Have you ever considered cooking with Grappas? Well, you should!
Thanks to the Istituto di Tutela Grappa del Trentino (Institute for the protection of Grappa of Trentino), and AIFB (Italian Association of Food Bloggers, of which I am a member), I’m back from a wonderful trip to Trento where the Institute organized a Food Contest dedicated to cooking with local grappas brandy: La Grappa del Trentino nel piatto.
I was between the luckiest AIFB members chosen to participate, together with Paola Bellora (Profumo di vaniglia), Ilaria Bertinelli (Uno chef per Gaia), Stefano De Stefano (SteDeSte in cucina) who unfortunately couldn’t come, and Annalisa Sandri (Manca il sale) the winner of the contest. Great Team! Great Time!
I reached Trento by train, a very comfortable fast ride from a torrid Rome, dreaming of a cool weather (being Trento in the mountainous region of Trentino, the Alpine Northeast of Italy), to find a fiery 41C (106F). Even in Trento it’s hot!
We’ve been welcomed by Mr. Mirko Scarabello (Master Distiller and President of the Institute for the protection of Grappa of Trentino) and Mr. Alessandro Maurilli (Journalist), who I met during the train ride.
After a light lunch we drove to Frazione Pergolese for a visit to the Brothers Pisoni Distillery (a family active in winemaking and grappa from 1852), where Mr. Giuliano Pisoni (Master Distiller) walk us through the property. First the alembics room – stand-by for the next harvest season (vendemmia) – where they master the delicate process of grappa making. And then came the cellar with their vintage barrels, and the grotto where the brothers keep alongside red and white wines their Trento DOC, a sparkling white wine made following the ‘Metodo Classico’, which is the same method used to make champagne. Applying manual remuage, (when the bottles are rotated by stages).
A great drink for special occasions… like our visit 😉
Few words about Grappa. It’s a fragrant, grape-based, alembic-distilled “pomace brandy” made in Italy, a good example of a zero waste kind of product.
In order to be called “grappa” it must be produced in Italy and made entirely from local pomace (vinaccia), following a specific distillation method; more so if made in Trentino – in order to getting the “Trident” marking.
Legends call for a shot of grappa as a cure for cold, illness or, most commonly, to “sooth” the stomach after dinner; there aren’t many ailments that grappa won’t cure.
Similar distillates are made in France (Marc), Portugal (Aguardiente Bagaceira), Spain (Aguardiente de Orujo), and many other countries.
Back to Trento, to Palazzo Roccabruna, a gorgeous location right in the city center, part of the local Chamber of Commerce: The reference in Trentino for all those who wish to learn about the most authentic local handicraft and food and wine products.
Tick-tock… we are going to cook in their kitchen, sometime around 6pm.
Once in the kitchen we are welcomed by the Chef Sebastian Sartorelli (La cucina di Seba) who is going to help us out during cooking time, later to taste and asses our work together with Mr. Scarabello and the grappa, wine and cheese expert Mrs. Maria Grazia Brugnara. There is also the official photographer Ms. Giulia Zanoni (secretary of the Institute).
Here comes the Mystery Box/Bag. That’s all we know is that we must use grappa bianca (young) and/or grappa invecchiata (aged), together the ingredients that we are about to discover (+ some more local pantry staples, including shiitake mushrooms. Yea there are locally forest grown shiitake in Trentino).
The mistery ingredients are: venison fillet, pears, buckwheat flour and some Fontal cheese.
Ready, steady, go! It’s time to get creative!
The kitchen is hot, temperature is on the rising, everybody is very active. You see when mastery is at work! And here I am thinking what the heck am I going to prepare? Think Orsola, think!
All right, here is the recipe I came up with.
Cooking with Appetibilis :: Pan-seared drunken venison fillet with pear and shiitake mushrooms deconstructed tempura, and Fontal chips by Orsola Ciriello Kogan
500g venison fillet (tenderloin) (about 1lb piece, at room temperature)
100g buckwheat flour (about 3/4 cup)
50g Fontal cheese (about 2oz)
100ml grappa (about 3.5oz)
6 shiitake mushrooms (depending on their size)
2 medium eggs
50g butter (about 2oz at room temperature)
1 celery stalk
1 small white onion
aromatic fresh herbs
salt and black pepper
organic sunflower oil
Marinade the venison – Chop the celery, the carrot, the onion and some aromatics – I’ve used fresh tarragon, thyme, and summer savory (leaves only), place the mix in a bowl. Pour 1/2 of the grappa, some oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper, mix thoroughly and lay the fillet over it. Massage the meat to coat evenly all the sides.
Let it marinade for 1 hour.
Marinade the mushrooms – Rinse each of them under cold running water, then carefully pat them dry. Remove the stems (too tough and leathery to eat) and, on a tray, place each cap gills-side-up. Squeeze over the juice of 1/2 lemon (more if you like), 1 spoon of grappa, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Prep the pears and the deconstructed tempura mix – Rinse, cut in halves, core and slice the pears (half moon shape).
In a bowl whisk the dry mix made of buckwheat flour, salt and pepper (you could add also some cornstarck for a fluffier result).
In another bowl whisk the eggs, season it and keep it stand-by.
Venison – Heat a heavy-based frying pan until very hot (something big enough to accomodate the whole fillet), pour some oil and sear the meat on all sides until it looks golden-brown (this shall take about two minutes).
Reduce the heat to a smoothly fry, add a generous chunk of butter and baste the meat turning it regularly. Cooking time about 6-8 minutes (or until cooked to your liking). Remove it from the pan, place it on a tray, cover it and set aside to rest.
Pan sauce – To the same pan add the marinade. Cook, stirring until the vegetables are softened. Deglaze with the rest of the grappa, simmer till the liquid is reduced by 1/2. Remove from the heat and twirl in a knob (or more) of cold butter. Set aside and keep warm.
Pears and Shiitake (deconstructed tempura)
Coat the pears in the flour mix, next in the egg mix, then fry them until crispy. Transfer the slices on a tray with absorbing paper. Repeat.
Same with the mushrooms.
Chips of Fontal – Just before serving place some strips of Fontal in a dry pan. Once they start melting remove it and mold it in the form you prefer. Watch-it, it’s very hot!
Plating/Serving – Cut the fillet in 4 steaks, should be around 4cm thick/each (1.6in; 2in if you prefer thicker).
In each plate place 1 steak with pear, mushrooms and the Fontal chips; serve with pan sauce on the side. And Bon Appetibilis!
Note: Unfortunately my marinade burned (oops), so I’ve served my venison with some lemony butter sauce. Yummy!
– Good tips on cooking venison loin.
– Here’s an excellent post on how to clean mushrooms.
– Here’s a step by step guide on how to make a delicious pan sauce.