Disclosure: A copy of the book has been furnished for review, and another for the giveaway, by the publisher, Running Press.
Marisa McClellan, doyenne of all things food that go in jars, is back with the third in her series of books. This time, she's turned her eye to a particular niche in the preserving space, using natural sweeteners in the place of the more common granulated sugar. Marisa took some time out of her very busy schedule while on book tour to answer a few questions for us.
PD: What inspired you to focus on using natural sweeteners in preserves?
MM: I started this journey of natural sweeteners like most people do, with honey. I started using it to sweeten various preserves first simply as a way of lending extra flavor to things like strawberry jam and quick pickles. When I would share those honey sweetened preserves on my blog, the response was always resounding and positive. People were looking for preserves that were sweetened naturally. Spurred on by such an encouraging response, I started developing more recipes that were sweetened naturally and eventually, that process of exploration turned into this book.
Strawberries! Everybody's favorite bright red berry is finally in season, and there are just oh so many things to do with them. Grab a flat or 10 while they're abundant, and tuck into these DIY projects, from jam to sauces to drinks and more.
Funny to say, delicious to preserve. Kumquats pack a potent punch of citric tartness in a tiny package. Unlike their cousins, kumquats invert the paradigm, with mild rinds and sour-bitter pulp. They add a distinctive flavor to all kinds of preserves, like these.
Rhubarb is the darling of spring. These sour stalks are techincally a vegetable, but their tart taste lends them to applications more common with fruit. What can you do with it? What can't you do? Here's a whole bunch of ideas.
On our penultimate day in Italy, we were scheduled to go foraging for porcini up in the Apennines. From the day we arrived, though, my local guide Dalia kept mentioning that the porcini season was lackluster this year, and with nights being so cold, they were likely not going to happen, but not to worry, we would find something. Every day, assurances: Don't worry, we'll find something, with a knowing nod.
In the morning we drove to the quaint town of Portico di Romagna, close to the Tuscan border, where we met Matteo, our forager. We slapped on some muddy boots in preparation.
So it was that we piled into Matteo's van. We drove a few minutes out of town, pulled over on the roadside, and let out the dog, Otto. We were going to hunt truffles instead. Hello!
We're going back this October. Want to join? Click here for more information.
October is an undeniably magical time to be in Italy. The food is at its best this time of year, not least because there are truffles, porcini mushrooms, and chestnuts. So important are these ingredients to the local cuisine, towns around the Apennines have festivals to celebrate them.
Many people know of the white truffle festival in Alba, but there are smaller festivals in quaint towns elsewhere. While Alba draws big crowds, these petite festivals, like the one in Sant'Agata Feltria, are intimate, and often nearly exclusively frequented by Italians. From the moment you arrive at the festival, you know this town is serious about truffles.
Hey, do you want to experience a truffle festival? Of course you do. Well, we're doing it again this year. Click here to learn more.
The town is comprised of just a few small streets that snake their way up to the top of the hill, and the festival completely fills the town. There are, as you might expect, truffles, and lots of them. But there's also porcini mushrooms, fresh and dry. And there's cheese. So much amazing cheese. And meat. Amazing salame of many varieties, prosciutto and much more. Everything here is made by artisans from neighboring communities.
You can't go to Romagna without trying the local flatbread, piadina. No, really, I mean you can't go more than a few hours without encountering it. It is truly ubiquitous; luckily it is also delicious.
Piadina is made with the simplest ingredients: 00-grade flour, lard, a touch of salt, and water. (A vegetarian version can also be made by replacing the lard with olive oil.) The dough is kneaded and rolled into rounds, which are clasically cooked on clay griddles called testi. You can cook them on a cast iron or other skillet, but the clay skillet really does impart a unique flavor.
(Hey, we're going again this year. Want to join us? Of course you do. Click here for more info.)
As we've done in previous trips, we went to Casa Artusi to learn about Pellegrino Artusi, the great Italian gastronomer and food historian, and to make piadina. In his day, Artusi had an assistant, a young woman named Marietta. In Casa Artusi's teaching kitchen, they employ local women to be your own personal Marietta. These are some sassy ladies, and they will show you the right way to make the food they treasure most.
One of the earliest foraged foods of spring, stinging nettles are cropping up in forests and alongside streams all over. These prickly plants require a little special handling (they're called stinging nettles for a reason, after all), but once their formic acid-laden hairs have been tamed, nettles are quite delicious, and remarkably nutritious, making them one of the best foraged foods around.
One of the highlights of our trips to Italy is making hand-rolled pasta with Sandra, the sfoglina, and nonna Fernanda. Fresh pasta is pure alchemy; pasta and eggs converge to become a silky, springy dough. In Italy, the egg yolks are much richer in color than in the states; in fact, the Italian word for egg yolk is il rosso, or the red. Rolling the dough by hand, and especially on a wooden surface, gives the noodles a better texture, that holds on to sauces better. We started out making tortellini, tiny stuffed pasta filled with ricotta. The dough is cut into squares, and is then wrapped around tiny dollops of filling. (Hey, we're going again this year. Want to join us? Of course you do. Click here for more info.)
Jewels from the ground, beets delight with their earthy sweetness. Whether you like ruby red, golden, or candy-stripe Chioggia, here's a bunch of ways to put up these gemlike roots.