Just a couple of days in advance of the Jan. 20-22 Fancy Food Show (http://www.specialtyfood.com/fancy-food-show/winter-fancy-food-show/) in Moscone Center, the European Union and the Italian government sponsored a "Legends from Europe" demonstration in San Francisco, featuring five PDO products.
PDO is Protected Designation of Origin, a strict system for legally binding name protection for a selected group of high-quality foods, the European Union follow-up to France's Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée and Italy's Denominazione d'Origine Controllata. Think Roquefort and such, with rules for production within specified regions, using defined methods.
The Friday event featured Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, Montasio, Prosciutto di San Daniele, and Grana Padano. As if the exceptional quality of these products was not enough - I have never tasted Parmesan or prosciutto like these - the tour included cooking demonstration and lessons by Joanne Weir.
The world-renowned chef, author, teacher, and owner of Sausalito's new Copita Tequileria y Comida (http://www.copitarestaurant.com) fit perfectly with the unpretentious simplicity of the products from Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto regions (the Montaso), and the vast Po River Valley. Weir's "Cooking Confidence" is both a TV series and a newly published book.
Starting from ground zero (or under), I learned to make five scrumptious dishes from Weir in a little more than an hour, and am ready to start a new career in a five-star restaurant. Besides the fennel, radicchio, and (baby) arugula salad with shaved grana padano; endive with Prosciutto di San Daniele and Grana Padano; orecchiette with cauliflower, brown butter and Parmigiano Reggiano (o Dio mio!); and Prosciutto di Parma-wrapped halibut (moving me near to tears), there was her utterly simple and totally sensational Montasio Frico.
Although Weir has a receipe of the frico (cheese crisp) with bacon and potato, she prepared a dish without bacon and with few potatoes - it was pretty much an omelette or pizza made of cheese only.
She started with shredded Montasio cheese in a non-stick pan, without oil, cooking the cheese until it melted and the edges turned golden brown. When the frico was firm enough to move around the pan when shaken, it was blotted with paper towel and... done! So simple, even I can make it.
A variation is to put a single layer of sliced and boiled potatoes on the cheese, invert the plate, slide the frico back into the pan, and cook until the other side is golden too. Cut into wedges, it's served similarly to pizza, but ever so much better.
Paired perfectly with each dish, "Legends from Europe" (that's what it's called) served up Sorelle Bronca Prosecco, Quinta do Feital Albarino, Vidussi "Ronchi di Ravez," Bergerie de l'Hortus Rosé (in a friendly inclusion of French wine, a great buy at $15 a bottle ), and Barbolini Lambrusco. That last to "American Lambrusco" as champagne is to 7 Up.