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Archive for the ‘What is it?’ Category

December is still Prosciutto Month

Posted by Jim Carfrae on December 20, 2011

I was at the deli on Saturday getting some prosciutto sliced, and casually mentioned “I guess you know December is prosciutto month”. Her response was “I know, almost every person is ordering some”, it really is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.


I was serving a group of friends, one of whom has Celiac disease, (no wheat products). I decided to try something new, prosciutto wrapped around polenta and basil. (Polenta is basically corn meal that is boiled in water until it becomes thick; I suppose it is the Italian version of south western grits. I could be wrong here, it was only my second time making the polenta, and the response was just as mediocre as last time.)


The texture of the polenta just didn’t work with the prosciutto. Even though I fried up the polenta afterward, is remains soft inside; I think crispy like a bread stick works well with prosciutto. To salvage the situation, I put covered the rest of the polenta in gorgonzola cheese – which worked great – and draped the prosciutto in a pile for people to eat straight up – which also worked great. My friend brought champagne, which was a perfect pairing.


Christmas Eve I have been assigned a wheat-free prosciutto appetizer, (different person). I plan to go with the prosciutto sushi – around asparagus, around cantaloupe and for something new I am going to do a version wrapped around figs if I can find them.


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Italy meets Mexico, very successfully

Posted by Jim Carfrae on January 21, 2011

Huevos Rancheros my favourite breakfast. I am constantly trying new variations and found adding in a little Italy, i.e. pancetta, was the final ingredient to perfection.

Huevos Rancheros is the classic Mexican breakfast of eggs in a tortilla. The dish usually includes scrambled eggs, shredded cheese and salsa. It can also include refried beans, whole beans, onions, peppers, cilantro and I am sure other things. My version sautés: pancetta, chopped onions, chipotle peppers, (I buy a canned version, dice up one and add to the pan) and add black beans. Once the onions are translucent, the pancetta rendered and the black beans soft I remove this pile and put in a bowl. I then fry up an egg easy-over, put in warmed tortilla, add the sautéed pile, and lastly add some finely chopped fresh cilantro, (really should take the leaves off the stems before chopping). I usually make two tortillas worth, and don’t need to eat for a long time – very filling. I love the runny yolk soaking mixing and soaking with everything else, but you can go with scrambled eggs or omelet-style if you prefer

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Share Italian Cheese

Posted by Jim Carfrae on February 12, 2010

Out of the winter wasteland … We just launched a new website at work:


Of course I think it is great, you should check it out. It has a neat discovery map that shows many of the great cheeses of Italy and how to enjoy them. And the with the beauty of the web, we can constantly improve or adjust with input from others.

If you are really into food, you owe it to yourself to try:

  •  Calabrese, it is a Crotenese cheese coated in chili peppers
  • Gorgonzola, in the style of a milder blue cheese, but creamier and somehow better
  • Savello as a milder cheese for all your guests.

Any feedback welcome

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A rare mistake from my favourite cooking magazine

Posted by Jim Carfrae on January 12, 2010

Fine Cooking is the single magazine I get the most inspiration from, with ideas from Canadian Living and the odd Bon Appetite or Gourmet. I find they teach things and ideas where you can taste and share the difference. Usually they do a great job, but when explaining the difference between pancetta and bacon I think they failed to capture how great the difference really is.

In their Special Entertaining Issue: “… the difference between them lies in how they’re prepared and cured. To make bacon, pork belly sides are brined and then smoked. Pancetta … is made by seasoning a pork belly side with salt and pepper, curling it into a tight roll, and wrapping it in a casing to hold the shape. It’s cured, but it isn’t smoked.”

To call bacon cured is to consider only the salting of the belly.  Bacon is pumped full of brine, cold smoked  and put through a continuous oven to an internal temperature of around 140 Fahrenheit, uncooked for most of us.  When the bacon leaves the oven and reaches the package it weighs even more than the meat started at. This is why you see steam for the first couple minutes you cook bacon, as the water that was pumped in gets boiled off.

Contrast with pancetta and it is clear why the difference is so pronounced when you taste it. 

Pancetta is salted and put in a temperature and humidity controlled room for two to three months.  During this time the meat cures and loses much of its moisture.  The final pancetta weighs a third less than the meat weighed before curing. As the meat ages it develops the true cured pork taste.

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Why do I love “the Mighty Espresso”?

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 24, 2009

I have come to take my morning pleasure for granted, even though I have been drinking coffee for only a short time.   I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit the Lavazza training centre in Torino, Italy.  Lavazza is the leading coffee in Italy and the leading espresso around the world.

I usually have an espresso or latte to start my day.  Very occasionally I have a brewed drip coffee and each time wonder why so massively different than my usual. As a snob I’ll say the quality of the coffee and style of roasting of Lavazza is better, and it probably is.  At the training centre I had an espresso and brewed coffee made from the same beans, still there is a huge difference, including the caffeine.

Espresso, and all espresso based drinks – cappuccino, latte …, are made with very high pressure and short contact time with finely ground coffee.  Brewed coffee is made at a normal pressure with a long contact between the water and a coarser grind of coffee, about 5 minutes versus 25 seconds. The results:

  • Espresso has a much more aroma, body and a thin foamy “crema” that the pressure extracts.
  • The brewed coffee has less coffee flavour extracted.  The long contact actually extracts three times more caffeine than an espresso.

I received an aerosol vanilla mousse from the folks at the training centre and had some fun at our last dinner party.  I filled one side of the cup with the mousse and poured the espresso down the other side for a coffee and dessert combination.  (This picture was actually at the training centre, my creation didn’t look quite as perfect.)

As the chefs say, make sure you serve a good coffee; a bad coffee can ruin a great meal.

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Where are all the cows?

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 6, 2009

low res cowI am just finishing up a week and a half across northern Italy.  Despite some of the best and most famous cheeses in the world there are no cows to be seen – until today.  It turns out the cows are kept inside to control the feed and to allow milking once or even twice a day.  While the feed is a mixture of grass and grain, the grass is grown in the region of the cheese, at least for parmigiano reggiano.

I was lucky enough to visit one of the 400 Parmigiano Reggiano producers and the largest producer of grana padana.  Why does it taste so good?  It takes 1100 litres of milk to make two 38kg wheels, that’s about 16kgs of milk per kg of cheese! It is aged for 16 to 24 months and  it uses milk fresh everyday!  The grana is made with skim milk so doesn’t need to age as long as the parmigiano which uses a mixture of skim and whole milk. I prefer the grana padano most for eating and the parmigiano reggiano for grating.

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Why Prosciutto?

Posted by Jim Carfrae on October 20, 2009

“pro-shoo’tõ”, ask for it sliced thin at the deli.  Share it and it will taste even better. 


So what exactly is Prosciutto? Why does it taste so good?

Prosciutto is a ham that has been dry aged for 9 to 18 months, depending on the size of the ham.  It is a process of salting and aging in an environment that matches the four seasons of Northern Italy. 

The taste is simple, sophisticated and intense.  The salt gradually penetrates the entire ham and the water leaves it.  The aging brings out the true taste of the ham in all its glory.

How should I share it?

Stay tuned …

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