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Report 415: Foodies Trips to Italy 2000 - 2002

By Gavin Crawford from Australia, Summer 2002

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Page 9 of 14: Tuscany: North West (continued)

SALINE DE VOLTERRA 10km west of Voltera.

Review: Ristorante Il Vecchio Mulino Finally made it down and the 10 kms to Saline di Volterra. There could only be one reason to visit Saline di Volterra, and if we lived in Italy, we would be making regular pilgrimages to this ugly little village, to one of the great dining experiences .... Ristorante Il Vecchio Mulino. I rate it as second only to Checcino in Rome. No, I just recalled Chesís White Chocolate Bavarese with minted olive oil sauce. Oh, and the white beans that accompanied the wild boar. And, and, oh yes, the bruschetta topped with pecorino blended/pureed with celery and almond pesto. Hell, I canít seperate them at this stage. Iíll just have to go back to both some day and do another taste test.

I think I got a little carried away, and somewhat ahead of myself. We parked around the back of the smart Albergo. Only two cars, but were encouraged to see two kitchen staff sweeping. They must be open. We accidentally entered through the back entrance, were directed through to the restaurant, and found just a table of three completing their meal. The waiter later explainied that business was quiet because of the extreme heat - everyone had gone to the coast. Ches was sure the waiter looked us up and down in assessment. Given that the other male diner was in T-shirt, cargo pants and track shoes, and he was a local, I donít think the waiter was doing any more than trying to assess what nationality we were. I didnít have on sandals, so I couldnít be German.

We were seated at our table in an elegant dining room. The walls were timber pannelled for a metre up from the floor, then plastered to the high ceiling. The two end and one side wall were decorated with well arranged displays of all the member restaurants plates. There were also framed posters that seemed to be of historic significance (relating to the establishment of local governments), and photographs and certificates of award to the restaurant and its staff. All very tastfull. The ceiling is curved panells of terracotta. The tables were covered with two beige table cloths, and set with large plates with lace doilies, that serve as place settings. All courses were placed on these plates. A vase with flowers completed the setting.

We had decided to perhaps share an antipasto, and just have a main course each (including whatever happened to be the "specialty of the house" - to get the presentation plate). We were presented with the menus. What a menu. I turned to the wine menu and selected a Masciarelli, Montepulciano DíArbruzzo Ď99 and Ches then pointed out that the "plate" dish, was infact a form of degustation menu. They have a "degustation" menu, a "buon ricordo" menu, and a "vegetarian" menu. They vary from 35 to 40 euro. We immediatly decided on the "buon ricordo" menu. Words like "bruschetta", "wild game", "tuscan beans" and "wild boar" were like a sirens song.

We started with two bruschetta. One, with one of the best tomato, garlic and olive oil toppings I have eaten and the other with a pureed/blended pecorino fresco and celery and almond pesto. We suspect the celery the waiter referred to, is celery leaves. I just have to try this one. There was also a slice each of proscuito and

Next course was Tuscan Soup. Just a simple onion, celery, carrot, potatoe and borlotti bean soup dressed with olive oil. Wonderful depth of flavour, spiced by the olive oil.

Tagliolini with a wild game sauce. The waiter explained that it was actually "cinghiale", but that they ďrinseĒ it to reduce the gaminess, so that it hadnít developed the strong flavour normally associated with boar. Magnificent aldente pasta.

A wild boar stew. The meat was in chunks, and just fell apart apart when forked. It appaered to have been very slowly cooked and dry roased at the end. It was served in a rich gravy with baked polenta and black olives. We each had a large side dish of cannelini beans cooked with garlic and olvie oil (and salt).

We had a choice of Dolci. Hell, I just realised we will have to return to il Vecchio Mullino to try all the other deserts. Ches decided on Bavarese. White chocolate baverois with a mint sauce that amazingly turned out to be mint infused olive oil, with a scattering of crushed hazelnuts. Mine was only marginally less amazing. A frozen torrone (nugat) with an orange sauce (marmalade) again scattered with crushed hazelnuts.

Every course was exceptional, the wine smooth but full bodied and appropriate for the strong flavours of the food. One of our best meals ever.

When I asked to photograph the waiter, he claimed "copywrite" on his face. He presented us with two plates, and assisted in trying to find the best way to our hotel in Pisa. We last saw him wandering up the street to his home, as we set off for the final 30 min or so drive into Pisa.

I used this recipe and it was very close to the Volterra experience.

Recipe: White Chocolate Bavarian Cream by Stephanie Zonis

Cool, smooth, creamy, and delicate, this is a great summer dessert. If you don't know, a Bavarian cream is a cooked custard with unflavored gelatin dissolved in it. Whipped cream is folded into the cooled custard, and the whole is poured into a mold, chilled to set it, and unmolded to serve. Somehow, it's rather easier than it sounds. This is a not-too-sweet white chocolate version.

You'll need a five-cup mold for this; it can be a ring mold or some other shape (I have a star-shaped mold made of copper). If you do use a ring mold, I would fill the center with fresh berries before serving. In any case, you'll also need a candy thermometer for the custard. I do not trust the recipe directions I've seen that call for cooking the custard until it's "thick enough to coat the back of a spoon", or words to that effect, and I always use a candy thermometer so I won't curdle the custard by cooking it to too high a temperature.

Sauce: Crush fresh mint and pack into a jar. Cover with olive oil and let steep for several days and then strain off the olive oil. You could even heat to extract the mint flavour and then cool and strain. The mint flavoured olive oil is the sauce.

Bavarian Cream: 6 ozs. best-quality white chocolate, finely chopped 1-1/2 c. heavy cream, divided 1 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin (this is more than one envelope--you'll need to measure it) 1/4 c. cold water 5 egg yolks, from eggs graded "large" 1/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. sugar 1-1/2 c. whole milk, divided 2 tsp. vanilla Ice and cold water

For Bavarian Cream: Lightly oil mold with tasteless vegetable oil (I use a paper towel to do this) and set it aside.

Chill a medium bowl and the beater(s) from a hand-held electric mixer.

In small heatproof bowl, place chopped white chocolate. Heat 1/2 c. heavy cream (reserve remainder) in small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very hot. Pour about half of hot cream onto chocolate. Place over warm water on low heat (water should not touch bottom of bowl); stir often until melted and smooth.

Gradually whisk in remaining cream. (Note: White chocolate is often stubborn about melting. If you cannot get yours to become smooth, add the rest of the cream as instructed. Whisk to combine, then turn the mixture into a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Cover to keep warm, but do not process yet.) Set aside near stove.

Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small cup; stir to combine. Set aside near stove. In medium heatproof bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, and about 1/4 c. milk (reserve remainder). By hand, beat well to combine.

In small, heavy saucepan, place remaining milk. Heat over low heat, stirring often, until very hot. Very gradually add hot milk to egg mixture, beating constantly. Turn entire custard mixture back into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until custard reaches a temperature of 172 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Immediately remove from heat. Now, if your white chocolate mixture wasn't smooth, process it just until there are no lumps left.

Add this mixture to the cooked custard and stir it in thoroughly (don't forget to scrape the sides of the pot). Add the soaked gelatin and stir it in until the gelatin grains are dissolved (this is easiest to see with a metal spoon).

Strain the mixture through a fine strainer into a large, nonreactive metal bowl. You'll need another bowl or a frying pan of larger diameter (but not deeper) than the bowl into which you've strained your white chocolate mixture.

Partially fill the larger container with ice and cold water, and set the bowl of white chocolate custard into it. Gently whisk occasionally; the mixture will begin to thicken after 10-15 minutes. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula from time to time. After mixture begins to thicken, whisk a bit more frequently until white chocolate custard is the approximate consistency of raw egg whites. You do NOT want the custard to set now, so watch it carefully.

While the custard is cooling, check the mold you have oiled. I usually need to even out the light coating of oil on it with a paper towel, as the oil tends to bead up after a while. Do this if required.

When the white chocolate custard is of the right consistency, whisk well and remove from ice and water.

In chilled medium bowl with chilled beater(s), beat reserved 1 c. heavy cream just until cream forms a soft shape (this is before soft peak stage). Whisk cooled custard well once more to loosen, then quickly but gently and thoroughly fold in softly whipped cream. Don't handle any more than necessary. Mixture will be thin at this stage--OK. Quickly pour into oiled mold; spread evenly. With a toothpick, prick any large air bubbles. Place mold in refrigerator.

Chill Bavarian cream at least 4 hours before serving.

To unmold: Have ready a container of hot water; your mold must be able to fit into the container, but the container should be shallower than the mold.. Loosen Bavarian cream from sides of mold gently (I use a plastic knife). Dip mold into hot water for a count of 10; hot water should come almost all the way up the side of the mold. BE CAREFUL! You don't want to get any hot water into the Bavarian cream!

Quickly dry the bottom and sides of the mold with a dish towel. Turn serving plate upside down on top of Bavarian cream. Holding plate and mold together, invert. The Bavarian cream should slide out of the mold. If not, re-invert and dip into hot water for a few seconds more. Serve with above sauce and fresh berries.

6-8 servings

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