The Fogolar and Big Plans …. Day One Continues

The Friulano Fogolar

The Friulano Fogolar

Successfully satisfying our Gnocchi craving, we can now begin to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings.  We are in the Alps of Italy, the mountains are breathtaking and the village of Frisanco is idyllic.  Life is slow, simple and focuses on the more essential aspects of life – mainly food.  We have one focus – our next meal.  We need to find an osteria (restaurant) with a fogolar to further our studies of the Friulano cuisine of our family’s heritage.  A fogolar is an open hearth fireplace where meals were traditionally cooked in the Friulano household.  It also was where the family would gather to eat, drink, talk and of course argue.   In the modern age, most households no longer have a fogolar, but many of the Friulano trattorias and ristorantes boast incredible fogolars with seating around it.  You can watch and stay warm as the chef prepares the grilled meats over a wood burning fire.  I am a grill guy.  I grill in the dead of winter as my neighbors watch from their frosted windows.  The fogolar is something that I must experience. The problem is the weather.  It is an unseasonably hot June and the Italians are not firing up their fogolars in favor of more seasonal fare of cured meats, cheeses, field greens and fresh vegetables.  But we are in Friuli now and the culinary search of our heritage beacons us to eat grilled meats and polenta.  The resourcefulness of my brother Angelo pays off.  We travel to Solimbergo, a neighboring town of Fanna, my grandmother’s village, where he takes us to Albergo Al Fogolar da Mander.

Church in the center of Solombergo

Church in the center of Solombergo

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My son Angelo by the fogolar

The fogolar is fired up and the chef and his family are happy to see us.  The fogolar is tremendous.  It sits in the center of the room, solidly made of concrete, stone and heavy iron cooking racks.  There are bundles of wood from the surrounding hills stored underneath.  The fire is blazing, but the grill surface and meats are insulated by a panel so only the glowing ready coals are slid underneath the separating panel to cook the meats.  The meat aromas that fill the room are mesmerizing – have I eaten yet today?

Fogolar at Albergo Al Fogolar da Mander

Fogolar at Albergo Al Fogolar da Mander

We start the meal with the traditional first plate choice of Pasta or gnocchi – we have both.  The Pasta is Blecs  –  pasta di grano saraceno e mais.  It is a handmade and unevenly cut buckwheat pasta squares in wild boar ragu.  The gnocchi is with ‘sugo di ortiche’, sauce of nettles – yes, stinging nettles, those pesky plants that will irritate your skin when so much as gently grazed.  Is there anything the Italians won’t eat?

Gnocci  di Patate con sugo di ortiche

Gnocci di Patate con sugo di ortiche

Blecs  -  pasta di grano saraceno e mais

Blecs – pasta di grano saraceno e mais

Both are bucolic and simple.  Handmade with local ingredients that were bought, made or picked that day.  We could have been satisfied and done at this point, but the real reason we are here are for the wood grilled meats – sausage, veal, lamb chops, pork and beef….. all cooked over the wood coals.  They are served with grilled polenta and sautéed greens.  The meats are juicy and perfectly infused with the wood’s smoky flavor.   It is extraordinary, and I’m ashamed of my gas grill.  The meal is accompanied by a fruilian red wine – Refrosco, a perfect compliment.

Grilled meats

Grilled Meats

Grilled Polenta

Grilled Polenta

The dinner is topped off with a round of Grappa – Nonino, my favorite so far (it’s the first day).  The bottle was left at the table for us and as we finish it off, we hatch a plan. We are going to hike from Frisanco to Fanna, just as my Grandmother did in her youth for her summer retreat.  Many years and many trips to Fanna , however no family member has ever attempted this trek.  We would be the first – and burning a few calories couldn’t hurt.  We head back to Alle Alpi in Frisanco to end our first day and rest up for the historic hike.  We stop at a small bar for a nightcap – Tocai Friulano, perfect for the hot night.  The bartender, an American classic rock aficionado, recognizes us as Americans and challenges us to a ‘name that tune’ competition.   We win decisively, netting several rounds of free grappa and an easy trip to dreamland.  Dreaming of Polenta.    Next – a failed hike attempt and Louisa’s incredible and plentiful Polenta.

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Grappa Nonino

Gnocchi – The Holy Grail

Growing up, without a doubt our favorite family meal was gnocchi.  Being one of 8 kids (plus 2 parents and a grandparent), making gnocchi was a monumental task reserved for special occasions.  My father would have to ration out portions to the kids; there were not enough gnocchi in the world to satisfy us. To this day it is still one of my favorites.  I cautiously order at restaurants because of frequent disappointment – My Nonna set the bar high.  Making it today is still an all-day affair, so it is still mostly a special occasion dish.

Going to Italy meant I was going to eat gnocchi.  In fact, upon making the reservations for our last-minute trip, I’m pretty sure at one point I thought, “I am going to eat gnocchi every day.”  My son related similar sentiments as we planned our trip.  Our plane landed in Venice at 9:30am. If we got right on the road we could be in Frisanco by noon and have gnocchi for lunch.  Frisanco was my Grandmother’s mountain destination for her summer retreat. It’s an hour hike from her home town of Fanna, a small village in Friuli at the base of Mt. Raut in the Alps. In my Grandmother’s time, Fanna was a small, poor village.  Frisanco provided a cool retreat during the hot summer months in a time when travelling was a luxury.

Fanna as seen from Frisanco

Frisanco – nestled in the mountains

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Cooling off at a fountain in Frisanco

A few years back my brother Angelo discovered the Albergo Alle Alpi (hotel) in Frisanco.  While the hotel accommodations are adequate, the gnocchi is exceptional – exactly like my Grandmother’s.   Each time we stay, the owners always remember us from a particular visit from my bother Dave. For his first plate he ordered gnocchi al ragu (with meat sauce).  For his second plate again he ordered gnocchi al ragu.  For his dessert – you guessed it – a third plate of gnocchi al ragu.  This is what happens when Dad isn’t around to ration.

So our flight lands on time – bags are off the conveyor, my brother scores a great parking spot – we are on the road.  Two hours and counting until a gnocchi lunch in Frisanco.  After a brief stop in Sequals for an espresso, we arrive in Frisanco at noon right on schedule.

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My son in front of our hotel in Frisanco – Albergo Alle Alpi

The dining room is filled with patrons – travelers, locals, families, even contractors on their lunch break (gnocchi on a work lunch break – can you imagine??).  At noon the handmade gnocchi at Alle Alpi starts rolling off the human assembly line and the people gather.   Gnocchi Pomodoro, Gnocchi  al Ragu, or Gnocchi with smoked ricotta cheese sauce?  Life’s difficult decisions.

Gnocchi

Gnocchi with smoked ricotta cheese sauce

Gnocchi al Ragu

Gnocchi Pomodoro

Of course, the Alle Alpi serves more than just gnocchi, but we never get past that part of the menu.  Gnocchi al Ragu is my choice.  The Gnocchi is perfect.  For a moment I am a kid again, at home on my birthday, and I am as happy as can be.  Only one plate of gnocchi this lunch, after all, dinner is only 7 hours from now.

Along the way, the village of Sequals made for an interesting stop.  Sequals is over the next hill from Fanna, and the home of 1930’s boxing heavyweight champ Primo Carnera.  Carnera’s family still lives in Sequals where the boxer is a legend.  It seemed like everyone had a story about him.  We were invited in to his family’s restaurant for an espresso and some Primo Carnera stories.  That was followed by a café correcto (espresso with grappa) and more stories – this could on all day.  The only thing that stopped us was our mission for lunch was just a few miles up the road.

Our gnocchi fix sufficiently satisfied and behind us we were ready to continue our journey.

My Grandmothers gnocchi recipe can be found on Philadelphia Catering’s Chef’s Corner  http://www.philadelphiacatering.com/recipes/1211.asp

COMING NEXT: A failed hike attempt and more cuisine of my family’s heritage in Fanna and surrounding villages

 

Primo Carnera’s Family’s Restaurant

Primo Carnera’s Family’s Restaurant

Paying tribute to Primo Carnera

Paying tribute to Primo Carnera

 

 

Coming Soon – Tales From A Culinary Adventure In Friuli, Italy

I just returned from a last minute, spontaneous 10 day trip to Northern Italy.  My son, A.J.(Angelo) and I met up with my brother Angelo, his daughter Anna, and nephew Patrick to tour through Friuli, Trentino-Alto Adige, and a touch of Austria.

Northern Italy

Our plan was to first visit family in the town my grandparents came from, Fanna, in Friuli.  We explored our culinary roots through family meals and by tasting the local dishes and wines in Fanna and the neighboring towns.  Next we headed North in Friuli to a little village near the Austrian border called Timau, which is in the Carnic Alps.  Here we visited the mountaintop WWI battlefields of my Grandfather, called Freikofel & Pal Piccolo.

The summit of Freikofel

We spent three days at the amazing Albergo Matiz D’Otto with award winning chef Stefano Buttazzoni, tasting the unique local cuisine and incredibly flavored grappas made by our host and owner Diego Matiz.  Among the highlights were the cjarsons – a ravioli-like pasta filled with a combination of potato, figs, cinnamon, herbs and more for a complex salty-sweet dish that can only be found in this remote area.

The last leg of our trip took us briefly into Austria through the Alps to the village of Canazai in Val di Fasso set in the beautiful Dolomite Mountains.  Our plans to hike in the highest parts of the Dolomites were dashed due to a summer snow storm and lingering snow from the winter.  This of course just meant searching for more polenta, Frico and Friuli wines– not a bad alternative.  We were able to do a nice hike that brought us to an altitude of 2243 meters and what was probably the best meal on our entire trip at a mountain top hotel and restaurant called Rifugio Vajolet.  The exceptional polenta dishes were rustic and served fresh out of the pot.

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Rifugio Vajolet

Last we spent a day in the beautiful city of Venice.  More details to come over the next few posts.  I will try to share the interesting culinary experiences we had, as well as some of the incredible places we visited, great people we met, and some of the ways the Italians live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Hot afternoon in Venice with the popular Venetian drink call Furlan

Hot afternoon in Venice with the popular Venetian drink call Furlan.

The Economics of Composting

New Composting Services from The Philadelphia Catering Company

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Compost bin with signage

“Going green” and having a positive impact on the environment feels great both personally and professionally.  However, as a business owner, I need to ask which measures make the best business sense.  Obviously certain things are a no-brainer.  If you use energy efficient light bulbs or water saving fixtures you will consume less and save money.  When it comes to waste we had another easy decision.  Recycled waste costs less to have hauled away than landfill waste.  Everything we could convert from the landfill waste to recycling would save us money.  We now recycle 2/3 of our waste and the cost savings has been enormous.

When it comes to composting, the decision is not so simple.  About a year ago we started a pilot composting program to analyze how much material we could compost and what the cost could be.  We started composting a portion of our food waste.  Philly Compost, a local small compost hauler, picks up our food scraps once a week and brings it to a professional composting facility in Royersford called Two Particular Acres.  Ned Foley, the owner of Two Particular Acres, works the food waste along with yard waste and other compostable items into nutrient rich compost.  It is then sold to farmers resulting in an all-around win-win for everyone.

Philly Compost Truck

Philly Compost Truck

Ned Foley of Two Particular Acres

In our analysis, we discovered between composting and recycling we have very little landfill waste – close to zero waste!  The dilemma is that  it costs more to send waste to the composting facility than to the landfill.  From a business sense, looking at the bottom line purely economically – composting is not a great thing.  However, we needed to evaluate the big picture, and look at other ways that this program is valuable to us and the community.  One way we can accomplish this is letting our customers know that we go the extra mile to compost our waste.  Our hope is they will see value in this and use our catering service and tell others to do the same – now this is starting to make a little more sense.  We can get our customers involved by offering them the opportunity to use this service, as we now offer composting as an option for all of our catered events.

Philadelphia Catering Composting Service

We will provide the compostable disposables, compost receptacles and composting instruction signage.  We will also work with you to make sure there are recycling and landfill receptacles on site to help insure that the compost bin will not be contaminated.  We provide the proper signage for all the receptacles.  After the event we will remove the compost receptacle and send it off to Two Particular Acres to be professionally composted.

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We have several options to choose from to fit the look and budget requirements of our customers. Check out our great selection of premium compostable dinnerware;  https://philadelphiacateringblog.com/2013/01/09/verterra-elegant-dinnerware-made-from-recycled-fallen-leaves/

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VerTerra Dinnerware

Please tell us if our composting program makes a difference to you in deciding which caterer you choose.  Send us an email or tell our driver.  We would love to move more in the direction of becoming a zero waste operation, while meeting the needs of our customers and doing what is best for the environment.

VerTerra – Elegant Dinnerware Made From Fallen Leaves

One of the more interesting aspects of owning a catering business is seeking out new foods and innovative products that we can offer our customers.    We are constantly bombarded with e-mails and advertising from suppliers for every aspect of the catering business.  Typically we have seen it all before.  We regularly attend food and trade shows seeking out that new special item that will “wow” our clients.  That moment came last month when we discovered VerTerra products – compostable dinnerware made from fallen leaves – wow!

We have had a complete line of compostable-ware that we have been providing to clients for the last two years.  It has proven functional, environmentally friendly, and fine for everyday corporate catering, however it seemed to be lacking an elegant touch.  For upscale events the green alternative has been to rent china which is costly to begin with, but also requires extra labor increasing the expense.   We had an upscale holiday party booked with an environmentally conscious client and we needed to find something new, fast.   VerTerra dinnerware was the answer.

VerTerra  is great looking, good for the environment, and less expensive than renting china.  As the story goes, Michael Dwork, founder and CEO of VerTerra, was in rural India when he saw a woman pressing wet leaves in a crude waffle iron to create a plate for eating. It was then that the idea for his company was born.   Our client loved the product and asked for the entire event to be a ‘zero waste event’.  Compost and recycle everything – no landfill waste.  No problem, we do that.  Josh Parker, head of operations at VerTerra, was quick to set us up with all of the necessary products for the event and we were ready to go.  The guests were impressed, the event was a success, and all that waste is well on its way to becoming useful compost for local farmers.

So we now have a great new product we are offering that is perfect for events that require a more elegant look without having the added expense and logistics of china rentals.  Let us know if you would like to see a sample.  You can check them out at www.VerTerra.com.

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VerTerra compostable dinnerware & compostable corn cup – $2.50pp

Thanks-Giving-Back – PCC 5000

Being in the food business provides us with an excellent opportunity to help disadvantaged people with a very basic need – food.  Over the years we have donated food and money to a wide variety of charities and events.  We have always felt good about helping our business partners with the causes that are important to them.  But this year we really wanted to do something bigger by sponsoring  a full scale event of our own.

Growing a business requires a lot of focus and a bit of selfishness.  It took us years of saving and looking out for ourselves to put us in a position to buy and renovate our own facility, allowing us to continue to grow and thrive as a business.  Once that was achieved, we vowed to focus more on giving back; to the environment with our green initiatives, to the community with hiring and apprenticeship programs, and to the underprivileged through charity – our charity – PCC 5000.

The goal of the  PCC 5000 project is to provide 5000 meals to needy and disadvantaged people in our local area.   The act of charity is truly satisfying when you are certain that you have made a small difference in someone’s life – even if it is as simple as a nourishing meal. Thanksgiving seemed like the right time, and 5000 seemed like a good goal number to get started.  So, we began our search to partner with an organization that would assist us in best reaching those in need.

Our search ended with someone in our own kitchen – Nate Wilson.  Nate volunteers with Bridging The Gap Ministries – http://www.btgmphilly.org.  They help the neediest in Philadelphia by providing some basic necessities along with spiritual guidance.   Nate and Elder Dennis of BTGM arranged the venue for 100 homeless and disadvantaged people to take part in our first installment of PCC 5000.  Then Nate recruited a group of employees from Philadelphia Catering to volunteer their time to help prepare, deliver and serve the meal.   My son and daughter took a half day from school to participate as well.

Tony and Nate perfect the gravy

Tony and Nate perfect the gravy

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Tony prepares the vegetables

Roz volunteers her time to prepare the turkey

Roz volunteers her time to prepare the turkey

A.J. took time out of school to help with the event

A.J. took time from school to help with the event

 

While Philadelphia Catering provided the food, it truly was a team effort with employees volunteering their time in the kitchen.  The atmosphere in the kitchen was unexpectedly joyful – here we are doing what we do every day only this time not for monetary profit.  Our everyday business took on a new meaning as we all understood how much this could mean to someone in need.   The event was a great success with over 100 people attending.  Everyone had a nice satisfying meal as well as an extra helping of spiritual inspiration from Elder Dennis of BTGM.  All left smiling, full and inspired.  We look forward to next year again with Nate & BTGM – only 4900 to go!!

Alan, Jared and A.J. serving from the buffet

Alan, Jared and A.J. serving from the buffet

 

Roasted turkey with cornbread stuffing

Roasted turkey with cornbread stuffing

Elder Dennis inspiring the crowd with his story

Elder Dennis inspires the crowd with his story

 

 

Zero Waste Events – The Future of Catering

Zero Waste Events – The Future of Catering

The University of Pennsylvania Graduation 2012, our first large scale zero waste event.

Last December we were contacted by one of our long standing clients with a very unique request.  Can you provide a ‘zero waste’ event for our graduation reception of 1200 guests?  “…..Sure, let me look into it and I will get back to you”.  I have to admit, I had no real idea what it was or how on earth we could do it for 1200 people at our premier annual event.  So I got to work researching ‘zero waste’ events.  There is no universal definition for what precisely a ‘zero waste’ event is. For our purposes, we defined it as an event where there is little or no ‘Landfill’ waste.   All waste is either recycled or composted.

The more we thought about it and planned, the more we realized…this is not hard at all.   What was our plan?   Simple – we will compost everything.  We planned to bring everything compostable – plates, utensils, napkins, cups and food scraps.  All of it can go into one receptacle and taken away after the event by our good friends from Philly Compost (http://www.phillycompost.com).  Philly Compost is a great local small company that collects compostable waste.  They deliver the compostable waste to my old college buddy, Ned Foley, who owns and runs a local professional composting facility – Two Particular Acres (http://agmap.psu.edu/businesses/729, http://www.twoparticularacres.com/).  After a couple of months of composting, the waste for this event will make its way back into the soil of our local farmers.  Sounds like a win-win situation.

 Ned Foley from Two Particular Acres testing a compost pile.

Philly Compost Truck

Let’s get everyone on board…

We needed every guest at the event to be aware; this is a ‘Zero Waste Event’.  We felt that if everyone was aware, they would view it as positively as we did, and want to make the event a huge success.  Event organizers made announcements during the graduation ceremony and well as printing reminders in the programs.  Our plan was to clearly mark each receptacle to help guests with the placement of their waste.  We would also provide signage on the buffet reminding guests that it is a ’zero waste’ event and where to place waste when they are done.  Because the event space was essentially public space, we needed to provide recycling and landfill receptacles so that any outside waste would not end up contaminating the compost.  Contaminated compost ends up as landfill waste – not good.   With everything clearly labeled – what could go wrong?

Receptacles for landfill, recycling, and compost.

Compostable everything! Plates, bowls, napkins, cups and utensils.

Buffet ready to go, with signage for guests.

Wait a minute, let me think……

Unlike much of the world, we Americans rarely have to think about our waste.  We generally throw everything into the same receptacle – which goes to a landfill.  In observing guests at the event, we noticed that when they were unsure what to do when faced with this choice.  Many were just frozen with indecision and ultimately tossed it in the landfill trash.  With extra personnel placed near these waste stations we assisted many with choosing the correct receptacle.  By the end of the event we had collected sixty 40 gallon trash bags of compostable waste – saved from the landfill – a great success for the environment.  The conclusion we came to is that this is a learning process.  The only way for people to become more knowledgeable about waste decisions is for large organizations and institutions to be committed to holding more of these types of events – and vendors who are capable of executing it.  Over time people’s waste choices will be second nature.  So Philadelphia catering is prepared for the future of catering and we look forward to more and more environmentally friendly events.

 

Landfill and compost receptacles with instructions… guest awareness is the key to success!

Nothing Like a Great Cup of Coffee

Cafe Excellence, coffee supplier to The Philadelphia Catering Company

Over the last year coffee prices have gone up 40%.  We are always trying to offer our customers the best value, so we decided this is the time to evaluate our coffee supplier and shop around to see if we can get a better deal.  We found out we can certainly save money, but not one of the coffees we sampled was nearly as good as ours.  We have always loved our coffee and we consume many cups of it daily.  We needed to know – why is our coffee so much better?  Were we just accustomed to it from consuming it daily, or was it really a superior roast.  Our questions brought us to our roaster,  Anthony Valerio.

Anthony Valerio, Master Roaster, Cafe Excellence

Anthony is the Master Roaster and President of Café Excellence, our coffee supplier.  Café Excellence is a micro-roasting company right in our area.   Anthony invited us to his roasting facility for a tour and cupping.    It turns out, our coffee is so good because of the care and expertise in which Anthony buys roasts and blends his coffees.  Anthony patiently went through his entire process from the bean selection, to roasting, blending and packaging.  He explained in detail the factors that affect quality and price when selecting and his roasting coffee beans.  We were very impressed with his roasting facility tour and the subsequent cupping.

Anthony explains the process of bean selection, roasting, blending and packaging

We compared the aromas and tastes of four different coffees, then the taste of coffees using different brewing methods; Chemex and French press.  Our host also graciously sent us home with a bag of their featured roast, Ethiopian Harrar – the surprise favorite from the cupping.  We left Café Excellence feeling great about our vendor and knowing that we are providing our customers with the highest quality and best tasting coffee.   You can check them out online and follow Anthony’s blog.  http://cafeexcellence.com/

“Cupping” is coffee-talk for tasting a variety of roasts and flavors

Alan and Tim, Co-Owners of The Philadelphia Catering Company, well caffeinated and impressed with Cafe Excellence

Hello Philly!

Welcome to our new blog!  We are looking forward to sharing photos and videos of our catered events, behind the scenes, and the latest in Philadelphia Catering.  Please feel free to leave comments and suggestions, we’d love to hear from you.

Alan and Tim, Co-Owners of The Philadelphia Catering Company