The Extraordinary Italian Taste

(TORONTO, ON) – Although I was privileged to be invited to The Extraordinary Italian Taste event in Toronto recently, I am sure many of you know, pasta, tomatoes, and risotto could be considered the heart of Italian cooking.

As many of us know, those who are willing to pay a premium price, San Marzano tomatoes are the best conserved tomatoes to use to prepare sauces. S Marzano Dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino are a PDO product (Protected Designation of Origin) and are produced in the Italian provinces of Naples, Salerno, and Avellino in the Campania region.

These very special PDO tomatoes are peeled and preserved, either in their entirety or in sliced filets. They have long cylindrical shapes tending toward pyramidal with a typical red colour. Their skin is easy to detach and the flesh is almost seedless.

It is distinguished by its typical bittersweet flavour with a consistency which remains intact during processing.

Now, there is nothing better than cooking with fresh Leamington summer beefsteak tomatoes, but if you want that extra special tomato sauce in the winter give Marzano’s a try.

It was only in the 4th decade of my life that I discovered risotto. I remember it well. A sumptuous pheasant risotto at Paganelli’s in Toronto.

I quickly headed out and bought some risotto after seeing a 5-minute risotto recipe for a pressure cooker. Throw in some vegetable stock, garlic, chives, mushrooms, and whatever herbs take your fancy and pressure cook for 5 minutes.

Throw in some raw shrimp once the pressure cooker lid is popped off and let the shrimp cook in the heated risotto.

Breaking it down, risotto is like a fat grain of rice. When cooked properly, it retains a certain firmness and is not as “mushy” at white rice. As such, it has its own character and is certainly worth experimenting with.

I am not a sophisticated risotto selector, most likely because where I shop has only the Aborio variety. Even the smaller Italian market I shop at occasionally has the Carnaroli in addition to the Aborio.

However, the king of risotto is the Riso de Delta del Po PGI (Protected Geographical Region) which refers to the Oryza sativa L species in the following varieties: Carnaroli, Volano, Baldo and Aborio.

Volano? Baldo? Where on earth can we find these in Canada?

The Riso del Delta del Po PGI has large crystalline and compact grains and can be white or brown in colour. It has high absorption capacity, low loss of starch, and high cooking resistance. It must be kept in a well ventilated and dry place away from light or heat sources.

Due to its aroma and cooking resistance, it is suitable as an ingredient for the preparation of many recipes from soups to local risottos, but also desserts. The Po Delta area, with its high degree of salinity, gives this risotto its unique aroma and flavour.

I was fortunate to taste this remarkable risotto prepared with wild mushrooms, shallots, and butter drizzled with a Fontina cheese fondue. A creamy decadent delight.

My last wish before my execution at dawn please.

And of course, pasta.

The Pasta di Gragnano is made with mixing durum wheat semolina with water from local aquifers produced across the whole territory of Gragnano. There are different styles of pasta, but in terms of physical characteristics this pasta has a homogenous appearance, no stains, no cuts, cracks, or air bubbles.

Tried with a simple tomato sauce it had a refreshing smell of a fresh cut meadow.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write." Email Robert Stephen