Friday, December 12, 2008

My Kind of Garage Sale!

Instead of cracked pottery and jigsaw puzzles with pieces missing, when my friend Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood holds a garage sale it's all about estate-pressed olive oil from Italy. Here's the bulletin he recently sent out, with details on this weekend's sale at the bottom. See you there!

I started my little olive oil adventure in my garage, and the first olive oil garage sale was my effort to recreate the atmosphere of an Italian food festival or sagra. Sagre typically take place in the fall to coincide with the harvest of whatever local foodstuff is being celebrated.

In the Tuscan village of Chianni, home of Olio Novo, the Sagra del Cinghiale (Wild Boar Festival) occurs in late November, just after the first extra virgin olive oil is pressed and the vino novello, wine made using carbonic maceration from grapes harvested earlier in the fall, is ready to drink. It’s cold, wet, and molto Felliniamo.

The villagers volunteer to cook, people come from the nearby cities for a good meal and everybody eats at communal tables in the school cafeteria. After dinner, the city folks head back to their cars with a jug of olive oil and a few bottles of wine, reminders of the country life they left behind. If you’re ever in Italy and see a sign for a local sagra, stop. It’s one of the best ways to get a taste of real Italian life.

While I can’t offer a sit-down experience, I’ll have a pot of hot soup, wine and a roaring fire (if the weather forcast is even close to accurate, we’ll need the fire). Along with the usual lineup of Italian and Californian extra virgin olive oils, Portuguese sea salt, traditionally cured olives, and the Katz artisanal vinegars, I’ve got the same balsamic vinegar I imported last year.

Produced by a small family firm called Profumi Estensi, this aceto balsamico di Modena is thick, syrupy and delicious. Like all traditional balsamic vinegar, it’s made by reducing grape must to about 30% of its original volume, then fermenting it slowly in a series of wood barrels called a batteria. The batteria, different size barrels made from an assortment of woods that impart additional flavor to the vinegar, is tucked under the roof in the family’s attic, where it's subject to wide temperature swings that encourage evaporation through the porous wood. After at least 12 years, the resulting vinegar is tart, sweet, and nothing like the industrial grade, sugar-fortified wine vinegar sold as balsamic in the supermarket. You can taste it at the garage sale.

Scott Dolich, owner of Park Kitchen, visited Profumi Estensi this fall after attending Slow Food’s Terra Madre. He likes to use the aceto balsamico to enhance winter greens.

“This time of year we can get a fantastic variety of chicories,” Scott says, “I like to grill them, then dress them with a drizzle of good balsamic and olive oil.”

Nick Wood, coproprietor with Tommy Habetz of Bunk Sandwiches, was on the same trip. He elevates the already incredible eggplant sandwich they serve with a drizzle of balsamico.

Bunk’s Roasted Eggplant, Marinated Red Pepper, Fresh Mozzarella & Basil Sandwich with Balsamic Vinegar

Toss eggplant slices with extra virgin olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Roast at 450° until the eggplant is tender, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool.

Marinate roasted red peppers in a little more extra virgin olive oil, oregano, chopped garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes. On a toasted hoagie roll, layer the eggplant, marinated peppers, slices of fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Details: Olive Oil Garage Sale. Fri.-Sat., Dec. 12-13; 1-6 pm; cash or checks only. Bottled olive oil available, or bring clean wine bottles for bulk purchases. 3432 NE 16th (south of Fremont).

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