Dear Barbara: I saw a delicious looking recipe for 'couscous-like fregola with asparagus and gorgonzola' on last Saturday's Food and Wine page. It calls for Vermentino. Is this the same as vermouth? It says a dry, full-bodied white wine. I went to several stores and no one seemed to have it. I purchased Chardonnay. Would that work as well? - Carole from Lodi
Dear Carole: Chardonnay will work just fine. There may be just a slight difference in flavor. Vermentino is not a wine that I had heard of either. I turned to an article by Mike Dunne that was called 'Dunne on Wine: Unheralded Vermentino Ideal For Spring Meals'.' It is described as a citrusy and tart white wine most used at home with a plate of seafood or at a sidewalk café along the Italian Riviera! That sounds good to me!
Apparently Vermentino is the new trend in white wines. The Vermentino grapes were primarily grown in Italy, but now are also being grown in San Luis Obispo, Calaveras, and Tuolumne counties as well as in Lodi. To the best of my knowledge, with a little research, the wine isn't sold in Lodi even though the grapes are grown here. If anyone knows of a Lodi retailer that sells Vermentino, please let me know and I will pass the information along. However, several restaurants have it on their wine lists. The Old Arch Brewing Company here in town has it on their wine list, as does Biba's Italian restaurant in Sacramento. Whole Foods and Corti Bros. are seriously looking into carrying it as well. Ill Fornaio chain of Italian restaurants has put the Uvaggio vermentini (Lodi appellation) in all its outlets. Winemaker Jim Moore is quoted as saying, "Alternative whites are the hot niche in the market right now". I'm looking forward to trying it.
When to use the stems
Dear Barbara: Since I am not much of a cook, the recipes don't seem to give me the information that I need. If it calls for chopped cilantro, do I chop the stems as well, or are they not edible? Also, on things like chard or bok choy, do I just use the green leafy part or the whole thing? Thanks. - Erin from Lodi
Dear Erin: Cilantro is entirely edible, but in most cases, unless stated otherwise, they are referring to just the leaves. On the chard, I tend to remove that heavy center stem before chopping. Just run a sharp knife down each side of the stem and it will come right out. Bok choy is different. If I am buying standard sized bok choy, I cut the very bottom end off and chop the white and the green. The white cooks up nice and tender. With the baby bok choy, I steam the whole thing without cutting it at all. It looks pretty when presented in that manner. If the recipe specifies to cut it up as an ingredient to the dish, by all means, cut it up.
What the heck is in falafel?
Dear Barbara: What is a falafel? I always thought it was like a ground meat of some kind but my friend thinks it is made with grains. Are we close? Is it a mixture of both? - Janet and Carolyn from Lodi
Dear Janet and Carolyn: I hope that wasn't a money bet because you both lost! Falafel is made with chic peas (garbanzo beans) and sometimes fava beans mixed together. It is spicy and usually made into meatball size pieces and fried. Normally it is served in pita bread with tahini (sesame) sauce and lettuce and tomato. It can also be served in a salad but mostly eaten as a sandwich. In some countries, falafels are served as a street food much like we would buy tacos or hot dogs from a vendor. I've never actually tasted one, but they look great. Now I will get to try them because I read in last weeks Lodi Living Section that we have a new deli called Lodi Deli American. It has food like falafel and gyros but also the standard American foods.
You can also make your own falafel. I've seen boxed mixes to make them. I know Manischewitz has a mix and I'm sure they wouldn't be the only one. Where there is a mix, there is always a recipe. I went to http://www.epicurious.com">http://www.epicurious.com and there were three recipes listed there. I'm sure Google would have many more.
Tip of the week! If you've ever opened a bottle of wine and tiny pieces of cork fall into the wine, here's an easy way to remove them. Place a drinking straw over the piece of cork and down into the wine and put your finger over the top opening of the straw. Simply lift the straw out and the little piece of cork will come with it.
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.