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Ari's Top 5

Small farms make economic sense. They also produce more happiness, more beauty, more health—those things that aren’t so quantifiable.
Wendell Berry
 

Looking for something to do in the next week or two? We’ve got loads of good learning and good tasting laid out in literally dozens of events across the Zingerman’s Community. Check out our comprehensive events site for stuff like Cheese, Wine and Chocolate, a Vegetarian FeastKids and Caramel, soup and sauce, or learn how to make Boston Cream Pie.

Speaking of events, I’m doing a “Going into Business with Emma Goldman” event to celebrate the release of the new pamphlet at the Roadhouse on Tuesday evening, November 5. See you there?

Spaghettini with Cherry Tomato Sauce
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Spaghettini with Cherry Tomato Sauce 

A simple late-summer supper


I know. Summer’s over. Technically, it’s Autumn. But the unseasonably warm September here allowed me to stay in denial longer than usual about colder weather’s impending arrival. In a more practical sense, it’s also extended the growing season. There are still, I’m happy to report, a fair few heirloom tomatoes coming in. While cherry tomatoes are still out there on the market, I want to take full advantage before we go without for the next nine months. Maybe it will bring a bit more calm and caring to the world—as the late Southern comedian Lewis Grizzard once said, “It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato."

The other evening Tammie came home from the farm with a bunch of just-picked cherry tomatoes. Most were destined to be delivered to Miss Kim and the Roadhouse the next day. But out of the large flexible rubber farm buckets, there were three or four dozen little tomatoes that had started to crack. I’m sure you’ve had a few of your own over the years. They’re just past optimal ripeness and appearance for selling, but the flavor’s fine. A conscientious grower doesn’t want to send them to wholesale customers—the juice from the cracked tomatoes attracts flies, starts the others next to them on the road to spoilage, and causes a host of other storage problems. Which means that we eat them at our house! 

Thinking of what to do with these still super tasty, but not long for this world cracked tomatoes (we probably had about a couple pints worth), I decided to make what I often fall back on—pasta! I heat up a large skillet and pour in some extra virgin olive oil. Normally I cut the cherry tomatoes in half before they go in to release their juice, but since these were already split, that was unnecessary. When the oil is hot, drop them gently into the pan. (You could also put a peeled and halved clove or two into the pan before the tomatoes go in. Move the garlic around in the oil over gentle heat to spread the flavor, but don’t brown it.) After the tomatoes start to warm up, add a pinch or two of sea salt to taste. Let them simmer slowly in the skillet pan until they soften up. I let the tomatoes cook for about ten minutes until they are all soft and the juice is forming into a light tomatoey sauce. (They’re not paste tomatoes, so don’t expect a super thick “ragu”—this is a light, quick, sauce!) 

At the same time, I get a big pot of water going on the stove for the pasta. Add plenty of sea salt—the water should taste, as author and friend Tamar Adler always says, like the sea. I use the French Gray Salt—I like the high mineral content and its health benefits. And also the subtle flavor upsides it adds. The other night, I chose spaghettini for this—with such a light sauce like this one, I like the high surface-to-sauce ratio. (In terms of food geometry, a half-pound of a thicker pasta will have less exposed surface for the sauce to attach itself to, than an equal weight of a thinner one.)

To restate what I say every time I make a dish like this: When it’s this simple, the ingredients have to be special. Cherry tomatoes from your garden, or from the farmers market that haven’t been refrigerated, will be best. Great artisan pasta is essential for this recipe to work well. I used the Mancini pasta from the Marche region of Italy. It’s been so good. I love Martelli spaghettini, Rustichella’s linguine, or Gentile’s too. The flavor of the grain is a key contributor to the finished dish and low-end commercial pasta just doesn’t have much to offer. Also, you want a pasta (like the ones I’ve suggested) that are extruded through bronze dies—the roughness of the surface is critical to getting a good bond between the light cherry tomato sauce and the pasta. (For more on artisan pasta, see the chapter in Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating.) 

After the pasta has cooked for three or four minutes, ladle a small bit of the pasta-cooking water into the sauce. The starch thickens the sauce a bit. When the pasta is almost al dente and the tomatoes are soft, lift it with tongs straight into the hot pan of tomato sauce. Let the pasta finish cooking in the sauce for a couple minutes or so, so that it absorbs the tomato. I add a good bit of freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper and some of the fennel seeds we get from Greece. If you want, torn leaves of fresh basil would be good, too. When the pasta is ready, turn off the heat. Grate in a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir gently and then lift the pasta out of the pan with the tongs and put it into warm bowls. Grate on some more Parmigiano Reggiano, add a drizzle of olive oil, and if you like black pepper as much as we do at our house, more of that. It’s nice with a spoonful of fresh ricotta or some Korean red chile. Make this dish while you can still get great tomatoes. Eat it while it’s hot!! 

Stock up on pasta and other great pantry essentials at the Deli!
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Pasta Friday on Tuesday at the Roadhouse 

A2 in A2: chef, author, and friend Allison Arevalo brings her passion for people and pasta-cooking to Ann Arbor

 

Speaking of pasta . . . maybe you have great memories, growing up, when you got together with your family and friends over a marvelous home-cooked meal? One where pasta was on the table, and good food, good conversation, good comradery were the order of the day? While most folks reminisce, Allison Arevalo took action—rather than regretfully lament the loss of the “good old days” of family dinners, she came up with Pasta Friday. What started a few years ago as a small seed of a good idea, turned into a weekly tradition that has brought together literally thousands of people in the Bay Area. And now, I’m happy to report, Pasta Friday is a wonderful, just-released-to-the-world, cookbook! Soon Allison’s passion will turn into a small pasta restaurant in Brooklyn. It’s called Pasta Louise, named after her grandmother. Allison shares that, “After church every week, [she] cooked Sunday supper, a pasta feast put together by a 92-year-old woman who needed to stand on a step stool to flip the meatballs. This was how my family—and most Italian families on Long Island—spent their Sundays.”

For those of us who don’t live in New York, or who (like me) didn’t grow up in a big, pasta-eating Italian family, we get a chance to experience some of Allison’s passion and her pasta later this month at the Roadhouse. Allison will be coming to do “Pasta Friday on Tuesday” the evening of October 22! 

Allison grew up in an Italian family in which pasta was a centerpiece. About 15 years ago, she and her husband left New York and moved out west. Living in the Bay Area, she co-founded the excellent Homeroom with Erin Wade. The restaurant won rave reviews and grew quite a bit. While success was good, the business began to grow in directions Allison wasn’t wild about. Not bad stuff, just not the way she wanted to be in business. Staying true to her art she sold her shares and started thinking about what to do next. (She and I traded a lot of emails around this time since I was working on “The Art of Business” pamphlet and she and I clearly had a shared philosophical approach to our work.)

What she came up with was Pasta Friday—every Friday for two years, Allison invited a different group of friends and relatives over to her house for a pasta-based meal. Each week, a different pasta dish, different friends, always a good outcome. Last fall, Allison did the work (no small thing) to turn her weekly get-togethers into a cookbook. Which, as the cover says, is all about “love, community, and good food!”—three things that are close to our hearts here at Zingerman’s as well. If those themes resonate with you, and you like pasta a tiny bit as much as I do, then this dinner is for you! 

What’s on the menu? Pasta! And lots of great seasonal vegetables. Each pasta course comes with a small salad to balance out the meal! The pastas include Cannelloni with Swiss chard, ricotta, and bechamel; Chitarra with Tunisian harissa and seafood; and Pappardelle with roasted pork and mushrooms. And for dessert? Allison’s family recipe for Ricotta Zeppole filled with lemon cream. If I wasn’t already working, I’d have signed up ten seconds after the announcement came out from the Roadhouse! Come meet Allison, eat some good pasta, meat some good people, and celebrate a taste of Pasta Friday on Tuesday! 

Get your tickets to Pasta Friday (on a Tuesday!)
P.S. Allison cooks extensively with Rustichella pasta—you know, the one in the “brown bag” that we stock so much of at the Deli. I’m also a big fan! We’ve been selling their wonderful products for over 30 years now. I love their linguine and fettuccine. At the dinner we’ll be featuring their new pasta from the ancient Saragolla wheat—like the Grain Commission project at the Bakehouse, they’re working with ancient grains that have more flavor. Both Allison and I are captivated by its full flavor!
Roquefort cheese atop Zingerman's Bakehouse Walnut Sage Bread
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Roquefort on Toasted Walnut Sage Bread from the Bakehouse

Breakfast lunch or dinner—if you love bread & blue cheese . . . 


Two great ingredients that come together to make something super special. Pick up some of the French Roquefort we have on hand at the Deli right now. Buy a loaf of the Bakehouse’s Walnut Sage bread. Go home, plug in the toaster. Let the Roquefort come to room temperature so it’s nice and soft and easily spreadable. Cut a couple of slices of the bread. Toast it. While the bread is still warm, spread on some of the cheese. Eat up. If you want, you can spruce it up by adding some of those red walnuts I wrote about a few weeks ago and a bit of freshly ground pepper. (A few slices of avocado are a nice addition as well.) That’s it. What’s the big deal? In under ten minutes, if your taste in food runs anything like mine, you’ll have one of the best meals you’ve eaten in ages.

It is all, as I’ve said, about the ingredients! The Walnut Sage bread from the Bakehouse is so good! It’s got a dark crumb from the freshly milled Hard Red Spring wheat and the super-flavorful, ancient Emmer wheat (the ancestor of the modern durum wheat, if you will). Both grains are grown up in the Leelanau Peninsula. In an effort to coax the full potential of the grain, we do a slow 20-hour natural fermentation of a very wet dough, that’s sort of dyed deep purple thanks to the tannins from the skins of the walnuts. Then there’s the dark, delicious crust—the long bake means that caramelization of the natural sugars in the grain creates a marvelously toasty, subtly sweet flavor that holds its own with the boldness of the freshly-milled grains. On top of which, the walnuts get toasted in a terrific way while they’re in the oven. Oh yeah, I don’t want to forget the Greek sage leaves—they’re subtle, way back in the mix, but bring an aromatic depth to the loaf that I really like too! The whole thing comes together in the form of an earthy, toasty, terrific wheaty loaf! 

And then there’s the cheese. There’s so much so-so Roquefort on the market. But when you taste a really good one—like this—you realize why Roquefort has long been considered one of the world’s great cheeses. What we have at the Deli right now comes to us from the southeast of France. The cheese itself is made by the firm of Gabriel Coulet. It dates back to the year 1896 when Gillaume Coulet began to age cheese in Roquefort caves. Twenty years later, his son Gabriel took over the company and the firm took his name, which it carries to this day. (Back then, there were 70 firms in the district making Roquefort—now there are only 7!) Today Gabriel Coulet is run by the fifth generation of the family. We buy their cheese through our friends at Fromage Mons, who are marvelous maturers. The first family of French affinage, the Mons’ business began in 1960, and today it’s run by the second generation, Herve and Laurent Mons. Herve took over the business in 1983; in 2000 he was awarded “Best Artisan Craftsman of France.” 

Affineurs like Mons buy cheese from producers often at very young ages and then mature it, or finish it, further, to develop qualities particular to their versions of those cheeses. Their work with the Roquefort is incredible. Laure Dubouloz, long-time friend and export manager at Mons, shared that,

 We get our Roquefort only from Gabriel Coulet. We’ve been working with them for many years. Every year we redefine our flavor and age profile with them, so they know which batch to send us. One thing that makes the difference on top of the selection is also how we receive and age it: once the cheeses go through the Combalou caves at Roquefort, they are wrapped and kept in a refrigerated area at the producer; when the cheeses arrive to us, we place them back in our own aging caves at a warmer temperature—between 8 and 10 degrees Celsius. This allows the Roquefort to ‘relax;’ we call this step the ‘détente.’ The cheese releases excess moisture, allowing it to gain a denser, creamier texture and also concentrate the flavors.

You really can taste the difference this work makes. The veins are lovely—mostly a pale, almost jade-like green, with bits of darker green, nearly blue-black in places. The flavor is nutty and bold, with a hint of butterscotch; the finish is long and lingering. While almost everyone knows the name, only a handful of Americans have ever tasted the real thing.  

The toast and cheese are great on their own, and terrific together. The toasty darkness of the bread, the creamy butterscotch blueness of the cheese, the aromas that come off of the hot bread when the Roquefort is spread on top is amazing! If we’re speaking the same culinary language, stop by the Deli to get some today. Head home and start toasting. Spreading. Enjoying. And eating! 

Head to the Deli for Roquefort and Walnut Sage Bread!
P.S. Yes, you can try this with other blue cheeses this way as well—the Deli, Cream Top Shop, and Mail Order have a whole range to choose from!
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Speck Ham at the Deli

Sensational smoked, cured ham from the Sud Tyrol

 

While Prosciutto di Parma rightly wins raves all over the world, and while American country ham has gained great attention in the last few years, there are regions in almost every part of the world that a) eat pork and b) have a climate temperate enough to cure a ham properly. Speck is the unique cured “country” ham of the Alto-Adige region up in the Dolomites, near the Austrian border. It’s lightly smoked and lightly spiced cured ham. Speck makers take the bone out of the fresh hams before the pork is cured and rub their fresh hams with spices before aging and smoking. Exactly which spices anyone uses is a big-time closely guarded secret that no one is to divulge. 

Speck smoking is always done at very cool, low temperatures so that the meat is never cooked, but simply seasoned by the smoke. Hold a freshly cut slice up to your nose and it smells sweetly of smoke, and subtly of the spices that are used to cure it. Taste it and you’ll work your way through layers of flavor. First, there’s the spice. A bit of pepper, some juniper, and other secret spices. It brings a liveliness, almost a touch of the medieval to the experience. That’s followed on the palate by the smoke. And then beneath all that you come back to the pork, which is solid, delicious, a bit refreshing really. It reminds me of eating great smoked salmon. The fat and the spice spread nicely over the tongue and linger a long time. 

It’s great on buttered slices of any of the Bakehouse’s great breads, but particularly the Dinkelbrot, Vollkornbrot, Miche, or Farm bread. In its home region of the Sud Tyrol, speck is used a good bit in cooking as well. Specknodeln are very typical—basically matzo balls, or dumplings, made with small pieces of speck mixed into the dough before they’re cooked. Speck can also be used to season soups or sauces, chopped and added to salads, noodles, or rice dishes. 

Head to the Deli for Speck!

P.S. Remember that when you eat cured hams like speck, they’re radically more flavorful when you serve them at room temperature. It makes a big difference just as it does with cheese, pie, wine, most anything else. 

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Sottofiesole Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The Tuscan Sunshine of My Life 


Just a few miles, and a whole lot of smiles, outside the magical city of Florence, you’ll find the Sottofiesole farm. The farm has been in the family for nearly 70 years; not necessarily all that long in a region where land has been passed from generation to generation for centuries. But still, not a small thing in this all-too-transient modern world in which we live. The olive trees are now mostly decades-old—meaning more complexity in the oil. They grow the traditional quartet of Tuscan olives Frantoio, Moraiolo, Leccino, and Pendolino. No sprays or artificial pesticides are used. The olives are still picked by hand and pressed, in the nearby village of San Casciano, within five hours of being taken from the tree. Today the farm is run by twin brothers, Bernardo and Giovanni. For years they dedicated the estate’s oil to honoring the memory of their grandfather, Arturo Marassi, and used it solely in the family or gifted it to friends. Last year they began to sell it. To us. We’re honored to be the first outlet for the family’s seven-decades-long passion. 

Bernardo has quite the background. A degree in Political Science, and a Masters in Wine Marketing, he’s the official Champagne Ambassador to Italy (how’s that for a job?!). He teaches wine classes in English, Italian and French. Making marvelous oil is his passion project. Or maybe they’re all his passion projects. Quality and care mark them all! By the standards of Tuscany’s often big bold oils, the Sottofiesole oil is delicate. The oil got a prestigious “three leaves” ranking from the Italian journal Gambero Rosso. It has a complex aroma of tomato leaves and green grassy notes. The flavor is balanced between spicy, peppery, and a clean artichoke note, with a long, lingering finish that’s particularly lovely. Great on some of those late-season tomatoes or fish. Perfect for pouring on a slice of toasted Paesano bread from the Bakehouse. 

Not near the Deli? Ship Sottofiesole to your home!

P.S. Want to visit this wonderful farm? Sign up for the Zingerman’s Food Tour of Tuscany, set for the fall of 2020.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this enews and you know someone else who might like it, please pass it along. Have questions about Zingerman’s? Write us at info@zingermans.com.
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