Saturday, July 31, 2010

Eating to a Different Beet

Fig.1. Chioggia beets are quite beautiful to look at when raw; when cooked the beets turn pink. When fresh, beet leaves are perfectly edible, eat them in salads or cook them as you would rapini.

A trip to the market these days is truly wonderful. Because of the heat everything is early. The fava beans are aplenty, as are string beans and broad beans, the mere sight of all those zucchini blossoms makes my heart skip a beat, and, if I keep eating them stuffed with cheese and deep fried, my heart might cease to beat altogether. And if all this wasn't euphoric enough, tomatoes are at last beginning to taste the way a tomato should taste.

Lisa and I have been quite busy these days making jam (strawberry, raspberry, ground cherries and blueberry-wild blueberries are just starting to make an appearance. I found some from Abitibi, but according to LCN, the famed wild variety from Lac Saint Jean will be in short supply this year. I think the blueberry producers are just creating demand in order to boost up the price.) We've also been freezing bags upon bags of beans: simply blanch the beans in boiling water for a few minutes, drain, then put into freezer bags.)

I also was surprised to find Chioggia beets at the Birri kiosk. Chioggia beets, named after the coastal town of Chioggia off of the Venetian lagoon, have a very distinctive "candy cane" appearance. The concentric red and white circles will however turn a uniform pink when cooked. You can eat them raw, but their high levels of geosmin (an organic compound) gives the Chioggia beet a strong earthy taste and best if eaten with bread, or drizzled with (a real) balsamic or vino cotto. When cooked they become sweet, cook them the same way you would cook a potato.

Fig.2. Make sure the beets are even and not overlapping.

Fig.3. When cooked properly, the beets will be crispy and slightly chewy on the outside, and tender in the center; the white and red colors will turn a pinkish purple.

Chioggia Beet Chips

Chioggia beets can be baked whole, either wrapped in foil or in a roasting pan, I often add beets whenever I'm roasting a chicken. Slicing the beets will caramelize and crisp up the beets, if you can't find Chioggia beets, regular beets will also work.


Chioggia beets, sliced 1/4" thick
Bush basil--you can use whatever fresh herb you would like.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 375. Place the sliced beets on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, add your herbs, salt and pepper and toss, making sure they're evenly coated and that there is enough oil coating the cookie sheet. Arrange them on the cookie sheet side by side (make sure none are overlapping) cover tightly with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. When the beets crisp up, flip them over, re-cover and bake until the other side crisps up as well. Sprinkle with coarse salt just before serving.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Antonio Pettinicchi: A Man Whose Ideals you can Taste

Fig.1. Some of the products Antonio Pettinicchi brings with him to Montreal--unadulterated, natural and healthy.

To say that Antonio Pettinicchi is passionate about the products he makes would be an understatement. Pettinicchi, who hails from the town of Lucito, located in the province of Campo basso, owns and operates a Azienda Agricola Biologica. Pettinicchi sells much of what his company makes here in the Montreal and outlying areas. Passata e polpa di pomodoro (pureed and chopped tomatoes), peperonata (pureed peppers), pate di olive (olive paste) and peperoncino macinato piccante (minced hot peppers, I’ve been buying these for years, they’re spicy but they also taste of peppers.) are just some of the wonderful products Pettinicchi and his wife Tina grow and make on their farm in the region of Molise.
I met Pettinicchi in his St Michel warehouse where he ranted about the problems within the business of food and extolled the virtues of growing food naturally and bottling without any preservatives. “Everything I make has an expiry date, and that’s how it should be” exclaims Pettinicchi when I asked him to explain the function of sulfites found in most vinegar products. “Sulfites will preserve the vinegar, but it’s also not good for you.” I tasted his wine vinegar—it was sharp and acidic but light and flavorful. Pettinicchi also has real balsamic vinegar from Modena. I’m talking the real stuff here, no caramel or sugar added, just oak-aged wine from trebbiano grapes. “Norman Laprise asked me years ago to get him good balsamic vinegar; he buys one that’s forty-five years old.” I unfortunately didn’t taste Toque’s! balsamic but Pettinicchi did let me sample a twenty-five year old that was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. The list of restaurants Pettinicchi sells to is indeed impressive; aside from Toque!, they include Laloux, Le Club Chasse et Peche, Decca 77, Newtown, and L’eau a la Bouche. (For a complete list click here.)
Pettinicchi was eager for me to sample some of his products, armed with a hand full of plastic spoons, Pettinicchi offered up preserved artichokes, hot peppers, rapini sotto aceto (rapini in vinegar), and a porcini and white truffle paste. Pettinicchi then brought out a large suitcase which contained several bottles of his olive oil. “My olives are picked one day and pressed the next, and I only press what the trees provide, if I sold containers of oil the oil wouldn’t be good.” Pettinicchi’s oil was indeed extraordinary and it should be pointed out that Pettinicchi uses his olive oil in all of his products—if you buy his preserved artichokes for example, you can then use the oil for cooking or dressing salads. But what really stood out for me was some of his flavored oils, namely, his lemon and garlic oil. Pettinicchi exuberantly explained that the pronounced flavors were a result of macerating the olives and the flavoring ingredients together: rather than chemical flavoring agents, or the common practice of letting lemons sit in oil on a supermarket shelf, Pettinicchi adds the lemons to the olives and everything is pressed together. Pettinicchi also boasted how his oil is filtered with natural cotton, the industrial standard uses pressed, bonded paper.
I’ve been buying Pettinicchi’s products for years; his pastas (which he does not make but buys from someone as fervent as he his) are made from Italian semolina flour only! No imported flour as is the case with all large pasta manufacturers. Pettinicchi’s products are available at Charcuterie Noel, Milano and Capital and many shops outside of Montreal—for a complete list click here.

Fig.2. Some of the olive oil Pettinicchi makes: Picked one day and pressed and bottled the next.