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Wine Windows to the Past

Imagine yourself in 16th century Florence.  You peruse the cobblestone streets, balancing your straw-bottomed flask atop the mountain of goods you gathered at the market in the city square.  Your eyes scan the stucco exteriors of the palatial homes in search of the custom door of your favorite buchetta del vino.  The familiar tarnished family crest rests above the brick-outlined window, and you reach for the knocker.  After a few swift raps, the cantiniere, a skilled servant trained in the preservation of wine, greets you with a fragment of his face peeking through the window.  You pass your flask and payment through the opening, receiving a full bottle of red wine in return.

Travel over four hundred years to the present day.  You remain on the same cobblestone street, but instead of cloth wrapped parcels from the market, you carry grocery bags with food for dinner.  Wearing your reusable triple-layer cotton mask, you walk home and spot a line of people waiting before a window tall enough for a bottle of wine.  An anonymous hand passes glasses of red through the opening to the eager customers, many of whom snap pictures to prove their participation in one of Florence’s most unique wine experiences.  Assuming you’re of drinking age, you also hop in line.  You pass a few euros through the window, and receive a glass in return.  Quietly enjoying your wine with distanced strangers on the street, you have a strange sensation of 470-year-old deja vu.

photo courtesy of Buchette del Vino

Since 2015, Florentine residents Matteo Faglia, Diletta Corsini and Mary Christine Forrest have been working to brush centuries of dust off of Florence’s buchette del vino (wine windows), one of the city’s most unique architectural details.  Beginning in the mid 1500’s, these foot-tall arched openings were carved out of ground level exterior walls in the homes of the wealthy.  While many of these windows have since been cemented shut, several are being revived to serve their original purpose.

The three aforementioned locals founded the Associazione Culturale Buchette del Vino (Wine Windows Cultural Association) in effort to revive and rehabilitate these functional architectural elements.  First used in 1559,  the wine window was born from Cosimo I de’ Medici’s decree granting Florentine vintners permission to forgo distribution taxes by selling wine directly from their homes.  

Although few functioning wine windows exist today, they were especially popular during the seventeenth century when the bubonic plague epidemic necessitated contactless purchase of food and wine.  “Wine producers who were selling their own wine through the small wine windows in their Florentine palaces, understood the problem of contagion,” explains Associazione Culturale Buchette del Vino cofounder Diletta Corsini.  Centuries ago, wine purveyors facilitated contactless trade by filling flasks directly from the windows using a metal tube or alternatively by selling pre-bottled wine.  

Since the 16th century, wine windows have slowly grown obsolete.  Time filled the small openings with cement, and they became elements of the wine-drinking past.  That is until the work of the Associazione Culturale Buchette del Vino began five years ago.  In addition to spreading information and organizing events, their mission is to “to promote the study, census, evaluation, maintenance, and when necessary, the restoration of these historical architectural features,” as explained on the organization’s website.  The nonprofit has worked to encourage respect for this piece of Tuscan history by clearly labeling the windows and restoring those that have not been filled or otherwise destroyed. 

photo courtesy of Buchette del Vino

As of late May, several Florentine wine windows are in service.  In Via dell’Isola delle Stinche, gelato and coffee is sold through a buchetta by Vivoli gelateria.  Two restaurants, Babae in Piazza Santo Spirito and Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi, have restored their windows for their original use for the sale and purchase of wine.  While patrons no longer fill their pints from a metal tube, they do receive their food and drinks from gloved hands of restaurant employees.  Amidst the slow reopening and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, some Italians have taken comfort in this salute to the past.  As we face historically repetitive obstacles in our world, we find ourselves reaching back in time for old solutions to our modern problems.  Along the way, some may even grab a glass of wine.  

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Mucho Gusto

Sofia’s Fried Cauliflower

This is the twenty-sixth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

Make if you have: cauliflower, tahini, lemon, parsley

Earlier this year, my dad and I ordered this amazing fried cauliflower at Farmstead Table in Newton, and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.  Fast forward four months, and I’m deep frying cauliflower at home in an attempt to recreate it.  Perfect as a side dish, this crispy cauliflower gets a bright boost from its tahini lemon dressing and parsley.  

2 heads of cauliflower

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

1 bulb of garlic

⅓ cup tahini

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tsp lemon zest

½ tsp red chili flakes

½ cup of fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Oil for frying 

Salt and pepper

Break your cauliflower into medium-sized florets, think 1-2 bites each.  Boil the cauliflower for 3 minutes in salted water, drain, and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.  You want the cauliflower to be slightly tender but still crunchy.  Spread the blanched florets onto a baking sheet lined with a kitchen towel, and allow them to dry for 1-2 hours.  Water left on the cauliflower will cause the oil to spatter when you go to fry, so don’t skimp on drying time.

While you wait for the cauliflower, roast your garlic.  Cut off the top of the bulb to expose each clove.  Give the bulb a generous pour of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Wrap in tinfoil and roast on a baking sheet for 40 minutes at 400°.  Squeeze the cloves out of the bulb and set aside.  

Heat your oil (I used 2 quarts of canola) over high heat in a deep pot or dutch oven.  Stick a kitchen thermometer into your pot to regulate the oil temperature as you fry.  When the thermometer hits 340-350°, use a spider or slotted spoon to lower your first round of cauliflower into the oil.  Be sure to leave room for each floret to rise to the top.  Working in four or five shifts, fry the florets for 2-5 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.  Immediately place your fried cauliflower on baking sheets lined with paper towels to drain excess oil.

While your cauliflower is still hot, make the lemon tahini.  In a bowl, smash the roasted garlic with the back of a spoon.  Add in the olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, lemon zest, and red chili flakes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the cauliflower to a medium bowl, and drizzle in the tahini sauce, tossing to lightly cover each floret.  Throw your parsley into the mix and toss once more to combine throughout.  Serve immediately.

**If you’re not up for deep-frying, this recipe also works beautifully with roasted cauliflower.  It’s less crispy, less time intensive, equally delicious.

Categories
Mucho Gusto

Sofia’s Burnt Honey Bourbon Ice Cream

This is the twelfth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

Make if you have: heavy cream, eggs, bourbon, honey

Burnt honey pairs nicely with an oaky Bourbon in this ice cream that you can whip up with or without an ice cream machine.  It’s proof that some accidents (burning honey, for example) are delicious.  

1 quart heavy cream

3 egg yolks

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons bourbon

1 ⅓ cups honey

Pinch of salt

Heat the heavy cream in a medium saucepan over low heat until hot but not bubbling.  While the cream is heating, separate 3 egg yolks into a bowl and whisk in the granulated sugar, bourbon, and a pinch of salt.  Ladle about a cup of hot cream into the yolk and sugar mixture, whisking quickly to ensure the hot cream doesn’t cook the eggs.  Slowly whisk in the remainder of the hot cream until combined.  Place your ice cream base mixture over a double boiler on medium heat and stir often.  

In a tall saucepan, heat the honey over high heat until it bubbles and becomes frothy.  Lower the heat to medium, stirring constantly until it turns dark amber and smells slightly burnt, about 9 minutes. 

Immediately pour the burnt honey into the ice cream base.  Work in three or four batches and whisk the ice cream base as you pour; the hot honey will cause your mixture to bubble.  Continue heating the ice cream base over the double boiler for 20 minutes.  

Remove the ice cream base from the double boiler and allow it to cool slightly before covering with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours until very cold.  Pour your ice cream base into an ice cream machine and churn according to manufacturer’s directions.*  Freeze in a container until hard. 

*Because of the alcohol in the bourbon, this ice cream base takes longer to freeze while churning.  You may need to run your machine twice to reach your desired consistency.  


If you don’t have an ice cream machine, make these tweaks for a no-churn version:

Heat 1 ½ cups of the heavy cream, and reserve the remainder of the quart in the fridge.  Follow the entire recipe with the reduced amount of cream.  Reduce the total cooking time over the double boiler to 15 minutes total instead of 20.  The higher egg-to-cream ratio means your base mixture over the double boiler will be thicker and more custardy.  If you notice lumps in your base mixture, press it through a strainer.  Cool the base as directed.  Once the base is cold, take the remaining 3 ½ cups of heavy cream from the fridge and whip in a cold bowl (I stick mine in the freezer for an hour before whipping) until stiff peaks form.  Fold the cold custard base into the whipped cream, being careful not to deflate the cream.  Pour the mixture into an airtight container and freeze until hard.  

Categories
Mucho Gusto

Sofia’s Golden Shakshuka

This is the second installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

Make if you have: bell peppers, tomatoes, eggs

Serves 2-3

Shakshuka is traditionally made with red tomatoes and peppers, but I swapped the red for yellow for a sweeter stew. Harissa adds a kick; feel free to reduce the amount if you’d prefer a milder flavor. A few good slices of bread to mop up any stray tomatoes and peppers are highly recommended.

Extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 yellow zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

2 cups of small heirloom tomatoes, preferably yellow and orange, halved

6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon harissa

5 eggs

Salt

Black pepper

¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped for serving

Red chili flakes for serving

Coat the bottom of a wide skillet (I recommend using a cast-iron) generously with olive oil, and sauté the onion, bell pepper, and zucchini over medium heat for 30 minutes until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Clear space in the middle of the pan, and add garlic, stirring to cook slightly for 1-2 minutes. Once the garlic is tender, add the cumin and smoked paprika, letting it toast for a minute or so. Spoon the harissa into the middle of the pan and stir with the cooked vegetables. Clear the middle of the pan once again and add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

Allow them to cook for five minutes until they’ve broken down and mix throughout. Make 5 pockets in your stew and gently crack an egg into each pocket. Bake your shakshuka in the oven until the eggs are done, 7 to 10 minutes depending on how soft you like your eggs. Remove from the oven and top with cilantro, red chili flakes, and black pepper. Serve with good crusty bread. I made my own with this no-knead recipe—it’s quick and foolproof.