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Thursday, April 14,2011

A slice of Italy

By Clay Fong

 

Some local Italian restaurants trace their culinary lineage back to the venerable Americanized red sauce haunts of San Francisco or the East Coast. Alternatively, they may possess a more direct link to the old country without the hindrance of flavors compromised to suit New World palates. Such is the case with North Boulder’s Bacco Trattoria & Mozzarella Bar, which establishes its continental bona fides with a chef who was born and trained in Rome.

 

Admittedly, the early word on the street regarding Bacco made me initially ambivalent about sampling its fare. However, on a lunch visit with friend Andrew, I felt my enthusiasm rising as I studied the menu. Granted, there were more pedestrian dishes such as lasagna and chicken parmigiana. But there were also such intriguing selections as piquant puttanesca with fresh pasta, artisan four-cheese pizza with prosciutto, and fritto misto, the coastal fried seafood platter.

The anticipated plate of rustic bread was one of the first items to arrive at the table. What distinguished Bacco’s offering was an accompaniment of pleasing pesto dip that astutely balanced the flavors of olive oil, green herbs and garlic. Since mozzarella is nearly Bacco’s middle name, we also ordered up a costly plate of $11 buffalo cheese with a choice of two condiments, more accurately categorized as sides. These included attractive slices of fresh tomato and marinated eggplant that would have benefited from more assertive seasoning.

The cheese carried the pleasantly moist and airy feel of good, fresh-made mozzarella. Sadly, the creaminess was marred by an acid taste that detracted from the richness. In Bacco’s defense, I’ve learned that making homemade mozzarella isn’t easy, and my own attempts have resulted in something resembling a cross between runny ricotta and low-grade animal feed.

Andrew ordered the reasonably priced $9 light lunch special, which includes salad, entrée and a soft drink. At this price, you’d expect a few lettuce leaves splashed with vinaigrette, but this plate of greens exceeded expectations. Attractively plated, this salad featured a tart and adroitly seasoned dressing atop a foundation of fresh greens, carrot strips and heirloom tomato.

My friend’s multitude of ravioli entrée options included lobster-stuffed pasta and that new ubiquitous classic, vodka sauce. Andrew selected wisely by combining subtly sweet and earthy butternut squash ravioli with sage and butter. This simple sauce presented a remarkable balance of green herbal pungency with dairy-based richness.

My main course of $13 Pappardelle Al Cinghiale, or homemade wide noodles with wild boar red sauce, was a weightier selection than the ravioli. The robust red sauce was reminiscent of a good cacciatore, or hunter’s stew, which made sense, given the boar’s status as a game animal. The meat was free of the sharp taste common to game and was surprisingly tender. The homemade pasta was blessed by ideal al dente consistency, and a generous sprinkling of arugula on top provided a compelling contrast to the stew-like richness of the dish.

Bacco ably balances both Italian- American and authentic Old World sensibilities. As a neighborhood restaurant, it succeeds admirably, especially with such unique specialties as the delectable boar pasta. The showcase cheese could benefit from some adjustment in preparation, but the underlying concept of offering fresh product with appealing sides is sound. Service was friendly and not overly familiar, and contributed to an ultimately satisfying lunch experience.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

Clay’s Obscurity Corner

Making mozzarella

Having recently been introduced to making mozzarella at Pizzeria da Lupo, I decided to try my hand at home cheese-making using a kit from Sunflower Market. Making mozzarella is a straightforward process. One heats up milk, while monitoring the temperature with a candy thermometer, followed by the addition of rennet, an enzyme, and citric acid. These additions are necessary to form solid curds and yellowish liquid whey. After letting the milk set up, the heated curds should lend themselves to being kneaded into a ball of mozzarella. My end product never firmed up, and it looked and tasted like ricotta.

Bacco Trattoria & Mozzarella Bar 1200 Yarmouth Ave., Unit A, Boulder 303-442-3899

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Clay Fong, fear of failure is our worst enemy.  Go out and buy a gallon of milk after you read this.  I'm going to demystify the cheese-making process for you!

I'm making fresh mozzarella right now, and it's so easy i have time to write a little note about it. This method makes a simple homemade fresh cheese that can be used as a fresh mozzarella ( I use it in caprese salad) or as paneer in Indian dishes like saag paneer and mattar paneer.

Forget the rennet.  It's unnecessary and gross. Just boil the milk, remove from heat, add some vinegar or lime juice to make it curdle (I use about 6 tbsp lime juice per gallon milk, has a nice flavor).  Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the curds into a cheesecloth set inside a strainer (over a bowl, the whey can be used for breadmaking and other things).  While i'm doing this, i like to add some salt and other seasonings (like coriander seeds if i'm using the cheese as paneer in a curry, or sundried tomatoes and oregano if i'm going to be using the cheese as mozzarella in a caprese salad).  Squeeze the liquid out (press hard!), then flip cheese out into a bowl, put a plate on top to press.  Refrigerates and freezes well, but I don't know for how long.  It's never around more than a day!

I live in a small mountain town, and I usually buy a gallon of organic milk when it's on sale at the supermarket for $3.99 before it expires.  It makes a cheese that weighs about 22oz.  When you consider that about 8 oz. of fresh mozza retails at about $7.00 in my mountain town of Nederland,it makes it worthwhile.  And I've yet to find a place even in boulder that sells paneer, and this is the exact same thing.

Do not be discouraged.  If i can do this, so can you.  Remember, the more you know, the less you need.  And who needs to buy fresh cheese when you can make it at home?!


best of luck,

maggie

 

 
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