Let’s Talk About Speck, Baby

There were two things on offer pretty much every day during my hiking trip in the Dolomites:  Strudel and Speck.  Considering I don’t generally have a sweet tooth, there were days I passed on the Strudel (oh, the horror!), but I never missed an opportunity to indulge in Speck.

Simply Speck
Simply Speck

Speck is a smoked and cured ham from the province of Alto Adige (also called South Tyrol) in northern Italy, bordering Austria. The meat comes from the hind leg of a pig (as does Prosciutto) and is rubbed with spices, such as juniper, rosemary, salt, pepper, and bay leaf, and dry cured for three weeks before being smoked and aged.

After a little research, I found out that the smoking process is very gentle for Speck, and is done at carefully controlled temperatures so that the meat remains sweet while taking on the mild smoky flavor. Smoking takes place over several months for a few hours at a time. This is some high maintenance ham!

Speck ages for six months in ventilated rooms that let the Alpine air in, helping to mellow and balance the flavors.  If you’ve breathed in that Alpine air yourself, you can just imagine it soothing the meat and making it taste better. Speck has an “IGP” (Indication of Geographic Protection) for Alto Adige, which means that how it’s made is carefully regulated.

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Alpine Air for the win!

Just like the Dolomites, Speck combines the traditions of Northern Europe, where hams are more heavily smoked, with the Mediterranean, where hams are subtler in flavor. It’s truly the best of both worlds.  (To eliminate any cultural confusion, in German Speck generally refers to pork fat, or lard, and is not the same as Italian IGP Speck.)

Speck is insanely delicious, and can be found at restaurants and rifugios* all over the Dolomites. I had it simply sliced thin with rustic mountain bread and served with cheeses and vegetables, on pizza, cooked in pasta and risotto, and in the heavenly bread dumplings called Canederli. It adds much more flavor than Prosciutto, but doesn’t overwhelm as much as bacon.  Believe it or not, you can find it on Amazon, and I am sure you can purchase it at specialty stores in your area. I myself am dreaming of adding it to a mushroom frittata next weekend. Buon Appetito!

*Side Note:  Rifugi are mountain huts, mostly owned by the Italian hiking organization (Club Alpine Italiano) and family run, where you can stop in for an espresso or a beer, sit down for a hearty meal, or reserve a bed for the night. Most are only accessible via foot. These are not your average base lodge cafeterias. The food here is varied, and you’re sure to get a soulful, satisfying meal and friendly Alpine hospitality.

High on High Street

IMG_0793The first stop on my latest wine road trip was to the home of the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Soon after I arrived and checked in to the Kimpton Monaco, I made my way past the vendors hawking championship gear on Market Street, towards High Street on Market.

High Street on Market is part of the High Street Hospitality Group, which also owns a.kitchen+bar and Fork in Philadelphia, and High Street on Hudson in New York. I have eaten at Fork, which was excellent, and High Street on Market is Fork’s more casual cousin.  High Street is open all day, from coffee and pastries to cocktails and pasta. My memory of Fork was that everything was exceptionally flavorful, so I was ready to have my taste buds roused once again.

I ordered a glass of Folk Machine Chenin Blanc, a Loire-inspired white from Mendocino, California, from the all-American wine list while I looked over the menu. Mineral-driven, citrusy dry white wines are my jam, so this was the perfect choice to fire up my appetite. A lot of things on the menu sounded to me as if they wouldn’t go well together, so I solicited the help of my server. Once he convinced me that it was okay to eat chow-chow alongside wild boar ragu, I was ready to order.  I started with the sunchokes, a dish from the section of the menu called “snacks”.  Sunchokes are one of those things that call to me from any restaurant menu. A root vegetable from the sunflower family, they have an umami flavor and a crunchy bite. These came roasted, with a texture that reminded me of eggplant, with slices of crisp, raw sunchoke mingled in.  Delicious.

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Clockwise: Crispy Broccoli, Pasta with Wild Boar Ragu, Sunchokes

My selection from the “plates” part of the menu arrived with my sunchokes. I chose the Crispy Broccoli with Chow-Chow and Scallion. The dish arrived looking like a giant tempura chia tree but the combination of flavors was so addicting that it was difficult to put my fork down. Chow-chow is a sort of fermented relish and it balanced out the lightly fried crunchiness of the broccoli very well. I took a break from my broccoli to order a glass of red wine in anticipation of my pasta course. This time I chose a spicy Cabernet Franc, in keeping with the Loire-inspired theme, from Ravines winery in the Finger Lakes, NY.

My pasta dish was Burnt Grains Campanelle, which is a bell-shaped pasta made from burnt wheat. The nutty-flavored pasta was dressed in wild boar ragu and parmesan. The dish was really rich, perfectly seasoned, and ridiculously flavorful. I overheard the ladies next to me talking about how their pastas had more flavor than most pastas. If I had heard that at any other time, I may have rolled my eyes, but as I dug in to my Campanelle, I knew exactly what they meant.

You may have noticed that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so I didn’t even deign to look at the dessert menu. Instead I finished my glass of wine and took the long way back to the hotel, to walk off my very filling but heavenly tasting meal.

High Street On Market

308 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215)625-0988

Beets and Bigoli in Boston

If you’ve been following along, you may have caught on to the fact that I’m just a little obsessed with trying all the Barbara Lynch restaurants in Boston. After eating at The Butcher Shop and reading Lynch’s book, “Out of Line”, I basically made it my dining mission of 2018. Last week I was able to try No. 9 Park, Lynch’s flagship restaurant in Beacon Hill.

The townhouse space at No. 9 Park is polished, but the vibe is casual enough that you would feel as comfortable elegantly dressed as you would in your best jeans. Me and my best jeans arrived on the Acela from NY, checked in to The Godfrey Hotel, and made my way over to the restaurant. Since I would be dining by myself, I asked for a seat in the bar area and readied myself to study the menu.

The mere thought of dining alone used to horrify me. Since working in wine sales, however,  I have learned to embrace it, even enjoy it. One downside is that I can’t try as many menu items, and narrowing down my order to only a few things on the No. 9 Park menu was going to take all my decision making prowess. My first order of business was finding a wine to sip while perusing the menu, and I ordered a lively little glass of bubbles from Austria, a Sparkling Brut Rosé of Pinot Noir from Szigeti. A perfect aperitif, the wine was delicious, with red cherry notes and a touch of vibrant spice.

The other drawback to dining alone is that sometimes servers treat you like a pariah that is going to amount to half the check size of a party of two, and therefore half the tip. Not so at No. 9 Park. My server was very welcoming and helpful and didn’t make me feel weird at all (thanks Lee). Glass of sparkling empty, Lee poured me another and we decided that the beet & chicory salad with banyuls vinaigrette and black olive crumble was a fitting accompaniment for my first course. It did not disappoint. Banyuls is a fortified wine made from the Grenache grape in southern France, and the banyuls vinegar gave the dish a slight nutty taste. The black olive crumble was the perfect savory crunch.

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I saved up my carb intake for pasta and couldn’t pass up the Bigoli with peekytoe crab, grilled pepper butter, and lemon panko for my main course. Bigoli is a pasta originating in Venice. It’s a longer, thicker version of spaghetti and, besides, it’s really fun to say (Bigoli, Bigoli, Bigoli).  I felt like moving on to red wine, and when I saw that the pasta sauce was also red (from the red peppers), I decided on a lovely Bourgogne Rouge from Tollot Beaut.  The Pinot Noir’s herbal notes paired well with the earthiness of the Bigoli. The wine was also the only thing that that kept me from devouring the Bigoli without taking a breath.

I could easily have had another glass (or 2) but decided to call it a night and contemplate my meal and the day ahead. I still have four more Barbara Lynch spots to try, but Ill be back to No. 9 Park for the tasting menu, and a bottle from the extensive wine list, of that I am sure.

No. 9 Park

9 Park St, Boston, MA 02108

(617) 742-9991

http://www.no9park.com/