Taste of Piemonte Dinner (Oct 29) and the Queen of Sicilian Sweets


Taste of Piemonte at I Trulli
with owner Nicola Marzovilla
and Italian food and wine historian
Jeremy Parzen, Ph.D.
Monday, October 29, 2007
7:30 p.m.
$195.00 (tax and gratuity included)
seating is limited, so please reserve asap

To reserve, please email General Manager John McKee at jmckee@itrulli.com or call 212-481-7372.

5 courses, 5 wines
wines will include
Barolo Rocche 2001 Vietti
Barolo 1982 Borgogno
and Produttori del Barbaresco 1982 Barbaresco*

Soon truffle season will begin again in the Langhe Hills where Barolo and Barbaresco are made and where delicate white truffles are shaved over tajarin (local dialect for taglierini), the classic thin, long noodles of Piemonte. Few pleasures in life are matched by the pairing of white truffles and old Barolo and Barbaresco. For Taste of Piemonte dinner, owner and Nebbiolo fanatic Nicola Marzovilla has decided to dig deep into the restaurant’s cellars and finally open some bottles from the legendary 1982 vintage, including the stellar Barolo 1982 Borgogno.

Nicola will be attendance and will taste with each table.

Chef Patrick Nuti will be creating a five-course menu that will feature a pairing of white truffles and old Nebbiolo. Italian food and wine historian Jeremy Parzen will also be speaking at the event.

Nicola will also be making a special allocation of old Barolo and Barbaresco (with vintages going back to 1982) available for purchase exclusively to guests at the dinner at a 15% discount.

Stay tuned for more information on the menu and the wines.

Seating is limited for this truly special event: to reserve, please email jmckee@itrulli.com or call 212-481-7372.

*Wines subject to availability.

Maria Grammatico, Queen of Sicilian Sweets
by Michele Scicolone

Michele Scicolone is a leading authority on Italian cuisine and is the author of countless Italian cookbooks, including 1,000 Italian Recipes and Pizza Any Way You Slice It, co-authored by our Wine Director Emeritus Charles Scicolone, Michele’s husband (click book titles to purchase).

Maria Grammatico is an artist, though she does not work with paint, canvas, clay, or stone. Her medium is pastry, and every day people flock to her shop in the tiny town of Erice in Sicily to sample her masterpieces, which are made with flour, butter, sugar, and, most notably, locally grown almonds.

Erice today looks as it did in the 12th century when much of it was constructed. On a clear day, you can see the nearby city of Trapani 2,500 feet below and the Mediterranean beyond that. But often, Erice is swathed in a swirling mist that adds an air of mystery to its narrow stone streets. This medieval gem is now a tourist destination, but life in Erice was difficult in the postwar years when many Italians struggled to make ends meet. Maria’s parents were unable to support their large family, and at the age of 11, having recovered from polio, Maria was sent to live in the San Carlo orphanage under the care of a cloistered order of nuns. The little girl had to work to earn her keep and helped the nuns to prepare the cookies and pastries that they sold to support themselves.

Years later, when the convent was closed and Maria left the orphanage, the only skill she knew was the dying art of pastry making. She started her own business and today is world renowned for her delicious cassata, the classic Sicilian cheesecake made with layers of sponge cake, ricotta cream, and marzipan icing; genovesi, tender little tarts filled with vanilla pastry cream; many types of cookies; torrone, or nougat with nuts; and, most of all, her sweets made from pasta reale, or almond paste.

Sicily is famous for excellent almonds. One of the best times to visit Sicily is in the early spring when the almond trees are in flower, sending their delicate scent and soft pink petals floating on every breeze. The familiar sweet almond is large and exceptionally flavorful, while the bitter variety has a sharp and distinctive almond flavor. Maria blends sweet almonds with a few bitter almonds to heighten the flavor and grinds them to a paste with sugar. The mixture forms the base for the fresh almond paste that she uses for baking or shapes into frutta di martorana, realistic miniature fruits painted with natural food coloring, and seasonal pastries like Easter lambs filled with homemade citron jam.

Ever since Mary Taylor Simeti published Bitter Almonds, her poignant account of Maria’s life, a constant stream of customers comes to the shop from all over the world. But gracious and friendly Maria, helped by her sister, brother, and other family members, is never too busy to welcome an interested visitor into her kitchen for conversation and a pastry-making demonstration over a cup of coffee.

If you plan to visit Erice, you can stay overnight at the Hotel Torri Pepoli (Tel. +39 333 3010504). Located in a newly restored 12th-century castle, each of the seven beautiful rooms and suites is uniquely furnished with antiques and ultra-modern bathrooms. There are outstanding views over the town and beyond to the sea and the Egadi Islands.

One evening, our group set out through the silent town to find the Trattoria San Giuliano. Though it was a simple place, we were rewarded with one of the most delicious pastas we had ever encountered. Homemade fresh semolina twists known as busiati, a local specialty made by wrapping strips of dough around a knitting needle, were tossed with Erice-style pesto made with ground almonds, basil, garlic, and tomatoes. The waiter presented us with a steaming bowlful, topped with cubes of fried eggplant and rounds of fried potatoes. It may sound like an unlikely combination, but we devoured every bite.

After dinner we munched on toasty biscotti regina, or “queen’s cookies,” classic Sicilian sesame cookies that go great with a glass of one of Sicily’s outstanding dessert wines, such as the Passito di Pantelleria from De Bartoli.

The following is my Biscotti Regina recipe from my book 1,000 Italian Recipes.

Biscotti Regina
(Sesame Cookies)

Makes 48

Look for fresh, unhulled sesame seeds in ethnic markets and natural food stores. These cookies were originally made with lard.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 cups unhulled sesame seeds
1/2 cup milk

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour two large baking sheets or line them with parchment.

2. In a large electric mixer bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. On low speed, stir in the butter and shortening a little at a time until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.

4. Spread the sesame seeds on a piece of wax paper. Put the milk in a small bowl next to the sesame seeds.

5. Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Scoop out a portion of the dough the size of a golf ball and shape it into a log 2 1/2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide. Dip the log in the milk, then roll it in the sesame seeds. Place the log on the baking sheet and flatten slightly with your fingers. Continue with the remaining dough, placing the logs 1 inch apart.

6. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until well browned. Have ready 2 large cooling racks.

7. Transfer the baking sheets to the racks. Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer them to the racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

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