TUSCAN POOL PARTY

SIMPLE SOPHISTICATION BY MARK DEWOLF

Mark DeWolf is a wine, food and entertainment editor, a sommelier instructor with the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers and owner of By the Glass; a tour company specializing in food and wine adventures in Italy, Spain and France amongst other destinations.

With the warm weather here, there is nothing like having a barbecue and dining outside. Everything seems to taste better under the summer sun.

While we Canadians may claim our own barbeque expertise, it is the Italians who are the original experts of outdoor dining. Al fresco (in the fresh air) is after all an Italian term. But you don’t need the rolling Tuscan hills as your backdrop to create an Italian style outdoor dining experience in your backyard. All you need are good ingredients, great drinks and above all else friends and family.

EATING TIPS

Cooking in Tuscany is all about seasonality and letting the flavour of the ingredient shine. Translating this to Canada is as simple as heading to your local farmer’s market to pick out fresh produce and converting your mentality to a less is more approach to cooking. Bruschetta (pronounced brus’ketta) shouldn’t be buried in tomatoes and inexpensive processed mozzarella, like it is at most ‘Italian’ restaurants in Canada. This classic primi (served before the meal) course is at its best as simple grilled bread rubbed with garlic and soaked with really good olive oil; it doesn’t get much better than that. Add some grilled seasonal vegetables, slices of prosciutto and bowls of olives and suddenly you have an antipasto extravaganza that’s loaded with flavour, true to Tuscan traditions, and only minutes in the making.
What would a barbeque be without a little protein? In Tuscany, it’s all about Bistecca alla Fiorentina; which is simply grilled T-Bone steak. There’s nothing complicated here, just a choice cut of beef brushed with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt.

GIOPETTO’S GRILLED PEACHES (SERVES EIGHT)

We serve this simple dish at outdoor pool parties while on tour in Tuscany. Despite only having two ingredients it’s a show stopper, or better said a show starter as its smoky, sweet contrast provides an explosion of flavours and gets everyone’s taste buds alive and ready for the meal to come.

Ingredients:
4 firm peaches
12 slices of prosciutto, halved lengthwise

Directions:
Halve the peaches and remove the pits.
Slice each peach half into three slices.
Place a slice of peach on a slice of prosciutto; wrap the prosciutto around the peach.
Place the prosciutto wrapped peaches, edge side down, on the grill over a medium heat.
Once the edge side is sealed by the heat, turn the peaches and cook. You want the prosciutto to be crispy but not burnt.
Delicately remove the peaches from the grill and place on a platter. Let the peaches cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

BISTECCA ALLA FIORENTINA (SERVES EIGHT)

At our villa, located outside of Montalcino, in Southern Tuscany, rosemary grows in enormous bushes. We grab it by the handful to use instead of a brush to add olive oil to beef and pork before grilling. We even add it to the coals on occasion to lend a little extra flavour to our barbequed fare.

Ingredients:
2 T-Bone Steaks
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 rosemary skewers
Cracked Pepper
Sea Salt

Directions:
Remove the beef from the refrigerator at least 20 minutes before grilling.
Brush the beef with the olive oil using the rosemary skewers.
Season with cracked pepper.
Grill the beef for about 7 minutes on each side until the crust is well charred.
Season the beef with sea salt; then allow the beef to rest for about 8-10 minutes.
Carve the beef into slices and place on a platter circled with rosemary.

DRINK TIPS

Wine plays an important role in any Italian meal but no more so than when entertaining with friends and family. You don’t have to visit your local wine specialty shop to find a lauded Super Tuscan or a vintage Brunello (Southern Tuscany’s most celebrated and expensive red wine). Even in Tuscany, these wines are for special occasions. When celebrating outside, stick to carafes full of pleasant, quaffable red and white wines; be it cherry scented Chianti or a grassy Vernaccia; the latter a white wine made near San Gimignano. For the cocktail crowd serve up the Negroni; a surprisingly refreshingly blend of gin, sweet red vermouth and Campari.

NEGRONI COCKTAIL

Ingredients:
1 oz gin
1 oz sweet red vermouth
1 oz Campari

Directions:
Fill a rocks glass with ice and top with gin, sweet red vermouth and Campari.
Stir until well incorporated and garnish with a twist of orange.

DECOR TIPS

Like the food and drink creating a Tuscan inspired outdoor dining setting by the pool requires a less is more approach. Vine covered trellises, latticework and pergolas are a natural choice but for those looking for a less permanent approach can think about hanging baskets full of flowers or using old peach baskets or wine barrels (if you can find them) as rustic planters to give your outdoor space some old world charm. As for the table setting, the Italian table is devoid of too much clutter – it leaves more room for the food and drink. Fine quality Italian linen runners with matching placemats and napkins are ideal for grown-up entertaining but for less formal affairs look for solid coloured linens in tones such as red, yellow and green that match the colours of the mustard and poppy flower adorned hills of Tuscany. Set place settings with simple tumblers and serve the wine in terracotta carafes. To complete the look use terracotta flower pots full of sturdy herbs such as rosemary and thyme in lieu of elaborate centerpieces.

On May 19th, 2011, posted in: Summer by
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