11 March 2010


SARONNO, Italy - The balcony off of my kitchen serves double duty as my herb garden and storage area. The herb garden is made up of two rather large rosemary plants, two pots of marjoram, one of sage, one oregano, another of thyme and one large pot of a wild Roman mint called mintuccia that is used to flavor artichokes.

The mintuccia plant came from a nursery in Tuscany. It is one of the things that keeps me connected to my Italian roots. My Grandmother used to get bundles of it from her sister Mary in Italy, but of course that was back in the day when you could send stuff like that through the mail. Even now, just the smell of it takes me back to when I was five years old leaning with both elbows on the kitchen table watching my Grandmother cook.

That side of the apartment gets the sun in the morning, so it’s a great place for my herbs. I love being able to go out there and get what I need when I need it. The thyme plant may have to be replaced this year, but for the others, they manage to survive year after year, always giving me enough herbs to cook with even through the winter. I use a lot of rosemary. I use it with all kinds of meats and sauces and to make bruciolo. I don’t know the English translation for bruciolo, but what it is, besides an ingenious idea, is a sprig of rosemary stuck into a clove of garlic.

I learned about bruciolo from an Italian chef, Roberto Donna. Chef Donna, originally from the Piedmont region of Italy, now lives in Washington, D.C. where he owns a number of exclusive restaurants including Galileo on 21st Street. He has won a ton of culinary awards, including the coveted Restaurateur of the Year, The Chefs of America Award, One of the Ten Best Chefs in America and the Fine Dining Hall of Fame.

Here’s what he says about bruciolo in his cookbook ‘Cooking in Piedmont’. “I like to use bruciolo…. because it gives a good, fresh aroma of garlic and rosemary to the food without overpowering the dish.”

He recommends using a spring of fresh rosemary, no more than 5 inches long and blanching it in boiling water for 30 seconds. Blanching the rosemary keeps the leaves from falling off during cooking. Be sure to insert the rosemary into the garlic at the heart of the clove.

When you are cooking, place the bruciolo in the olive oil or butter when the fat is still cool. That way the garlic and rosemary will release their full aroma without searing or burning. 
When the garlic is golden brown in color, you can remove it from the pan or leave it in. By cooking the garlic and rosemary side by side you get the best of both flavors, and you will be surprised by the flavor it leaves in the dish, good, sweet and not too strong. 

Next Week: How to make flavored oils

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