Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Moment in the Sun with Casa Artusi

*A portion of this appeared in the September 2015 issue of Mabuhay magazine

When Margarita Fores, one of the Philippines’ foremost restaurateurs and a known locavore, invites you to a farm visit and a cooking demonstration, you don’t say no. Never mind that it’s the height of summer near the equator and your chances of a full-on migraine by the end of the day are almost certain. Gaita, as she is fondly called, knows what it means to eat well and she is willing to travel the distance to make sure that her cooking makes the most impact on the plate, not on the environment. With that in mind, I joined Casa Artusi’s first Divertimento in Fattoria (Fun in the Farm) and welcomed my moment in the sun.

En route to the farm, Gaita shared the story of Pellegrino Artusi, father of modern Italian cooking and author of La Scienza in Cucina e l'Arte di Mangiare Bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well), a culinary treasure trove of almost 800 recipes culled from home cooks in every corner of Italy. The renowned culinary center, Casa Artusi, was founded in his name in his hometown of Forlimpopoli in Northen Italy. Gaita collaborated with the center to put up in the Philippines its first and only offshore campus.

We met up with the owners of Kalye Luntian, our first farm stop, at Breakfast at Antonio’s where Gaita called our attention to the wooden crate boxes piled with brightly hued, freshly picked greens that were on sale at the restaurant.

Kalye Luntian in Alfonso, Cavite grows beautiful rows of kale, lettuce, basil, and an assortment of other vegetables. Having gotten into farming by first becoming a research unit for a Dutch company, owner Pepoy Songco and Carlo Amoranto put a lot of science into their process, comparing for instance the quality of vegetables grown on soil alone while exposed to the elements, with those bedded out on organic compost within the controlled environment of a greenhouse. In this terrestrial lab, science always proves victorious.

We went agog over the lush harvest of peppers and heirloom tomatoes from Kalye Luntian’s Batangas farm.

We did our produce shopping at the greenhouse where different varieties of lettuce were growing zealously in nutrient-rich, composted soil. The romaines, lolo rosas and frisees we took home were literally plucked from the ground.

My mouth was watering for Parmesan kale chips as I stared at Kalye Luntian’s bed of Italian kale.

At our next stop, Malipayon Farms, we got to plant French beans from seeds and lettuce from seedlings.

While Kalye Luntian gets some of their best harvests from their greenhouse, Malipayon prefers to grow their greens out in the open and let nature do its job. Two different “parenting styles” but equally valid and, based on empirical results also known as our taste test, with equally great results!

We enjoyed pulling out carrots from the ground and comparing their sizes, which ranged from index finger to forearm dimensions. Above, my sister in law Joy shows off her harvest.

Throughout the day, we were picking fruits, leaves and flowers to taste, including these fresh corn sprouts that truly tasted of corn. We also got to sample what Gaita referred to as red wine tomatoes, which were sweeter than any tomato I had ever tasted.

“Not everyone can be a farmer but everyone can be a gardener,” says Gejo Jimenez, owner of Malipayon Farms. He showed us how to grow a variety of herbs in a single pot. He also demonstrated how to make our own compost using readily available items.

Gaita started her cooking demonstration by preparing a bruschetta. She grilled bread soaked in olive oil and dusted with rock salt, and paired this with lightly sautéed tomatoes and zucchinis, her own version of ratatouille.

For our mains, Gaita prepared the spaghettini version of my all-time favorite in Cibo, the penne al telefono.

She also cooked a fantastic pasta dish using just butter, cream, and the brunoised rinds of orange, lemon and lime. I love this type of cooking where fresh ingredients are allowed to wow on their own merits. I also loved the fact that Gaita did all her cooking by feel.

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