 0461 864029)
The venue: Osteria Fior di Roccia
Closest airports: Brescia (Ryanair), Verona (British Airways)
The food: Traditional regional cuisine with a modern take
The drinks: only local and short, but with evident care (all wines are described)

As you may recall, Osteria Fior di Roccia has been open now for just over a year. We have been here many more times since we first told you, and it is about time we gave you an update.

Inside, the same warm and informal atmosphere

The menu is very enticing: starters go from the €6.50 of carne salada tartare with wholemeal croutons and apple vinegar baby lettuce, to the €750 of golden lavarello (local fresh water fish) fillets with crunchy herbs on a bed of polenta. Primi go form the €7 of Donkey (donkey? Yes, donkey) ragout maccheroni on mature goat cheese fondue to €7.50 of the fresh pasta lasagnette with vegetable Julienne and Boscatella (local cheese) melt; while mains go from the €8 of the Trentino cheese platter (served with figs mostarda and walnut bread), to the €12 of the steamed salmerino (local trout) fillets with steamed vegetables and rocket pesto.

On top of all this, on this visit the special Asparagus menu was also available, and though one could have the whole three course menu at €26, each dish is also available on its own. Besides this seasonal menu, there is also a four course “Fior di Roccia” set menu at €24.50 (or €32.50 if taking the wine pairing).

While perusing the list, here comes a nice greeting from the kitchen: a lentils puree with crunchy speck. The white speck you see is yoghurt, lending its nice acidity to this in principle earthy yet light dish.

And to scoop it all up, a bread basket worth this name: we can confirm this is home made, and it changes every night.

To begin, we decided to go for a starter and a pasta:

- Flaking mille feuille of rainbow trout and home made crackers with sprouts in yogurt (€7);

- Egg caserecce with basil, walnut and tomato sauce (€7);

The pasta was a delightful pasta dish in what was basically a local take on pesto, with the walnuts replacing the pine nuts, and tomatoes thrown in for good measure. Although the pasta itself was just a tad over, this dish was as simple as appetizing, with the scrumptious walnuts, coming both as chunky halves and coarsely ground bits, aptly buttressed by the freshness of the basil.

But what we both really fell for was the trout: the lightest of crackers, but with personality, separating a very flavoursome trout mousse, with the trout coming out very intensely (perhaps someone else near by might want to take notice). The dollop of yogurt with sprouts complemented the rich mousse very fittingly. A great, classy dish well above the trattoria level that these prices would suggest.

Next, it's pork night:

- Roasted pork shank (half) with sautéed potatoes (€11)

- Pork fillet in fine herbs and vegetable ‘mediterranea’ (€11.50)

The shank is the concrete example that pure comfort food need not be uncouth, even in a trattoria: the potatoes, crisp on the outside and tender inside; the meat, falling off the bone beautifully, moist, rich, tender, lean, juicy, and it was really hard to keep us off the bone! It had been cooked just right, concentrating all flavours beautifully. This is one for the glutton, who can have his fill and not feel guilty.

With the pork fillet, we move to another level: we hope you can see the pink yet perfectly cooked slices of this succulent pork, vacuum cooked at 62 degrees until the meat in the core reaches 58 degrees, then sizzled in herbs. Incredibly tender. And the accompanying tower of mediterranean vegetables provided a counterpoint of flavours: layers of aubergines filled with courgettes and capped by a slice of tomato showered in Trentigrana. Luscious and comforting, with some zing lent by fresh oregano. We cannot imagine better cooked pork fillet, and the accompanying vegetable tower (literally) elevates the dish and multiplies the themes.

Remember, this is an ‘osteria’, in order to check the internal temperature vacuum is lost in one fillet (that must hurt the wallet at least a bit), and, sure you are in the middle of the mountains, but you can have it for less than £8!

Of course we could not let desserts go:

- warm carrot and almonds cake with Mount Bondone honey parfait (€5);

- iced cappuccino with whisky cream and coconut foam (€5).

The cake : moist, soft, light yet ‘bodily’. The honey parfait an explosion of honey. Although the cake itself was light, soft and moist enough to hold its own, it was married very aptly with the parfait and the custard. Very impressive.

And what about the cappuccino? Beginning with whipped cream topped with grated coconut and hazelnut, sitting on the coffee parfait, with a progression of flavours as you dig deeper and deeper. Whisky and coffee melting beautifully, the two biscuits a congenial contrast in consistency, for a thoroughly classy dessert.

With a one litre bottle of water at €2 and a bottle of Berzamina 2005 Trevisan at €14 (don’t tell us you don’t know the Berzamina grape…OK maybe we’ll tell you more at some point in a special post), our total bill came to…€62.50.

For this food and cuisine, the price strikes the food lover as borderline crazy. Here you can experience very high quality food, with a lot of care in the kitchen and in the dining room, at rock bottom prices. Cristina Menestrina runs the dining room with care, attention to detail and warmth, while Chef Michel Menestrina labours his passion in the kitchen. He is obviously restraining himself, catering mainly for the local market. You sense that he could cook equally well even ‘haute cuisine’ dishes, he has all the technique and the presentation skill needed. But abilities are evident already on a menu that reinterprets tradition, and makes a higher level of cuisine available at prices that are affordable to the locals, and that the locals obviously like, judging from the footfall. It is a joy to eat here also for the atmosphere. But it is just a short drive from Trento, and we guess it won’t be too long before the trendy city people and the food guide fanatics head this way. Run over there, so that by the time the guides discover them, you will be able to say you were here before!


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