Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vegging Out After the Holidays

After a month-long eating fest, starting from a Tuscan Thanksgiving and finally tapering off on Christmas Sunday, I am in need of a serious detox for my body.


Even Gionni, with his annoying super human metabolism, reaches his limit of munching on heavy foods.
Yesterday, we made several vegetarian dishes in the hopes of being forgiven by our livers.

So I figured, why not grab my camera and share these simple recipes with you? The lighting wasn't the greatest for all these so bear with me on the photos.



Pumpkin and Leek Soup - Zuppa di Zucca e Porri
Red & Yellow Pepper Sauce - Salsina di Pepperoni
Artichoke Spread - Crema di Carciofi
 
 ***

I've got to get a better photo next time!!!

Zuppa di Zucca e Porri 

This Pumpkin and Leek Soup is delicious and just happens to be meat free. It can even be vegan if you leave out the parmigiano rind. Make it super tasty by adding toasted walnuts and fried sage as a garnish!

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium pumpkin
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 golden onion
  • salt
  • pepper
  • parmigiano reggiano rind
  • vegetable stock
  • 1 loaf Ciabatta or other crusty bread
  • nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 Cup Whole Walnuts & 20 Sage Leaves (optional but highly recommended!)

Ingredients for the Zuppa di Zucca e Porri

  • In a large pot, brown leeks, onion and cubes of pumpkin in olive oil for a couple of minutes, stirring so as not to let the oil smoke or crackle. 
  • Add in enough vegetable stock to cover the dry ingredients and bring to a boil. 
  • Drop in a piece of parmigiano reggiano rind and a little cracked black pepper. 
  • Stir, cover, and reduce heat. 
  • Cook until the pumpkin is super soft, about 25 minutes. 
  • Puree, then cook another 15 minutes to reduce out any water and to blend flavors.

While the soup is busy cooking, prepare the garnish as listed below:

  • Toast whole, shelled walnuts under a broiler for a few minutes. Be sure not to burn them!  
  • Rinse and pat dry sage leaves.
    Heat olive oil in a deep frying pan.
    Fry sage leaves until crispy.
    Place sage on a paper towel to absorb oil, sprinkle with salt while still hot.
  • Slice Ciabatta bread into 1.5 cm thick slices. Toast in the oven until crispy and gently rub with raw garlic clove. (Don't overdo it with the garlic! A quick, gentle rub! Otherwise it will overtake the whole dish!).
  • Place 2-3 slices of toasted bread in each bowl, then spoon soup into bowl. Now add the garnish: Arrange sage on top of toasted walnuts (the walnuts will act as a raft to keep sage from getting soggy or sinking!).
  • Additional dash (a mini dash!) of salt and pepper.

Enjoy!

Uses: 
serve hot as a soup drizzled with Balsamic condiment, or better yet with fried sage and toasted walnuts, or serve warm on crostini.

I'll be making the soup again soon and adding the walnut and sage garnish. Photo on the way!


****

 Salsina di Pepperoni Rossi

Chopped red and yellow peppers.

This red and yellow pepper sauce is great on pasta or even served warm on crostini. If you want to add a little excitement, stir in about 1 tbsp. of cream cheese when using it as a pasta sauce.


Rigatoni, boiled in the artichoke water, tossed in Pepper Sauce.


Ingredients:

2 red peppers
1 yellow pepper
1 golden onion
vegetable stock
Olive Oil
(Optional: 1 tbsp. cream cheese to make it richer)

Chop and clean 2 red peppers and 1 yellow pepper. Chop a golden onion. Brown them both in olive oil, then add in about 2 cups of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook for about 15-20 minutes (be sure the peels are soft on the peppers!). Puree and boil again to reduce excess water.

Uses: 
spread on crostini or use as a pasta sauce (or even nice on nacho chips with black beans).


 *****

 Artichoke Spread

Carciofi Morellini of Tuscany

This artichoke spread is super easy, versatile and delicious. It makes eating your veggies fun.

Ingredients:

4 Tuscan Artichokes or 2 Roman Artichokes
1/2 lemon, juiced
Extra Virgin olive oil of Tuscany

Clean artichokes by taking off outer leaves, peeling the stem, and chopping off the tips of flower. Boil for about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on size of artichoke) until they are soft but not falling apart!
Drain and allow to cool.
In a blender, add the juice of 1/2 lemon and high quality olive oil and blend until creamy and smooth.



Optional Variations:


blend in 3 tablespoons of grated parmigiano reggiano & 1 tsp of white truffle oil
or
blend in 1 can of drained tuna (seen above) and a little extra lemon juice

Uses: 
spread on crostini or serve in a sandwich (or serve with toasted pita wedges)

Added bonus: I found this awesome blog about artichokes! Click here.

******

All 3 recipes can be served on crostini.

It is important to eat lots of vegetables, and if you have easy and tasty recipes it doesn't seem at all boring to eat your veggies!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Tuscany

Italians often ask me what Americans eat for Christmas. And Americans often ask me what Italians eat for Christmas. The answer to this is not precise, as each family has their own traditions and recipes based on regional ingredients and influences.

For the past few years I've been sharing Christmas with Gionni's family in the countryside of Florence. They celebrate and open their gifts on the 25th.


 CHRISTMAS EVE, 2011

This year was a fun mix. On the 24th we were invited to have a fish dinner at our friends' house. They had bought a puppy for their daughter's gift, so there was the added bonus of playing with little Leone all night. In fact, the puppy was so cute I didn't take many photos of the dinner!

Leone sniffing the wine.

We started off with Champagne and crostini with butter, smoked salmon and fresh lemon.

Then we ate spaghetti with a spicy octopus sauce, served with another bottle of Champagne...


Have I mentioned lately how good really good Champagne is? It is so complex and fresh.

And finally, we ended with triglie alla livornese, red mullet in a spicy red sauce, with salad and grilled zucchine.

For dessert we had a chocolate semi freddo and lemon sorbetto, as well as torroncini.

Before going to sleep, Gionni and I exchanged gifts in bed! I am declaring this a new tradition. My favorite gift? Aceto di Birra, beer vinegar.

Beer Vinegar


CHRISTMAS DAY, 2011

Today, we headed over to Gionni's house to have a traditional lunch of crostini, salumi, tortellini in brodo, cappone e mostarda, roasted meats, potatoes and salad. We started with a bottle of Valpolicella Ripasso with the Antipasto and Primo, then a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2006 with the meats.

Crostini, Salumi, Sotto Aceti Antipasto


The antipasto included sausage and stracchino cheese crostini, liver crostini, Boccio's capers and black olives, and sundried tomatoes, prosciutto toscano and finocchiona.

Fagottini in Brodo di Cappone, Primo

Tortellini are traditionally served in capon broth for Christmas. Today we traded the tortellini in for an upgrade to fagottini, little bags. They tend to have even more filling of pork and bread and are very flavorful.

Capon thigh, Stewed Red Onions

Patate Fritte with Sage

Yes, this is a little bitty bird. I didn't eat it but had to get a photo. Gionni's father hunts, so these little guys show up on the table pretty frequently. He was roasted with sage.

Roasted Tordo

I opted for grilled pork ribs, which I ate with the potatoes and a salad of field greens.

After the carnage was complete, out came the desserts. Panettone, a staple of Italian Christmas sweets, and torroncini, nougat, another holiday classic.

Panettone and Torroncini


Gionni's mom also made her specialty, Schiacciata Fiorentina, which is traditionally served for Easter but served year round at her house.

Schiacciata Fiorentina, Cake filled with Whipped Cream


And by the time we ate all this and washed it down with an espresso, a bottle of grappa was offered to help digest.

Grappa to the rescue!

Usually, by the time the grappa hits the table, Boccio has headed to the couch for a cat nap.

Boccio's nap means the meal is over.

What did you eat today? Who did you eat it with? Please share your holiday traditions below so I can report back to the curious Italians!

Best Wishes and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Like an Extra Virgin




In November, I wrote a story about going to the olive mill to press the oil for this season.

There are so many layers of information regarding olive oil, that most consumers are confused. I think it is important to write another entry, this time about the importance of fresh olive oil.

Before I begin, I'd like to point out that as consumers we are being bamboozled regarding olive oil. Since a low percentage of olive oil is high quality, the majority of producers have lobbied to keep the labeling as deceptive as possible.


First and most important: the olive oil must be fresh.

Beyond freshness, there are the different grades of olive oils:

Extra Virgin 
(lowest in fatty acids, no chemical process used to extract the oil from olive fruit)
Note Below: Raccolto 2008 means the olives were harvested in 2008
Olio Extra Verine di Oliva means it has less than .8% of fatty acids according to the International Olive Council (IOC).
In Tuscany and Umbria, the oil is made with unripened olives, what is referred to as early harvest, so the fatty acids are often as low as .5%! That leads to a fantastic flavor if you use it fresh.


Virgin Olive Oil 
(higher in fatty acids, but still pretty good, nice for cooking)

Olive Oil 
(even higher in fatty acids, no so great on flavor)

Sansa
aka Olive cake or Pomace
(sloppy seconds!)
What's all this talk of fatty acids? Just remember, the higher the fatty acids, the more waxy and thick the oil will feel on your tongue.
For more juicy information about olive oil, click here and go to bottom of page.


Back to the freshness factor. Most Italians (especially the Tuscans and Umbrians who are super proud of themselves) wouldn't buy a bottle of olive oil more than a year old. Why? Because olive oil is made every year! That's why! So guess where the lesser quality, aging olive oils get unloaded??? Northern Europe and North America, for the most part.

A fantastic book has been written about misleading olive oil labeling and laws. Author Tom Mueller was recently covered on Fresh Air with Terri Gross. According to his book, Extra Virginity, Americans are being duped the most of all world consumers!


There are two simple rules governing extra virgin olive oil and flavor:

1)The younger the oil (you can use it the minute it comes out of the press!!!) the fresher and greener it will taste.
2)The quality of the olives used to produce the oil make a huge difference. There are about 700 different types of olives out there. If the olives are fresh off the tree and pressed immediately (within 48 hours) the oil is going to taste a lot better than if the olives were riper, fell to the ground, and then got pressed.

So, guess what? Even if you buy a first cold press extra virgin olive oil, which should in theory taste really good, it is going to taste pretty average if it is not fresh! The words first cold press are not a guarantee the oil will be good. You've got to be sure the oil is fresh, because no one is going to point out that the oil is old. They want to unload it somewhere!

***

Let's throw in a quote from one of the best Chris Farley scenes of all time (I'm just cutting an pasting from this site):

Another great scene from Tommy Boy.
Tommy: Let's think about this for a sec, Ted. Why would somebody put a guarantee on a box? Hmmm, very interesting.
Ted Nelson, Customer: Go on, I'm listening.
Tommy: Here's the way I see it, Ted. Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box 'cause he wants you to feel all warm and toasty inside.
Ted Nelson, Customer: Yeah, makes a man feel good.
Tommy: 'Course it does. Why shouldn't it? Ya figure you put that little box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by and leave a quarter, am I right, Ted?
[chuckles until he sees that Ted is not laughing]
Ted Nelson, Customer: [impatiently] What's your point?
Tommy: The point is, how do you know the fairy isn't a crazy glue sniffer? "Building model airplanes" says the little fairy; well, we're not buying it. He sneaks into your house once, that's all it takes. The next thing you know, there's money missing off the dresser, and your daughter's knocked up. I seen it a hundred times.
Ted Nelson, Customer: But why do they put a guarantee on the box?
Tommy: Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of shit. That's all it is, isn't it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for now, for your customer's sake, for your daughter's sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality product from me. 

***
Please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that and olive oil that has been pressed with the first cold press is bad, I'm just pointing out that the term is on labels so you think you're buying the best, no questions asked. If it is super fresh, it will be fantastic. But if it is over 18 months old, it will be on the way to rancidity.*
If you don't know better (and most consumers do not) and buy an old oil, even if it was and extra virgin, first cold pressed olive oil, as Tommy Boy puts it:  "...all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of shit."
So, Three more rules:

1)Repeat after me: I will not buy old olive oil. I will check the date the oil was produced before buying it. If I cannot even find a date anywhere on the bottle, I will run in the other direction. I will also not buy oil on the top shelf under neon lights in a grocery store, since it will deteriorate at an even faster speed.

2)Even though I like things ergonomic, I promise to keep my olive oil in a cool and dark place. I might have to bend down to get it but it will be worth the strain on my knees and back. I'll use my abs. I will not, for the love of God, keep my olive oil next to the stove for ease of use, nor in the window sill because it looks so pretty. I will take care of my olive oil and use it while it is fresh.

3) I will not horde my oil until it is too late to use it. I will use my olive oil fresh and young and bask in the glory of tasting good olive oil instead of rancid, old olive oil. I will insist on buying good olive oil, since the stuff isn't cheap, until the olive oil producers have no choice but to send the good stuff to my country because they've realized we are no longer uninformed.

***

So, use the good stuff raw, use the cheaper stuff for heating/sauteing, and throw any of the old stuff away! 

Freshness Hint: 
If it tastes/smells of wheat grass, artichokes, almonds, green beans, pepper, it is fresh.
If it tastes/smells of putty, crayons, old peanuts... it has kicked the bucket.

(*On rare occasions, olive oils can last up to 3-4 years. However, this happens very rarely- so try to keep your consume your olive oils before they reach their 2nd birthday.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Heavenly Pasta

There's a little cheese shop a few doors down from Perche No that hangs the cutest angel ornaments in their window display each Christmas. After years of admiring them I've decided to make them myself.
 


They are made almost entirely of pasta:

  • Pipe Rigate (shells)
  • Rigatoni or Paccheri (tubular)
  • Stellette (little stars)
  • Farfalle (butterflies: bow ties)
  • Rotelle (wheels)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Elmer's glue
  • Self-drying modeling clay (in Italy called DAS)


I am without a glue gun, so I've done this the hard way, using only Elmer's glue! Save yourself a lot of time and use a glue gun if you have it.


I first made about 3 dozen small balls, about as wide as a quarter, to use as the heads. They dry quickest near a heating vent or heat radiator.

After about 12 hours the little heads were dry. Next, I added the hair (Stellette) to the heads.



Then, I assembled the torsos (Paccheri) with the arms (Pipe) and wings (Farfalle).


Finally, I added the heads to the torsos and the halos (Rotelle) on top of the heads to finish.

Angels doing head stands while drying.
Last, a string was attached to the halo to hang the ornaments.

These look great on a Christmas tree, or on a gift as decoration. Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nice and Naughty Biscotti Recipe

Santa would love these!
Last week I got a craving for dessert at 11pm. Had I been in North Carolina, I could have just run to the nearest Harris Teeter to pick up the butter I was missing to bake dessert.

In Italy, most grocery stores are only open till 9pm max (with the exception of a few of the new mini markets in the historic center, love them!!!).

Since I live out of the center there was no chance of a late night butter run, so I Googled for a butterless biscotti recipe and found this one using espresso. It wasn't bad, but didn't do the trick.

Convinced that butterless biscotti could be better, last night I searched further for butterless biscotti recipes. I found one with chocolate, which had been my original goal. The recipe calls for hazelnuts, which would be great, but I didn't have them in the house.

I decided to play around a bit and use almonds and chunks of dried apricots.

It is important to note that these are quite different than traditional Cantuccini di Prato. They are a fun hybrid from the two places my taste buds have inhabited: America and Tuscany.

These chocolate biscotti are rich and chewy with a crunchy outer shell. They are essentially a cross between a Cantuccino di Prato and a Chocolate Brownie. You'd never imagine that they lack butter. I managed to pull off a cookie-brownie combo, all without butter!!!

Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas this year???

Babbo Natale on his Vespa!


Leave these out for Santa!
So, even though I've created what some Italians would consider an Americanata*, I stand by these biscotti. I had them with hot tea this morning, but plan to try them with a dessert wine as soon as possible. Cantuccini di Prato are traditionally served with Vin Santo, not dipped in coffee or tea (though that has become a secondary and acceptable use for them).

Since my Nice and Naughty Biscotti have chocolate, almonds and apricots, I am pretty sure they'll go well with a red dessert wine, like a Sagrantino Passito di Montefalco. (If you haven't tried a Sagrantino Passito, please do. It is sublime. See description at bottom of blog).




 


NICE & NAUGHTY CHOCOLATE BISCOTTI:


  • 2 eggs
  • + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 200 grams of cane sugar
  • 200 grams of self-rising flour
  • 70 grams of bitter cocoa powder 
  • 50 grams of whole almonds
  • 10 chopped dried apricots

  • Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C)
  • Mix 2 whole eggs plus an egg yolk and sugar with beaters
  • In another bowl, mix flour, salt and cocoa
  • Fold dry ingredients into the sugar and egg batter on low speed with beaters
  • Stir in almonds and chopped dried apricots

Chill about 30 minutes in fridge.

  • On a lightly floured surface, and with floured hands, roll the dough into three logs.
  • Place the logs on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper, and bake at 350 for 10 minutes.
  • Lower temperature, and bake at 300 (150 C) for another 10-15 minutes.
  • If they are moist/runny, put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes.


Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

These little guys are crumbly and sticky but it will be worth it!
  • Slice the logs into biscotti. It will be sticky, but don't worry if they're uneven or crumbly. They are going to be delicious. 
  • Once you've pulled off the slicing, place them back in the oven spread them out on the cookie sheet.
  • Go ahead and eat one! They are fantastic half-baked. 
  • Turn oven off and allow the biscotti to harden as the oven cools down. Enjoy your biscotti with a glass of dessert wine after dinner.

Makes about 3 dozen (I ate several before I thought to count them, so who knows!)


Vocab:

An Americanata* (noun) basically any edible concoction that is heavy-handed on flavors, ingredients and combinations therein. (Verb) Fare una americanata: Italians also often use this term when someone does something odd with food, like drinking a cappuccino after a steak dinner, or worse, with dinner! Americanate are not limited to Americans. Anyone can commit an Americanata, even Italians.

Biscotto is the general word for cookies (or biscuits if you speak British English). Biscotti is the plural form of biscotto. 
What we generally refer to as biscotti are called Cantuccini di Prato or Biscotti di Prato, and are served with Vin Santo as a dessert. 



Vino Passito: wine made by hanging or laying grapes out to dry partially before making them into wine. 

Both Vin Santo and Sagrantino Passito are dessert wines made in the Passito fashion. 

Amarone is a fantastic vino da pasto, wine to serve with food, and is made using the same process of drying the grapes, only for less time.


Other forms of dessert wines include ice wine, eiswein, using late harvest grapes that have frozen on the vine, which also pair well with desserts,
and wines made by using a special friendly mold called Botrytis cinerea, referred to as porriture nobile. These are great with cheeses.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shhhhhhh! Please say it correctly!

Before I begin, please understand that I am not upset with you or any of your loved ones for saying brussshetta instead of bruschetta.  I've essentially learned to tune it out, like the neighbor above who me snores at night. I've learned to live with it and as long as I don't dwell on it I'm okay.

Brew-sket-ta

Brew-sket-ta

Bruschetta!!!  


Who am I upset with, then? All the tools, dip shits and marketing moguls who are not pronouncing and/or using the word correctly in the media. You learned it from watching them, after all.


Most of all, I am upset with anyone who owns an Italian restaurant and pronounces bruschetta wrong. 
There is just no excuse.
 
If you are charging people for an Italian dish (with a 500% profit margin!) you should throw in the f%#@king proper pronunciation! No excuses.

Don't make me pull a Gordon Ramsay, ragazzi! Give me a camera crew and a feed budget and set me loose on Italian restaurants anywhere outside of Italy. Bring it on! I want to talk some smack! 

I've been on my soap box for years on this topic. Over four years ago, I posted a blog entry on www.geobeats.com about how to pronounce bruschetta.

Though bruschetta is increasingly popular, people are still running around mispronouncing this lovely word.

And worse, it is being thrown around as if it were a single ingredient instead of an actual dish in itself (one of the chain restaurants in the USA is making "chicken bruschetta pasta." I'm refraining from using the F word here. I've got it! Phuck them!

So, I'm re-posting my blog entry from 2007. The original can also be seen by clicking here.

Let’s Talk About Bruschetta

By Toni Mazzaglia from Florence, on October 23rd, 2007
Watch GeoBeats videos of Toni

Ok. I have tried my hardest to hold my tongue, but somebody has to do this: Do you know how to pronounce bruschetta?!!
I am asking since it has become a popular item on menus around the world, and lots of people are pronouncing it incorrectly.
Chefs, waitstaff, and restaurant owners are pronouncing bruschetta wrong, so how is everyone else supposed to know how to say it?
I have even seen a chef on the Food network mispronounce bruschetta.
Basta. No more. I am going to single-handedly end this!!!
To hear the correct pronunciation of bruschetta, please see the Rifrullo video in Florence, Italy. The host, Carolina, says bruschetta as she is describing the antipasto platter.
Notice, she is not saying “bruShetta,” because it is not pronounced bruShetta.
BRU-SCHET-TA. The important thing here is the CH. The S is what is throwing everyone off!!!
In Italian, when a C or G is followed by and H, the H protects the C or G from an E or I that follows… In other words, the H keeps the C or G hard.
Examples that most people already pronounce correctly:
Chianti.
spaghetti.
And now, please repeat, bruschetta. (brew-sket-ta).
Other words you have seen around that might have scared you with their H’s:
Ghirardelli (the chocolate)
Ghirlandaio (the Renaissance artist)
chiave (key)

*END OF ORIGINAL BLOG ENTRY FROM 2007*

See the Rifrullo with the proper bruschetta pronunciation! (And the lovely Carolina Gamini!)





Let me know your thoughts. Do you know how to say bruschetta but get embarassed when the mislead think that you are the one not saying it right? Share your stories and pass this blog on to anyone you care about. 


Friends don't let friends mispronounce bruschetta!



And please know, this is only a drop in the bucket. There are plenty of other words that need to be defended. Bruschetta is essentially my poster child for this cause.

Nobody wants to be that snob who corrects people while they're speaking. I'm going for preventative snobbery.







Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sacred and Profane

Life in Italy is pretty interesting. Even on a seemingly normal Tuesday all kinds of things can happen.

Gionni was asked to present Selvapiana's 1996 Bucerchiale Chianti Rufina Riserva at an event last night. The event was one of the evenings organized for Artusi week, a celebration of gourmand Pellegrino Artusi.

The event was called Il Sangiovese Incontra Il Sangiovese, and included a tasting of 6 wines made of Sangiovese from Tuscany, and six wines made of Sangiovese from Romagna (as in Emilia Romagna).

I was invited to attend, and even scored a seat on the second row.

A view of the frescoes watching over my wine glasses
Twelve producers and enologists presented their wines as more than 40 lucky journalists, and others in the food and wine sector, followed an intense and surprising wine tasting. The spectacle was guided by none other than Leonardo Romanelli and Giorgio Melandri.

Did I mention the evening unfolded in a deconsecrated church? As if the wine tasting and the presence of famous food and wine writers weren't enough, the event was framed by religious frescoes in the San Carlo di Barnabiti Church.

The tasting was organized with the wines paired off in twos,  one from Tuscany and one from Romagna. (I'll be getting a bit boring in this next part, so if you don't care much about wine just skip down to the bottom where I talk about my dinner .)

The first pair:
Romandiola, Sangiovese di Romagna DOC "Il Malatesta" 2010 (retails at around 6 Euro)
 Bibi Graetz, Rosso Toscano IGT "Testamatta" 2007 (retails at around 75 Euro)

Not sure why they served these two back to back. The Romagna was much younger, frutty, purple in color- it almost felt like a vin novello. The Toscano, a Super Tuscan, was full bodied and tannic and reeked of barrique. The Romagna was a kick in the stomach while the Toscano was a shock to the tongue (it was like being french kissed by stick of oak). Tasting this pair of wines together was was like comparing ricotta cheese and parmegiano reggiano. I like both, but they were very different in style, age and characteristics.


 The second pair:

Villa Venti, Sangiovese di Romagna DOC "Primo Segno" 2008 (retails at about 10 Euro)
  Savignola Paolina Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2007 (retails at about 18 Euro)

This was a fairer match. Both were full bodied, tannic, complex, persistent... and each could stand more time to age in the bottle to soften up a bit. The Chianti had nice acidity, while the Romagna had a bit of minerality that made it interesting.

The third pair: 
Podere la Berta Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva "Olmatello" 2008 (retails at about 18.50 Euro)

Villa Vignamaggio Chianti Classico DOCG 2007 (Retails at about 12 Euro)
 
This was another pair I thought unfair to compare side by side. The nose on the Romagna was a bit strange. I smelled white flowers and even a bit of baby powder. It was like my grandma had just bathed in the glass. Much more pleasant to drink, however- good tannins, plenty of acidity and alcohol. I think the wine was just too tight when I drank it. It needs a couple of years in the bottle and about an hour to breath before being served. In my tasting notes for Vignamaggio, I wrote: "f-ing good!". This of course is not approved by the sommelier association of Italy, but I think it gets the point across.

The fourth pair:


Azienda Agricola Gallegati Romangna Superiore Riserva DOC "Corallo Nero" 2006 (retails at about 16 Euro)
 
Castello di Monsanto Rosso Toscano IGT "Fabrizio Bianchi Sangiovese" 2006 (retails at about 25 Euro)

This was a fair match. Both wines were full bodied, persistent, overly tannic (needed more bottle aging or at least more time to breath in the glass!), and both had good acidity, but maybe not enough to allow much bottle aging (3-5 years?)

The fifth pair: (by this point my tongue was fried from all the alcohol, so I think the last four wines won't get a completely fair rating)

Tenuta Pertinello Colli di Romangna Centrale Sangiovese DOC "Pertinello" 2008 (retails about 16 Euro)
Castello di Querceto Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT "La Corte" 2006 (Retails at around 25 Euro)

The Romagna was described as "nervous but agile" during the tasting.  This wine won the Three Glasses, tre bicchieri, award from Gambero Rosso. I cannot tell you what I thought. It was just too much after the preceding 9 wines. I'd like to try it again with a nice meal.
On the other hand, even though my tongue could barely take another beating of alcohol and tannins, La Corte was my favorite of the Tuscan wines presented. It was excellent. Full bodied but elegant. The only wine I could not bring myself to spit out. I drank it all from my glass.

And the sixth, and last, pair:

Castelluccio Rosso Forli IGT "Ronco dei Ciliegi" 2007 (About 16 Euro Retail!)

Fattoria Selvapiana Bucerchiale Chianti Rufina Riserva 1996 (About 28 Euro Retail)

This was the biggest surprise for me, since I've had the pleasure of tasting lots of Bucerchiale vintages. I'm a big fan of Selvapiana's wines, especially their reserve. I originally thought the 2007 from Forli wouldn't stand a chance. Quite the contrary. The Castelluccio was my favorite of the wines of Romagna. It was the only wine I could not bring myself to spit out, despite the fact that it was the 10th wine I tried and didn't think my tongue could take another drop of Sangiovese. Tasting notes: "Now we're talking!"

On the other hand, I found the Bucerchiale to be a poor choice of vintage. 1996 unfortunately showcases only the cons of the single field reserve, while other vintages (especially the 1997, 1998, 1999, 2006...) show off the best of the Chianti Rufina's heart and soul. I feel bad saying something negative since I have personal ties to this winery, but if anything I am being honest, and hopefully if anyone else reads this who attended the tasting they will not let the 1996 ruin their opinion of the winery.  In other words, Bucerchiale is a phenomenal wine, but not the 1996 vintage.
6 Romagna wines on left, 6 Tuscan wines on right

So, what does one eat after 12 glasses of wine? Something hot! We went to a staple of Florentine eateries, Trattoria Casalinga, and started with tortellini in brodo, in broth, and zuppa di farro, spelt soup.  Then we shared the bollito rifatto alle cipolle, boiled beef stewed with tomatoes, and fegato con salvia, liver with sage together with a mixed salad. This was a perfect, hearty meal after a day on my feet and an evening on my tush in a cold church!

A quick side note:
My friend Christine, who is a writer and art historian and a Taste Florence guide, once remarked that Gionni looks like one of the many faces she's seen in frescoes and paintings in the museums and churches of Tuscany.

I'll include a photo I took of Gionni last night and a copy of one of my favorite frescoes of all time and let you be the judge!

Lorenzo il Magnifico
Gionni