Meet the La Fortezza Wedding Team:: Philip Meeker

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The final member of the wedding dream team I’d like you to meet is our chef, Philip Meeker. Philip joined us for the first time last summer, and he was an amazing fit for our workshops and weddings at La Fortezza. Learn more about Philip in today’s interview!

Q: What is your culinary background/expertise?

A: My formal training is in classical French cuisine, but my first serious restaurant job was garde manger at a little Italian place. I learned to make pasta and tiramisu in the pastry kitchen, and I fell in love. I couldn’t believe how much better food tasted when it was made from scratch which I’d never really experienced before. From there I moved to Paris where I spent years studying the fundamentals of French cuisine, working in a two-star Michelin restaurant, baking bread in a traditional boulangerie, and learning how to properly handle and break down meat in an artisanal butchery. I moved to Atlanta in 2008 and spent several years in the restaurant industry making use of the amazing bounty of local vegetables, cheeses, meats, and grains. I’ve spent the last few years working as a private chef and food stylist which has allowed me to travel the world and deepen my knowledge of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.

Q: What is your role at La Fortezza? In what ways are you providing more than great food?

A: I get to nourish guests with all the wonderful foods from the garden, local farms, and shops in nearby villages. We often eat yogurt and cheeses from the dairy just across the river as part of our breakfast. I make sure to use local flours from the mill for everything that I bake. Having such fresh ingredients to work with is like being in heaven for me. And then I get to sit down with everybody and hear their reactions while we dine – what a treat!  My attitude towards cooking is pretty playful, so I like to think I add a sense of joy and lightheartedness to La Fortezza.

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Q: Why does La Fortezza make an inspiring backdrop for everything from photoshoots to weddings?

A: From the moment you set foot on the property you’re engulfed in beauty. There are mountains surrounding you, gentle breezes, chirping birds, olive orchards, and little villages with terracotta roofs dotting the landscape below. Then there’s the house itself: the ancient fortress that Annette has brought back to life. The vineyard is full of grapes and the cellar is full of wine pressed and brewed by the local winemaker. The garden is full of tomatoes, herbs, and delicate greens. Each season different trees bloom and fruit. I loved eating the persimmons growing outside my room last fall.

Q: Why should someone consider planning a trip to La Fortezza?

A: La Fortezza exposes you to a side of Italy that you wouldn’t be able to get if you spent your time with tour guides, and Annette has a particularly unique point of view given her 15 years in Italy. The location of La Fortezza is near so many delicious locations: Emilia-Romagna and the towns of Parma and Modena, Carerra with its marble and lardo, and Liguria with its own riviera full of focaccia and fresh seafood. Annette is familiar with all of these regions, and La Fortezza provides easy access to each of them.

Q: What is your favorite part of preparing meals for La Fortezza guests?

A: I love cooking for people – it feels like my life’s purpose. It’s great getting to chat with (and sometimes teach) the guests as I cook, showing them how to roll out pasta or prepare pesto. The kitchen is totally inspired as well, from the marble countertops to the Lacanche oven to the ancient farm table and sunsets outside the kitchen window.

Finish this sentence: I love Italy because people in Italy understand how to live well.

Q: What is one food/beverage/ingredient you couldn’t live without?

A: I couldn’t live without olive oil, especially when it’s sourced from local olive mills.

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My Pesto Recipe:: Spread it on anything!

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fullsizeoutput_6184 For a quick weeknight dinner last week, I made my first pesto batch of the season. I often say pesto is my version of peanut butter because I can spread it on anything.

If you follow along on Instagram, you probably saw me post a few stories about this easy pesto recipe. It’s a family favorite that I found in the New York Times while living in NYC. It’s originally a Silver Palate recipe, and it’s been one of my go-to meals ever since. It’s crazy to think that I’ve been cooking it for years.

Pesto is a pantry staple in my house, and I almost always make my own because it’s so easy. If you do want to buy a prepared version, I like the Cibo brand from While Foods.

When I made dinner last week, I was reminded of this awesome recipe and knew I had to share it with all of you again, along with this video of my pesto recipe process. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Pesto Recipe
serves 6-8

You will need:
– 4 cups fresh basil leaves (from about 3 large bunches)
– ¾ cup olive oil
– ½ cup pine nuts
– 4 garlic cloves
– ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese + 4 tablespoons for the garnish
– 1-teaspoon coarse kosher salt

To prepare:
Combine basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil leaves.

After blending, pour oil into the mixture and blend until smooth.

This can be made 1 day ahead. Stored in a sealed jar, it can last 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

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Squash and Pesto Tortellini 
serves 8

You will need:
– 3 yellow squash cut into cubes
– 3 cloves garlic minced
– 4 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 16 oz. box tortellini pasta , either dried or fresh work great
– 1 cup toasted pine nuts
– 1 cup pesto
– 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
– salt and pepper

To prepare:
In a large skillet add minced garlic, olive oil and cubed squash. Saute until the squash is golden brown. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 4 tablespoons of the pasta water then drain. In a large serving bowl add the cooked squash, the pesto and toasted nuts, 4 tablespoons of the pasta water, the pasta, cheese and salt and pepper. Mix throughly and serve with extra grated cheese.

 

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Roberto’s Fresh Artichoke Salad from Cocktail Italiano

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It’s the last week of Juice January, so I’m giving it an incredible, celebratory send-off with this recipe from Cocktail Italiano.

When I found baby artichokes at Fresh Market in my neighborhood, I thought it was a fluke. Maybe a food stylist had special ordered them? But much to surprise they have appeared more regularly over the past few weeks this winter.

I had taken a photo and posted them on an Instagram story, and Nicole, my web manager, messaged me asking what they were. I told her they were baby artichokes. She asked what I was going to do with them, and I told her that I was going to make Roberto’s fresh artichoke salad, using the baby artichokes fresh. I explained that the recipe was in Cocktail Italiano and that she should try it. She suggested I put it here on the blog, so I listened to her, and here it is!

I had never eaten a raw artichoke until about twelve years ago—and, of course, it was in Italy.

We were visiting our best friends in Genova, Forrest and Roberto, chatting away in the kitchen, when Roberto (who’s actually an Italian Prince from the region of Savona on the Riviera) grabbed a few baby artichokes, and began running them under cold water. He patted them dry and quickly ran them through a mandolin, slicing them paper-thin. He put them in a bowl, and proceeded to douse them in Ligurian olive oil, added salt and a flourish of lemon juice, and finished it all off with shaved Parmesan. While Forrest poured a lovely chilled Verimentivo, we snacked on raw artichokes and sipped vino. For me, this was for me a whole new way of enjoying artichokes.

Let me know if you give this recipe a try. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

Here’s Roberto’s recipe for fresh artichoke salad. Tip: make sure that the artichokes are very fresh and tender.

Roberto’s Fresh Artichoke Salad
Serves 8

You will need:
– 2 pounds (about 20) tender baby artichokes Note: you may substitute the interior soft leaves and heart of larger artichokes, but do not use the tough outer leaves
– 2 lemons, halved
– 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons salt
– 2 ounces Parmesan

To prepare:

Trim away any tough outer leaves of the artichokes to expose their tender pale green interior. Using a knife with a serrated-blade, cut off the spiky top 1/3 of the artichokes. (Note: baby artichokes will not have the spikes.) Use a vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer layers around the base and stem.

Using a mandolin, slice the artichokes paper-thin and transfer to medium bowl.

Squeeze the lemon halves over the artichokes, and toss with the oil. Sprinkle with salt, and use a potato peeler to shave the Parmesan over the salad. Serve in small bowls.

 

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Savory Mushroom Soup

Can you believe this week wraps-up Juice January? Congratulations for cleaning-up your routine and getting a great start on 2019! You did it!

Over the years, I’ve gone from a strict juice regime to incorporating healthier meals. I hope you’ve enjoyed all of the recipes this month and that you’ve found a few favorites to add to your repertoire. This savory mushroom soup might be another great recipe to add!

It’s a fantastic recipe for chilly winter nights. You will love it. It’s hearty and homey. I like to add a dollop of plain yogurt and chopped chives to top off this rich luscious soup.

Savory Mushroom Soup
serves 4-6

You will need:
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 teaspoon of sea salt
– 1 shallot chopped fine
– 3 stalks of celery chopped
– 2 large carrots cut into coins
– 3 small zucchinis cut into bite sized pieces
– 2 pints mixed mushrooms, like shitake, and portabellas, enoki
– 2 bulbs of garlic roasted whole
– 1 1/2 cups brown lentils
– 1 quart chicken broth or vegetable broth
– 1/3 cup chopped parsley
– 1/4 cup of plain yogurt
– chopped chives
– roasted garlic*

To prepare:
Chop vegetables, shallot, celery, carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms. Place in a large cast iron stock pot. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and saute over medium heat until transparent and wilted. Add the roasted garlic by squeezing the roasted garlic cloves into the pot and stir to combine all the ingredients. Add parsley, lentils and broth. Simmer over low heat for 2-3 hours. Serve.

I like to add a dollop of plain yogurt and chopped chives to top off this rich luscious soup.

*To prepare roasted garlic: place whole bulbs of garlic wrapped in aluminum foil in the oven on 325 for 1 hour until garlic is soft and fragrant.

Photo by me

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Virgin Cocktail Week:: Homemade Virgin Bloody Mary (aka V8!)

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By now you should be adapting to your clean eating regime. I hope you’re working out, too. Even a brisk walk for 20 minutes 3 times a week should be fine. Just get up and MOVE!

One of the hardest parts of clean eating is avoiding alcohol. As you all know, I love cocktails – so much so that I wrote an entire book about them! But I try to make an effort each January to clean up my entire routine and that includes cocktails!

A go-to cocktail that I love is a Bloody Mary. Instead of indulging in a traditional cocktail, I like to mix-up homemade V8 juice. I even place a celery stick into the glass, too. It makes it feel that much more authentic. Sometimes making your juice more festive makes juicing more fun!

xx Annette

Homemade Virgin Bloody Mary
Serves 1

You will need:

– 1 cup tomato
– 1 carrot
– small sliver of beet (mostly for color)
– 1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
– 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
– 1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper
– 1/4 cup water + 1/4 cup ice
– 1/4 cup spinach
– 1 tablespoon parsley

Place all ingredients into your Nutribullet, process for 30 seconds, and enjoy.

Photo and recipe adapter from here.

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