Why participate in a contest entitled ‘Trentino Grappa on your plate’?
For many reasons, but firstly because Grappa is a naturally gluten free distillate and because, when used in cooking, it can be enjoyed without too much concern by those with diabetes, so try my Potato and venison ravioli with Grappa del Trentino.
The invitation from the Istituto Tutela della Grappa del Trentino therefore came to me with immense joy also because I wanted to know more about Grappa since it is an exclusively Italian product (distillates produced in a similar way in other countries of the world are called Acquavite).
After meeting my fellow adventurers, namely the three other bloggers involved Annalisa from the blog Mi manca il saleOrsola of Ockstyle and Paola of Profumo di vaniglia, some chit-chat, a bite to eat and off to face the lion’s den of Trento (who said it’s cold in northern Italy??).
How Trentino grappa is produced
The first stop on this short but intense journey is the Pisoni Winery and Distillerywhere the family has been producing grappa since 1852 in a corner of paradise known as Valle dei Laghi, a strip of land between Lake Garda and the Brenta Dolomites where the microclimate resulting from the presence of large expanses of water and the altitude of the surrounding mountains guarantees those temperature swings between day and night that allow the grapes to develop unique perfumes and aromas.
We are accompanied by Giuliano, the brother who takes care of grappa in the family. He starts explaining to us that grappa is an alcoholic beverage obtained from the distillation of grape marc, i.e. the skins and seeds that remain after the grapes have been pressed to make wine.
Here at Pisoni’s, the vats and stills, in the silence immobilised by the seals affixed by the Customs Agency controlling the production subject to payment of excise duties, seem to be waiting for the moment when they will puff with steam, from September to November.
At that time of year, the vat is filled with grape marc and water, the latter is heated and turns into steam which, carrying with it the alcoholic and aromatic part, rises to the top, entering a tube that passes into a cooler where it condenses and returns to liquid form. This first distillate is called phlegm and has an alcohol content of 20-22 degrees since it still contains a part of water.
The phlegm is then cleaned by placing it in a bain-marie vat, i.e. heated by steam flowing through an interspace, so as to separate the good vapours from the less pleasant ones according to evaporation temperatures: the first ones to evaporate and be eliminated are called heads, the central part known as heart is kept, while the final part called tail is also removed. The great difficulty and skill of the master distiller lies in knowing when to make these “cuts” during distillation in order to preserve only the best of the distillate’s aromas and scents.
From raw grappa to finished grappa
The result of so much work is the raw grappa, i.e. a distillate at 80 degrees, which must undergo a final transformation that consists of adding water to lower the alcohol content to around 40 degrees and filtering it by freezing to remove traces of copper and fat (essential oils derived from grape skins) to obtain a perfectly clear liquid. At this point, the grappa is ready to be bottled or to continue its ageing in barrels for products that will develop specific characteristics.
Do you know how many litres of grappa you get from 100kg of grape marc? From a minimum of 5 to a maximum of 20 litres of raw grappa depending on the quality of the grape marc used: if the grapes are good, healthy and well ripened, they will give us not only better organoleptic characteristics, but also a greater quantity of finished product! The quality of grappa, Giuliano tells us, is made by nature and the master distiller’s cuts.
Giuliano also accompanies us into the cellars dug under the rock of the mountain on which the distillery building rests: here thousands of bottles of Trento DOC sparkling wine rest at a constant temperature of 10°C… a wonderful relief on a ‘red dot’ day of the hottest week of the year according to the weathermen! Well, we enjoy a glass of this splendid bubbly wine before moving on to Palazzo di Roccabruna, home of the Enoteca Provinciale del Trentino and our cooking contest.
The ‘Trentino Grappa on your plate’ Contest
Chef Sebastian Sartorelli , who prepared our mystery boxes, is also waiting for us here. The only certainty is that we will have to use grappa, while on the other ingredients the strictest mystery reigns. At 6 p.m. sharp, after a few photos and the heat rising as the oven and cooker are turned on, we can finally unravel the mystery: venison fillet, buckwheat, Fontal cheese and pear are the compulsory ingredients for our dish, but we also have ‘universal’ ingredients such as flour, eggs, seasonings, some vegetables, herbs and spices… in short, a riot of colours and scents!
You know what? There is no doubt in my mind: my dish will be a ravioli! Of course, here I have wheat flour on hand in addition to buckwheat and not the flours I am used to using to make gluten free ravioli… well, for those of us who are used to working with doughs that are as delicate as silk, a dough made with flour containing gluten is child’s play: rolling out the pastry is incredibly easy, it never breaks!
The filling is a Trentino version of my grandmother’s potato tortelli: boiled potatoes, pears sautéed in grappa, grated Fontal and more grappa to flavour everything instead of Grandma Rina’s liqueur concoction.
Finally, the deer. “Oh, deer!” my interpreting background says to me when I see the venison fillet in the box, an “Oh, my God!” that turns right into “Oh, venison!”, which of course becomes the obligatory name of my dish: Oh, deer! Potato and venison ravioli with Grappa del Trentino.
Yes, I have never cooked venison before, even though I theoretically know how to do it. I macerate it with herbs and grappa while I boil the potatoes and prepare the dough. Finally, butter in the frying pan and when it is hot, I add the venison fillet and brown it on the surface, then add the marinade to evaporate the grappa and obtain a fragrant, slightly hazelnut-coloured cooking juices: exciting aromas!
The tasting and the jury
By now everything is ready and I just have to complete my project and let the judges taste it: Mirko Scarabello, President of the Istituto di Tutela Grappa del Trentino, as well as our mentor on the subject, Sebastian Sartorelli, chef for the events at the Enoteca and chef at the Hosteria Toblino in Madruzzo (TN), and Maria Grazia Brugnara, in charge of the promotion of wine and food products within the Trento Chamber of Commerce, as well as being a cheese, wine, oil and grappa taster.
The judges evaluate our dishes based on 6 criteria and on a scale from 0 to 10… but do you know the extraordinary thing? We all rank within a voting range of only 2 points and the winner of the contest is Annalisa from the blog ‘Mi manca il sale’ (I have no salt) because her dish is the one that goes best with grappa even when tasting it, bravo!
The one for which my ‘Oh, deer!’ stood out? The creativity and the techniques used… I assure you that as soon as I find a venison fillet like the one Chef Sebastian gave us, I will immediately cook it for my family, also because in Parma now there will be no shortage of Grappa!
‘Oh, deer!’ Potato and venison ravioli with Grappa del Trentino
carbohydrates 27g per 100g of raw ravioli without venison fillet
Ingredients for the buckwheat egg pasta for 6 servings
- 200g Petra 1** or Nutrifree flour for fresh pasta** (in the contest I used 250g wheat flour 00)
- 50g buckwheat flour*
- 3 eggs
- salt and water (only if the dough is too hard)
Ingredients for the filling
- 400g potatoes
- 100g pear
- 80g Fontal cheese
- 1 generous shot of aged Grappa del Trentino
- salt and pepper
Ingredients for the venison
- 1 small venison fillet
- 30g butter
- 1 small glass of aged Grappa del Trentino
- aromatic herbs to taste
- extra virgin olive oil
Ingredients to complete
- lemon peel
- fresh oregano
- flowers of aromatic herbs
**Ingredients specific for celiacs
*Ingredients whose labels must read “gluten free” (or, in Italy, present on Prontuario AIC)
Preparation of Potato and venison ravioli
- First boil the unpeeled potatoes until soft when piercing them with the tines of a fork.
- Marinate the venison fillet with herbs to taste, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a small glass of grappa.
- Prepare the dough: make a well with the 2 flours, crack the eggs in the centre, add a pinch of salt and start by beating the eggs with a fork; gradually incorporate the flour until you can knead the mixture using your hands. Only if the dough is too dry, wet your hands with water to complete the operation. When you have obtained a smooth and homogeneous mixture, put it to rest in a clean plastic bag.
- Peel the pear, cut it into small cubes and soften it for about ten minutes in a non-stick pan with a dash of grappa. Set it aside.
- Mash the potatoes while they are still hot, season with grated Fontal cheese, grappa, cooked pears, salt and pepper.
- Prepare the venison fillet. Put the butter in a non-stick frying pan, heat it very well, then add the venison fillet; brown it on all sides over a high heat for a few minutes until the surface is well browned, then add the marinade liquid to reduce it and enhance the browning. Remove from the heat, place both fillet and cooking juices in a small bowl and cover with aluminium foil.
- Prepare the ravioli. Roll out the dough thinly, but not too thinly (I set the machine on its last-but-one hole), place ‘nuts’ of filling 5cm apart, fold the pastry over to cover the filling, press the pastry tightly around the filling using your fingers, then cut half moons with a pastry cutter.
- Boil the ravioli in lightly salted boiling water, cook them for as long as necessary, feeling the pasta from time to time, drain them with a slotted spoon, place them on a tea towel, then on the serving dish. Dress them with a very thin slice of venison fillet, the venison’s cooking juices, a little grated lemon peel and a few small leaves of fresh oregano and herbs.
If you like making ravioli, you can also try Ravioli with prawns and cherry tomatoes