it all began around a little jar of this…
mostarda mediterranean – from dario cecchini the eccentric tuscan butcher from panzano.
did you read ‘heat‘? god, i loved that book. bill buford writes about the years that he left his job as fiction editor at ‘new yorker magazine’ and worked unpaid in the kitchen of batali’s acclaimed babbo ristorante, and then, with both affection and a rhetorical shoulder shrug, introduces us to dario, a dante-quoting, opera singing character from the chianti region of tuscany. cecchini appears to be a one-of-a-kind, to say the very least, and his macellaria has now become a tourist attraction where countless foodies make the pilgrimage to hopefully catch a glimpse of this etruscan figure performing entire cantos from the inferno before his carnivorous audience.
and i suppose because even a butcher has to eat, dario cecchini is now offering some of his goods right here in the states. and me, being susceptible to such things was quick to grab a jar of this mostarda as soon as i laid my eyes upon it. $30. if only for the story…
and then over dinner one evening with my friend laura, a local chef here in town, i was telling her about my recent mostarda acquisition. and so we decided to do a dinner. a steak dinner as dario would have wanted. as tempted as i was to buy the grass fed lobel’s steaks because they have in the past blown my mind, the price is overly exorbitant. so i researched and clicked my way to heritage foods usa where i was able to come up with something a bit more apropo…
"Piedmontese cattle originated in the foothills of northwestern Italy and are thought to be a mix of the Auroch and Zebu cattle crossed over 25,000 years ago. We are especially fond of this breed, because Piedmont is also home to the Slow Food movement in Bra, Italy. Today, in the United States, a network of family farmers is raising the cattle on a pure vegetarian feed without the use of antibiotics and without added growth hormones.
Piedmontese is unique in that it contains myostatin, known as the "double muscle gene." Myostatin is only found in Piedmontese cattle and results in a natural tenderness. Though the beef is naturally lean, the flavor is rich and intense.
i tell you, i amaze myself sometimes. in keeping with the whole spirit of dario’s mostarda, i’d managed to find the perfect beef for it to accompany. and unlike lobel’s, it was palitably priced – and well, this was going to be fun.
i sent laura the link to "the jar" so she could see specifically what i was talking about and her response succinctly read, "dude, it’s pepper jelly". and really, that it was. except not nearly as hot as was promised. this "elixir’, as it was referrred to, rated pretty mild on the heat scale. but nevertheless, it was quite nice. and the steaks? well, they were ok. nothing special. i think dario would have blown a gasket had he tried them. the word is that he takes his meat very, very seriously.
oh, and did i mention the beautiful ramps that were foraged in ohio and then sent to my door? they were grilled with salt, pepper and olive oil. or what about the artichoke hearts, painstakingly cut, peeled and choked, then braised in olive oil, lemon, shallots, coriander and fennel seeds – all because of a dish i saw over at smitten kitchen a few weeks ago? did i tell you about those? no? i’m so sorry, because they were very good.
and there was much more. it was even perhaps a bit over the top. there were pizzas flying out of my oven and pig liver pate wrapped in homecured bacon and the most incredible homemade blood sausage… and then there was the grilled watermelon dripping with balsamic vinegar (all of the aforementioned from chris) and laura showed up with orange fennel meringues that were truly perfection, along with a dreamy panna cotta. and i think i’m forgetting a few things, but well, it’s been a little while…
there were 9 of us huddled around my kitchen banquette that evening. i have a pretty good size dining room with a table that seats 10 easily, but no one ever left the kitchen.
for the record, earlier that very same day, i had a late brunch at my house and made a perfect carbonara for 3 friend – with guanciale, farm fresh eggs, pecorino, grana padano, and finely chopped ramps.
beginning monday, the following morning i literally drank nothing but tea with lemon and agave, along with one protein shake a day – for 5 days straight.