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Cooking the conference#6 – Elena Pasquazzo

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The Ecsite Gala Dinner is always an elegant event where Ecsite Annual Conference participants strengthen connections with great food and entertainment. This year’s dinner will be taking place on Friday 11 June in the beautiful Rotari Winery about 15 km away from Trento. Hospitality Manager Elena Pasquazzo is our guest for this instalment of the “Cooking the Conference” series. In this portrait, Elena tells us about the science of wine, Trentino cuisine and what to expect on our plates...

Hi Elena, could you please tell us more about yourself and the Rotari winery?

My name is Elena Pasquazzo and I’m the Hospitality Manager at Mezzacorona Rotari winery. Our winery is known for its striking contemporary architecture, echoing the surrounding landscape. You can see this in the choice of materials, for example porphyry stone (typical from Trentino), stainless steel and the heavy use of wood. And of course this is also demonstrated in our roof’s impressive undulating pattern, whose wavy lines mimic the pergola trellising system surrounding the winery and mirror the landscape’s topography. Of course, the winery is not only known for its architecture but also for the production of Rotari Trentodoc sparkling wine. We are very proud to produce one of the best sparkling wines in Italy and we welcome over 40,000 wine lovers every year!

What about the vineyards around the winery, what makes them so special?

The most important thing about Mezzacorona is of course its vineyards. The vineyard is made of a kaleidoscope of 1,500 small parcels owned by the vintners of Mezzacorona. An average property is 1.5 hectares: really small! This means that the dedication of vintners to their vineyard is unbelievable, like it’s their home garden! That’s why our area is considered one of the most fascinating and beautiful vineyard gardens in Europe.

At the Mezzacorona winery we have a team of five vineyards managers that follow production and suggest best practices to our vintners. 100% of the vineyards are run following integrated farm management principles, minimising the use of chemicals and preserving the environment as much as possible.

Could you give us a sneak preview of what conference participants might see and experience at the winery?

The tour we normally offer is about one hour long with different tasting options. But for the Ecsite dinner, everything will be very different! Together with the MUSE team, we are planning a unique experience: a scenic walk-through among wine barrels and barriques in a charming environment perfectly fit into the stunning Trentino landscape. Expect to be surprised as you wander through gardens, barrels, stainless steel vats and, of course, our cantina storica (historical cellar) immersive space.

That sounds magical Elena! What about the dinner itself, what can participants expect to see on their plates?

We and the MUSE team will give you a taste of local gastronomy of course! The Trentino region is nestled among the peaks of the Dolomites. Therefore we do have game, deer and cheeses of every sort. But Trentino also has more than 200 lakes, so fish such as trout, char and pike are also very popular.

Trentino is very close and historically linked to Austria: you will find “Germanic” flavours in our cuisine like canederli or knödel, gulasch and strudel. But at the same time Trentino is also very Italian with all the unbelievable flavours of our country...

I will not reveal more, but get ready for a great dinner!

It must be quite a challenge to entertain and serve almost 1,000 people…

As Rotari winery is a great location for events, we are used to welcoming large groups: our 1,500 vintners meet here and eat together from times to times. Still, the Ecsite conference dinner will be our star event of 2015!

The main challenge is to perfectly organise kitchen equipment and chefs to be able to provide a smooth dinner with high level service and quality foods served at optimal temperatures.

As you must know, our conference gathers professionals whose daily job is science communication. Is there science involved in wine making? Perhaps a specific phenomenon that makes your wine special?

Science is more and more important in winemaking. We do have a team of five winemakers, an internal laboratory and researchers collaborating with all the major winemaking research institutes in Europe. At Mezzacorona we have one of Italy’s few private micro-vinification labs: each year we monitor the winemaking process, watching over the harvest, weather conditions and, of course keeping in mind the goals we want to achieve with that year's vintage. Our research areas are on yeasts, aromas, clones, disease resistance, and integrated farm management, to be able to limit as much as possible the use of chemicals.

As our last and most awaited question, do you have a recipe for us that will open the appetite of future conference participants?

I will give you a recipe that is very typical of Trento: strangolapreti. This recipe is very old and it was served to clergymen who attended the ecumenical Council of Trent (1545-1563). It’s a vegetarian dish because it was served on Fridays, when religious restrictions forbade the consumption of meat.

The legend goes that priests and other clergy members enjoyed this dish so much that they would eat it until they choked, hence the name strangolapreti, or “priest stranglers”. It’s a very nice recipe and very easy to make. All you need is:

250 g stale bread, broken down to crumbs

1/4 liter milk

450 g fresh spinach

1 egg

100 g white flour

A few gratings of fresh nutmeg

1 teaspoon of salt

80 g butter

6 whole sage leaves, plus sage leaves chopped

Salt and pepper

Place the breadcrumbs in a small bowl, and cover with milk till they moisten (1-2 hours).

Boil the spinach and blanch until tender, 2-3 minutes. Drain well, squeeze to eliminate as much of the water as possible. Chop finely.

Squeeze any excess milk out of the breadcrumbs and place in a medium bowl. Add the spinach, whisked egg, flour and grated nutmeg. Combine until the mixture just binds together and holds, adding more flour if necessary - but don’t overdo it, you want to add as little flour as possible to keep your strangolapreti as light as possible!

When making these for the first time, I would advise to test the dough before forming all the strangolapreti, to make sure the mixture will hold through the cooking process. Have a small pot of boiling water ready, and pinch off a small strawberry size ball of dough. Place it in the boiling water, and see if it holds together. If it remains intact, and eventually rises to the surface, you are set! If it breaks apart, add a little more flour and try again.

Prepare all the dumplings with your hands, making 2-3cm long cocoon-like segments. You can humidify your hands so the dough won’t feel too sticky.

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt the water and place the strangolapreti in the water. Cook until they rise to the surface. Use a slotted spoon to remove them.

Melt the butter with chopped sage leaves. Remove from heat, add the strangolapreti, and serve, garnishing with the whole sage leaves. Drizzle with remaining butter. You can also add Parmesan cheese.

Recipe adapted from Honest Cooking. Cooked and enjoyed at the Ecsite office by our Executive Director Catherine Franche.

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2015 Ecsite Conference

The 2015 Ecsite Conference took place in Trento, Italy, on 11-13 June. It gathered 1,101 participants from 52 different countries, breaking an attendance record. Look back on the appetizing “Food for curious minds” edition cooked up by conference host MUSE.